Mental Illness Contagious (??)

Discussion in 'Parent Emeritus' started by goldenguru, Mar 22, 2009.

  1. goldenguru

    goldenguru Active Member


    I was visiting with my dad yesterday, and he said something that set me back on my heels. He said "After all you've been through, you CAN"T be OK". Really?

    I have been thinking about this for hours - didn't sleep too well last night.

    I'll admit to a little PTSD. Any maybe that I'm a little depressed. I have a fair amount of 'generalized anxiety'. Ya know - butterflies in the stomach, shortness of breath, etc. I might be isolating a little bit more than normal. A sense of 'blah'.

    Is is possible to go through the stress of living with a mentally ill husband - complete with 2 suicide attempts, 3 job losses, a current financial crisis, hospitalizations, ECT, empty nest, etc, etc, etc without some sort of personal crisis? I don't know.

    Sometimes I wonder if I'm in denial.

    I have gone to a secular therapist twice since January. The first session, she recommended divorce. The second session she recommended that I really need to "embrace the reality that husband will complete a suicide" given the history. I never went back. Is it because I was offended at her 'counsel' or because I just don't want to face reality? Who knows?

    I don't talk to my girlfriend, because seriously, how could she begin to understand my situation?

    My question is this? For those of you who have had prolonged & acute exposure to mental illness, how has it affected you personally? Did you reach a breaking point? Is MI in some regards contagious?

    I appreciate any thought/comments from the only people I know who really get it.
  2. Hound dog

    Hound dog Nana's are Beautiful


    I grew up with mental illness. Mother and aunt both schizophrenic. There are various other disorders floating around the extended family as well. husband is a difficult child (AS) and I have 2 difficult children of my own.

    I don't think it's "contagious" but I do think there are times with living with mental illness can pull you into a black hole if you aren't careful. Just from the stress alone. And of course we're not going to be the same after living with it as someone who doesn't.

    I anxiety and PTSD I can understand (and share) because we live in such an unstable environment. It gets to a person eventually. Add in the isolation we feel just because other people don't usually have a clue as to what we're really dealing with.........and we don't even have friends/family to unload on like you'd do with other things that are very stressful. So we feel isolated to a certain extent on top of everything else.

    You've went thru so much with husband that it's no wonder you're having minor issues of your own. But there is a huge difference with minor issues and full blown mental illness.

    I don't think you're in denial of the effects from living with difficult children. And I see nothing wrong with getting help when we need it to cope with our situation.

    When Nichole was in her downward spiral my anxiety and PTSD was in such an uproar (thanks to other things also going on at the time) that I had to seek out medications to be able to continue to function. It was only for a period of 2 yrs. medication free I'm able to cope fine now and have been for 3 yrs. in my opinion everyone has a breaking point. That was mine, too many difficult children in my life, too much coming down at once had thrown me into a tailspin.

    gg I think you face the reality of your husband's mental illness better than most people would be able to. You don't need a therapist shoving what you already know down your throat to make you "deal" with it better. husband is a very lucky man.

  3. DammitJanet

    DammitJanet Well-Known Member Staff Member

    Well there is that old adage, mental illness is contagious, you get it from your kids!

    Seriously, I think my SO has come down with a serious case of anxiety and PTSD from living with me and Cory all these years.
  4. Marcie Mac

    Marcie Mac Just Plain Ole Tired

    GG, Your dads right - you don't come out of dealing with mentally ill (or the double whammy in my case, adding in one with physical problems that will end up terminal, its just a matter of time) without developing some mental health issues (and personal health issues) of your own as a response to the stress of it all. Its not contagious because it is a temporary condition - unless you have had symptoms all of your life -with the others having a permanent conditon.

    I haven't reached a breaking point yet, have been close a more few times but have managed to pull myself back from the brink by sheer willpower alone. One of the by-products of living with mentally/physically ill is that you overdevelop, I think, a sense of responsibility - I know my thought process is when I get to that place where I am on my knees about to sniff the dog hair, is that I cant afford to tank, what if I lose my job, who is going to pay the mortgage while I am down here, whats going to happen to SO, whats going to happen to difficult child, to easy child. I talk myself into picking up my marbles and struggle to my feet again.

  5. Nomad

    Nomad Guest

    I wish I could recall where I put it...but I did have a book that discussed this. Neuroprogramming or some such thing. Basically the idea is that youcan pick up many of the same characteristics of those you associate with consistently. I think it is important to simply make a choice to not let it affect you in this way. Find role models, etc. Take appropriate actions you need to take to remain healthy. Genetics, might be a powerful influence...but
    Bottom's choice, not chance, that determines much (if not all) of your destiny.
    Lasted edited by : Mar 22, 2009
  6. KTMom91

    KTMom91 Well-Known Member

    I think we're on a heightened state of alert so often and for so long that we begin to, for lack of a better term, make ourselves crazy. I wouldn't say it's contagious - I didn't catch Miss KT's ADHD - but it's an additional stress on me dealing with school and docs and medications and behavior and and and...and it does wear a person down.

    I've barely worked since August, with knee surgery and gallbladder surgery, I'm an emotional eater, I'm probably close to 100 pounds overweight, I'm now diabetic; Miss KT graduates from high school in June, turns 18 in August, and she has no clue; Hubby works hard at work but not at home, so things that I wasn't able to do because of my illnesses haven't been done, and that's more stress; finances are uncertain because I haven't worked, and I can expect no help from Useless Boy or his equally useless mother regarding Miss KT's senior year expenses. And I'm tired.

    No one understands but another warrior parent.
  7. DDD

    DDD Well-Known Member

    I don't doubt for a minute that my mental health has been effected by all the years of living with abnormal behaviors. There are subtle changes that have taken place that perhaps nobody else notices. I spend a whole lot more time alone trying to "fall back and regroup". There is not isolation but a greatly reduced social outreach because I have spent so many years not knowing "what" I will face when I get home. As I have moved into the senior citizen years (although I do still work 5 1/2 days a week most weeks) i am far more easily tired and eager for bedtime.

    Quite often in our CD family we have parents who don't realize that they are "close to the edge" because they are so absorbed by the mental illness or disordered living. The IQ is still there but the ability to analyze is distorted.

    About two years ago I had to reach out for help and took Lexapro for close to a year to help me survive the crisis mode I was in. I was able to wean off the medication fairly fast. on the other hand, just between you and me and the rest of the CD family ;), in my heart I "know" that the abnormal behaviors have and still are messing with my life. Your Dad probably was right on and I think you're lucky to have a Dad who is aware. Hugs. DDD
  8. SomewhereOutThere

    SomewhereOutThere Well-Known Member

    You ever read "A Child Called It" by David Pelzer? He is bonafide proof that a healthy human mind is unbreakable. There is no guarantee that hard times will break you or that having an easy life won't. It's genetic. Now will it cause you stress? Sure. But it's not contagious.
  9. CrazyinVA

    CrazyinVA Well-Known Member Staff Member

    Living with a mentally ill person is enormously stressful. Constant stress can contribute to all kinds of ailments, mental and physical, so I think it's perfectly logical that it affects us as caregivers. That being said, everyone is different.. and everyone will react to that differently. Personally, I reached a point when my girls were about 12 and 16 that I hit rock bottom ... I ended up in a psychiatric hospital myself for 3 days with severe depression and anxiety. That was a turning point for me in recognizing that I had to take care of myself if I was going to take care of them.. and I began more faithfully taking antidepressants. I've tried since then to go off them a few times, but eventually began to fall back into that black hole and re-started. I certainly have my own PTSD at times.. especially when dealing with someone else in an ER or hospital...but it's not disabling, just a sort of anxiety attack and "omg here we go again" feeling. I do attribute my own weight gain to stress.. I eat in response to stress and have GOT to learn to manage that better.

    I don't think mental illness is "contagious," but I think that we need to be aware of the effects it can have on us, and take care of ourselves.
  10. trinityroyal

    trinityroyal Well-Known Member

    GG, I think Marcie puts it really well. You don't necessarily "catch" whatever mental illness you're dealing with, but the added strain of coping with all the chaos that mental illness and other issues brings into your life certainly does have an effect.

    As MWM pointed out, you can't "break" a healthy mind, but you can certainly put it under so much strain that the wheels start to come loose, if not actually fall off.

    My therapist and I have been working through this very issue lately.
    My mother is schizophrenic, my father has anti-social personality disorder and my older brother has severe ADHD and a fairly substantial sadistic streak. I KNOW that growing up under those conditions has affected who I am and how I interact with people. I couldn't possibly have grown up with those people and NOT been affected.

    There are certain coping mechanisms I developed over the years that are downright odd. Thing is, I don't have the underlying symptoms that the rest of them do. My life has been affected, but my underlying brain chemistry hasn't.

    I don't know if any of this is making sense. I'm thinking it through as I write this...I guess what I'm trying to say is...the basic framework, the raw material with which you came into the world, doesn't include mental illness. However, painted on the canvas of your life are all of the experiences you've been through. Some leave scars. Others leave joy.

  11. SearchingForRainbows

    SearchingForRainbows Active Member

    I don't think mental illness is contagious, but like others have already said, living under constant stress, surrounded by mentally ill persons, definitely can take its toll...

    I grew up in a very unhealthy environment - in my humble opinion, although never diagnosed, both of my parents are very unstable. When I left home, I thought I could put this all behind me - Then I was "blessed" with two difficult children...

    I know that I crave more time alone than I used to. I love total silence!!! I know that raising my difficult children has left deep scars. I know that no matter what I do, the scars will always be there...

    I think that I've become hardened in some ways... I don't think this is a good thing. However, I still think all my marbles are still there, at least on most days, lol...

    I like what Trinity said. It makes lots of sense. WFEN
  12. Nomad

    Nomad Guest

    I think in a certain way they are scars.
    But in a certain way, they are enlightening experiences.
    It depends on the moment and how you look at.
    It gets a little easier when we detach and when these "children" are out of the home.
    It certainly is not easy. While we are in the midst of can be horrendous.
    And no..I don't think "others" have a clue.
    Please do what you can to build your strength.
    Have faith that it can get better.
  13. KTMom91

    KTMom91 Well-Known Member

    Trinity, I hadn't thought of it in this way. I got shivers reading this. Thank you.
  14. Nomad

    Nomad Guest

    What Trinity says makes sense to me. All of my experiences have influenced who I am today.
    However, if you read Viktor Frankel's book
    Man's Search for Meaning...
    it will change you forever.
    I believe the idea is that we can look at even the most horrendous experience (s) and chose how we will respond to it.
    Quote from the book:
    "Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom."
    Lasted edited by : Mar 25, 2009
  15. trinityroyal

    trinityroyal Well-Known Member

    Nomad, I completely agree with this idea, and think it's very profound.
    Knowing that I got to choose whether to be like them or not like them gave me the strength to walk away from my difficult child-family. First mentally, then later on, physically.

    And this is something I try to teach difficult child every time we talk. He can't control what others do or how they treat him, but he can choose how he reacts or responds, and doing so, he might be able to change how people treat him the next time.

    I think, though, that there are unconscious effects that result from the experiences we've had in dealing with our difficult children. When we not even aware of a behaviour or a reaction, some of the PTSD stuff that a lot of us suffer, it's hard to be mindful of or to change those things. Those are some of the scars. So...the next step is treating the scars, trying to soften some of the scar tissue and make it more malleable in an effort to gain some control or mindfulness over our reactions to it. It's a long, hard road.
  16. SearchingForRainbows

    SearchingForRainbows Active Member

    This thread has made me do lots of thinking... While I don't have anything else to add at the moment, I just want to thank you for starting it. WFEN
  17. goldenguru

    goldenguru Active Member

    Oh ladies, thank you SO much. There is so much wisdom in the responses above. I have read and re-read them all.

    When I chose the word 'contagious' I had my tongue in my cheek. I certainly understand that I can't 'catch' MI like I can a cold.

    I guess we have to take precautions to keep ourselves healthy. Much like we have to wash our hands with soap and hot water to prevent cold germs from getting to us. I just think at some point, our mental health 'immune system' gets weakened and makes us more vulnerable to 'catching' things. Guess I need to find more mental health 'antioxidants'. LOL.

    Thanks again. As always, you provide fascinating food for thought.
  18. witzend

    witzend Well-Known Member

    I didn't read through it all, but my thought on a more correct reading of it would be that there are consequences to living with someone with a mental illness - unhappy consequences. It seems the therapist was trying to challenge you into confronting what those consequences mean to you. It was a little cruel, but she didn't have a history with you and she probably felt that you weren't likely to return and she wanted you to face how difficult it is in the hope that you could see someone you were more comfortable with (like us ;) ) to face that with.
  19. Nomad

    Nomad Guest

    Re: embracing something like suicide (or any other very sad possibility with reference to loved ones)

    I don't see the health of this fully. I see some merit to it...but with noticeable caveat...
    What I disagree with in particular was the idea of the "inevitability " that seemed to be strongly implied. Sometimes there are inevitable/predictable and tragic in the case of terminal disease, but other things, are not so obvious.

    I think perhaps a therapist might want to encourage a person to embrace the possibility of something. To understand that one can hope that this doesn't happen and if appropriate ( it would not be self defeating/self damaging) and one wants to do so, one can take steps to provide assistance to a loved one who is having a problem. However, to help the client understand that it ( a bad outcome) COULD happen (to their loved one) and if it did, that their client could still have health despite any tragedy that might occur. It would take effort...but health and happiness could and would be regained. So embrace it as a possibility, hope it doesn't happen, but know that it could happen and if it were to happen, that you (the client) are strong and can and will survive.
    Anyway...back to the original thought...embrace a possibility...however, do not necessarily assume something is a "given."

    (by the way...I think I really do finally get this).
    Lasted edited by : Mar 27, 2009
  20. goldenguru

    goldenguru Active Member

    Hi Nomad - I really appreciate your perspective. And I do agree with you that I must embrace the possibility. I would have to be brain dead to not understand that the possiblity exists. I think this therapist wanted to push me further than that. Her point was that given:
    Hubbies medication resistance
    Resistance to ECT
    The chronic nature of his illness (bearing down on 13 years)
    Previous attempts and nature of the last attempt
    Family hx. of mental illness
    Family hx. of completed suicides
    His current comments of "Next time I attempt, I will not fail"

    All of these components add up (at least statistically) to very poor outcomes.

    I think that mental health professionals would actually liken his situation to a terminal cancer. They have tried all the latest and greatest treatments. He has not responded. He is still ill.

    "one can take steps to provide assistance to a loved one who is having a problem". Do you mean me assisting my husband or the therapist assisting me? Cause I am kind of at the point where I don't think I can do a single thing for hubby other than love him and listen when/if he wants to talk.