What’s it like being the spouse of someone with mental illness? In today’s podcast, our hosts Gabe and Jackie invite their beloved spouses, Kendall and Adam, to share what marriage with mental illness is like from their point of view. What issues have the couples run into so far and how did they resolve them? Do they have a safety plan if something goes awry? Is a strong partnership with mental illness even doable?

Tune in to get a glimpse of married life with mental illness and see how both couples support each other through it all.

(Transcript Available Below)


About The Not Crazy Podcast Hosts

Gabe Howard is an award-winning writer and speaker who lives with bipolar disorder. He is the author of the popular book, Mental Illness is an Asshole and other Observations, available from Amazon; signed copies are also available directly from Gabe Howard. To learn more, please visit his website, gabehoward.com.

Jackie Zimmerman has been in the patient advocacy game for over a decade and has established herself as an authority on chronic illness, patient-centric healthcare, and patient community building. She lives with multiple sclerosis, ulcerative colitis, and depression.

You can find her online at JackieZimmerman.co, Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Computer Generated Transcript for “Marriage- DepressionEpisode

Editor’s Note: Please be mindful that this transcript has been computer generated and therefore may contain inaccuracies and grammar errors. Thank you.

Announcer: You’re listening to Not Crazy, a Psych Central podcast. And here are your hosts, Jackie Zimmerman and Gabe Howard.

Gabe: Welcome to this week’s episode of Not Crazy. I’d like to introduce my co-host, the very much in love, and here with her husband, Jackie.

Jackie: And you know that cheeseball as my co-host, Gabe, who’s also here with his lovely wife.

Gabe: I like how we haven’t bothered to introduce our spouses.

Jackie: No. No, we’re first in this shindig.

Gabe: It’s Gabe and Jackie and their spouses. They’ve been brought up in other podcasts. They’ve been the annoyingly happy people. They’ve been the aspiring rapper. They’ve been the awww, he’s so sweet and he’s so nice. But he doesn’t understand and he lost my keys. But never have they been on the show to defend themselves.

Jackie: But they are here today.

Gabe: So I would like to introduce your spouse, Adam.

Adam: Hello.

Jackie: And I’m gonna introduce your spouse, Kendall.

Kendall: Hello.

Gabe: One of the things that, of course, comes up often in our e-mail boxes and in Q&A is how are you guys married? How do you date with mental illness? How do you get married with mental illness? How do you live with people when you are mentally ill? People are like, oh, my God, you’re in a real relationship that’s good? How?

Jackie: Well, I have a great idea. Why don’t we ask her?

Gabe: Well, why don’t we?

Jackie: Kendall, do you ever find it difficult being married to a man that is slightly more emotional maybe than one would expect?

Kendall: Yes and no. In a text message before we had actually met face to face, he told me he had bipolar disorder. I just started to Google and then we met and we started dating. He was very honest about who he was, what he was dealing with. And I did a lot of research. You know, I Googled, I took classes. So I was kind of aware of what was going on. And it was never an issue like it was never an issue with his illness. It was more an issue with him and I learning to deal with each other. You know, I’m not perfect. And everybody’s always like, oh, you’re a saint. He puts up with my emotional bullshit as much as I put up with his. So it’s not a me putting up with him, it’s a partnership. And that’s how I’ve always looked at it, though, when people are like, oh, it’s not fair that you’re married to someone with bipolar disorder. I’m like, oh, it’s not fair that he’s married to someone eight years younger than him with less life experience who is half deaf.

Gabe: Adam, I want to throw a question to you. Do you get people pulling you aside and saying things like, oh, you’re a saint for living with Jackie, tolerating Jackie, handling Jackie’s emotional issues or mental illness? Is this something that you get in your marriage or in your life?

Adam: No, I have not gotten that. It’s mostly Jackie that’s telling me that I’m a saint for putting up with what she goes through, but I don’t really ever see it as that. I agree with Kendall. It’s never like a cross that I feel I have to bear. It’s more of a pleasure. And that’s why we’re all still here. Everyone here chose to be with the other person. So there’s obviously more positives than negatives.

Jackie: When you met me and you knew immediately about like my M.S. and the colitis and all the surgeries and stuff because it’s all over the Internet. Did anybody give you pause on that?

Adam: Yeah, I think so, yeah. People that I worked with, when Jackie told me about the M.S., when I would tell people about it, they would go, oh, oh, really? Oh, okay. That kind of gave people pause. I had heard of it. I didn’t know all the ramifications and implications and everything. So how Kendall was saying she had went and researched. So I look that up and it didn’t seem like a showstopper for me. It wasn’t like we got to end this right now and I’m heading for the hills. But I mean, I gotta be honest, I think that it’s good that Kendall and I are so happy because it makes depression or I would only guess bipolar disorder that much easier to deal with. If Jackie and I were both depressed, it might be a lot more difficult if we’re both going through something that we’re not really feeling all on our A-game. But most days I wake up and I’m on my A-game, so I’m very lucky that I have it this way. And I’m also very lucky that I’m with her because she can also help me see it from other angles. So I think we’re all lucky. We all have things to be thankful for.

Jackie: That’s why I married that guy.

Adam: That’s a turn around.

Gabe: My wife is sitting there like I wish I was happy like Adam. I want to take a second and point out what you said there, which is that people were concerned because Jackie had multiple sclerosis. I think sometimes when dealing with mental illness, we think that people are only concerned, giving pause, asking questions, whatever word you want to put in there, because it’s a mental illness. When in actuality, the world is just filled with busy bodies giving advice about every little thing. Are you sure you want to marry her because she’s taller, or are you sure you want to marry him because he’s shorter? You sure you want to marry him because he makes less money? Are you sure you want to marry her because she has M.S.? Are you sure you want to marry him because he’s bald? That was one of the biggest things that I learned doing patient advocacy vs. mental health advocacy. We’re all stigmatized for being sick and it’s sad.

Jackie: I think we have a really unique situation where we have both of our spouses here and they’re both annoyingly peppy, like we have said, and we’ve gone over why we love them and why they love us and everything is lovely. But I’d really like to dive into the shit for a minute because I think that’s what people want to hear. Right? So, Gabe, if you’ve ever experienced bipolar rage around Kendall or ever had any mania or any severe depression? Like, Kendall, what’s that like for you to deal with?

Kendall: So, Gabe and I’ve been married almost eight years, it will be eight years this August. And when I met Gabe back in 2011, Gabe was in recovery. All of Gabe’s episodes had really been in the past. So I don’t want to say I’m lucky. But you know, him and I have continued to work towards his recovery together. And there are days where it’s hard. There are days where Gabe gets up and he’s just not quite with it. He’s sad, he’s depressed. And I want to fix it. And I’m like, hey, what can we do? Let’s do this. Let’s do that. He’s just like, I’m gonna go to McDonald’s and sit by myself for a while. It was really hard for me to realize that it’s not me. It’s not personal. This is just how he deals. And just because I can’t fix it doesn’t mean that it’s broken. But it was really hard for a while because I am the kind of person that I want everybody around me to feel good. I want everybody to be OK. And I think Adam kind of alluded to that. You know, Adam and I wake up most of the time, and we’re up, we’re ready, we’re ready, we’re peppy. We want to attack the day. But you know, our spouses, there’s just days where they wake up and it’s the exact opposite. So, yeah, there’s just days where Gabe and I don’t quite click, but we’ll work through it. And tomorrow we’re gonna get up and we’re gonna try again. But tonight, we’re gonna order pizza. We’re gonna sit on the couch and watch reruns of American Dad.

Adam: With what Kendall said, a big part of it that I found helpful is realizing that it’s not personal. When Jackie, got through to me and said, this is anxiety, this has nothing to do with you. Absolutely nothing. You’re doing everything right. And it’s not going to stop anything that I’m feeling, in terms of her being anxious. That took a lot of the responsibility out of my hands. And then it’s like, all right, well, I’ll just keep doing me and doing everything to help. And that’s really all that we could do. But to realize that it’s not personal, it was a big help for me.

Jackie: Okay. One more question for Kendall. We put out a poll on social media asking what questions people would want to know about our dynamics with our spouses. And one of them asked about how to handle finances with a spouse that is bipolar. And have you guys had to deal with any kind of weird financial fuckery?

Kendall: Financial fuckery? I think that should actually be the legitimate name of it. So I’m going to be completely honest. When Gabe and I got together, I was the one that was involved in some financial fuckery. So no one likes to fucking talk about money with anybody, let alone somebody that you’re dating. Gabe and I sat down, we talked, and here’s where it’s a little bit different. Gabe is a financial whiz. So we sat down, we put a plan together and we followed it. And now we’re financially stable, which is something that I think a lot of people strive for. But again, it’s a very hard conversation to have with or without mental illness or any of those dynamics. But it’s something that every couple needs to talk about, regardless of what is going on and be honest about it.

Jackie: Do you feel like you have to have a safety net in place? Like if shit could hit the fan, do you have a plan? Are you going to shut down the bank accounts? Are you going to take all of his debit cards? Like, have you guys talked about this?

Kendall: We do have a plan in place. You know, spending is a manic symptom, and all of a sudden if Gabe comes home one day with a new 90 inch OLED television that we didn’t talk about, we are going to have a serious conversation about it. And it may come down to I take away the credit cards. I have to go in and change the passwords on the bank accounts. And so far, we have never had to do that. But we do have contingency plans in place with something that we discussed and we have in our back pocket should we ever need it. Thankfully, we have not needed it. But I know in the past you have needed it, right?

Gabe: In my previous marriage, my wife took everything away from me. And here is the difference. We didn’t discuss it. So I just woke up one day and all of the sudden all the credit cards were off. And she’s like, hey, look, you get an allowance. And I was like, why? And she’s like, because Amazon. Basically because Amazon. It was really, really hard because there was no discussion. And I set up my spouse to sort of be my parent. And she didn’t want to be in that position. I didn’t want to be in that position. I felt very angry and hurt. And that’s one of the reasons that Kendall and I have the plan that hopefully we will never have to enact. Because if we have to enact it, Kendall will be like, remember that thing that we discussed and remember all the things that we agreed upon together as a partnership? We’re doing that now. We’re doing it now. So while it would bother me and while I would be upset, it would protect Kendall from getting 100 percent of the shit, right? Because at least I would have had a say in what was going to happen.

Jackie: I would assume that Kendall doesn’t feel like she’s parenting you because this is something you’ve decided on together, and if you ever do have to enact it, it then doesn’t feel like you were punished, Gabe, by your mom. Because you had a say in this.

Gabe: And that’s very much how my last relationship felt. It very much felt that things were punitive instead of a response to the symptoms. A little bit of planning goes a long way. And I don’t want Kendall and I to fall into the same trap as my previous two wives and I did. And I have a history of wrecking good things and I don’t want to wreck a third thing. Adam, along these same lines, how hard is it for you not to fix things when you see your beloved freaking out? The first thing that pops into your head is how can I make this better? And spoiler alert, that is a mistake.

Adam: Yeah. Yeah, that’s something that takes a lot of work on my behalf, takes a lot of getting used to. There’s one time that comes to mind when it’s a Saturday afternoon. We both have the day off. We’re actually gonna go to Eastern Market in Detroit and we are going to go shopping and we have no timeline. It’s like 10:00 in the morning and we have until we want to go to bed. So we’re within two minutes of being inside this store that we’re trying to go to. So we do one lap and we drive by and we find there’s no parking. And then all of a sudden, Jackie, is just level 10. She’s very agitated. She’s not having fun anymore. Thirty seconds ago, we were both listening to a podcast and going, wow, that’s really interesting. Oh, wow. And then we’re kind of like scanning for parking. And all the sudden she’s going, oh, well, I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know what we’re gonna do. Where could we park? Are we going to have to park 30 miles away now? Do you even have enough gas? And I have a full tank of gas. She’s like, when was the last time you got an oil change? Is that OK? You probably need your alignment done. You probably need to get new tires on his car. And all the sudden everything is just gone out the window. And we’re going from having a fun Saturday to now we’re not having fun. And now I’m agitated. And after I was trying to fix things and going hey, it’s fine. Hey, hey, we got time. Hey, we’re just chillin. We’re hanging out. And that’s not helping anything, that’s making everything worse.

Gabe: Did you tell her to calm down? I mean, honestly, because

Adam: No.

Gabe: The thing that pops into my mind when she’s bringing up oil changes and alignments, when you’re just trying to find a parking spot, is that wow, chill. I wasn’t even there. And I wanted to be like, man, Jackie, you just need to chill. And even I know that’s awful.

Jackie: Well, he’s not an idiot. So he didn’t say that.

Gabe: But did you want to?

Adam: Oh, yeah.

Gabe: You wanted to say, calm down. You’re being stupid. How did you not? Because so many of us that live with mental illness, our loved ones, they tell us to calm down. What should they do instead? And how do you do it?

Adam: On this side over here, it’s incredibly frustrating to be out and having a good time and then all of a sudden something so inconsequential for myself of not finding a parking space. This is my day off too. So this is my fun time that’s kind of being rained on. It’s incredibly frustrating. But still working on, as Kendall said knowing that it’s, that it’s not me. There’s nothing I can do to fix it. There’s nothing I did to get us here. This is completely out of my control. And then I don’t want to cast my frustrations out on Jackie, either, because now I know she’s going through some things. So just kind of being quiet, really. I just shut up. Not like devolve into myself, but just don’t agitate the situation. Don’t try to make it better. Just be kind of a equilibrium just to be here and not ramp anything up and not try and take anything down. So just be the control, really.

Kendall: Adam, that’s a really good point and I’ve definitely felt that myself. Jackie, how does that make you feel hearing that now? Not in the heat of the moment, we’re not in that situation anymore. How does that make you feel?

Jackie: I mean, obviously, it makes me feel terrible. In the moment, you know it’s irrational. You know that it doesn’t make sense. I know we had all day and that there will eventually be a parking spot. Right? Like, it’s not that I’m so delusional that I don’t understand these things will get better. It’s hard to hear Adam’s response or, you know, that he feels like he has to kind of shut down in those moments. But he’s right. So if he were to say, like, hey, calm down, it’d be terrible. He did try to rationalize with me through this one and it didn’t make it better. Him saying, hey, there’ll be parking spots. I was like, nope, doesn’t matter. Hey, this store will be open later. Nope. Doesn’t matter. They’re gonna run out of meat. Like it didn’t matter in that moment. So he’s right. It feels awful that I do a thing that makes him feel like he cannot communicate with me. But any form of communication in that moment doesn’t necessarily help.

Gabe: Silence is golden. It really is. Sometimes giving us the space to process our own emotions is much more helpful than trying to help us. I hate to say it that way, but this isn’t the domain of mental illness. I think of all of the fights that my parents got into on every vacation ever. And yeah, if one of them would have just shut up, the fight would have lasted one one hundredth of the time. They just escalated each other. And that’s not a mental illness thing. My mom and dad are mentally healthy. In fact, my mother is kind of like Adam and Kendall. She’s just like happy and life is good and joyful. It’s just so annoying, so awful. So awful.

Kendall: We’ll be right back after these messages.

Announcer: Interested in learning about psychology and mental health from experts in the field? Give a listen to the Psych Central Podcast, hosted by Gabe Howard. Visit PsychCentral.com/Show or subscribe to The Psych Central Podcast on your favorite podcast player.

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Adam: And we’re back with Gabe and Jackie and their spouses.

Jackie: So I want to actually ask Adam a question. I think that it sounds like we all came into our marriages of just, oh, I’m aware of all the issues and we work through it. And like, aren’t we the paradigm of a lovely marriage? All of us.

Gabe: Yeah, that’s the twice divorced guy is just proof that marriage is easy. Yeah. Yeah.

Jackie: Really killing it over there. But Adam knew all about my physical issues before we got together. He knew about M.S. He knew about colitis. He knew about everything. But my depression and my anxiety really skyrocketed after we had already been together for a few years. Like all of a sudden, I have anxiety, surprise, and you have to deal with it. And I kind of want to ask you if you can give advice to people in new relationships, how you can handle a spouse or significant other with depression and anxiety?

Adam: My only advice would be to just know that you don’t have to handle these things. The choice is you could either love this person enough to stay with them or there’s always the door and you could leave. So if it’s worth it to stay there and work it out, then you’re gonna make it happen. But if you don’t want to, then probably the best advice would be to not try to do that. If the cons are outweighing the pros at that point, then the only advice I think that anybody would be able to give would be then don’t do it. Because it’s not going to resolve itself. It’s not going to get better, it’s still gonna be there. So there’s really no better way to deal with it.

Gabe: I think the onus is on people like Gabe and Jackie to understand that when our spouses say that they want to be there, that is their thought process. They’re thinking, hey, we’ve weighed the pros and cons and we want to stay. And I know from my perspective, I’m like, oh, well, I’m with an idiot. They haven’t weighed the pros and cons. They don’t want to be here. And they’re going to wake up tomorrow and leave. And what Adam has said is, hey, we’ve decided that we want to stay. And the proof is the fact that we are here. And I think the Gabes and Jackies of the world need to stop pressing because we do that, let’s be honest. I think everybody in the audience first heard Adam and they’re like, oh, my God, our loved ones are going to leave us. But that’s not what Adam said. What Adam said is we’ve thought about it. We understand that we’re not trapped. We can leave. And we have chosen willfully to stay. I think we need to respect and honor that. Otherwise, we’re doing to them what we’re accusing them of doing to us. And that’s not respecting their feelings and their choices.

Adam: That’s what I was trying to say. Thank you for putting that a lot more eloquently than I could

Gabe: I think that is what you said, what you said is that we can leave if we want to.

Adam: That’s what I’m saying, yeah.

Gabe: So if we’re here, we want to be here. So sincerely, thank you, because I know for me I am constantly looking at Kendall and I’m like, you’re going to leave. And the reason that I think she’s going to leave is because I would leave. I don’t know what that says about her, but I really don’t know what that says about me. I should probably work on that in therapy. And you know who likes therapy? Jackie likes therapy.

Jackie: I love therapy, and part of the reason I love therapy, what I work on all the time, especially in the beginning of our relationship, was why is this guy sticking around? Like I am a mess, what is wrong with him? Spoiler alert. There’s nothing wrong with him. There is not a single bad thing that I could say about Adam. Honestly.

Gabe: You lie. I turn off that microphone. You’ve got a list. I guarantee you’ve got, I got a list. Yep. Pollyanna crazy woman that I live with. I don’t know what’s wrong with her. Jackie, just my last question before we wrap it all up. You are a proponent of therapy. You believe that everybody should be in therapy. Do you believe that every couple should be in therapy?

Jackie: We have not done couples therapy and I am not opposed to it. In fact, I know a lot of couples who every like four or five years go to couples therapy as like a tune-up just to make sure they still understand each other and still have good communication. And I think that’s brilliant. And I said to him when we have five years, we’re going to therapy. I think it’s great. I think that if you are having a problem communicating with your spouse, and I hear this all the time. Adam and I truly have fantastic communication. It’s one of the things we discovered early and we have built on. It’s probably the best part of our marriage is we can communicate. But that’s not the case for everybody. And if it’s really not, having a third party listen to both of you and translate I think is gold and absolutely valuable. Should every couple be in therapy? Yes. Do you need to be in therapy forever? No. I truly do think every once in a while, just popping in. Just making sure we’re still as good as we think we are. Why wouldn’t you do that? You know, if you leave feeling like, yeah, we’re still killing it, then you both win.

Gabe: Full disclosure, Gabe and Kendall have been to therapy and we weren’t on the verge of divorce. It was we had an issue that we had tried to work through together. We were struggling with it. We were like, hey, let’s utilize a professional to get through to the other side. And we did. And it’s worked out like gangbusters. But you’re right. I like what you said there. People have this idea that couples therapy is something that, one, you do when you’re on the verge of divorce. And, two, it’s something that you’re in forever until you get a divorce. And that’s sad. It really is. A stitch in time saves nine. You’ve got a small problem. Go to therapy, help prevent it from becoming a big one. Adam, thank you for talking about your wife on our podcast. We appreciated having you here.

Adam: Thank you for having me. This was fun.

Jackie: Kendall, thank you for also sharing a little bit about your life with Gabe. I think there are still a million questions that I could ask you. Maybe we will need to do future episodes about some of these things, but it’s always helpful learning from the lady that lives directly with Gabe.

Kendall: It sounds very ominous, but you’re very, very welcome.

Gabe: Jackie, what was it like having your spouse on the show?

Jackie: It’s fun. It’s always fun to do a new thing or share part of a thing you do with your spouse. But it doesn’t mean it’s not difficult at times to kind of hear the honest truth behind those things. I still feel like that’s why you have to have really hard, important conversations. We’ve had some of these conversations, not on the air together. And I think that everybody should do that, even if it hurts. You want to give your spouse the space to say how they’re feeling in this relationship, because otherwise it’s always only about you. And that’s not fun for anybody.

Gabe: The things that I like about doing stuff like this is people are often surprised at how Kendall and I’s marriage actually works.

Jackie: I think it’s safe to say we’re both pretty lucky, Gabe.

Gabe: It’s tough. Marriage and relationships are tough, hard stop. So many people think that marriage is tough because you have a mental illness or marriage is tough because you have a mental health issue. No, we just have to manage this as well. But listen, every couple has something. Some couples are managing children. They’re managing divorce. They’re managing money issues. They’re managing religious differences. They’re managing in-laws that are evil. I would really caution you against blaming all of your relationship problems on your mental health issues, because what you’re essentially saying is that if suddenly all of your mental illnesses went away, your marriage would be perfect. That kind of sounds like bullshit, because I want you to know that even if there was a cure for bipolar disorder tomorrow, Kendall would still not load the dishwasher correctly. That has nothing to do with bipolar disorder.

Jackie: I agree, Gabe. If you think that mental illness is the only issue in your relationship, I would strongly encourage you to take another look at your relationship, because every relationship has its issues. And by removing one thing, you’re not going to solve all of those problems.

Gabe: I could not agree more. And after you are done taking a hard look at your relationship, we want you to take a hard look at where you downloaded this podcast because there is a subscribe, rank, and review button. Review us with as many stars as you can. Use your words and tell people why you like the show and subscribe so you don’t miss any great episodes. Thank you, everybody. And we will see you next week.

Jackie & Gabe: Bye.

Adam & Kendall: Bye.

Announcer: You’ve been listening to Not Crazy from Psych Central. For free mental health resources and online support groups, visit PsychCentral.com. Not Crazy’s official website is PsychCentral.com/NotCrazy. To work with Gabe, go to gabehoward.com. To work with Jackie, go to JackieZimmerman.co. Not Crazy travels well. Have Gabe and Jackie record an episode live at your next event. E-mail show@psychcentral.com for details.