Match This (take 2……)

Note to readers:  I originally published this post last month, but I felt it bears repeating as yet another friend has suggested I start dating……  So here it is, again:

I’ve been separated from my husband for nearly one year. Some of my friends have been encouraging me to look into dating. Meet someone nice, they tell me. Go on a date, they tell me. Let someone treat you to dinner or a movie, they tell me.

True, I’m desperately lonely. But I’ve sworn to myself that I will never date. The thought is appalling to me. Besides – how would someone like me find anyone to go out with? How on earth would I meet anyone?

A dating website, I am told.

Seriously? And what would my ad look like? Here is my attempt at my online dating profile:

“Tall, blonde, bipolar mother of three in her early 40’s seeking the companionship of a man who enjoys long walks through the halls of the ECT department, unexpected violent outbursts and lengthy bouts of depression. She has a terrible memory as a result of electricity-induced seizures. She hates loud, repetitive noises and traffic. She loves speaking rapidly and interrupting often. He should know that the applicant’s first marriage ended indirectly as a result of her disorder, and must be willing to tolerate what could be indiscretions of various kinds should the applicant lapse into mania. He should also know that she is still hopelessly in love with her husband.”

Yep, I’m a real catch.

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Goodbye, Sandi

Three weeks ago, I was notified that a friend of mine had overdosed on a combination of pain killers and antidepressants.  I was told that she was on life-support at the hospital and was brain-dead and not expected to make it.

I have to admit that I was, for a moment, envious.  How many times have I wished that for myself?  Simply to end the misery that is my life?  I want desperately to believe in heaven and I think what better things might await me there.  I could see my brother and sister and father again, there would be cotton candy and Junior Mints in excess, I wouldn’t gain weight and I could listen to any music I want.  And no house cleaning!  It just seems like such an easy solution, doesn’t it?

When I go to ECT, there is a multiple choice test I have to take to get something called a “Beck Score”.  The score helps determine my mental “well-being”, which in turn helps determine how often I have to be voluntarily electrocuted.  I always sort of smile when I answer these questions:  do I feel less attractive?  do I have more or less energy than usual?  do I feel productive?  do I get along with others?  But one of the final questions on the test is in regards to suicide.  I have to choose the option that best suits my mood at that particular time:

a)  I think about committing suicide all the time.

b)  I think about suicide all the time, but would never carry it out.

c)  I rarely think about committing suicide.

d)  I would never consider suicide.

Sadly, I find myself hovering pretty close to option “b” on most days.  Yes, I think about suicide all the time.  All.  The.  Time.  But because I am a coward and also because I have a conscience, I could never actually carry it out.  What if I didn’t do it right?  What if I didn’t complete the act and the “life” I was left with was even more horrible than it is now?  And then I think about my precious children.  I look at my three kids and wonder who would do my daughter’s hair for prom, who would iron my son’s shirts and teach him stripes and plaids don’t mix, who would drive them to piano lessons and gymnastics?  Who would tell them how to respond to the class bully, or how to make the family traditional holiday cookies?  But most of all, who would love them like I do?

It’s not that I think my kids would miss me that much.  We are in that difficult part of our relationships during which, as my husband and I have been separated for a year, my children have found the “preferred parent”.  Their dad is simply cooler.  He’s more playful and agreeing.  He is the coddler, I’m the enforcer.  And there are definitely times when I feel like they could do without me.  Like when my daughter asks, “When is it Daddy’s night to be with us?”, a question I answer every night of the week.  I don’t believe that my kids would be devastated to be without me.  At least, not right now.

But I think they would miss me later.  I want to believe that they would miss me later.  I need to believe that they would miss me later.

Sandi has left behind three children, pretty close in age to mine.  Did she have them in her thoughts just before she opened that last prescription bottle?  Did she consider the pros and cons of having children grow up without a mother?  Was her esteem so low that she really believed they’d be better off without her?  Or was her pain just so deep that she couldn’t bear another moment on this earth?  Did she consider the consequences and decide that this was her only option?  Did she hurt so badly that she simply couldn’t go another day?

I used to think that suicide was a coward’s way out.   That it was for selfish people.  Who doesn’t think about what’s being left behind when a suicide is committed?  Who doesn’t wonder, “who will find my body?  will it be my 7-year old son?  do I leave a note, or keep them guessing?”  Do the people who go through with it really put that much thought into it to begin with?  Or is it a spontaneous response to a really bad day?  Is it one of those things where they don’t really want to carry it out all the way through, but the attention of an “attempt” would be a good way to test whether your loved ones really are feeling the love?  Is it a call for help?  Do people attempt suicide hoping that the act is never actually fully carried out?  Or are they really out to do themselves in?  And since suicide is considered a sin, do suicide victims get to go to heaven?  Is it really better on “the other side”?  Are there really unlimited supplies of Junior Mints?  Will we really see our previously lost loved ones again?

Or, do people who commit suicide end up in hell?   And if they do, is hell worse than their lives here on earth?  Or might life here be so awful that hell looks pretty good?

Sadly, we can’t exactly ask a suicide victim.

I want to believe that Sandi accidentally took all of that medication.  That she was hoping the pills would temporarily fix what was hurting.  That she could sleep through the day and wake up the next feeling refreshed.  I don’t want to believe that “the next day” was not in her plans.

For now, her children are being told that their mom died of respiratory failure.  But if I know the truth, then dozens out there also likely know the truth.  And eventually, her children will know, as well.

Wherever you are, Sandi, I hope you’re happier there than you were here.  I miss you.  I know your children miss you.  And I look forward to seeing you again in the future.  Just hopefully not in the near future, if I can help it.

I’m FINE. Really

I just heard the best acronym for “FINE”.  My therapist asked me this afternoon how I was doing, and I replied in a monotone voice that “I’m fine”.  It’s my standard response.  It covers a fairly broad spectrum of emotion for me and the person to whom I’m replying typically doesn’t sense the sarcasm that accompanies that particular response.

So, I told her “I’m fine”, and she asked if I was familiar with the acronym.  Nope, I just knew my own definition of the word, which usually didn’t match up with the dictionary version.

F.I.N.E.    Fucked-up  Insecure  Neurotic  Empty

Yep, that about covers it.  I love it.

Maya Angelou on Doing it Better

I just finished reading Glennon Doyle Melton’s book, “Carry On, Warrior”. It’s loaded with great quotes, but my favorite I found near the end.

As written by Maya Angelou:

“I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better”.

I LOVE that! And now I also know better. Thank you, Ms. Angelou. And thanks, Glennon, for putting it in a place where I would see it.

The Crossword

The other day I was going through some papers in my nightstand drawer, and I found a small glossy blue and white folded paper that I’d come across many times in the last few years and done nothing with. I recognized the paper as a folded crossword given to me by my dad several years ago. I had been saving it. For what, I didn’t know.

I live in the Rocky Mountains and my father lived in California. Being his only daughter and the mother to his only grandchildren, he visited often. And my dad only flew here on United Airlines. I used to joke with him that I don’t think he chose that airline because of the prices or his growing Mileage Plus account. It wasn’t for the (at the time) free cocktails or the Priority Seating that he got for being 6’4″ tall. I swear he flew United and no other airline strictly because of the crossword puzzles.

From an early age, I could remember my father doing the NY Times Crossword Puzzle on a daily basis. He always did it in pen. He used either a fine-point Sharpie or a felt-tip pen of another brand, never ever a ball-point pen. And when he started the crossword he might use one color, but if he put it down and had to return to finish it at a later time, he always used a different color ink. In addition, he always used all capital letters to fill in his answers. Everything was always done the same way: the way he folded the paper, where he sat when he worked on the puzzle (outside on the patio in good weather, at the kitchen table in bad), the colors of the ink and the capital letters. I thought it was tradition, or perhaps even superstition. I know now it probably had to do with his bipolar disease. It goes hand-in-hand with OCD and he likely worried that if he changed anything around, the outcome would be different. And his outcome was always the same: that man never failed to complete a NY Times crossword puzzle, even the harder Friday versions. It might take him several days, and several colors of Sharpie, but he always finished. That crossword puzzle was his peace. His quiet retreat. His “time-out”.

When my father would fly to see me, he would reach into the seatback pocket of his airplane seat and find the United Airlines magazine with an “undone” puzzle. And he would very, very carefully remove the puzzle page from the magazine. Then he would fold it in half, then in half again, and again and again until the clean, unsolved page measured about 2″x 3″. Then he would put it in his dress shirt pocket (where he kept his Sharpie) and remove the United Airlines magazine from the seatback pocket of his yet unseated neighbor, hoping for another blank puzzle. If he found one, he would not remove that one from the magazine. That magazine he would keep for himself and that puzzle he would start before the plane lifted off, and he would usually finish it before the flight attendant came around with that first free cocktail.

When my dad arrived at my home, he typically had gifts for my three children. Stuffed animals or handknit sweaters from my mom, or other fun trinkets. And there was always a gift for me: a small, glossy, folded white magazine page with blue squares and tiny blue typing. My United crossword. He brought one every time. And I would wait until my children were in bed before sitting at the kitchen table, trying to solve my puzzle, my simple gift from my dad.

My father died in my home during one such visit. Cardiac arrest. They claim he died in his sleep, but I saw him as he left this world, and his eyes were open. And he was scared. And I could not save him. And as my mom and I were going through his clothing the following day, I found my crossword. Shiny and small, folded with perfect right angles and even corners. I put it in my nightstand drawer and never opened it. Since my dad’s death 6 years ago last week, I never once opened that puzzle. I never unfolded its perfect page. I never looked at the theme. But in the corner, without having to open it, I could see the date. And it is dated for the month of his death. April 2007.

Well, here it is now, April 2013. My life, in many ways, is worse. Since that time, I have been given a name for what troubled me for so many years: bipolar disorder. I have learned that my daughter suffers from the same illness. My children are growing and no longer need me as they used to, my husband has left me, friends have abandoned me, my only brother no longer speaks to me, and of course, my father is dead. And there is nothing I can do to fix any of it.

My life is a bit of a puzzle itself, but with no “answer key” at the back of the magazine. My dad didn’t remove that page, only the crossword. The answers I will have to come up with on my own. I can use as many colors of ink as I want, and I can fold it back up and put it away in my drawer if I can’t bring myself to solve it all at once. Or if I simply don’t have the answers. It will never be as neat as when my father first tore it from the magazine. It has been bent and crumpled around the corners, and the ink has faded near the folds. But it’s still my puzzle. And I’m pretty sure I can do it. I might have to ask for help, because I don’t know all the answers. But I can complete it. I may have to put it down and return to it later, with a different color Sharpie, but I will finish it eventually. I may not finish it the way I originally planned, but it will get done and my answers will be correct.

And in honor of Earth Day, I think I’ll start with green.

(un)Happy Anniversary

As I am approaching the one-year anniversary of the day my husband told me he no longer loved me and wanted a separation, I have been getting a lot of advice from many sources on how to stay positive, how to get through this difficult time, knowing that anniversaries of the sad variety tend to be triggers for me. One friend suggested I write a letter to my husband, telling him how I’ve changed for the better and begging him for another chance at our marriage. I decided I would write a letter, not necessarily begging him to return, but sharing with him all of the realizations I’ve come to during the last 365 incredibly painful days. However, this letter will never be seen by my husband. I’m choosing not to share it with him because he has heard most of this before. Perhaps never in one place, but over the last 12 months he has heard bits and pieces of my story and quite frankly, I think seeing it all in one place would be incredibly annoying to him, as he is sick to death of my crying and begging and repeating my woes and apologies to him over and over. Maybe I am really writing this letter for myself, hoping to start Friday with a fresh outlook and a new lease on my lonely single life.

So here it goes:

“To my dear husband,

It goes without saying that I miss our life together. I am miserable without you, and even more so knowing that you are NOT miserable without me. If I could go back in time and change what I have done to you, I would give anything for that opportunity. But I do not have in my possession a time machine. I cannot undo any of my past. I could tell you for the 9 millionth time how sorry I am, how much remorse I have, how much I want my life back, but it would have no effect on you. You are done. I get it.

You will never see this letter. Instead, I’m sharing it with dozens of strangers who I can pretend are you. Typing this letter to the unknown masses is not going to do me any good other than to unburden myself from the sadness that has weighed me down for one year. But I can pretend.

Here’s what you do know: I was horrible to you in so many ways. I was unpredictable and difficult. I was unkind and unfaithful. I was selfish and and self-absorbed. I was sick and miserable. My life turned upside down when I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I desperately didn’t want it to be true, and instead of punishing myself with the truth, I punished everyone around me. I took out my anger on my family and you tolerated and tolerated and tolerated until you simply couldn’t tolerate any more. You were not unbreakable, as I once believed. If something continues to bend and bend, eventually even the strongest branch will break. And although you promised to love me forever, your conscience and your morals simply couldn’t allow your love for me to continue. You didn’t give up on me, I realize that. You did what was best for yourself and what you believe to be best for your children. Our homelife was a mess and you deserved better.

Here’s what you don’t know: During that time, I never once stopped loving you. I loved every ounce of you because you were my forever mate. Nobody else would have put up with me, I thought. Nobody else would have stuck around, I believed. We were meant to be together. You were the only one who would ever take care of me. And I truly didn’t believe that it was “me” doing these things to you. It was a force I was not in control of. My manic self, that hateful and horrible woman who reared her ugly head during difficult times and couldn’t be subdued. I want to blame everything on her. But I realized she’s part of me. Not a part I want or like, but I part I have had to learn to deal with. But even that ugly part of me loved you, too.

And the thing I’ve never shared with you? In order for me to fully get well, I probably needed you to leave me. Not just because I deserved it, but because my bad behavior probably would have continued if it were not for the big fat slap in the face that our separation provided me.

In the first few months after you left me, I could hardly get out of bed. I couldn’t eat and I couldn’t sleep. I found it hard to be around my children. I begged you, in letters, on the phone, on my knees, to please take me back. I will change. I promise to change. I promise to get help. But you stuck to your guns and refused me. You told me I had ruined our family, which is true. You told me I had been selfish and untrustworthy, which is also true. You refused therapy. You told me it wouldn’t do any good because all the other times you’d dragged me to counseling I had lied to the therapist. Again, all true. You made a clean break. So clean, in fact, I wondered if you had ever loved me at all and were merely tolerating me because I am the mother of your three precious children. I understand now that you had to do it that way. You had to deal with your own anger and your own anguish over how I had treated you. You had no choice.

But during those first few months, I vowed to change. I promised myself I could become the woman you wanted in your life, the same woman you married with a heart full of love. I started to take my therapy seriously and concentrated fully on my recovery. But I was doing it for you, not for me. Why? Because I honestly and naively thought I could win you over. I thought for certain that if you saw how hard I was working that you would take me back, tell me it had all been a mistake. That you were just testing me. I was sure that we could be a family again.

But I was wrong.

It took about six months to realize that you are never coming back. Not just because you have assured me you will never marry again because marriage was awful to you, but because when I look in your eyes (when you can bear to look into mine), I see nothing. No compassion, no caring, no love. I see anger and hatred and the inability to forget what I did to your life. And though I have made huge strides in my own recovery, and although I know you recognize my efforts and their results, I knew six months ago that you would never ask me back. That we would never be a traditional family again. You have told me time and time again, “There’s nothing wrong with being divorced. 50% of couples end up divorced”. I want to respond that there’s nothing wrong with being married, either. That 50% of couples stay married. But you don’t want to hear that. Your experience with marriage was horrible. And I don’t blame you for leaving.

My biggest heartbreak, besides knowing I will never be with you again and knowing our children will never have us as an “intact” family again, is knowing that when you made your clean break 12 months ago, you stopped loving me. I can look into your eyes and see that no love exists there. You neither love me nor miss me, and for that I am so sorry. Because I caused that. I wanted to show you that I have enough love for the both of us, and maybe eventually it would wear off on you and one day you might actually love me back. I wanted to offer myself to you for all of the wrong reasons. I had a whole list: If we were together again, there would only be one mortgage. That means that we would have the money to do things that are important to our family. Our son wants bass guitar lessons and wants to learn a martial art, but we cannot afford it. Our oldest daughter is going to college in three years and that will be financially tough. And our baby girl needs to go to therapy every week to stay happy and mentally well. But we can’t afford those things. We promised the children a dream trip to Australia, and now I know that will never happen. All because of what I’ve done. It is all my fault. I also thought I would convince you to take me back based on your needs: I can cook and clean and do the laundry and care for the house and drive kids to their activities, which will free up your time so that when you come home after a stressful day at work, to OUR home, you could spend your time playing with the kids and enjoying the short time we have them together as a family, instead of having to make them dinner and do their laundry and help them with homework before bed. I could take on all the responsibilities I never did while we were married. You did everything, and I never realized it until you left me.

But I have realized that I don’t want you to want me simply because I’m an able cook or laundress. I don’t want you to take me back to save money. I don’t want to live with you so I can be the chauffeur or the nanny. I want you to take me back because you miss me and love me and want to give me, give us, another chance.

But you don’t miss me, and you don’t love me. And I don’t think you ever will again. Actually, I KNOW you never will again. There is no “another chance”.

So for the last six months, I have concentrated on my recovery from my bipolar disorder, not with you in mind. I am doing it for me, and for my beautiful children. And I have noticed a huge difference between the person I am today and the pathetic excuse for a mother and wife I was a year ago. I have used a combination of ECT, DBT, medication, and the love and support of my remaining friends and family to try to get well. To regain a sense of balance and to have a life again. And I have worked very, very hard. I almost gave up six months ago, because I finally had realized that all of this hard work would never bring you back to me, and that is what I thought I wanted more than anything.

But I realize now that I had to lose you in order to find myself.

So here I am. I am found. I know who I am and who I want to be. And do I still want you? Of course I do. But there is a difference between wanting and knowing. For example, I WANT for there to be a Santa Claus, but I KNOW he doesn’t really exist. I want you back in my life as my lover and my best friend and my partner for all of eternity. But I know you will never return. You have moved on. You have told me that you need to find your “path to happiness”, that you deserve to be happy. And I’m not on that path. How I wish you would give me the chance to make you happy. I know now what it takes to be a good wife and a good mother. That person who treated you badly is probably still here, but she now knows how to behave. She recognizes that there are consequences to her actions. And the part of her that used to be too strong and used to take over my sensibilities and send me on a downward spiral to disaster and manic episodes? Well, she most likely still exists. Somewhere. But she is no longer stronger than the “good me”. She is weak and she will not get the best of me again. Not ever. I know how to hold her down and control her. Maybe, if I’m lucky, she will give up and go away. But until that time, I have the strength and the tools and the confidence to keep her out of my daily life.

Don’t get me wrong – given the opportunity to have you back, I would jump at the chance. I would love nothing more in my life than to be part of a complete family again. To know that I had someone to grow old with, to sit next to at our childrens’ graduations and weddings. To have someone next to me holding my hand at the movies and embracing me in warm hugs every morning as we wake would be heaven to me. To know that I would never be alone again is more than I could ever hope for. But I will never find your love again. And you? Well, I learned last week that you have joined “Match.com” so I know now, for a fact, that I am not anywhere in your future except to be the mother of your children. And that is devastating to me. Because it means my dream of being a family again will never be realized. It means that you don’t believe I can ever be enough for you again. That even when I’m well, I’m not the woman you want to be with. And it makes me question whether I ever was. Maybe my misbehavior was just an excuse to get out of a marriage that you didn’t want in the first place. Maybe I was never the right woman for you, regardless of how much love I thought I could give you. All I know is that I was not worth fighting for. After I was well, you did not resume that fight. You didn’t stick around to see who I could become. You didn’t want to. You walked away. You had to. And that’s a tough pill to swallow, but it’s what you believed to be best for you. It was your turn to be selfish; you deserve happiness.

But I can still be well without you. I don’t really want wellness without you to share it with, but I do need it for myself. One day when my children are grown and have families of their own, it will be all I have left.

So there you have it. The letter you will never read. Everything in my heart I could think to tell you on this day, one year following my worst day.

With as much love as I can fathom, Happy Anniversary from your wife.”