Editor’s note: this post discusses suicide.
Normal is a goal we always seemed to reach for. It was something we could stand on the tallest chair, extend our arms as far as our toes would take us, but still could never quite grasp. We would dream of normal—what it would be like to live a full month with no big issues or ordeals; what it would look like if we could go to work form 8-5 and not worry about anything before or after; what it would feel like if we moved to a cabin in the woods and separated ourselves from the world. I remember we would even laugh at the question of, “What is normal?”
We would dream. Yet our dreams were met with the harsh reality that our life didn’t look like that. Although we held on to the dream, normal was something we didn’t feel the past few years.
After many years of fighting to find answers, my husband was finally diagnosed with clinical depression and ADHD last year. He was also tested for bipolar disorder. For years, my husband struggled to find an answer as to why his thoughts and feelings did not match his spiritual beliefs, his physical symptoms, and his day-to-day struggles.
Though my husband was fully alive, I lost him years ago.
In some ways it was a slow change, but in many other ways it was immediate and drastic. I knew he struggled with depression when I met him. We assumed it was situational, but it became worse over the years. In 2015, we lost a little girl before she was able to enter this world. I saw a drastic change in him after that traumatic experience. His depression worsened, his struggles became more severe, and his fight was like that of a never-ending roller coaster ride. He would fight for a while, then give up for a short time, then muster enough strength to fight again.
And so the pattern continued. He couldn’t catch up with his mind.
We took him to doctor after doctor and sought counseling for years. In the meantime, he was diagnosed with cancer and struggled with opioid addiction. He was able to get clean and was in remission, but his mental illness worsened. Opioids seemed to help him for a short time but they didn’t take away his deep-seated feelings of worthlessness and turmoil.
My husband took his life this year at the young age of 31. He fought to the end, but he got tired.
He was an amazing human. He fought so very hard for a long time. I wish he would have stayed in the fight. He is very missed by so many.
You may know this fight well:
The fight to find the right meds.
The fight to meet others’ expectations.
The fight to understand why your brain will not function as you so desperately want it to.
The fight to find the answer.
The fight that tomorrow will be better—it has to be.
Personally, I do not struggle with a mental illness disorder, though I have been on and off antidepressants for situational depression and anxiety. This was a big reason I became a licensed counselor. I received help when I needed it and I wanted to help others in the same way. As a therapist, I have the knowledge to support my clients, to relieve them of some of their distress, to help them choose life when they wanted it all to end. Yet, with that knowledge and experience, I didn’t help save the man who laid beside me every night.
The question still comes back to my mind: what is normal? I try to find our “new normal” as I move through the grief of losing my husband, the father of our beautiful twins. I am often overwhelmed with guilt, shame, and pain.
I have been a licensed professional counselor for eight years now. I should have known how to help him. I should have seen this coming. I should have had the answers. I was also his wife. What did I miss? I stood beside a man every day I couldn’t completely help. I fought alongside him. All the while, we simply prayed for “normal”.
The truth is, there really is no normal, especially not when someone struggles with a mental illness. We set such high expectations on ourselves to find our happiness, to find answers, to find some sense of balance. We become exhausted trying to reach a goal and do not take the time to stop and take a breath and live in the moments we have—the moments I miss.
Since my husband died, I am learning that “normal’ is what we make it. Normal is taking the hand we’ve been given and fighting to live with it, to rise above it, and to believe there is a purpose in it. It’s having the knowledge that when the day comes for God to call us home, we can rest in His arms, look up, and say, “I gave it my all.” It is hope when we feel like giving up. It is learning to surf on the waves when they come and not just tread them.
What was it like living with someone who had a mental illness? It was our normal, and I wouldn’t trade our years together for anything.
It takes perseverance, a lot of grace, unconditional love, empathy, and fight. It takes showing up on the good days and especially on the bad. It’s reminding the person you love that he is not defined by his diagnosis, that he is more than his chemical imbalance, and that he is created for a beautiful purpose. It’s understanding that though it may be a part of him, it is not who he is and it will not break him.
Take time to ask your loved ones questions, to check in on them, to tell them you will walk alongside them or sit on the floor beside them. Tell them you love them EVERY DAY.
Loving Eric will always be one of my greatest gifts. Because of his life, I learned true grace, understanding, strength, and the value of second (and third) chances. Because of his life, I learned selfless love. Though I often ask God to take me back so I could do better, I have the opportunity to share our story with others who may desperately need to hear it. I can’t change our past but I can change how I handle the future.
That is why I am sharing about my late husband’s battle—about our battle.
We have the opportunity to look at mental health differently and learn how to recognize and love our loved ones who battle mental illness. I’ve come to understand that living with a mental illness is agonizing; it’s a constant battle, but it’s a battle that can be fought—even when you don’t feel like you can some days.
If you are struggling with depression/anxiety and/or suicidal thoughts, PLEASE seek help. Though you may live with a mental illness that often overwhelms you, you are here on this earth for a reason. Now, lift your head up high and keep fighting. Know that today you are not alone—we are in this together. One day we will understand it all; for now, we will LIVE!
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