Marriage Of One

January 22, 2019

Mental health in the Marriage of One

Filed under: intimacy,marriage,relationships — marriageofone @ 8:12 am

For all her faults Susan is generally a cheerful person, often effusive and bubbly.  I like that about her, because I am not.  I consider myself to be (or have become) a person who is content.  That is, I believe that I have learnt the gist of, and now practice a workable combination of the Serenity Prayer  and Rudyard Kipling’s If.  This keeps me from swinging from despair to excitement and back again.  I am balanced.  I am calm.  It is not an exciting way to live.  But I can live with myself and with Susan and the kids and all that life throws at me and maintain by and large an even keel.  Susan on the other hand adds excitement and noise to the household.  I play with the children and I’m there for them of course, but she provides an atmosphere that I simply can’t/won’t.  The reasons for my attitude in this respect is largely (but by no means exclusively) down to the kind of lifestyle I have been forced to make for the Marriage of One.

A few weeks ago Susan fell into a downward spiral of low moods and silence.

I don’t know what triggered her downward mood swing.  Although I don’t recall the precise start, I saw her sink within the first day or so and from then on for almost a week she just got worse and worse.  She barely spoke, and gave single word answers to any questions.  The kids fared only slightly better with her. I tried to ask if she was okay (naturally, like husbands everywhere, I thought it was something I had done just to rule anything trivial out) and if something was wrong.  Initially she said nothing was wrong.  A few days later she said she would speak when she was ready, but it wasn’t anything I had done.  Still, she kept her composure and kept going.

After I think a week, I caught her sobbing quietly at breakfast (she comes down before I do).  Again I tried to ask her about it.  She finally admitted there was something but she would speak to me about it the next day.

Before I come to the content of that conversation, I have to confess something.  This isn’t the first time she has sunk into despair.  In fact – maybe a year or so ago, I called up the GP because I suspected she might be suffering from depression.  It was clear at the time however, that she was not a danger to herself or anyone else, so unless she sought help herself, there was nothing I or the GP could do.  The GP just told me to keep an eye on her or suggest she come in for a general checkup.  At home I suggested (although I have never told her about my call to the GP) that she ought to go to the GP since “she obviously wasn’t feeling well”.  She didn’t want to talk about anything, when I asked; she said she would be fine and that was the end of it.  She declined the suggestion.  A few days later she returned to ‘normal’.

This time, a few days into the low mood I already suspected the gist of what Susan was suffering from, and when she confirmed that it wasn’t anything I had done, I knew for certain.  Why? Because Susan is only human and every now and then she will glimpse her own mortality and a wasted, unfulfilled life.  I know because I have had to confront the same demons in my self.

Over years I have struggled to come to terms with it, reading, coping, not coping, writing this blog, coping for a while, then falling back into self-doubt and despair.  But I had the introspective tools and the drive to seek answers and understanding.  I have somehow over the course of more than a decade come to the other side and I have found a mental and emotional equilibrium.  It may just be a holding pattern of sorts for the next part of my life, but I am holding.  I am calm, functional and I can engage thoroughly with all other aspects of my life and career.  Don’t get me wrong, it is not an easy life or lifestyle, but I have made it workable.  Until I got to this point I was adrift.  You can argue that I am not the same person I was and the sacrifice has been too great.  I used to be excited and excitable.  Laughed easily.  Had enthusiasm and zest for life.  I don’t have those now, whilst I embrace life and living I curb excitement and exuberance.  I don’t get deflated when things go bad, and I don’t get excited when they go well.

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster,
 And treat those two impostors just the same;

Maybe in a future post I’ll detail this part of my personality a bit more.  But for now, this is how I exist.

But Susan does not have those tools, and critically she does not even have the distraction of a satisfying career or job.  She still sees her fate and destiny as something shaped without rather than within.  She kind of understands that she has to make an effort to achieve something – be it a new job or lose weight, but she can’t commit to the discipline it will take so she blames her circumstances or other people for her inability to achieve her goals.  And when it comes to our marriage I sympathise with her.  She wanted to shape her marriage in a very particular way and has utterly failed.  She is quite literally left with almost nothing.  And that realisation – even if it will only surface in conscious thought now and then – is tragic and terrifying.  I know how she feels because I have sobbed just like that.

So the next evening as I got into bed she started with “Can you tell me how you feel?”  To be honest she caught me slightly off guard.  I was expecting a monologue of her feelings and even perhaps a tearful rant.

“Um… fine. I’m okay”, I offered hesitantly.

“No.  Tell me how you really feel. You know what I mean.”

I took a deep breath.  I get nervous about these kinds of conversation because we often end up talking past each other or heading into the past and all the baggage that entails. Worse for me, my carefully constructed mental state gets blown off course for a few days which can disrupt my sleep, motivation, mood and other aspects of life.

“I feel…. rejected and lonely”, I admitted.

“There!  Now we’re getting somewhere!”, she exclaimed.  It was as if she had extracted some kind of hidden nugget of truth and could finally hold it up to the light.

“But I’ve felt like this for years.”  I said.  “It’s not new.”

“I know.  And it’s not right”, she said, as if that was also a great insight.

“So”, I offered after a few moments of silence, “how do you feel?”

“I feel the same”, she said.  “We shouldn’t feel this way”

Another interminable pause.  I wondered if she would make some kind of admission of past errors or at least offer a change in behaviour for the future. I waited in vain.

“We have to talk to each other.” she said finally.

“We did have Tuesday as our chat day, but you didn’t want to talk”, I offered cautiously.  I didn’t want make her defensive and start a debate or row, but I felt I had to state the facts.

“I know”, she said.  “I just can’t make myself talk about these things”.

“You know the more you talk, the easier it becomes.  You just have to make yourself do it”.

“I can’t. I just don’t feel comfortable”.

Silence.  I didn’t know what to say.  It seemed that she had completed the discussion herself.

She was lonely and isolated because she couldn’t speak to me openly and honestly because she wasn’t comfortable having those sorts of conversation and she would not force herself to learn how.

We sat for a few more minutes of silence.  There really wasn’t anything to add.  I couldn’t think of anything else to say and neither could she.  At least I couldn’t think of anything worth saying that would make her explore a different perspective.

Eventually she changed the subject and for a couple of minutes we spoke about something utterly trivial.  Then we bid each other good night as if nothing was amiss.

That evening she accepted her marriage and fate as she has done before and will do again, and we both fell asleep.

She has not made any follow-on conversations or attempted to revive Chat Tuesday.

In the morning she seemed to be lifting out of the low mood.  A few days later it was as if it had never happened.

Except I know it will happen again.

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