The ‘public face’ Eve shows the world is one of coping and being on top of everything.
But the ‘private face’ Eve lives with at the end of each day is one of profound grief, anger and fear for the future.
Eve, a casual schoolteacher who was once a deputy headmistress and has won a teaching award, cares for her husband Phillip, who has a mental illness.
She has found caring for someone with a serious mental health condition to be socially and emotionally isolating.
“There is really no one I can talk to about my issues,” she said. “So many people are depending on me to keep it all together – our two teenage children, Phillip’s family, the Year 12 students I teach three days a week.
“I feel like I have to be strong for everyone. I feel like if I wasn’t strong then everything would collapse like a pack of cards. I have to protect the kids and Phillip’s family from the full impact of his illness.
“They know he is unwell, but they don’t really appreciate how sick and vulnerable he is.
“I feel under incredible stress. I find sleep very difficult which affects my ability to concentrate and function during the day. By night I am exhausted, but can’t sleep without medication…that leaves me brain-dead in the morning. Some days I feel like I am living in a thick brain fog.
“Sometimes I feel like a robot, just going through the motions. Just getting one task done at a time then methodically going to the next one. I don’t have the emotional energy to engage with people when I do the task – be it teaching a class or going to the supermarket. I just get it done without trying to engage too much. I just have to get through the day and do the best I can.
“I can’t let myself lose control again. Once I started crying and it was terrifying. I cried and cried for a whole day. I just collapsed on the floor and couldn’t move for about five or six hours. I just sobbed and screamed at God and the universe and anyone else who would listen. My kids were terrified. They thought that both their parents were now mentally ill. Afterwards I felt so ashamed and so utterly washed out, so completely devastated, that I vowed never to lose control again.
“So now I am the Ice Queen. I get through everything, but don’t engage much with the world. Thankfully the kids are teenagers and they have plenty of friends. They are hardly at home anymore. I know my behaviour is not healthy, but it works. If I can contain my grief and anger and fear, I can have some level of functionality.
“I found a great counsellor to talk to once and saw her for several sessions but then she moved interstate and I haven’t had the time to find another one. I feel like I have lost sight of who I am to some extent.”
Eve said Phillip had paranoid schizophrenia which was somewhat controlled by medication, but that he didn’t like taking it as it made him feel dull and lethargic. The medication can make him sleep for up to 16 hours at a time so he hates it yet, without the medication, he is out of control and unable to function with any degree of normality.
He has attempted suicide twice and been in the local hospital’s mental health unit several times.
“I still love him very much but he is such a stranger to me. I feel like I have failed him, even though I know it isn’t my fault. Sometimes I feel like I can get through and help him – during the times when he is more lucid and calm and reasonable… we can talk and laugh just as we used to… but at other times when he is delusional and wild, I feel like it is a lost cause.
“I have hope that one day Phillip will recover and be better. In the meantime, I have to try and not react emotionally to what is happening in our relationship. I just have to be calm, and rationale and controlled. If my emotions stay on an even keel, I am better able to help him and function in my daily life.
“Friends say ‘you can’t help someone else till you help yourself’ and I know that is true. I have to start finding a way to take time out for myself.”