Monday, December 17, 2012

On Family and Mental Illness

As you can tell from looking through the lack of posts on here, I have remained pretty mum about my divorce.  And that is how it should be.  The demise of a marriage is a sad thing, a crummy thing, and nothing that should be taken lightly and discussed at length in the same forum where one discusses dresses and giving blow jobs to Minnesota Twins catchers.  Moreover, I find myself incredibly busy in my new role in life, and most of the time, there simply isn't time to properly maintain the blog and keep everything rolling--I am quite honestly moving from the time I awake at 5 until the time I pass out on my laptop, drooling and talking nonsensically, sometime around 10.

But there is something to say, I feel, something we all need to say and discuss as we struggle to make sense of the events in Newtown, CT, events that cannot be explained by even the most brilliant among us.  And while I do believe that gun control is a very, very necessary thing, I think it is more important now to remind you, my friend, that mental illness affects us all.  And not just on the nightly news.  Not just in the face of an overwhelming tragedy.  Not just in the dead eyes of a disturbed teenage boy, remembered by all as a portrait of evil.

You know someone, I guarantee you, who struggles with mental illness everyday.  Maybe it is not them, directly.  Maybe it is someone in their family.  A parent who doesn't act the same as they had.  A child whose moods can no longer be chalked up to simply being at a difficult age.  A husband who doesn't get out of bed anymore.

I look at the face of Adam Lanza's mother on the computer screen and I wonder:  Did she know?  Did she have a fraction of an idea?  How did she handle it?  Did she know what to do?  These are questions, of course, that no one can answer, and that really, we have no business knowing.  But I wonder because I have been her to a smaller degree. 


There are arguments you have with yourself when you live with a mentally ill person. Whether you should confront the latest thing that has gone undone, the latest behavior that seemed odd or out of place.  If you should call a doctor......Again.  "What is normal, anyway," you say, with some degree of conviction.  You justify and you lie and you make excuses.  You spend days on message boards, looking for confirmation of the feelings that rise up in you and bite at your throat.  You don't find it.  Because the people who post on message boards, in many cases, have found their caretaker niche.  They have nice stories and medicines that work.  You have bills.  And kids.  And more bills.

I left (or, more appropriately, asked him to leave).  I did.  He was (is) sick, but I reached the end of my rope all the same, and let go.  I did.  I felt guilty and I cried and got mad at myself in a way that I can't even describe.  Imagine the worst pregnancy heartburn you ever had and now imagine it all over your body.  That is how I felt.  But I was mad too.  Mad at the world, mad at my husband, mad at the people in happy marriages on cereal commercials who had breakfast with each other.  Out of bed.  On their way to jobs.  FUCKERS, ALL.  I just wanted normal, I would tell myself on so many tear soaked commutes, sobbing openly to some Avett Brothers song or another.  When did normal become so unreachable?  When did it become a goal?


One day I was driving through town to work.  A police office was posted near the elementary school, motioning traffic forward.  He motioned me forward.  But I sat there, with my eyes glazed over, thinking of what I had and lost, what I was left with, how unfair it all was.  The police officer yelled to me and angrily smacked the hood of the car.  And I burst into tears and said aloud, "Don't you know?"  He didn't.  He didn't give a shit. 

I told myself that no one gave a shit.  The truth is, no one knew.  Big difference.  I had done a damn good job of making it appear as if everything was fine.  I had smiled and invented.  I had dressed nicely and dressed my kids nicely and treated my marriage as if it were a golden thing made of Cat Power ballads and chocolate truffles.  Since things have fallen apart, so many people have shared with me that they knew on some level, but they had not known how to approach it with me.  I wish that they had.  That is not to place any level of blame on them.  I openly take responsibility for the facade I had erected.  But I look back and realize that I would have done anything just not to feel so alone.  Even for a moment.  Because mental illness, no matter what side you are looking at it from, is a lonely place.


When the Aurora shooting happened, I received several texts to the tune of "That could be [my ex husband]."  We had recently separated, and it was hard not to agree.  The brilliant mind coupled with the on edge personality.  The inability to connect.  The lack of any visible success in the mainstream world.  The obsession.  I tell myself that it could never happen to him.  By turns he is a very loving person, I say, and this is overwhelmingly true.  But.  I have seen his eyes turn to flame, I have heard the comments, and I'm not going to lie:  there is a part of him that is very, very frightening.

I do not think my ex husband will kill anyone, and I wish him so much good stuff.  He is my children's father, after all, and in some parts of my mind, he is still the geeky 16 year old who liked swing music and The X Files on Sunday nights.  But every day that I wake up and my mind does not immediately wonder what kind of day it will be--what cruel reality that I have to hide today-- is an amazing gift.  An amazing, amazing gift.

There is guilt there.  I am sorry that I could not do more, sorry that things were lifted out of my hands.  I would not go back.  I would never go back.  And perhaps that is the thing that scares me the most:  that it was so easy to walk away.


The second he sat the breakfast plate in front of me, I choked up.  I was sitting at the table in my nightgown, fiddling on the iPhone that he gave me.  He sat it down and told me to eat and I stared at the tortilla and eggs and hummus and sriracha and how cute it was and the tears welled up.  And he looked at me strangely, balancing his own plate on his strong fingers, and said, "What?"  And I said, "You fixed breakfast."  And he smiled and said yes and sat down and we ate and I couldn't help but feel that yes, this is what normal feels like. 


Please be kind, gentle reader.  Be kind to those around you.  You don't know what their day holds.  You don't know who in their life is gone, what they fear, what battle they are facing.  Listen to your friends.  They may need help, and they may not know how to ask for it.  And especially, if you or someone else is going through this, reach out.  Don't be like me.  Tell someone.  You don't deserve to be alone.  No one does. 

It is sad that no one thinks of mental illness until we get a villain on our TV screens every night--someone to place all of our fears onto.  We should think of it so much more.  There should be more clinics, more accessible doctors, more money, more time, more help.  But mostly, there should be more understanding, of everyone involved.  And no one should hide.


  1. And now I am crying at my desk. So powerful, and so true. My dad ended up clinically depressed and it wasn't a charming sad guy looking out the window in a Wellbutrin ad, but an angry, viscous man who knew how to use words to cut to the bone and when that wasn't enough, he would occasionally show his anger by throwing things, breaking things, and damaging things that meant a lot to us. I was away at college and missed the worst, but sadly my sister was still home and I think a lot of her issues as an adult come from that time with him. And we hid it, we made ourselves look like a happy family. He was sick, it wasn't his fault, we're not understanding enough, it's not like he actually hit any of us, and like you said... what is normal anyway? But hiding didn't do any of us any favors, doesn't do anyone favors. You're brave to write this, thank you.

    1. Even now, it is wonderful to hear. I mean, I don't find joy in the fact that someone else went through that. Far from it. But it was such a lonely point in my life, and is still such a lonely subject that your comment gives me a wonderful feeling of warmth. I feel amazingly guilty, even today. But it is what it is, and I am where I am for a reason.

      The anger is something you never forget. The kind of on-fire, wild eyed anger. My thoughts with your family and your sister--it is amazing how it affects you even after you don't see it every day.