Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Divorce, Marriage, and Depression

I guess it's no big surprise that depression is on the minds of a lot of people right now, myself included. It's incredibly hard to see someone we all perceived as being so happy succumb to an illness like depression. I find it much the same to when we see someone we perceived as so healthy succumb to something like cancer. We just can't believe this would happen to someone like that.
But the truth of the matter is, illness doesn't discriminate. It doesn't care who you are, how much money you have, how great your life is or isn't. Illness comes in so many forms, and societally we are still learning how to address and talk about mental illness, but at the end of the day, it's the result of a chemical imbalance in our brains. Some people have other chemical imbalances. Like diabetes. And we find ways to balance these chemicals through pharmaceutical methods. The same thing happens with mental illness, but for some reason we still have a hard time believing that it's an illness and not just someone who can't "suck it up" or someone who just "isn't trying." I've seen every bad answer to mental illness from "you need Jesus" or "what do you have to be depressed about?" or even "Just cheer up already" or "Stop worrying and just do it." It's one thing if no one in the situation has realized mental illness is involved, but quite another if the person tells you they suffer from a mental illness and you think that you, with your obvious PhD in psychology (oh wait?) have the expertise to tell someone how to get better.

So what does this have to do with divorce and marriage?

X refused to accept any of my mental illness as an illness. To be honest, I'm not sure I really had yet either, and not all of this is on him, by any means. But if I was unconsolable, if I was down, if I was low, all he ever did was tell me how stupid I was being. He never tried to make me feel better or even see if there was a reason I felt down, he just didn't care to know. This isn't terribly surprising given some of the things from his background and life experiences, but it certainly didn't help me be a better wife to him. If I was being honest with myself (which I was failing to do in a lot of aspects in my relationship with him, this isn't the only time), I would have seen that I needed to seek medical attention. That I needed to address this with a professional. I had no shame about therapy, my ADD treatment as a child had often included seeing a psychologist to make sure my emotional needs were being met as well as my medical. I had even sought counseling after a heinous break up at the end of my senior year of high school when I was spiraling down in ways that I knew even then a break up shouldn't do to me. But for some reason, it just didn't occur to me that this was the problem. I honestly couldn't figure out what the problem was, and maybe that's the most insidious part of mental illness. Especially if a lot of the things in your life don't feel quite right, it's easy to forget or ignore that mental illness might be playing a larger role in that and just figure it's the overarching idea of "stress."
So I suffered, mostly alone. As I've mentioned, I had a difficult time making close friendships while I lived in Cincinnati. I had a handful, but none that I was ever as close to those I had back home. And the ones back home didn't seem to see anything wrong, or if they did, they didn't think it was their place to say. So I continued on, not understanding what was wrong. And again, lots of things were wrong. Mental illness was only one of them. But the thing is, while I have come to believe that my split with X was inevitable, it might have been delayed or less nasty if my mental illness hadn't kept me from being a better partner. X's problems with me could often be tied back to some symptom of my depression. Mood swings, freak outs, refusal to go out without X with me, irrational fears or letting past things influence our current situation. It's hard to say if my constant fear of him leaving me was a result of a previous break up we had or justified since he did leave me, or if my paranoia was a factor in his choice to leave. Either way, it certainly didn't make for a happy marriage. And it certainly made for an incredibly traumatizing divorce, I imagine for both of us. I can't say for sure, since he & I haven't spoken in years and years, but I can imagine the process damaged him, probably in different ways from me, but still damaged him.
I'm no psychologist, but I'm willing to bet he suffers from some mental illness as well. I don't know which one, I wouldn't even deign to pretend to have an idea of what goes on in there. What I will say is that when he left me, when I confronted him upon returning from Seattle in our shitty two bedroom apartment that we both clearly hated, was that he had essentially been pretending to be someone else with me for the entire three years we'd been together. Because the image he projected to me, the person I thought I had married, wasn't the kind of person would be so callous and hurtful like he was being to me in the end. And when I addressed this, he simply shrugged at me. He was quick to jump into not giving a damn what happened to me, as long as he got what he wanted.

So two mentally ill people, unchecked, in a marriage, refusing to help the other. This pretty much seems like a formula for divorce.

But here's the flip side.
Alan has anxiety. Not just run of the mill anxiety, but a true anxiety disorder. When we began dating, I remember he mentioned in passing that it ran in his family, and someday he might need to be on medication for it. At the time, I honestly had very little idea of what an anxiety disorder meant. It turns out I had several friends and even a family member who suffered from it, but for some reason I'd never really thought about it much. Depression was something I understood, even some other forms of mood disorders and things like ADD/ADHD. But I just couldn't wrap my head around the idea of anxiety so high it prevented you from doing things, especially things you might enjoy.
And for a while, I didn't see Alan's anxiety at all. I didn't see its impact on our relationship until we'd been together almost a full two years. And then I remembered what he had told me in the beginning, and it all clicked in my head. I came home from work that night and had a tearful conversation with him about how unhappy I was despite how awesome I thought everything should be. He was wonderful, kind, and supportive, he gave me free reign to be myself and to run my life the way I wanted to, he wanted the same things out of life that I did, he loved doing the same things as me, and he loved the things I introduced him to. And yet there were problems I just couldn't figure out why he couldn't overcome. We'd had endless conversations about these things, and still nothing had changed.
So I asked him to seek help for his anxiety. I asked him to seek counseling, and if necessary, medication. It was a long, bumpy road we started on, but he's come a long way since then.
And not only that, getting help for himself emboldened Alan to urge me to seek help for my depression when it sought to overwhelm me and drag me under during my first year of grad school. He's seen depression in me for most of our relationship, and he's respected me when I told him it was so low grade, I could handle when it reared it's head, it was just so infrequent. But when he saw me in danger, he reached out, held me, and said "Maybe it's time you get help." I nodded slowly, I did some research about what my possible diagnosis was, and suddenly just having that possibility made my load seem so much lighter. I began seeing a therapist this summer, who has been giving me tasks to slowly get my life in order and give me coping skills. And while medication isn't in the conversation yet, we've agreed that it's not off the table.
Sometimes diet and exercise corrections are enough to fix an illness or physical malady. This can be the case for mental illness as well. But sometimes it's not, and there's no shame in that. There's no shame in taking chemo treatment when you need it, there's no shame in going to physical therapy after an athletic injury, and there's no shame in seeking therapy or medication for mental illness.

Alan & I recently hit a new point in deepening our bond, one that I think should have happened a long time ago, but thanks to a combination of both our mental illnesses, I believe we just had to work around the long way. But we made it here all the same. We worked together, and we trusted each other. We opened up and have never felt closer before. Just in time for our first wedding anniversary. And I know this is what marriage is truly about. No one marriage is better than another. Each marriage must be on its own schedule, and the people taking part in that marriage must come to an agreement about what that means. For Alan & me, this means being patient and trying our best to understand that we are on no one's clock but our own. We can make decisions that are best for us, and while we can seek outside advice, we must ultimately come together and come to understand each other. We don't have to be perfect, nor do we have to be the envy of others. We have to be happy with one another and the life we are creating.

As an added, sad note, yes, a lot of this post was inspired by Robin Williams' recent death. He created so many good memories for millions upon millions of people, and will likely continue to do so long after his death. One of my all time favorite memories as a child was watching Aladdin over and over again with my brothers. In the Genie's song, there is some line about Aladdin being a "big nabob." We never really understood what that meant, and I'm not sure I'm totally clear on it now, besides being another word for a big wig/important person. But for some reason, my brothers and I thought this word was hilarious. We even drew out pictures of what a "big nay bob" must look like, and giggled endlessly while my dad just rolled his eyes and laughed at us. We loved that movie for so many reasons, but a large part of it was the Genie. And Robin Williams had so many other roles that have been touching and pivotal at other points of my life. As I'm sure for many others. It's strange. Celebrity deaths don't usually affect me in such a way, but this one really did. Maybe because I loved his work so much and because I feel so much empathy for someone truly suffering from depression.
Thanks for all the laughs, sobs, and other feels, Mr. Williams. I hope wherever you end up in the afterlife is right where you need to be.

Friday, April 18, 2014


Alan & I have been featured on the blog Offbeat Bride, click the link to see more!

Offbeat Bride Post!

Saturday, January 11, 2014

I don't ask for much, just a little respect.

While this isn't exactly about marriage, it is about relationships. While I am inspired to write on this topic by a platonic relationship, it relates directly to any, romantic, familial, professional. Whatever.

When discussing this issue with a friend, I was told that I am easy to offend.
I think people have the wrong idea about what offensive means and what it means when I am offended versus mildly irritated. I also think people should, perhaps, reevaluate their idea of what is permissible to say to others, especially those we love and care about, consider our friends, etc.

I'll begin with the issue in question. Alan & I want children. This is nothing new, no huge revelation. If you follow this blog or have met us, you know we are psyched about having kids someday. We have to wait a little longer, but it won't be too long before that's a part of our relationship. And I have always wanted kids, as long as I can remember.
I also have lots of friends and acquaintances who have chosen to be child-free. Which is equally awesome and cool. And I roll my eyes every time I overhear someone telling someone else who mentions they don't want kids, "Oh you'll change your mind," or "When you meet the right man/woman," or any other number of patronizing and condescending things about knowing what a person wants better than the person themselves. Who the fuck are you to tell them what they do and don't want?? And even if they DO change their mind, they don't need your smug ass saying "I told you so." (Mini-rant forthcoming!) I am ALL about people who choose to be child-free. I think it's pretty cool and at this point, I kind of think it's what the world needs. We are running rampant over this world, we're running out of room. And some people are having 4 or more kids. And while that's their choice too, due to modern medicine, the population cannot sustain this forever. So kudos to those of you choosing not to have kids, I applaud you! Not only are you doing what is best for you, but it's benefiting the whole world too! FUCK YEAH. This world needs diversity, INCLUDING those who choose not to reproduce. We all play a part. FUCK FREAKIN YEAH!
But you know what I don't like? When those of us who do want kids happen to bring it up, or even when someone else brings it up, when a child-free person feels the need to say things like "Ugh, I hate kids," or "Ew" or "Kids are so awful," or any other number of things relating to how much they dislike kids or how gross babies are etc etc. I once witnessed this happen while children were present. Seriously. This also applies to marriage (see "Don't Ever Get Married"), people who don't believe they ever want to get married (or were burned by a bad marriage in the past) always end up telling engaged couples (or even seriously dating couples) how terrible marriage is.
Why the fuck is that ok?
Why is it cool for you to look down on and insult the choices of those who want children? Especially in my case, I do everything I can to make it clear that whatever life choices you make, whether I agree with them or not (as long as they aren't harmful to yourself and others), I support your decision. The world is full of difference and beauty in all its facets. All the differences make it better. I value all walks we can take, even if it's not the one I would take. We can't all take the same road, or we'd be traffic jammed and bored.

Which is where respect comes in. I don't believe that I'm easy to offend. I do think, perhaps, I am easy to disappoint. Because I guess my irritation at being disappointed in someone comes off as being offended. There are some real easy ways to offend me, but they're pretty limited. Willful ignorance, intolerance and hate are the easiest ways to offend me. I suppose I have high expectations of people. I truly believe the best in people. And when they fail to meet those expectations, I get irritated. Because it's not hard to be a good person. It's not hard to take a step back once in a while and look at yourself in the mirror to admit your shortcomings. I make it a habit to evaluate myself and my actions on a regular basis to try and learn from my shortcomings and avoid making the same mistakes in the past. This blog was actually a part of that process for a long time. Still is occasionally (I only say that for the low frequency of posts nowadays). I truly believe in all people's capabilities to be better versions of themselves. It's completely within your grasp to do it. So when I make a criticism of your behavior or something you said, it's not because I'm trying to tell you how much you suck, or trying to prove how much better I am than you. I'm offering you a chance to see something you might not be able to see. When my best friend of 15 years chose to stop talking to me last summer, and when her fiance then chose to send me a scathing email about what a piece of shit I am, I took a long time to read, reread, and evaluate the messages I got from both of them. I looked at myself hard in the mirror. And I cried a lot. I wondered why someone I love so much could do that to me, and then, between crying spells, I evaluated what truth could be taken from what was said. The content of these messages aren't relevant. And how much I did or didn't take as truth from them is irrelevant also. But I assure you I did take some of it to heart and attempted to keep them in mind or make some changes accordingly.
We all believe ourselves to be better than other people. "I'm a better person because I'm a Christian," or "I'm a better person because I don't eat meat," or "I have never killed someone," or "I donate money to charity," or whatever other reasons we can come up with to justify why our shortcomings don't make us bad people while our triumphs make us better. It's self preservation, and we all do it.

But what bothers me the most is when people absolutely refuse to see it another way. Or refuse to take into account that other people have feelings too. That what you say DOES matter. Not every joke is acceptable because "I was just kidding." I'm a communication scholar (SCARY RIGHT???), so no one knows better than me and my fellow scholars how much of an impact the jokes we make and words we choose make. Saying "no offense" doesn't suddenly erase the offensive portion of what you just said. Claiming "I was just kidding," doesn't change the fact that what you said was hurtful. And I swear FOR GODS if you tell me I'm being too sensitive, I will show you what being "too sensitive" feels like (with a frying pan and your skull*). I don't even actually care if you change your opinion on the matter at hand. What I do care about is that you try to take into account that your feelings aren't the only ones at play here.

I don't know if I've talked about this on this blog before, but I say it a lot in general. I don't think everyone has to agree, or act the same or believe the same things. But I do know, for a fact, that life in this world would be a lot better if everyone was accountable for their actions. If you say something that hurts my feelings (which is what offending someone is, make no mistake), apologize. If your intention was not to hurt someone else, then an apology is appropriate. Not jumping all over the person and telling them to stop being so sensitive. Not telling them it's somehow their fault that YOUR joke (which you, as a fully functioning adult CHOSE to make) hurt them. I've written before about how easy it is to hurt those we love and say things that are written in ink, how they never truly disappear. And how if you don't actually care that your words hurt that person, you don't actually care about that person. Let that sink in for a while.
If your friend tells you that your words hurt them, and you say "Stop being so sensitive," or other words that say it doesn't matter that your friend is hurt, what you are actually telling them is "I don't care about your feelings."

Seriously. Reflect on that. Reflect really fucking hard. And THEN think about a time you were in their position and how you felt when someone told YOU to not be offended. Or try to imagine what it must feel like to tell someone that a wound hurts, and the doctor tells you to stop whining. That doctor just told you that your pain doesn't matter. Just suck on that morsel for a while.

I'm not easily offended. I'm easily disappointed. And I'm not going to change my standards. I believe people can be better than they are. And I will continue to hold that standard. And if you continue to be my friend, you must understand that I will love you no matter what you do, but I won't change my expectations.

They may be high, but they aren't unrealistic.

*I don't endorse violence. But this is actually an accurate metaphor, so I'm gonna keep it. If you're wondering, the metaphor would be me wildly swinging a frying pan around because I think it's funny, you getting hit in the head because you happened to be in the room, telling me you're hurt, and me telling you to stop being so sensitive, it was just for fun.