The Long and Winding Road to Recovery

In the interest of doing my part to promote Mental Health Awareness Month, I thought I’d take some time to give a candid snapshot into what “recovery” looks like in my household. My last post touched on it a little bit, but here is a little more detail.

First of all, let’s look at the word “recovery”. It means “a return to a normal state of health, mind, or strength.” It also means “the action or process of regaining possession or control of something stolen or lost.”

When it comes to “mental illness” and “recovery”, I think both of those definitions are spot on. But the one word that really jumps out at me is the word “process”. In looking at that word, it means “a series of actions or steps taken in order to achieve a particular end.”

So in essence, when it comes to recovery from mental illness, it can be defined as a series of (many) actions and/or steps in order to return to a normal state of mind.

The road is long, and can be full of all kinds of obstacles and hills and valleys and bumps and roadblocks and ups and downs.  And it seems that the longer we’ve been on this road, it doesn’t get any easier necessarily, although I think that as time passes and we gain more experience, we’re better equipped to handle it. At times the journey isn’t too bad, and there are times of idyll and pleasantness. But other times, it can be pretty darn treacherous and the road can feel like an endless trek through a barren wilderness.

For my husband, this year will mark 30 years since he was first hospitalized with bipolar symptoms at the age of 16. We will also reach our 18th wedding anniversary. We’ve both been on this road for a while, so we’ve definitely gained experience for the journey.

I think the hardest years for both of us reached a crescendo in 2011. That is when Scott left. There were a number of things over the course of several years that led up to his leaving, but the bottom line is that it came down to a combination of not being properly medicated (as opposed to being UNmedicated, there is a difference), and the cumulative effects of some unresolved past traumas. So from August 2011 until November 2015, Scott was essentially gone from our lives. During those years, there were times when I did not know where he was. I was able to occasionally follow his trail from a distance, but most of the time his trail was cold. We had very little to no contact, and he spent a large amount of that time off his medication and in a prolonged state of ill mental health.

During that time, I was essentially a single parent, raising a young child. But, I was not “single”. My marriage was in a weird limbo. I was not single, I was not divorced, not really legally separated either. My husband was not dead, he wasn’t deployed, he wasn’t away on some job, he didn’t leave me for some other woman, and honestly there was not any animosity or ill will between us, although there was some distortion of perceptions due to his condition...he simply was not in his right mind. Since he left of his own free will, legally he wasn’t missing. So it was a really strange situation to be in. He just wasn’t there, and I didn’t know how to explain why. One day, he was just gone.

During that time, I ended up relocating from one state to another. I went back to school and managed to get a Master’s Degree. I raised my daughter and lived my life. I had support, so I wasn’t completely in a vacuum, nor was I completely alone. But there were times when I felt very isolated and in a state of incompleteness. There were times when life felt very dark and confusing, and my future uncertain. I remained hopeful and prayerful for restoration, but I had no idea what that would look like, or what it would entail, or when it would happen. My faith led me to believe that we would indeed be reunited as a family one day, but my reality suggested otherwise. So in essence, I lived in a constant tension of sorts, and yet I still had to function in this. Needless to say, living in that state was stressful in many ways.

For Scott, his journey was much more treacherous. He ended up in another state…and as if he didn’t already have enough trauma to deal with from the past, during his absence he went through even more trauma. His journey is his story to tell, (and it's quite a story!) but it involved living in a constant state of uncertainty, mental instability, and pretty much an inability to function.

After all that, one day in November 2015, we finally reconnected. When we reconnected, he had already spent more than 2 months in a hospital where he finally got stable, so by the time we made contact again, he was in a rehab facility getting continued care. At first, our reunion was long distance since he was out of state. But through a series of events, in March 2016, he finally returned home.

Home at last!!!

His journey led him, at long last, to the RIGHT medication, one that was working really well for him.

But also, while his return marked the end of one journey, it was the beginning of another.

Since the day he came home on March 20, 2016, it has been a whole new season for us and for our family. Not a bad one, mind you. In fact, it has been very, very good. Beautiful in fact. But a lot of hard work, and a trade-off from one kind of stress to another.

Once we got him plugged in to health care here, between March and October 2016, the medication that Scott was placed on in the other state in order to get him stable, ended up being adjusted no less than five times. As it turns out, gaining stability is not the same thing as long term management, so once the crisis is past and the symptoms are under control, there is still a lot of work to do. In the midst of that, he started to go to therapy sessions in order to process some of the traumas he endured in his absence, and to get acclimated with being healthy again, and being back among the land of the living, so to speak. We also still had residual symptoms to deal with. In the midst of all THAT, we had to learn to be a family again. Jasmyne and I had gotten used to being on our own, and even as wonderful as it was to have Daddy and husband home again, it was a new dynamic that we had to get used to.

Finally, in October 2016, we got the dosage just right! In fact, I think it took from March to October to finally find a groove all the way around, just being settled into the whole family thing again, and finding a new normal. Scott had a lot to process, but it wasn’t just HIM. I had a lot of issues to deal with too. Individually, as a couple, and as a family in our various configurations, there were a lot of adjustments. But we finally found a groove and began to thrive.

Fast forward to this year. Scott started to complain about certain side effects from the medication…a restlessness in the form of involuntary movements that would not go away. Finally, his psychiatric nurse practitioner made the decision that this medication…that had been working SO well to alleviate bipolar symptoms…needed to be changed, because the physical side effects were reaching a point of potentially being harmful long term.

So here we were, finally on a SMOOTH stretch of the recovery highway, and then BAM. The road has suddenly turned bumpy again.

It’s one thing to have to switch medications that aren’t working. That’s a welcome change. But to have to change medications that are actually working well? That can be painful and downright discouraging.

So in March 2017, Scott switched medications. And now, in some ways, we have had to start all over again. We have had to start a whole new journey of monitoring medication and making adjustments, watching for changes and navigating symptoms. While in some ways it feels like a setback, it could potentially be even better for Scott in the long term as this new drug may ultimately end up being a better fit. If not, then there are many more options to try.

BUT…the thing is, we won’t know for a while, as it can take a LONG time to sort out medications to find the right dosage and combination, and for it to work…which we had JUST done for the past year.

Ugh. I’m actually worn out just writing all that! And that’s not even scratching the surface of all we’ve endured. Whew!

But such is the long and winding road of recovery. All of this, just so my husband can be able to “return to a normal state of mind, health, or strength.”

It is definitely not for the faint of heart!!!

But this is what fighting for mental health looks like. This is what mental health treatment looks like. There is no quick fix, no magic pill, no prayer with just the right amount of Scripture and theology…it is just walking one day at a time, one foot in front of the other, trusting the Lord to lead the way, moment by moment. It takes a massive amount of time, energy, determination, perseverance and patience. This is one of the main reasons there is no way my husband can work right now or have any other major responsibilities except to focus on getting well.

For me as a caregiver, it requires every bit as much of me as it does of Scott, the person with the illness. In the midst of all this, I have my own mental health to consider, as I have my own set of issues to deal with, and my own recovery from my own kind of trauma from all of this. We also have a daughter who is at a critical age (13) with whom I make it a huge effort to keep the lines of communication open. She asks questions, we answer. We inform, we try to be as honest as is age appropriate. In the midst of all this, it is important for her world to be as secure as possible. I work only part time hours and freelance, because I need the lighter, flexible schedule in order to juggle his needs (he doesn't drive) as well as my daughter's. Financially, it can be challenging, but thankfully the Lord provides and this past year, we have been able to meet all our needs with very little.

Mental illness is a real issue, and I think it has reached almost epidemic status in this country, if it’s not there already. It comes in many different forms, it affects all ages, all races, all economic levels, all cultures. People deal with it in many different ways…most of which are not healthy, unfortunately. But even amongst those who are doing all the “right” things, there are still no guarantees to an easy journey.

As I said earlier, I’ve been on this road with my husband for a long time. And I am always learning new things, and gaining new knowledge and information. We’re extremely blessed in that, as tough as things have been for us, it could have always been worse. We’ve had tons of Divine Intervention, where the hand of the Lord has been so clearly upon us, leading and guiding our steps. We’re blessed in that, in the midst of all of this, we actually have a good marriage, (believe it or not!) and we laid a good foundation in the Lord early on. We love each other, and love is a powerful motivator. Even in the worst of it all, at Scott’s lowest points, he has been protected from so much. There is absolutely NO way we could walk this path without Jesus Himself at our side. No way at all. As hard as it has been WITH the Lord, I can’t imagine how hard it would be without Him.

There’s more, so much more…and I can’t share it all in one blog post, so I guess I’ll have to come back for more. The main takeaway from all of this is that there IS hope. There is an anchor in the midst of the storms of this illness. And as I look ahead, and see that we still have a good stretch of road ahead of us, my determination propels me forward. I’m determined…and REALLY curious…to find out where this road will lead! I feel like, if we just keep moving forward, plugging away, we won’t be disappointed in our ultimate destination. That hope keeps me going!!! I truly believe our best days are ahead of us!!

 

Best Days Ahead...

"Your best days are always ahead of you." Perspective on 2016 and the brightness of 2017. Water color and stencils by Bo Downes (10 yrs old).

"Your best days are always ahead of you." Perspective on 2016 and the brightness of 2017. Water color and stencils by Bo Downes (10 yrs old).

{I know, I know…I am LONG overdue for a much needed update to my blog. I would like to think that I have been too busy living life to write about it, which is a good thing. But from now on, I really will try to do better about chronicling our lives and sharing what God is doing!}

Recently, we passed the one year mark of my husband’s return home after being away for several years, due to complications from Bipolar Disorder.  His return last year coincided with Holy Week, which is this week! What a year it has been! This beautiful artwork to the left, drawn bythe 10 year old daughter of a former ministry colleague, pretty much sums up what life has been like for us. "Your best days are always ahead of you"...that perfectly captures what this past year has been like, and what I hope for as we look ahead to the future. I know 2016 was a tough year for many, but for us it was an amazing time of reconnection, restoration, and recovery. My family, which had been broken for so long, was miraculously put back together again. It has been a year full of adjustments on several fronts: medication, family and household dynamics, relationships. There were some ups and downs all across the board, but in the midst of it all, PEACE.

So here we are, a little over one year later…and I firmly believe with all of my heart that our best days are indeed ahead of us. In the meantime, here is some insight into what’s been going on with us, and what the Lord has been teaching me…

Recovery from bipolar episodes can take quite a bit of time, effort, and concentration. My husband spent several years in prolonged state of illness, and along with that came trauma. So I knew that it would take, at the minimum, at least a couple of years for him to heal. There is no “bouncing back” from this, you just have to walk it out day by day and let time and medication and care do its work. In this past year, his meds were adjusted at least 5 times. Recently, due to some alarming side effects, his care provider made the decision to switch one of his medications, which if you know anything about the Russian Roulette that is psychiatric medications, can produce a lot of anxiety. It’s one thing to change medications that simply don’t work. But this one was working well, so it was nerve-wracking to have to switch. Yet it was potentially causing some long term physical damage, and he had no choice. Fortunately, so far the change seems to be working out, and may even be a better fit for him. But, it takes time to fully adjust to having a new drug entered into your system, and in some ways, it’s almost like starting over. The good news is that he was already stable when the new meds were introduced, so that has been to his advantage.

In the midst of all that, we have managed to create…or re-create…a life for ourselves as a family and as a couple, that consists of what I call the “extraordinarily mundane”. Life is quiet, simple, peaceful, calm, and yet miraculous, simply because of the fact that we are together. It may seem perfectly normal, and perhaps it is for most people, but for us, in light of all we’ve been through, it is quite an accomplishment!

I am a professional musician and music teacher, the main breadwinner and the only driver. My schedule is sporadic, but it allows me free time to take Scott to his many appointments, spend time with him, take my daughter where she needs to go, and yes, take care of myself. My husband comes to my concerts, which is something he enjoys immensely. Music is a type of therapy for him, (and for me!) so it works out great. My students are all thriving, and I derive great pleasure seeing them grow. We live simply and frugally…our needs are met, and God makes provision for any extras that come along.

Date Night

Date Night

We go to the grocery store, run errands, and basically just hang out as a family. We watch TV or movies, go for drives, walk the mall, and occasionally splurge with a meal out. We go out as a couple to Starbucks or the local piano bar, or for a cheap dinner for two while our daughter does her thing. She was doing color guard for her middle school, so for awhile we would schlepp her to events, which was nice to do as a family. He rests, oversees our daughter when I’m not home, and may read or watch old movies. They are rebuilding their relationship, and finding their way with one another. He has a DVD that plays the Bible while the words flash on the screen, and recently he has managed to go through the entire Bible! We meet with a local pastor once or twice a month just to chat. He is taking care of his body, his mind, and his spirit, all of which need massive amounts of healing and rest.

As for me, it has been an interesting time of just learning to live in the moment. I’m the kind of person who likes to do a lot of dreaming of the future and reflecting on the past…but God has been teaching me about something called “liminality”. A liminal space is that awkward time between “what was” and “what will be.” We are not where we were, and it yet remains to be seen where we’re going. No longer caterpilar, not yet butterfly...in transition. For much of the past year, I’ve been trying to make sense of the past and figure out where we’re headed…but God has had me slow down, and learn to just BE. I used to travel a lot, all over the world. As much as I love to go to new places and see new things, being trapped in a tin can 30,000 feet in the air is NOT my idea of fun. When you’re in the air, you are essential nowhere. You’re not where you were, and you’re not where you’re going. You’re stuck, and only the grace of God and skilled pilots and well maintained planes will get you to where you’re going. It can be scary and yet exciting at the same time, because as much as you look forward to your destination and will most likely arrive in one piece ( planes are, after all, the safest way to travel!), it seems like you’re within seconds away from potential disaster. The best you can do is sit back, relax, and wait, and try to pass the time, and TRUST that you will land safely.

That’s where I’m at these days. Life seems to have finally taken off for us, but we still have a ways to go before we arrive at our destination. This is not the time to make any major decisions, or try to find answers to lingering questions. Even my writing, which it seems I have been waiting SO long to finally devote the time and energy that my heart desires to give it, has taken a back seat. Alas, now is not the time to attempt to launch a new career in writing…instead, it is a time to simply sit back and relish the miracle of being together. A couple of short years ago, even this was nothing but a dream. Now is the time to TRUST the Lord more than ever, and continue to rest in Him.

Psalm 37:7King James Version (KJV)

7 Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for him.

Amen!!

Thanksgiving Indeed!!!

This year will mark a Thanksgiving worth remembering!!

On a recent Starbucks outing...what a handsome fellow!

On a recent Starbucks outing...what a handsome fellow!

It will be the first Thanksgiving that my husband, my daughter, and I will have celebrated TOGETHER since 2010.

That’s 6 years!

Wow!

It was in August 2011 that my husband, who at the time was struggling with complications from his Bipolar I Disorder, left our family.

He did not return to our family until March 2016.

The years in between that time and now were some of the darkest moments of both our lives. Only by God’s Amazing, INCREDIBLE Grace are we back together again, able to rejoice in all that God has done, even in the dark.

He has given us treasures…so many treasures.

Even though we were ripped apart as a family, God kept us all. What Jasmyne and I lacked in terms of having our husband and father with us, God more than made up for through miraculous provision. When Scott’s “wanderings” could have turned into a tragedy, God worked it all together for his good, to where his worst moments have led to his greatest breakthrough.

So for me, this year being “thankful” runs especially deep. Deeper than I can put into words.

I hope one day that God grant me the ability to find the words to adequately express the immense gratitude, awe, and amazement at the work He has done in my family’s life.

It’s not just the fact that Scott is back in our lives. It’s HOW he is back in our lives, and what he had to go through to get here. The transition has been smoother than I ever could have anticipated, and yet at the same time, it has not been without its challenges as we have all had to deal with the consequences of his time away.

Even so…there has been peace, joy, and refreshing. There is such a pleasant spirit that rests upon my household as God knits our hearts back together again, and restores all those broken places.

There are many broken places that have yet to be mended. Still…God’s Spirit is filling in those gaps, and making something beautiful.

There is deep healing that is taking place…not only of my husband’s mind, body, and soul…but of our marriage and family dynamics. Recovery, as wonderful as it is, comes with a price: it requires great responsibility and much grace, in a different way than when we were apart, or had we made different choices.  Healing can be just as painful as the wound itself. But…pain is often a sign of health, and I’m grateful for the pain of healing.

We still only see many things “through a glass darkly”. And while it will yet take time to sort out and unpack and sift through some of the ruins and rebuild, somehow, God has made it to where it’s not a chore so much, as it is a privilege, and an honor, and an extremely rare gift.

So this year I am grateful...deeply, profoundly grateful.

What are YOU thankful for this year??

That Shelley Duvall Interview

(Photo: Jean Jacques Levy, AP)

(Photo: Jean Jacques Levy, AP)

The other day on Dr. Phil's show, he did a controversial interview with actress Shelley Duvall, known for her roles in the classic movie “The Shining” with Jack Nicholson, and “Popeye” with Robin Williams.

The show caught the attention of my husband and I, for a couple of reasons. One, he is a huge Stanley Kubrick fan, and has seen every one of Kubrick’s few movies dozens of times. Not just for entertainment, but as a connoisseur of Kubrick’s directing style, his choice of music, and the writing. “The Shining” is one of those Kubrick films that ranks pretty high on my husband’s list (with “2001: A Space Odyssey” at the top!) for its cinematography and soundtrack. “Popeye” came out when we were kids, and even though the critics panned it, it’s one of those sentimental “movies that we grew up with”, plus it’s one of Robin Williams’ first film roles, so it’s watching history unfold. And who can forget Shelley Duvall as Olive Oyl, and her rendition of the song “He Needs Me”. I’ve often teased my hubby with that song, because it fits us quite nicely.

Anyway, the show caught our attention for another reason: it focused on Shelley Duvall’s apparent battle with mental illness. In recent years, it seems that she has deteriorated significantly to the point where she has descended into a pretty severe state of physical and mental ill health. The show was…allegedly…Dr. Phil’s attempts to get her some much needed help, and to perhaps shed some light about mental illness.

My husband and I watched this show, and it left us feeling some kind of way, let me tell you.

I have extremely mixed feelings about it.

First of all, I am not a fan of Dr. Phil. I think he exploits people, and I think he is looking for ratings. Evidently it must work, since he is still on the air after all these years. I think that this show was a prime example. It was not about her, it was about HIM, and I think he took advantage of her for his own gain.

If the show had truly been about HER, he would have waited until she was in better condition and gotten her permission and cooperation to show the whole world what she was like unwell. I was appalled that for 30 minutes, we as an audience were subject to their “interview”, when it was obvious after the first 5 minutes that she was very ill. What more did we need to see? The whole time, I kept thinking “does she even understand that this is being shown to millions of people? How would she feel knowing he was catching her at her worst moments and putting it out there for the world to see??!! Did she agree to this? What is the point of this? Where is this going?”

Occasionally, he would interject himself on a soundstage with power points that gave clinical terms for what she was displaying as she talked to him…the flight of ideas, train of thought, etc. But he never offered any reasons for it…he never said “this is a classic example of symptoms of Bipolar or Schizophrenia”…or “this is what her brain is doing…” he was attempting to come off like an expert. He is not a psychiatrist, however, so really he had no business doing that. If he really wanted to be helpful, he could have at least had an expert on there to break it all down and help us as an audience truly understand what Ms. Duvall was experiencing. But no, of course that would not suit Dr. Phil’s self-serving need for ratings and to be the hero. Better to keep the camera on himself and on Ms. Duvall. Blah.

Finally, after 40 minutes of watching poor Shelley Duvall ramble on, Dr. Phil then showed the “gallant” attempts that he and his show made to get her some help. Dr. Phil to the rescue!!! They followed her on a harrowing journey from wherever she was to wherever they were going, that involved a flight, a car ride, etc. in which we continue to see the producers focus on Shelley Duvall in her terrible state, and talk about her behind her back. Exploitation.

In the last 5 minutes of the show, we FINALLY find out she refused the help they offered, and they took her back home where she is supposedly getting non-traditional help from local health care providers.

Talk about anti-climactic!!!

I had huge, huge problems with the way he treated her, and I am angry for her. I am apparently not alone in this, but I have my own personal reasons for my anger and frustration.

Even if she had consented to do the show, she was clearly not in a state of mind to realize what she was doing. The show would have come off much better for her, and for mental illness in general, if we could have seen her AFTER she got help in a much better state of mind, and then she could have participated more actively in educating America on mental health and treatment via her own example. But of course, Dr. Phil did not do it that way, because the show was not “really” about her.

It bothers me, because even though I write about how my own husband’s mental illness has affected our family, on my public blog I have not even so much as mentioned his name. I began the blog when he was not here, so technically, I did not have his permission or his consent to write about him openly. In fact  I have had a hard time with knowing how to tell our story, because while I want to be vulnerable and open, I also want to respect my husband. I would not dare display photos or videos of him at his worst, without his knowledge or consent. In private, amongst my closest confidants, I have shared more details, but never in a public forum such as a blog or Facebook.

I have taken great pains to protect his privacy and his dignity. Now that he is well, we actually just had a conversation the other day where we discussed my blog. He will probably never read it…it’s just not his thing. He knows of my writing and supports it, and trusts me. He gave his consent to me posting his picture, mentioning his name, and sharing more of his story, which I told him I would never do without asking him first. For me, it is a huge honor that he would trust me with his story, and because of that, I intend to treat it with the utmost care and concern…with the intent that our story could provide help, and offer HOPE,  for those who might be in a similar situation, and never an attempt to sensationalize or degrade him. He agreed to that.

Dr. Phil did not show Shelley Duvall that same courtesy, and because of that, my heart breaks for her, and I am mad at him for her.

That being said…

As much as I cringed while watching the show, I do have to say this…

It gave a very accurate portrayal of what it is like to interact with a person deep in a mental health crisis. Every symptom she displayed is indeed a classic example of the symptoms of a number of mental illnesses, including what my husband has battled. It is extremely difficult and frustrating to interact with and reason with a person in that state.

Her behaviors were painful and embarrassing, potentially opening her up to judgement, criticism, misunderstanding. If not done in the right way, with the goal of eradicating ignorance and increasing understanding and compassion, it could do further damage towards perpetuating stigma. Dr. Phil did NOT do it in the right way. He made a spectacle out of her for his own selfish purposes. I'm glad to see that people are standing up for Shelley Duvall, and I am glad to see that, even though I think Dr. Phil was wrong, at least it is getting people talking about mental illness.

The other thing that I have to admit the show accurately portrayed is how extremely difficult it is to get someone help.

Ms. Duvall may have been almost completely out of touch with reality, and she may have even expressed that she needed some help. However, she was not a threat to her herself, she was not a threat to others, and she while she may not have been in the best of physical or mental health, clearly she was able to function somewhat, even if it was extremely difficult to do so. In the end, she refused the help that was offered to her. Whatever Dr. Phil’s motives, he did offer to provide her treatment free of charge, and give her anything she wanted or needed to get well.

But, she did not want it, nor was she obligated to accept it. In her defense, I'm not sure I would take help from Dr. Phil either...but the point is, she refused treatment.

And therein lies the horrific tension of WHY it is so difficult to treat mental illness. It’s not as simple as “why don’t you just take your medicine.” Clearly, Ms. Duvall does not know she is as ill as she truly is…which is another classic symptom. There is name for it, anosognosia. Dr. Phil failed to mention that. It could have also helped the audience understand her actions. As long as she is not hurting herself or others, she is within her legal right to remain in her own version of reality. If she doesn't want the medication, she doesn't have to take it...but she really doesn't fully comprehend that she needs the medication. It is a catch-22.

So after the show, my husband and I discussed it a little bit, but it was hard because it was so, so sad to see her in that state, and hit soooo close to home. What I found interesting is that watching her, he did not connect her symptoms with his own experience. I shared with him that I could relate to the difficulty that Dr. Phil had with trying to communicate with her, and that is some of what I experienced with him in his episodes. But he could not comprehend that. Why?

Because he could not remember being in that condition.

I learn more and more everyday about mental illness, and one of the things that I’ve come to learn is that it must be like being drugged or something…you don’t remember the episode when you come out of it. My husband has no recollection of certain things he said or did…and his interpretation of events are through the filter of the state he was in at the time, and not necessarily in reality. This can make recovery a challenge at times when it comes to healing from the consequences of the illness…something you don’t hear about much, but it is part of the challenges.

I don’t fully understand the way the mind works in processing episodes once well, but hopefully as I continue to walk this journey with my husband, we will learn more to help us stay on top of things and to help him stay well.

My heart broke for Shelley Duvall…if she were in her right mind, and she knew that Dr. Phil did this to her, I would imagine that she would be absolutely LIVID!!! I feel like he violated her. I truly hope and pray that she does eventually get the help she needs, and when she does? I hope she sues the pants right off him.

Back to my husband drawing connections between her condition and his own: I’ll just say this. As severe as Ms. Duvall’s symptoms were, trust me when I say she could have been in much worse shape.

As time goes on, I do hope to unpack a little more of my husband’s story, as he gives consent and as I find my words. It’s a hard story to tell, but I will say that it is truly remarkable. My husband…whose name is Scott…is a miracle. An absolute miracle. I know for a fact that he would not be where he is today without prayer, without Divine intervention, without the hand of the Lord on his life, without an amazing series of events that led him to the right help. I don’t know if Ms. Duvall is a person of faith or not, but I sure will be praying for her. I hope that if nothing else, Dr. Phil’s show will cause her to be placed on a lot of people’s prayer lists.

There is a person underneath all that confusion. We’ve seen this beautiful, remarkable woman’s potential in her movies, in her body of work, and the causes she has championed. She is clearly an intelligent, creative soul who deserves happiness in her life and deserves to be well.  She has so much to offer to the world. Even if she doesn’t fully understand her condition, she clearly does not feel well, and does not understand that she could feel better. On some level, I’m sure she wants to feel better, but just doesn’t understand how. She represents millions of people out there who suffer needlessly…if they could only get the right help, the right meds, the right support, the right compassion.

I don’t know what the answers are, but we have to do better somehow. I’m ever more grateful for our journey…it has been painful, but I am pleased to report that Scott is doing amazingly well!!!! Recovery has been a journey for us both, but he is on the right track. More on us later, but I had to vent about Dr. Phil. In my opinion, he did absolutely nothing for Ms. Shelley Duvall or for mental illness. Shame on him!

A Very Special Anniversary

Source: MGN Online: 9/11 Memorial Photo

Source: MGN Online: 9/11 Memorial Photo

Today feels like a grand Harmonic Convergence of sorts.

It marks the 15 year anniversary of our nation’s darkest day.

It is my 17th wedding anniversary, as well as nearly 6 months since my husband returned to our home after almost 5 years of being away.

September also happens to be Suicide Prevention Awareness Month.

So here I am, celebrating 17 years of marriage to a man diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, during a month designated to raising awareness of one of the highest risks for his diagnosed illness, on a day when our nation is grieving our worst national tragedy and still dealing with the resulting continued mental health challenges of the trauma.

Whew! Harmonic Convergence indeed.

Where do I even begin??!

A year ago, I shared some of my remembrances of 9-11-01 that fell on my second wedding anniversary, as well as an update of where things stood with my husband.

What a difference a year makes!! I spoke of something that I felt at the time that I had not felt in a long time: HOPE. Something was different last year…the atmosphere in my heart was beginning to turn from sorrow to joy, as I had begun getting some hints at the possibilities of my husband’s recovery.

Source: J. Simpkins

Source: J. Simpkins

Well, I am pleased to say that hope does not disappoint!! From last year to today, we have experienced rebirth; new life

New Beginnings.

So for those who may not know, 17 years ago today I married a wonderful, sweet, gentle man who happens to have a horrible beast of an illness called Bipolar Disorder I, that he was diagnosed with at the age of 16.

Source: Microsoft Images

Source: Microsoft Images

Bipolar Disorder is a chronic mental illness that affects a fair amount of folks in this country…about 2.9% of the population. It is classified as a mood disorder, marked by episodes of mania and/or depression as well as impaired thinking. Its severity lies on a spectrum. On the mania side, the extreme may manifest as psychosis or delusions that can result in bizarre and sometimes even catastrophic behavior. On the depression side, it can lead to suicide. Many people fall somewhere in between this spectrum. Often times, the illness can be managed with medications and therapy, but occasionally episodes can become so severe that it can result in hospitalization. In recent years, Bipolar Disorder has become more visible, especially as mental illness is beginning to experience greater understanding and a reduction in stigma. The mental health community owes much of that visibility to the actress Patty Duke, who recently passed away. She was also diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, and became a vocal mental health advocate. Some other famous folks with Bipolar Disorder you may know: Carrie Fisher, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and possibly even Robin Williams. It can affect anyone, regardless of race, class, gender, or education. Because it is a complex disease with an endless combination of symptoms, the way it affects one person is not necessarily the way it affects another. It’s not all episodes and mood swings, either. There can be long periods of wellness and “normalcy” in between episodes…which in a way can make the illness even more unsettling, because of its unpredictable nature.

At its worst, bipolar disorder can be scary, misunderstood, and difficult to manage. At its best, just like any other illness, it CAN be well treated, although it is not always easy. Unfortunately, mental health care in this country is still a severely neglected and confusing field of medical care. I would venture to say that most people who deal with some form of mental illness do not receive the adequate treatment they need, for various reasons. As a result, many people who have bipolar disorder, and their loved ones, can go through terrible hardships…much of which could be avoided with education, advocacy, and better resources. Sometimes, even in the best of circumstances, Bipolar disorder can still lead to tragic outcomes.

While I am certainly not a spokesperson for all mental illness, I can only share our story, and hopefully offer some enlightenment, hope, and encouragement for those who find themselves in a similar situation such as ours. We are not alone or unique in our situation, although some circumstances may be different.

For us, and especially for me as a spouse and caregiver, I cannot stress enough the importance of having a good support system. This is paramount for anyone who finds themselves in the midst of any life challenge, no matter what it is. But especially on this road to mental health.

I think that on this Day of Remembrance, the need for support is probably what is on my mind the most.

I have a dear friend who was recently diagnosed with breast cancer. I went to visit her a few weeks ago, and was blown away by the amazing outpouring of support she has received! Her fridge was filled with meals; her home was filled with friends doing home repairs; she is on the prayer list of her church; her 3 girls who range in age from tween to college were all taken care of as far as getting where they needed to go; her husband of 21 years has been her rock and his job has been wonderfully supportive; her Facebook feed has blown up with tons of well wishes and positivity; she has been showered with gifts of books, pretty scarves for her head; and many, many other cancer survivors (even complete strangers!) are standing beside her to offer support, gifts, prayers, and words of encouragement, cheering her on. At the time I visited her, she had only begun one round of chemotherapy, and all of this was in place! Much of that has to do with the wonderful person that she was before her diagnosis, and that she has built community. Her heart is filled with so much faith and confidence in God, and a strong sense of His presence, she simply shines and people are drawn to the Light. My own heart burst with SO much hope and gratitude for her, and pride in knowing her!! While she has a road ahead of her still, with that kind of love around her, the road ahead is an absolutely beautiful one, simply because she is not alone.

When it comes to mental illness, particularly severe mental illness, the brutal and ugly truth is this: good support is hard to find. When someone is in the middle of a manic episode, or stuck in the trenches of depression, people don’t really want to rally around…they’d rather keep a safe distance. The stigma, isolation, and fear for both them and their families can be just as awful as the disease itself…and contributes to many of the resulting challenges.

In the past, I do not believe my husband or myself had adequate support in place, for a variety of reasons; not understanding what we were dealing with, people not understanding us, ignorance of what was available to us, etc. During our time apart, I believe we’ve both learned some valuable lessons. Time and maturity has a way of altering perspectives. Thankfully, in the 6 months that my husband has been back home, I believe we have more support than at any other time in our entire 17 year marriage. Yep, it has taken that long to figure out the best approach to health and wellness for both of us.  It’s not just HIS disease, it affects our whole family. I think we’ve both learned that we need to take what I call a holistic approach to wellness, and make it a priority. This has been one of my biggest prayers and desires, to build a team of folks to support us on our journey. We have a ways to go in getting all the right pieces in place, but for the first time I feel that we are well on our way, headed in the right direction.

I’ve learned something on this journey: some folks just aren’t going to get it. As a result, you will get rejected, misunderstood, and even abandoned. Sometimes that can feel like a good excuse to just give up and stop trying, and have a pity party. I’ve been guilty of that.

But, I’ve also learned that if we keep asking, keep talking, keep pressing in, eventually someone will come along and…regardless of whether they get it or not, they’ll just stand by you and be there for you. Sometimes that’s enough.

My aforementioned friend, the one with a recent cancer diagnosis, also has a mental health diagnosis. Not Bipolar Disorder, although that is in her family as well so she is definitely familiar with it. She is someone I consider to be one of our biggest advocates. She was even in our wedding!!! Since I have known her, she has always been open to sharing her story…her challenges, her triumphs, her concerns…as she navigated her own mental health challenges. In the process, I have learned so much from her, and much of what she has shared with me has helped me. I am certain that her openness has contributed to the outpouring of support she is now receiving in her newest challenge. She has certainly made a difference for us!

The same way we keep talking about things like how 9/11 has impacted our lives…and even the way so many other “conversations” have been started in recent years over many other important issues… I think that’s what we need to do with mental illness. Just talk about it. Ask questions…get educated, share stories, experiences, and above all, HOPE. Chances are, it hits closer to home than you may even realize. I cannot even begin to tell you how many people I’ve met who has been touched in some way by mental illness, whether themselves or a family member, friend, or colleague. There’s something therapeutic about shared experiences, and I think half the battle is not holding in the struggles.

I am still trying to sort out the best way to share our own story. It’s not easy to be vulnerable…especially about something as uncomfortable as mental illness.

But I believe it is important, now more than ever.