Through my husband's eyes...
How love helped me accept my mental illness.
Imagine being completely submerged in a pool of blissful love. For the first time in your life you actually know what love is. When you compare this feeling, with the relationships of the past you realize that the others only paved way for her. There is something special about her. You can’t find the words to adequately convey this - feeling? That word seems too shallow for this…
The utterance of the word is irrelevant to the power within it. I love her. It is Agape. I cannot explain it except that my heart was formed by God with her in mind. She is mine.
Why? Why, then, does she say those things to me? Why does she betray me as if my love means nothing to her? Only to come back time and time again full of sorrow and shame begging me to forgive.
She will confess her love. Vow to change. And once again, pour her love back into me and I cannot resist.
In the beginning, before my enlightenment, before the years of sadness without her, I hated that I loved her. I believed that her many betrayals were intentional. So, I threw her away.
I needed stability. I wanted the family that I had fantasized about growing up and this crazy beautiful woman did not fit that role.
But she did fit, still does, and always will fit.
I met my husband when I was 21. My boyfriend, at the time, took me to Dean’s (my now husband) house for dinner. He was not like any other man I had ever met. He was charming and sweet. He grilled steak while we drank wine. I felt an instant attraction to him. I found any excuse (or made them up) to see him. Life went on and we went our separate ways.
Two years later.
Our paths cross once more. Only this time I am single and so is he. We dove, head-first into this deep well of love and passion. I wish that I could say something along the lines of:
“And they lived happily ever after.”
Only that is definitely not the case for me and Dean. Our journey together has been sort-of like what I imagine sailing around the world is like. Beautiful sometimes. Ethereal other times. Tumultuous a lot of the time. And very lonely most of the time. It’s hard to maintain friendships when you’re crazy.
I have Bipolar Disorder. Neither of us knew anything. about mental illness back then. We partied and sometimes went a little too far. Ok- I almost always went too far. I had no boundaries and no ability to exercise self-control.
I was diagnosed with when I was 12. My mom took me to this doctor that wanted me to explain ink on paper. I thought that he was a joke and that his diagnosis was crap.
Sure, I was a little wild. I liked to party. I liked drugs and had good reason to. Of course, no one else believed that, but they didn’t know the truth and I wasn’t about to tell them. My secrets were holding me hostage and the only relief for me was drugs.
I was molested by my grandfather from my earliest memory. If you met me when I was 6 you would think I was the happiest kid on the planet. I was. I was loved and didn’t know that I was being abused. I got to go to the beach almost any time I wanted. I got new dresses all the time and got to show them off at the country club. Life was good.
Until it wasn’t. I was 8 when my life-long companion moved in. Shame is his name. I tried to do to my dad what my grandfather taught me, only he didn’t like it. He told me I was sick. He told me I was bad. I knew then that I could never tell my secrets to anyone. That was the end of my innocence.
Fast forward through years of addiction, rehabs, mania, depression, and all of the consequences that a life of shame brings.
We stop at Dean. Strong. Sane. Compassionate. Loving. Steadfast.
I have had very few people come into my life and actually want to stay. Well, there are three. My mother. My husband. My daughter. Others have tried, but, if my mental illness doesn’t push them away, I walk away. Dean won’t allow either.
The clinical jargon for my illness is - Rapid Cycling Bipolar Disorder Type 1. Rapid cycle means that I have four or more episodes a year. Each episode lasts a minimum of 7 days. This is what happens:
I am level and I feel great. This is normal Jessica. I can think clearly and make decisions effectively. I have a schedule and keep most of my appointments. I can socialize “normally”, and most would say that I am a cool person to be around. My relationship with my family is strong and I show love and receive love…. for about 3-4 months out of the year.
At some point I become, what I like to call, edgy. I am not angry at any one thing, but everything starts getting on my nerves. Whereas, before, I saw life through a lens of love, I now see only negative. I start complaining about everything. I hear myself and know that it is happening, but I can’t control it. It is so much stronger than my balanced self.
Usually at this point I will look for something to make me feel better, to make me happy again. But the drugs trigger mania.
Mania is characterized by a "sustained period of abnormally elevated or irritable mood, intense energy, racing thoughts, and other extreme and exaggerated behaviors". People can also experience psychosis which causes hallucinations and delusions.
I love the beginning of a manic episode. I feel invincible. All of my usual insecurity is gone. I am smart, witty, and productive. This is hypomania (pre-mania) and it is to mania what a tropical storm is to a hurricane. A hurricane is an adequate comparison. I have no control over my behavior at this point. I am a different person. I am cruel and have been violent in the past. I will spend every penny I have or can access. It’s not that I don’t care about the consequences, I cannot process them. That part of my brain doesn’t get the message that this is going to end badly.
This is when people close to me usually leave. For me, a manic episode can last a week or for months.
Inevitably it will pass, and depression will creep in like the plague. I hate depression. In this state I have no energy. I am empty. I have very few thoughts to process except suicidal ones. I have attempted suicide many times in my life. When this wave passes, however, I cannot fathom why I would want to die. Thankfully depression never lasts as long as mania.
The bipolar brain does not function like everyone else.
Damaged brain cells in the hippocampus contribute to mood disorders. The hippocampus is the part of the brain associated with memory. It is not uncommon for a child that has suffered prolonged trauma to develop issues in this region of the brain.
MRI studies have shown a thinning of gray matter in the brains of patients with bipolar disorder when compared with healthy controls. The greatest deficits were found in parts of the brain that control inhibition and motivation - the frontal and temporal regions.
In my brain scan, it looks like I have a hole in this region. The result is very little impulse control and poor decision making. It also makes it very difficult for me to complete tasks, maintain a job, and be committed to anything.
Back to Dean. I have never in my life experienced the type of love that Dean gives me. He knows everything I have done. He knows all of my secrets. He has been hurt by me more than I care to recall. Yet even in his hurt, he sees my soul. He has this ability to love me out of depression and love me through mania.
Several years ago, he stumbled across a PBS special about the brain. He shared it with me, and this was the beginning of our healing journey. The greatest gift he has given me through this is my diagnosis and helping me to accept it. My whole life has been nothing but a series of screw-ups and let-downs. I have sought out extreme measures to try to be “normal”, even pretending to believe something I don’t and be something I am not. I have tried to mold myself into the perfect person (and could for a time maintain it) only to “spin out” again leaving nothing but pain in my wake.
He rides these waves with me. In doing so, I find myself catching the big ones less and enjoying the lull more. He has given me home - not just the structure - the place where I belong. The place where my crazy is beautiful. I don’t think that I will ever be totally balanced or “normal”, but Dean has helped me realize that I really don’t want to be those things. Instead, I want to embrace my crazy while putting safeguards in place to protect us (from me). We talk about my triggers and warning signs and then make a plan for the next time.
Because he doesn’t expect the next time never to come, just that when it does, we are ready.