Jane became an active contributor to raise awareness after learning about her brother's chronic depression. She developed a sense of understanding that those around her have their battles and listened to their stories with compassion, affirmation, and support. She submitted this story of Agnes, who shared the stories growing up in a family where the father’s bipolar disorder and her husband’s depression. I was touched by the courage, strength, empathy, and skills Agnes shows while supporting her family despite all the hurt, pain, confusion, and uncertainty she felt. I invite you to read this story with a focus on what Agnes has accomplished; hopefully, it brings light to how you could support your family member who’s going through an episode of depression.
Editor in Chief
Agnes is in her 30s, a bright and intelligent lady. We frequently met during the past few months due to some shared interest in a project. At our first meeting, she briefly mentioned her father's bipolar diagnosis and her husband's anxiety and depression. It struck me immediately, but I inquired no further, as it was too personal.
A few months later, after we knew each other more, she didn’t mind sharing how she managed to handle both her father and husband's mental health challenges. Below is her story, told during a recent conversation. With her consent, we hope the story can help people in similar situations to know that “talking to a friend about personal and family mental health challenges is not a shame, it is courage!”
Loving Father, with Mental Health Challenges
When Agnes talks about her father, all I heard is care, understanding, and love, blended with some worries. There is more confusion about her mother's ignorance of her father's wellbeing after their divorce many years ago, which led to difficulty within their mother-daughter relationship.
Agnes recalled how her father took good care of her whenever he could—he treated her dearly and never hurt or hit her in any way. Agnes's childhood was filled with love. Her father used to spend a lot of time with her—teaching her Chinese poems and piano, driving her home from school for a nap during lunch break, and watching the meteor shower together at midnight—to name a few. Her father told her that she was a masterpiece and the greatest treasure in his life. However, she also witnessed the “dark side” of his bipolar disorder.
When Agnes recalled the scariest memory in a clear but puzzling way, I knew it was time to listen without any judgment or advice. Talking is an important way to self-heal, I believe. I didn’t feel pity for her; instead, I felt privileged to be the one hearing her vulnerable stories of life. That takes courage to share.
She said when she was still a university student, she went home one day for no particular reason. She happened to be the only witness when her father's mental health worsened because the rest of the family was too afraid to see her father again.
Her father tried to break everything in the house and made the room as chaotic as he could, even threatened to kill himself while holding a knife against his neck. In the end, someone called 120, and her father was taken away. Agnes could not cope with the situation at that time, but now she understands that it was part of the necessary therapy. She now encourages her father to see a psychiatrist and take the prescribed medication to manage his bipolar better, but her father still resists that idea due to his previous unpleasant experience in the 2000s, and would rather trust his own mitigation skills.
Battling a Spouse’s Mental Health
In addition to her father's challenges with mental health, Agnes’s husband has severe anxiety and depression. Recently, her husband “fell blue and got lost” and stayed at home for a month to recover.
During that time, he rarely talked or responded to any of her queries. At some point, he demanded a divorce and forced her to rehome her beloved cat, who was like her child. He questioned her care towards him and her capabilities to deal with the situation in the long run.
She felt hurt but soon realized it was not his heart speaking but his depression and anxiety talking. She managed to stay calm and didn’t get angry or discouraged. Instead, she cooks for him as usual, initiates small talk, and checks if he needs anything particular. In a word, she provides company.
Turning Towards the Challenges
Facing those difficulties, she didn’t turn away but made up her mind to face them. She managed these challenges and discovered her capacity to live life in a better way. I said to her, “You are so strong!”
By the end of our last meeting, she said she learned better now how to manage the difficult conversations with her husband and make the communications work, so he knows that she cares, and she understands better his inner sufferings too.
Her story shocked me but encouraged me too. On the way back home, I said to myself, “Life is truly difficult, but we shouldn't underestimate our inner power to face it. New problems emerge every day, no matter we like it or not, C'est la Vie.”