Welcome to another episode of the Heart of the Matter Radio/Podcast, where we dive deep into important topics that impact our lives. In today’s episode, we have a special guest, Carole Leathem, who brings her personal experience and insights on dealing with mental illness. Carole sheds light on the early signs to watch for, such as anxiety and mood swings, and emphasizes the importance of seeking professional help. She also offers coping mechanisms for family members, highlighting the power of listening without internalizing the emotions. Join us as we explore this crucial topic and gain valuable insights from Carole’s personal story. Stay tuned for an informative and inspiring conversation on mental illness with Carole Leathem.
After COVID. We have had a lot of people with mental health problems. Last week we were talking with Dr. Mel Tavares. She was saying that it is an epidemic. We need to be prepared in case this happens to our family. Today I have Carole Leathem. And Carole has a lot of experience with this because she has a husband who has been mentally ill. Carole, can you just give us some clues on how we might spot this in their family? And if we do, what can we do?
My situation started in 2015, so I’m pre-COVID. I wasn’t aware of what was going on. Sitting here eight years later and looking back I can say I should have seen that.
Now I spend a lot of time now working with people, especially women who have children or family members who are struggling. We start to pinpoint what they should look for, like anxiety. Anxiety wells up, and they can’t function at that moment.
Another thing to look for is mood swings. They were happy. Then the next minute they were just kind of depressed and struggling. And then the depression just came on so fiercely, so fast.
Also there could be some health problems. My husband was very low in vitamin D, and he was low in iron. Suddenly, we started doing some intense vitamin D therapy, and it improved a little bit.
However, once you get to a certain point, you must go to psychiatrists. The problem is that now we’re in an epidemic, it can take weeks and months to get someone into a psychiatrist. But it’s something you need to do.
I think you said a real keyword right there, and that is that the anxiety is so bad that they cannot cope. All of us have anxiety at different times in our lives. But if it gets to the place that you cannot cope, that is a moment to do something. At one point, I worked in a mental hospital when I was in nursing school. I came away saying I would never, ever talk about going crazy again because it scared me. I saw these same emotions I have every day. But then it occurred to me that they can’t cope.
Talk a little bit more about what mood swings are because a woman normally has a certain amount of that. So how much is too much?
My husband would be happy and joyful, and then suddenly, this mask of depression would come over him. And I really believe that the anxiety in his situation triggered the depression. As the day wore on, the anxiety got to the point where he was afraid, constantly afraid. He’d been sitting on the couch doing nothing, and suddenly, the energy would drain out. You could just kind of watch this mask of lack of emotion come over his face.
It can be something as simple as listening to the news. We don’t listen to the news. We don’t talk about world situations because those will trigger anxiety. We have a beautiful little two-year-old grandchild. Sometimes his anxiety will get to the point where he is just so afraid something’s going to happen to that two-year-old.
And he can’t get out of it.
He can’t get out of it. He’ll be hugging and playing and having a great time with her. The next moment, fear overtakes him because something could happen to her.
I’m a retired nurse. If exertion triggers chest pain, it’s less ominous than someone feeling pain while they sit on the couch. What you’re describing is a very similar situation where there’s nothing that would be a trigger.
They start feeling it in their mind. They go from what a beautiful two-year-old to something could happen to her. There’s no middle ground. It’s almost like their mind starts racing. Once that happens, it affects all of the bodily functions. Fear just takes over. The only thing your body can do is shut down to try to get some relief.
Right. What coping mechanisms can you put into place as a caregiver if this happens?
I have coping techniques that work for me. My husband will get very angry when things get out of control. I’ve had to learn how to listen without retaining. I give him time to vent.
I’ve created this image in my brain. I’ll imagine his words are going in my ear. Then they go right down my shoulder. Then they go right down my arm. And then I sit with my hands lifted palms up in my lap. I imagine these angry little speech bubbles coming out of my hands. It creates a technique for me to listen, but not to retain.
I’m not taking it to heart. I understand that what he’s saying is not true. Once he’s done, I can take a step back and I can say to him, “Okay, how can I help you?”
Another technique that’s critical is I have to take care of myself. I have to rest, I have to eat right. I need to go to the gym.
I go to the gym five mornings a week and do a pretty intense workout.
And there’s a dialogue that starts running in my head. I recognize that dialogue. For instance, “Man, I’m exhausted. I did not sign up for this. What the heck is going on?”
That’s a trigger for me that I’ve got to move back into self-care.
It sounds like you have learned various techniques that help you relax.
Yeah. It’s going to be different for everybody. The gym is a big one for me. It forces me to focus on energy and lifting weights., and Of course, I’m there with a group of people, so there’s a little bit of camaraderie.
What can you do for fun that is restorative to you?
My grandchildren are a huge one. I’m blessed to live near three of them. I’ll pick them up from school and we’ll hit the Sonic for Slushies. My son lives about an hour north. He has four little ones. They are homeschooled. I might say, “Hey, want a substitute teacher for a few days?” And I’ll go up and I’ll play teacher.
Another thing is girlfriends. I have some friends that I can just call. I will text them and say, hey, want a Zoom coffee date?
And then I watch British TV. It’s hysterical. It’s funny. I’ll sit down and watch some British TV show.
Also, I love fiction books. I’ll lose myself in a fiction book.
Laughter is such a good thing to do. It’s very restorative.
Absolutely. It just changes your attitude in a moment. Find somebody who makes you laugh.
It sounds like you have people in your life you can laugh with. Any other survival tips that you can think of for moms who may have either a husband or a child in this situation?
Keeping that spiritual foundation strong. Don’t ignore the physical, the mental, and the emotional. But the spiritual foundation is the strongest part.
It’s easy to be embarrassed or feel shameful because you’re dealing with a husband or a child who’s struggling with this. Yet right now, if we were to be more open, I think we would find a lot of encouragement and support. Live your life. Don’t isolate.