Divorce & Mental Illness

Mental illness is a heavy topic to bring up so early in my blog, but it ties into my own marriage story so intimately that I feel the need to talk about it sooner rather than later.

I knew that my husband had mental health issues before we were married, but like many women, I thought that I would have a positive influence on his mental health. He had been a cutter before we were together and the signs of depression were there, though I chose not to recognize them for what they were. It seemed that he was better when he was with me and quite frankly, that can be flattering for a young woman. It’s almost like you are Belle and your man is The Beast. It only took him meeting such an amazing woman as myself to transform him into something better! Pshaw. That idea is only so much drivel.

Whatever your partner acts like when he’s with you, if he truly has mental health issues, he needs professional help to truly deal with the root of the problem and learn healthy coping mechanisms. He may feel better when he’s around you, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But that is like putting a band-aid on a gaping wound and saying, Look, it’s all better! Your presence does not and cannot heal your husband.

Throughout our marriage, my husband was depressed, which I believe he masked with his addictions. They were a form of escape for him so that he wouldn’t have to feel his feelings, deal with his depressing thoughts, make real life changes or seek the help that he needed to really thrive in life. For much of our married life, he simply existed within the family home.

At first, I would fool myself into thinking that we were spending time together. He would spend countless hours on the computer playing games and I would happily park myself near him and work on my projects. After a while though, I realized that I was in fact being ignored and that this arrangement didn’t equate with real social interaction. Over the years I regularly brought up the issue of his computer addiction, trying to get him to see that it was excessive, that he was ignoring me, that he was neglecting doing the things he should be doing, that he was missing out on sleep and meals, that he was ignoring our kids, etc.

I tried and tried to get him to see that this was a problem, that I wanted him to take me seriously, that I wanted him to change and/or seek out the help he needed to make the change. This would be for me and the kids — for his family.

Eventually it got to the point where I could see that we would be heading down the road of relationship destruction if his behavior didn’t change. Again, I warned him time and again that this behavior needed to stop or I would one day stop caring. I wanted him to care enough about us to decide to make the change of his own free will. That never happened.

Eventually — I can’t say exactly when it happened — I found that I didn’t care anymore. I found ways to entertain myself, to fulfill myself, to socialize with friends, to be involved with the kids, to take care of the house, to exist in a state of fulfillment without my husband. It no longer mattered to me if he was a part of the equation. The day that I had warned him about for over a decade had finally come. Still, he did not notice.

It still took me several years after reaching the point of not depending on my husband for any emotional connection before I was ready to sever our ties. Six years ago I was at that point, but I decided to stay in our marriage because of the kids. It wasn’t until recently, when I became confident in my ability to make it on my own, that I plucked up the courage to come out and tell him. Can you guess what his response was?

Yep, NOW he was ready to make that change that I had been asking for for over a decade. Now he was convinced that I owed it to him to wait around and give him a chance to change. This made me so angry. I have told him that I am past the point where I am willing to work on this relationship — it is over for me. He seems unable to accept there would come a day when his wife would just be done.

I didn’t think that he would accept the news willingly, but I also wasn’t prepared for what came next. His emotions were understandably all over the place, as they are for most people facing divorce. He would vacillate between crying, body-shaking anger, self pity and hopefulness. He started seeing a counselor and I thought that his mental well-being would improve by regularly seeing someone he could confide in. It wasn’t until I saw a police calling card on top of our dresser that I got a little worried. My husband explained that his counselor was worried about his well-being. A few days later I got a call while I was at work, informing me that my husband was in the psychiatric ward and my kids were home alone. That’s when I realized that things were very bad. He had made plans to kill himself.

I drove back to work, crying and shaking, and told my manager the short version of what was going on at home. He allowed me to take off work for the day and I called in for the next three days because I had no one to look after the kids. I didn’t know how long my husband would be in the psych ward, what was going on in there, or what to expect of him when he got out. At this point, I was operating under the impression that I needed to figure out how to operate as a single mom right now!

I didn’t know what to tell the kids about their father being gone. The first night I just focused on supper, doing chores, getting groceries, etc. I knew that I would have to do things proactively because you never know what might come up and throw a wrench in your plans. I’m convinced that part of being a single parent is simply anticipating potential scenarios and trying to lay the groundwork to deal with them before they happen. The next day was Friday, so I had one day to get four of my children enrolled in public school. My children had never been to public school a day in their lives. I had homeschooled them, with my husband taking over a year ago, when I became the breadwinner and he became the stay-at-home dad. The kids’ education had become spotty at best in the past year, and I was very afraid that they would be woefully behind their peers, but I had no choice but to enroll them. I needed to keep working to pay the bills, Daddy was out of commission for who knows how long, and I didn’t have the luxury of falling apart. So, into the very urban public school system my children had to go. I was so f*$!ing afraid.

For the first couple of nights I got away with explaining Daddy’s absence by saying that sometimes people go to the hospital and the doctors want to keep them overnight for observation and to see how they’re doing. After the third night, however, the kids needed a better explanation. Actually, my oldest daughter parked herself in my room and demanded a real explanation. It was at that point that I decided it was time to talk to them about mental health and that Daddy was depressed. I didn’t tell them that he had become suicidal, but I did explain that he was in the hospital getting the help he needed to deal with his depression and cope with his feelings. I told them that I didn’t know how long he would be in there, because honestly, I had no idea. But that in the meantime I would take care of them and we would do the best we could to get by. That helped them understand the need for them to go to school, because I had to keep working.

Now that my husband has been out of the hospital for a little while, we’re getting back to a semblance of normalcy. Though what that looks like when one spouse wants a divorce and the other is not dealing well mentally with that news, I don’t know. It was very rocky at first. The problem now is that I can see how my husband wants things to stay the same as they always have been. He’s happy to coexist without any real relationship as long as it means he doesn’t have to be alone and I stick around to be the grown up.

I feel trapped now, which I’ve talked about with my counselor. On the one hand, I don’t want to cause him undue distress in the divorce process, but if he can’t handle it, does that mean that I’m stuck in this situation forever? Does his mental health and lack of ability dealing with his emotions in a healthy way mean that I’m not allowed to leave? Although I’m not willing to give up the freedom to make that decision for myself, it makes the decision that much more difficult. He says now that he wouldn’t consider suicide any longer, but he was planning on it when I merely mentioned what I wanted. What happens when the paperwork is filed? When one or the other of us moves out? When the final papers are signed? Does it become my fault if he chooses to end his life because our marriage has failed?

My counselor shared a valid point with me — I can’t control the choices he makes. Though divorce is painful, I am not inflicting the death penalty on my husband by stating that I want one. He is the one who is choosing how he will respond to that news. I sincerely hope that he continues to get the help that he needs to improve the state of his mental health, but it is no longer my job to act as his mother in that capacity. I enabled many of his mental health issues over the years simply by glossing them over, not setting boundaries and following through on consequences, and excusing the behaviors. I refuse to be that person any longer.

I don’t know exactly why I shared all of this with you. It was simply a stream of consciousness sort of thing, which I hope resonates with someone else who finds themselves in a similar situation. It’s very confusing when you want to end a relationship but feel held captive by your partner’s mental health issues. I hope that you too can find a thoughtful and palatable way to move forward. Please, please, consult with your own counselor if you are in a relationship with someone who is emotionally unbalanced. You need help to navigate this path and come out healthy on the other side of it.

I wish you all the best,

L

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