My wife is doing well. I’m doing well. We just had a fantastic weekend together filled with joy and friends. She has one week left of Intensive Outpatient Care, and then she gets much of her life back in her control. It’s like a double-wammy of good news, compared to the “no wammies, no wammies, no wammies, stop!” wammies of that old game show. A) she’s doing well enough to get out of IOP, and b) she gets more of her life back. Double-wammy of good news. I am done work in 5 weeks and then we start a time of exploration and travel. Things seem to be going well.
But I’m still hung-up on the past. I’m still grieving this unexpected illness. 9 months and 2 days ago, I sent the following email to my closest friends and family members. It was the night I took my wife to the hospital, where she stayed for 23 days. I don’t know why in the good that is happening I still am troubled by the past. Actually, strike that. I know exactly why. Because it was terrible and I still need to exorcise my own demons (pun intended, given the circumstances) and accept what has happened, and paradoxically that seems to be by re-living some of it. So here’s another flashback, going back to the letter I wrote my family to let them know just how much my world had changed. I remember taking forever to write this and re-reading it over and over again and hurting so badly that I thought my heart was collapsing, crying so hard that I thought my throat would rip out.
As always, I have change her name to Sonya for her privacy.
* * *
Tues, Sept. 9 at 9:08pm
Dear Friends and Family,
I am emailing you because, as the greeting indicates, you are my friends and family, and in times of struggle and difficulty, it is to our friends and family that we turn.
Sonya is sick. She is unfortunately very sick.
About a month ago, Sonya started to express anxiety over her new job, especially with the new challenges and unknown’s involved. This anxiety, it now seems pretty clear, triggered a lot of questions and issues that Sonya has struggled with for quite some time, and they are forcing themselves to the surface. Sonya has struggled with her body image, unfortunately nothing very unique for women in our time and age, and that is definitely a part of this. However, over the last week or so, her job-anxiety and body issue have become secondary, as she has become engulfed in a crippling depression. Sonya went from the Sonya that we all adore and who has given us great joy to someone that could not work, focus, or even reply to emails. In response, her dad came out to visit this past Wednesday, we set up meetings with doctors and therapists, our priest, you name it. On top of this, Sonya was having increasing difficulty sleeping, and was losing interest in food. We tried to approach this from many different angles with different safety nets, but none of them could stop the downward slide. On Sunday morning, her father and I took Sonya to the emergency room at the hospital, because we were worried about her safety. Sonya had gotten to the point where she had indicated that she might be a threat to her own safety.
Sonya was released from the hospital Sunday afternoon with medications to help her sleep and to try and calm her anxiety. Hospital protocol releases patients unless they are explicitly suicidal, and Sonya was not that. Sunday and Monday were actually pretty good days. Her mom got into town Sunday night, and the four of us enjoyed the good weather and time together. The medicine seemed to be working, and there were wonderful glimmers of the Sonya that I’ve known. As this is happening, I find it powerfully coincidental that in 5 short days is the 9 year anniversary of our relationship together, starting as clueless freshmen kids with an innocent kiss on September 13, 2009. And now, on the brink of an anniversary that seals the fact that I’ve been with Sonya for 1/3 of my life, we are in a much different situation.
Late last night, Sonya got much, much worse. She became delusional, heard voices, was exhibiting psychosis, and was unquestionably a threat to herself. However, she kept it all in to not worry us, instead staying up all night to “protect us from her,” as she put it. We didn’t really see this explosion until this morning. The end result, without going into too much painful detail, is that Sonya was once again back at the ER, but this time was checked into the hospital. She is now a the Psychiatric Ward of ________ Hospital, where we left her a few hours ago, unquestionably the most painful thing I have ever done in my life. Again, I don’t want to get into too much detail here, suffice it to say that this is the single largest struggle I’ve ever encountered.
The short-term goal is to get Sonya stabilized and safe. She will be in the hospital for the law-mandated 72 hours, at which point we will re-consider whether she is benefiting from a hospital stay, or if some other option would be better. From there, we may put her into a safe retreat-center where she can spend a lot of time under supportive and professional supervision to try and get better, away from home. I have heard great things from trusted members of my support community (I’m staying vague here to respect the privacy of people, so bear with the awkward phrasing) and such an approach was extremely successful. A very hard thing for me to accept is that my love for Sonya isn’t enough right now, and in fact, is in some ways preventing her from dealing with her struggles herself. She may need distance. I have spoken with some very trusted friends and family members (and thank you so so so much for those I’ve already been in touch with) that this is likely the best step to Sonya’s improved health. Another option is to do a more extensive “out-patient care,” in which case she is doing recovery during the day, but coming home at night. It’s a complicated piece and is going to take time and research to figure out the next best step.
Me? I’m hurting. My best defense mechanism is my curiosity and my intellect, so when speaking with doctors or doing research I go into more analytical mode and can compartmentalize things a bit more, and distance myself from how I feel. However, the truth is it’s only the first night and I miss my wife. Granted, this struggle has been unraveling over the last month, but this is the first night where I have to sleep with my wife in some hospital. If I close my eyes and think about where she is and what she might be experiencing, my eyes fill with painful tears. It’s hard to look at our unmade, empty bed, to be in this house, to hear songs or look at pictures. Sonya is my everything. How do you take away someone’s everything and expect that person to remain in tact?
So why do I email you guys? First off, I email because everyone on this list loves Sonya, and I think it’s important to keep the people who love her informed. She kept this all very very private. In this problem, Sonya needs to find her own answers. Period. No one can take this away from her and put the pain on themselves, and no one can solve it for her. As such, the “support” for Sonya is mostly limited to good thoughts and prayers, and if you make time to close your eyes for Sonya once a day I will be eternally indebted to you. Sonya needs all the emotional support she can get right now, regardless of the distance. Tonight at dinner we said grace and all felt stronger through praying for Sonya’s recovery, and for the strength of our family to be able to weather this storm.
However, I’m also emailing because I need help. I must try and continue to live my life, as best I can. My father-in-law is flying back to Europe tomorrow, but my mother-in-law is staying indefinitely. As such, I’ll have food, the dog will be taken care of, the “chores” will be done. However, it’s already very sad and lonely without her. I’m NOT ASKING for a flood of emails and calls. I’m not asking for that at all. I’m exhausted and need sleep. I feel almost as if I’m going through a grieving process, and everything I’ve ever heard about that is that the immediacy of it is bearable, but it’s in the long-term that I’ll really have a tough time. Depending on where her recovery takes us, Sonya may be away for many months, and if that is the case I will appreciate as much friendship and love from you guys as I can get. I am taking tomorrow off (Wednesday) because I’m fried, but I am currently planning on going back to work on Thursday. So please, and this will be the only time I ask, please be the amazing friends and family members that you are. Be ready to see me cry, a lot. Also, me and Sonya’s mom will keep each other company, but she’s out here alone too, as soon I’m back to work. That’s going to be really tough on her as well. So if you ever want to include me in something, know that I’m definitely going to be bringing my mother-in-law. And also, you may hardly know her, but she’ll be here, you know where I live, and so you’re welcome to stop by. Otherwise, I don’t know what the path ahead holds, but I do know it’s going to be a struggle, and I’m emailing you because you guys are the people I turn to in struggle.
I’ll end with a story from today. This morning, Sonya was extremely distraught after not sleeping. I was able to calm her a bit, and the two of us lay down for a second and napped, or as my dad calls it, “rested our eyes.” We were in each other’s arms, and life felt good again. In the brief, 5 minute nap together, I had an extremely powerful dream. I dreamt that I was on a journey, and I was with Sonya holding her hand. It jumped from place to place to place, but I recognized them all. At one point we were walking up a hill on the street in Tokyo where my family used to live, at another we were at my school campus where I teach, and then we were in Kenya on a street corner that I remember from my time there. All different places from my life, all with Sonya’s hand in my hand. We were searching for something, but I don’t know what it was, except that we were eager to find it, and were enjoying looking around, exploring our surroundings, and laughing together a lot.
Thanks guys. I am at this time slightly comforted by the Alexander Dumas quote: “Only in darkness can we see the light.”