Can a Marriage with Mental Illness Survive a Symptom Cop Spouse?

April 7, 2011

A few weeks ago, the Weightless blog published an interview with Susan Schulherr, author of EATING DISORDERS FOR DUMMIES, in which she explains the distinction between a symptom cop—someone who tries to control your symptoms—and a truly supportive friend or family member. The interview, of course, focuses on eating disorders, but it got me thinking about how to best offer support to a spouse with any type mental illness.

Being in recovery for an eating disorder myself, and being married to a man with bipolar disorder, I have experience with this issue from both sides of the fence. Interestingly, when I was in the thick of my illness—bingeing and purging multiple times a day—I didn’t think I’d recover unless I was being monitored/controlled by a symptom cop.

I daydreamed about getting locked up on eating disorder ward, joining the army, even going to jail—all because I imagined that in those places, finally, with someone else dictating what and when and how much I ate, I would lose weight and be okay.

At one point, I tried to enlist my mother as a symptom cop. I told her that having sweet foods in the house was bad for me. She understood, and stopped buying them. Of course, that pissed me off, and in the end, it only served to reinforce my sneaky behavior around food.

In my experience, relying on someone else to fix you never works.

When it’s your spouse who suffers from a mental illness, however, it’s hard to remember this fact.

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A Lesson in Boundaries from Charlie Sheen

March 20, 2011

A lot’s been written lately about Charlie Sheen and his bizarre, bitter ranting (check out my friend Chris Wells’ great article about it on AOL News), and the news that he’s about to embark on a 21-day live tour that will net him $7 million made me sad for him. Someone (CBS) finally stood up to him and said, “Your behavior is unacceptable,” yet others have rushed in to laud and applaud him, enabling his violent, delusional conduct.

There’s a great saying in Twelve Step circles: You hit bottom when you stop digging. Charlie Sheen has no incentive to stop digging. Every time he does something stupid, immoral, or illegal, his money and fame come to the rescue.

Lost your wife because you held a knife to her throat? No problem, get a couple of porn stars to move in with you. Lost your lucrative day job because you refused to get real help for your drug problem and then very publicly insulted your boss? So what? Sue CBS, and launch a lucrative live tour.

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Mental Illness, Misdiagnosis, and Forgiveness

February 17, 2011

About a year ago, I had a terrible, two-week anxiety attack. My eyelids twitched constantly, I couldn’t sleep without serious pharmaceutical assistance, and—in lieu of a heartbeat—cold-winged butterflies beat around in my chest.

At first, I wasn’t sure what had triggered my anxiety. I’d experienced one similar episode about six months earlier, after starting a new job (I didn’t work for nine months after John’s hospitalization) and having a confrontation with a woman at one of my Twelve Step meetings. I chalked that experience up to nerves around the new job and a fear of conflict, and I didn’t think too much about it after the anxiety went away.

The second time it happened, though, I had to dig a little deeper to figure out what was really going on. And the truth was, I was still traumatized by the fact that my husband had been misdiagnosed after all my efforts to communicate what was happening with his psychiatrist.

The worst night of my life, in fact, occurred two days after said psychiatrist—Dr. Black—decreased John’s dose of Risperdal, and then proceeded to tell him that she “wasn’t that concerned” as his psychosis escalated and I pleaded with him to return to the hospital.

After my husband went back to the hospital, I was furious. I had trusted his psychiatrist. I had assumed that, because she had much more experience with mental illness than I did, she knew what she was doing when she ignored my calls and input.

I had, of course, assumed wrong.

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Happy News (about the Baby) that Made Me Sad (about Bipolar)

February 2, 2011

I started thinking about babies when John and I moved to the West Coast three and a half years ago. John wasn’t quite on the same page; he wanted some time to establish himself at his new company. He wanted some time to settle into our new life.

About two and a half years ago, we had a bit of a scare that left me thinking—briefly—that I might be pregnant. When I learned that I wasn’t, I was disappointed. I said as much to John, but once again, he wanted to wait. He wanted to make sure his company was stable and his future there secure.

To be honest, his reluctance to start a family pissed me off. It made me feel as though what I wanted was less important than what he wanted for his career.

So I got passive-aggressive.

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Jared Lee Loughner’s Parents: Why Didn’t They Know?

January 13, 2011

In the wake of last weekend’s tragic shooting in Arizona, many people are speculating that the gunman, Jared Lee Loughner, is mentally ill—most likely schizophrenic—based on reports of his antisocial and paranoid behavior.

Many people are also asking why his parents didn’t intervene and get him help for his mental problems, as evidenced by this comment from a recent MSNBC article titled “Ariz. Suspect’s Parents: ‘We Don’t Know Why This Happened’”:

The parents had to have known they had a disturbed man living with them, and it was their responsibility to get him to a doctor who would put him on medicine or hospitalize him. Even if he failed to voluntarily commit himself for treatment, he could have been involuntarily treated. The reports of his behaviors in school and by classmates, “friends” and observers are concrete and undeniable as to the severity of his mental problems! And it’s clear these problems had been going on for some time. The parents were apparently the only ones who failed to see them—it’s called denial. They should feel awful and very, very guilty for responding so irresponsibly to their son’s illness and indications he was a danger to others.

I really don’t know much about the Loughners’ situation, and given that John was never violent, I can’t imagine what they’re feeling right now, but here’s what I can tell you: When John became psychotic, I was the last to know.

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Sex, Discipline, and Mental Illness

January 6, 2011

No, this isn’t a post about S&M, women in leather cracking whips, or anything like that. It’s about an interesting post I read on a blog called Project M that discusses the link between monogamy and prosperity.

As the United States struggles to emerge from the depths of what many have deemed the “Great Recession,” regaining economic prosperity is an issue that’s top of mind for many. Unfortunately, many of us also have some serious doubts about this country’s ability to recapture its past glory as an unmitigated financial success.

After all, with an education system that places our students far behind those in Asia, it won’t be long before the best and the brightest begin relocating to areas like Hong Kong, Shanghai, Singapore, and Japan. In fact, this “brain drain” has already begun.

My parents have lived in Hong Kong for three years now, and another one of my friends just joined their ranks. Hong Kong’s economy—like the city itself—is vibrant, fast-paced, and exciting. It was far less affected by the downturn than the U.S., and it has recovered much faster.

I won’t be surprised if—just as the U.S. took the superpower mantle from the British after WWII—China, led by Hong Kong, takes it from us now, in the wake of the Great Recession.

But I digress. Back to sex.

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The “Glamour” of Mental Illness

December 29, 2010

New research conducted by mentaline.com reveals that approximately 11% of teenagers think mental illness is “fashionable.” Three percent of them have even faked having a mental illness, believing that this would make them “unique,” more like celebrity sufferers, or “just cool.”

Of those teens who’ve faked illness, the most popular choices are:

  • Eating disorders – 22%
  • Self-harming – 17%
  • Addiction – 13%
  • Depression – 12%
  • Bipolar Disorder– 9%

As someone who’s suffered from both an eating disorder and depression, whose husband has bipolar disorder, and whose sister has overcome self-harming, I’m fascinated by this data. In a way, I can even relate to these kids.

But the funny thing about mental illness is that, while it may look cool or glamorous from the outside, when you’re trapped inside it, it’s the least glamorous thing you could ever imagine.

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