This I Believe

Carol - St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands
Entered on February 15, 2008
Age Group: 50 - 65
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This I Believe

I fell madly in love with a man who has a mental illness – there have been informal stabs at diagnosing his illness. It doesn’t matter what you call it. It is there, it is destructive and he won’t get the professional help he needs to try to fix it.

I met him after being separated and divorced for six years. My children were almost grown and leaving the nest, and I was not looking forward to going home alone at night. He was dashing, and handsome, and spoke with a wonderful accent. And he was so smart and well read. He had a gift for language and was a captivating story teller. He had lived a fascinating and exciting life.

We courted fast and furiously. Cyber space hummed with our love letters and poems. He cooked me wonderful meals and we met for breakfast every morning. He was courteous, chivalrous even, opening car doors for me and pulling out my chair in restaurants. You could tell by the way he looked at me, touched my arm, that he was really interested. And for me, it felt great, having lived in a loveless marriage for a very long time.

But the signs of instability were there, very early on. To his credit, he didn’t try to mask them. In fact, I think he tried to enhance them. I believe he wanted me to see him for real before he got too vested in the relationship. I think he was very afraid of another failure, for he had had several failed marriages and relationships. So he showed me his bad side so that maybe I would end it before it could be considered a failure.

He did and said some really hurtful things. He often gave me the cold shoulder, or worse, would walk out on me for several days at a time for no reason that was apparent to me. I walked on eggshells all the time, trying to keep him placated. I tried to behave like a “good girl” so he wouldn’t leave me or punish me with his snidely comments and frigid manner. He tried to isolate me from my children and my friends. And yet against all reason, I continued to love him. I continued to stay in the relationship.

There were easier and wonderful times in between. We could talk for hours about many different things. We would eat dinner out on the deck, enjoying good wine while watching the meteorites and trying to identify the constellations and planets. He taught me about nature – plants and birds – and increased my appreciation for them to the point of passion.

He loved fixing my house, and my house needed a lot of fixing. He did everything, from minor repairs to major renovations. He spent his own money on them and spent hundreds of hours of his time. And he was very good at it. But this aided in my confusion. I had difficulty separating the gratitude I felt for the material benefits he gave me from the despair I felt from the control I allowed him to exert over me and the pain of his mistreatment.

He walked out on me, again, the day before Christmas, 2006. The pain was unbearable. All I could do for three days was lie on the couch and force myself to breathe. I kept telling myself that all I had to do was get through the next couple of months and then I would begin to feel alright. I chalked off every minute that I survived as one less that I had to suffer until the pain would eventually go away. My friends and family, as always, were wonderful. They had been through this with me at least four times before and continued to support me, to be there for me whenever I needed them. I found a fantastic therapist, who focused the sessions on me, not him. It was not about his mental illness. It was about why I would stay in a relationship that was punishing and hurtful and why I was willing to give up control over my own life.

Two weeks later, he did his email thing to test the waters about coming back. This time, I very politely rebuffed him and made it clear I was no longer interested. This was the hardest thing I ever did in my life, because I knew taking him back would immediately quash the agony.

After several more weeks, with the help of family and friends and therapy, I actually started feeling like my old self. I kept busy with friends and projects, and I felt my sense of humor beginning to return. Then, he wrote about the lunar eclipse we had just experienced and to tell me he was coming to pick up his tools. I wrote back and before I knew it, we were together again. He was kind and gentle, and took me on a wonderful vacation. He let me express my thoughts without getting angry. I felt that I would at least have some power in the relationship. He told me that his despair had been so great that that was the first time ever he considered taking his own life. Because of that, I thought things would be better because he would not want to risk losing the relationship again. I trusted that.

Things were good for a while – really good. I even considered marriage. We had become engaged a year earlier in Notting Hill, England. It was so romantic. But something told me to continue to wait, and I did. Bless his heart, he really tried to hold it together and I appreciate the effort that he made. But whatever it is underlying his behavior, whatever his mental illness is and whatever it is that is torturing him, he didn’t fix it and after a while, the behavior was back, as bad as ever. And then, again, he erupted. This time, he walked out on me the day before Valentine’s Day.

So, here I am three days after our break up, and I am actually feeling fine, a bit liberated, as a matter of fact. I think the last nail was pounded into the coffin and I can move on with my life. But what did I learn from all of this. What are the lessons?

I truly believe that he loved me the best way he possibly could and I really do appreciate that. I believe one can love a person with mental illness. I believe everyone deserves to be loved but has to take responsibility for his or her own behavior. I believe that our emotional health and stability are so important that they should never be sacrificed under any circumstances. I believe that we should listen hard to our gut. So much pain could be avoided if we did. I believe I am loveable and deserve to be loved. And mostly I believe in love, and that if we are healthy and true to ourselves, we will get the kind of love we deserve.