Over the past few years I have come to appreciate and sympathize with people who have dealt with addicted or mentally ill family members or spouses. The pain, the anger, the confusion. Although I wasn’t totally blindsided, because I always knew my wife had problems, I had no idea how serious it was. No doctor would tell me, either, citing privacy rules. But don’t you think individuals in the best position to help should be alerted to exactly what needs to be done and why, to keep an ill spouse stable? It took some good psychiatric counseling for me to have some understanding of my situation as my marital world spun out of control and crashed, and for me to deal with this tumultuous upheaval to my sons’ lives (as well as my role as what is called "co-dependent"). Yet, I keep asking myself, "What if I had done this?" or "Could I have done thinks differently to right things?" or "Why didn’t I see that?" I still feel guilt, sadness, and loss.
So when I saw psychologist Kay Jamison’s An Unquiet Mind, I decided that I should read it to get a better understanding of bipolarism (manic-depression). It is an interesting book; some passages jarringly brought back incidents I experienced. . .unexplainable actions (ranging from spending sprees to explosions of anger), long periods of zoning out, lies, complaints, paranoia, refusal to take medications, spurts of odd activity, mounds of unwashed laundry, unfinished projects, etc. I was interested in how the disease could destroy relationships. One sentence stood out, as Jamison explained the end of her first marriage: "I was increasingly restless, irritable, and I craved excitement; all of a sudden, I found myself rebelling against the very things I most loved about my husband." I still recall with horror my wife saying I was too boring. The book put into good light many of the stories I heard (and were retold to me later from different perspectives).
Of course, Jamison was in a privileged position within the academic medical profession, with family, colleagues, and friends who were able to protect, help, and shield her from financial and professional disaster, a luxury most victims (is that the correct word?) do not have. I felt at times that she was saying, "Oh, look at me," that she still lead an exciting life, with romance and achievement. Isn’t she one of the exceptions? Having friends that could keep her form losing her jobs and professional privileges, having enough money to be able to take extended breaks, having family members with the financial wherewithal to clean up the mess and stabilize things (could this be jealousy on my part?). I think that if I learned one thing from the book, though, it is the importance of making absolutely sure that your loved one takes their medications, no matter what excuses, no matter what subterfuges they attempt. You have to keep on them, and if you are afflicted, you have to stay on those meds. And what I learned from my own counselors is that sometimes, you just have to move on.