All, Interview Series

Interview: Married to Mental Illness

It has been entirely too long since I’ve done an interview for the blog, and there’s no better way to come back with a bang than with an interview with my husband, Marlon. Now, you all know that I try to be pretty transparent about my struggle with depression and anxiety, and you all are pretty familiar with my experiences. However, today, I’m bringing you a perspective from the other side — my husband’s side.

Marlon and I have been together since 2013 and married since 2019, so he has plenty of experience in dealing with my panic attacks and depressive episodes. I asked him to take part in this interview because he’s become the ultimate expert in supporting me and my mental health, and we hope that this interview will help others who aren’t quite sure how to support their loved ones. So, without further ado, let’s get right into it!

Q: What was your initial reaction when I told you that I think I might suffer from depression and anxiety?

When you first told me, I thought you may have just misdiagnosed yourself. I thought you were just sad and attributed it to depression, but as time went on, things started to get a little clearer. You were sad a lot and it would last for a long time, but we could never figure out why you were sad. When this started happening more and more, I realized it was more than just a case of the blues.

Once you went to the counseling center on campus and got confirmation that it was depression and anxiety, there was an initial shock at first. I always thought something like this couldn’t happen to someone I love, which is why I wrote it off as a misdiagnosis at first. I’m sorry for that.

Q: Thank you, bub. What concerns did you have regarding my mental health and how it would affect our relationship and you individually?

I was concerned that no matter what I did, no matter how good things were going, there would always be something wrong. I thought I wouldn’t be able to make you happy anymore and that you might not want to be here anymore. I was worried that we wouldn’t get to enjoy anything in life, almost like we would eventually get to a point where it was always sadness all the time. It got to a point where I was trying to be strong and just weather the storm, but I started neglecting how I was feeling by not keeping an eye on my mental health.

It was so hard because sometimes, I felt bad when I was in a good mood. We talked about this before — I’ll be in a good mood, and I’ll look over and you’re sad, which makes me stop being happy. I start to match your feelings, and even though I try not because I know it’s not productive for either of us, it’s hard sometimes. I start to feel guilty for being happy, and it makes me feel like I’m not that rock that you need me to be for you at that moment.

What would you say is the right way to be someone’s rock and support them?

It’s tough because I’m so used to being able to just fix things and make problems go away, that’s how I always deal with things, but my efforts in trying to be the fixer never work. I still try, foolishly, but I’m learning that you can’t fix a problem every time. You just have to be there when they need you, listen to what they have to say, and don’t dismiss them — the latter being something I’m so used to doing based on my upbringing.

It’s hard not to say, “You need to look around and enjoy the things you have. There’s no reason to be sad,” because that’s what I’ve been told all my life. When I would get sad as a kid I’d hear, “You have food to eat, a roof over your head, and clothes on your back. There’s no need to be sad.” It seemed like sound advice at the time, but in hindsight, it was very dismissive.

Think back to how you handled my depressive episodes versus how you handle them now — what would you say is the same and what would you say is different?

One thing that’s always the same is that I still try to fix it first, but there’s a difference in the aftermath of trying to fix it. At first, I would take the problem and smash it against the wall over and over again until it goes away. When it didn’t work, I would get frustrated, and it would cause a rift between us. Now, I notice I’m most effective in helping with your depression when I just put my hands up and let things go the way they’re supposed to go. I’m more patient now because I’m not focused on fixing it, rather I’m focused on comforting you.

I’d also say my trust in you to get through and get to the other side has come into play a lot more now, surprisingly. I’ve been leaning on that heavily because I know I can’t be there all the time holding your hand and shielding you from everything so that concern of you dealing with it and handling it by yourself comes in. I don’t think you’re weak or anything, it’s just that I want to fight those demons for you. It’s like walking toward a cave that’s dark and has a lot of scary things in it, and you let go of their hand so they can walk through it while you wait for them on the other side. You just hope that they will be okay, and that’s what it feels like. You get worried that they’ll go through that cave, see something they can’t handle, and you won’t be able to find them again because you weren’t holding their hand. But I will say, every time you go through that cave, you always come back stronger, and I’m so proud of you.

Thank you. What advice would you give to someone who doesn’t necessarily struggle with their mental health, but they have a loved one who does?

I would say that being present goes a long way. When you keep trying different things to make them feel better and they don’t work, it can make them feel hopeless and even sadder. Just be present, and let them know that it’s okay to not be okay for a while. I don’t want to make this a race thing or a class thing, but growing up as a black person, you couldn’t struggle with mental health. If you did, then it’s something wrong with you, you’re defective, or you belong in a psych ward. It wasn’t normalized, and it had a very negative connotation to it. It’s crazy because, ironically, the black community suffers from mental health problems the most since we deal with trauma and don’t know how to process our feelings.

It’s crucial that we acknowledge mental health and a person’s feelings by letting them know that you see that they’re not okay. Sometimes, just acknowledging it to the person can help them understand that they’re not alone and someone has their back. Tell them directly, “I know you’re going through something, and I’m here with whatever you need.” It lets them know that someone else is fighting with them. You can help them find joy in simple things like watching something on YouTube with them or playing a video game. Whatever it is, help them find one thing they enjoy that they can cling to.

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