As I sat on the couch ordering clothes for my then five-month-old daughter, my husband — seemingly out of the blue — told me that he was not a good husband and father, he was no longer in love with me, and he wanted to end our marriage.
Had I heard him correctly? What was happening?
Time froze. The room began spinning. I got nauseous and threw up. I cried. I begged for compromise. I pleaded for answers. We went to bed that night agreeing to stay in separate rooms so we could think things over.
The next several months were a rollercoaster of emotions. My husband and I had several long talks, with many tears shed. He eventually moved out, only to move back in several days later. I tried to convince him to go to therapy, but he refused to go, as is common among men struggling with their mental health, largely due to the stigma surrounding seeking help.
I’ve dealt with anxiety for most of my life and this situation wreaked havoc on my mind. As someone who already struggled with overthinking and excessive worrying, I was now consumed by my thoughts. I overanalyzed every interaction with my husband and obsessed over the unknowns. I was devastated by the idea that I would miss half my daughter’s life to shared custody if we divorced. My self-esteem plummeted as I considered why I wasn’t good enough for him anymore.
Even though my husband was not willing to join me, I decided to seek therapy on my own. At the very least, I figured, I could talk about our issues with a professional and work on my side of the relationship. I loved my time in therapy. I learned things about myself that shed light on my own anxiety and discovered some useful coping techniques.
My therapist helped me understand why I become highly irritated by spontaneity or changed plans (loss of/need to control), why I repeat conversations in my head to the point of frustration and exhaustion (rumination) and why I have vivid, morbid daydreams about my loved ones (my fear of losing them). Though I had always known my constant worrying, restlessness and inability to concentrate were signs of anxiety, I hadn’t put together all the ways anxiety impacts my daily life.
Realizing this fact, and discovering the root of my anxiety, helped me to better manage my symptoms. Instead of getting angry and frustrated when plans changed suddenly, I forced myself to pause before responding. I acknowledged my fear of change and loss of control, and I learned to think through situations to determine if they were as serious as they felt to me. Most often, they weren’t, and I just needed a moment to process.
Going to therapy helped me get through the three years that my husband’s symptoms lasted. That period felt like a dark cloud was hanging over my house. I would come home and sit in my car, staring at the place where I was supposed to feel happy and safe. Instead, I would feel dread wash over me. I would hesitate going inside, knowing I would see my partner in pain.
Additionally, I would have to pick up all the slack, maintaining the house, caring for the baby and caring for my husband. I was exhausted — mentally, physically and emotionally. Many days, I was ready to give up. I would think to myself, “just get through today, sleep on it, reevaluate tomorrow.”
Why We Need to Reduce Stigma
After about two years, I started to see glimpses of the man I used to know. They didn’t appear often, but they were there. Then one day, after confronting him about some debt I discovered, he finally broke and admitted he had gotten into online gambling and lost a lot of money. On top of that, he was severely unhappy at his job. He felt like a failure.
I had spent so much time overthinking and overanalyzing that it was a relief to finally have some concrete answers. Though I was grateful he had opened up, and I felt hopeful things would get better, I was also afraid and unsure. Two years of uncertainty and worrying had taken a toll on me.
I suggested again that we go to therapy. He still wasn't convinced. I truly wished he would go with me, so we could have a professional to talk to and guide us on how to move forward. Even though he said no, we still actively worked together on our relationship and his health.
We still do not use labels to describe his mental health. If I mention the term “depression,” he’ll avert his eyes and brush it off. I believe he may feel uncomfortable and ashamed, largely due to the enduring stigma surrounding mental illness. I frequently think about how perhaps more people would seek help if, as a society, we were more open about mental illness and more vocal that mental health is not a sign of weakness. If my husband had sought help from a professional, his symptoms may not have lasted as long or impacted me the way they did.
However, I’m thankful for my awareness of my own mental illness. My experience and insights from therapy allowed me to cope while supporting my husband. And ultimately, I’m grateful that my understanding of mental health could help him too.
I am not one to have regrets as I truly find everything to be a learning experience. This time in my life, and in our marriage, was a painful lesson. We were lucky to get through it, and now, several years later, we are both happy and thriving. But our story’s ending is not necessarily common. Mental illness affects so many individuals and the ripple effect onto friends and family can be devastating.
Reducing the stigma surrounding mental illness is critical and seeking help shouldn’t be taboo. Just as we’d go to a dentist for dental issues, we should be going to mental health professionals for our mental health issues. Professionals can help us, and our loved ones, work through our issues far more productively and effectively than we can on our own.
A.D. has a background in business management but recently left her career of 11 years to focus on her mental wellbeing and pursue creative passions. She currently writes about mental health and substance use for St. John’s Recovery Place.