My Spouse’s Mental Illness Looks Just Like The Sick Days Of My Childhood

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“I was talking with my mom on the phone the other day and she was asking how my husband and I are doing. I often don’t know what to say. He’s been struggling with some severe mental illness for the past few years and we’ve just been ‘hanging in there’ for longer than I thought a person could reasonably ‘hang’ without losing their grip and everything coming crashing down.

But this time, instead of vague responses and faked positivity, I opened up a little, needing someone to experience the same disbelief I was feeling.

‘You remember those times we would stay home sick as a kid?’ I asked. ‘We would alternate between watching tv and sleeping all day. And we’d desperately want some Sprite and sherbet, because whether it actually was or not, it always seemed to be the perfect remedy.’

I remember those sick days vividly, both the times I was sick myself or doting on a sick sibling. We’d just lie there in our pajamas with our favorite blanket and stuffed animal, as comfy as possible to try to soothe the misery of our pounding head and aching chest. It always seemed so hard to keep our eyes open, or to get up, even just to shower or attempt to eat something. Not much sounded good to eat anyway. So when there were a few things we were craving, Mom would usually try to supply them. She’d bring them to us or send a sibling up the stairs with the requested item so we wouldn’t have to get our weak, fatigued body out of bed. My sweet mother would periodically come to check on us, sitting by our side, gently stroking our hair, or curling up next to us for a few minutes to provide some much needed comfort.

Little girl sleeps on yellow pillow while a woman's hand can be seen holding a thermometer.
Courtesy of ridvan_celick (via Canva)

After a few days, we’d be awake more than not, sleeping through the night and not so much in the day. The aches and pains would start to go away and it would be time to start going back to school. It was never fun trying to catch up on the missed classwork, but I seem to remember most of my teachers being pretty compassionate and omitting some of the less critical busy work and requiring me to only turn in the minimum amount of make-up assignments.

As I’ve been caring for my husband this past week or two, and he’s been especially depressed and discouraged, I’ve found myself relating to my mother during those sick days from my childhood. I watch my husband as he sleeps in past noon, and then takes a nap a few hours later, and fitfully sleeps throughout the night (when the anxiety seems to hit the hardest). Instead of a stuffed animal, he cuddles with our dog, and a favorite childhood blanket is replaced with a well-worn comforter. He doesn’t have much appetite, but he’ll wake up and admit he probably needs to eat something, so I’ll bring him whatever sounds good. When he is awake, all he seems to have energy to do is lie in bed and watch tv or play videos games. He doesn’t get up for much.

I check in on him and snuggle him when I can, stroking his hair and asking if there’s anything else that will help him feel better. I crinkle my nose and gently suggest that a shower might help relax his muscles and clear his head. It’s been a couple days and it’s hard not to tell. I offer to wash his blanket and get fresh sheets for him while he hops in, just like my mama would replace our ‘sick’ bedding for us.

But unlike those sick days as a child, I don’t know for certain this will pass in a day or two. I don’t know what medicine to bring or what home remedies might help. And I know for certain, when he’s able to return to his normal day-to-day responsibilities and catch up on the missed communications, he won’t be met with the same kind of compassion as I was by my teachers. He’ll either feel the need to lie and to hide, or he’ll be judged as weak, lazy, and undisciplined for ‘allowing’ himself to stay in bed like that.

Asian man sleeps on couch with arms folded against chest and grey blanket keeping him warm.
Courtesy of wotzkoh (via Canva)

‘Can you believe someone who’s not physically sick can actually sleep that many hours in a day?’ I ask my mom. But then, I realize… mental health IS physical health. That’s something I firmly believe. And while this may be a new manifestation, or rather, a more extreme development of the previous fatigue he’s been experiencing, it’s not that unbelievable. The effect mental illness has on the body is very real, and can be very different in each person and even throughout each stage or aspect of their disorder.

So if you’re finding yourself shocked by your own condition, or that of a loved one, just know it IS shocking. Shocking the mind can have such a powerful effect on our physical selves, but absolutely possible. Believe them, or recognize your own experience as valid. And while you should take this as a sign that something is wrong and needs treating, you should also offer compassion in those moments and allow your mind and body to rest, just as you would allow opportunity for your physical body to heal, without shame or guilt.”

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Connected In The Deep. You can read more from them on their blogSubmit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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