Impact of Untreated Mental Illness
It is difficult for me to share my story but I chose to do so in hopes that it may help someone else struggling with mental illness or someone trying to support a person with mental illness. I believe that someone needs to choose to get mental health treatment for themselves, to make a commitment and conscious effort for treatment to be successful. Unfortunately, mental health treatment is often regarded as optional rather than necessary and not prioritized.
There are many barriers that can make it difficult for people to get treatment including stigma, access to care, insurance coverage, transportation, and availability for scheduling appointments. Part of the problem is that mental health conditions are invisible illnesses and symptoms are not always outwardly apparent to others. Also, people are often not forthcoming with their symptoms due to fear of being judged, blamed, invalidated, and misunderstood.
I know from experience that you can’t make someone get better or seek treatment for their mental illness, no matter how much you care for them and want to help. They have to make that decision for themselves and be actively involved in their treatment to get better.
I was married to a man for 15 years who suffered from Bipolar Disorder and Borderline Personality Disorder. He also had a history of substance abuse. The first half of our marriage was relatively stable but he started having medical problems that interfered with his ability to work and he had to go on disability. That significantly affected his mental state, as he had a strong work ethic and his identity was in his work. He had degenerative disc disease that caused chronic pain and had spinal surgery that was unsuccessful. He got steroid injections for years to help with the pain but developed diabetes and could no longer do that, so he was prescribed opiate pain medications that worsened his mental illness. He didn’t take care of himself and his blood sugar was out of control, he would not eat healthy and just take more insulin but developed insulin resistance and sometimes it wouldn’t work at all. He ended up in the hospital with diabetic ketoacidosis several times.
I tried to help him and our relationship changed, my role changed to more of a caretaker than a wife and he grew to resent me. His doctor discussed getting a spinal cord stimulator but he was against doing that even though it would help him get off the pain medication which I thought he wanted to do, but now I’m not so sure.
Over time, he started using more pain medications and ended up on several pain medications 3-4 times a day. He would take more than prescribed and say that he forgot if he took them or not. The doctors would ask him about his urine drug screen being negative and I didn’t realize it was a bad thing, but it meant he wasn’t taking the medication as prescribed. I tried to help with his medications to remind him to take them regularly and at one point was setting up pill organizers for him, but that made it worse.
I thought I was helping but I was enabling him and encouraging codependency. I would also go with him to his doctor appointments because he felt more comfortable with me being able to communicate more effectively to his doctors but that wasn’t good either because he would get angry and walk out of the appointments if he didn’t get what he wanted. He would often intentionally stop some of his medications because he didn’t want to take them without telling me. He would have depression, mood swings, irritability, episodes of severe anger and rage. It was like he became a different person and his eyes looked bigger, he would get so angry and lash out at me verbally. He would get mad when I would not react to him and his behavior would escalate. There was one instance when he intentionally overdosed on his pain medication in a suicide attempt and tried to drive away. He was admitted to the hospital.
After that, we ended up having a separation because he wasn’t taking care of himself and refused to get the treatment he needed. There was nothing more I could do for him, he had to make the decision for himself. We came to an agreement with terms for trying to salvage our marriage and he agreed to get treatment, and we got back together after 6 months.
Unfortunately, his old habits returned and he regressed. He blamed me for things that went wrong. We grew apart and he ended up leaving because he believed I was the reason he was unhappy. He eventually realized it was not me. It was so much more than that. And I couldn’t put myself through that again. He lost his father this past year and after that happened, he gave up completely. He went back to using drugs and stopped taking all of his medications. He alienated everyone around him and eventually took his own life.
It is heartbreaking and I blame myself even though I know it’s not my fault. I keep thinking maybe if I did something differently he would still be alive. I know that I couldn’t make him better on my own. He needed to want it. But I will always care for him and find some peace knowing he is no longer suffering.