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Far away in the same placeThis is what life can be like when a husband and wife both suffer from mental illness.

“Hi Mommy,” squeaked our youngest daughter as my wife came through the door after work.

“Hi baby,” she replied, walking through the kitchen to drop off her dirty lunch dishes. Without stopping she turned through the dining room, the living room and up the stairs. I heard a door close gently.

After a few minutes, I walked upstairs. The bathroom light was off and the door to the bedroom was shut. I opened it quietly and closed it behind me. She was laying on her side in the dark, playing a game on her Kindle. I crawled in next to her, grabbed her forearm lightly and said, “Hey.”

“Hey,” she kept her eyes on her game, finger swiping left and right across the tablet. She played silently and I laid there for a bit with my eyes closed, gently hanging on to her arm.

After a long day at work, fighting through bipolar depression, she just wanted some peace and quiet. I didn’t disturb her. I rolled out of bed and slipped back downstairs. I picked up the laptop and scrolled through Facebook, waiting for something to happen. Nothing happened. It never did, but I kept scrolling, looking, waiting.

Eventually I warmed up dinner for the kids. Once they had started eating, I went back upstairs and slid into bed next to her again. She was still playing the same game. I didn’t say anything, just laid there, feeling empty, wanting her to fill me up.

“Did you say something about food?” she asked.

“Kids are eating ham and green beans.”

“You eating that?”

“No, might make a pizza later.”

She kept swiping and flicking at her game. I waited quietly, but she didn’t say any more. I desperately needed her to say something to me, anything. It had been a rough day and I was looking for some comfort. She stayed still.

“How many times has she left you alone when you were like this?” I thought to myself, remembering the years I would come home from work, stressed out and depressed, wanting nothing more than to be by myself so I could check out for a few hours, maybe the night. She had treated me so well, so gently through many tough times.

I would make the hour-long drive home from work, half-recirculating the day’s events, half-dreading the next day. Either way, my mind raced.

I’d get home, strip out of my work clothes and hope for some peace and quiet. But that was hard to find. My wife wanted to talk about her day, my kids wanted their daddy. I hated being needed. I hated feeling like I was the center of everyone’s world.

When I was at work I felt like I was the one who was supposed to have all the answers. I was the one who would mediate, listen to employees’ grievances, handle the customer complaints. I always felt like I was on stage. The middle man. Or maybe it was the man in the middle. It’s how I felt. Pulled in so many different directions.

I’d get home, wanting to retreat, wanting to bunker down for the night and hide. The kids were little, they were genuinely excited to see me. But three of them seemed so much. Coming at me, climbing on me, pulling at me. Daddy look at this, listen to that. Pulling me back and forth. Daddy, come play with me. Push me on the swings. I felt attacked.

And she’d want my attention, too. Just wanting to know how my day was. Wanting to tell me about work. Wanting to coordinate schedules so we knew who was picking up the kids when and where. She wanted her husband to engage with her.

I fought her off. She was just another direction that was pulling on me. I loved her, I truly did, but I was overwhelmed. I didn’t want to talk, didn’t want to coordinate, didn’t want to think.

She tried to get through to me, she really did. And she never gave up on me. If I was feeling depressed, she’d try to tell me things were going to work out. She picked me up and carried me so many times, I couldn’t count them. And she was there for me. No matter how miserable or cranky I was, she would be there, patiently waiting for me to come around.

I’d want to be left alone. Sometimes to think. Sometimes to stew. Mostly just to check out. I needed space and time that I could just be. Alone with whatever it was I was feeling. I cared about them. I Wasn’t ignoring them on purpose. I needed space. And a lot of it.

She gave me the space I needed. Shuffled the kids through dinner and baths and often off to bed – without me. She was at times a working single mom of three who also happened to babysit her absentee husband. And she didn’t complain.  She took it in stride, keeping the family together and organised and moving. She held it all together. She carried us on her back.

She’d been through hell along the way, neglecting her own self to make sure the family was strong. She put up with my so-called friends, my loud music and my mood swings. She stood firm through storms and crisis and despair. She had been my rock.

My heart ached tonight as I laid next to her, knowing she was hurting, knowing I was hurting. How many nights did she ache for me alone when I was checked out on the couch scrolling through Facebook, waiting for something to happen? How many nights did she put up with this for me?

I kissed her forehead and let myself out of the room, hoping she would find peace.

Jason Large,

Daily Zen.

Jason has suffered from depression and anxiety for over twenty years. He can be contacted at:https://www.facebook.com/jason.large.12?fref=nf

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