My husband wanted me to write about our experience with bipolar, as we know several couples at the start of their journey. He wants what we have been through to help others. I commend him on this, and also on the huge changes I have seen in him. He said he didn’t understand that he had textbook symptoms. There needs to be a checklist. He says to other men, if these things are happening in your life, get help! What sort of things need to be on your checklist? Feeling different from everyone. Not being able to communicate with people, especially in long-term relationships. Feeling unbeatable and unstoppable, then feeling worthless and useless. Drinking heavily and/or experimenting with drugs. Seeing loved ones pull away from you. Going around in circles. Going really well for a while, then plummeting back to earth. The main thing for my hubby is relationships. He went from a naturally gregarious character to a fellow who couldn’t talk with people. He wouldn’t know what to say, and would get extremely restless at social events, and wander off by himself. Talk to your doctor, and loved ones. You can receive help and it is more than possible to not just survive, but flourish. The Black Dog Institute
Has it only been five days since a sink-hole opened and swallowed my home? Everything has changed. I have changed. If I didn’t know I was strong before, I do now. Diamonds are created under immense pressure. For years, he has told friends how he worries about me, as though I were made of porcelain. Deflection at its best. I am not scattered. I don’t disappear. I watched a musical with my girl and several friends Saturday. I couldn’t tell you anything about it, as I was bone-shatteringly exhausted. I kept bumping into friends, dear people who asked how we were. We were assembled to be shown to our seats. Does one say “my husband disappeared and I don’t know what the hell is going on?” Once home, the mask collapsed. He was there. I had nothing to say. I was so tired by this point. I changed, grabbed my little girl, and on the way out the door, noticed his bandaged hand. “Mummy is taking you to the carnival, just as I promised,” I said breezily. As I entered the showground and the swarm of people, my head was thumping. It grew worse in the searing sun, despite the painkillers I had taken. I didn’t want to meet familiar faces. I was too spent for conversation, and too exhausted for a fake façade of togetherness. By a miracle, I ran into an authentic family. A family who loves unconditionally and does real. Hallelujah! I told the sorry tale to the couple as Lizzie played with their daughter. I got to hang around them throughout the night. My friends sat with me, and understood my introversion. This was kindness. We watched the fireworks, then I went home. Hubby was in and out of the house. I didn’t speak to him. I was too spent.
The next morning, we had a christening to attend. Our dear friends are moving to England and I was not going to miss the opportunity to meet their baby, and bid them farewell. My spine was excruciating and I had to ask hubby to drive. I read the Sunday papers, and he said nothing. Our daughter watched DVDs in the back. “What happened? How could you do this?” I finally asked as she slept on the long journey. “I messed up,” he shrugged. “I didn’t know if you were dead or alive!” I cried. Back to silence. I am so tired. We enter the church in the Southern Highlands, and a grown woman, who has intellectual challenges, greeted me. She held my hand upon my entrance, and sat with me. I had on a black coat, and she nuzzled into its softness. “I feel sad,” she whispered. I looked around at all the folks gathered, and said. “There are a lot of people here, more than you are probably used to. I feel afraid sometimes too.” We hugged, two child/women connecting in their fragility. It was special, raw and honest. My friend came over with her new baby, and my daughter kissed his head. How I wished I could give her a sibling. A lady spoke an obscure Bible verse and my jaw dropped open. It was the verse I had selected to open my book! My husband sat beside me, unaware.
Afterward, outside in the glorious sun, I met a music teacher who lives in the same area as I, and formed a new friendship. My daughter was playing, and my husband had extricated himself. We went to find him when it was time to go back to the house. I searched the vast grounds, then rang his phone. We found him in the car, staring into space, the seat in recliner position. Wanting to bring some food to the house, I asked that we stop at a market. There were complaints that I spent money on bread and chips, and on a little bracelet for a friend’s birthday. How much does a six-pack cost? I wondered. “Please slow down, it’s hurting my back,” I winced as he sped down the bumpy rural road. He wasn’t listening. We missed their house in his haste and had to turn around. As Lizzie played and I chatted to our friends, he paced outside. Disconnected. My friend watched him pace up and down the patio. I confided in her, told her how he hadn’t come home Friday night. She had bi-polar running through her family, and understood. Her father-in-law pulled me aside and said my husband looked gravely unwell. He was concerned about him.
Back home, I did what parents do; fed my child dinner and prepared for school the next day. In the shower Monday morning, I wept, soul-wracking tears. I felt raw, exposed, going up to school. I told a few close friends and they weren’t surprised that my husband was an alcoholic with mental health issues. They had suspected as much. I went to the gym, and did the circuit of the damned, attempting to exorcise a demon. I figured at least I wasn’t drinking, or dying. A friend shouted me a coffee and confided that she and her husband had the experience of seeing my husband come to their door with a fresh beer and our daughter in hand. Horrified, beyond belief. He had been drinking at ten am in the morning. Shame and humiliation, anger. He came home and I asked that he give me the key to his car. He wouldn’t. I looked in. Empty cigarette packets, brown paper scrunched up, empty bottles and fast food wrappers. Bills and envelopes. Chaos and filth. I wanted to smash the window. In the spare wardrobe in the garage, I found a demand letter addressed to me from a company hired to collect payment for Centrelink. I had been receiving a family payment years before, and when I had broken my back again, my husband took over the finances. He made some huge errors, and now I found I had relationship-acquired debt in my name. I wasn’t even privy to my own affairs, my own life! The madness saw me tearing through every jacket pocket, trying to find evidence and hoping to find none.
The past fell into place in a devastating manner. Why, when he was working interstate, I uncovered that despite receiving a living away allowance, he was sleeping by the side of the road in his car. He was spending hundreds each week on booze and heaven knows what else. He was a master of deception, made easier due to the long hours he worked. I hardly saw him. People have been kind, though I have been asked many times in the past five days, “what are you going to do? Are you getting him to see a doctor, into treatment, into AA”? Healers have been suggested, or offered their services. Somehow it all falls on me. I tell you, I am a mum, and a writer, trying to earn a living. I barely sleep and I need spinal surgery. I have no more energy. I have invested thousands in therapy, in alternatives, in resources for him since he began to fall apart. Why am I then asked, what I am doing about the situation? I didn’t create it! I have no power over it. I can control my life, and keep my daughter’s life orderly. I can’t control his. He has to make the appointments, and put in the work. I can’t do it for him. I will die in the attempt.
He went to AA last night, and I sat up until midnight covering books and doing all that is necessary to lead a manageable life. I am doing it solo. At the moment, it seems an unfair equation I can’t believe that this is where we have ended up. I have shown people a picture of him from before we were married. He glowed. He was handsome, charismatic, and healthy. He was a vegetarian who didn’t drink. I can’t believe the man whose eyes are dead and whom never smiles in photos now, is the same man. Where have you gone? The past six years have been excruciating. Anxiety every time I log on to pay bills, tension every time you disappear at a dinner party. You have become a phantom. I miss you. I hold on because I love you. I know you are in there. I am not angry, not really. Just very sad.
Hell. No other word is adequate to describe what it is like living with someone who is an alcoholic, intent on destroying themselves. Add mental illness to the mix and boom! There is reams written about mental illness and addiction, though scant support for the partner. I had no family support, either to turn to or go home to. I called him at 3.30pm, and he said he would be leaving work shortly. I was pleased, as I had invited a friend over for dinner. 8.30pm came and went and he was a no-show. I called, and he said he had met some boys from a construction company he had previously worked for, and they were having a drink together. I didn’t like the sound of it, nor how the plans had changed without consultation. He said he would be home in an hour. At ten pm I rang and he was slurring. “I am in Marrickville.” Our friend left and I called again at 11pm. “I have only had three beers, relax!” I was made to feel that I was being unreasonable, and a nag, despite not knowing where he was, with whom, when he was coming home and whether he had cleaned out his bank account.
I received the following texts throughout the endless night… “See you tomorrow night, lots of love.” “I don’t know why this has happened but see you soon. Please don’t worry I am fine!” I tried calling, but his phone was switched off. I begged him via text to let me know he was okay at 6am, and said I would be in touch with the police if he didn’t answer. No answer… Our daughter woke up, and found me in the shower, sobbing. I wiped my tears, smiled, and gave her breakfast, my arms shaking. I wanted to keep things as normal as possible, despite not knowing whether her father was dead or alive. I called close friends and asked them to pray. One said she had bumped into my husband near her work, and he looked depressed. He had called her a few times the past week, worried about money. I thought he may have suicided at that point. I phone the police assistance line, and the lady was full of grace and compassion. I explained that my daughter had a class for two hours and I would be home after taking her. She said the police would call in, as it was a worrying situation. I dropped my daughter and her little friend at art class, smiled and chatted to the art teacher, and drove home to await my visitors. I received a brief text, stating “I am at work, battery flat, see you this arvo.” I had to ring the police and cancel the visit, and the dear lady said she was glad he was safe. The thing is, he is not safe. We aren’t safe. If you find this behaviour normal and acceptable, then you aren’t in a safe place inside your mind.
I have to keep being strong even though I am collapsing into myself. My body can’t hold this exhausted spirit up any longer. My daughter and I were going at one pm to see a show with friends. My schedule; pick my daughter and her friend up. Let them have a playdate, then head to the local theatre. Smile through my exhaustion. Face my destructive husband when I get home. Change and take my daughter to the local carnival, as I had promised to get her a show bag for the tremendous work she has put in at school. I don’t want him to come. I can’t play happy families, not tonight. The people we will run into, some of them were praying alongside me this morning. It can’t be business as usual. My nerves feel as though they have been put through a mincer. I met a generous compatriot and her family, and the situation is briefly explained. We hang out with them at the carnival, my silent contemplation accepted, my exhaustion understood. As we walk around, I wonder where my husband has gone, and how he has come to be in the dark place he resides in, alone. I have Natalie Merchant’s ‘Carnival’ song spinning around my head. I am looking forward to sleeping tonight. The trip home with an excited, chattering little girl was five minutes of pure angst for me. I don’t know what to say. I had left the information I had written out for the police, alongside a recent photo of him on the dining table, hoping he will understand the gravity of what he put me through. I tuck myself and my daughter into bed, and we fall asleep in each other’s arms, whilst he prowls the house, unable to stop moving. It will be another long night, but I haven’t the stamina to participate, other than in my disjointed dreams.