When I was just 15, I met Simon*. He was my supervisor at work and I was hooked on him. Loud, outgoing and confident – he was everything I wasn’t. When we started dating two years later, I knew that was it for me. We married when I was 22 and he was 27, and for the first six months we lived the life of happy newlyweds.
Wanting to do something with his HR degree, Simon quit his job as supermarket manager and landed work at the local hospital. We were thrilled. But after working there for a few weeks, I could tell something was wrong. He was working crazy hours, and he mentioned he wasn’t getting along with everybody in his department.
“A new job can be a bit stressful,” I sympathised.
But after just a few months, he confessed he’d had a disagreement with someone and had been given a warning. Shocked, I couldn’t believe things had gotten so bad.
Simon was moved to a new department. But instead of making a fresh start, things got worse. He was accused of being aggressive and upsetting some of the female staff. I knew he could come across the wrong way sometimes, but never could I imagine him upsetting women. That was until he became hostile at home too. Arriving home 10 minutes late from work one night, he pounced.
“Where have you been?” he demanded. Shocked, I fumbled for an excuse.
"Don’t be late again” he warned, before ignoring me for the rest of the night.
Simon soon became withdrawn too – suggestions of eating out were met with “I’m too tired” or “I don’t feel like it”. And if I wanted to go out with girlfriends I’d get a serious guilt trip.
“So you’re going to leave me by myself?” he’d ask, before demanding to know the exact time I’d be home.
At just 22, this was not how I imagined married life to be.
Arriving home from work one day I found him crying. It wasn’t a quiet man-cry either. He was distraught. “I work so hard,” he sobbed. “But nobody at work likes me.”
Convincing Simon to go to the doctor, he was diagnosed with stress-related depression and prescribed an antidepressant. With a referral to a psychiatrist as well, I was optimistic that things would get better.
The behaviour worsens
For our one-year wedding anniversary we booked a holiday to Cape Tribulation, Qld. This was meant to be the relaxing break to get us back on track. Sadly, it was anything but. From the moment I slung our suitcases on the bed to unpack, Simon was manic.
He was “bored” by all the activities we did during the day – never able to focus on one thing for more than five minutes. At night-time, he couldn’t sleep. I was left alone in bed from 9pm to 9am while he played on the computers in the business centre.
On the three-hour flight home, Simon didn’t sit down once. He was so agitated all he could do was pace the aisles. The alarm bells that had been going off in my head for the past six months were now making an all-out assault.
Returning home, his behaviour became even more erratic. One day he bought 100 DVDs. The next day it was a new car. It was so impulsive – but I was scared to say anything in case he snapped. On little to no sleep, Simon returned to work for a few weeks – where he fought with more people – before he finally came crashing down.
“I can’t do this anymore,” he cried one night.
Admitting himself to hospital, my husband was put on suicide watch.
FACT: 1 in 5 Australians will have a mental illness in any 12-month period*
The bipolar disorder diagnosis
A psychologist found that Simon had stress-induced bipolar disorder brought on by starting his new job, disagreeing with colleagues and being overworked.
Hearing his diagnosis, I felt a wave of relief. There was a name for what was happening to my husband, which meant we could now find a way to make him better. Typing “bipolar” into Google I was taken to the beyondblue website. “Bipolar disorder involves both periods of feeling low (depressed) and high (mania),” I read. Everything clicked into place: constant irritability, crazy shopping spree, agitation, insomnia and restlessness. They were all symptoms of his mental illness.
Simon was given a range of drugs – quetiapine, diazepam, lithium and escitalopram – to help level out his moods, and put on a thorough mental health plan. Returning home with him after two weeks, I thought things would be better. But while he was a little less prickly, he still wasn’t the person I’d married. He mocked, belittled and taunted me. And although he was being horrible, he still wanted to constantly have sex – another one of the symptoms.
“Fine!” he shouted at me when I told him I wasn’t in the mood. “I’ll just go and have sex with a prostitute then.”
My breath caught in my throat as the pain of what he’d just said hit me. I packed my bags and left our home. I was done.
Relief, at last
Moving back in with my parents, I finally stopped putting up a brave front – because up until that point I’d completely shut off my feelings. Letting go, I cried for who my husband had become. I cried for the confusion he must be feeling. I cried over my guilt. I cried over the end of our marriage. I just cried.
After a few weeks Simon rang and begged me to go to relationship counselling with him. And while I had no plans to reconcile, I thought it would give us some closure.
Instead, it saved us. After four months of counselling, I began to realise that all the anger I felt towards him was diminishing. He was listening to what I said. And even better – he understood. As Simon’s bipolar medication began to settle in his system – I saw the man who I first fell in love with begin to return.Taking baby steps, Simon and I began to date again. He was sweet, thoughtful, understanding and a world away from who he had been. Moving back in with him I knew I wanted to make our marriage work. And I could see enough of the real Simon, that I believed it could.
Four years on and Simon can’t remember much of his life during that time. We finished counselling after a year, but we never stopped working on our marriage. Each night, without fail, Simon and I take time to turn off the TV, put away our phones and talk. With open, honest and frequent communication we’re able to keep things on track. And though sometimes he might slip
up by becoming a bit loud and dominating in conversations – I’ve learnt how to handle him.
Inspired by what I’d been through with my husband, I’ve applied to study psychology. And I couldn’t ask for Simon to be more supportive. For a while – during the worst – I forgot this man was a good person who was just very lost. Now, thanks to his determination, the support of his doctors and our family and friends, he’s been found.
Do your bit and help a friend on Thursday, September 13 2012 for R U OK? Day, a national campaign aiming to put an end to suicide.
All you have to do is ask family, friends and colleagues one simple question: “Are you OK?”
For more information go to RUOKDAY
If you or someone you know needs support, call 13 11 14 or contact Lifeline*Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing