How marriage has helped my mental health
13 Jun 2019
Groom Matthew Streuli gives an honest and candid account of his mental health journey and how marrying his soulmate has helped him to see the light
Images: Megan Daisy Photography
We had been dating for a couple of months but I knew I wanted to be with her forever. I proposed to Caroline on 3st December 2016.
Caroline was really brave and open on the subject of mental health quite early on in our relationship. I had done an interview or two with the support from mental health charity Mind and while it felt very public, my story and past wasn't famous. I clearly remember Caroline telling me about her experience. There was something about how she chose her words that made it sound as if mental health was a deal breaker.
Caroline had a difficult time at university. Her mild depression grew into a frightening beast. She found herself becoming more and more isolated until she felt trapped, alone with negative thoughts. Ten years ago support was more limited and the signposting towards it was almost hidden. After a bout of self-destructive behaviour, Caroline returned home and spent time re-evaluating what she wanted from life with the help of the limited therapy available in South Bucks. After soul searching and volunteering, she started work on NVQs at home and the local college while working in the nurturing environment of the local school.
I guess for some heartless people, mental health might be a deal breaker. To me, I realised that Caroline understood me better than I could understand myself. She wasn't alone and neither was I.
Caroline and I had been friends at primary school but had drifted apart over the years. In the short time since we’d been back in touch we’d shared our stories. However, those experiences helped us see past each other’s flaws and into our future. Being with Caroline made it clear to me we weren’t damaged or scarred.
We wanted mental health to be part of our big day as it has been such a huge part of our lives. We grew up only a few doors apart in Iver Heath, Buckinghamshire. We were married at our local church surrounded by staff at the school which we both attended as children and where Caroline is now a teaching assistant.
At our wedding we used Mind name cards with pins on our tables. We asked people to make donations to Mind via the website on the back of our order of service. There were leaflets, flags and donations around our photo booth. It felt nice to offer a positive story linked to mental health.
However, my story wasn’t always this positive. My mum left my dad when I was eight-years-old. It happened quite suddenly which meant I was overwhelmed as I became the carer for my alcoholic mother. Over the next three years there were ‘adventures’ that in 2019 would trigger involvement from safeguarding but in 1999, society was still ready to dismiss days missed at school and random drunken nights in A&E as things ‘that don’t concern us’.
Those formative years were the start of my mental health issues although I owe a lot to my grandmother and my school friends for their care and support. My dad did his best but was never fully aware of how bad the drinking had become. The Iver Heath Drama Club became a second family of real role models where once a week I could escape and be someone else, even if only for three hours. My mum’s path finally killed her in 2003. I was 13-years-old. My depression steadily grew into something severe resulting in self-destructive behaviour.
Thanks to counselling, my life was relatively normal until 2015. I was entering my fifth year of service for a large multinational manufacturer that treated its staff as a disposable resource. I was signed off by my GP several times. My friends and family were willing to just sit with me and listen.
After a minor issue at work, I tried to end my life. I was given one week’s leave.
A company appointed doctor assessed me and made a list of four recommendations. Only one was ever followed and so a few weeks later I was signed off again.
I went into work to hand in the sick note and finish the day. I was summoned into a meeting with a senior manager. That manager lent across the large sterile room and staring me down said “No one else has a problem”. I listened, stunned, for 20 minutes as he tried to convince me to resign. Instead I made a complaint to HR and gathered help from ACAS and Mind’s Infoline.
It was the worst year for me but 2015 became a turning point for so many good things. Getting a diagnosis and therapy on the NHS showed the right path to recovery. Blogging and volunteering for Mind helped me to find a voice and to take ownership of my story – rather than letting my story or my mental health own me. I’ve been on the BBC, Sky News and in The Guardian.
If you had asked me in 2015, I couldn’t see a future. Yet the right support has helped me on a path to where we are now. When you're struggling, you feel like a burden on the person you'd never want to hurt. The truth is, however; when the roles reverse you appreciate the unfaltering love and support you share with someone who openly understands you.
Our wedding was amazing. My bride looked beautiful. I remember being awash with excitement and relief when I turned around. I was so proud when she decided not to wear a shawl as she made her way down the aisle and her scars were visible at the altar. It took a lot of courage for her to overcome those “you’re not good enough” voices we all hear and be confident in who she is.
Mental health and marriage are very similar: it will only work if you are open, honest and supportive. We understand each other. While my NHS salary and her teaching wage didn’t give us a huge budget, it didn’t really matter. A lot of what we did was DIY and that made it more unique. It was a truly special day.
My advice is to remember to pause. Whether you are building up to the big day or in it, make sure you take a chance to reflect and enjoy it. It is such a blur. Don’t let it overwhelm you because while the big day is important, you and your partner’s health are more important.