This is a guest blog written by my husband, John, in aid of Mental Health Awareness Week. After supporting me through my maternal mental illness he went on to develop depression, here for the first time publicly he shares his experience ….
Supporting a partner that is suffering from a mental illness is hard, I’m not going to pretend it isn’t, but it wasn’t until much later that I realised the impact that it had on me.
When the person you love and care about so much is struggling just to survive each day you try to do whatever you can to help. There were many occasions where I felt powerless, helpless, like whatever I tried to do wasn’t helping at all, and sometimes that I was making it worse, but I knew I had to keep supporting and being there. In the long run it was worth every second to see Sarah take those first real steps to recovery and then see her slowly but surely break free from the depression and anxiety that had tormented her for so long. The way I then saw her go from suffering so severely with these conditions to campaigning for awareness with such passion, and show great determination to help others to prevent them from suffering the way she had is inspiring and makes me very proud.
What I did not realise while all of this was going on was the impact this was having on my own mental health. I’ll be the first to admit that I have never been that good at showing my emotions, but as Sarah continued her recovery process she started to notice changes in me and my behaviour, my attitude, the way I interacted with people, that indicated that I was not the same as I had been before PND impacted our family (and I say ‘our family’ because while the mother is rightly the priority in these situations, the dad can often be overlooked). Sarah tried on several occasions to talk to me about it but, like a typical man, I assured her that nothing was wrong, that I was just tired, or was stressed with work, or some other excuse to dismiss the fact that I could be suffering from a mental illness myself.
It wasn’t until I was ‘trapped’ in the car in a traffic jam after a weekend away that the subject came up again, and this time I had nowhere to hide from the points that Sarah made. This was when I finally started to accept that I had changed and that my mental health had suffered. Instead of just not being open about my emotions, I felt numb, there is no other way to describe it. I just didn’t feel anything, things that should have brought me joy and excitement were muted and neutral, I was detached from life. I didn’t interact with people, and came across as rude (Sarah later told me that she had to apologise for my behaviour a few times when her parents visited). I had no motivation to do anything, whether that was leisure activities I normally enjoyed, trying to progress my career, meeting with friends, I was simply existing.
There was one emotion that I did stay in touch with though, and that was anger. I developed a very short fuse and became very irritable a lot of the time. I ended up taking this out on my family, those I cared about most, by being grumpy, by shouting and getting angry about the smallest of things. The kids didn’t understand and just thought “daddy is a grumpy man”. It really hit me when Sarah told me that our eldest daughter had asked her why daddy was so grumpy all the time? This was not the man I used to be, the husband and father they deserved, or that I wanted to be.
How much of it was down to the strain that I felt in supporting Sarah when she was suffering so badly, or the huge change that comes with becoming a dad, or whether it was in some way connected to work stress or the stress of day to day life I’ll never know for sure. And I’ll never know what difference seeking help sooner would have made, but at that moment I knew I needed to do something.
The next week I went to see my GP and explained how I was feeling, I was prescribed anti-depressants and advised to refer myself to our local NHS therapy service. Over the next year or so I went to cognitive behavioural therapy classes, and then had 1-2-1 counselling to try and understand what was going on and what I could do to start my own road to recovery and rediscover the person I used to be. It’s a long road and I know I’m not at the end yet but I am seeing a change in the way I am and the way I feel, and I’m determined to continue this journey and enjoy the life that I have with my amazing wife and wonderful children.
Neither of us are back to how we used to be before all this happened, and I don’t think we ever will be, but I think we are both stronger people having gone through it. The most important thing now is that people continue to talk about mental health and awareness keeps on growing. Mental health is just as important as physical health and can affect anyone at any time, if you have any concerns about your physical health you would go and see your GP to discuss it, why should this be any different when it relates to mental health?