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hosted by Dr. Corey Allan

Mental Illness and Marriage #488

On the Regular version of today’s show …

A conversation with Erin Ramachandran, who along with her husband have founded Mental Health Strong. A resource aimed to help married couples when one spouse suffers from a mental illness. 

Hear her story and what they’ve created to help lots of other marriages alongside their own.

On the Xtended version …

Erin and I continue the conversation about what are some practical steps couples who face mental illnesses can take, alone and together.

Enjoy the show!

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Speaker 1: You are listening to the regular version of Sexy Marriage Radio, You've turned on Sexy Marriage Radio, where the best sex happens in the marriage bed. Here's your host, Dr. Corey Allan.

Corey Allan: Welcome back to another episode of Sexy Marriage Radio, where each and every week we come at you live from the Sexy Marriage Radio nation studios, aka, our living room.

Pam Allan: It sounds very exciting. Don't tell them where it is. Don't tell them where it is.

Corey Allan: Oh, no. It's our living room. Has been for almost nine years of the existence of this show. And we love having the opportunity to just speak into what's going on in married life and what will impact couples for their marriage to help it move from whatever level it's at to a little bit better, if not, a lot better.

Pam Allan: That's the goal, a lot better I'd say.

Corey Allan: And the way we know what's going on and where we're heading, because SMR is listener driven radio, is you give us a call with your questions, (214) 702-9565, or is the inbox that you can ping us at, that gives us all kinds of information about people with their story, their background, what's going on and how we can maybe help. Because I can guarantee it, and this is one of the things that's rung true through this whole journey together thus far, babe, is if you're experiencing some sort of a struggle or issue, you are not alone.

Pam Allan: Mm-mm (negative), not alone at all. We're in this together.

Corey Allan: Which I'm particularly excited about today's episode and where we're heading because the guest today speaks into, there's a lot of people that are facing what their journey has been. And so they went out and started something to try to help fix it.

Pam Allan: I love that. I love that.

Corey Allan: Offer a resource.

Pam Allan: Become part of the solution.

Corey Allan: Absolutely. Speaking of resources, we have a new one that's out that we talked about last couple of weeks called the State of Our Union. If you've got to, you can sign up and get weekly questions that prompt meaningful conversations in your relationship. And we're already getting feedback about how great the conversations go and how they love the fact that it just comes right to your phone.

Pam Allan: Yeah, it's an easy way to be really intentional with your spouse.

Corey Allan: So take advantage of this because I think it's something that can be incredibly impactful for your relationship to move it beyond the surface and get it to the deeper and have that weekly touchpoint. And we'll walk you through it the whole year.

Pam Allan: Absolutely.

Corey Allan: Well, coming up on today's regular free version of Sexy Marriage Radio, I mentioned we have a guest, Erin Ramachandra.

Pam Allan: I love that name.

Corey Allan: She and her husband, Keith, she wrote a book a couple of years ago, and now they have a nonprofit that they've started called Mental Health Strong.

Pam Allan: Very cool. Okay.

Corey Allan: It basically is walking through their journey of the realization of the mental health issues Keith has with OCD, anxiety, depression, PTSD. There's several different diagnosis that he's had based on some lifelong things and some trauma and some different things. So this is their story of how, when married life hit and that became cleaner about what they were really facing, they started thinking, what do we do? How do we address this? And they didn't find much.

Pam Allan: Not a lot of resources for them.

Corey Allan: It really did help, so they thought let's create one.

Pam Allan: Nice.

Corey Allan: And so this is their journey together of dealing with information for the spouse when you're alongside someone that has mental illnesses and information for the person that is struggling. And then on top of that, relational resources.

Pam Allan: That's wonderful and so timely right now, because this is even more intense right now with the COVID situation and all, absolutely intense. So I'm so glad to have her on the show.

Corey Allan: That's what's the regular version, it's just their story, how this all came to be. And then coming up on the extended version, which is deeper, longer, and there's no ads, you can subscribe at She and I go deeper into the conversation about what are some practical help and resources that are available. And she has a really nice acronym that just walks you through here's the things to be focusing on, here's the things to do, and you know what? It coincides really well with SMR nation's message.

Pam Allan: Sweet.

Corey Allan: So it fits really well. And so all that's coming up on today's show. I love the fact that SMR has been around for so long now, that's I will occasionally get emails from people saying, "Hey, I'm a big fan," or "I listen," and I've got something that you need to know about because there's work going on.
And I know full well that Sexy Marriage Radio is not the only resource out there helping couples. There is a lot of people and we love collaborating with a lot of good, helpful resources. And so joining me today, Erin Ramachandra, I guess you could say founder, but there's a site and resource she's got available in a book that's called Mental Health Strong. And I am hooked on just the little bit I've already gotten into with this Erin, and I'm so glad you're spending some time with us today to walk us through your journey and what you see, because we are particularly in an incredibly unique set of circumstances right now, obviously with what's going on with the pandemic and just 2020. I want to just frame it that way, and it's probably not going away anytime soon, unfortunately. But Erin, thank you so much for joining me today on the show.

Erin Ramachandran: Oh, thank you so much for having us Corey. I really appreciate it.

Corey Allan: And so I'm curious because Mental Health Strong. That just begs the question, how did this come to be for you?

Erin Ramachandran: Yeah. I got married over 12 years ago and my husband and I felt like God brought our marriage together. And some of the things I believed at that time was if you do the right things, then everything in your life should turn out well.

Corey Allan: Right.

Erin Ramachandran: It seems like a common thing that we're taught. And so when we got married, basically right away into our marriage, something wasn't right.

Corey Allan: Okay.

Erin Ramachandran: So my husband who pursued me and prayed for me and we both felt led to be together, then we got married and he was basically cleaning more time than he was spending with me. And at the worst time of our marriage, it was 12 to 16 hours a day. Both him and I did not understand what mental illness was. He didn't know that he had a condition.

Corey Allan: Okay.

Erin Ramachandran: And so about a year into the marriage, we ended up saying, "You need to either go to a doctor or figure out what this is so that we can start working on it. Otherwise, this isn't going to really work out."

Corey Allan: Right.

Erin Ramachandran: So yeah, he went to the doctors and he was diagnosed in two minutes with obsessive compulsive disorder.

Corey Allan: Okay.

Erin Ramachandran: Later, he's been diagnosed with depression, anxiety, PTSD, and panic disorder. So you can understand two people that got married to do God's work and we thought that it was going to be this lovely marriage. He got hit right away into about 10 years of difficult marriage.

Corey Allan: Okay. And so all of a sudden now the shine and the illusion and the fantasy of this happily ever after, in your particular instance, was dispelled completely differently. Because I think there's going to be overlaps to a lot of people in the sense that I think we all buy into this illusion of, and in some regards Erin, I think you understand this, that there is an element of idealistic distortion when we're dating. Otherwise, would marriages really happened very often, because there is components of "Whoa, what did I get into?" And I think that's a universal thing.

Erin Ramachandran: Right.

Corey Allan: But what your particular bit has been based on your experience has been, wow, we've got bigger deals that have now come to the surface for both of you. Because I even get the sense that your husband wasn't even aware of the depth of what's going on in his wellbeing.

Erin Ramachandran: He wasn't even aware. Correct. Yeah. And some people will ask us, "Well, didn't you guys know before marriage?" And we really didn't because they were manageable. Where they became out of control was due to trauma. And I think that happens for a lot of people that they might have something, one in five of us will be diagnosed every year for mental illness, just like we get diagnosed for a physical illness. And then imagine with the pandemic. So this is happening all around us. And yet we don't talk about it and we don't have the same compassion for it like we do with physical illness.

Corey Allan: Right, no.

Erin Ramachandran: Mental illness, people think someone did something wrong. And it's like my husband didn't do anything wrong. He had this, we now recognize he had it as a child. It was undiagnosed for 18 years and then trauma made it out of control. And so now he's learning as adult, after having 18 years undiagnosed, what is this, how to live with it, and then the normal life stressors come in, job loss and different things.

Corey Allan: Right. Plus marital stressors.

Erin Ramachandran: And marital stressors.

Corey Allan: In life. Okay, because I love the concept and what it is that you're focused on, in the sense of just the mental health aspect of life. Obviously that's my wheelhouse too, with profession and working with people and more and more finally, research and science is being devoted to the aspects of trauma.

Erin Ramachandran: Yes.

Corey Allan: And what does that really look like and how do people address it better? Because trauma, even in and of itself, is a loaded word.

Erin Ramachandran: It is.

Corey Allan: Right?

Erin Ramachandran: Yeah.

Corey Allan: And so I think it might be beneficial, based on the experience you guys have been through, is let's unpack some of these in the meanings of them. Right? Because when you're talking about mental health, you also can drill down deeper. You're talking about different aspects and diagnosable ailments that are under that umbrella. Right?

Erin Ramachandran: Correct. Absolutely. Yeah.

Corey Allan: And I love the way that you framed it, of his experience was it was noticeable, but manageable.

Erin Ramachandran: Correct.

Corey Allan: Until it became apparent that it's not.

Erin Ramachandran: Correct. Correct. So in pre-marriage it was, he was an organized guy in different things. So it was very attractive. Post-marriage, with trauma and then new location moving to a new job, a new person living with you and marriage and those things that was, just one of those is enough stress, but add all of those in, and it just spiraled down. So he didn't know who he was, and I was devastated in this marriage and our faith is really important to us. And so I even went back to my vows and it was in sickness and in health. And I'm like, if I really believe this is a sickness, if I had cancer, would he leave me? I'm like he wouldn't. So then how do I walk alongside him, if he's got a mental illness and he's not able to sometimes do the things that he would expect for him to do, or I would expect for him to do, what do we do with that?
And so that's the journey we've been on. And there's research out there, worldwide study that says, when they looked at marriages with mental health conditions, you're 20 to 80% more likely to get divorced. And the 80% is when it's severe.

Corey Allan: Right.

Erin Ramachandran: So we are 80%. And if you're out there listening and either you struggled with divorce or you have gotten a divorce, there's no shame in stigma with that because there really wasn't any resources. You Google resources for this, there's nothing in this space. They normally, in the marriage resources like yours, it's about meeting each other's needs and working on yourself in different things. But when your spouse is sick, they can't meet your needs.

Corey Allan: Right.

Erin Ramachandran: And then you go to the mental illness resources, and they're a lot of times about the parent-child relationship because the marriage relationship hasn't made it. And why is that? Because of this study. So we really want to help those marriages say there's actually resources and we can help you figure out what's worked for many of us and how to help, where if both people want to make it work, that's your message in SMR.

Corey Allan: Right.

Erin Ramachandran: If both people want to do their part, you can make it work.

Corey Allan: Right. And so, I want to touch on this just real quick because one of the things that you're talking about is yes, I can see that there are the resources that are aimed at parent and child, but it would seem so easy and commonplace that the marriages that do function, and I'm not going to say thrive by any mean, maybe barely survive, but it becomes a companionate marriage because it almost takes on that role of parent-child.

Erin Ramachandran: Totally, totally.

Corey Allan: And so, how do you guys avoid that? That is one of those things, because you're even touching on it a little bit thus far and I'm sorry, I'm trying to keep my therapist hat off in this conversation.

Erin Ramachandran: You're totally fine.

Corey Allan: But because it's this element of you're recognizing an issue and that leaves a spouse in a real precarious situation of, okay, I can't fix this for you. I am almost damaged from this, collateral damage I've got to deal with.

Erin Ramachandran: I was.

Corey Allan: But how do I inspire a spouse to get up and find some answers?

Erin Ramachandran: Correct. And a lot of it, it was one of the podcasts I listened to of yours too, of just, well I burnt out. So I did two different ways of functioning with it. One, I over functioned.

Corey Allan: Yep, which would be common.

Erin Ramachandran: And then the other, I went to under functioning, like where I was in denial about what was actually happening and just living in this roommate situation. So when I was overfunctioning and I actually burnt out, and that was really the pinnacle of my journey to get help because the reality is if I didn't work on my anger, my codependency, my boundary issues, I wasn't going to be able to be there with my spouse. If I just looked at his stuff, the marriage wouldn't work. I had to work on my stuff so I was healthy and then I could help him, but not take it on.

Corey Allan: Right, right.

Erin Ramachandran: Again, if he chooses certain things, there may be positive or negative consequences of that and allowing that to happen and not trying to make everything happen where I don't feel shame or he doesn't feel shame or we're expected someplace and he doesn't make it. How do we do that, and allow just the normal things? And, he has expectations of me. He's like, "I can't be in this if you're yelling at me or angry with me. You have to control yourself too."

Corey Allan: Right.

Erin Ramachandran: We've gotten to a much healthier spot, and we haven't arrived at all, but the tools of how do I work on my stuff, him work on his stuff and then we work on the stuff in the marriage and now, we really love being together.

Corey Allan: So what are the signs when it's off balance?

Erin Ramachandran: I would say where one person is not recognizing what their feelings are and just overfunctioning. So, I'll answer the question. So overfunctioning, or I would say a lot of the marriages we see is they don't even recognize what's happening.

Corey Allan: Right.

Erin Ramachandran: They're walking on what I would call egg shells, they're existing.

Corey Allan: Yep.

Erin Ramachandran: So those would be the two. And then people say, "Well, should I just not expect anything of my spouse?" And I said, "No, that's not it either."

Corey Allan: No. That's not a marriage, then.

Erin Ramachandran: That's not a marriage. Right. You got it. So where I go with that is, what is reasonable?

Corey Allan: Okay.

Erin Ramachandran: So there is a study out there when there's mental illness, severe mental illness that, what percentage do you think, Corey, people will have a full-time job?

Corey Allan: Of the person with the mental illness?

Erin Ramachandran: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Corey Allan: I would think it would be pretty high.

Erin Ramachandran: Okay.

Corey Allan: Actually, am I wrong?

Erin Ramachandran: Yeah. It's 22%.

Corey Allan: Really?

Erin Ramachandran: And a full-time job is 11%.

Corey Allan: Okay.

Erin Ramachandran: So if I take a male in the American culture, and many cultures, it would be expected that he would have a job. That would be the expectation.

Corey Allan: Okay. Now I see where you're going.

Erin Ramachandran: Now that we've learned this, the expectation is not that he's going to have a full-time job forever, but it's that he continues to try to keep a job, continues to try to build new skills, continues to try to find what makes him tick. And it might be that he works and then he doesn't work. He works and then he doesn't work. But then talk about finances, you got to plan for that.

Corey Allan: Yep.

Erin Ramachandran: And so how do you live together, both on less, so that when the job goes up and down, you've got the benefit when the job is there, but you're not living on both salaries.

Corey Allan: And that also adds a gender component to it because I put Eve under the category of security seeking creature, that when that is threatened, women, and I'm not faulting this or judging it, but it does seem to really rock them different.

Erin Ramachandran: Correct.

Corey Allan: And not that men are immune to this by any means, but there is an element of men are like, "Yeah, I'll find another one." There could be a little more aloofness when it comes to addressing this. So I see what you're saying in the sense that when you're dealing with a lot of these issues, it is going to wreak havoc in just some practical role, responsibility, consistency, everything. And so now you're adding a whole nother layer to deal with on, how do you unpack it, how do you address it? Because it would seem to me, Erin, it would be very, very easy and this would be why the divorce rate would be even higher, because you get issue upon issue upon issue upon issue, and you've created this huge onion of things with all these different layers that you're having to address, while probably at the expense of addressing what's at the bottom of that onion. Right?

Erin Ramachandran: Exactly.

Corey Allan: Of not even recognizing, it's just you're seen as inconsistent, you're seen as irresponsible. We could play it off all different ways rather than what if it's something else.

Erin Ramachandran: Yep. And then imagine the stigma around mental health and addictions, which addictions many times are an illness too. And then you've got people secluded because they don't feel okay to share it with their family because they don't want their family to look down on their spouse.

Corey Allan: Right.

Erin Ramachandran: And they don't feel comfortable sharing it with their friends because they normally do have more extreme circumstances than although what is a normal marriage, but you get what I'm saying.

Corey Allan: Yeah, I do. I'm impressed with your husband.

Erin Ramachandran: He's so courageous.

Corey Allan: Corageous is a great word because what is it that actually got him in touch with that courage to go seek answers,

Erin Ramachandran: To seek answers, and even now be willing to share our story. He's like, "I want you to use our story to help people." And he shares his part of the story too, what is it like to be in a marriage where you struggle with daily functioning, what do you do?

Corey Allan: So what was it then? Because you're saying about a year in is when it really started becoming real paramount of like, Whoa, this is different.

Erin Ramachandran: Yeah. What happened was I was crying every day. I was just like, "What is this?" And so I basically said, "I think there is something." Again, we didn't know about mental illness, so "You have one month to go see somebody and see what this is." And then we got a diagnosis and then we were on this journey to figure out what this is.

Corey Allan: Okay. So you basically drew a line of you have a month and I'll wait and see what happens from there?

Erin Ramachandran: Yep.

Corey Allan: Okay.

Erin Ramachandran: Yeah.

Corey Allan: That's a courageous move too.

Erin Ramachandran: Yeah. I had mentors alongside me, guiding me. It's not like I knew how to do this. But when it's affecting your health. So it was affecting my health. And if I'm the one trying to keep the stable job, it's important that I'm able to function. So my needs became important too, in this. And so learning that. Again, to have both imbalance, that both needs matter, both feelings matter.

Corey Allan: Right. That's when you find marriage, is you get the two functioning people as best as they can. And I put category of functioning, my qualifier for that is I recognize even the areas where I'm not functioning well improves my functioning.

Erin Ramachandran: Yes. I agree.

Corey Allan: That's that whole idea of I wake up and I'm not at my best that day. And if I try to fake it, everybody else wreaks the havoc from that. But if I come out and say, "You know what? I am not at my best. I need to alter." I do this as professional sometimes where I've had times where I just don't have the mental energy to really help people. So I move clients that day because I recognize I am not going to do a good service today. And I want people to truly get the benefit, not just somebody listening, nod, right?
So there's times of no, this is a mental health day is what I'll frame it as, because I need to restore and rest. And so I think that is better functioning. It's not just as I think you described going into this, we had this belief coming in, we're all going to be fully functioning.

Erin Ramachandran: Correct.

Corey Allan: Rather than wait, functioning is a relative term. I can have the courage to find the resources, to help improve my capacity to do what needs to be done, to deal with what needs to be done and to reach out for help when I need it. That's functioning.

Erin Ramachandran: Exactly.

Corey Allan: And then you're describing it's important for both members of the spousal unit to do this.

Erin Ramachandran: Yeah.

Corey Allan: Because it's easy to get sucked into, I'm all alone in this.

Erin Ramachandran: Totally. And getting that help. Yeah. And then it was also working on, for me, grief. So I thought grief was only when someone passed away.

Corey Allan: Right.

Erin Ramachandran: And what I learned is grief is actually working through loss of expectations for me.

Corey Allan: Yeah.

Erin Ramachandran: And so I had therapists that I was working with and I actually went to a grief retreat.

Corey Allan: Yeah.

Erin Ramachandran: And that was really life-changing for me, where it allowed me to accept what was happening, but then to be able to, how do I grieve it and then be able to get to acceptance. But I had to stop ignoring that this was my situation.

Corey Allan: Right.

Erin Ramachandran: And that both of us were hurting. He felt alone and fighting every day, his mental illness and I felt alone with living with mental illness as the spouse. And so then we started to say, how do we together fight the mental illness together? And what does that look like?

Corey Allan: Okay.

Erin Ramachandran: And that's been really helpful for us.

Corey Allan: Yeah. I love the framework because now all of a sudden you're taking it, it's not personal.

Erin Ramachandran: Yes.

Corey Allan: It's a task that we both are trying to get after, each in our own way.

Erin Ramachandran: Correct. Yep. And that doesn't mean I make things easy and take on the responsibilities.

Corey Allan: Well, true. But it also doesn't mean you make things easy by acting like it's not there and it's all on him. So it truly is you both, because this is at the crux of the whole thing is, marriage is a choice. And regardless of circumstances, it's still a choice.

Erin Ramachandran: Yes.

Corey Allan: And so how do we each own our choices better and make them with actions.

Erin Ramachandran: Exactly.

Corey Allan: And that's where I want to shift with you in just a minute, Erin, when we move into the extended content. Because the resource you've got, with Mental Health Strong, has a lot of resources available, some training, some education, and it looks like it's just beginning, right?

Erin Ramachandran: It is, yep.

Corey Allan: You're on the cusp of a lot of things that are coming. And so I want people to hear, how do they find you and then where we're going to go in the extended content, just as the tease for everybody that's not a member of the extended content, we're going to start talking about what are some practical things people can be doing. How do they find you and more of the story and the resources you have?

Erin Ramachandran: Wonderful. So Keith actually built our website. So it's And we really want to provide hope, resources and support for marriages with mental health or addiction challenges. So right now there is the book, and it's won a couple awards. All the resources within the book, they're are free on the website. So there's over 50 of them and you can sort by which role you're in, whether it's resources for you, your spouse or the marriage.

Corey Allan: Okay.

Erin Ramachandran: So there's different things that we've done across all three. We now just started, due to the pandemic, so three months ago we started a virtual support group. So it's on the first Tuesday of every month. And that allows where people can meet others that are in the situation, I would say the spouse role where you don't have the diagnosis.

Corey Allan: Yep.

Erin Ramachandran: And so all those spouses are meeting together. We have representation all over the world, which is pretty neat, that people are finding us. And then there's YouTube videos and we're starting to do partnerships with podcasts, just like this one. And we're looking really to help get the word out because when I Google Christian marriage and mental illness addiction, nothing really comes up.

Corey Allan: Yeah, it is an absolutely needed resource.

Erin Ramachandran: Yeah.

Corey Allan: And I love the work you guys are already doing and know for sure the blessing, the work, what's going to be for those that are coming. So this is great.

Erin Ramachandran: Thank you. We're excited and like you said, we're new and this book came out in 2019. So it's been out a little over a year and just started the support groups three months ago. So I have a full-time job. I work at a healthcare administration role. And so this is just a part-time thing that we're just excited about helping people in a ministry for us.

Corey Allan: Thank you so much for what you're doing and what you will be doing.

Erin Ramachandran: Thank you.

Corey Allan: And I wish you all the best and Godspeed with everything that you've got going.

Erin Ramachandran: Yeah. And thank you for SMR, talking about the topics that are difficult in marriages so that people don't feel alone. It's incredible.

Corey Allan: Thanks. Well, I look forward to continuing this conversation in just a little bit.

Erin Ramachandran: Sounds good.

Corey Allan: Pam, I think the thing I love the most about this conversation with Erin, just hearing their story is the fact that they reached out. They've listened to SMR for a while. She even made a comment before we started recording of how beneficial our shows have been talking about the things that people need to be talking about, but they don't really know how. We've always had as a goal at SMR here is that we want to help people frame conversations.

Pam Allan: Yeah.

Corey Allan: And man, what rings so true to me about what they're doing is just helping people frame a path.

Pam Allan: Right, right. Having solutions for it, not just saying what the problem is, but providing a path in a lighted way to go, right?

Corey Allan: Yeah, yeah. Because it is one of those things that you just think of all of the stressors that we get in marriage anyway, just with life and the shortcomings and the disappointments and the diagnoses that we get, that aren't even mental health, they're just health and all those hurdles they can create. It's amazing to me, in the mental health world, how there is still the taboo.

Pam Allan: Oh, certainly.

Corey Allan: And it's being talked about and it's not being addressed. And so I'm so grateful for Keith and Erin and their willingness to here's our story.

Pam Allan: Yeah.

Corey Allan: And let alone, more than that, here's some things that people can do that I think will help.

Pam Allan: Right.

Corey Allan: So check them out. If we left something undone or you want a little bit more information, let us know, (214) 702-9565, or as always, So however you choose to listen, whenever you listen, we're so grateful that you take time out of your week each and every week to listen. We'll see you next time.