By Sterling Pohlmann
My wife, Maggie, and I both have mental health issues.
She has major depressive disorder and I have schizoaffective disorder. Each of us is a caretaker for the other. Because of the support we give each other, we do better together than we ever did apart. Maggie also has lupus. She has been on anti-inflammatories for years because of it. With her health issues, we spent many a night in the ER. One day she seemed off. She complained of abdominal pain, which was common for her, but this was different. She refused to move, she just wanted to be left alone. She didn’t want to go to the hospital. I demanded she let me take her. We arrived at the hospital and waited for the doctor.
The doctor ran a CT scan and some blood work. He was looking for an elevation white blood cells due to infection, and signs of inflammation which would confirm if she had appendicitis but didn’t find any because of her anti-inflammatory and auto-immune medications. Seeing nothing he came back in with test results and discharge papers and said it was probably just her lupus. I yelled like I hadn’t since my Army days that “If I take her home and she dies of septic shock after her appendix bursts plan on never practicing medicine again. I will have your license.” Security came in, the Doctor said “Due an ultrasound. Just do the test and send them home when it comes back clear.” And he left. Maggie just wanted to go home and was mad at my outburst.
The doctor came in almost as soon as my wife got back in the room from the scan. He said her appendix needed to be taken out immediately. She was gowned up and rushed straight into an OR. When they remove an organ it is placed on a dish, often for further testing. When they set hers in the dish it burst. Had we gone home it would have burst inside her and she would have gone into sepsis.
By being a support to and advocate for my wife, I may have saved her life. Support isn’t just nice to have, it doesn’t just help you reach your potential, it can oftentimes be the difference between life and death.
Support For Mental Health
Because of this instance, my wife was not only grateful, but she trusted me more. Because both of us deal with suicidal ideation, we have an agreement that we will reach out for help before following through with any plans. One day, after I had finished my 12-hour shift at a call centre, I got a call from her. She said she was going to take all of my meds, two medications of a 90 day supply. It terrified me that she was so close to following through with her plan. She said she would wait for me to get home, she wanted to go to a hospital. She was admitted and stayed in for 10 days.
I reached out to a childhood friend of mine, Milo, who worked with me. He talked me down over our team chat, as I was spiralling myself. He found my cubicle, gave me fresh coffee, a chocolate bar, hugged me, and then left. He hugged me until all those pieces of me that were fragmenting like broken pottery were put back together. I fought back a surprise rush of tears while on a call. It doesn’t take moving heaven and earth to support someone, sometimes all it takes is a simple cup of coffee and a warm hug.
The Art of Support
In Japan, there is a long tradition of using gold to repair broken pottery. It fills cracks but sometimes is used to make whole what was once shattered. It is called Kintsugi. My wife and I support each other in that same way. I leave an imprint of myself in-between her broken shards and vice versa.
We put back the broken shards with the best we have to offer to make what was once seemingly destroyed not only whole again, but more beautiful than before leaving sacred scars memorializing our journey and celebrating our triumphs over our challenges.
Seek out those who offer their gold to fit your broken pieces back together. Seek the support that you need, that you deserve, and those people will make even the harshest winds calm. Those are the people who make life worth living. Many hands make the heavy burden light. You may need someone’s support, but maybe someone else needs your helping hands as well.
Sterling Pohlmann is an Army veteran, musician, and writer living in the western United States.
Sterling’s work can be found at sterlingpohlmann.com or on Patreon at patreon.com/sterlingpohlmann