I didn’t tell you about the mental illness until several years after we met. You never really questioned the medications I took before bed – I had migraines, after all – and when I did tell you, I was afraid you’d look at me differently.
You still looked like you loved me and so we carried on.
We shared a home and a life. The unexpected tragedies started to build, the stress and anxiety and sadness started to fill me and then, slowly, filled the house. I thought the levees would hold. I thought I had prepared for the worst.
I faced job loss by filling the hours with whatever work I could find to make sure we could keep paying the mortgage and feeding the dog. I faced health problems and chronic pain and migraines and new diagnosis after new diagnosis by reminding myself that it could be so much worse. I faced unexpected estrangement with family, perhaps not graciously, but with all the composure I had left after losing my mom as a teen. I faced a second job loss by applying to almost 100 jobs in three months. I tried to not lose my composure. I didn’t have time or energy to be sad or angry, because I had to save my energy for looking for jobs, for going to interviews.
I found myself in a toxic job but couldn’t leave, because I needed to work, to keep paying my bills, to be useful, to contribute. I had already lost too much. I kept taking my medication and doing yoga and making dinner and paying the bills and walking the dog and putting one foot in front of the other. I never slowed down. I never gave myself permission to be sad or angry or process how everything I worked for, had loved, my health and my career and my family, was crumbling in my hands. I was powerless to stop any of it, but I thought I could keep outrunning it.
I wanted to be “okay.” For us.
It wasn’t enough.
I started to shatter. I cried myself to sleep at night. Depression set into my bones. Anxiety manifested as anger. I tried to keep my head above water. I kept saying the word “fine.”
I’m fine. Everything is fine. It’ll be fine.
It fell apart faster that I could have known. I wanted you close, but I felt unworthy. I felt like you couldn’t hear me, or more importantly, love me as I was. I felt like a failure and I wanted to cling to you like a life raft, but I felt like too much – too sad, too needy, too unsure of what was next. I thought I was going to sink us both.
And so I decided to leave. A job found me, a job 1,000 miles away, and I felt like I had to go face that grief I had been avoiding, that was ruining me. I felt like I had to do it alone. I knew your nature, the fixer, and I knew you couldn’t put me back together. I didn’t want to break apart in front of you, I didn’t want you to not recognize me anymore.
I packed my stuff and you helped me load the truck.
I got in the car and you hugged me in the driveway.
I pushed everyone away, but mostly you. I shut down to everyone around me, under the easy “I’m okay, how are you?” but the grief, the loss, kept building, until it broke me. In trying to keep it together, I lost myself and I lost us.
And now I’m here, trying to fill the silence with my new sense of self. I am trying to dig myself out of the wreckage.
I miss you so much sometimes it feels bigger than the depression. It’s its own kind of grief. It makes me wish the earth would swallow me whole.
But I miss myself too – an easy laugh, hope. I don’t recognize this angry, wrecked-feeling person that lives in my skin, that has been growing stronger for the better part of a year, maybe longer. I thought she was long gone, that therapy and yoga and medication and multivitamins and reading and even you had vanquished the deepest, darkest parts of me. But I lost myself telling myself I couldn’t grieve, that I had to hide the broken parts of me. I lost myself thinking I wasn’t worthy just as I was, a mix of ambition and fear, of triumph and trauma.
These days I wake up in a new place. I am not a new person. But sometimes I see glimpses of hope. I feel empty some nights, but then I see the sun a few hours later when I take the dog out in the morning. I am faced with the quiet and with myself and it’s lonely, but I am learning.
I’m sorry I pushed you away. This disease makes me feel unlovable, too far gone to be valuable to the people in my life, a burden, but I am coming back to myself. I am a little worse for wear, but I am starting to see myself as worthy. I am starting to see myself more clearly and it is scary, but I am stronger. I am reconnecting all the broken pieces of myself.
I have stopped running from myself and I sit under the same sky I know that you are, all those miles away, and I feel, for the first time in forever, moments of wonder and possibility, of light, and even love. I hope you can feel that too – that the world isn’t broken, that the story isn’t over.