My Fairy-Tale Romance With Osher And 'The Other Osher'
Every rose has its thorny issues.
Once upon a time, in a Victorian-era mansion by Sydney Harbour, a mentally ill TV host and his stand-in makeup-artist, a single mum with a daughter, met over the Arnotts Family Assorted on the catering table.
Having just dismounted from his trusty iron steed, he had an air of nervousness and distraction, the aroma of sweaty pits emanating from his neon Lycra, and hair plastered into disarray from his bicycle helmet. Like all good fairy tales, we very quickly fell into a comfortable friendship, and before you could say, “Which way do you normally part your hair?” we were discussing books, politics and some of the mental challenges that my new friend faced daily.
Every day we became more and more comfortable around each other, and some of the things that he shared with me so openly in those early days gave me valuable insight into the man who would eventually become my husband.
That was the refreshing thing about getting to know Osher. He was quite open and honest about his state of mind, something that many people, especially men, would hesitate to share with someone they have only known for a short period of time. In doing so, he made the anxiety and OCD that he suffered from so severely easier to grasp, and much easier to view as an aspect to this man that is simultaneously part of, yet separate from him.
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Four years, a wedding, a new home and a puppy later, we’ve come a long way together. Standing from the outside looking in, our life looked idyllic. It wasn’t always plain sailing though. Despite having the knowledge of what Osher was going through, some days I felt like I was living with another man, a man whose every thought seemed to cause him pain, a man trying to push me and my love for him away.
I found it difficult to reconcile this “Other Osher” with the Osher that I loved, as he behaved in ways that my Osher wouldn’t. Sometimes the “Other Osher” said or did things that hurt me deeply, or made me feel like our relationship wasn’t enough to make him happy.
When that happened, I did my very best to hold on to the Osher I fell in love with, and not to react with anger or pain as my very own insecurities were triggered by his behaviour. I had to remember his actions were being driven by something else, his anxiety, fears and trauma.
On warm days, we couldn’t walk outside without needing to have a conversation about climate change. His greatest fear was that the world was facing impending doom as a result of human impact on the earth; the seas were rising and if we didn’t move to the mountains TODAY we would be in the thick of the ensuing panic and chaos as people tried to escape certain death.
It was often hard to talk him off the precipice, a place so familiar to him, and one that tried to seduce him into a fatal and permanent peace. I tried using my ancient high school debating skills, citing evidence and logic to convince him that his fears were indeed valid, but the time frame was not. In the end, it wasn’t reasoning that helped crack through that belief of his, but reassurance that he wouldn’t be alone -- but that was just the tip of the melting iceberg.
Sometimes Osher’s mental illness would manifest into isolation and a hair-trigger response to emotional stress or an innocuous online news article. Hiding in his office, throwing himself into work, it seemed to me that he avoided idleness because that was when the fear and anxiety could break in, and when the thoughts of suicide could return.
Sometimes Osher would snap at me when I questioned him about why he was so angry when our life seemed to be full of so many positive things. He’s the host of a successful tv show, employed and physically healthy; married and a stepfather living a peaceful life in Sydney. What was there to be so angry and afraid of?
Other times I would have to drag him emotionally back to the present, to join us in the real world instead of drowning in the terror that he sometimes found himself in. I never knew if I was helping him by doing that, it sometimes felt like I was crossing emotional boundaries, bullying my way into his space, but I couldn’t see how else he would get clear of the fear. What I did know was that I loved him deeply, and maybe, through support and understanding, from his doctors and myself, his mental health could improve.
And thankfully it has.
Osher chose to share his journey about his mental health through his podcast. The more he shared, the more his audience seemed to resonate with his experience.
At times I worried that he made himself too vulnerable to the public, but instead of his "weaknesses” being used against him, his underlying message about reducing stigma around mental health seemed to be embraced, even applauded.
It became increasingly obvious that he wasn’t alone in his experience, that many, many people were going through similar circumstances.
His book is the culmination of his desire to help other people who may be experiencing similar troubles in their lives. He hoped to shed light on an issue that is widespread and often misunderstood.
Last week we shared a podcast where Osher interviewed me, mostly about my experience of being the partner of someone with a mental illness. That was a scary, new experience for me. Now it was my turn to be open and vulnerable. I was worried that maybe I sounded silly or said the wrong thing, or that it was a pointless exercise since I’ve no professional experience in this area. Surprisingly I found that I, too, am not alone in my experience in supporting a partner battling with mental illness.
I’m so very lucky that Osher resisted the alluring seduction of that mistress, suicide. I’m so grateful he had the self-awareness to seek professional help, to take his medication, to talk to his psychologist, to talk to me.
It’s been a rocky journey back to a healthier head space for us. And that’s the thing, it is a journey that Osher didn’t take alone. My daughter Georgia and I are along for the ride too. Sometimes we just hold on while he bucks and rears about, and other times we’re walking at a comfortable pace, able to enjoy the view.
While it’s not your typical fairy tale, he’s my knight in shining Lycra and this is our story. A similar story to so many other people living and loving with mental illness.
If you need help in a crisis, call Lifeline on 13 11 14. For further information about suicide prevention, depression and mental health visit R U OK?, contact beyondblue on 1300224636 or talk to your GP, local health professional or someone you trust.