There are three people in my marriage: me, my husband, and the woman my husband calls “Prudence.” Prudence looks a lot like me. She sounds like me. And she’s a mum. But the similarities end there.
For the past 18 months, I’ve been really unwell. After the birth of our first son, Henry, I suffered from post partum psychosis, a severe mental illness which affects approximately 1-2 of 1000 women. I’ve been hospitalized twice, see a psychiatrist weekly and take both an antidepressant and an antipsychotic.
This experience is, of course, a story in itself but one I’m not yet ready to tell in detail. It’s still a little raw, a little too painful and I don’t have a happy postscript. I’m still working on that part. Which brings me back to Prudence.
Prudence, you see, is the version of myself still recovering. She’s the version who struggles to get out of bed in the morning. The one who puts milk in the pantry and sunglasses in the fridge. The person who bundles her son off to daycare with his shoes on the wrong feet. She’s the hopelessness and the worthlessness. The tears, the anxiety and the bone deep fatigue. Prudence is bad days personified.
Currently, my husband says Prudence appears about three or four days a week. The rest of the time, I’m told, I’m pretty close to being my old self. When I asked him recently to describe what it’s like being around Prudence, my husband tentatively explained that his usually, very low-maintenance wife, is replaced by a woman who is extremely high maintenance. And not in the way that, for example, someone like Kim Kardashian might be. Prudence struggles to make decisions, struggles to concentrate, struggles to parent. Prudence, bless her, simply struggles to function.
I know my husband feels cheated at times. Prudence is not the woman he married. In recent weeks, on more than one occasion, my husband has explicitly expressed that he wishes “Prudence would just fuck off.” A strong statement, yes, but an honest one. And it’s honesty and team work that’s got us this far.
I remember initially feeling offended when I learned of Prudence’s existence. Actually, offended isn’t really the right word. I suppose I hadn’t realized just how different the illness had made me. Just how much of a noticeable impact it had had. I thought I was doing an excellent job, putting on a happy face, making sure I looked presentable and only crumbling in private.
In fact, even during my most recent hospital admission, I was asked brusquely by one of the nurses why I was smiling at all. When I really thought about it though, really considered what my husband was saying, it occurred to me, just how fortunate I am to be married to someone who gets it. Someone with enough insight to see that I am not my illness. That the real me, the well me, is still in there somewhere.
For the most part, we can laugh about Prudence now. When I do something particularly silly or can’t find the right words, she’s easy to blame. I know my husband still feels frustrated with her and the situation. But he understands. He’s getting better at handling her too.
I know he’s concerned that Prudence will cause me to miss out on things. That she stops me from living my life. And he’s right. Prudence isn’t social. She’d rather stay at home. She won’t take herself off to yoga. She’ll cancel on friends or ask him to cancel his own plans. He pushes her a little more than he used to. And I always appreciate it when he does. Afterwards, anyway.
It’s hard not to worry that parts of Prudence might stick around. That I might never be who I was before. In many ways though, I suppose I can’t go back to being who I was. Not completely. I’d love Prudence to disappear forever, and she will, but the person left behind won’t be the old me. She’ll be the result of an almost two year struggle with a severe mental illness. The result of someone who has worked hard to rebuild a self annihilated by a condition that swallows your soul.
I can see where my husband is coming from. I’d love for Prudence to “just fuck off.” And I’m looking forward to the me who emerges: stronger, more resilient and wiser when she eventually does. Until then, there are three people in my marriage. And frankly, three is definitely starting to feel like a crowd.