*This is a guest post
I’m honoured to share this article that was written by Chelsea Hillier, a beautiful, generous and intelligent woman I’ve known for a few years, but have to admit I did not know most of this. This is exactly why I wanted to start this blog. Mental health issues have no limits to the complexity of their symptoms and the chaos they can cause, whether society wants to acknowledge them or not.
My children’s father is a depressed, suicidal drug addict. I live with this fact every day of my life. So I want to tell everyone a few things about what this is like if you feel like listening.
1. Truth is a lie.
When you live with an addict you will be constantly questioning your own sanity. Is this person using? Is this person struggling? What can I do? What shouldn’t I do? What is enabling? What is supporting? Where is the line?
These are the thoughts that flow through my brain every second of every day. There is no rest from these thoughts. While I work, while I clean, while I watch tv, while I chat with friends, while I sit in comfort beside my self-medicating partner – these are the things I think about. There is never a moment to rest. There is only wondering – and then people telling you to learn to let go of the things you can’t control.
2. Which leads me to this…
“God grant me the serenity to let go of the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”
Alcoholics Anonymous made this cliche. The idea of control – the idea that control is a black and white choice. There is only control or uncontrol. Well, being married to an addict I am here to tell you there is a space in between. Do I leave? If I leave I have zero help. No help to put the kids to bed. No help to fold the laundry. No help to clean the house. No help to take the kids to the park or the store or the grandparents. No help to be a human. Without a fellow parent I am a robot. I wake up, I get the kids ready, I go to work, I pick the kids up, I come home, I cook dinner, I put the kids to bed (or not), I fall asleep, I wake up, I get the kids ready…ok, you get the picture.
Do I stay? I wake up, I get the kids ready (maybe with help), I drop the kids off, I go to work, I pick the kids up, I come home, I cook dinner (maybe with help), I put the kids to bed (maybe with help), I fall asleep, I wake up. Okay, you get the picture. There is no certainty in this second scenario. But there is in the first. Help only exists if there is a person who is there with you. It isn’t certain, but it is more certain than them not being there.
3. Friendship is everything – until they get tired of you
I have always prided myself on my long lasting friendships – and on my ability to make new friends.
My best friends have been my friends since I was 3, 4, 8 and 10. These are women that have been with me through everything. We lived a quaint rural, small town life. We smoked and drank and cycled and four wheeled. We had pool parties and sleep overs and skipped class and excelled in school and we dreamed of life together. And after all of the relationships and different directions and new friends – we remained. And now, after addiction, incarceration, mental illness, and multiple suicide attempts – these friends are gone. They no longer want to hear about my life because I can CHANGE it!! I can leave. And when I leave they can be my friend again. They can once again support me, my kids, and my life.
4. No one is perfect.
While my friends tell me they are tired I reflect on my relationships with them. They have all called me in distress because their partner cheated, lied, verbally/mentally abused them. They have cried on my shoulder when their husbands have let them down. And I have sat with them. I have listened. I have loved them, their kids, and their deeply flawed husbands. Because that is what friends do. They love and support and sit with while their friends struggle and fight to get through lifes fucking curve balls.
5. The system is broken.
Tonight I was told to leave the hospital grounds. My partner was released from jail/secure treatment one year and 3 days ago. Since then he has sat on psychiatric wait lists, had programs cancelled after intake, signed releases to mandate his counsellors to report any drug use to his PO, and has just generally been left behind. So tonight, when my partner had tried to kill himself for the third time in a year and a half – and the second time in three weeks – and I was asked to leave the hospital – I raised my voice at a nurse. I asked her when something was going to change. With tears in my eyes I asked who was going to help? She looked at me empty and shook her head. This is where we are.
And still my family and friends attempt to rationalize and tell me that all he needs to do is make better choices.
When are people goingn to start to understand that mental illness is not rational? When are spouses/partners of mentally ill people going to start to get support? When are the mentally ill going to have access to health care?
6. WE HAVE A TWO TIERED HEALTH CARE SYSTEM
As Canadians we all pat ourselves on the back for our univeral health care and reject two tier health care any time it comes into policy debate. Shake your head. Our health care system is two tiered. If you have money you get to see a highly qualified psychiatrist. If you have no money you get to sit on wait lists. If you are lucky enough to have been to jail you get a prescription for meds that might help you – and when you are released you have no oversight and no GP will touch the meds that were prescribed to you behind bars.
7. When your neighbours call your landlord
Imagine your spouse was slowly dying of cancer. He can still function – but not the way he used to be able to. You end up carrying the burden of the chores. Drop off, pick up, laundry, dishes, sweeping, vacuuming, mopping, changing beds. it is now all on you. You are frustrated. He can still move, he can still see, he can still understnad what needs to be done to keep a house working. But he can’t do it. Your friends tell you it’s too much to take. they are done.
This is my life. My husband is not dying of cancer. My husband is dying of mental illness. He has tried to kill himself 3 times in one and a half years – 2 times in 2 weeks now. He will die from this. He will die sitting on a wait lists wondering when help will come. Meanwhile, i deal with my landlord who has been contacted by my neighbours about two incidents that they weren’t around to experience. They told my landlord my kids were home – when in fact they were away, with me, enjoying their lives. My landlord was amazing (i pay my rent on time, i dont bother him about light bulbs or maintenace issues, i leave him be), but he could easily have said that one more complaint from the neighbour was enough to start the eviction process. And as a [single] mother of two, my world could have ended.
I don’t tell this story to evoke pity. I tell this story for three reasons:
1: Do not judge people for sticking with a mentally ill partner. These people need more help than you can ever understand. We treat all forms of physical illness – but not those illnesses of the mind. And there is nothing for the support people. Only disregard and misunderstanding.
2. The system is broken. It is two tiered. If you want to start to reform our health care system – start with mental illness and addiction (not separate issues by the way). When we start to treat mental health as an essential part of overall health we will see better outcomes. When people stop waiting for psychiatric care for 1, 2, and 3 years we will see better outcomes overall.
3. Punitive justice does not work. Our inmates are sick. They need help, support, companionship and addiction counselling. Justice and health should not be separate. Unite these departments and I promise you will see a reduction in recitivism and addiction.
If you want to reach me, email : firstname.lastname@example.org