Grow Through What You Go Through

This weekend I am celebrating my 31st birthday, which in itself is not a big deal at all.  But for me, this birthday carries a heavy weight as it marks ten years that I have been with my husband, Duece.  Duece has been with me through my most difficult life experiences—the sudden, unexpected, and much too early death of my dad; best friends moving away, leaving me feeling lonely and isolated; early years of therapy in which I was uncovering the buried skeletons of my past, dusting off the shame that was deeply ingrained in me, and unboxing my feelings of self hate; psychiatric hospitalization for intense suicidal urges, medical leaves from work, and two partial hospitalizations; my diagnoses of bipolar disorder and panic disorder; and our infertility struggle.  But there is one more incredibly difficult life experience he was there for—the crumbling and subsequent rebuilding of our marriage.

The statistics on relationship difficulties and divorce for those with mental illness are staggering, but inconsistent depending on the source.  An NIH supported multi-national study* in 2014 found that there is a 39.6% increase in divorce rate in the United States in marriages in which one individual has a mental health disorder (including mood disorders, anxiety disorders, substance use disorders, and impulse control disorders).  This is not a problem unique to the U.S., as mental health disorders were found to be associated with higher likelihood of divorce across 12 of the 14 different countries surveyed.  Duece and I were nearly part of this statistic.

About a year and a half ago, I had a profound realization—I was unhappy in my marriage.  This came as quite a shock not only to friends and family who thought our marriage was “perfect”, but to me as well.  Duece and I seemed so well suited—we never argued, we were great friends, and we supported each other.  After years of therapy and hard work, self discovery and growth were catalysts to my epiphany that I wasn’t getting what I wanted or needed in my relationship.  I was craving deep, emotional, honest conversations and connections.  I became convinced that Duece was incapable of giving this to me, giving me what I needed, needs that I finally felt I deserved to have met.  With this came a perfect storm—a storm of enlightenment regarding my own emotional needs, hypomania inclusive of increased self confidence and hypersexuality, and my own infidelity.  After many weeks of discussion, separation, and utter exhaustion, Duece and I decided to get a divorce.  In this moment, we were as close as we had been in weeks.  We laid in bed, cuddled up together, and we cried.

Luckily I have a lot of supporters in my life, namely my individual therapist, who urged me not to rush into making any final decisions.  Sure enough, as I came out of hypomania and thus out of my solely emotion-minded brain, I realized I wasn’t ready to give up.  But Duece was angry. He packed a suitcase and walked out of the front door, leaving me crying and ashamed, splayed out on the kitchen floor.  I have no idea how long I lied on the kitchen floor, crying and screaming louder than I ever had before.  I am thankful every single day that as I continued to gain more clarity, Duece’s anger dissipated and he realized he was not ready to give up either.  We went to a few sessions of marriage counseling and began discovering the disconnect.

First, we had fallen into the roles of the “sick person” and the “caregiver.”  After my hospitalization and official diagnosis of bipolar disorder, Duece stepped into the role of my caregiver—he walked on eggshells, scared to upset me or be argued with; he took care of everything around the house, all of the cleaning, cooking, yard work, everything; he stopped holding me accountable for following through with social commitments or taking care of things I said I would; and he ultimately stopped seeing me as his equal partner.  In conjunction, I hid within the role of being sick, mentally unwell—I felt incapable of doing things for myself; I was scared of being left alone for too long; and I felt so fragile that all it would take was a strong wind and I would crumble into pieces.

Secondly, once I started to come out of the depression and feel stronger again, I knew myself better than ever before.  The emotional growth I had been working tirelessly to achieve became so bright and I felt alive.  I was seeing myself, my relationships, my dreams, and my purpose in a new and beautiful light.  The problem was, I left my partner so far behind that he was not able to catch up.  While I was experiencing tremendous self-discovery and growth through therapy, Duece was stuck.  He was still my caregiver.  But I didn’t need a caregiver anymore.

When I decided to give our marriage another chance, I honestly felt like this meant I was settling for a partner who would never be able to truly meet my emotional needs, but I loved him deeply and had to give him the chance.  I have never underestimated a person so wrongly than I did my husband.  Looking back now, I don’t even know how we evolved so quickly.  This man’s emotional growth has been so awe-inspiring that I can barely make out the words I am typing as thick tears fill my eyes.  Today we are stronger than ever.  We have open and honest conversations daily—about our dreams, our spirituality, our political beliefs, and most importantly, our feelings and struggles.

I am grateful every day for the experience Duece and I have shared—it was the most tumultuous time in my life, but now I can look back and realize it was also the most meaningful time in my life.  Without the struggle, there would have been no growth.  I know this is not everyone’s story, and trust me when I tell you that I do not for one second take that for granted.  When it came to the biggest decision in my life—carry on working through my marriage or get divorced—I could not have navigated it without the support, wisdom, and guidance of my individual therapist.  And Duece and I would not have found our way down the path of discovery, allowing us to look deeper into the problems in our marriage, and ultimately uncover the way to the other side without the support of marriage counseling.

My therapist has a theory about me and Duece—that we got together at a time in which we needed the other to find balance in our lives.  I was one who experienced intense emotional range with highs, lows, and everything in between, and impulsivity controlled many of my decisions.  He was one with tremendous emotional stability, and reason guided many of his decisions.  I needed his stability and unwavering approach to life.  He needed my emotional range and fun-loving spirit.  I am convinced that this is the reason still today, ten years later, that he and I have been able to grow to incredible heights.  I will end with Duece’s beautiful words written in my birthday card this year: “With each passing day, we grow closer and closer.  Our journey together has not been one of ease and is likely to not become any less difficult soon.  For this, I am grateful.”

*Breslau, J., Miller, E., Jin, R., Sampson, N. A., Alonso, J., Andrade, L. H., Bromet, E. J., de Girolamo, G., Demyttenaere, K., Fayyad, J., Fukao, A., Gălăon, M., Gureje, O., He, Y., Hinkov, H. R., Hu, C., Kovess-Masfety, V., Matschinger, H., Medina-Mora, M. E., Ormel, J., … Kessler, R. C. (2011). A multinational study of mental disorders, marriage, and divorce. Acta psychiatrica Scandinavica, 124(6), 474–486.

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