How can I understand, and empathize, with my fiancee's psychological issues? And other difficult-to-articulate questions.
posted by anonymous to health & fitness (65 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
Posting anonymously as this is a fairly private issue I'd rather not have linked to my username.
Background info: I'd say I'm a well-adjusted, psychologically healthy male. I was raised believing in the power of the mind, with "anything's possible if you put your mind to it" as the family mantra. I'm a positive thinker and my own life has been shaped by discipline and self-control. I'm pretty stoic and always try to keep my emotions in check (I rarely cry or get angry, but I'm also upbeat and happy most of the time). Because these values have been reinforced and proven effective for me so many times over, I consider them virtues. I'm a big proponent of setting audacious goals, following my dreams, and being a self-made man.
The downside to this mindset is my difficulty empathizing with my fiancee. She takes two different medications, one for ADD and one for anxiety. This is probably a topic for another AskMe, but these two ailments are things I've always been skeptical of. I guess it's because I have no firsthand experience with them. I tend to agree with people like Thomas Szasz and the "anti-psychiatry" movement that these conditions are real but not necessarily best treated medically. Perhaps they're conditioned by upbringing, compounded by years of self-fulfilling diagnoses, special ed assignments, overstimulation, and psychosomatic confirmation bias. I realize this is controversial, and I don't want to debate it in this thread. Just trying to paint a picture of where I'm coming from.
My instinct, my deep desire, is to try to wean my fiancee off her meds (which she freely admits to hating for a number of reasons) and transition to a better-structured, calmer lifestyle. To help her rein in her issues sans pharmaceuticals. I feel some urgency, because doing nothing is unsustainable in the long term -- she continues to increase her dosage every few years just to get the same effects. How can someone follow that trajectory for a lifetime? It pains me to see her chemically addicted to mind-altering drugs that, as far as I can tell, only mask the symptoms instead of addressing the underlying cause. I'm particularly concerned about side effects that may manifest when we try for kids in a few years.
Anyway, that's a discussion for another time. Let me get to my real question.
When we talk about going off the meds, my fiancee agrees with my motivations but is terrified at the thought. It's not just the addiction talking -- she's fully convinced that her issues are 100% chemical and that there are no viable alternatives to prescription drugs. This is where I find it very hard to put myself in her shoes: she insists that she has no self-control, that it's clinically impossible for her to take any responsibility for her actions. This is contrary to everything I've ever believed about free will and sounds to my ears like pessimism or defeatism. She's playing the victim and refusing to even TRY to resist whatever urges pop into her head. She feels like it's out of her control but I have trouble believing it really is.
An example... something unexpected happens and her anxiety flares up. I try to calm her down. "It's okay," I say softly. I put my arm around her and breathe slowly so she can synchronize with me. I remind her that it's not the end of the world, that we can improvise and work around the obstacle. Her reaction is unexpected to me. She gets angry. "I can't calm down," she snaps. She pulls away from me sharply and does erratic things. It's like my attempts to help are useless, anything I do or say only aggravates the problem. Later she apologizes and tells me that her "brain was going very fast" and she simply couldn't process any stimuli at the time. Trying to help only snowballed the problem and she got angry with me for adding to the noise in her head.
She spends a lot of time angry or worried, even on her medication. I desperately want to help her get past these emotions, which will eat her up inside and make her miserable; training myself to overcome them was one of the best decisions I ever made. I want my fiancee to share my optimism and desire for adventure. I love her and just want to see her happy, not just momentarily but as a general frame of reference for her outlook on life. It's just healthier, for both of us as we head into marriage.
We've done pre-marital counseling, which I thought was great. But all of the counselor's advice built off my supposition that talking through issues in a logical, respectful manner is effective. Unfortunately, in the heat of the moment, clear-headed discussion is impossible (which frustrates me to no end, because I try endlessly to work through every bump in the road, just as was recommended, and seem to end up worse for my efforts).
I'm sorry this is so long. I don't really know how to frame this as a question but I'm getting exasperated. How can I help my fiancee? How can I come to understand her feeling of powerlessness? How can I actually make progress toward helping her overcome it?
My mind is open to new ways of looking at mental health, but it's still difficult for me. I feel that on some subconscious level, she's just lacking confidence in herself, being stubborn, and refusing to take responsibility for her behavior. She's not doing it intentionally, I know. If you think I'm wrong (and I'm sure many here will), how can I internalize the fact that some people literally cannot will themselves through adversity the way I've always done? It's almost impossible for me to accept, as it flies in the face of a lifetime of personal experience and seems ludicrous to me.
Any advice or related info is much appreciated. Throwaway email at email@example.com if you need it.