I just reread Bonnie’s post and I’m crying. The pain, despair and feelings of helplessness were and are real… for both of us. Too real, at times. Watching the woman I loved for more than 7 years deteriorate before my eyes was the hardest thing I’ve had to endure. It wasn’t a slow or gradual process. It was immediate and unrelenting to the point where we didn’t know what to do or how to handle it. Even after we got help, initially it was slow and seemed hopeless. For a about a year, I went to work every morning asking myself, “Is today the day I come home and discover that I no longer have a family?”
You know, I thought this would be easier to write. I can write for hours, as evident by my long posts but I’m getting easily distracted and find myself not wanting to put these experiences and thoughts on paper. It’s terrifying to admit such horrors. However, I’m committed to this, as I truly believe it’ll help someone and if one person benefits from our words here, then our sacrifice was worth it. I guess the best way to illustrate what we went through is to share an experience.
Shortly after Bonnie had been diagnosed with Bipolar, she called me at work. I said hello to a frantic not-in-control Bonnie. She did her best to explain that she’s about to lose it and knew she couldn’t be trusted with the kids, so she put each one in their rooms and shut the doors. I could hear them crying in the background. She wants to hurt herself and disappear from the world, so I immediately leave the office without so much as a word to my coworkers. I keep her on the phone, talking so I know she hasn’t done anything and race home going 90 miles per hour down the freeway. I’m not even worried about seeing a cop because I’m not stopping. He’d have to follow me home.
I run into the house to see my wife sitting on the bathroom floor, shaking, hyperventilating, unable to breathe and close to passing out. I hear my kids screaming upstairs but I can’t focus on them. They’re safe because she kept them safe… from herself. This would be a pattern throughout this process. Bonnie always and I mean ALWAYS kept the kids out of harms way. I’m not sure I can communicate how incredible that is. She was able to resist these extremely dominant thoughts and impulses and was cognizant enough to put the kids in a safe place, so she could have her breakdown. Add to that, the fact that she has never acted on any desire to self harm and my wife is a goddamn superhero. Only those who have been in that situation or had those dark thoughts can truly understand the amount of strength this takes.
I gave my wife some Xanax and try to talk her off the ledge. What do you say in these moments? Nothing seems to work and I’m not sure I’ve ever figured it out. How do you tell someone to love themselves the way you love them? The way their kids love them? How do you get someone to look in the mirror and not see their reflection but see the person you see? See the amazing, smart, caring person who stole your heart in a matter of weeks but didn’t tell her for months in fear she didn’t feel the same way. How do you get someone to realize they are an incredible mother to her children, when the vicious companion is telling her the kids are better off without her? How do you help them see the love that even a 5-month-old and 2-year-old has in their eyes the moment they see her smiling? How do you tell someone who thinks you will be much happier without them, that the exact opposite is true? How do you convince someone who wants to disappear, that you would cease to exist, if she did? How do you get this person to remember moments like this:
I don’t know but I try like hell every time I need too.
However, on this day we had an additional problem. My Mom is landing in Houston soon and Bonnie was supposed to pick her up from the airport. We can’t find anyone to watch the kids and I can’t leave Bonnie’s side. I put the kids in their car seats. Carry Bonnie to the car and put her in the front seat, as she’s close to passing out by this point. Off we go to pick up my Mom and act as normal as possible. We don’t want anyone to know the depths of our misery in these moments. This is our secret; hidden behind fake smiles.
I don’t know how many times we went through that process. I’m serious. I have no clue. Many of them are a blur. I just remember times like when I thought we were having a good day and then I’d hear Bonnie crying in her closet, not wanting me or the kids to be around her. It’s a careful game of giving her the space she needs but staying close and aware, to keep her from going deeper down the rabbit hole. Wonderland is a destructive place when The Companion takes you there.
There came a time when we felt like she needed to get away. She went to her parents house in Arkansas for several weeks. I took care of the kids, with some significant help from friends and ladies in our LDS church. Actually, throughout this whole time, we had lots of help and it will always be greatly appreciated. There are some debts you can never repay.
I was worried about having to care for a 6-month-old and 2-year-old alone, every morning and night but… it was great! My love for Bonnie and that she was getting a breather made it easy. I only have wonderful memories of that time. In fact, here’s a video we sent Bonnie of me and the kids about to leave for church.
During this year of therapy for Bonnie, I played a bigger role in our kids lives. I was able to sit back and take it easy previously, watching Bonnie do the heavy lifting because I had to “work.” This opportunity opened my eyes to what it really meant to be a father. I was often the primary caretaker and nurturer for my kids and wife. I didn’t always do a great job. In fact, I failed miserably, at times, resorting to just sitting on the couch watching TV with the kids, counting the clock until 7:00, when it was bedtime. However, even in those moments of exhaustion and laziness, I was still holding my kids and it was special. My daughter, Samantha, and I have a very close relationship. I like to think it was because of this initial year but what do I know. I love that little girl and hope she never stops asking for cuddles. Jordan is a stud but he still tells me not to sing to him because my voice isn’t as good as Mom’s…. I believe this year made me a better father and husband. Something to be grateful for.
Eventually, Bonnie did start to get better. She’ll have more to share about this time period and what followed, as The Companion never goes away and rears its ugly head at the worst times, but this first year was the hardest collective period of our lives. It took a toll on me, along with my faith crisis, but that’s a story for another time. I’ll say this, I’m not the only one who’s done some heavy lifting. Our life is like that poem, Footprints, but it’s me and Bonnie. We walk side by side when life is good and alternate carrying each other when needed. Believe me, I’ve needed to be carried plenty.
We often discuss the impact Bipolar Disorder is having on our kids. While you can’t avoid some negative side effects, I strongly believe the majority of lessons will be positive for them. They have two parents who love them and each other greatly and are putting everything they have into learning coping and communication skills. Our children are the immediate beneficiaries of such therapy. They will be better human beings because of what we are learning and experiencing. We all have challenges in life and this is ours. We accept it and will continue to fight, support and love each other with each new day.