BEL MOONEY: A stroke’s turned my husband into a vile monster

Dear Bel,

I am at my wits’ end and do not know how to deal with my husband since his stroke last year.

While he denies his minor physical issues are due to the stroke, the real problem lies with his personality. The stroke caused damage to the part of the brain which governs ‘executive skills’ and the ability to understand that certain behaviours are unacceptable.

It was clear he was ‘different’ after the stroke. I hoped things would improve but, at an awkward weekend at our son’s, my husband dominated conversation and overruled all attempts to change the subject.

My son said it’s like ‘the filters are off’. My husband also made derogatory comments about me, followed by nasty laughter. A couple of my husband’s friends suggested therapy. You can imagine how that went down.

Thought of the day 

Busy joy can never die.

Your will, your wants, your being

Are here, too close for seeing.

Energy that made you fly

Cannot be destroyed . . .

From The Silent Songs Of Owen Parsnip by Angela Patmore (2020)

 

He’s continuously nasty about my cooking — as never before. There were lots of memory lapses (bathroom fan not turned off, car left running on drive, side door to our home left wide open), and a confidential chat with one of his friends revealed that his appalling, embarrassing behaviour has been noticed by others. And I’m also subjected to a continual barrage of racist, sexist, fascist outbursts.

If I counter the remarks, I’m accused of arguing. If I say I’m simply expressing a different point of view, that lights the blue touchpaper. On one occasion he told me I should be ‘very afraid’ of what he was capable of.

This morning, I was subjected to a tirade over a triviality.

I asked why everything had to be so aggressive, why he could not speak pleasantly. I was told I was the aggressor; that he had no communication problems with anyone else — which is untrue. He then stormed off saying he’d never speak to me again.

Half an hour later, you’d think nothing had happened. I’ve spoken to my GP, who told me that, even if my husband’s own GP notices some of his personality changes, nothing can be done unless my husband agrees he needs help or accepts that his behaviour needs modifying. How can I live like this?

I don’t know how to leave him, even though I hate him and cannot stand being in his company.

SARAH  

This week Bel advises a reader who is at her wits’ end and doesn’t know how to deal with her husband since his stroke last year

This is an appalling situation, and you have all my sympathy. Mood changes are common after a stroke and, sometimes, people’s personalities can alter very much for the worse.

It could be because, deep down, they know they are impaired (even if they deny it, as many people with dementia do, too), and what they are actually expressing is rage and frustration about the after-effects of the stroke. Horrible for everybody.

To know that is no consolation when the person you are living with is vile to you and you feel that is not what you signed up for when you got married.

Yet, sometimes, it might help you a little bit if you just leave the room (always walk away from aggression), take some long deep breaths and tell yourself that when he had that stroke, an unpleasant stranger entered his body — but that the man you married is still there, too. It’s a terrible tussle between good and bad.

I’m sure you know all about the Stroke Association. It operates a helpline (0303 3033 100; for opening hours see stroke.org.uk) and has two really useful leaflets for carers, which you can download.

I would also sign up to its online community My Stroke Guide. In addition, take a look at flintrehab.com/2019/mood-swings-after-stroke for some interesting thoughts on how to cope.

The more we know about any given situation, the more readily we are able to deal with it.

Imagine it as drawing a map to show you new routes through this unknown land and, when you feel lost, assailed by hostile forces, ring the Stroke Association and tell them what’s going on. Or call the Samaritans (116 123) if you feel despair.

At present, you are enduring one of the greatest tests of any marriage and so it might be worth contacting Relate (relate.org.uk) if you really do feel that you ‘hate’ your husband and need to talk to somebody about what’s going on.

I hope you are in regular contact with your son and can share all these woes with him.

If the day dawns when you really do want to walk out of your marriage, then you will need your son’s support — and so will your husband.

It’s vital at this stage that you don’t feel alone, so please don’t hesitate to contact friends, family and strangers, so you have a good support network. 

Can I be agnostic and go to church? 

Dear Bel,

It interests me that, in your column And Finally, you have said you don’t have to be religious to attend church.

I understand that you’re suggesting it as a place to find a community, and in many towns and villages there is little other than the church or pub. But I have difficulty with both, being a non-drinker and agnostic.

I was brought up C of E in a small Essex village with a fine old flint church, in which I was a ‘server’ during communion. A great honour. But there was definitely an ‘us’ and ‘them’ feeling towards those who attended church and those who didn’t.

When I later discovered Charles Darwin, his findings on evolution by natural selection seemed such a beautiful and logical explanation for the wonderful diversity in nature. What need of other myths? On the other hand, I am a man with a small collection of Madonnas and saints! Miracles fascinate me, especially Mary appearing on a slice of toast, condensation on a window or in a tree trunk — you know the sort of thing.

A biblical reading which describes a prophet lying down on a ‘dead’ child and breathing life into its body sounds to me like a description of mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. A miracle in those days, but commonplace today.



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