Here’s how I would have succinctly told you my life story if you asked me one year ago:
Once upon a time a little boy was born into a loving family who nurtured him as he grew. His third day of college he met the most beautiful girl in the world who was also raised by a loving family, and the two fell in love. They got married, moved to California, and lived happily ever after.
Now, if I was to succinctly tell you my life story as I saw it 8 months ago, it would go like this:
Once upon a time a little boy was born into a loving family who nurtured him as he grew. His third day of college he met the most beautiful girl in the world who was also raised by a loving family, and the two fell in love. They got married, moved to California, and all was going well until the little girl got really sick. She had a psychotic break and was hospitalized for a month, and their lives were thrown into chaos and sadness. All that was known became unknown, and the little boy and girl were afraid.
Today, however, I tell it with a happy ending again:
Once upon a time a little boy was born into a loving family who nurtured him as he grew. His third day of college he met the most beautiful girl in the world who was also raised by a loving family, and the two fell in love. They got married, moved to California, and all was going well until the little girl got really sick. She had a psychotic break and was hospitalized for a month. This was the most intense challenge the young couple had ever faced in their lives, but through patience, faith, and love, they were able to rebound from this awful tragedy and make peace with it in their lives, and they lived happily ever after.
My wife’s illness is fucked up, but I believe that we will have a happy ending. These last 9 months have felt like an eternal hell, but they also seem to a slowly drifting into the past, like a buoyant burden cast out into the receding tide. We can still see it, but it’s moving away, and it’s easier to see our lives for what they are. We sill have yet to fully make peace (including that little nugget in the story is a pretty optimistic touch) but I think we’ll get there.
Not all stories end happily, especially when it comes to mental illness. There are other people who loved their wives just as much as I do, but that wasn’t enough to bring them back from the edge. There are parents of children who did commit suicide, families whose loved ones can never return to normal, functioning lives.
For 27 years, I led an extremely charmed existence. My parents are great and I lived very comfortably. My siblings and I are unnaturally close. I went to a good college and didn’t have any student loans. I got into a profession that I loved (I’m a high school history teacher), regardless of the money. I met my wife early and we fell in love hard and have been wonderful companions for each other. I had a lot of really great sex. Every night I fell asleep living happily ever after.
My wife’s illness shattered the illusion of a painless life, and suffering was thrust violently into my face for the first real time. And yet, I’m now writing once again optimistic that this epic road bump has been traversed. While walking on the beach this weekend, my wife said to me: “We have a lot of good times to look forward to, and I think they start right now.”
I don’t know why I have happy endings and why other people don’t. I don’t know why my wife didn’t jump off a bridge, but other people do. There is no certain answer to this. Philosophers and theologians have tread this ground for ages. Job asked God why he was being punished, and was punished even more. Nietzche thinks that God must be dead. Even Jesus asked why it was all happening as he was being nailed to the cross.
I don’t write with an answer, just with acknowledgment. I know I’m lucky, even within my misfortune. One of the earliest blog comments that I got here was someone saying that “life had dealt me a really rough hand.” At the time, it sure as hell did seem like that, but that was a micro-view of the situation. On a macro-level, I’m a blind-as-a-bat asshole if I can’t see the loved that is showering down on me. Love isn’t like pizza. If you give some away, you don’t end up with less, you end up with more. So that’s what I’m trying to do on my little patch of the earth: take the love I’m given, and give it to others. That’s the only way I can make sense of the good that I’ve been given.
I don’t think I did anything wrong to deserve what went wrong, but I also don’t think I did anything right to deserve what went right. It just did. But to those of you out there who might be feeling that they never get to wish upon a star, that there is no riding into the sunset, I would just say quite simply: ……yet. You are not there, yet. But I wholeheartedly believe that everyone is loved by a force greater than all of us and that force wants what is best for us. It just takes time. It may not even be in this world. We love fairy tales because they come true.
Easy for me to say. My 9 months is probably a drop in the bucket for many of you. So it goes. I can’t fake pessimism, I live and breathe hope. That’s what 27 years of a charmed life will do. But 9 months obviously hasn’t soured that hope out of me, it has strengthened it. And I say this now, with my wife off her antipsychotic medicines, and her side effects diminishing, and her smile returning, and a year of amazing travels on our horizon, but this hope didn’t magically appear like a rabbit out of a hat. It has been growing and strengthening from the first time I looked at her in sadness as she was on the other side of a locked door in a psychiatric hospital.