As I’ve written before, my husband has a serious mental illness. It’s called schizoaffective disorder, which is a combination of bipolar illness and schizophrenia. That means, he has some of the symptoms of both the mood swings of bipolar disorder and the delusions, voices and paranoia of schizophrenia. In his case, he tends to be crippled by bouts of depression. As for the schizophrenic symptoms, well, they have come back recently, unfortunately, sadly.
In the past few months, he has enjoyed a period of feeling “pretty good.” But that is starting to unravel.
He recently started a job, working for a very nice man he used to work for, and in a workplace that is low stress and with co-workers who are easy going. This casual, easy-going atmosphere is a big change from his former job. As in that last job, this one involves writing and editing but without all the annoying management responsibilities. (Yes, the writing and editing are occupations that are in the family.)
Lately, my husband and I have been checking in every morning, talking about our respective daily “dread.” Basically, we ask each other, “what are you dreading this morning? What’s your dread about right now?”
My morning dread tends to involve the endless list of things I have to get done each day to keep the Walnut Creek Patch news site going–writing and reporting my stories; assigning stories to freelancers; editing their work; making sure we’re not missing anything; paying freelancers…
Over the weekend, my husband told me that his dread involved some kind of document he finished writing and editing last week, and that he was worried about mistakes he had made.
In all the time my husband and I have been together, I have rarely heard him talk about mistakes he has made at work–either small ones or big ones. At school and in the early part of his work life, he was always a bit of a whiz kid, and I’d always hear from his college friends or colleagues about how wonderful and brilliant he was. He is the smartest person I know. He soared through school, as a National Merit scholar and all that, and as a brilliant boy from a poor small-town family he was offered full scholarships to Yale and Northwestern. His professors in the Communications Department at Northwestern wanted him to continue on and earn a Phd.
That was long ago. He was sick back then but he somehow found ways to hide it. These days, he’s not hiding his illness. Over the weekend, he told me he was feeling dread about some mistakes he made on a document. It sounded like the ordinary sort of dread a lot of us feel about an assignment we’ve completed, wondering, worrying if we did it correctly and whether we disappointed people. I said, “well, you can fix it on Monday, can’t you?” And, he said, “yes.”
During this morning’s “dread” check in, he broke down and said that he was having paranoid thoughts about the mistakes he had made with that document, that people he worked with would be really upset with him. He said he knew that his thoughts were not real. “They’re crazy,” he said.
But he can know these thoughts are crazy, and I can say, “Yes, that’s right, it’s probably not that big of deal,” but he can’t stop the desperate, self-hating voices from flooding into his mind. He started to cry: “I can’t control my thoughts.”
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” he kept saying. He was apologizing for not being well, for being sick, and for being crazy.
I asked, “Do you want to keep working?”
In his typical way, he sighed, wiped his tears, and checked the clock. He said it was time to get ready for work. He went to take a shower–and some extra medication to calm those wild, racing thoughts. He came out of the shower, saying he felt a bit better, and we both agreed that we would see how things went today. He’ll also reminded me that he had an appointment with his psychiatrist Thursday.
From what I understand about the debilitating effects of his illness, it can be pretty tough for people with this illness to function, certainly in a job. My husband has said he wants to work, and I’ve heard from advocates for the mentally ill that employment contributes greatly to patients’ self-esteem and overall well-being. Work, of course, can be stressful for any of us. For people with mental illness that stress can trigger some pretty horrible symptoms.
My husband, though, is likely to want to keep going. Despite his illness, which began to plague him when he was a child, he managed to accomplish quite a bit in his life. He once told me the reason he works hard to never give into his illness, why he didn’t let it stop him from achieving certain goals in school, work, and in his personal life–including getting married and having a child.
That reason was: “I don’t like to lose.”
You can read my husband’s version of the day at his blog A Life with Mental Illness.