It has taken me some time to write another post because I needed to consider what it was that I really wanted to communicate. I have a lot to unpack and it’s important that I choose the right suitcase. This piece is quite personal in particular as it involves my husband Andrew, to a deeper degree. It has been with love, care, consideration and his permission, that I write this. These extraordinary times we’re living in are having an enormous impact on so many. I hope that though our story is unique in some ways, there are elements here that may apply to others reading this and if nothing else, perhaps in sharing it, I might be able to encourage others that they are not alone. YOU are not alone. I’ll be specifically addressing depression, anxiety and addiction. We know that for many, these things go hand in hand. We also know, that during this period of social distancing, lockdowns and job loss, many of us already facing these challenges are suffering.
C A U S E and E F F E C T:
It was 11pm midweek and I was still awake. It was far past my bedtime as I usually go to sleep when my girls do, but I was deeply entrenched in the Netflix series Ratched. Just as I had conceded that I needed to go to bed, my phone rang. I looked to see who’d possibly call at this hour and was surprised to see that it was one of my dearest friends, Maria. My surprise was in that we hadn’t communicated much at all in the past year and I’d certainly not received a late night call from her since moving across the state. You see, when I suffered my M.S. relapse and subsequent psychosis, I temporarily disappeared; literally and figuratively. We left our home and never returned. We were in crisis. It was an emergency and there was no time to make the connections that are generally made prior to moving. Compound that with the fact that my family and I were healing from trauma, moving into a new life, in a new town, all while continuing to suffer from physical limitations caused by the multiple sclerosis. To say that my plate was overflowing is an understatement. The luxury of actively nurturing relationships hasn’t been a thing this past year. Those whom I have managed to keep up with have been relentless in their reaching out and unconditional love for me and my family. I missed Maria very much and to see her name light up on my phone caused my heart to leap. I answered, “Maria!” as quietly as I was able despite my excitement, tears rolling down my cheeks. Where do we even begin? Life had been chalked full with much for both of us. She too has a young family and has faced many challenges in the past year. She and I used to regularly have late night phone calls after kids and even sometimes husbands were asleep. She wanted to know how I was, no matter how many times I told her that I wanted to know how SHE was. I thought if we could just talk about her I would be able to distract her from the question of how I was doing. I hadn’t planned on telling her the truth despite the fact that we had always told each other everything. I tried to hold back tears but couldn’t. She knew something wasn’t ok. Maria always knew. I finally came out with the fact that I wasn’t doing well. The truth was, Andrew had been struggling for some time and he was currently not living with us. I told her that I had experienced some guilt about it – but before I could finish she scolded me. “Tricia Rhea, don’t you dare say that! Don’t you dare!” I said, “But Maria, it’s cause and effect”
Cause and effect. My husband had in the past year, watched his wife go from vibrant and active to struggling to walk and suffering from cognitive decline. He then witnessed my eventually suffering from a psychosis caused by the medication being used to treat the disease. My sickness necessitated him leavIng two separate jobs in a period of one month. He had to manage everything without me and I needed almost constant supervision. He needed to get me medical attention. He needed to make sure our children were safe. All of this and he needed to work. We lived far from family. I am not sure what he would have done without the help of our friends and family who drove hours without notice to step in. For context, while in psychosis, I was in a completely manic condition. I was not really living in reality on many levels. One idea I had was that we were millionaires. I would spend money we didn’t have on things we didn’t need late at night while everyone else was asleep. Previous to the psychosis, I ran the household finances. Andrew had no idea what was going on – until he did. This financial strain and confusion only added to his stress. Previous to the psychosis we began discussions regarding our potentially needing to move in order to be closer to family. My decline was severe and we were beginning to see that I would need a great deal of help in the support of my recovery. Andrew was negotiating a potential job to that end. There were 2 simple, specific conditions that would allow for us to move. Accepting the job was second only to them offering him a salary that would allow for us to move from a financial standpoint. There was a threshold necessary in order to make that possible for us. Nothing had been set in stone before I suffered the psychosis. The psychosis was the very circumstance forcing Andrew’s hand in terms of our moving. The job he was negotiating was available one month after we moved across state at nearly 50% less than what our threshold was. But he didn’t have a choice. At that point in time it was a necessary decision – the right decision – the lesser of two evils. Talk about stress. Andrew had been put into a pressure cooker on every side of our lives and he didn’t have a partner to go through any of it with. At one point while in psychosis, I shouted at him that he had abandoned me and his daughters. I have no memory of this. I’m not sure why I believed that because he was doing everything in his power to keep us all together and safe. He saw me in a state that I wouldn’t wish on any partner. He confessed to me later, that at one point, he was terrified that I wouldn’t ever be ok. Would he ever be ok? Would his children be ok? Imagine his trauma. Imagine his suffering.
Andrew has long suffered from depression. It is something that he’s worked through over the years through talk therapy as well as medication. His depression and anxiety have been controllable for the most part, but each year around October, he begins to noticeably dip. This is usually when he and I have the conversation that it’s time to start seeing our counselor again, to help us through. I came out of psychosis mid October. He started his new job a week later. There we were, trying to pick up the pieces. Within a few months, Andrew suffered a relapse of his alcoholism. I wasn’t aware of it. I simply thought that he was in the throes of his depression and that it was worse because of our collective trauma. Looking back, I’m surprised the relapse didn’t happen sooner given everything he’d been through.
We had all been diagnosed with PTSD. We began counseling to begin the recovery process. Despite this, he was not ok. I’d frankly never seen him in such a state. He was so distant. It seemed hard for him to be home for any length of time. I thought he was processing what we’d been through and that it was simply hard on him in a different way. I didn’t realize he was struggling with his relapse. By March, we were on lock down. His industry was shut down and he was unemployed again. Because of the year we had had, his unemployment was quite low, as it’s determined by what is referred to as your “base year.” In other words, our quarter was based not on what he’d been earning for the past five months, but rather on the months previous when he took a pay cut and was temporarily unemployed due to my medical emergency. He was now feeling the pressure of the financial burden placed squarely on his shoulders, as I was still not well enough to work. This was his tipping point. The consequences of the pandemic were too much for him. He had reached the point that he was no longer able to hide his alcoholism from me. I tried helping him through it as best I could. It eventually became something I was no longer able to hide from the children. It was at this time that he went to live with his mother to get sober. This was excruciating for all of us…but necessary. We again found ourselves choosing the lesser of two evils.
I understand why Maria admonished me when I told her that I was experiencing feelings of guilt. It’s not my fault. Of course, it’s not my fault. The truth remains that my sickness set into motion a series of events that uprooted our lives and had significant negative impacts not on me alone, but on all of us. C A U S E and E F F E C T.
C O U R A G E and E M P A T H Y:
I am so proud of my husband. He has had courage in the face of a great deal of adversity. Courage to face his shadows and demons. Courage to be honest with himself. Courage to allow himself the space to really experience his own feelings of what happened to him as a result of my sickness. Facing our shadows is never an easy thing to do. To face them honestly and to confront them head on can be incredibly difficult, but oh so rewarding. I’m also proud of myself. Proud of my own courage to give Andrew the grace he needs, helping to support him in his recovery. I’m proud of my courage to no longer be co-dependent and to find the balance between supportive partner and living in a way that meets my own needs. I’m proud of us as parents and partners. We found the courage to trust and to believe in one another once again. We have the courage to love one another through our respective illnesses and recovery, acknowledging that we both have more work to do. We are a work in progress- right where we need to be at this point in time. Andrew is back home and we are doing the work in a healthy, productive way together, as individuals.
Courage and empathy. Empathy is so important. Putting yourself in another person’s shoes without prejudice. Without bringing your own experiences into it. Pure empathy. When we’re able to do that for one another, we are able to accomplish so much more for each other. Finding a balance when you’re an empathic person so that you’re not carrying the things that don’t belong to you can be challenging, as is the case for me. I am grateful for my natural tendency to be sensitive and empathic in terms of my relationship with Andrew. While finding the balance has been challenging, I’m not sure we’d have made it through this season without it. Conversely, his ability to have empathy for me and my own struggles; my physical limitations in particular, is vital. When he meets me in that space, it makes all the difference in the world – for both of us. We are still here after all, and for this simple truth, I am filled with an abundance of gratitude today.