Two weeks ago, our Three Personal Perspectives on Mental Health forum featured guest speakers who held forth with glorious honesty on mental health and their creativity. Writer and poet Barry Garner blew the audience away with his compelling, heartfelt and emotional pieces. It’s no exaggeration to say that Barry left not a dry eye in the house! We’re proud, therefore, to present his pieces online for the Twilight School community to read, ponder and savour.

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Photo credit: Amanda Piper

Hello, You Beautiful Creature

‘Hello, you beautiful creature.’ I often greet my wife with these words in the morning. I think she likes it because she always responds with a big smile. Even over the past couple of months, while she’s been depressed, she still warms to my line. My wife Carolyn, like me, has bipolar. It’s a curse. It’s a monster that disappears for months at a time, only to come back when you least expect it. When you tell people you are depressed, they often ask, ‘What brought it on?’ If only it was that easy. If only we could point to one event or situation that caused it. How easy it would be to control depression. How easy it would be to fight it.

What my wife knows, and what I know, is that when it comes to mental illness clear explanations are always hard to find. We’ve been married eight years and during that time have taken turns of being the ‘carer,’ and the ‘cared for’. Our journey together has been for me a gift from God. We understand each other, encourage each other, help each other over the rough bits. If it wasn’t for my beautiful creature, I don’t know where I’d be. And she tells me she couldn’t cope if we weren’t a couple.

Carolyn recently had a stay in hospital. It just seemed that, no matter how hard we tried at home, she just wasn’t getting any better. So her psychiatrist decided that she needed more care than I could provide. I felt useless. Felt that no matter how much I’d experienced or read, there was a limit to what I could give. The hospital stay was good for her. It helped Carolyn by providing around the clock care and support. I couldn’t do that because once I take my nighttime medication, I’m dead to the world.

My beautiful creature was away for a month. I went in everyday. And people said I was so devoted. But it wasn’t just her I was going in for. I went in most days for me. Because I need to be near her, need to know we’re still connected, lest I fade away myself.

A week after my wife came home, my mood crashed. For the first few days I tried to hang tough. ‘I have to be strong,’ I told myself. I was terrified as to what would happen if we were both sick at the same time. We have two teenage kids at home who, while being good kids, still need one of us to keep a hand on the helm. I didn’t hang tough for long. On Monday just gone, I broke down in front of her. Told her I had lost my grip. That the darkness, which I had fought to hold back, had crashed on me like a wave.

My beautiful creature looked at me through her sad eyes, hugged me and told me we would help each other. I don’t reckon I’ve never felt as loved as I did during that hug. So for the past few days it’s been a bit hard to know who’s the carer and who’s the patient. But one thing I do know is, as long as we have each other, we’ll both be okay.

Barry Garner

(Previously published in Haloes in the Windscreen, 2011.)

Barry Garner, author of Haloes in the Windscreen and Heroes and Daydreams, is a writer, blogger and poet who has been published in The Age, Platform and Eureka Street. This short biography in no way encompasses the beauty, honesty and humanity that comes to life in his writing.