In this strange and beautiful online world, I have had occasion to meet some truly amazing people. This writer today, one of them. She needed to let these words out of her head, and she needed a safe place to do it. She asked if I would be willing to share her story here.
With my deepest love and respect, a tale of what it's like to live with and love someone with mental illness, with physical illness, and how hard it is to keep what affects them from defining who you are.
Thank you for sharing your story, my friend. I sincerely hope that you gain some peace by setting the words free.
A Desperate State of Affairs
I once made a friend the most incredibly stupid promise. Back when I was naïve, ignorant and pompous. I truly hadn’t the experience to make such a promise, and yet, with righteous indignation in my heart (and not one CLUE in my mind) I went ahead and made it: “I’ll never locate my self-esteem in my husband.”
What. A. Dickhead.
I had absolutely no business to be making such idiotic pronouncements – at the time, I wasn’t even married, for goodness sake! I was engaged; young, stupid, in love and yet still full of that sense of self which (semi)confident single-dom can bring.
We got married, and in my blinkered state, I managed to ignore that he was stressed beyond all reason. I was irritated at him, but chalked it down to the challenges of his job and the amount of organizing required by the mere act of getting married. We were both looking forward to married life. And its benefits – one above all (and yet untried by either of us).
Through the historical strength of our individual convictions and our joint agreement to save ourselves until we had tied the knot, the limits of our temptations were tested and we waited.
The Wedding Night loomed. And in spite of all the stress and tiredness, it was good. I mean, it was nice. It was a very steep learning curve. But, ya know, the earth moved and we both had fits of the giggles and all was well. We congratulated ourselves on our first time being with each other, and reiterated how much we wanted to share the learning on this journey into a hitherto unexplored area of adulthood. We were happy.
I was dumb.
Because shortly after that, things began to go pear-shaped. Or at least, (if we’re using fruit analogies) not ‘nice, big, banana-shaped’. And gradually the realisation that having a spouse with relatively freshly diagnosed Type 1 Diabetes was a bit of a pain in the ass. It impacted HUGELY on his ability to function. Blood sugar too high? Say goodbye to sexy-fun-time. Blood sugar too low? Say hello to shaking and panic and urgent guttling of sugar while the furthest thing from anyone’s mind was their loins.
But there was more to it than even the diabetes. And as our (sadly already meager) sex life waned, illness and depression kicked in, and a long, awful slog towards an eventual diagnosis of autoimmune disorders gone mad and a broken endocrine system, leaving my poor husband with clinical depression, no energy, no spirit, and no spunk.
And because of the pressure (real? imagined?) of sex, he managed to develop a nasty little psycho sexual disorder into the bargain. When he (so, so rarely) was up for it, the chances of everything working as it should were so slim that the frustration of that expectation and the unhappiness of previous ‘failures’ would likely nix any chance of him achieving his happy place.
We began to argue more, and became distant from one another. I started to seek him less, taking matters into my own hands.
I nearly left him just before his diagnosis, and once we found out what was wrong with him, I thanked my lucky stars that I hadn’t gone off to seek a life of hedonism elsewhere, because in spite of my loneliness and wandering mind, deep down, I wanted him fixed – I wanted him back to the guy I fell for. I wanted us to grow old together.
Alas. The diagnosis held horror in store. His condition was treatable, but (because of the nature of the hormonal feedback loops, which are the mechanics of the endocrine system) the treatment would render him permanently infertile.
The doctors stayed the final medication to allow us to try for a child. I wavered, pondering the common sense of bringing a child into a world where his father was so unstable he’d already tried to kill himself twice (as I found out, one chilling day when I accompanied him to a doctor’s appointment to lend moral support). And yet…the idea of not having a child at all trumped everything, and we got busy (now cursing all former ideas of ‘having some time just to ourselves’ and anyone who’d ever told us ‘don’t start a family straight away’).
I found out that I was pregnant. And lost the baby mere weeks in. I was devastated. And he didn’t understand at all. To him it was a loss of potential. To me it was our dear child, whom we had longed for. I was so angry at him, and so hurt. And he so didn’t care, because the depression had taken root deep in his soul.
Eventually I got over my panic that sex might lead to another loss, and we tried again. With the same stumbling, awkward, pressurized, sometimes-ending-in-failure-and-tears methods we’d been used to. And four months later I was pregnant again. And then I wasn’t. Again.
We danced another dance of devastation and depression and wedges driven between us. And all the time, the deadline of that enforced infertility was moving ever-closer. When all of a sudden it hit us amidships, ahead of schedule, when a sperm count found one. solitary. sperm. No medication required. Just brokenness.
We both fell apart, but individually, and turned on each other instead of being able to offer comfort. I couldn’t tell him how upset I was because his guilt at making me upset would overwhelm him, and then my sorrow was transformed into a perceived attack on him and I lived in constant fear that he would try to kill himself again. He immersed himself in computer games, inappropriate amounts of sleep, and endless toy soldiers. No babies were getting tried for, and I could barely stand the sight of him.
The feeling was apparently almost mutual, because on the rare occasion I did feel that insistent yearning for some intimacy and the chance to ride the crest of our union into oblivious bliss, he was disinclined to participate. I vividly remember buying some new, vaguely sexy underwear and showing him, desperately hopeful that his interest would be piqued, but he murmured something vaguely placatory, then got all excited showing me his latest painted man-dolly; not caring – not able to care - that I was missing him or craving his
touch or falling rapidly out of love with him. The depression ruined all of it. We’d not been together for so long I wondered if my virginity was growing back.
And the rejection began to sink in, tapping into deep hurts from childhood, where my self-esteem and my physical appearance were consistently, wilfully, maliciously undermined by my father, who suffered the same brand of mental illness as had my husband in its grasp. The internal voices began rearing their vicious heads again “You’re so ugly. So fat. So disgusting. Even your husband doesn’t want you. No-one could ever desire you. No-one could possibly find you attractive – you’re repulsive, just give up. Don’t even try; there’s no point. Just LOOK at yourself in the mirror? Why would anyone ever fancy you? You’re vile.”
On and on and on they played, driving me near to the brink of succumbing to the depression myself! I admitted some responsibility and started trying to get healthier, slimmer, stronger (and hopefully, more attractive – at the same time feeling terrible about how vain and shallow I was being). Alas, even my shrinking figure was not enough to tempt him. It wasn’t about my size – it was about me. I was a terrible, unattractive, crap wife, and even when I made an effort, I couldn’t get him in the mood.
When you get married, you truly do hope that the one person who will always (or at least most of the time) find you desirable is the one who’s promised to love you forever. And when that person consistently would rather be dead, than alive and married to you, no matter what stupid-ass promises you made so flippantly all those years ago, your self-esteem will be BURIED. My sense of self-worth, already low, plummeted.
I gave up trying to get him in the mood. I focused on getting fitter for myself. So that I felt happy with the way I looked. Whenever one of my friends congratulated me on my success, or paid me a compliment, I brushed it off, but stored the words in my heart, beginning to think that perhaps I’d cracked it – maybe I was finally becoming the person I wanted to be – an attractive one. And slowly, the impetus of those friendly compliments increased, and my self-confidence began to grow.
But alas, the success was double-edged, and my slimmer, fitter self was still not enough to get him interested. It did get someone else interested though, which was in equal measures flattering and unsettling; because it was a friend who was very dear to me, and when she wrote me a letter simultaneously coming out to me and declaring that she had ‘far more than just a crush’ on me, my world got very confusing.
The guy I wanted had only indifference for me, and the girl I never sought, had anything but. And I was caught in the middle, pleased to have been found attractive (if by the wrong person) and wondering what on earth to do.
I shut them both out, unable to cope, and went seeking my validation in (marginally) less harmless ways, becoming an incorrigible flirt; enjoying the thrill of suggestion without promise and the return of the same. Meanwhile I was still awash with grief at my losses, the impending membership of the ‘Can’t Have Kids’ club, the lack of any kind of movement on the ‘Trying To Have Kids’ status and at the train wreck of my marriage, and I continued trying to get fitter (more beautiful? nah.), allowing myself to run in the dark, alone, deep in my tortured thoughts.
Because there was no way I could justify an affair. Even if I wanted one; craved one; was desperate to be desired and found womanly and attractive. And there was no way I could allow my desire for a baby, coupled with my need to be found desirable, to ruin the marriage I’d vowed to stay faithful to. But what if *something* happened to me, one night, in a dark corner of the city, which wasn’t my fault…which lifted all responsibility from me…which left me pregnant…what then?
Such shame. Such anger, that those kinds of thoughts were even entering my brain and at the same time, the idea of a completely guilt-free dalliance was alluring. I kept running alone, knowing all the while that the reality of that situation would be vastly removed from my sanitized fantasies. Fortunately, it never happened.
I went back to flirting with other people, instead. And things still weren’t fixed between my husband and I. But gradually, slowly, they began to improve. He finally got some much-needed help and the depression lifted ever-so slightly. I was 50lb lighter, far more pleasing to the eye (even to my own) and much fitter. But there was still the matter of sex, which is meant to bring such joy and unity in marriage, and which was so missing from ours. He was offered psycho sexual counselling to help overcome all the hooked-in negatives which accompanied the act for him. But he declined, unilaterally deciding that if he was beginning to be less depressed, he wouldn’t need it.
Except that I think he does.
And our baby deadline is February.
And I just don’t think it’s going to happen. And guess what, folks, there’s a whole vicious cycle right there – because if I’m stressed, I’m less likely to conceive. I’m also less likely to be ‘in the mood’. And as it frequently still takes a great deal of input on my part to get the mood going, guess what’s not happening…
We are truly (un)fucked.
And in spite of things (and one rather important one) being largely ‘on the up’, to quote a rather good movie – “It will all be alright in the end, and if it is not alright, then it is not yet the end.” - I know it’s not yet the end…because it’s really not all alright.
And I’m not sure I can see how it’s going to be.
But at least I look good.
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