This diary is about mental illness, love, and loss. If it isn’t your cup of tea, please don’t read it. Weeks ago, a DK online friend suggested that I share what I have been going through because this is a very supportive community, and I know that’s true.
I was and still am concerned about revealing so much, but if I don’t, I’m not sure if people will be willing to share their insight and experience. I’m totally stuck, and am hoping some of you may have the background or perspective to help me. I need to know how other widows and widowers have adjusted after their spouses’ deaths. I need to determine the background or job title of a person (s) who can help me. I’m thinking it might be a social worker, but I have no idea. I don’t like talking about problems as much as coming up with an action plan, and figuring out what is holding me back. Whether you wish to respond here or message me privately (if it’s very personal I’d prefer that), I appreciate it.
My husband Bernie and I were best friends for 40 years, we loved each other dearly, and he was my rock and my lifeline during depressions. While all widows, widowers, and partners, undoubtedly miss (and grieve) their loved ones, my situation may be different because I needed Bernie to help me survive. Without going into great detail, after 25 years of coping with undiagnosed depressions, usually two a year for 14-days, which didn’t impact my ability to work or live my life—they got worse. So, in 1993, I saw a psychiatrist and was diagnosed with atypical bipolar depression, despite never having had a mania or hypomania. When I asked the doctor why it wasn’t clinical depression, she said it was because I was happy most of the time.
Nonetheless, after I began taking medication, the diagnosis fit because the drugs caused hypomanias and other symptoms. During the next eight years, four different psychiatrists prescribed 26 different medications in different combinations and dosages, and as a result, I became a treatment resistant rapid-cycler, who was either depressed or hypomanic all of the time. Between the medication and side effects of the drugs they prescribed, they almost destroyed me. (FYI…I am not anti-medication: It just didn’t work for me, and there were way too many drugs. Most hadn’t been tested for bipolar depression, and there was only anecdotal information.)
So, I went off everything, a new psychiatrist prescribed Adderall, and it saved my life although it didn’t end the depressive episodes, and it does have its own side effects...mostly behavioral ones, of which I am mindful. It took four more years for me to feel a semblance of myself.
I spent ten years doing research on depression, bipolar disorder and related subjects, but it was too depressing, and there was so little hope that I stopped. The suicide rate for bipolar disorder is 10-30 percent higher than the norm, 20-60 percent of people attempt suicide at least once, and 20 percent kill themselves. I have never attempted suicide, and have tried every imaginable treatment—both inside and outside the box. The only thing that has worked, to a greater or lesser degree, is my own retinue of wellness activities I developed throughout the years. But, I can’t do them now because I lack the motivation. It turns out that Bernie provided that by his very presence.
During my lifetime, I have experienced more than 200 episodes since I was 18 (and I am now 72). Suffice it to say, it has taken years of hard work and self-discipline to feel better. One of the downsides is that it has been difficult for me to make and maintain friendships because I used to be out of touch for weeks and/or months during depressive episodes. The number and severity of the episodes significantly decreased the decade before Bernie died because I stopped writing, and pursued art and craft projects instead. What I recently realized was that part of my pleasure in creating art was showing it to Bernie, and discussing the projects. He not only was a talented landscape painter, but his knowledge of art was remarkable, and he loved sharing what he knew. In fact, we shared untold interests and hobbies, and he enthusiastically supported everything I did. Unlike me, he was extraordinarily stable and even-tempered. He also was the kindest and most gentle man I have ever known. He had an adorable sense of humor, and we laughed a lot together—even during the difficult times. And he handled every aspect of our lives when I couldn’t.
Things had gotten so much better until 2015, when Bernie almost died from empyema, and although he survived, that’s when he started his decline. Because he had a constellation of other illnesses, including progressive heart failure, atrial fibrillation, chronic kidney disease, lumbar spinal stenosis, high blood pressure, Parkinson’s, and so much more as well as a lot of pain, he mostly was bedridden and housebound for the last five years of his life. And I became his medical researcher, patient advocate, and primary caregiver. Watching him suffer was devastating, and taking care of him became overwhelming.
By the time Bernie died in 2020, I was emotionally and physically exhausted, and it took a long time to recover. And, when I finally did, it was short-lived. Initially, I couldn’t understand why, but over time I realized that without Bernie, I feel untethered, and I don’t have the support I need. My responsibilities seem formidable (but probably aren’t), I am living in relative isolation, and I can’t envision creating a new life without Bernie. Because of his health problems and pain, my depressions, and the lack of a support system, our life had become very insular in the last 15 years.
My immediate problem is that I’ve been depressed for the last six months, and am not sure what to do about it. For 40 years, Bernie was my buttress against a devastationg illness. It was his support, and my wellness activities that saved me, not therapy, and I can’t do them without him because, for the first time ever, I have no motivation. I’ve hardly left the house aside from walking my beloved dog Winnie each day. After seven years of being mostly at home with Bernie (aside from driving us to all of his medical appointments), and then the pandemic, my world has gotten smaller, I am more introverted, and the city seems too large for me. And, very few things—other than politics—interest me, which is either a huge personality shift or just the result of the depression.
During my downward slide, I contacted my psychiatrist, whom I only see a few times a year, and explained my situation. I knew what some of my problems were, but couldn’t come up with solutions. I really needed someone in my corner who would help me figure out the rest, and possibly make referrals for additional people she/he trusted to help me with specific tasks. I explained that I was in a really bad place, I sorely missed Bernie’s support, I had a detailed lists of chores (some were critical) that needed to be done, but I couldn’t do them. I needed to see a retinue of doctors, because I had neglected my own health when Bernie was sick. But I couldn’t drive myself due to vision problems, which two ophthalmologists hadn’t resolved. And, I didn’t want to go alone although I had gone alone to doctors for my entire life. Unfortunately, my psychiatrist is rarely forthcoming with referrals or insightful advice.
And, my friends weren’t helpful. I didn’t want cheerleading (which was what a friend I’ve known for 55 years kept on doing until I asked her to stop), I wanted help. And, although I say that clearly, I rarely get referrals, which truly don’t help anyway unless someone personally knows the person they are referring. I have explained why this is important over and over again. When I am severely depressed, I am unable to call people and interview them, and my judgement is impaired. So, I need someone whose judgement isn’t impaired to make a personal recommendation. I don’t feel this is too much to ask. I have spent most of my adult life helping Bernie’s family members and my own as well as some very sick friends. And when someone is old and/or sick, I take charge without being asked, and help in the decision-making process if they want me to. Unfortunately, no one is left to help me.
My current problems have been ongoing, I haven’t resolved them, and that’s why I’m depressed. I need someone to (read this) and help me develop a short-term plan to help me get out of this depression. After that, I need someone who can drive me to doctors’ appointments. And possibly be a part-time companion until I feel better. A longer-term goal is that I need help reconfiguring my life without Bernie, which seems daunting and impossible until I feel better. But, perhaps, other small steps would be doable as a way to move forward. I need to clean up Bernie’s studio, which is an easy task for me, but not now. And, I need financial advice.
Without Bernie, it’s critical that I find someone who will support me when I start feeling a downward spiral. Not only do I need activities, but preferably a place I can do them with other people, with whom I don’t have to socialize. I’ve spent decades pursuing wellness, and it requires creative thinking, a pro-active personality, problem-solving skills, and a lot of energy, self-discipline, and motivation, but I’m tapped out these days.
If I lived in a more rural area, I’d ride a horse every day, and help groom horses if they’d allow me to. But, I can’t drive 90 minutes to reach a stable here. When I was younger, I found that physical activities helped a lot. And, they may in the future, but not right now because I’m not well enough. I feel Iike I aged a lot during Bernie’s illness. In years past, my wellness projects have included sanding and painting the garage door; cleaning out all the gutters; removing three grape ivy vines on a garage wall, and relandscaping the backyard. I also used to garden a lot, but I’m not as physically strong as I used to be, and without Bernie being in the house, and Jack, my former dog, following me around, all outdoor projects seem like lonely endeavors. But, that could change if I felt better. And, I feel the same way about art projects. Pursuing solitary projects by myself no longer interests me, but might in the future. Without Bernie’s support, I can’t think of anything that interests me.
And, I can’t identify a person who can help. If it is a social worker, I need to know what her/his specialization might be, what questions to ask, and how to make sure she/he is action oriented, and where I might find someone like that. If it’s someone with a different job title or background, I need to know what that title and background might be, and where I can find them.
Without Bernie, I feel lost, untethered, and stuck. For my entire life, despite my depressions, I’ve handled a plethora of tasks, projects, and problems competently and capably, but not now. For a few months after Bernie died, I saw a grief counselor who didn’t help me. I believe I’m handling my grief. I don’t think a widow’s group would help because I’m not big on talking, I’m not terribly social, have always marched to my own drummer, and my interests are different than many widows my age (I’m 72). While Bernie and I used to go to plays, museums, bookstores, and out to eat, I’m not interested in any of that right now, and am not sure if I ever will be again. Years ago, we used to go away for weekend get-aways, or take longer vacations and go fly fishing and plein air painting (his hobbies), horseback riding, playing tennis, biking, swimming, walking (my hobbies), but after seven years of mostly being indoors, I don’t see myself doing any of it until I’m in much better shape.
What’s odd is that some of the tasks I am finding insurmountable are similar to issues I handled for the last five years of Bernie’s life, so I know I have the ability to handle them, but I don’t feel well enough to cope with them. Without Bernie in my corner, I’m truly at a loss. I don’t have friends and family members who can help me, and I’m not a part of any other community. So, I am hoping there are others here who have the background or expertise to make suggestions, or who can provide a perspective that I can’t. Thank you!
I’m having vision problems tonight (and everyting is blurred) because I spent too much time on the computer today. So...if you respond after I post this...I apologize, but I promise I will get back to you tomorrow!