Marriage, Mental Illness And Breaking The Silence
It seems like it was always at night when my parents fought, probably to spare their only child the sharpness of their words to one another. However, even as a young girl, I was very perceptive and could tell when the volcano was ready to erupt. Mum and Dad would say prayers with me and tuck me in with the same half-hearted smiles they feigned during Sunday morning church. I was supposed to be sleeping but would tiptoe to the end of the long hallway that led from my room to the kitchen. As I crouched down to hide by the oven to remain unseen, I held my only source of comfort – a stuffed bunny named BunBun. I’m still not sure why I so desperately wanted to hear what they were arguing about THIS time, but I think I came to the conclusion that it was weak attempt to extract knowledge, to be left in the loop.
On an average day, walking around my house wasn’t necessarily eggshell-like circumstances, but more of a landmine – one misstep and the grenade exploded. My father would come home from work and sit in his recliner, eat dinner, then retire to their bedroom. These phases would last for months and then cycle through times of manic happiness. The silence was deafening and I never knew what mood he would come home in or when something I said would set him off. Since my father is a registered psych nurse, he often turned to self-medication and refused to admit he needed help to feel normal, a struggle I myself battle with to this day. Despite my father’s second-generation bipolar disorder diagnosis, there was never a doubt of how much he loved me (and still loves me). Even then I somehow related to him, an understanding my very black-and-white logical mother would never grasp. I understood him because he and I are alike. We both live down the same strange rabbit hole of mental illness and because of this, building relationships from childhood would prove to be tumultuous and confusing.
My parents divorced when I was in junior high once my mother could not try to understand him any longer. I didn’t know how to react and most of my friends were well off and still lived in their perfectly placed nuclear homes. Over time, things became easier. Both of my parents remarried over the next few years and I myself began dating.
It was then when I truly realized how sick I was. I sabotaged relationships and created chaos because I thought that’s what love was. That was what love looked like to me. I would explode much like my father. My heart would tell me everything was fine, but my head created scenario after scenario that never and would never come to fruition. I became paranoid and erratic and labeled that “crazy chick” you overhear during bro conversations at a bar. I didn’t want to be her anymore. I was sick of her and, if I was sick of her, I knew everyone else around me must be also. I was spiraling out of control and knew I needed help. I knew I had a mental illness that could not be ignored any longer.
At age 18, remember sitting in Stephenville, Texas at a Chili’s Bar and Grill across from my characteristically stoic mother when I broke down into tears and told her I thought I needed help. I was dating my then boyfriend at the time, now my husband, and I refused to allow he or our future children to live in the same atmosphere I did. She calmly said, “I’ve been waiting for you to tell me this.” I guess everyone saw it but me. I immediately felt my face flush with anxiety and embarrassment. Sometimes our qualities we try so hard to hide are the very same ones which are the most obvious.
On July 7, 2007, I married the man who I half jokingly say “puts up with me.” Only it’s not even half a joke; it’s not a joke at all. He is even-keeled daily and is the kindest most patient man I know. That makes our marriage much easier. Instead of calling me crazy or telling me to chill out, he hugs me tighter and understands that there is an element of the illness that I truly cannot control. I stress and worry constantly that he’s going to wake up one day and realise what he signed up for and leave. When I have these irrational fears, he calms me instead of insulting me. And while yes, he is an amazing husband and father to our two beautiful children, one thing that needs to be understood is that, even in long-term relationships, YOU are the only one who can pull yourself out of the chasm of depression.
Our marriage is full of good days and bad days, like any other couple. The key is for us to be constantly aware that there is a giant elephant in the room (one that often needs a stout dose of tranquilizer). Seek a partner who supports you and doesn’t dismiss you. Pray. Daily. Pray for understanding from not only your significant other but for yourself. And last but not least, I cannot stress this enough, DO NOT ever sweep mental illness under the rug. That is where it goes to fester and grow into a parasite that can easily kill a marriage. Talk about where you are emotionally every day. Do it so much that it becomes habit. Being invariably aware of your thoughts and emotions each day fosters a feeling of normalcy. Over the last 9 years with my husband, communication has been the most important offering of respect we grant each other. Don’t hold things in when you’re upset. Let them out in a productive way that opens a healthy dialogue.
I feel like I’m married to both my husband and my mental illness, only the oath that the chemical imbalance has taken with my body can never be broken. The cliché “the first step is admitting you have a problem” is equal parts trite and unequivocally true. I wake up every morning next to my husband and to my inner struggle. Both are work but I have to be the one to put forth the effort. My husband convinced me that taking medicine is OKAY. It is. It doesn’t make me weird or abnormal or anything negative; if anything it gives me a chance at the abundant life I’ve so graciously been given. People may not understand it, but there is truth to the adage “better living through chemistry”.