Finding the Meaning of 'in Sickness and in Health' Through Both of Our Illnesses
Those vows are something that most of us just say on our wedding day, but never really think anymore about. Well, I certainly didn’t. Even though my husband had been finally diagnosed with bipolar disorder, just three weeks before our wedding, three years ago. We’d been together for seven years at that stage, but probably dealing with his mental health for the previous two years. I thought he’d finally get the right treatment and we’d be getting on with our life.
At that point my health hadn’t been wonderful, but it was nothing that couldn’t be dealt with and I would be OK again. So we started on our mental health journey. I mean we were lucky, we had lots of support which would help us to learn to live with bipolar disorder and its effects. We would master this and move on. I thought it would be that easy!
Lewis has bipolar disorder type 2, so he doesn’t get the extreme highs. But he does get the lows… I won’t lie, there have been times over the last three years when I have thought I couldn’t do this. It’s too hard. But I had to take a step back from my feelings. I had to remember he is still him, that he is still the wonderful caring man I married and an even better father.
It was, for the first year or so after our marriage, all about the bipolar disorder. How we were managing it, could we spot the warning signs, etc. We did and do. He hasn’t had a major episode for a long time now, and we are moving forward. But the beast lives in the shadows, threatening to come and destroy our peace. His moods are different than other people’s. Things that wouldn’t affect other people can affect his mood for the entire day/week, etc. That was OK when I was in good health, I could cope with it. I could be there for him.
It was about 15 months after that, that I became ill. At first we just looked at it as another hurdle, one that I would get over. I mean I’d gotten over so many health problems so far. I would again. But as the following few months unravelled, we soon realized that I had a chronic illness that wasn’t going away. Lewis was fantastic, he supported me and never put me under any pressure. But as time went on, I began to feel like that wasn’t really the case.
I started to feel resentful. I mean I’d supported him in his darkest hours, so I thought why couldn’t he do that for me? Don’t get me wrong, he is amazing, he works all day, often comes home and cooks for the family, does loads around the house, etc. But that wasn’t enough — I needed his emotional support. I’m going through the loneliest darkest days of my life and I need my husband.
The problem was he was feeling the same. He felt resentful, like I wasn’t there for him. He had begun to close down and so had I. Had we both checked out of our marriage? Did “in sickness and in health” mean nothing? Whenever we sat down to talk, it became a competition, who felt worse, who was the most tired! My mental health had also taken a nosedive and I wasn’t coping with my illness, so how could I expect him to?
In the end it’s all down to honesty, I think. Both of us want to honor our vows, we both want and need to be there for the other, but sometimes you have to put yourself first and that’s OK. Just as long as you tell your partner. It’s all about talking, and being honest with each other. We finally sat down and told each other the truth this weekend. We are both finding it hard, but we needed to talk, to remind each other how hard we fought to get this far. To remind each other that “in sickness and in health” isn’t just when you have the flu. It’s for life. Our illnesses are for life and so is our marriage.
Going forward it’s important for us to remember that he will have lows, and I will have flares, but I think this gives us an added layer of strength to our marriage. One that is worth the fight. We need each other and we need to support each other. Judgment is what you expect from outsiders, not the people you live with. But if you are not honest, how can the other person realize you feel that way? Don’t try and protect each other, be honest, be brutal. But most of all, be there. It’s the most important thing you can do in a marriage.
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