WallE is my husband (his nickname is taken from the Disney rubbish compactor lead character in the move WallE) and this December we have been married for 20 years. He is ‘the one’ for me, my friend, my lover, my confidant, my guide and my carer.
WallE wasn’t always understanding or considerate of my mental illness and its various presentations. He used to be dismissive, frustrated, angered, resentful and just plain confused by my episodes, behaviours, obsessions, etc, etc. As you can imagine, this meant many debates and sometime heated words between us.
One day we hired a video called ‘The Hours’ staring Nicole Kidman. The Hours is a movie about Author Virginia Wolf and centred around her life with Bipolar, or Manic Depression as it was called back then. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Hours_(film)
I watched the movie with WallE and didn’t get much from it. However, WallE watched it twice and spoke to me of the correlation between the character depiction of Virginia Wolf and myself. I personally couldn’t see any correlation, but at that point in time my thoughts were very scattered and I had trouble focusing on and understanding the movie.
Over the coming months WallE changed in his interaction with and consideration of me. When I had an episode he would ask me questions, which sometimes wasn’t the right time to ask questions. But then when I had levelled out, he would ask me questions about what I experienced and we would have discussions on how I felt at the time, what I thought, what I needed, what made it worse, what might make it better. He would then become reflective. But as most of us who experience mental illness know, sometimes we can’t answer these types of questions, because we can’t explain what we don’t understand ourselves.
One of the areas he was particularly impacted by, was the progression into the various states by Virginia Wolf and the warning signs or changes identified. WallE started to take notice of these changes in behaviours and activities I exhibited, but I was not aware of, and gently and compassionately raise them with me. Noticeable things were smoking more, forgetting to eat and drink, agitated, snappy, critical, inpatient, requiring more personal space, easily distracted and unable to focus for long. Because of my loss of perception during these shifts of states, at the start I was surprised by what he was talking about and would often become defensive and argumentative. But overtime I realised that he was doing this in my best interest and I encouraged him to start the discussions. Often the things he raised around my impatient, snappy and critical interactions, where things that when I was stable, were of no concern or problem.
Thus the silent and reflective observation of my behaviours, actions and activities became ingrained in WallE and the discussions enabled me to start gaining insight to my presentations. WallE began changing his approach, behaviour around and interactions with me. He became more tolerant, compassionate, considerate, caring, insightful, communicative and supportive. Our relationship grew through this and we became more connected and aware of each other’s needs and point of view.
That doesn’t mean to say that everything became perfect and at times his moods meant he was intolerant of me. Also, regardless of all the discussions and work we had done together on my mental health, there were two behaviours and actions he was unable and unequipped to accept and accommodate. These were my need to withdraw to my room and sleep a lot when I was in a depressed state, for which he had no strategy to help me overcome. He tried waking me and sometimes I would wake, though my ‘lights were on but no one was home’ or in real terms, my eyes were open but my brain had shut down and was not processing, anything. Other times, he could not even wake me up, it was almost like I was comatose. It was not unusual for me to sleep 18+ per day and remain in bed for 4+ days straight. During these times he felt lonely. It is a really uncomfortable feeling to be in a relationship, but be so alone and craving in contact.
It was not until I was hospitalised with Catatonic Depression and the Psychiatrist explained to WallE, that it is a classic symptom to sleep a lot, that he began to tolerate this presentation. The Psychiatrist went on to say that even when not depressed, my need for sleep/down time when I was working 34 hours over 4 days per week, was not excessive. Also that he should be grateful, and understanding, because many people with Bipolar cannot work at all and if sleeping two full days per week was what enabled me to work 34 hours a week, it is of minimal importance.
The other episode he was not equipped to deal with or tolerate were my episodes of paranoia that were directed at him. I would become paranoid that he was having an affair. I would set up tests, ruminate on dreams of him being unfaithful, imagine behaviours that supported my beliefs, imagining he was going into other rooms to text and phone is lover, and then I would confront him, yelling and screaming.
WallE learned that no matter what his response was, I would have a counter argument. As a consequence, he began just walking away from me and not commenting or defending himself. I remember being enraged at this behaviour from him, because I was in a place where I was eager to thrash it out, prove him unfaithful and vent my hurt and anger. I complained to my Psychiatrist about WallE’s refusal to engage. My Psychiatrist laughed and told me my husband was a very wise man and when you are the focus of the paranoia the only way to deal with someone when they are like this, is to totally disengage from the situation. It is still frustrating for us both, but at least now I am more accepting (not totally) when he walks away from me.
The other thing that happened, just recently, following my last paranoid episode, is WallE had an epiphany. WallE said he had had enough of these accusations and was just about to kick me out of the house, when he realised it wasn’t me, Nicci, talking, it was the illness. He was able to separate the illness from the person and understand that had I not been in the midst of a paranoid episode, I would never have behaved like this.
But thankfully, unlike many people in my life, he does not attribute all my quirky behaviours and presentations to my illness. He has learnt over time and understands that some of my unusual behaviours (to his way of thinking and experience), beliefs, attitudes, have developed from my upbringing, life experiences, morals, values, ethics, preferences and personality. Nothing frustrates me more than those people in my life who blame the illness for my reactions to their behaviour or comments, rather than accepting they have been integral in upsetting me.
WallE and I continue to teach each other and learn together how to work with and accommodate my illness and its various presentations. As all of you who experience mental illness are aware, no two episodes are the same and management of them has to be tweaked to suit.
If you would like to provide feedback or comment on this blog, please email Nicci at firstname.lastname@example.org