TRIGGER WARNING: The following story contains explicit details about depression, self-harm, and suicide. Read with caution if you’re one of those who may be vulnerable to these topics.
In one of the mental health awareness seminars in PUP Manila, Celine Guerrero-Windel shared her experiences as the carer of her husband, Keenan Windel.
Students, fellow advocates, professors, and mental health professionals listened intently as Celine revealed what it is like to be the wife of someone with Bipolar 1 mood disorder alongside psychotic features.
As she made her way to explain what happens to someone who’s having an episode, Celine couldn’t help but burst into tears when she mentioned Keenan’s attempts at suicide, along with alcohol abuse and medication overdose.
The audience remained sympathetic as Celine fought back her tears while narrating her experiences.
In one of her stories, she explained how a single, tiny tablet of antipsychotic is enough to knock a person out. The audience couldn’t believe it when Celine shared one of Keenan’s attempts to overdose himself with 20 antipsychotic tablets, chugged down with a bottle of beer.
Fortunately, Celine got to her husband in time and rushed him to the ER.
Carer and advocate
Celine believes that professional help and medical intervention are crucial in handling mental health problems and suicidal ideation. She also points out that while therapy and medications can help, it is just as important to provide emotional support, validation, and reassurance.
“When he’s having a depressive episode, I have to make sure na nakikita ko bawat galaw nya. My husband is the type of person [who will try] to kill himself without saying anything. So to divert his mind, we’ll go somewhere else at palagi kong kinakausap. I make him feel na whatever happens, I’ll stick to his side. Minsan kasi, assurance din need nila.”
Celine believes that being observant is also the key. Symptoms of depression and other mental health problems such as mood disorders and personality disorders may vary per individual.
“First of all, there are warning signs of suicide. There are major groups of signs which can be direct and indirect. Some people [may show] symptoms from both groups, but some people don’t show any signs at all. It depends on personality. It’s very important to be aware of these signs so you can be able to detect them.”
“Getting help is important because we don’t know when it’s gonna hit us. It’s better to manage the symptoms than to wait for it to become worse before you do something. But its case to case basis. Some people with mental health problems can function without meds, just doing a non-medical treatment, but some people cannot.”
She also shared one of her unforgettable experiences with her husband when he tried overdosing himself with meds.
“I thought mawawala na talaga siya no’n pero hindi ako nag-give up nang ganun-ganun na lang. Sinamahan ko siya sa battle nya. Although pinipilit niya akong lumayo sa kanya to the point na marami akong narinig na hurtful words from him, tiniis ko na lang. Those words didn’t just hurt. It could kill a person, so can you imagine that?”
To Celine, handling the rapid cycling mood of people with bipolar disorder is a difficult thing. Rapid cycling mood in bipolar happens when a person experiences frequent, distinct episodes. These particular episodes can come and go and can occur at any point of the disorder. Four or more episodes can be experienced, shifting from full-blown mania to severe depression.
“Ang hirap mag-adjust on how to handle sudden mood swings. Today he loves me, then the next day he hates me. Dumating pa siya sa point na he suggested to live like a brother and sister so he was calling me ‘sister,’” Celine added.
She also remembers one of the most challenging moments with her husband and mentioned how those moments with Keenan made her felt really distressed.
“Konting bagay, palalakihin niya. Then there was alcohol abuse, Clonazepam abuse, plus the psychosis. My God, you won’t believe na nakaya ko ‘to after all those years.”
With all the experiences she had, it’s no secret to her support group members and even to some members of the audience that she had thought of giving up everything, even if it also means leaving him for good.
“I had the thinking na it would be better para sa akin at sa mga anak ko na maghiwalay na lang kami because of too much problems and troubles sometimes dahil sa episodes niya.”
She mentioned that she has also developed anxiety and depression due to all of her experiences as her husband’s carer. Despite all that, she believes those challenges are what make their love even stronger and the only thing that makes her stay.
“Yes, it would be better if I leave him. Better for me, better for the kids. Less stress and everything. Pero you know what my only enemy is? It’s because I love him. That is the only reason I can hold on to.”
Mental illness within relationships
When one of the people in a relationship has a mental illness, the journey can be really tough. More often than not, the stress of having to live with a partner who’s suffering from mental illnesses can go both ways, according to Pierre Imlay, a Marriage and Family Therapist.
Relationships, where a partner lives with a chronic mental illness such as depression, can eventually affect the person who’s taking care of the other. So how can you develop a healthy, meaningful relationship if your partner is experiencing mental health problems?
Show support, validation, and empathy. The last thing your partner wants to hear from you is an insensitive comment about their condition. Even saying encouraging things like “Be positive” or “It’s all in your mind” or “You’ll get over it” might be offensive to them. It’s good that you’re trying to make them feel better. But if your intention is to show your support, be empathetic by choosing the right words that are validating.
Remember that validation is one way to show your support and empathy. You can say, “Know that I’m here to listen” and acknowledge what they currently feel. Say “Thank you for sharing your stories with me” or “I’m proud of your progress in recovery.”
Educate yourself about your partner’s condition. It’s also important to learn about your partner’s condition. It doesn’t necessarily mean you have to memorize the DSM-5 (the official medical directory of mental illnesses). Since mental illnesses are often stigmatized, you can show your love to your partner by also knowing the symptoms and learning how to help them manage the symptoms. It can be beneficial to the relationship especially in times of conflict management.
Do not be your partner’s therapist. As much as you want to give them your advice, it’s not a viable option to act like you’re his/her therapist even if you’re a trained mental health professional yourself. Let other professionals outside your relationship or marriage do the helping for you and your spouse. Your job is to provide love, support, and be empathetic during the process of recovery. After all, you’re not the person who’s solely responsible for the recovery process. Your spouse must also take responsibility in acting on their treatment plan to help them and your relationship remain psychologically healthy.
Seek professional help and practice self-care. Professional help will not only help your spouse but also you. Therapy can help you sort out your way of thinking and help you process your feelings in a healthy way. This can benefit your relationship by helping you develop healthy ways to cope and communicate with each other. Furthermore, it will also help you establish routines to avoid mental exhaustion out of frustrations and anger, also known as “caregiver fatigue.”
Schizophrenia and Bipolar Support Philippines
Celine’s experiences have molded her into someone who now offers a helping hand to sufferers and carers like her.
Her awareness and knowledge about bipolar, depression, and other mental health problems are what pushed her into founding an online mental health support group—to provide a safe space for everyone who’s suffering from mental illnesses and at the same time, to show support to the family, spouses, and friends who are caregivers of those with mental health problems.
The support group was originally founded for those who have schizophrenia and for those with bipolar disorder such as her husband. Later on, the group eventually increased in members with a variety of people living with different mental health problems.
Schizophrenia and Bipolar Support Philippines now consists of sufferers and carers who deal with the crippling effects of Anxiety Disorder, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and many more.
Depression is not the only mental health problem that can kill a person. Other mental health problems such as bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder, psychosis, dissociation, addiction, and other mood and personality disorders can also harm or kill.
Check out this research-based infographic to know the warning signs of suicide and what you can do to help: Suicide First Aid Guidelines for the Philippines.
Remember that getting help is not a sign of weakness. There are plenty of places to go to and numbers to call if in need of professional help.
You may visit Natasha Goulborn Foundation website for more suicide information and hotlines. You may also visit this interactive map website where you can go and check the list of the mental health facilities and hotlines in the Philippines: Mental Health A-WHERE-ness PH