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  • Writer's pictureCaitlin Lagnese

Mind Meet Heart: Mental Illness in Marriage


This post is hard and heavy. And while I’m still feeling a bit uneasy and unsure, I know how important it is to have these hard conversations. Today we are talking about mental illness in marriage. I am sharing some of my experiences and insight today in hopes that someone out there feels a little less alone. This is going to be a longer post but hopefully a testimony of true love prevailing even in the hardest and darkest of times.

SOME BACKGROUND

Meet my husband Mike. He is 36 and truly a one-of-kind husband and father. I was just about to graduate high school when we met on a blind date. We also went to college together. GO BG FALCONS! We have been together for 16 years and married for 10! Mike is mature beyond his years and is by far the hardest working person I know. He’s also hysterical, always making me laugh until I cry or pee my pants. He’s big into history and music; he’s a classic rock kind of guy.


It’s important to note that Mike is very emotionally stable. He has a balanced brain type which means he tends to be very focused and goal-oriented. People with balanced brains usually get things done on time, follow through on promises, go more with the flow, and cope well with life's many ups and downs. They prefer to be rule followers and are not huge risk-takers. These brains often experience burnout from stress.


Now me on the other hand, I have a more sensitive brain. Sensitive brains tend to have great empathy for their friends, family, and fellow humans. And because they are so easily moved by things such as music, film, tv, books, and art, they can often become overwhelmed and entangled in feelings that are not necessarily their own. People with sensitive brains often struggle with regulating their moods and can become overwhelmed rather easily too. This describes me to a tee. It’s no wonder my brain is susceptible to mental illness. To learn more about the 5 brain types visit mindbodygreen.com.


DIAGNOSES

My first two official diagnoses came over a decade ago when my parents noticed I was entering into manic-like states after experiencing some traumatic events that occurred my senior year of college. My behavior was very erratic during this time. It was all such a blur yet I can still feel the sting of my actions like it was yesterday. I’ll never forget confessing the real reason why my college diploma was so late was because it wasn’t coming. Yes, I had managed to flunk my senior finals and destroy my GPA in a matter of weeks. Not knowing what to do, my parents made an appointment with my GP and this lovely therapist named Barbara. I did talk therapy for a few weeks but wasn’t super honest with her about the events surrounding college. I’ll never forget at one of our last appointments she said to me, “I feel like there is something you are not telling me. I can tell something is eating away at you. You need to be honest with me if you want me to truly help you.” Dang, she was good and she was on to me. So naturally I quit. I was really good at quitting back then.


My GP at the time diagnosed me with obsessive-compulsive disorder and clinical depression which wasn’t a huge surprise to me. I had been having disruptive obsessive thoughts since 1998. Now my odd rituals, routines, and obsessions had a name. I figured the depression would just go away on its own given some time and patience. I was put on an antidepressant and sent along on my way. I finished school and did thankfully graduate thanks to my amazing college advisor who pulled some strings. But I wasn’t getting any better. I was getting worse. That was back in 2011. I was diagnosed with postpartum depression, bipolar ll, and post-traumatic stress disorder in 2017.


THE STRUGGLE IS REAL

So now that we have gone over some background info, let’s dive into the nitty gritty of the role mental illness has played in my marriage. Even though I fell head over heels for my hubby all those years ago, you must know I felt less than from the start. You see, Mike typically says the right words, has the right answers, makes the best choices, and tends to not make many mistakes. That was true at age 19 and that’s still true at 36! After all, it’s what made me fall in love with him. I loved that man and his balanced brain. I loved how mature and strong/stoic he was but I was aware from the beginning that this wasn't someone I typically dated. I tended to go more for the emotional boys who played Goo Goo Dolls songs on guitar; I always felt a strong connection to the wounded.

Mike was much different. Not only did he opt to lift weights over playing guitar, he also wasn’t an outwardly emotional person. While dating I’d share every aspect of my heart, soul, and being. Mike on the other hand was much quieter and reserved. He was always so mysterious to me. Because of our vast differences though I often compared myself to Mike. It felt like I’d never live up to what he was and could be. Everyone in my life made it clear that Mike was someone very special and definitely raised the bar. And he was amazing. He helped me with the kids. He helped around the house and cooked some meals, even after being tired from a long day of work. He was always lending a helping hand and he never referred to watching our kids as "babysitting." Over the years countless family members and friends would say “Wow, you are so lucky to have Mike.” Or my personal favorite, “Thank God you met Mike, what would you have done without him?” You know, as if I could never be a true adult or be a successful human without Mike by my side. It probably goes without saying that no one was knocking on Mike’s door to express how lucky he was to have found me. But to be fair for a very long time I’m not entirely sure he was that lucky. Just being honest. I was extremely immature and unpredictable for years, especially after I had my two kids. Postpartum depression is no joke. But it’s also not an excuse for my behavior either.


It came down to this. Mike was different in all the right ways. He was raising the bar. I was also different but in all the wrong ways. I was lowering the bar.


All these negative thoughts began forming what I now call a funnel cloud of chaos. About 4 years into our marriage was when my mental health began reaching an all time low. I had my diagnosis of OCD and depression for a few years but despite taking my meds religiously, I was getting worse. This was due in part to my undiagnosed PTSD. I had no idea the effects that trauma can have on the brain. One day I’d feel so down in the dumps, barely able to put my two feet on the ground, grouchy as the Grinch, to the next day feeling a rush of adrenaline and optimism. I’d be much more pleasant and then proceed to over commit for weeks. The kids and I were busy as bees, until the inevitable crash and quit. This was the cycle. All of my fear, shame, guilt, deceit, and mental illness eventually formed a raging tornado that was ripping through all areas of my life. I felt I was nothing more than a weight, an anchor that made Mike stuck in the harbor, unable to set sail and live up to his full potential. When things got the darkest I had convinced myself that while I would remain married, Mike was free to leave at any moment because after all, I was a lot. I had a lot of feelings, a lot of baggage, and a lot of pain and secrets. I wasn’t present in most areas of my life. I was a ticking time bomb. Up until a few years ago, it felt like our marriage, team and partnership was one sided and that truthfully, my family was better and stronger without me. I was weighing down everyone including my kids. Of course that wasn’t necessarily true but in the thick of it you can’t always decipher the truth.


The more the years went on the harder and harder it was to get out of this dark and deep hole. I knew deep down I was sicker than a dog but I was hell-bent on figuring it out myself, hell-bent on concealing the truth and emerging instead as a neat and manicured wife and mama. Why was I lying to everyone? Why was I lying to myself? Why did I have these constant dark and intrusive thoughts? Why couldn't I just move on already? Why couldn't I just admit that I was raped? Why couldn't I put my pride aside and ask for help? Somewhere along the way I convinced myself I was dirty, shameful, and sinful. That’s why. I had convinced myself that my family would no longer love me if they knew the truth. Talk about a sad and lonely place to be.


I eventually took a long hard look at myself and could barely recognize the woman staring back at me. This was a defining moment for me. It was also a defining moment for my marriage. It was time to get help.


GETTING HELP

That man. That balanced-brain man with the biggest heart took my hand and proceeded to walk next to me. Not in front of me. Not in back of me. Nope, right beside me, hand in hand. Truth be told, I fell in love with him all over again. The healing process wasn’t pretty, especially when I had to face my shame head-on and clean up all the damage I had caused. It was downright embarrassing if I’m being honest. But the only path to living was to own it. I had to see a psychiatrist and be honest about my symptoms. I had to go to therapy for years and really allow myself to be vulnerable and raw in our sessions. I had to take a few steps back from everything I had over-committed to: clubs, groups, PTA, toxic relationships, etc. I had to take a hold of God's hands when the suicidal thoughts became too real. This was in many ways a do-or-die type of situation. But no matter what, I never walked alone.


It’s been 6 years since my recovery began. In many ways, it feels like my life has just begun. It’s been an exciting time of growth and renewal. Of course it’s been hard too, at times downright brutal but every step, every growing pain has been completely worth it. I am so grateful for my amazing support system. Finding a supportive community is everything. From my husband and kids to all my family, friends, neighbors, mentors, and doctors, I was never alone. It’s been a wild ride and one I’m not eager to get off. I was given a second chance and you better bet I am grateful EVERY SINGLE DAY!

There were many times in our marriage Mike could have left. Easily. I was hard to love, hard to live and do life with. From the outside looking in, our life was beautiful and perfect. But on the inside of our four walls was chaos and despair. And truthfully I think many of you can relate to some degree. When your entire life is falling apart but you feel a desperate need to mask it out of embarrassment and shame. We force that smile and lie through our teeth to not get found out. Basically living in a constant state of fight or flight. And while most people you can indeed fool, your closest loved ones usually figure it out. How fortunate am I to have people who loved me so much they helped ME figure it out, helped fight alongside me, and didn’t give up on me like I did myself? It’s a gift I will forever cherish.


PRESENT DAY

It’s good to be alive and thriving! Not every day is perfect and easy, but my life as a whole is right where it should be, right where it needs to be. Partially because I don’t take my good days for granted and I have way more good days than bad. My loved ones now have a much better and stronger version of me. I can not only talk but also listen. I prioritize my time much better and make sure I’m never pouring from an empty cup. Sure I still have some hard days and my OCD definitely keeps me on my toes, but overall I am so blessed and have proven myself to be so much more than my mental illness. Just knowing that my hubby and kids can now confide in ME and I can in return be their rock brings tears to my eyes. Because to my core I am a helper. I'm a 2 on the Enneagram. It just turned out I needed to help myself first.

When all is said and done my husband and I are two very different people with very different personalities. Mike is a natural provider. He provides us with a roof over our heads, food on the table, and an abundance of fun and love. But it turns out I am also a provider. I’m the boo boo healer, the one you come to when you have a bad day or need to vent. I suppose I’m more of an emotional provider. I love true crime shows, Mike loves watching sports. I’m super into country, he’s super into rock. I’m very extroverted and my husband is introverted. I have some mental struggles, Mike does not.

For as different as we are, we do love to go on date nights, watch travel shows, attend concerts, and raise our two kiddos together. We truly enjoy each other's company and I think that’s partly because we are very opposite. We keep our relationship fresh by bringing different ideas, opinions, and experiences to the table. Sure our personalities and how we see the world is completely different but our core values and vision for our family is very similar.


CONCLUSION

One thing I want to make abundantly clear is Mike always had my back during those first few difficult years of marriage. He was always trying to help and guide me. He always loved me and could see past my mental struggles. We made a promise for better or for worse. And it's not like there weren't happy times sprinkled throughout those years. We birthed two beautiful babies, went on fun family trips, and formed a community along the way. There were always little blessings and miracles happening all around me. Because where there is love there is light.


I'd also like to mention that I have Mike's back too. I am here to lean on when he has a bad day or needs to vent about his concerns. Because it turns out, my hubby was never perfect. He has plenty of hangs ups, worries, and feelings. He's just more quiet and reserved about them. Just because someone's first inclination is to stuff their feelings down doesn't mean those feelings don't exist. I so clearly see the pressures my husband faces day in and day out and he sees mine.


Ladies, we must ask for help when we need it. We also have to be open to receiving help too. There is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. It’s way more admirable to ask for help then to do something super stupid because you can’t think straight. Mental illness doesn't discriminate. Tragedies are going to happen, hard times will fall upon us and sometimes we can keep it all together and sometimes we can not. There is no shame no matter what side you're on. We should be celebrating all minds for they make the world such a beautiful place.


Also, we need to keep an open line of communication with our spouse. Communication is key to any healthy relationship. Knowing you and your partner’s Enneagram number, love language, and brain type is super helpful. Because we are all wired so differently. The more we know about how our partner’s mind, heart, body, and soul work, the better we can communicate with them.


We joke that Mike is the brains behind our marriage and I am the heart. Hence the title of this post! Of course I'm plenty smart and Mike has a huge heart, it's just Mike tends to think and lead more with his mind and I tend to think and lead more with my heart. We both have our strengths and weaknesses. I was really jealous of Mike’s strengths all those years ago, his brains so to speak. I put him on a pedestal from day one which honestly wasn’t fair to him. I was only fueling the fire for him to be on and be perfect. There have been plenty of times where Mike has been envious of me in social situations. He also points out that the kids usually come to me with their feelings and problems because I’m soft and empathetic. I LIVE for feelings. My point is we are a team, a strong team. We balance and compliment each other. Between Mike’s amazing mind and my hopeful heart, our foundation is sturdy, and no illness will ever change that!


Till death do us part.










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