I often talk about the many parallels between mental health and physical health – but that’s not to suggest that the two exist side by side without ever intersecting. In fact, the two are intimately connected; one can have a major impact on the other. To illustrate, today we bring you the story of Henry.
“He said sometimes these things just happen.”
It all started with a diagnosis. Chronic kidney disease. It was a surprise to everyone, including me, my wife and my doctor. I’d always been a healthy person – I don’t smoke. I eat well and exercise often. My doctor couldn’t explain it. He said sometimes these things just happen.
And what happened was my life got turned upside down. Within a week of my diagnosis, I was on a medical leave from my job. One month turned into two, two to six, six months turned into a year. Before I knew it, I’d been off work for four years.
“Everything that had been true of our relationship wasn’t anymore.”
During that time, it seemed like every part of my life began to corrode. My relationship with my wife, Megan, was one of the worst. Everything that had always been true of our relationship wasn’t anymore. I had always been the primary breadwinner in our household; I liked it, and so did she. My salary gave Megan the opportunity to leave her career as a nurse to pursue creative projects, and it was always a point of pride that I was able to provide that freedom for her. With me on disability, Megan had to go back to work. She would work 12-hour shifts as a nurse, then come home to another patient – me. She said she didn’t resent it, but of course she did.
Our sex life came to a grinding halt. What has always been a very important part of our relationship first became a point of tension, and then something we ignored. We didn’t have sex – she didn’t want to, and if she did I wasn’t able to because of my illness – and we didn’t talk about sex. Eventually, I began sleeping in our spare bedroom because Megan often worked nights, and symptoms of my illness were disruptive to her sleep. We continued to drift away from one another, physically and emotionally.
“I felt detached from reality, constantly in a fog.”
It’s difficult to say what was the kidney disease and what wasn’t, but it all seemed to come to a head last year. I felt detached from reality, constantly in a fog. Megan would be standing there speaking to me, and I wouldn’t even realize she was in the room (obviously that went over extremely well). My mind felt like mush; eventually, I couldn’t read or even watch complicated television shows because I couldn’t follow the plot. I was so bored at home that I started taking long naps to fill the time – sometimes I would sleep for hours, not wanting to get up or not feeling like there was any point in getting up.
My nephrologist (that’s a kidney doctor) didn’t know why I wasn’t responding better to treatment. She said most people would have noticed a more significant improvement, but I had plateaued and some weeks even backslid. That’s when she suggested that I speak to a psychologist. My first reaction was a flat-out no. I have kidney disease; what’s a psychologist going to do about that? But when I mentioned it to Megan, she said I needed to do it. I swear, it was the first time I’d seen her look relieved in months.
So I went.
What did the psychologist tell Henry? And did it help? Check back soon to read the conclusion of Henry’s story.
Please note: the case study of Henry was created to illustrate a wide range of issues that are faced by educators. Henry’s name and all of his personal details have been changed to protect his confidentiality/privacy.