When I started writing this blog in 2009, I did it at the advice of the therapist that I was seeing for depression. I had never suffered from depression, but I recognized after about a month that spending hours planting virtual fruit and decorating a virtual farm was probably not a healthy use of my time. Once I overcame my family training to never write down anything emotional, and started to write and sort, I realized that I had apparently missed some important information regarding my marriage. I was trying to find my way in a rapidly deteriorating work situation,to help my daughter make the transition to independent adulthood, to deal with my father-in-law’s failing health and its impact on my husband, to adjust to my husband’s insanely busy work schedule and somewhat hostile and/or erratic behavior, to cope with my diagnosis with and treatment for breast cancer followed by a series of other illnesses, and to face and make a decision about my inability to handle the demands of full-time doctoral work at the same time. Initially, I didn’t believe that the depression was in any way related to my marriage – I thought it was a result of all of the other complications in my life.
I worked hard to sort and address the various issues in my life, with one exception – my family. My therapist had me fill out a very detailed questionnaire before my first appointment, so she was aware that my dad has been treated for bipolar disorder since the early ’80s, that my paternal grandmother and younger sister both show every evidence of the same disorder, but have adamantly refused treatment, and that my mother has narcolepsy. My family is loving and supportive, but extremely erratic and sometimes has a fairly loose grasp on reality. Dysfunctional choices were made by many of the adults in my family throughout my childhood, and I have worked hard since my preteen years to face reality, to live truthfully, and to construct a life with a stable foundation. I have a good relationship with my parents, a cordial relationship with my sister and a reasonably close relationship with the rest of my extended family, but examining the emotional mess of my childhood seemed like an emotional can of worms that I did NOT need to open.
And then, in October 2009, on the SAME DAY as my first counseling appointment, a high school girlfriend made contact with my husband on Facebook. The next month was one of the most emotionally disastrous of my marriage, and my husband finally confessed that he had become too close to her online and felt he had crossed enough of a line that it had scared him and caused him to reinvest in our relationship. If you have read any of this blog, you know that it is mostly my attempt to sort through my feelings and his actions in an attempt to salvage our marriage – which he has always insisted that he wanted as desperately as I did. Like many others with similar blogs, it is a story of one step forward and two steps back, three steps forward and two steps back – so much work, but never solid lasting progress. Promises made, but with no follow through. More details dribbled out, including the facts that it had been a physical affair, that there had been two visits not one, etc., followed by attempts at counseling, which always failed. When I started to deal with the anger about the affair that surfaced in the spring, I very deliberately and determinedly refused to address any of the issues from my childhood that it raised.
Then in June of this year, I finally realized that we were making no progress at all – we were just hurting one another. I tried to call a halt to the whole process. In a genuine attempt to fix the situation, my husband started going to marriage counseling with me – for the third time. This time was different in that he stayed with it and started seeing my counselor individually. Even with alternating appointments, our progress continued to be erratic. We had days of harmony and connection, followed by days of avoidance, followed by days of peace and joy. He would work on relationship issues briefly and then wander away again. The truth still seemed to be an issue. Innocent questions would set off a chain of disaster that we both had difficulty bouncing back from. Finally in September, I told him that I wanted out – that I didn’t know what his perspective was, but that I couldn’t stay in a relationship with someone who wasn’t committed to it. He was baffled and completely opposed to even a separation, and I agreed to wait and talk to the counselor before making any serious decision. He saw her several days later in the morning, and then I went in the afternoon – to be told that he very clearly meets the criteria for a diagnosis of bipolar disorder and went on to suggest that we start with our family doctor and obtain a referral to an appropriate psychiatrist. His behavior during the initial weekend of the affair fits a classic description of a manic episode followed by an episode of serious depression. The behavior she has seen in him in the last 1 1/2 years meets many of the criteria for hypomania.
So, it appears that my adamant refusal to unpack and sort my childhood emotional trunk was a challenge that the universe was unable to resist. I am now facing many of those things that I have distanced myself from in my family of origin – one of the most difficult aspects of bipolar disorder is that the person, especially if undiagnosed and untreated, is NOT in control of his or her behavior during a manic episode, but the damage to bystanders (and to the individual) is still just as devastating. We are now also facing a series of decisions that I have already watched play out in a variety of mostly disastrous ways in my family. Is the diagnosis accurate, is medication necessary especially considering the potential for side effects, will lifestyle changes that are necessary be accepted, is counseling necessary and for how long. The list goes on.
Even with the difficulty of processing this information for the last few weeks, I will say that the world makes more sense than it has in several years. Wish me luck – in some ways, I feel like I am back at square one!