I don’t have Alopecia, anxiety or depression. I haven’t had suicidal thoughts roam the sacred space of my mind, nor have I been bullied for my appearance. I am not familiar with the feeling of a panic attack or crippling social anxiety and, I have never felt so deeply overcome with mental pain that I couldn’t breathe. But - I was there for Leon through all of the above and this absolutely devastated me.
When you love someone, everything becomes a simultaneous battle, yet this was something Leon could never comprehend. He would continuously tell me I would never understand. This hurt intensely because there was nobody I cared deeper for than him. But, he was right, I will never fully understand how he felt, just as he will never understand what it felt like to be me. I was doing more than he could see, I understood more than he knew, and I cared more than he could feel.
A couple of years ago while journaling my internal consequences of Leon’s Alopecia became newly apparent to me. I came to realise something; I was supporting Leon with all my power but had no emotional guidance in return. I felt alone. Whilst he deserved and needed every ounce of my energy, I had unintentionally neglected my own mental health by significantly prioritizing his. I didn’t seek help because I thought I was the help.
Before we got married (6 years ago) life was pretty good. I thought we had turned a corner, Leon’s Alopecia was under control, this was a dream come true, but that dream soon turned into a nightmare. After our wedding destiny had other plans, things got really bad. Each day his condition elevated until he finally reached total hair loss. The severe damage was done in the intermediate phase, the slow and gradual hair loss was torturous, and once 50% of his hair was gone, I had lost Leon to a number of mental health disorders. There was one positive, complete hair loss provided closure because there was nothing left to lose. He was relieved in a small way as it couldn’t get any worse. The hardest time in our entire journey occurred throughout my first pregnancy and continued on during the first couple of years of being a new mum.
When depression and anxiety crept its way into Leon’s life, a pop-up shop also appeared in mine. When you think about it, couples pretty much share their entire lives with each other, so I was guaranteed to feel the effects of his illness mentally, physically and emotionally. I found it disturbingly hard to watch him un-love himself a little more each time he looked in the mirror. Until Alopecia I didn’t know what heartbreak felt like. We both cried with helplessness together and in those moments, I could feel his pain bleeding out of his soul and seeping into mine. I wished for mental illness to be over for him, and I wish it for me too. At times seeing Leon heartbroken left me feeling physically ill. When he would call me in tears saying he had been bullied at work or cry in my arms because someone told him he looked better with hair his discomfort translated into sadness and sleepless nights. Those feelings are something hard to describe.
There were days when I took Leon’s depression personally, I was getting nowhere trying to help him and felt defeated because nothing was working. I struggled coming to terms with the realness and severity of his unhappiness and the emotional roller-coaster that was triggered by his anxiety. I was living in a state of frustration desperately trying to sustain the vibrant marriage I knew we both wanted. I felt guilty when my patience wore thin, and remorseful when my tongue slipped because I knew he had it bad. I consciously kept it in and got better at responding by reminding myself what he was going through was not his fault. During our hardest years I barely did anything for myself, my first focus was always Leon. I tried to show him how lucky he still was, but he wasn’t ready for greater perspective so instead I did the things I could to lighten the load, my expectations of him were basic and I dedicated my days to making him smile one small gesture at a time.
I feared my husband wasn’t talking enough. He was one to internalize, and for me not knowing what he was thinking, or feeling was petrifying – a lot played on my mind and I dissected everything he would say when he did choose to talk. I worried when he stormed out and wondered if he’d be back. I got so used to putting him before myself in every single way that I prioritized him without even planning to. I even did this during my labour. It was late at night when my water broke, he had been up at 3am for work that day, I knew he was tired and had a poor state of mind. I worried about how he would feel becoming a dad with little sleep, so I sent him to bed upstairs and laboured alone for the first 6 hours. I insisted. I wanted to wake him so badly, but I thought every extra minute sleep he gained was more important. This is a regret we both live with now. I walked on eggshells instinctively, all the while I was cracking my own shell. Leon was being dominated by his illness and his illness was denying me of my special times. I was deprived of having a husband who was happy, content and robbed of his support when I needed it most – because of illness.
Years of stress led to me developing an intense and unusual amount of worry for Leon’s physical and mental health. About a year ago I was struggling with a bout of anxiety because of some strange symptoms he was experiencing. People with Alopecia are more susceptible to serious medical conditions, this fact made me live with extreme trepidation. I assumed that something else would happen to him as a result of Alopecia. I couldn’t sleep. I google diagnosed him with a bunch of terminal illnesses (shocking I know) I was elevating his anxiety too by making him believe something was wrong with him. Of course, it was nothing, but the trauma of his past triggered the deep rooted sense of worry I had buried and sent me back down a spiral of fear. The feeling was familiar to the panic button that was pushed each time I noticed another bald patch, another eye lash on his cheek or cluster of hair on his pillow.
At one point the severity of Leon’s anxiety and depression put an asterix on our relationship. Some days Leon was happy and productive, and other times unable to tap into his sense of vitality. My partner was suffering, and as a result, our marriage was becoming full of tension. Sustaining a healthy union was difficult, our relationship was a knife edge away from crisis level. We got through it, together with time, effort and healing on both parts we’ve reached marital bliss. The past year has been the best by far and our finest is yet to come.
Inevitably, our loved one’s pain will always hurt us, but you can have a joyful, fulfilling relationship with your partner by learning how to help them best without forgetting you’re important too.
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