Martin Baum shares his mental health challenges and how the chips on his shoulders were holding him back
I have generally found there to be a fine line between multiple sclerosis (MS) and mental health if only by association, for being filed under ‘I’ for invisible illnesses. In a week that recently brought World Mental Health Day to the fore, I was made aware that men are not great talkers - or should that be sharers? – which struck a chord with me.
Certainly, coming to terms with my own mental health experiences while trying to cope with MS was something, on reflection almost 40 years on, which I feel had had less to do with not talking but more about not listening. Or to be brutally honest, my own problems had as much to do with MS as it did with my own belligerent nature.
For me it was never a case of not wanting to talk about how lousy life was because I never stopped. I had no filter. I was defensive, moody and argumentative. Nobody was understanding - or understanding enough in my view - to appreciate just how awful my life had become. But then, isn’t that the way for anyone with a fragile state of mind and a huge chip on both shoulders?
The ’I’ file soon began to swell with injustice, insecurity and isolation. Yet the lonelier my world was, the more critical of others who wanted to help me I became. I still would not allow myself to be persuaded away from a deafness towards anyone who didn’t agree with me.
Subsequently, and to no great surprise, my mental health began to buckle but, fortunately, it was still strong enough not to break. Just. What saved me from going under was something I heard myself saying to somebody I had become close to that still makes me shudder with shame to this day.
“How are you?” she asked.
“How do you think I am?” I bristled. “I’ve got multiple sclerosis!”
Adding inexcusable and indefensible to the burgeoning ‘I’ file was not something to be proud of.
Shocked by the obvious hurt I’d caused, reducing her to tears by replying in such a cold, cowardly and unnecessary way – and afraid of losing someone who meant so much – was the moment I began to face up to some awful home truths, marking a distinct change in attitude. Taking ownership of my MS, however, would take longer.
But thanks to the power of love, Lizzy forgave and married me and almost 30 years on not only is she still my wife but also, such is the reality of the illness, she is my carer too. The last entry into the ‘I’ file is Inseparable because together we have grown with my MS. We own it, deal with it, live with it. Yes, I still have moments of mental hardship but thanks to Lizzy I’m no longer left to face them alone.