Breaking the Stigma

My wife was a very closed person when it came to her mental health.  I asked on several occasions to try and go with her to one of her appointments, but to no avail.  It wasn’t until recently that I’ve been able to attend her sessions at behavioral health.  I’ve gone to a total of 2 different sessions from 2 different doctors, and even then, I noticed a stigma about mental health.

What struggles do you face?

In our last session, I felt as if a lot of the questions had been directed towards me.  Let me clarify that when I say directed, I mean, I was asked questions about myself.  Initially, it was more about how we met and how we were doing.  But the question that struck me most was “what struggles do you face?” 

I didn’t really pay attention to it at first.  I spoke about our distance and how being 3 hours apart is extremely difficult for us, but also the best situation that we’ve ever been in.  If you are unaware, my wife and I have primarily lived apart due to the military.  When I say this is our best situation, it’s better than being a continent apart like we were before.  I brought up my fear of her hurting herself in her sleep (It’s a side effect of her medications.  She’ll have such vivid and emotional dreams that she will occasionally hurt herself by accident while she’s sleeping.)  This is one of my greatest fears when I’m not there because I can’t do anything to help her.  After expressing other similar concerns, he reiterated the question.  “Besides logistical factors, what struggles do you face?”

I didn’t understand the question.  I said that it’s all logistical, which is not what the doctor was looking for.  It had to be broken down to me.  My wife brought up Caregiver Burnout.  He wanted to know what struggles I had since I’m the primary caregiver for my wife, and how I’ve dealt with it.  If you are unfamiliar with the term, Caregiver Burnout is defined by WebMD as “a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion that may be accompanied by a change in attitude -- from positive and caring to negative and unconcerned.”

Caregiver's Burnout

The negative connotations of mental health

I was really taken back.  Just because my wife has been seeking help for her mental health does not necessarily mean that it impacts us negatively.  I love her.  If my wife recognizes a problem where she needs to seek help, I want to be there and support her through it.  It’s not a burden or troublesome to me.  It’s what I want to do for her.  I want her to heal and I know me being with her through these tough times helps her significantly.  It not only means a lot to her, but it means the world to me.  I want my wife to be happy, and her happiness is what matters most.

And now that my wife has finally opened up to me about her biggest insecurities.  I can see why she has never opened up to me in the past.  Just being asked about my struggles instead of keeping the focus on my wife during her session immediately implies that I will be impacted negatively due to her diagnosis.  It’s such a scary thought.  The term “dealing” had been used as well.  I strongly feel that it is the wrong word to use.  Dealing implies some sort of compromise, a give and take type of scenario.  Well, this isn’t the place for that.  If you really love someone, you shouldn’t have to deal with them to help them.  It should be something that you want to do, selflessly and wholeheartedly.

After I expressed my feelings of love and affection for my wife, the focus went back to her.  I held her hand, wiped her tears (but not the snot), and then comforted her for the remainder of the day.  I was just joking about the snot btw lol.  But now that my second session was complete, what did I learn? 

Well, I learned that my wife fears that she is a burden just because of how the world perceives our situation.  I truly hope she knows that this is not the case.  It really brings to light why it’s so difficult for people to open up to their loved ones.  Not only that, but to seek help.  If people have this belief that the ones closest to them see them as a burden, then why would it be different for a complete stranger, such as a medical specialist, to see them as otherwise? 

This is the type of mentality that has to change.  If you know someone who is experiencing something similar to us, help them. It’s difficult enough opening up about how we feel to someone else, imagine what it’s like trying to express your emotional state.  And if someone does open up to you, know that they trust you with all their being.  Do the best you can for them and though they may not say it, know that you’re making a positive impact on their life.

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