My husband’s schizoaffective disorder devastated our family. Here’s what I’ve learned in the years since he was first diagnosed.
“I think someone is listening in to our phones.” This was the first hint of the coming crisis that would dismantle my life as I knew it. My husband shared with me his growing paranoia. Someone was watching us from the lot across the street. He couldn’t tell me details because they were listening in to our conversations at home as well. He thought they might try to kill him on his way to work.
At first, he was very convincing. I loved my husband. He was funny and smart. I respected him and had looked to him for advice throughout our marriage. So when he said he thought our phones were being monitored because of something going on at his work, I believed him.
But as the days went on, it became clear that something was going on inside of his brain. Our youngest child had kept him awake most of the night the week before, and he’d been unable to get a good night’s sleep for several days in a row. I chalked his confusion up to sleep deprivation.
But then he said someone wanted him to go to the hospital and insisted I call an ambulance. By the time I got to the hospital, my husband was sedated and restrained in a hospital bed. (In his confusion, he had tried to push the doctors out of his room.) Words cannot adequately describe the shock and fear I felt when I first saw him handcuffed to his bed.
And so began my own disturbing descent into the world of mental illness. It became clear that my husband’s descent had begun some time back without either of us realizing what was happening. At first, his doctor, my pastor, and I all believed his erratic behavior was a one-time occurrence of hallucinations due to sleep deprivation. After getting some sleep and taking antipsychotics in the hospital, he got a little bit better. But a few months later, after he stopped taking the antipsychotics, his symptoms came back in full force.
When he needed a second hospital stay, it was clear that this was much more than sleep deprivation. I remember the doctor who’d treated him during his first hospital stay coming out of the psychiatry ward to sit with me in the waiting area after my husband was admitted the second time. He simply said, “I am so sorry.” Nothing more needed to be said; we both knew the diagnosis this second time around would be much more serious. My husband was eventually diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder. The prognosis was not good, and the road forward would never be easy again—for my husband or myself.
As a Christian wife who dearly loved my husband, I wanted to do right by him as he faced this illness—but I had no idea what to do. How much should I engage with his delusions? How much should I push back? Should he be involuntarily hospitalized? Were his various medications compounding his symptoms?
My pastor, to whom I turned for counsel, didn’t have answers either, but he and his wife listened and loved my family well. I looked for secular resources for spouses of the mentally ill. I went to a local NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) support group, but it consisted primarily of parents or siblings of the mentally ill. My position was so different: How could I cope as the wife of someone struggling with intense paranoia?
A delusional partner
My husband and I had been true partners in our home. We parented together and shared the weight of responsibilities. I was dependent on him financially but also in a thousand other ways. We’d had a good marriage in which we each contributed—like we were shouldering a heavy sofa together, each carrying our part. But his mental illness caused him to crumble under the weight of our responsibilities, and I had to carry more and more by myself. Though I wanted to curl up in the fetal position, I couldn’t. I had small children and a house payment. I either had to get a smaller sofa or figure out how to carry this one by myself.
The loss of our spiritual partnership was especially hurtful. Night after night, I cried out to God in the dark. Before all of this happened, God had led us to move away from immediate family in order to minister in a new town. We had been confident together of God’s plan for our family, and I turned to my husband regularly for spiritual counsel and encouragement. Now, how could we bring the Good News to our community when my husband was living in a completely different reality? What was God’s plan in all of this? What should I do? I wrestled with God to understand what was happening.
All of the relationships we’d developed as a couple fell victim to my husband’s paranoia; he was convinced by the voices in his head that they were in a conspiracy against him. At first, I allowed his delusions to distance me from my own friendships, in our church in particular. But, over time, I realized I would not survive without the family of Christ helping me navigate what I could not navigate on my own. When the person I was closest to on earth began living in a delusional world, I needed to surround myself with spiritually sound people who could keep me grounded in reality. I remain thankful today for this grace-filled Christian community that has patiently loved both him and me. They have been a life jacket that held my head above water when I felt like I was going down.
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SOURCE: Christianity Today