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!!