Flashback

The Caregivers — What It’s Like Living With Someone Else’s Mental Illness

An original interview with my wife, who has been my caregiver for over eight years

It is amazing what can you can find when you go through old backups of websites. I wanted to republish this piece because it was an honest look into the mind of my wife at a time when our lives were unpredictable and difficult. It’s important to consider the caregivers of people with mental illness instead of always looking through the eyes of the sufferer.

This article was written in 2016 — shortly after my last suicide attempt — for a project of mine, OurElegantMinds.com, which was a resource for people with schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder.

(Flashback begins)

Here on Our Elegant Minds, I mostly talk about what living with mental illness is like from the view of the person who suffers. My wife asked me to write about the caregivers and what life is like for someone who lives with someone affected by a mental disorder.

I told her I would like to interview her. She agreed.

Meet My Wife Flora

Flora is 30 years old, and we have been married for almost five years. We didn’t connect in the traditional way. In 2011, we met online. I was living in Tucson, Arizona and she lived in the Philippines. The extent of our dating was video chat and Facebook, but I fell in love, and later that year moved to be with her.

When we met, I was seriously ill, a shut-in, and weighed 360 pounds. But Flora saw past everything on the outside and got to know the real me. She has been instrumental in helping me improve to the point where I am now, and is the biggest part of my support system.

This interview with Flora was recorded February 17th, 2016

Why did you agree to this interview?

I care about what you are trying to do with this project and with your life, and I wanted to help shine some light on the people who live with and support someone with a mental illness. These past five years have not been easy, but I wouldn’t trade my time with you for anything. I just want people to know that someone dealing with a disorder like yours may be sick, but they can love and be loved.

What was your understanding of mental illness before you met me?

I knew mental illness is not rare, and I’d met people experiencing mental disorders before because I worked in a hospital. But, because I was not very knowledgeable, I felt fear and pity for those people. Mental illness is not talked about as much in the Philippines as in western countries, so there is not as much understanding here.

What is your understanding of mental illness now?

I am more compassionate when I encounter people with mental illness. My experiences with you encouraged me to learn more about how I can help people going through a severe illness.

Did you have any idea when we were dating how bad my moods could get?

No, I didn’t. Since I live in a country where we are not exposed to mental illness as much, my ideas were limited. And, I think in fear of scaring me away, you didn’t really give me many details about your condition. You did tell me you had problems, but you never really showed it when we talked, and I didn’t understand how bad a disordered person could get. I had never even heard of schizoaffective disorder and had no idea what it meant.

If you knew before you met me what you know now, would you still have married me?

Yes, I would have. I believe when you love a person there are no restrictions, no fear of taking risks. That is pure love.

What is our single biggest challenge?

I think the times when you shut your family out and sleep for days at a time and don’t take care of yourself are scary. Sometimes you don’t talk and don’t do the things to be a good husband and father to our daughter. Because of that, I blame myself, which I know I shouldn’t, but I feel like I should be able to help you somehow.

When I am going through one of my “episodes,” how do you feel?

Mostly, I feel helpless. I try not to, but I often get depressed and anxious myself. I feel hurt that you have to go through such pain. Like many people, I have my own issues, and though I try hard, I do feel pity for myself sometimes. I think it’s only natural.

I also worry a lot, because you tried to kill yourself and when you are not by my side, my mind starts to worry about you, and I get nervous.

What are some things that work that you always do to support me?

I always try to be there for you no matter how you feel — if you need someone to talk to, or even just a simple hug and kiss. I try to do things that make you happy, like preparing food you like, encouraging you to get out of the house and walk, or go to the beach and relax. Sometimes I physically try to make you comfortable, like giving a massage.

What is the secret to being happy in a marriage affected by mental illness?

Unconditional love is the most important thing. Putting the needs of your spouse first is also important. Patience is key — it doesn’t solve anything when you get upset by what you can’t control. You have to be hopeful that tomorrow will always be better and work to improve in everything, every day.

Is there anything you would like to add that I haven’t asked?

I want you to know that mental illness is not a hindrance for a person to be happy, to love and be loved, to be successful and feel contented with your life. When you try to focus not so much on yourself, but on others, you feel less anxious and depressed. Always reach out to others that are suffering and keep helping as much as you can.

Your mental illness is not just your own battle but a battle for those who love you. We are here for you, and we love you.

Final Thoughts

I want to thank my wonderful wife for opening up and doing this interview. It’s not an easy thing to talk about, but she is brave, and above all, loves me. She is a great wife to me and supports everything I do.

I think many caregivers will feel the same way, and her comments will resonate with them.

Thank you, Flora. I love you.

(Flashback ends)

Flora and I have our ups and downs, and over the years since this interview, her own issues with anger and anxiety have gotten worse. I don’t know whether she is getting worse because we are both empathic and feed off of one another like a sponge, or she finally feels like she can open up and let her true mood and emotions come out.

She knows I won’t judge her — and as she did for me, I will always be here for her if she needs a helping hand or a shoulder to cry on.

Love doesn’t conquer all, but it has helped us to stay close to one another through all the turmoil of my episodes and her anxiety attacks. We have two beautiful children now, and we provide a stable place for them to grow, so they won’t have to deal with some of the issues that their parents do.

I’m glad I found this interview because it shows Flora’s strength and love in the face of overwhelming odds.

If you have any questions for Flora, please leave them in the comments below.

Introverted essayist and fulltime YouTuber | Dreamer - I am doing it my way and it might take a bit longer. Don't wait up.

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