“I need help. My husband has just been diagnosed with two brain tumours. He already suffers from anxiety and depression, so I’m looking for ways to cope with this that don’t exacerbate either of those things. Do you have any advice for me? What do you do if your significant other gets bad news while already going through a tough time?”
That, in a nutshell, was my first post in an online Facebook support group for spouses of people with anxiety and depression. I sat back and waited for responses to roll in that would help me get through this and in turn, help him get through this. I was actually excited when that little notification popped up on my phone telling me someone commented. But then I read it.
“Get out. Leave him. Anxiety and depression don’t go away, and you don’t want to deal with that for the rest of your life.”
I was stunned, but I brushed it off as someone who was just having a bad day. And then the rest of the comments began to flow: “Divorce him. I left my husband and I’m way happier.” “This is your life too; do you really want to deal with his suffering for all of it?” “I’m leaving my spouse in March and I can’t wait to be happy again without him to drag me down.”
Wait, what? It was a horrifying display. What type of wife would abandon her husband because of medical issues? His health problems don’t change who he is, nor do they change my love for him. I couldn’t believe I was seeing this terrible advice. And I told them so. But all I got in response was an army of supposedly liberated women saying, “Trust us. Leave. You won’t regret it.”
I thought it was some kind of mistake. So I tried another group, this one for spouses of brain tumour patients. Incredibly, I got the same response as before. One woman even went so far as to say that her husband’s brain surgery went wrong, and she wishes she’d gotten out sooner. It reminded me of that episode of Seinfeld when Elaine wanted to dump her older boyfriend but then stuck around because he had a stroke. It’s the “these pretzels are making me thirsty” episode. Well, these groups were making me angry.
But it had to be a fluke, right? No way could two different Facebook support groups equally give such terrible advice. So, I joined one final group, and once again, I was horrified at the advice I found within. After that, I left all three groups. I felt broken, frustrated, and even more worried about my husband’s health and what effect I would have on it.
The curiosity here is that most people generally have a good experience with Facebook support groups; they tend to be supportive, welcoming, and helpful—instead of a festival of broken marriages and anger. I found the most helpful tactic for me was taking my concerns offline. My husband has a lot on his plate, and I need to be present in the moment when he needs me, rather than feeling bitter about the situation. One of the tough things about being married is that whatever your spouse goes through, you go through it too. Especially with medical concerns. Managing my own stress and anxiety on top of working together to manage his was more difficult than I expected. I began going to therapy monthly, more if I needed it. And we started communicating more. If one of us is feeling overwhelmed or frustrated, we make sure to discuss it..
In a way, the Facebook groups did end up helping me. They showed me what it looks like to be unwilling to support your spouse when they need it the most. They showed me a side of selfishness I’d never seen before and could now avoid. And they showed me the exact opposite of what I needed (and wanted) to happen with us. Sharing with him what happened in those groups easily renewed and reinforced our commitments to one another, and now we move forward even stronger as a couple—knowing we’ll always be there, no matter what.
It’s time we started talking openly about our mental health. Join the conversation on Bell Let’s Talk Day, January 30, and help end the stigma around mental illness. For every text message (not iMessage) sent and mobile or long-distance call made by Bell Canada, Bell Aliant and Bell MTS customers, Bell will donate five cents to Canadian mental health initiatives. The same goes for anyone sending a tweet using #BellLetsTalk, watching the Bell Let’s Talk Day video on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook or Snapchat, or using the Bell Let’s Talk Facebook frame or Snapchat filter. But talking about it is just the first step: Visit letstalk.bell.ca for more ways you can effect change and build awareness around mental health.