Brian's Battle: Second-Hand Mental Illness Part II
My first article described the pain I felt dealing with my wife’s mental illness. I described not knowing what was happening and the burden of blaming myself as I tried to figure it out.
The day Amanda told me that I needed to stay home with the kids so she could go to the doctor was actually a relief. A huge relief. I knew it didn’t mean things would change right away. It just meant we could start having answers. I didn’t know what the future would look like but I had hope at that point it would be brighter.
If the point of the first part of my story was to describe the pain before the turning point, then this one attempts to convey how the hope I could barely hang on to actually started to crystallize into actuality.
When I look back, I don’t feel like I really had any sort of influence on Amanda wanting to confront her mental illness, nor did I feel like I pushed her to do anything. I kinda felt like I was just here waiting and hoping. In all honesty, I’m not sure there was much I really could do for her. I watched. I felt like her healing was between herself and God. I just tried not to get in the way with my own agenda. I feel lucky that I’ve just had the opportunity to witness the process of her healing. Underlying her road to healing is a very simple truth: We were not meant to merely exist, but to have joy. I believe that same truth. We are not here on this earth to exist but to have joy in becoming.
It was somewhere in that process of her “coming to herself” that clouds began to dissipate. There wasn’t a moment in all of this. It felt imperceptibly gradual like a sunrise instead of a lightning strike. It truly has been amazing to watch the woman I married become the woman I married. I am quite literally in awe of her sometimes just watching her blossom.
I really like that word—become. It’s so fitting. That word, to me, describes the journey, not the destination. And that is what healing is to me. It is a journey. It does not mean there won’t be hard days. It doesn’t mean you won’t get scared. It doesn’t mean you won’t have episodes or phases. The old adage “This too shall pass” refers not only to the bad times but to the good times as well. Everything is cyclical with an upward trajectory as we push forward doing the best we can.
Every morning, I take my dog (begrudgingly) out to pee behind our home. With Springtime in full swing, I’ve noticed all the blossoms and wildflowers cover the once desolate dirt field. Every night, I take my dog (begrudgingly…ok… Amanda wanted her, I don’t really care to have more responsibilities in my life in the form of a pet) out to pee behind our home. One night, as I tried looking for those same blossoms I marveled at earlier that day, I realized they had disappeared. It hit me that they only blossomed in the sunlight. I began to see Amanda blossom as she found her light. Remember though that the blossom comes last. It takes weeks of growth before a plant flowers. Roots must grow, the stem must become sturdy, sustainable systems must be in place for continual feeding from sun and water.
Amanda took root by rediscovering who she always was, a kind-hearted, fun-loving, ever-giving, ever-pranking woman of depth and maturity (despite the number of times she tries to scare me!) She tried new things. She reached out to others. She made herself uncomfortable on purpose. She reached out to me. A few months later in June, she said, “Hey, do you want to go away just me and you for our anniversary?” Hell yes I did!
We went to where we had felt the most connected in our marriage, back to LA. We went to Six Flags, Warner Brothers Studio (We’re fans of Friends, Gilmore Girls, and generally trashy reality TV shows), Universal Studios, rode a surrey on the beach, ate at Pier Burger on Santa Monica Pier. It was heaven! She vows to never go to Disneyland without the kids for some reason. I would not suffer any guilt from doing that, but oh well, we found other things to enjoy. I felt so connected to her again. It was all her idea too!
She began to go to conferences, have weekend getaways with her girlfriends, take classes and seminars to learn new skills, sign up for half-marathons and Ragnars, and go to booty-shaking dance classes (aka Dirtylicious). She kept playing pranks on me and the kids too. The kids would cry, which made Amanda laugh all the more. She’s not sadistic I promise. She just loves scare pranks.
I started to find my healing in it all too. It takes time. It doesn’t happen in a day, a week, a month. I still have healing to do as she does too. That is the beauty in all this. I define hope by simply having the opportunity to change the future. And I am so convinced that we can. That hope propels us forward.
Remember those flowers behind our house? They don’t stand alone. They grow in bunches and collectively bloom in the light. It’s only when the bloom appears that it becomes integral to sustaining life for others. I see Amanda becoming part of a much-needed ecosystem of those struggling with mental health issues. She gives me hope and I know she will provide that to so many others.
I think everyone’s path to healing is lit by multiple lanterns. I’m so incredibly grateful for God’s grace in the village that has helped us to heal. The best is yet to come.