NO GIVING UP! Coping with my wife’s bipolar disorder
Research on mental disorders has shown that the society, as contemporary as it may be, is yet to fully accept those suffering from mental illnesses. Despite the stigma that families
Research on mental disorders has shown that the society, as contemporary as it may be, is yet to fully accept those suffering from mental illnesses. Despite the stigma that families with such history face, 51-year-old Hudson Mwaura refused to give up on his wife, 49-year-old Jane Mwaura, after she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder characterised by acute depression, mania and psychosis early on in their marriage. The Kajiado County couple who have just celebrated 21 years of marriage open up to ESTHER AKELLO on living with the condition, how it has shaped their marriage and beating the marriage odds.
How did you meet?
Hudson: We used to attend the same fellowship at the bank we were working for in Nairobi. I was praying for a spouse and I spotted her while attending one of the fellowship’s retreats. We got married in 1995 amidst a difficult courtship, as our families were not impressed by our relationship. Later on Jane was diagnosed with a mood disorder which we later came to find out was bipolar disease.
Jane: Coming from a dysfunctional family, I had no intention of ever getting married. In 1993, I experienced a nervous breakdown. Thereafter, Hudson and I started interacting deeply as he would often strive to find out how I was coping. He then asked me out, laid his intentions bare, and after praying about it, I was convinced that he was the one.
Can you expound further on what bipolar disease entails?
Hudson: It is also referred to as manic depression. It is characterised by extreme mood swings; either extreme highs or lows and sometimes hallucinations.
Jane: Hallucinating meant that my behaviour was sometimes erratic. I had several breakdowns after our wedding including immediately after our honeymoon, when we learnt that Hudson’s brother had been murdered while another friend had committed suicide. There are times I would wander from the house and find myself in town or in a friend’s house only to be brought home the following day or for Hudson to come pick me. I also had to be restrained at a local hospital once because the adrenaline upsurge during euphoria makes it difficult to be pinned down.
Did either one of you ever think of backing out of the marriage after the diagnosis?
Hudson: Early on in our courtship, we did not fully understand what it entailed. The first serious manifestation of the disease was in 1993 when Jane suffered the first breakdown. Up until then, we just knew she was prone to depression. Lots of people discouraged me from the marriage and one friend even brought me a substitute girlfriend. Still, I was determined to marry Jane. Marriage is a covenant and you have to find solutions to issues. Additionally, I knew God would come through for us.
Jane: I thank God for Hudson who not only strongly believes in marriage, but also in me. Because of his faith, I eventually came to see that marriages can and do work. We had a colleague whose wife was suffering almost similar conditions and he left her and married someone else. Hudson never gave up on me.
Do you still suffer from episodes from the disease?
Jane: Not really. When I was first diagnosed, I was under all manner of drugs to help me cope with it. Now I am only taking stabilisers. I thank God that I have been stable for six years and going about my life normally. While many people manage the disease, it is possible to recover and together with my psychiatrist, whom I see every three months, we are working on a final full recovery regime.
Hudson: Thankfully, the situation has improved over the years. The last episode that she had was in 2010 when she was faced with a stressful situation. She broke down and had to be hospitalised.
How has living with this condition affected your relationship?
Hudson: There are times I have undergone immense stress. For instance, the times Jane went missing or had to be hospitalised and I had to hold the fort because our son Joshua was also in the picture. I had to ensure his needs were met as well.
Jane: (Chuckling), A lot of people wrote me off as a gone case. In fact, I joke that I am the village mad woman because people around here have come to identify me as such. I’m grateful first to God, then my husband and my son for their support and prayer. Many people find it incredible that Hudson has persisted this long.
to my husband for his support and prayer. Many people find it incredible that he has stood by me this long.
Your relationship has played out in the public eye due to the condition. Has that been a big deal to you?
Hudson: I had very little control over that because sometimes it was my neighbours who would call me and tell me they had seen Jane maybe at the shopping centre and her behaviour seemed off.
Jane: You lose all sense of privacy and many times I felt guilty and a failure to the point I attempted suicide by swallowing some pills. Luckily, a cousin found me and I was rushed to hospital. I would often pray for death or visit my pastor and tell him to pray for me because I was dying. I thank God none of those prayers were answered. Over time, I have come to learn that it is what God and my family says that matters.
Did you have a strategy or coping mechanism?
Hudson: Not really. Most people including our relatives did not understand. Often times people just thought Jane is an attention seeker or that we had quarreled and she was acting out. At a personal level, I would often fast and pray for my wife. Friends and family would do the same but there were moments when I would feel completely alone. Those are the times I would ask God to take away our suffering.
Jane: It is difficult to have a strategy because once I fell into a spell I was unreasonable. Hudson however was consistent in prayer and after sometime he learnt the triggers and could tell if I was about to get an attack. He would then get a backup prayer group and we would pray about it.
Has the disease affected your son, Joshua?
Hudson: He eventually became aware of the fact that something was wrong with his mother. There were times he would hide things from her such as cabinet keys and so on because when she had an episode, she would start giving out our property. We prayed for him and explained to him that the episodes were temporary. We also thank God that he went through school well and was not destabilised.
Jane: I have never been able to tell if my condition has adversely affected our son. Sometimes I would pick his thoughts by mentioning an episode I had and he would not comment about it. My hope is that it is not bottled inside. It is rough for us as adults so I can imagine how much more for a child.
Despite your obvious challenges have you enjoyed parenthood?
Hudson: It’s been a journey. We adore Joshua (Wairua Mwaura) and it is a blessing watching him grow. He is now 19 years and pursuing a Bachelors degree in computer science at Kenyatta University. We had planned for three children but ended up getting one.
Jane: I retired in 2002 and basically became a stay-at-home mum, something I have really enjoyed. Pregnancy, however, was terrible. Despite having an easy pregnancy with Joshua, I ended up having three miscarriages.
What were the reasons for the miscarriages and how far along were you with each pregnancy?
Hudson: The first miscarriage happened when the pregnancy was three-and-a-half months, the second one, eight months; and the third one, four months. With every miscarriage, Jane suffered great emotional turmoil. So each time she would be hospitalised with depression.
Jane: We have never really tried to find out the reasons behind the miscarriages. Eventually, the doctor, fearing for my life, called Hudson aside and asked him if we were willing to settle for one child. We had a candid discussion and asked God to give us contentment as parents of an only child.
Was it easy letting go of the idea of a larger family?
Jane: No. In fact, in 2010 we discussed about trying for a baby but abandoned the idea. We broached the idea again in 2015 but we weighed the pros and cons such as age, chances of conception and so on, and decided to pass on it.
Did the miscarriages affect Joshua?
Hudson: The first pregnancy was not too obvious but with the second one, we decided to have a proper burial and Joshua was able to mourn his sibling. He was then nine years. For the third one, we held back on telling him for a while because we felt it might be too painful for him. He eventually learnt about it later.
Jane: Again, personally, I have not been able to draw an accurate conclusion on how the miscarriages might have affected him. When we told him we wanted to get a baby last year he did not comment. He gave us his blessing but that was it.
Despite the challenges you have faced, would you describe your marriage as a happy one?
Hudson: Yes. We have made a conscious decision to be together, despite the challenges. We have established a great friendship and confide in each other about everything. Our lines of communication remain open at all times and we call each other several times a day just to find out how each one is doing.
Jane: We encourage and pray for each other as well.
You both took early retirement. Why and was it an easy transition?
Hudson: I retired last year. It was always our plan to retire early. The transition has not been smooth. Some businesses Jane tried out such as hairdressing, beauty and butchery didn’t work out. Now we are rearing poultry with some good results.
Jane: My job came to an end in 2000. I could have been absorbed in another position but I chose not to in order to be at home with Joshua. I thank God that when the businesses failed, Hudson was so encouraging and did not blame me. Most times I blamed myself.
What would you say is your secret to a successful marriage?
Hudson: Prayer and conscious effort. If people take their marriages as seriously as they take their jobs, every marriage will be successful. We have also learnt to be forgiving towards each other and solving problems amicably. We also help counsel other couples who may be dealing with similar issues as ours. Given the challenges we have faced, we realised that our journey could be helpful to other couples and many have approached us for advice. To that end, I have published a book, For the sake of love, which chronicles our marital journey, the challenges we have faced and how we have overcome them.
Jane: Prayer works for me as well. We have also purposed to walk together in this journey. I have reached a point where I know my triggers and just like David, I can tell when my soul is downcast. There are days I don’t want to get out of bed at all but I pick myself up and ask God to give me energy.
There is a perception sex dwindles with age. Is that true?
Hudson: On the contrary, it should be vice versa. At least for us it is. You just need to know how to keep the chemistry going. We still go out go out for coffee and celebrate major milestones such as wedding anniversaries. I also send Jane flowers. She loves those.
Jane: It’s a myth. When you are ageing, you should enjoy it more because the kids are all grown up, you are not working and so stress levels are highly reduced. We are conscious of our general health and ensure we eat a healthy diet. However, remember that people will change with time and if you married someone for their looks, then you will be greatly disappointed.
What would you say are the greatest lessons you have learnt in marriage?
Hudson: One has to depend on God always. In times of temptations God has the solution (1 Corinthians 10:13). No challenge is too great that it cannot be overcome. Remember marriage is a covenant. Just like Canaan in the bible, it can be a land full of milk and honey. However, even in Canaan the children of Israel faced enemies. So too in marriage will you encounter challenges, but you have to be determined to dislodge them. If you sow the right seeds, you will get the right fruits.
Jane: Love is everything. You have to be patient, kind, avoid seeking revenge and think well of others and I can testify to having experienced it in my marriage. You will encounter stumbling blocks along the way but you can get out stronger because now you know where the pitfalls are. Marriage is wonderful, enjoyable and workable (1 Corinthians 13).
Published June 2015