I've been taking a bit of a break from social media and internet for awhile, and so I missed my annual anniversary post this year. But I am happy to announce that we recently marked 18 years of marriage on September 11!! I could not be more thrilled!! I feel like every year for us is a miracle!! We have faced so many challenges as a couple, and yet God has been faithful to bring us through them all, and He continues to walk us through all of the challenges and joys of life...together.
I recently wrote a post listing 5 reasons I did not divorce my husband in the midst of his mental health challenges. I felt like it was an important post to write, because of the alarming statistic that marriages with a spouse with Bipolar Disorder have a 90% failure rate. I only listed 5, but of course I could come up with more. But the most obvious reason, and one I left off the list, is because...bottom line...I love my husband.
Now, I will be honest in saying that my love for my husband has been tested in more ways than I ever could have dreamed of. I think that one of the reasons that I left "love" off the list is because there comes a time, or many times, when love simply is not enough to sustain a long term commitment such as marriage. At least, not love in the way our culture describes it or thinks it is.
When we got married, we had 1 Corinthians 13 read at our wedding. Since much of my job involves playing violin for weddings, I can tell you that this is one of the most often quoted passages read from the Bible during the ceremony. But I can guarantee that young couple has NO clue what those verses actually MEAN!!! I know I sure didn't!
The very FIRST descriptor of love in this beautiful, poetic chapter, is this:
Love is PATIENT.
Or, I like what the Old King James version says: Love suffereth long.
Do people really know what that means?
It goes on to say, "love bears all things".
Do you know what else the Bible says love is? God is love. Jesus Christ is love. I am convinced that we are unable to love in our own strength, and in our own power. It takes a power far greater than ourselves to suffer long and bear all things. When my husband was gone, it was love in the form of Jesus that kept me and my daughter...it was His love through me that kept me waiting for my husband to come home.
And even after the triumph of his return to us, that theme of patient love has continued. I've mentioned that in March, my husband had to switch medications. The one he was on, that had worked SO well, was causing unpleasant and potentially dangerous side effects, so it was in his best interest, according to his provider, to switch. It can be a very long, tedious process to have to start completely over on new medication, and this time has been no different. I was told by his medical team that the rule in an outpatient setting is to "start low and go slow", when it comes to introducing new medications. It takes time to build up the medication in the body and watch for side effects, and it is easier to do in small increments when the person is not in an inpatient setting where they can be monitored 24/7. So it goes like this: start a dose. Wait a month. Monitor symptoms and reactions. Return to the caregiver and give a report. Make adjustments. Wait another month. Wash, rinse, repeat, until the medication gets to a therapeutic range for optimum maintenance and function. It's important to do it this way, because these medications are hard core...they can provide amazing relief of symptoms, but they can be hard, and even dangerous, on the body. In some cases, they might exacerbate symptoms. Unfortunately, it can be a crap shoot...it may or may not work, and it is only trial and error until you find out what works. This is one reason why people can get overwhelmed with treatment and give up. It's just HARD, and it takes so LONG.
So in March of this year, Scott started a new medication. And it has gone like this: 150mg-200mg-250mg-300mg-350mg-400mg. That is SIX adjustments, and it has taken SIX months. So far. And in these past 6 months, we've had to monitor symptoms and side effects. For myself and our daughter, we've had to live with my husband as his body and brain adjusts to these changes. Which has meant some breakthrough symptoms...and, well, let's just say it has been challenging at times. Especially when you throw anosognosia into the mix...in other words, my husband did not always have the insight to understand that he was symptomatic. So for him, nothing was ever wrong. Fortunately, there were no major crises or need for drastic interventions. But it has been something we've just had to wait out, while the meds and his caregivers do their thing. To my husband's credit, he has been faithful to take the meds as prescribed, he goes to all scheduled appointments, and he also allows me in on his appointments and lets me interact with his team. This would allow me, if need be, to call on his behalf to report any emergencies, or give insights to his team that he himself does not have. He does not have to do any of that, and yet he truly is being proactive in taking care of himself. For that, he is to be commended.
Still, I'm not going to lie...it has been a struggle. This new medication has been, at times, a point of contention between us, since he has liked it, and I have not been so sure it is a good fit.
So in the name of self-care, which I believe is important, I reached out for some support. I did something that, in 18 years of marriage believe it or not, I've never done...I joined a support group.
Not just any support group. I found an online Christian support group for people who have a mental health diagnosis, and their loved ones. It is part of an amazing ministry, founded by a pastor with a Bipolar Diagnosis, who himself went through some major challenges in his life and now God has redeemed his story and is using him to bring help and hope to others. Nothing like this existed when Scott and I first got married...but Praise the Lord, it's there now. I'll share more about this group in a future post. But I found the online group in June, and it was like a breath of fresh air for me as a loved one. They meet weekly in video conferencing format, and the members are from all over the world.
Most of the folks in the group have a diagnosis of some kind, but there are other loved ones like me. It is a safe place to share concerns, joys, advice, and prayer. I could share my struggles and they GET IT. Not only that, but they could give me insights into what my husband is going through, and encourage me in ways that I just could not get anywhere else. They've even been able to "meet" Scott, and he has sat in and listened in on a few meetings. Interacting with others like him has helped me to release some of my own anxieties, and has given me some healthy perspectives on this whole process of this recent medication change.
There was one gentleman in particular who attended this online group on a fairly regular basis. In fact, after my first time, he emailed me and welcomed me to the group. I shared with them all a little of our story, and he was inspired, and affirmed me in my position of standing by my husband. He even gave me some information about some resources I could look into. Unfortunately, this gentleman also battled with deep bipolar depression. He had attempted suicide twice within the past year, and had been hospitalized for it. The fact that he attended this group and reached out to others, shows that he was making an effort at getting help and hope. He had this illness for over 20 years, and yet it had brought a lot of pain into his life, but a string of recent unfortunate events apparently put him over the edge. Sadly, he was unable to overcome and find his way out of the darkness...I was informed last week that he ended his life.
Although I only "knew" him since June, I've had a hard time with this. My heart has hurt for him, his family and friends who are now left to cope, and for all those who struggle to find their way out of the dark. I wish I had emailed him more often. I wish I had prayed for him more...I wish I could have gotten to know him better. I wish...
Sadly, this is the reality of mental illness. September is, ironically, suicide prevention and awareness month. Well, my friends, I am definitely more aware. I always had the awareness, just by nature of the proximity I have to living with someone with this illness that comes with a high suicide risk. But...I guess somehow it's hitting me in a different way this time, because of my involvement with a group that was actually designed to assist in preventing, or at least drastically reducing, outcomes such as these. Unfortunately, just like any other disease, sometimes lives are lost. I'm just so, so sorry...but I believe in my heart that neither his life, nor his death, will be in vain.
Of all the issues my husband has had to deal with in having this illness, he has not been suicidal. Not everyone with bipolar disorder is or will be suicidal. However, almost everyone with bipolar disorder (and other mental health issues) will most likely experience some kind of symptoms, from mild to severe, so it is SO very important to stay on top of treatments and manage this illness. It is SO important to be informed, aware, educated, and I also believe openness is an important component to health and healing. It doesn't necessarily mean going around telling everyone your business, but support in the form of safe groups, peer support, or even allowing a trusted loved one into your recovery...it can go a long way. And for those of us who love someone with this illness...patience. Lots and LOTS of patience.
I am happy to report that, as the dosages have increased and the medication settles in, Scott is doing much better. He reports feeling better (sometimes it's only easy to see how sick you were in hindsight), and continues to do everything he needs to do, to the best of his ability, to stay well and move forward in his life. I have to say, I am proud of him. He is definitely on the right track. As for me, I continue to learn how to love. The adventure continues...!
4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;[b] 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
8 Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.
13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.