It would seem crazy to say this – but I guess I’m lucky now that the shoe has been on both feet for me. In my early twenties, I spent most of my time being the primary caregiver for my mother who suffered with the exact same disease. Then, fast forwarding to my mid thirties, when my new husband took on the responsibility of caring for me (although, much as I love him and much as he did a phenomenal job with me) I did much, much more as a single caregiver. I know how it feels to be the patient, but I know too, how it feels to be the caregiver and I find that makes me able to truly empathize with my loved ones, and truly appreciate their places in my life, their efforts to save me, and my own ability to recover.
My new husband had the benefit of sharing that responsibility with my mother and my grandmother – these two women and the love of my husband are the three crutches on which I stood, while pulling myself out of my own hole. They were there for every tear, every side affect, and they delivered every warm hug and kick in the butt I needed to get back on track. But I can’t help but wonder what it would have been like if I hadn’t had them in behind me, propping me up, every single hand squarely on my back resisting my desire to fall further into the darkness.
The whole time though, I worried about this situation that I placed my new husband in. We weren’t married a full year when I had my final breakdown and went on leave. I kept telling myself (though I knew I was completely wrong to think it) that this wasn’t what he signed up for. I will forever appreciate that he didn’t hightail it out of this house, and run for the hills, taking our brand new big screen tv and the good car with him. After all it was rather like, “BANG”, and right out of the gate, I was on my downhill slide. I know of many men who would have abruptly excused themselves from the marriage and found a lawyer pretty damn quick. My marriage was tested time and again in its first two years, and it’s still going strong. I’m a very lucky woman.
Among all three of them, I could see the pain and hurt in their faces when they looked at me. I felt like hell, and I looked ten times worse. And all they wanted to do was take that pain away, and nothing, absolutely nothing, could make me feel better. They quickly had to figure out when to tread lightly, and when to deliver the harsh realities. I put them on pins and needles – and for a year they had to navigate my maze as delicately as they could, leading me blindfolded every step of the way.
Ultimately, the only way I could fight this beast, was to find the right medical cocktail, and really, the big key was, finding me again. I could look in the mirror on any given day, and not be able to tell you who was looking back at me. I couldn’t remember what I used to look like, and I couldn’t remember what it felt like to be happy, or completely whole. I could tell you that I used to be audacious, gregarious, determined, and good hearted – and now I barely cared if I brushed my hair. I never missed brushing my teeth though – and I still took a shower every day – sometimes OCD can be your friend, LOL.
Now imagine that you’re not the one looking in the mirror. Imagine you are the person to the right or left of you, who loves you, and has cared for you all of their life. I can’t even begin to tell you how devastating it is to feel that helpless, unable to change the situation, unable to put a smile on your loved one’s face, unable to hear their laughter, unable to wipe their tears away, unable to feel whole yourself because the place they occupy in your heart is being left to rot due to their lack of interest in tending to it. In fact, it never really hit me until writing that last sentence that we are as responsible for the place we hold in another’s heart, as we are to our own hearts and minds. When you are affected by this disease, part of your recovery has to come from some degree of selfishness. Without it, you’ll never recover – you must tend to yourself, before you tend to others, or you’ll never survive this world. The trick is, once you’ve tended to yourself (the selfish part), you are obligated to tend to those you love, and who love you in return.
It takes nerves of steel and a heart full of the world’s riches and more, to be the caregiver to someone who is suffering with depression and anxiety disorder. Not to compare it with how it feels to care for loved ones suffering with all different kinds of afflictions, this disease is not something that is born from a lack of self control – it is something that grabs you when you least expect it to. It’s not a dependency, it’s a consumption of the truest kind – it overwhelms you, picks you at your weakest moment, and creates the gateway to a plethora of other problems.