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I Had A Spouse With Mental Health Issues & Here's What It Was Like

by Jill Di Donato

On Monday, Nov. 21, Kayne West was taken to UCLA Medical Center for psychiatric evaluation shortly after canceling a leg of his Saint Pablo tour. While no details of West's psychiatric evaluation have been released to the public, multiple sources have reported that West was hospitalized and is being treated for exhaustion, while a 911 call reported that West was behaving "erratically" when he was brought into the hospital.

Although no details of West's psychiatric evaluation have been released to the public, West has been open about his struggles with mental health issues in his music. Since his hospitalization, fans have been sharing his music video "I Feel Like That," in which he recounts a litany of symptoms associated with anxiety and depression.

So far, West's wife, Kim Kardashian West, has not made a public statement regarding her husband's hospitalization, although sources close to her have reported that she is "very worried" about his mental health. I can relate. As someone who has lived with a spouse with mental health issues, I can attest to how difficult it is to love someone who is struggling with mental illness — and it's far more common than many of us would like to admit.

Courtesy of Jill Di Donato

I first met my ex through friends. Our attraction could definitely be categorized as "infatuation at first sight." I was drawn to his good looks, his shy charm, and something else I couldn't identify at the time. I had a quiet longing for darkness, perhaps, or just a willingness to step over to the dark side. That turned me on as much as it frightened me.

The night he moved in with me, he admitted his struggle with depression. "I get depressed a lot," he confessed. "And I'm an addictive personality, so I get addicted to being depressed." His admission struck a chord within me. I struggled with depression and anxiety as well, and this wasn't the first time I'd fallen for someone who had a mental illness.

I felt like this was someone who I could relate to and who could share my pain. "If he loves me enough and I love him enough, we'll both be cured of the blues," I thought at the time. I cannot emphasize this enough: Depression does not work that way. Loving someone with depression does not work that way.

"If he loves me enough and I love him enough, we'll both be cured of the blues," I thought at the time. I cannot emphasize this enough: Depression does not work that way. Loving someone with depression does not work that way.

For years, we lived in a state of what I would refer to as predictable unpredictability. We would have blowout flights that regularly punctuated the minutiae of daily living. The details would change: sometimes I was jealous, sometimes he was. Sometimes we would drive all the way to his office party, only to sit in the car outside the venue, frozen, and then decide to turn around and go home. Occasionally, the fights would get physical.

In addition to depression, my ex also suffered from social anxiety, which in its purest form would isolate us from the rest of the world. When we were together in public, I was always nervous for him—nervous he would say something that would make him feel bad about himself, or nervous that my friends, many of whom were highly educated professionals, would make him feel bad about the fact that he was a 30-year-old college student.

We were together for six years. The longest we'd go without fighting was two weeks. In hindsight, that's a terrifying way to live, but that was my life; it was ours. And I guarded it ferociously.

Courtesy of Jill Di Donato

In addition to depression and social anxiety, my ex also struggled with alcoholism. Booze took his fragile, shy persona and made him into another man—the life of the party, someone unafraid to put himself in danger. In fact, he prided himself on his ability to hurt himself, to give himself black eyes when he felt disappointed. I turned a blind eye to his tendency toward self-harm, a symptom of a darker side of his depression. It's something I still struggle with. (NB: There's nothing to suggest that West struggles with any of these issues.)

One time, while we were riding the subway home with a group of my friends from one of my grad school parties, he purposely banged his head into a moving subway car. His face was battered and bruised. I was mortified. "He's just drunk," I explained to my friends.

Even after that night, I didn't make him go to Al-Anon, a support group for people whose lives have been affected by alcohol. I lived in a state of denial: I didn't want to sit in a dimly lit room with strangers talking about feelings, because that would make our problems seem real. I would rather have been with him, unstable and unable to fully love me, than to be alone. So I lied to myself.

"Our fights occasionally get physical because our relationship is so full of passion," I'd tell myself. "He'll pay me back for supporting him through school when he couldn't hold down a job. He'll marry me and it will all be worth it."

I realized I was more lonely living with a partner with an untreated mental illness than I was living alone.

Of course, he never did either of those things. Six years into the relationship, he left our Brooklyn loft in the middle of the night for another woman. (He eventually left her for another woman as well.) His abandonment tore my life apart. I relapsed into disordered eating and lost 15 pounds. I drank heavily. I spent $20,000 on designer clothing over the course of a few months. I moved in with my mother.

Without him, I felt like my life had a gaping hole. But as I began to get help, I realized I was more lonely living with a partner with an untreated mental illness than I was living alone. It was only in his absence that I realized how much of myself I'd been sacrificing to care for him, to the point that I was ignoring my own depression and anxiety in the process.

I'm not saying two people who are prone to depression can't be together — plenty of couples help and support each other through each other's mental illness. And I'm certainly not saying that all people with depression are violent and abusive — that was just our story. To argue that everyone with a mental illness is as toxic and abusive as my ex was does the millions of men and women who struggle with a mental illness a huge disservice.

But by acknowledging that my ex had been too sick to take care of me, let alone himself, I felt like I had the freedom to start actually changing my own life for the better. I got treated for my own depression and anxiety. I stopped hiding myself from the world. Eventually, I realized that my ex wasn't a monster. But I'd spent so much emotional energy taking care of him, I let my own self-care go out the window.

Five years after he left me, my ex showed up at my mother's house. When we went out for drinks, I found out he was still drinking and cheating. We ended up having sex on a rock during a rainstorm in Prospect Park. While that might sound unhealthy, it served as a form of closure for me: It helped me realize that it wasn't me who drove him away, but himself and his own demons.

For a while, I felt tremendous shame in admitting what was happening with my ex behind the doors of our Brooklyn loft. But I know now that I should never have felt that way. I should've been open with how difficult it was to live with someone who was struggling with these issues, because that could've in part taken the burden off myself. I also hope that one day he will seek treatment, because part of me will always love him. Even in our toxic, dangerous, and hurtful relationship, there was love—it was just hidden by the trauma that mental illness brings if left untreated.

Ultimately, mental illness is an illness like any other, and it doesn't care who you are or how much money you have. West's story proves that no amount of money, fame, accolades, and social media followers can shield you from the mechanisms of the human mind that leave it open to mental illness. And if she decides to open up about what it's like living with someone struggling with mental health issues, Kim Kardashian West could prove that women like me are not alone.

If you are the victim of partner abuse, you can call Safe Horizon 24 hours a day at 1-800-621-HOPE.