Thursday, March 01, 2012

No More Mr. Nice Guy

Living with Mental Illness

The bathroom was dark when I woke up this morning, and I knew it was going to be a bad day. There are no windows in the upstairs hall or bathroom. We keep the bathroom light on 24/7. It serves as a beacon to the stairway and the landing. It functions as a nightlight for the entire upper floor of the apartment. We can all sleep in utter darkness, safe in the knowledge that as soon as we open our bedroom doors, there will be a guiding light to lead us to the bathroom. When I awoke today, the hallway and bathroom were in darkness.

My husband urinates in the bathroom sink. It doesn’t bother me; if I could pee standing up, I would probably do it too. Seems practical to me. The principle is the same: elimination in a porcelain bowl that is washed away with swirling water. But when he falls into the bowels of depression, he can’t bear to look at his own face in the bathroom mirror. He turns off the light so he doesn’t have to – literally – face himself.

I decided to go back to bed for awhile because I figured I needed the extra rest to fortify myself for what I would surely endure later. Eventually, I woke up again and went downstairs. We keep a whiteboard on the front door where we leave messages for one another. When there’s no new message, we just leave the old one there and it remains, sometimes for weeks. Our messages always revolve around our love for each other. The message that had been showing was “I love you, G” in my husband’s handwriting with “For forever” followed by a drawing of a young girl – the last two added by my daughter. The message board had looked like this for several weeks now. This morning, it had been erased. It was blank. The board has never been blank since we bought it several years ago.

So my husband took away his love message, and took away my daughter’s as well. This was symbolically his way of un-loving me, of punishing me, of hurting me. When he’s depressed, I experience a constant barrage of these little slights, these emotional slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, these expressions of his pain and anger. For example, I suffer from near-constant back spasms and it is painful for me to bend forward. Consequently, I have repeatedly asked that no one set anything down in my customary place on the couch. I have also explained – numerous times – that the meaning I make when I go to sit down and my place is blocked is that I am unwelcome. Silly, but it is how I feel. I am meticulous in making sure my husband’s seat is always open. It’s a twist on the idea of setting a place for Elijah.

My seat on the couch was, of course, covered with a blanket, an empty bag of potato chips, and a book this morning. His side was bare.

Last night, he came in after dark. I had made a conscious decision not to turn on the porch light. This will sound petty, and I agree that it is, indeed, a small thing. But so is a head louse and if you’ve ever had one, you know its impact is nothing if not huge. He says, “The porch light was off” or something profound like that, meaning “I noticed you didn’t turn on the porch light.” I looked up from my laptop and replied, “I didn’t turn it on tonight. I have always made a point to turn the light on for you and our daughter, but I’ve noticed that nobody ever turns it on for me. So tonight, I didn’t either.” Obviously sensing something was wrong, he apologized for not turning on the porch light in the past. He immediately associated what I said with himself. Of course, there is a “himself” component to the issue, but there are four I’s and one me in my statement about the porch light, and only one you. I also realize that we filter everything through our own consciousness and weigh things against ourselves. But not everything is about ourselves. Especially in a marital relationship.

When I express sadness, my husband immediately makes the meaning that he has failed me. Then he wallows in HIS sadness and failure, ignoring me. It then becomes incumbent upon me to comfort HIM. His “ME” is so big that he can’t see anyone else. His “ME” hurts so much that he can’t feel anyone else’s . . . anything. He constantly views the world through funhouse-mirror glasses.

See, if it had been me, I would have wondered what made my spouse decide that NOW is the time to stop turning on the porch light. I would have wondered what changed their way of thinking and acting. What suddenly changed a decades-old behavior pattern? What’s wrong with this picture?

There is a difference to the dynamic today, however. See, I decided last night that I have grown tired of forgiving and tired of understanding, tired of the tyrannical petty abuses and insults followed by tearful apologies, texts, IMs and mid-night confessional sessions that never resolve anything. I am tired of the acting out childishly, the horrendous treatment that no one else would ever stand for, that he could not “get away with” in any other situation. In short, Grace is gone. She collapsed last night in a barrage of passive-aggressive bullets. No one knows if she will survive or not. Time will tell. For now, there’s a new kid in town and I don’t know her name.

On a lighter note, it's been sixty days since I last smoked. So far, so good.

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