You'll Never Understand

Posted by Ben Stevens on

Lisa has shared recently about her severe depression and I couldn't be more proud of her for doing so.  I truly believe mental illness is something we need to discuss more openly and freely.  I think her sharing is of enormous benefit to her as well as to me and have already heard from so many others that it has helped.  

In the thick of it about a year ago now I was the only one who knew and that's how she wanted it, but that wasn't healthy for her or myself.  I remember breaking down sobbing to someone sharing all that had gone on in our life and saying I felt completely alone that I was like a rope holding everything together as one strand at a time frayed and snapped.  But wasn't sure how much longer I could hold it all together.  All I could do was try my best to be what everyone needed me to be.  Thankfully they reminded me that I needed a support system and time for myself as well.  It's that idea that you can't help someone drowning if you yourself are also drowning.  

Today though I want to share a reality about mental illness that I think we often forget when we say it needs discussed and understood.  I think the best way to share is my experience and thoughts.  When Lisa first told me and I realized how serious it was I was in shock.  I spend almost everyday with her as spouse, parent, homeschoolers, business owners and almost everything else.  How could I have missed it?  Yes, we had our occasional disagreement/fights but on the whole we were the same madly in love couple we have always been.  

Lisa and I have talked about this a lot and how it doesn't look the same for everyone.  There have been people in my life that mental illness has been more of a life going off the rails and it's visible for everyone to witness and see.  Very few families don't experience or have a story of someone with mental illness that just seem to self destruct very openly.  But it doesn't always look like that and it can be a secret, quiet, completely unaware reality.  This is something I think we can try our best to understand is that it doesn't look the same for everyone.  And Lisa's is a very quiet inward battle that none of us close to her had any clue.   

My first reaction to all of it was absolute terror.  Lisa is the love of my life, my world, my soul mate, my best friend, and so much more.  I often say that I don't really have that many fears, I have things I don't like but not really a phobia or fear that stops me.  The thought of losing her though keeps me awake at night.  You wanna talk about your world collapsing or the floor falling out from underneath you, that's what it felt like and still does regularly.  

I will honestly say my second reaction was that I caused it, that I wasn't a good enough husband, father, human and how could I fix it.  And unfortunately because of my lack of understanding of mental illness I assumed it was me.  As the days and months unfolded though I have learned so much.  And just last night the day before I am writing this Lisa was sharing about some negative feelings and I started to say I'll try to do...and then it clicked...there isn't anything I can do but be there and love her.  I was about to fall into the very easy trap of thinking that we can do or say or act a way that will make it all better.  That's as absurd as saying to someone with diabetes I'll try to love you more and that should fix it.  

When Lisa was in the worst of it I remember saying I don't understand how someone can contemplate ending their life, if it's that bad walk away from everything and start a brand new life the way you want it to be.  I know some of you right now are going "oh Ben".  I know.  That was me believing it was the life she was in that was the issue. The reality is, as Lisa reminds me, "I love our life and what we have, it has nothing to do with that".  She is right in fact most people if they traded places with us for a typical day would say we are living the dream.  Our doctor said it best when she said "You'll never understand".  

That is why I am writing this blog that I hope you will read and share so others who are the spouses, children, friends and family of those with mental illness will be informed.  If you have a mind that functions "normally" and do not have a mental health issue then you can and will never understand the mind of someone who does.  The thoughts and ideas seem illogical and irrational because they are and that is the point.  That is why treatment, therapy, lifestyle changes are needed.  For the person with it though, it makes complete sense.  

If you are one of the support people, I would encourage you in a few ways.  One, don't go it alone but also make sure the people you have are actually a help.  Sometimes people don't understand it and can make it worse, I sure did.  This was without a doubt one of my greatest mistakes because she didn't want anyone to know there was no support system, nobody to talk to and confide in about it all.  And truth is we both needed that group of people in our lives to help and be there.  

Two, it's ok to struggle yourself and question if it was you, what you can do, and honestly to even feel embarrassed.  While our life has not been perfect I will say our life has been pretty amazing and I know that there are people who have envied our marriage, our family, our home, our life in general.  When the truth of the imperfection is revealed you can wonder what people will think, what they do think, and really you have to just not care what others think.  Those that matter will know you, love you and be there for you exactly as you are...broken and imperfect.  

And finally I reiterate what I've already said, accept the fact you just never will understand it unless you have lived it yourself.  And that can be hard cause my wife and I have lived and experienced life together the last 27 years and it really sucks that she is on a difficult road that I will never understand but will do my best.  I'm just glad she has let me in to the journey, which is the parting advice I would offer to those struggling with mental illness.  Don't shut people out, cause it almost always will be the people who love you the most and want to be there for you.  We can only journey with those who let us do so.    

So realize that even with a diagnosis you are still likely to have more questions than answers.  Things will still not always make sense to you and that's ok.  Find others in similar situations that you can lean on and talk to about it.  Life is a journey never intended to be travelled alone.  

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