Putting Up with Each Other –
Today is my wife Beth and my anniversary. 28 years to be exact. There are days it seems like only yesterday we said; “I do’s” and others where I wonder; “what happened to those 19-year-old kids? What were they thinking? Were they thinking? Did they understand the journey they were about to embark on?”
I told Beth today; “I don’t know how you put up with me.” Some husbands and wives jest in this way but Beth knows how serious I am. Reflecting on that day 28 years ago, a hot June day in 1990 when we met at the church to say our vows to each other there is a realization I am not the person she married. Somehow Beth has grown into an even more beautiful woman inside and out. People love to be around her. Her personality is infectious. Her smile draws people to her and her spirit makes them feel welcome and loved. She is, by far, the better half.
This other half has walked a long, hard part of the journey these last several years. The struggle with, diagnosing of and living with severe chronic depression and severe anxiety have taken their toll in certain areas of my life. However, I have been blessed with a partner who meant it when she said; “for better, for worse, in sickness and in health.” I could not ask for nor deserve her love, patience, perseverance. I tell her this regularly and she reminds me she’s far from perfect.
“We’ll stay on this road together’ she says, ‘putting up with each other.” Sounds good to me.
The Mask –
One of the most difficult truths about mental illnesses is knowing you have no control over when and where your’s will show itself. This morning mine decided to visit just before going to church. I felt; “edgy” and distracted thoughts swirled around in my head. When I got to church the mask of; “everything is OK, nothing to see here, pleasantries for everyone” was put on before I walked in the doors and stayed before, during and after service. Like a duck on a pond, smiles and easiness on top, churning and just trying to stay afloat beneath the surface.
Having a severe anxiety disorder and clinical, chronic depression often means wearing masks. You know what’s socially acceptable, what won’t make other people uneasy, what keeps everyone balanced. You understand that when someone asks; “How are you?” You can’t unload on the unexpecting. It’s not fair to them.
So, the mask goes on, you say; “Hi.”, shake a hand, exchange a few banal words which don’t require follow-up conversation, and move on. About 3/4 through the service I noticed my arms, legs were crossed and I was hunched over a little. I thought to myself; “You’re trying to become as small as possible to avoid being seen, judged, called on, noticed.” Not that any of these things were going to happen but your emotions in the midst of an anxiety episode can be a powerful motivator. I was this way the rest of the service and when it was over I exited, wishing for invisibility.
This isn’t an isolated incident. Severe anxiety is one of many mental illnesses people live with, some more successful than others. It’s part of our lives similar to anyone with a chronic disease. You do your best to enjoy the better days, endure the hard ones and hope the meds, therapy, hobbies and other treatments prescribed mean that one day the mask is no longer wanted or needed.