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.
Sounds like a tough situation. I am not a professional, but based on my experience, I have to tell you that you are not responsible for another person’s mental health. They are. It took me a long time to realize it, but it is so true. Maybe you guys could do couple’s counseling? Or maybe you could go to your own counseling sessions to help you deal with her as well as your past issues? The way the situation stands, it isn’t healthy for either of you. I hope everything works out for the best.
I hate to say this, but this might require in-patient treatment. It’s scary, but it might be the only thing that works.
I want you to know that anything I say is not meant to diminish, mock, or minimize what you are experiencing.
That being said, I’ll tell you that I can understand why you are having a rough time of it. See, like your current wife (and it sounds like, your past wives or girlfriends), I, too, have problems with initiative. That sounds like such a small problem. But really, when you think about it in a mental capacity, initiative is what gets us out of bed every morning.
And sometimes, for some of us, it’s not a choice. There is no, “Just get up and go, who cares how you look or act, at least just be there.” Now, we may tell ourselves that, but actually following through is another matter altogether.
I cannot tell you why we are like this. I personally believe it is a form of depression, or the same imbalance or brain glitch that causes depression. But, here’s why it’s harder to deal with, from the outside and as the person experiencing it first-hand: usually, I’m not depressed. It’s not sadness, or pain, or anger, or feelings of inadequacy that keep me immobile. Sometimes it’s fatigue, but it’s more mental fatigue than anything. Sometimes it’s physical. But there is a constant, immobilizing blanket over my world keeping me from wanting to do the slightest bit of worldy interaction.
Sure, I suffer from this condition (which I have yet to find a name for) but I function. Out of obligation to my husband, my family, my friends. I get up and go get a pay check at a job that doesn’t make me happy, doesn’t fulfill me, barely challenges me, and creates way too much stress for me. I’m smart, creative, and talented. I’m well-liked by my coworkers and most people I meet. If you asked anyone that’s met me to describe me, they would most likely respond with, “unfailingly cheerful”. I go out with family, friends, and am even in a band with my husband, brother, and best friend. From the outside (even to my close friends and family) I have a full, satisfying life.
But from in here, inside myself: I’m miserable. Every. Single. Day. Since as far back as I can remember. I don’t really know what it’s like to be normal, except as described by someone else. I have a couple of severely discomforting medical conditions that make it harder for me, but I know this would exist without those. Getting out of bed is the most difficult thing I ever have to do, and I do it every day. Like I said, I function.
What I’m trying to get at is that this is not normal behaviour. This is NOT how most humans feel, at least not on a regular basis.
But I do want to tell you about the praise. Oh, the praise. For me, at least, the praise is about 50% of this condition. Because I have such a hard time doing anything, when I do accomplish something, acknowledgment is huge. When I’m functioning, I am also like a 5 year old who wants her parents to put her painting on the fridge. You don’t have to go on about it, just a little, “Hey, good job!” is enough to keep me from hiding from the world for another little while. Logically, in my head, I KNOW this is silly. I don’t really need gratification to this extent. But if you think of the hardest thing you’ve ever had to do at work, like a big presentation; wouldn’t you want someone to tell you it was a job well done? That’s how this is.
And the criticism is just the opposite. It’s the worst thing that anyone can do to me. Reasonably, I like and appreciate a critique of anything I do, especially professionally. It’s a learning experience. It’s great. Emotionally, it’s a knife to the back, the heart, and the lungs all at once. It’s one more reason that I have failed. Because I fail everyday, without reprieve. Even if I get out of bed, and go to work, and function, I fail because I cannot control the fact that it makes me feel like I’m dragging a 2-ton semi-truck behind me only to have it later roll right over me if I allow myself to stop for even a second to relax. Oh, but you better not EVER deign to feel sorry for me! Haha, that just will NOT do. :-/
As for functioning, I am 100% of the time about a hair’s breadth away from NOT functioning. The difference between your wife and I is minuscule at best.
So, if you’re someone who has never experienced this, there is no way for you to understand what that person is going through and why they do (or don’t do) the things they do. You can’t. Sometimes THAT person doesn’t understand it. Don’t try to understand what it’s like, just try to understand that it’s hard. Just be there. But don’t let it ruin your life, Christopher. Don’t let it do to you what it does to the person suffering from this disability. Be assured that this is a cancerous condition, and unless your wife can drag herself out of this hole she’s in and get help, short of being committed, this will eat away at her and your life.
I don’t know if you’re just a magnet for this type of person, it’s possible. You may see something in these women that you want to fix, possibly because of your past. Who has a scarred past that doesn’t want to fix everything in their future? It’s very human. But you don’t cause this, Christopher. You don’t make these women freeze up. Enabling can be an issue, but you can’t enable something that isn’t already present, I believe. And with this thing, enabling is the easiest thing to do. My husband is the worst enabler. He’s the most kind, generous, loving, helpful, accepting person I know. All those traits, unfortunately, enable me. Would I change him? No. Not for the wide world.
I’ve rambled so long, I’ve lost most of the points I was trying to make. I just hope, Christopher, that you can make it through this fog that surrounds your poor wife and eventually see the other side of this, and that you don’t for a second compromise who you are and what’s best for YOU to save someone who can’t be saved.
I wish you and your wife all the hope and luck in the world.
hank you to everyone who responded; CYCLENINJA and Kelly as well as Erin C.
Erin – what you have to say is exactly what I guess I need – that insider’s view. My wife can’t yet articulate much of anything about what’s going on when it’s going on, although we’re both getting better about that (me finding ways to ask that she doesn’t interpret as judgmental). I know a lot of what you say intellectually, but hearing it from someone going through it, getting that experiential dimension helps me a great deal.
Just writing the original post did a lot to help me get to a more supportive place and reading your reply as well as ThruTheEyesOfFrank’s post has helped a great deal.
Thank you so much for your replies, all of you. Sometimes I guess it’s just nice to be heard.
(Oh, and I am going to suggest couple’s counseling eventually, but I want her to feel a little more “back on her feet” with the panic attacks first so she’s not feeling bombarded with a million sessions and a million different issues all at once.)
Maybe counseling for you would be beneficial too? Sometimes those of us who are suffering from mental illnesses have a hard time seeing what a toll it takes on those around us.
But it does. It really, honestly does. (Sometimes caregivers need care, too!)
I know that our couples counselor wouldn’t counsel us together till we had taken individual counseling first.
Oddly, I’ve been in both situations – I’ve got some pretty serious depression that seemed to be resistant to treatment. SO I’d lay around a lot and not do much of anything – save being FULL of guilt. I had to finally find SOMETHING that would get me going and I did.
I had a relationship with someone who took no initiative. Despite being the one to clean the house (he had a really really really part-time job), he didn’t take much care of it. He used my computer to chat with women online and sent then nekkid pix of him. He’d pick me up from the train and be all ‘OMG I GOT INTO A FACEBOOK FIGHT – IT’S AWESOME.”
It didn’t last long.
I am stuck in a rut, much like your wife, where I mentally cannot do many of the things that you describe a normal person being able to do. I understand your frustration and see it often from my own husband. Trying to gain understanding from someone who has never been paralyzed by their own mind is a very hard thing to do. I hope your wife is able to get some help and get out of the prison of her mind and that you two are able to have a long and happy life together. Sending love to you, and to her.