Honest reflections about marriage and mission work when dealing with the anxiety and depression

  • Abby Clayton

The Black Wind

It seeped into everything. Most often I would notice it during arguments and conflict. It would creep into decision making. It would accompany us on days out, fun times, working together, family gatherings, our finances, our friendships, our schedule, our holiday plans, how we ate and drank…nothing was left untainted by it.

The most challenging and frustrating thing was how it crept into our communication. We would begin talking about something, and it was almost like a black wind would sweep in between us, making holding a normal conversation like talking through white noise.

Often it felt like Charlie was responding more to this third dynamic in our communication than to me. Countless times I have said ‘Why can’t we just talk about this normally?!’ – out of genuine confusion and frustration. For years I couldn’t work out why what seemed to me to be the prospect of a normal conversation, or the beginning of fairly mundane conflict, became a full-scale row, becoming impossible to actually reach genuine communication.

I used to genuinely believe that we were just rubbish at marriage....

.....the most useless of couples. I used to berate us in my head for our inability to communicate, the strength of our conflict, and our lack of joy in the home. I remember the moment that I saw clearly this third dynamic that existed between us – and what a relief it brought. Realising that our conflict was being interfered with by this third force, and that Charlie was constantly responding to what felt out of control in his head, shifted the focus of my concern. Where I had been convinced that the problem was in the relationship, I realised that this third dynamic was what was hampering our relationship so much. What had been an issue between us became an issue outside of ‘us’ that we could now tackle together. It became objective.

Its not like we have ever been the model couple, but our relationship has always been pretty strong underneath it all. I have often felt that in terms of ‘normal’ marital issues (finances, decision making…), we have had relatively few struggles; but the addition of mental and emotional health issues has brought conflict, hurt and confusion by the bucket load. Separating out what was causing the confusion, damage and struggle was key for me to shift my thinking from being me against Charlie, to me and Charlie against this third dynamic.

The anger and upset I felt in all of this began to shift away from being at Charlie, to being at this third dynamic. Of course, I often felt upset towards Charlie when his struggling to cope negatively impacted me. But underneath, I knew that the perpetrator was the illness he was fighting…and against that, I raged. I think this shift has been part of what has safeguarded our relationship through the storm of his healing – separating out the man from the illness. I have been furious at what robbed Charlie and my marriage of its joy and health, but it was important to feel that in a way that didn’t take aim at Charlie himself, as much as possible.

They’ve called it the black dog. I would say a black wind, invisible, able to impact everything – not knowing where it’s come from or where it is going but feeling its impact every time. The night after a storm at sea, the water is so calm and still – the silence is a beautiful thing.

Now the storm has passed, we are learning to communicate in new ways, not needing to shout above the wind of anxiety anymore, revisiting each area of our relationship that the black wind damaged and repairing and restoring what was blown down.

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