Note: some of you may recognize parts of this story. I ask that you please respect the thin veneer of anonymity I’ve created by posting this here and only reply in the comments here, on this post. Thank you.
Why am I always the reliable one? I’m tired of people depending on me.
When my ex and I first got together, I announced that I was going to be teacher as a means to support my novel-writing. She thought that sounded swell, so she was going to be a nurse to support her art. That lasted a year or so. She finally had a little mental “snap” and quit school, just two classes short of a degree in English and art.
“If it’s what you want,” I said, “then do it.”
A friend later claimed that my now-ex had “supported” me as I went through grad school. Wrong. I worked full-time through grad school just as I had through college. I brought in at least half of our income. I paid my bills. On time, no less.
My ex’s little “snap” got worse. There were times she was catatonic on the couch. I pleaded. I begged. As a last resort, I yelled and that seemed to be what she wanted at that moment. Not something I could do ongoing – so I pleaded and begged her to get counseling. “Sure,” was the response, but it never happened. She met someone else. He convinced her to get help. So she did. For him.
She showed me a journal entry not long after she started therapy. The first blow was when she said that I was her financial stability while the other guy met her emotional needs. I thought this was her way of announcing she wanted a divorce. Apparently, however, she didn’t see anything wrong with this and pointed to the most disturbing part of the entry – “This, THIS is what I wanted you to really see!” This was the part about how she was so full of love that she loved everyone, and more than that, that she could bed anyone. Including her mother and grandmother.
We went back to her counselor to answer the question that had been posed the previous week: why are you married? My answer was: I want a divorce. There was just no coming back from that journal entry. Not when she couldn’t see how screwed up it was. Not when she only thought of me as her financial stability.
My next wife couldn’t believe I’d put up with so much from the ex, much less for ten years. But I don’t believe you leave just because someone is ill. I stick to the commitments I make and I take that responsibility seriously.
My current wife moved in with me because, well, because she was falling apart and because I keep things together. It’s what I do, what I’ve done since I was very small. We fell in love. And then we got catastrophic news – I had cancer. No health insurance, not even breaking $20,000 a year, despite having a coveted professional job at a very prestigious place. My new wife worked, but didn’t have a career and was not sure what she wanted to do next. We were dead broke.
But just as I fought my way through childhood sexual abuse, I beat the shit out of the cancer as well. About then, I was offered full-time employ at another prestigious organization. I thought I had a career. I began to relax into my life.
We fussed over the hours I kept. We fussed because I have difficulties taking breaks and tend to work myself into a state of exhaustion. We fussed over keeping the house picked up. We fussed over what to do on vacations.
We never really fought or had an outright argument, not really. We were good at dialoguing and compromising. I’m not saying sometimes there weren’t sometimes emphatic words, but we worked hard at being reasonable and at not actually yelling.
Until I woke up one day and realized that I felt like I’d made all the compromises.
Please note that I said I felt like I’d made all the compromises. I don’t think that’s strictly true; I’m sure she has her list.
I lost my beloved career. Part of me thinks it’s because she complained about the hours I kept. But I have the feeling that’s not true – there were political reasons for getting rid of someone like me, many of them. But I can’t help that feeling ….
I found a new job eventually. It was dull and boring and I said I was only doing it until she was done with school and ready to head to graduate school. Then I could – perhaps – afford to be more picky with my choice of employ. So I waited. And I grew to love my job. The longer I worked there, the more they fitted tasks to me instead of trying to fit me into a particular little round hole when I’m so obviously a triangle. She asked me to quit talking about it because she hated her job.
She had one class left. The one class I was most fit to help her with. But she put it off. Dropped out. Took it by correspondence class, but then didn’t keep up with the work. And somehow, still got her diploma in the mail.
But she didn’t apply to grad school.
She continued at the job she hated. Insisted that there were no jobs in her field. Her workplace is making her sick constantly, but rather than look for any job just to get out of there – even a temporary job instead of something in her career field – she continues with this one. Fusses about it.
The job I’d started out hating but had grown to enjoy and was launching a new career for me, abruptly and unexpectedly closed just before the economy really tanked. I eventually found a new job at the most dysfunctional company I can imagine and have spend the last three and a half years trying to find something else locally.
And now she has completely folded in on herself. It’s been painful to watch in every single way. Neither of us are outgoing people but she used to go out with friends. I realized the other day not only do I not have any friends (long-standing issue having to do with my shyness and social confusion, not with her), but she no longer has friends either. It’s like pulling teeth to get her to agree to go out without me, even just to the grocery store to pick up something that she needs. (Don’t assume I don’t go to the grocery store – I do. I’m talking about a run for the one vital ingredient she forgot or the one medicine she ran out of two days ago and keeps forgetting she needs until it’s time to take it again.)
Like my ex-wife, she, too, has ground to a halt. Stopped functioning in any meaningful way. She wants praise when she remembers to do a load of laundry. (Again, please don’t think I don’t have chores – I take care of the dishes and kitchen, she does the laundry. We have split all of the household chores.) I appreciate having chores done – but I don’t see the need to congratulate her every time she does the things she is supposed to do. I don’t want to be thanked for doing the dishes or scooping out the cat box. Those are my chores; I am supposed to do them.
Now, if we’ve been really busy and she makes an extra effort to do 18 loads of laundry in an evening (I exaggerate!), then I do tell her thank you. That genuine, kind of surprised, wow, honey, that was a lot, thank you!
But I’ve felt like she’s disappearing. I’ve pointed it out, cautiously, gingerly. I’ve talked around asking her about counseling, but she has always insisted that talk therapy does nothing for her. She finally announced six or so months ago that she decided she needs counseling. But she never followed through.
And now? Since the middle of August she has been to work twice. TWICE.
She went a week and a half before telling me. Turns out work called and left a message on the machine telling her that she needed to contact them and get put on short-term disability. Or -the implied threat- lose her job. She finally did contact her doctor. She was put on short-term disability. Had a slew of doctor appointments. The “stress specialist” said given her symptoms and her general twitchy demeanor, she is genetically predisposed to panic attacks. He’s giving her exercises to do. She’s also been prescribed medicines to take to help when it gets bad. The stress doctor would rather she stay off work for a total of four weeks since he started seeing her, but for some reason, she was to go back last week, after just two weeks. She made it two days (I think. I fear it was only one day, but I don’t remember and I’m afraid to ask.)
She sits at home and honestly, it’s become a cliche. She reads romance novels and pets the cats. I have to ask her if she will please do the smallest amount of one of her chores. She is home all day, doing nothing. She doesn’t do whatever small chore until after I get home from work. (Except for the day in which her chore was to make a phone call.) I have had to do several of her chores just to make sure they get done – on top of my chores, on top of my work week, on top of my work-from-home extra job. I have cringed when she makes a commitment at the church, fearful that she will fall down and I will have to keep that commitment for her (or put up with the fallout) – and been amazed when she keeps a commitment made to others … but not the ones she makes to me.
I am wracking my brain to figure out what I’ve done wrong. Did I just fall in love with women who happened to have similar issues? Did I do something wrong to trigger such behaviors? Am I so toxic that I poison them somehow?
I fear that she will lose her job soon. There are a lot of plans we made together which were time-sensitive which will die completely if this happens, including one that I have wanted with all my heart and soul since I was a very small child, but if it doesn’t get put into motion within the next year, the window of opportunity will slam permanently shut. She’s the one who told me we could do that, not to give up hope.
And I can’t help but feeling that this breakdown is tied to the timing of that plan. That her heart is not in it, but she can’t tell me and so the breakdown. The problem is, I had given up on that plan. I had put it aside completely and given up on it. And she brought that plan back to life two months ago. Dragged it out of its moth balls, dusted it off and set wheels in motion so that I believed with all my heart that it would happen after all.
And now I fear it will not. And I fear that we will not survive as a couple if her breakdown kills that plan.
I don’t understand inactivity. And so I have a difficult time understanding how she can just not walk into work every day. I am trying to be supportive. But for God’s sake, people are relying on you to go to work every day. I am relying on her to go to work every day. I do it. I hate my current job, but I go every day. I don’t understand how she can not only not go to work, but then not accomplish anything at home either. There are so many projects that need to be done. And she reads trash fiction all day.
I am trying to be supportive. She needs me to be supportive so she can get through this. And as long as she is working to get better….
But I am so very tired and this scenario just feels so very, very familiar.
And I am so tired of being the responsible one upon whom everyone relies.
I don’t know when it is time to say enough.