I was recently approached by Men Tell Health after they had seen a recent blog entry I had written YEAR OF HOPE 2015. They asked if I could write something for them, about caring for my husband. So here goes!
I think I should start by explaining who I am and whom I care for. My name is Samantha, but I’m better known as @carersvent. I became my husband’s carer back in 2011 after the physical health problems he had been hiding from me for years finally became too much. He suffers from chronic pain, Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME), functional neurological disorder and early onset arthritis. The list of symptoms go on and on, but after constant pain, these cause him to fall, have dizzy spells, muscle paralysis, muscle spasms, seizures, etc, etc. What I didn’t realise was that he was also hiding some severe mental health issues too.
I’d always known that, like myself, he struggles with bouts of depression. In fact in 2004, he left his job as Senior Store Designer for a well-known supermarket after what I can only describe as a mini breakdown. At the time I thought it was just the pressure of his job had got to him. Little did I know that his depression was far more severe than that and he was struggling with thoughts of suicide.
Within weeks of becoming my husband’s carer, it was clear to me that it was more than his physical health, but also his mental health that he was having problems with. I’ve always thought of my husband as being very strong, confident and having a larger than life personality, but I had also seen another side of him where he would verbally attack me (I will talk about this more later).
So it took me by surprise when my husband started having major panic attacks! I don’t know how, but I somehow pushed my own surprise, fear and emotions aside and just took charge. It wasn’t really a conscious choice to become his carer, it was just what I did without thinking as there was nobody else.
I can 'talk' about panic attacks, but sometimes you need to see one to really understand them. This is a video still, taken mid-panic attack, while he was being held down on the floor in Tesco's by staff. It’s very powerful and, honestly, it upsets me just looking at it. It's not here to upset you, just to help you understand, if you don't know already.
I think the most extreme example of him having a panic attack was at his ESA Assessment, My husband went through, what can only be called a range of emotions, which included him trying to harm himself, crying, screaming, shouting, laughing and being terrified. To me he always looks like a lost child when he gets like this. It does shock me seeing him like this, but I simply have to put that aside and take care of him.
When he gets like this I usually talk to him in a calm and reassuring manner and tell him “I won’t let anyone hurt you”. If you saw me doing this you’d think I was talking to a child and not a grown man. It’s sad how mental health can change someone you love so much, but you have to remember that it should never define them. They haven’t chosen to be this way.
My husband also suffers with severe anxiety and when it gets really bad he will harm himself, either by scratching his arms or bashing his head. I do my best to stop him hurting himself but, unfortunately, this can sometimes be difficult.
Whenever I have to take my husband to appointments I have to watch him constantly for signs of anxiety, panic attack and self harming. As if that wasn’t enough, he also suffers from non-epileptic seizures, so I also have to watch out for signs of those too…
I’m sure you’d all agree that trying to cope with all that is enough in itself, but my husband also has a very dark side to him. This is something I have had to deal with ever since I’ve known him (nearly 20 years). He suffers from what we believe is Intermittent Explosive Disorder. We call this part of my husband Rob. This angry, arrogant person is the complete opposite of my husband. He’s very aggressive, verbally abusive and always wanting a fight. He never listens to reason and is very good at seeing your weak points and turning them against you. He’s the most spiteful person you will meet. He can be violent, like hitting walls, bashing furniture and throwing things (like cups and glasses at walls, etc), although I should make it clear though that he has never and never would hit a woman. It can be like flipping a switch, but you never know where the switch is, or if it will trigger anything.
I would honestly have to say this is the most difficult, frustrating and confusing part of any of my husband’s mental health problems I have to deal with. Unlike his anxiety and panic attacks which I can usually deal with, this darker side of my husband is something I really wish I could just walk away from … but I can’t.
My husband was diagnosed with the Cluster B Personality Disturbances with rage control issues. Basically, this means my husband is not constantly like this, but flips in and out - which sort of makes things difficult for both of us to cope with to say the least!
Yes, knowing my husband has Cluster B explains some of his problems but not all of them and having a label on it doesn’t make having to deal with it any easier.
Cluster B Personality Disorder includes:-
Antisocial Personality Disorder: characterised by an ignorance of the entitlements of others, the absence of empathy, and (generally) a pattern of consistent criminal activity.
Borderline Personality Disorder: extreme ‘black and white’ thinking and long term unstable emotions – particularly when involving relationships, identity and behaviour. These feeling can lead to both self-harm and impulsive behaviour.
Histrionic Personality Disorder: attention seeking behaviour that often includes inappropriate seductive conduct and superficial or inflated emotions.
Narcissistic Personality Disorder: characterised by the consistent need for praise and admiration and a belief that they are special and ‘entitled’. Extreme jealously, arrogance and a lack of empathy are also usually present.
Since 2011 my husband has been seen by 5 different psychiatrists (including 2 neuro-psychiatrists) and 3 psychologists, some of whom said they couldn’t make a full assessment of my husband because of his rage control issues. But they have suggested that my husband also has “prolonged” PTSD - which if you saw what my husband has been through does make sense (since he was a kid he’s had close friends die, his 1st marriage broke down, several near death motor bike accidents, etc ….).
So, how has all this affected my own health/mental health? Well I’m on medication for anxiety because I have stress-induced migraines. I have also developed something called Vasovagal Syncope, which basically means if I get too stressed I can pass out. I also suffer with depression and OCD, which gets really bad when I get stressed out.
I have also been diagnosed with Fibromyalgia, which I am currently not even being treated for, which is frustrating. I also experience hallucinations, which I’ve been told are caused by stress as well. Unfortunately with the life I have, there’s no easy way to have less stress in my life….
I do struggle to take care of my husband, especially with the mental health conditions and I do sometimes wish someone else would take over. Then I feel guilty for wanting a normal life and I also ask why all this happened to my husband!? Yes, it’s difficult for me, but just imagine being my husband having to deal with all those different parts of himself and struggling to keep the dark side of himself from coming out and sometimes it will come out and there’s nothing my husband can do to stop it. He then feels all the guilt for whatever he said and did (he doesn’t always remember) … and all this on top of his physical health problems. He is basically having to battle with himself everyday and some days he doesn’t win.
Last year, after being bounced around psychiatrists and psychologists (because all his physical problems are apparently in his head!), we were eventually given some couples therapy. Why? Because being my husbands carer and having to deal with his physical and mental health conditions has put a tremendous stain on our relationship. We’re both grateful we received this, but my husband desperately needs help with his rage control issues. We were told to contact Mind, but unfortunately they no longer offer help for this.
So what next? I really don’t know … but what I do know is that my husband needs some professional help with all his mental health conditions, but sadly I don’t think he’ll ever get it on the NHS.
Sometimes I look at my husband and don’t even recognise him because of what his mental health has done to him. If he has a good day, I get a glimpse of the man I fell in love with, but unfortunately those days are very few - which is sad and makes me want to cry because I want my husband to be the way he once was …
We wanted to say a huge thank you for Samantha for her incredibly honest blog and wish them both the very best. To read more about Samantha's journey of being her husband's carer, you can check out her own blog right here.