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When Death Shakes Your Own Soul November 9, 2016

Filed under: Thoughts — Meghan Hamilton @ 4:00 pm
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Yesterday Craig and I attended the funeral of a 48 year old man. We weren’t super close to him, but he made a significant impact on Craig and we are both better people for having known his kindness.

Despite not knowing him well, his death has hit me hard. You see, he struggled with his mental health. On several occasions, his wife and I would have impromptu group therapy sessions in the grocery store or wherever we happened to run into each other, because being married to someone with a mental illness is hard. Though they had different diagnoses, it was similar enough to feel safe talking about it with each other.

So as I thought about this particular death, I knew it could just as easily have been Craig’s funeral. The thing that people don’t like to acknowledge out loud in front of other people is that mental illness can be a terminal illness. Whether a person takes their own life because the pain inside has become overwhelming, or they do something utterly stupid in the throes of a delusion, death is not uncommon. It can feel like it is waiting at the periphery of our lives on a daily basis, looking for an opportunity to snatch away our loved ones.

Those of us married to people like Craig find ourselves wondering if treatment will be accepted. Then we wonder if it will be effective. It’s not always effective. The man who was buried yesterday fought valiantly for his sanity. He loved his family deeply. I doubt he wanted to hurt them with his exit from this life. When my friend was presented with the flags involved in the military ceremony, I heard her weep. My heart wept with her. I can only imagine her pain right now. I hope to never feel it for myself. But I’m not counting on it.

Craig fights every day. Still, there are days that I wonder if he’ll arrive home safely after he goes out. There are days I wonder if I’ll arrive home to him still in one piece and the house safe from a kitchen fire. There have even been days that I wished it would be over so that I could stop wondering. Those are the most terrifying days and the ones no one wants to acknowledge.

Today I still have my husband. Today I will tell him I love him because I don’t know if I’ll get the chance to tell him tomorrow.

*Note: I don’t wish to ignore or minimize the impact of mental illness on the lives of other family members. But my experience is that of a spouse, so that is my focus today.*


Mental Health Awareness Month May 6, 2012

It seems like there is a day or a month to make us aware of all sorts of things.  May has been proclaimed Mental Health Awareness Month.   If you have been following my blog or have known me for more than five minutes, you probably know that my husband has Bipolar Disorder.  Thus, I am all to well aware of mental illness. 

If you want to find out specifically about him, browse through old posts.  If you want to find out more specifically about Bipolar, use Google or any search engine you prefer.  Today I would like to talk about mental health in general terms and my observations about how people view it.

If you read my post about jury duty and you know my life with my husband, you may wonder why I didn’t find in favor of the plaintiff when she came to court seeking compensation for emotional damages.  The fact of the matter is, she did not prove to us that she suffered unduly and the defendant’s actions did not fulfil the legal requirements to be made to pay.

Do I discount anxiety or emotional strain as being “in her head?”  No.  These are very real things.  They are very real mental disorders and illnesses.  I see my husband’s anxieties play out almost daily.  I see other people struggle with anxiety.  I have seen and known sleeplessness and felt my own stomach knot up with worry and fear.  These things should be recognized by our legal system and by our society as very real illnesses just as a broken bone or diabetes are recognized as such.

One of the problems I see in our society, thus our legal and healthcare systems, is a refusal to believe that these are biological disorders.  Even though mental illnesses respond to medications, many people would have us believe that someone can “snap out of it” or “just get over it.”  Because of this attitude, people suffering from a real illness are reluctant to seek medical advice for it.  Would you tell someone with a rash that won’t go away no matter how many over the counter creams and lotions they have applied to it, to “just get over it?”  No!  You would advise them to see a doctor.

As I have learned about my husband’s illness and my own postpartum depression, there are many pills available to help people through mental illnesses.  There are many counselors out there to help people through stressful situations that arise from the illness or from an external situation. 

My inclination is that the woman in the court case I watched play out last week is to believe that she had a situationally triggered  illness of some sort.  The problem was, she had been too reluctant to have it evaluated.  To compare it to a cut, there was no way of knowing if this was a small scratch that healed easily or if this was a deep wound that would have required thirty stitches, or somewhere in between.  What if our culture made it easier for her to see a counselor?  Or even to just visit her primary care doctor for an evaluation?  That case may have turned out much differently, especially since we don’t have any visible scars to indicate the level of anxiety she had experienced as we would an external flesh wound. 

What can be done?  I ask you, reader, to evaluate how you see mental illness.  Do you believe that it is a physical illness affecting the brain?  Or do you believe that it is something else?  Do you believe that all people with mental illnesses are “crazy” and don’t deserve the time of day?  What do you believe?

I believe that all people deserve to have their bodies cared for, whether it is their brain or their pancreas that is ailing them.  When I encounter people in mental distress, I encourage them to seek counseling.  When I encounter someone with a diagnosed mental illness, I don’t assume anything about how it affects them in their ability to function and work on a day-to-day basis.  Every person is different.  Every person deserves to be treated as a person with real feelings and real problems.  No one deserves to be told, “Just get over it!” when it comes to their health.

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