I’ve got the crazy brain. Mental health issues. Whatever you want to call it, you already know I’ve got it. I feel like it’s important to talk about, if only so people like me feel a little less alone. If by discussing these things I can make anyone’s burden a little lighter, I am happy to do it, even if it does make me a little more vulnerable in the process. You do what you gotta do, right? Plus, today is World Suicide Prevention Day. During Marriage Month, I think, it’s definitely appropriate to talk about helping our spouses. Preventing that sort of thing for the ones we love best.
I’ve seen a surprising number of marriages weather the storms of mental illness, my own included. I’m definitely not an expert on these things , but I have learned quite a bit from my own experience and observation. Good husbands and wives tend to do a lot of the same things when their spouses are struggling with mental health problems, and I’ve seen and felt the difference those actions can make for both parties.
So, for all you sane people with crazy spouses, this one is for you.
1) Trust them.
If your husband or wife tells you they think they might have a problem, believe them. Sharing depressed, anxious, and especially suicidal thoughts with someone shows a massive amount of trust and vulnerability. Ask clarifying questions (such as “Why do you think you feel this way? When did this start?”), but never doubt that they are telling you their truth.
2) Make treatment suggestions but don’t force anything.
If you feel medication is not a good idea, express your concerns and your reasons. If you think therapy might be helpful, say so. But don’t insist that your spouse try anything with which they are uncomfortable, and don’t deny them any treatment options they are willing to try. Discuss these things together, honestly and prayerfully (if you’re the praying type). Decide on a course of action together.
3) Be honest.
Your spouse needs someone who has no agenda other than helping them be as well as possible. When you see signs of improvement, acknowledge them. When you notice when something tends to trigger an “episode”, let your spouse know, since he or she may not have even picked up on it. Most importantly, if you think their condition is worsening, speak up. It may be time to adjust their approach–new medication or dosage, a different doctor, a change in diet, etc.–and the sooner they do it, the better.
Something to remember here: a person with crazy brain may not always recognize when they are being crazy. Irrational thoughts start making perfect sense, and every day activities may suddenly seem impossible to accomplish. I’ll say it again: be honest. Your spouse needs a rational, sane, objective sounding board to tell them, “This is not normal. You are not yourself. Let’s fix this.”
4) Show empathy.
While honesty is important, so is kindness. When someone feels broken, the last thing they need is a harsh reminder of it. Listen to their concerns without belittling them. Try to understand what they are going through. Reassure them that there is hope.
This strategy has worked well for us when I am starting to lose it: ask “Are you okay?” or “How are you doing?” If the answer is negative, follow up with, “How can I help?” Then help. When anxiety is an issue, your spouse may feel even more overwhelmed trying to tell you ways in which you can help. In that case, look for something that can be done to lessen their stress, and do it without waiting to be told. Take the screaming baby outside for a minute. Make dinner or order takeout. Clean up the house. Rub their shoulders to ease some tension. Let them sleep in an extra fifteen minutes or take a long hot shower. Show them that you are mindful of their needs.
5) Be patient and persistent.
Crazy brains are frustrating for everyone. It takes time to find a treatment solution that works best in each situation. There will likely be setbacks and difficult conversations and terribly difficult days for both of you. Set realistic expectations. Keep trying. Stay positive.
There will also be progress. You’ll see several good days in a row, and it’s possible that you or your spouse will think that maybe things are better. The disease is gone! You don’t have to keep treating it because clearly all is well!
This is not true. If something is working–medication or therapy or exercise or acupuncture or whatever your spouse has found to improve their mental health–encourage them to keep doing it, not to stop! Stopping would be counterproductive. If it works, keep it up. If it doesn’t, try it a little longer. If it still doesn’t, try something else. But keep trying. Remind them to take their meds. Ask if they’ve been running lately. Schedule their next therapist appointment. Whatever they need to keep moving on their path to being well.
6) Recognize warning signs and be willing to provide an out.
On a more practical note, pay attention to what is going on with your spouse. If their behavior changes, or you notice them slipping into bad habits, or even if you just know that they are feeling stressed out, step in. Give them an excuse to leave a party, or not to attend at all. Change the topic of conversation. Go take them for a walk. Sometimes your spouse will need to be rescued from a situation or from their own craziness. Swoop in as tactfully as possible and give them an easy exit.
7) Encourage them to do things that bring them peace of mind, happiness, and fulfillment.
This is another practical suggestion that can make a big difference. Sometimes this may mean a few minutes of quiet alone time. Other times this may mean an entire day to do whatever they want. Enabling your spouse to participate in a hobby they love or spend time with good friends can do wonders for their mental well-being.
8) Take time to do things for yourself.
It’s exhausting to live with a crazy person. Really, it is, I know, and I’m sorry. Be sure to give yourself a break when needed. Go spend some time alone doing something you love. Exercise. Eat things you enjoy. You can hardly take care of someone else if you never carve out time in your busy schedule to take care of you.
9) Love them unconditionally.
This is really the most important thing. A depressed person often feels unloved, even unlovable. Make sure that your spouse knows in no uncertain terms that you love them. No matter what. Show them in ways they will understand. For example, the other day David wrangled the girls and made cookies while I took a nap. Alone time, food, and sleep are definitely part of my love language. What can you do to help your spouse feel loved? Do it!
It’s hard, guys. It’s hard to know you’re a crazy person and it’s hard to live with a crazy person. It just is. But maybe, hopefully, these suggestions can help you navigate the worst of it and find some light on the other side. Because there is always, always hope.
What about you? Are there any tips you would add to this list? I’d love to hear other suggestions.