Down the Bipolar Rabbit Hole

Anyone who is still reading – thanks for hanging in! I told you this would be emotional vomit!!!!

M agreed to do anything I asked, so he slept in the guest room, and we went together to see our doctor the next day. M explained the blood pressure issue, and then moved on to the emotional one, including a brief overview of the email situation. Our therapist, with whom our doctor has a close professional relationship, had already spoken to him, explaining the symptoms that she had seen and her clinical evaluation. He rejected it. He is firmly convinced that M’s behavior can be completely explained by guilt and shame, as well as the stress he is under knowing that I have not forgiven him. He prescribed blood pressure medicine and a half a dose of a very mild anti-depressant. I trust him completely because he has managed to keep C in one piece for so many years, so I was actually relieved. If I have to choose between a cheating husband who has been lying for two years and someone I love having to deal with bipolar disorder, I would choose cheating every time. A cheating husband can be kicked to the curb, and everyone can move on in a healthy direction. Bipolar disorder can be a lifetime struggle for the one who has it, as well as for those who love him (or her). I asked carefully about possible side effects, and the doctor said M shouldn’t have any because the dose was so low, but at most he might feel mildly drowsy so he should take it before bed.

So, we got the prescriptions filled, went home, he took his meds, and we went to sleep. I woke up at 3:30 AM, realized that Mwas not in bed, and got up to investigate. He was in the kitchen with all the lights on, wildly scrubbing a pot. He had been up since 1:30, and had scrubbed the kitchen from top to bottom. He was irritated, agitated, talking too fast,  unable to sit still, and insistent that he was unable to keep a coherent thought in his head. I used every method I had ever used in teaching, parenting, or as a wife, and was finally able to calm him down enough that we could both go to work, but he refused to call the doctor because “we” had insisted that he needed to take medicine. I called the nurse as soon as the office opened (who knows me by voice – remember 8 years with the medical disaster child), who agreed that something was not right, and then called me again as soon as the doctor arrived in the office. New instructions: no medicine that night, and then a half a dose the next morning. He slept without a problem, had trouble concentrating at work after the half dose, but was not agitated…and then was up at 1:30 in the morning again. By Saturday, after four days, he was more and more agitated, felt less and less able to think coherently, I agreed that he could just stop taking the medicine and contact the doctor on Monday, which he did.

This was our Spring Break, so he agreed to spend time and try to sort out the whys and whats and chaos of the emails. I pushed hard for answers – the Socratic method has always been a part of my teaching repertoire, but I’ve always used more of the gentle nurturing version. This was much more of the Paper Chase law school version. He stuck with it, tried to answer honestly, and when we went for counseling, we both felt like we were moving closer to a final resolution, and looked forward to the rest of our vacation. There was only one problem – I had managed to forget that I loved him and was not actually the prosecuting attorney, and that I had an emotional investment in the content of his answers. So, unfortunately, while he was feeling more relaxed because he had been able to answer questions without a major meltdown, I actually had a chance to stop and think about some of the things he had said.

During a moment of connection and passion, one of the most hurtful statements came flooding back. He was looking down at me with his eyes full of enough love that I actually felt adored, when I realized that he had looked at me the same way the night he came back from spending the weekend with her. During the marathon question and answer session, one of the questions I asked was why he had sex with me and claimed a reconnection that he has insisted from the beginning had allowed him to hold on to our marriage when the emails directly contradicted it, and he said that he was trying to stay out of trouble and that I would know something was wrong if we had not. Somehow, I had managed to gloss right over that statement, but it came flooding back. I tried to let it go, but I was tied in a knot, so I just tried to explain what I was feeling and ask him to explain – was he really that good an actor? Did it mean that his expressions of love now were lies? If so, why was he still here? His response – he didn’t remember the details of that night. No, I’m not kidding – he said he didn’t remember. I went from devastated to furious in about 30 seconds, pointed out that at least I was lucky enough to have reached my late 40s before someone had sex with me and didn’t remember it, and insisted that he move out immediately…and then the phone rang.

The satellite repair man, scheduled for the next day, was arriving within the hour…and I simply couldn’t face dealing with a repairman, so I fled instead. I planned to buy a comfortable but frumpy nightie, a book or two, and rent a couple of movies, and then go home after the repairman and the soon to be ex were gone. That plan didn’t work. I didn’t want a frumpy nightie, I have several books I haven’t read, and my satellite was soon to be working again, so I didn’t need movies….

So I bought a car instead.

My Escape – no pun intended

The Emails

By the next morning, I had regained my sense of balance and perspective, but was so drained (and puffy, swollen, and exhausted) that I decided to stay home. M went in to work to open up and make sure everything was in order, and then planned to come back home so that we  could work through any lingering issues. He was gone for about two hours, and returned with gifts – a donut and a flash drive. He then explained that he had lied when he told me that he had deleted all of the emails with the other woman, that he had archived a copy and that they were on the flash drive, and that he felt that part of what was causing our inability to heal was his inability to face what was in the emails. He then started a long rambling explanation that did not appear to be going anywhere but in circles I had already traveled. I finally just demanded the USB and started reading.

I thought I was prepared – I have read Morgan’s blog, as well as details from a variety of other blogs, books, articles, etc. As it turns out, no matter how much work I had done, I would never have been prepared for what was in HIS emails. I was expecting hurtful details of a sexual love affair. Parts of our relationship had been long distance, and I had received some fairly steamy letters and cards, I know him fairly well, and was braced for something along those lines only more so since this was an affair, and I knew that there had been a fair amount of phone sex, which had never occurred between us. In a hundred and fifty single-spaced pages of emails, with multiple emails a day, there was a couple of mentions of hugging and kissing, but that was all. Instead, there was page after page describing the perfect love they had beginning in 1971 and stretching through the ages, that no relationship had ever lived up to the feelings they had shared.

OK – I have to tell you that at this point, I was all over the place. The logical part of my brain attempted to go into full scale shut-down mode because THEY WERE NOT, I REPEAT NOT, LONG LOST LOVERS, so the delusion involved in those exchanges just made me feel exhausted. We had worked through that issue over and over again. M would appear to recognize, in the face of incontrovertible evidence, that he barely knew her before the affair, and then in a few months we would be right back where we started. He clung to the idea that he had always loved her, that she was his first love, because otherwise how could he have had an affair.

The wife/lover part of me was devastated beyond belief AGAIN because their first contact in 35 years was a post she made on his Facebook late at night on Wednesday, October 7th and by Saturday, October 10th, they were in a full-blown online affair, already having switched to email and phone calls and making plans to meet. Meanwhile, the next weekend – the weekend he spent with her – we had plans to spend a romantic weekend in Austin after both of us finished off professional obligations – a weekend that he had convinced me was a good idea, had completely planned, and seemed to be looking forward to, while he was planning to meet and have sex with her, perhaps the next weekend. When I had to cancel our plans, he seized the opportunity to spend the weekend with her instead.

As I’ve said before, he came home devastated, hysterical, and incoherent. After he calmed down, he explained that his conference had been filled with ups and downs, and he had realized how much devastation and emotional pain that he was feeling because I no longer loved him or wanted him. I was baffled because I didn’t feel that way at all, but I felt his pain and reached out, we reconnected, shared feelings, laughed, made love and fell asleep in one another’s arms. What I didn’t realize was, before he approached me, he had sent her a very long email addressed to “My Sweet Bride”, expressing his devastation at leaving her, that he didn’t know how he would live without her, but that they must end it then because he couldn’t bear to break his daughter’s heart so he was committing to his marriage. He also thanked her for leading him back to Jesus and praying over him. Yes, she had sex with another woman’s husband, a man she had not seen in 35 years, and then PRAYED over him. I am really unfamiliar with any religious faith that finds this to be acceptable behavior, and it is certainly unacceptable for evangelical Protestant denominations. After sending the email, he closed his Facebook account and turned to me, making me believe that he really had missed the closeness we had always had, but that had been missing for the last six months.

The next morning, he was already up when I got up, and he was definitely unnerved again without being able to explain why – unnerved enough that he stayed home sick. The emails showed me the reason. He couldn’t sleep and got up at 4:00 AM, read her response to his breakup email, followed by the absolute pitched fit she threw when she realized that his Facebook was gone. She then sent an email that she sent him about taking a nap the afternoon after he left her apartment and turning in bed, expecting him to be there where he belonged, wanting to know why he hadn’t called her, why she was never to have someone to love – and then recommended two books about the blessings of Jesus.  He responded with a four page “I can’t live without you” email. He told her he had reached out to me, and I had half heartedly agreed to work on our relationship, but that I had refused all overtures for attention, love or affection, and that he was doomed to live the rest of his life without a deep love just for him, someone to love him for himself – that he felt so cold and lonely from my rejection and the loss of her that he wanted to die, that he had never been able to talk to anyone the way he had been able to talk to her. So…I was working up to a full scale case of hysterics, but I kept reading.

The problem was much worse that a cheating husband and a devastated wife. The man who wrote those emails, especially the ones written in October, is someone I do not know. Of course, the M I thought I knew would never have had an affair. This was a different problem altogether. This man was involved in a “spiritual” and “deeply religious” extramarital affair (yes, I see the irony…somehow they didn’t!). The man in those emails was someone who had not just waded into the shallows of fundamentalist Christianity, but had fallen into the deep end of some sort of extremist belief that I had never even experienced before – and believe me, as a military brat, traveler, and teacher of World History and US Literature in rural Texas, I’ve heard just about every version of faith – devout and informed, bigoted and ignorant, fervent and hypocritical. The M I have known for 32 years is spiritual in a broad sense, but when he graduated from high school, he rejected the rigidity of the church he was raised in – and it is one of the most liberal Protestant denominations in the US. Many of the emails read like ravings more than love letters, and then they would be interspersed with daily updates that were less informative and less affectionate than those I exchange with friends, and those were interspersed with long historical rambles – about the history of her town, the history of our town, archaeology information, along with all types of helpful resources so that she could start an archaeology club and include more in her social studies classes – including lesson plans that I HAD WRITTEN. Yes, he sent his mistress my work. My head was spinning so fast that I am surprised that it didn’t fly off of my head!

I was beyond knowing what to do – he had bailed as soon as I opened the first email – and had provided no context for the mess I was about to fall into, so I just kept reading, and reading, and reading….and getting more and more freaked out. I called my therapist’s office when I was about half way through and explained what had happened to her admin (bless the admins of the world – constantly bombarded with TMI and called on for solutions that someone else has to provide). She called me back with an after hours appointment. M and I talked a little after I finished the emails, but he was incoherent and all I could ask was why he had continued to lie all of this time – over and over – sometimes about inconsequential things. He had no answer.

My therapist spent an hour and a half, was very supportive, put me back together, but she was also very firm. She had recommended months before that M needed to be evaluated by a psychiatrist, or failing that, at least begin the process with his regular doctor, and he had refused. In addition, although he had started to monitor his blood pressure after his physical, and it regularly ranged between 160/100 to 180/110, he had refused to make an appointment to see the doctor because “he was supposed to wait three months.” She insisted that M needed medical help as soon as possible, that it was time to look at both blood pressure and other medication.

So, on to Plan B.

Despair

So – from “please move out” through a week of counseling, and a belief that we had turned a corner, to the book incident, followed by C’s surgery, followed by individual counseling for each of us at the end of the next week – three weeks. It was a horrendous three weeks is some ways, but I thought we were both reaching clarification about some of the lingering issues.  One of the break through realizations for me was that our ups and downs had been more frequent and more severe since January, and I really thought that it was because of me – that because I had reached a breaking point last fall and asked for a divorce or at least a separation, I was now having trouble recommitting to the permanence of our relationship. The last several incidents, however, were so close together that I was able to see a pattern I had not recognized before – the blowups were not originating with me. Instead, whenever we were feeling especially close or if we had a disagreement, M’s reaction was completely over the top. We really talked about it and then discussed it individually with our therapist. Any discussion about the affair, any really positive interactions between us, or any hint of unhappiness were still putting M in a state of absolute panic – with the full fight or flight response. Since he had been dealing with those feelings of panic and guilt by avoidance for most of the last two years, and he had made a serious commitment in December to STOP avoiding, he was left with the fight response and so here we were.

The problem, of course, is that he is still in full fight or flight mode after more than 2 1/3 years. Why???? He seemed relieved to recognize the problem, had no answer about why, but we committed to working through it and discussed wearing our wedding rings again, especially since our 30th wedding anniversary was coming up at the end of the month. We had a week – just a week – of basically positive, forward progress, and then on the first Sunday morning in March, we started a followup discussion about …I don’t even know what, I really don’t, but it went downhill quickly. We both made a conscious effort to pull back and smooth it over, watched a movie, and went on with our day – which in my case meant doing my statistics homework. We were fine, everything was fine, and then in the middle of the afternoon, in the middle of Statistics, I realized that half of my brain was trying to find a way to convince my daughter that she would be fine without me – I actually was trying out dialogue in my head to find the right words to make the unthinkable seem reasonable. Somehow, the part of my brain not being used by my homework had come to the conclusion that I really couldn’t stand it anymore – emotional ups and downs without rhyme or reason, a failure to address or even recognize medical issues, a lack of progress at recapturing and moving forward with our lives. Love, anger, desire, grief, hope, fear, admiration, intimacy, sympathy, panic, joy, avoidance, sadness, amusement, shame, generosity, shock, delight – all rolling through in no discernible order. When I recognized the level of despair I felt, and when I realized what that despair was leading me to consider, I fell apart and cried off and on for several hours. M did his best to comfort me, including promising me that the roller coaster ride was over when I tried to explain what was wrong, but I really could not see a way to change anything. Recognizing how I felt scared me, but also relieved pressure that I must have been suppressing.

Nothing Is Ever “Uncomplicated” with My Child

Six weeks ago my daughter called at 10:00 p.m. in the middle of our latest round of turmoil to tell me she was having intense stomach pain and didn’t know what to do. Responsible 22 year old to scared 5 year old in less than an hour. Since she currently lives three and a half hours away, I talked her through her options, convinced her to take pain meds and go to bed with a heating pad, and then call her doctor in the morning.

Her OB/GYN squeezed her in the next morning, did an exam followed by a sonogram. As usual, when she is involved, nothing is ever straightforward, and the sonogram showed that her left ovary was twice the size of her right and the area around her ovary was “cloudy”. She had an MRI, and then went back to the doctor. She had cysts and a “nodule” on her left ovary, as well as cloudy areas – either fluid in her abdomen from a cyst that had burst or endometriosis. End result – exploratory laparoscopy scheduled for March 9 – the Friday before spring break. We arranged to be off (remember, this is the girl we almost lost when she had a tonsillectomy and hemorrhaged – not once or twice but three times last summer), and then got another phone call. Her doctor had talked to the radiologist, clarified some issues, and moved the surgery to Friday, February 24th, which meant that the surgery was the next week – thank goodness, since she had Googled “nodule and ovary” and was freaking out about cancer, endometriosis, loss of fertility at 22, or maybe death. Still, as the saying goes, “she put on her big girl panties” and only missed work for doctors’ appointments and tests, and arranged to take off only the day of her surgery, with her return to work dependent on the results of the surgery.

M and I put our differences away, presented a unified and loving front, and arrived at her house the evening before the surgery. Even with the pain she was in, she had worked to clean and arrange the house she shares with her boyfriend. While she really has grown up a lot in the last year, she was definitely glad that we were there and was very “huggy” and “leany”  – since she was a little girl, she has needed physical contact if she is sick or scared – and she was both. The boyfriend was doing his best, but he was also scared, so he seemed glad we were there too. The next morning was fairly smooth because her surgery wasn’t until  11:30, so we didn’t have to leave the house until 9:00. She handled everything like a pro – checked herself in and went off to be prepped by herself, and then we spent half an hour with her before they came to get her. Once she was prepped for surgery, we were called back, and when the anesthesiologist was came to talk to her, she explained clearly about her anesthesia issue, and we were assured that they would come and get me if she had a problem. The anesthesiologist also promised to call us himself if the surgery took more than 1 1/2 hours.

In less than 45 minutes we looked up and her doctor was standing there, telling us that the surgery had gone really well, that she saw no sign of endometriosis, but she had removed several cysts from her left ovary and as well as two large cysts from the left fallopian tube. Apparently, the scar tissue caused by a rupture can weigh the tube down and pull it out of place, affecting fertility. So – no endometriosis, no tumor, no emergencies in surgery!!!! Less than an hour later, a nurse showed up to get me. I had talked to the boyfriend and told him that I was ceding my place to him, but the nurse insisted that she wanted me. I checked on her, she was fully awake and calm – and just wanted to know what the doctor had told us. After spending a few moments with her, I turned her over to her love and in less than an hour she was ready to go home – YAY!!

Meanwhile, M and I had a squabble in the waiting room because he went out to the car and got headphones and then plugged into funny videos on his iPad – and proceeded to laugh like a hyena in a surgical waiting area – a large area completely filled with people. I was nervous and edgy and even though I knew that he was trying to cope with his own stress level, I almost came unstuck. In fact, after hinting several times, I was insistent that he consider the inappropriateness of laughing loudly and constantly in a place that people are stressed and worried and  STOP it. It turns out that FOX News was making him nuts – after the first 15 minutes I had stopped wishing that it was CNN or off and had just tuned it out. I understand that the noise was on his last nerve, but that is not an excuse to make others tense.

After we took C back to her house, things started to go further downhill. I tried deferring to the boy, but he made it plain that he had no intention of “catering” to C. In fact, he didn’t seem interested in her at all, and although he stayed in the living room, he seemed to be avoiding physical contact with her, didn’t check to see if she was OK or needed anything, and avoided talking to her by burying himself in work, although he could split his focus enough to watch TV. By the end of the night, I was uncomfortable and more than a little freaked out. We had decided to  leave Saturday morning if her surgery was without incident, and she did not need to stay in the hospital overnight. By Friday night, M and I both were questioning whether D would actually step up and take care of her, or if we needed to stay until at least Sunday afternoon or if perhaps one of us needed to stay longer.

By Saturday morning, C was also questioning whether or not she was going to have any help or not from D, since he disappeared back into their room right after they got up,  where he cleaned, vacuumed and rearranged the room, and then started on his office – without checking on whether she needed anything or not. This is the first time he has cleaned since, they moved in, so it wasn’t like he was just following the Saturday morning routine. C needed food and there really wasn’t any, and D didn’t indicate he had a plan for breakfast, so M searched online and went and picked up a variety of breakfast edibles, but by about 9:30 I was so angry that I was falling apart and had a good cry in the shower.

C, meanwhile, had clarified with D why he was pulling the disappearing act, and he seemed shocked that she thought he wasn’t going to take care of her – he was cleaning so the room would be more comfortable for her. He also had hurt feelings because she had asked for me instead of him when she came out from under the anesthesia. It turns out that she did not ask for me, the nurse just came and got me because I was the one who was supposed to be in the recovery room if she had trouble with the anesthesia during or at the end of her surgery. He was also scared to death because she had three holes in her – one of which had started bleeding again.

We took a deep breath and left her in his hands, and she stayed home and went back to work on Tuesday. On Thursday, she was back in her doctor’s office because she was in a lot of pain and was having trouble coping without pain meds, but couldn’t work if she took them. Her understanding was that if she DID NOT have endometriosis, she should have been fine to go back to work on Monday, and relatively pain free by the end of the week – and she was neither. It turned out that the surgical findings and procedure had not been as uncomplicated as we thought. When her doctor talked about the surgery, she had mentioned a bowel issue had probably been contributing to C’s pre-surgical pain. She has IBS, and we assumed that was the “bowel problem”. Nope – turns out the surgeon discovered that a sizable section of Em’s bowel on the left side was connected to the abdominal wall by adhesions which had to be removed because strain on them could cause a bowel rupture and possible peritonitis, followed by a lengthy hospital stay or possible death. In order to remove the adhesions, as well as the removal of the tubal cysts, her insides were moved around and that was what was causing the pain. Once she knew what was wrong, she has been able to handle her pain level and stay at work, although even now, almost six weeks later, she is still easily exhausted.

To sum up, C had surgery for one problem that she actually didn’t need, but while her surgeon was poking around, she discovered two other problems which could have had much more serious consequences if left untreated. Her boyfriend of two years freaks out about her propensity for medical disaster, and reacts like she is being a hypochondriac OR that it is too serious for him to handle and he wants to run away. When she was little we thought she would eventually grow out of these periodic medical incidents, but as she worked her way through high school and college, we have just accepted that they are a part of who she is – a part of her physical makeup. She has been tested and examined and taken medicine and vitamins and homeopathic remedies. She knows what she has to eat, and how much sleep she needs, and can usually tell when something is wrong. We have just accepted that she will have continual health issues, that she is learning to manage them well, and that she will ask for help if she needs it. J and I have worried, however, about two things connected to her health. 1) Will she be able to hold a steady job? and 2) Will the man she loves be able to handle colds that turn into pneumonia, rashes that might be lupus, menstrual craps that turn out to be cysts requiring surgery, childhood diseases that lead to appendicitis, etc…. The answer to the 1st question appears to be yes. She has been at her job for 7 months, while dealing with three respiratory infections, a torn ligament in her shoulder, and this last surgery without taking more sick leave or vacation than she is allowed, and her boss and coworkers feel like she is doing a good job. The answer to the 2nd question appears to be uncertain.  I’m starting to feel less joyful that I’m gaining a son and more like I  might turn into a mother-in-law  like Endora from Bewitched – if a wedding ever happens, which does not appear to be the case.

And the Story Goes On – Valentine’s Day

My State of Mind

As I said earlier, I didn’t just stop posting in January, I stopped writing altogether. I would open a page and then just be unable to face actually organizing my thoughts enough to put them into words. I was just unable to face the confusion and renewed hurt. I have actually missed more work in the last two months over this mess than at anytime in the last two and a half years. I’m just tired. My therapist was insistent at my appointment last week that I start writing again, and I decided that if I was going to write, I might as well share it with a community that has some similar experiences. Please forgive the verbal vomit. If anyone has any insight, please jump in and pass it on to me.

After the disaster that was Sunday and Monday morning, I went to work at 8:00 and worked until 9:00 p.m., since it was my turn at the Ask-A-Librarian desk. I was busy all day with work and with statistics homework, which I didn’t finish until almost midnight, so J and I had no time to talk. I have discovered that a real downside for me in concentrating on statistics is that it must use a part of my brain that I usually ignore, because while I am concentrating on the math, the rest of my brain is in overdrive without my even being aware of it. By the time I finished my coursework, emailed it off to my professor, and took a few moments to relax before I went to bed, I realized that I wanted out. I wanted out of the confusion, I wanted out of the turmoil, I wanted out of not knowing what was going to happen next. I didn’t want a divorce, I wanted off the roller coaster – at least for long enough to catch my breath.

Elephant in the Room

Or An 800 lb Gorilla If You Prefer

 

 

 

 

 

So far, I haven’t mentioned the elephant or 800 lb gorilla (or whatever your preferred metaphor is) in the room. Several months ago, our therapist talked to both of us about J having bipolar disorder. He did a little reading and rejected it immediately – quibbling about symptoms, avoiding discussions, and mostly rejecting the diagnosis because he rejected possible treatments. Since he agreed to lifestyle changes and committed to continuing therapy, I let it go and our therapist agreed to help him work on issues around the gorilla – negative thoughts, handling stress, dealing with issues openly. The lying related to the STD testing indicated that none of that was working.

Valentine's Flowers - The Work Version

The next morning, with coffee, I asked J for a separation – not permanently, but just to be able to catch my breath and recenter and for him to be able to figure out what he really wanted and to find a clear spot within himself where we could really work on our marriage. Guess what I forgot….it was Valentine’s Day. And because the big romantic gesture has never been his strong suit, J had decided to go all out…and instead I asked him to move out. VERY BAD TIMING!

I didn’t hear from him during the day, left work early and went home, still heard nothing about his plans for a place to stay, or whether he had picked up clothes and the other things he would need, but just decided that I really had no right to expect that, so I had pizza for dinner, watched a little TV, and felt fairly calm. And then I realized around 8:30 that I had not heard from my daughter, which was a little weird, because she usually calls on her way home from work. I searched for the phone and found it hidden in a chair with a dead battery, and discovered that my cell phone was dead too – so I plugged in everything so I would be reconnected with the outside world…and then J arrived home with a vase of Valentine’s flowers and candy. He had arranged for them to be delivered to my work, and when I didn’t call to say thank you, he had called the florist, they freaked out and delivered them to him, and he brought them to me. He had made no plans about where to stay, had not eaten, and so we agreed he could stay in the spare room until we figured out our next step.When I got to work the next morning, I found an identical vase of flowers waiting for me there.

Fast forward – counseling for us, counseling for him, counseling for us again on the next Saturday, reconnection, an agreement to put all thought of a separation on hold, positive discussions and progress, and voilà, he came up with a copy of his STD test results – which occurred on the same day that I went to see the doctor about the very bad infection. At that point, his production of the STD results muddied the water rather than clarifying it, since I could not understand why he had not just produced them sooner and saved a lot of drama and pain. I let it go because we seemed to be moving in a positive direction. That only lasted until Sunday  then on Sunday afternoon I asked him to find the marriage counseling books he had purchased and that we had read and discussed WHILE HE WAS IN THE MIDDLE OF THE AFFAIR ON THE RECOMMENDATION OF HIS AFFAIR PARTNER. I honestly was not trying to start a fight, I have been trying to put together a bibliography of the books, articles, blogs, etc. that I have found most useful during this disaster, and while I find the idea that his mistress recommended books intended to help him heal his marriage at the same time that they were exchanging passionate emails and having phone sex to be beyond ironic (and incredibly nauseating), the books themselves were by reputable therapists and full of good advice that we had actually used, and so they needed to be on the list. Plus, he had hidden them after he confessed, and although I had asked him for them before, he had always stalled and evaded. As a part of his pledge to be open and honest, retrieving the books seemed like a fairly non-threatening way to begin. I did not expect what happened. He freaked out and it started to look like a replay of the Sunday before – yelling, hurtful words, accusations….It seemed like there must be something in the books that he didn’t want me to see…had she actually sent them? Did they have some sort of inscription? Before I reacted and the whole thing blew up, I was able to catch myself, stay calm enough to call a halt and redirect the discussion – to express curiosity at the reaction rather than anger or pain. It turns out that even thinking about the books created panic in him, and touching them brought back a flood of angst that he really couldn’t deal with. He retrieved the books he had collected during the affair, and I discovered that there were more than I had seen – five on marriage and several on religion and the Bible.

At his request, I removed them from the house and then didn’t know what to do with them. While I am usually not superstitious, the irony behind their purchase and use, and the amount of negative energy and angst connected to them, made me doubtful about just passing them on, but I also do not believe in destroying books, especially books that some one in similar circumstances might find useful. Two friends from work came up with a solution. One of them smudged them with sage smoke and the other sprinkled them with holy water that her priest had used to bless her new house. While I do not belong to either tradition that uses these rituals, just the support of my friends, and their laughter at my dilemma, did make me feel better – and free to pass the material on to my therapist who has a lending library of resources.

So, not such a disaster, but definitely an issue that we planned to follow up in counseling. Why the panic associated with the affair? It was over two and a half years ago – why is he having so much more difficulty with it than I am?

And then there was Emily….

Medical Issues Again

One of the problems that almost killed our marriage is the way my husband deals (or rather doesn’t deal) with health issues. Prior to the affair, his inability to deal with my breast cancer, his father’s declining health, and the constant health disaster that are just a part of my daughter’s existence, seems to be a large part of what pushed him over the edge into that place where an affair seemed like a reasonable move.

During our reconciliation after he told me about the emotional affair, he showed signs of physical problems – back pain, lack of stamina, as well as some other issues, and as a part of our reconciliation, he promised to take charge of his own health and to learn to handle illness in others in a more assertive, knowledgeable fashion. He finally went to our doctor in  January of 2010 because the back and hip pain was bothering him so much. His doctor addressed the immediate concerns with a couple of prescriptions and arranged for him to go back in a month for a full physical and blood work. He never went back.

As I have written before, six months passed before he told me that he had not only met this woman, but actually had sex with her. I asked if he had used a condom, and surprisingly, he told me the truth – No. Next question, had he been tested? He said yes and that everything came back negative. Yay – except that he was so evasive and wishy washy that it provided no real reassurance. He couldn’t remember exactly when and where he had it done and had of course destroyed all the results. I am reasonably smart, although the last two years provides little evidence of it, and I paid a visit to my own doctor. I took and deep breath, attempted to put aside my humiliation and pain, and shared what I knew of the sordid story with him. He was very sympathetic and calming, since he had just been through a really unpleasant divorce of his own. He had been in practice with his ex-wife, and I had seen her months before for a really unpleasant “feminine” infection. She had taken blood and swabs, asked questions about new sexual partners, which made me laugh since I’ve only had one ever, and then came back with an Rx for antibiotics and a recommendation to be careful about bubble baths or staying in my swimsuit too long, noting that she was checking one or two other things. As it turns out, she had a much more suspicious mind than I did and had run a pretty complete STD panel. I forgot all about the additional testing when the infection cleared up, and was surprised when the nurse called to tell me everything was normal. At this second visit, after looking carefully at my test results, my doctor said that all of the test results were normal except for an indication of a previous Hepatitis A infection (aha, that explains so much about the middle of my 2005 Fulbright in Egypt). He followed up with a few additional tests, and they were also negative. I heaved a huge sigh of relief and moved on to more pressing matters.

Fast forward to last fall (2011) when J applied for supplemental life and disability insurance. Later, he was contacted by the insurance company and asked to submit lab work and vitals from his last doctor visits over the course of the last few years – all of which he had assured me were normal. He obligingly collected them and faxed them off, and then brought the copies home. Anyone can read a lab report and infer what the results mean, but I actually knew – I put him through his undergraduate degree working in a doctor’s office (as well as tutoring and teaching as an adjunct in the History Department at the local university). His blood pressure was alarmingly high at every visit, his blood sugar was consistently over the safe level, and his cholesterol levels were all out of balance. I was really upset for a couple of reasons. First, he had been lying about his health – even it was by omission or by hearing only what he wanted to hear. More upsetting was that he had continually promised that he would address both his reaction to illness in others and to take better care of himself. He was really working to handle illness in others with a little more calmness, but he was NOT following up by addressing health issues of his own.

After reading his labs, I was more and more insistent that he GO TO THE DOCTOR for blood work and a plan. I just felt like we had put so much work into recovering that I didn’t want to lose him to a heart attack or stroke right as we seemed to be regaining our balance and happiness. I also needed to have annual blood work done, as well as a few other issues checked, and so we scheduled exams, followed through on blood work, and mine all came back normal – blood sugar, cholesterol, blood pressure. I did have an odd spot on my face, and arranged to go back for a biopsy. M, knowing that I had a lot of doubts about his STD testing, discussed my concerns with our doctor, who did both a full annual screening, as well as a full STD panel. He did not seem at all worried about the results, and planned to wait until he went back a month or so later to find out the results. I had to go in for a biopsy of a spot on my face, and while I was there, I picked up a copy of his results. Most of his lab results showed improvement, but still indicated a need for concern and changes in diet and exercise. They also showed evidence of a previous HSV 1 genital infection. I didn’t even look at the results until I got home, spent an hour searching online, and then started to freak out, especially after I remembered that my doctor’s partner had not told me about the Hepatitis A result because it was a “previous” infection.

My daughter was born at Vanderbilt Medical Center while I was in grad school there, and I participated in a clinical rotation. I attended nutritional training, Lamaze classes, answered questions for residents, had ultrasounds and heart monitoring, and was TESTED FOR EVERYTHING. Before C was born, I knew she had none of the genetic illnesses that can be found by testing, I knew that I did not have gestational diabetes, I knew clinically, rather than from memory, that I had immunities to all of the childhood illnesses that can cause complications during pregnancy, and I was negative for all STDs – even for exposure. So, when I went back to have the stitches from my biopsy removed, I asked for a copy of my own test results. Those results I read as soon as I got in the car – all completely negative. My relief was HUGE, and I immediately called to let M know. My therapist had spoken to me several times about Ms guilt about putting my health and even life at risk, and I wanted to relieve that guilt as soon as possible. He just blew me off, as if he couldn’t imagine why I was bothering him with this information.

I tried to let it go, but he was a little distant and my feelings were hurt, so after thinking about it all day while I waited to help students at the Ask-A-Librarian desk on Saturday, I tried to talk to him about it on Sunday morning. What I had hoped would be a calm discussion turned into a fight with him screaming that he had been tested when he first came home from the sexual encounter and that everything had been normal, and that I should trust him. I told him that there was no way that I could believe him, that our therapist didn’t believe in the mythical test results either, and that it didn’t matter now, since my results were negative.  He really lost it then, and he ended up screaming that I needed serious help, that I should have been able to let it go. He attempted to give details, including that he had talked to our doctor immediately before he went to another town for testing, that he just couldn’t remember exactly when it was. My point was that if he insisted that he had testing done, he should be able to peg it to a general time period since it was not like he had done it that often in his life. He had always insisted that he had been tested before he broke off the affair completely, but after the sexual encounter. He just couldn’t prove it because he had deleted the results and had paid cash, so there was no check or credit charge. Very bad day, followed by a very bad night.

By the next morning, I realized that he had insisted over and over again that the testing was expensive – more than $300.00. I don’t know about your budget, but $300.00 cannot go missing from ours easily, so I should be able to see a cash withdrawal from our checking account which would indicate a date. He also insisted that he had talked to our doctor first, before he decided to go to an anonymous testing center, so I should be able to find an EOB for that visit. He became more and more frantic as I pointed out these facts, and started to waffle. I went a little nuts at that point and had our receipt box dumped upside down on our bed, flinging receipts around looking for any and all bank statements and EOBs from the relevant period. He started waffling more – he wasn’t sure how much it cost, that the visit to our doctor was not true, that the testing might have been later than he originally said. I suddenly realized that flinging papers around was silly if everything he had told me was untrue, so I just went to work and put one step in front of another during an incredibly busy day.

For the most part, I have always been an open book – if I am unhappy, surprised, confused, in pain, my face tells the story. Because I genuinely don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, I learned early to avoid saying what I am thinking (Are you really that much of a dumb ass), but my face usually gave it away. Now, I’ve learned to hide it all. I go to work, teach classes, conduct interviews and tours, mentor interns, help students one on one, smile, chat, joke, participate in meetings. My eyes may be a little puffy or strained, but I have migraines, so even the people who know me best just assume I have a headache.

I miss the old, honest me.

The 44 Day Affair – How Many Versions Can There Be?

A Heart Gets Broken

I haven’t been able to write anything since New Year’s because I just couldn’t wrap my hands around what was happening. I look back on my last post, and I expressed so much hope and determination to heal….but here I am again, devastated and confused.

S0, what happened? I really meant what I wrote on New Year’s Eve.

And yet, since January, we have had round after round of fighting, making up,   sudden bursts of truth, and emergency counseling. Yes, believe it or not, after two and a half years, new truths are still boiling up and erupting all over my life.

For this entire time, I have really believed that I was the cause of the ups and downs – that because I really do have an obsession with the truth, that because I really need for life to make sense, and it didn’t because of the contradictions rattling around in my head, I rearranged and reorganized the facts, trying desperately to make the facts fit a pattern that was recognizable, that made sense – that I was pushing for details to fill in the pattern, and so the repeated blowups were my fault.

I really meant it when I wrote that I intended to let it go. I discussed and worked through “worse case scenarios” with my therapist – working to accept that I might never know the entire truth in a coherent pattern and looking at the possible interpretations of the facts that have never made sense, make sure I could live with them, and then let the whole thing go. My therapist was amazing at helping me with this exercise.

So – hurtful items I accepted as probably true, but without confirmation:

1) He was never tested for STDs – never thought about it or couldn’t handle thinking about it, and then when I asked he lied because it made it apparent how little he had cared for me, my health, or my sanity in that period. Two years later, if I was willing to let go of the fact that he had still not told the COMPLETE truth, that didn’t really matter. I had been tested, and was completely STD free, so we had dodged that bullet.

2) The confessed second visit “to break up in person” when they “didn’t have sex” was a second romantic, sexual rendezvous and that they may have had other sexual hookups – he was out of town at least one other weekend during the affair period, and was gone for 12 to 16 hours several other times…all with legitimate excuses, but that first weekend he also had a legitimate excuse. Frankly, after two years, this possibility was also not as painful as it would have been earlier. I had already faced that he had broken our wedding vows and had an entire weekend of sex with another woman.

3) I had to face the strong possibility that he had really been in love with her during the affair, which meant that like many other cheating spouses, that period of ups and downs during the six months after the affair ended, when I didn’t know it had been anymore than an inappropriate online friendship, was caused by his grief at losing her. This idea was the sticking point for me – the idea that he had really loved someone else during our marriage. I did, however, have outside confirmation that he had broken off the affair abruptly and not broken down and contacted her again, because in her desperation to remain in contact she had even reached out to me. He also was working hard to prove that he loved me and wanted our marriage to succeed and even grow stronger.

4) I also had to face the simple fact that the man I have loved for thirty two years actually forgot who I am – even before the affair. He seems delighted to have rediscovered me, but it still hurt so much and made me wonder who he thought I was. I worked hard to let that go as well – to just be glad that he had woken up and recognized the real me again.

My therapist also helped me recognize a few areas that helped make recovery easier:

1) His affair partner was in her 50s, not in her 20s. Her public persona is more glamorous and polished than mine, and she is thinner than I am, but when the clothes came off , guess what – she had all of the marks that 50 years of life, two pregnancies, two c-sections, weight gain, weight loss, and unhappiness leave behind – and that can’t be covered by hair color, opaque contacts, and a complex makeup and grooming routine…and suddenly I am not the one who came up short in the naked department. I am not constantly haunted by comparisons between us and what he really wants – I seem to be more frumpy in clothes than out of them???

2) Due to her age and medical history, there is no possibility of a child from the affair.

3) He does not work with her, so I do not have that as a trigger. She does not live in our town, so I won’t run into her at the grocery store or the mall regularly – or at my child’s school or extracurricular events. The only time I have to deal with her is when she attempts to insert herself into our lives again – and the last time that happened was in January and it was very mild.

In January, I was in a very hopeful place. Our 30th wedding anniversary was three months away, and I really thought we would be in a solid enough place to really celebrate it with a renewed commitment to our marriage. So, how did it fall apart enough that I insisted that he needed to move out two weeks ago, followed by several emergency therapy appointments, he had an emergency medical appointment and ended up on an anti-depressant, and we are STILL trying to regain our balance?

Unresolved health issues reared their ugly heads again and one thing led to another….