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Depression Deepening

Mar 14, 2000

My husband is +, I -. He has been on HIV meds for about 4 years. His numbers are good and he hasn't had any life threatening OI's since he started taking them. However, his mental health continues to worsen. He sees a psychiatrist and now takes 8-9 mental meds a day compared to his other 7 physical meds (these are #'s of pills, not different meds). He is constantly complaining about all the meds he has to take. I've tried to explain to him that if he would adjust his attitude he wouldn't have to take 1/2 of them. His primary care doctor says he has not accepted the truth of his illness. She has continually told him he is not going to die for a long time if he will just take his meds and take care of himself. He can not seem to accept this. He acts like we are all lying to him and he's really on deaths door. He quit his job and went on SSDI 2 years ago. He was supposed to do something else, but never has. He says he has too many days when he feels bad. Sometimes, I think he only chooses to believe that he's going to die any day as an excuse for his behavior. He has gotten SO selfish and volatile. He acts like a child. He wants all the time and if I say no he either throws a fit (starts ranting and raving, slamming stuff around, etc.) and then gets depressed or just gets depressed right off the get go. When he gets like that he refuses to take his meds, though he found out the hard way last time you don't just stop taking lithium. I've done everything for him I know to do. He was hospitalized last year after one of these episodes, but they only kept him for 3 days. He keeps his appointments with his psychiatrist and his therapist, though he no longer wants me to go with him so, I have to wonder what load of horse manure he's laying on her. I can't confront him or the same thing as above. He says he feels he is no longer a man, and what I want to say to him is that he would be if he'd get his head out of his you know what and start acting like one. I am very frustrated, as I'm sure you can tell. If patience is a virtue I should have turned to solid gold by now. I can't just walk off and leave him, though that would be the easiest thing to do, I married him 15 years ago for better or worse and I am his sole support. I just don't know what to do. I feel I have been walking on egg shells for such a long time. Sometimes things will go really well for weeks, then anything can set him off and the cycle begins again. I have spoken with his primary care physician and I think she's about as fed up with him as I am. He just seems to be so full of rage about his disease. He says I don't understand. I'm not sick and I'm not a man. If I was though I'm sure I'd still be working like one as I do now. I had a taste of it last year when they thought I had breast cancer. He seems to have forgotten that among other things. I don't know what you can tell me that I haven't tried but, if you can I sure would appreciate the knowledge. Thanks.

Response from Mr. Shernoff

Your husband certainly sounds like he is a major victim and thinks that the world owes him because he has a life threatening condition. This is such a load of horse crap. I am saying this as both a person who has lived with HIV for over 20 years and as a therapist who has worked with vast numbers of clients who have HIV or other life threatening conditions.

You can not and should not try to make your husband take his medication. He is not a baby, though he acts like one. You are doing classic behavior of what is now called "co-dependence." I would urge you to find a group for spouses of people with HIV and begin to attend that so you can get the support you so desperately need to help you figure out what your options are and how you can develop strategies to deal with this manipulative, and selfish infant you are married to.

From how you describe your behavior you are allowing him to bully you. I think you must insist that he agree to see a couples counselor who is experienced in working with people where one or both have HIV or other life threatening illnesses. If he refuses, as cold as this may sound I really think that for your own emotional and spiritual well being you may need to think about separating from him. You can not and should not take better care of him than he is willing to take of himself. You signed on to be his partner not his mommy.

I know that this seems easy for me to say, it seems like he is acting like such a tyrant that you no longer have a reasonable quality of life. While you are not responsible for his quality of life, you most certainly are responsible for your own quality of life. While he may not be willing to do what ever is necessary to help himself, by your just sticking around you are enabling him to remain stuck in his self pitying mood. I have not a drop of sympathy for him, but loads for you. Please begin to think about what you can do to help yourself.

Michael Shernoff, MSW

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