Patient Stories: Family Therapy Provided a Roadmap to Healing
Written By: Butler Hospital Foundation on May 3, 2022
It came, with a vengeance, as the honeymoon wound down. Molly had struggled with bipolar disorder since her early teens. Now, as she left her parents' house for the first time to build a new life with her husband, a fierce depression settled in.
"My aunt died just before her granddaughter was born, and I remember saying that I was the one who should have died," Molly says.
The first year of their marriage was a maelstrom of agitated, angry mania, depression, withdrawal from the relationship, and suicide attempts that occurred with increasing and alarming frequency. "It came to a point when I was in the emergency room almost every week," Molly says. "I was cutting myself, taking too many pills…" At one point, she went home to her mother – the only person who had ever seen her in such straits before.
Molly and Stefan had only known each other for four years, and had been married for a painfully short time. On their first wedding anniversary, Molly found herself in Butler Hospital's inpatient unit after another suicide attempt.
"He never left me. He didn't give up on me. I didn't want anybody else, any other family involvement. I just wanted him. And he never left me."
Still, there were challenges. Stefan, himself a survivor of an abusive first marriage with a history of depression, was overwhelmed by Molly's anger and his own powerlessness in the face of her illness.
"I came home one night and she told me to leave," he says. "I hadn't been that depressed in a long time. And I was worn out from going to the ER [with Molly.] It didn't seem normal to go that often."
"I don't like anger and yelling and swearing," he says.
He would get into his black Jeep Liberty and drive, just drive, trying to clear his mind.
The relationship began to crack, irreparably it seemed, upon Molly's admission to Butler. She had pushed him away, he had withdrawn, and she thought he didn't care. Divorce was actively considered.
Dr. Heru suggested family therapy, and they eagerly accepted – despite some misgivings on Molly's part. "I said but what if we can't take it and have to say forget it," she says.
"He said if you don't want it to get better, it won't."
Their contract offered a road map to healing. Tell him your needs. Express your feelings to her. Learn to read the signals of her illness. Work with a psychiatrist to minimize fatigue. Find mutually satisfying interests. Take a long drive – a special challenge to Molly in her manic state. Work together to identify and solve emotional problems, should any arise in the future.
The journey is far from over. It is a long road, but they are on it together.
"He is my heaven," says Molly. "He hardly ever raises his voice to me. He treats me like gold. He is the nicest person I know."