On the occasion of my husband’s return after 4.5 years away, I’ve been taking some time to reflect on these past several years of being completely on my own. Sometimes you don’t realize how precious a season of your life is until it’s over, and you look back and see that in hindsight, it really was a special time. I think it remains to be seen just how precious this time in my life really was, in spite of the tremendous difficulties.
I found a website called Fresh Hope for Mental Health, whose tagline is “Living Well in Spite of a Mental Health Diagnosis”. I think it is a refreshing departure from the norm among mental health/bipolar websites. I’ve personally found many websites and so-called support forums to be downright depressing, especially as a caregiver/support person. Some of them seem to have a tone of wallowing in their misery, rather than rising above it. But Fresh Hope seems to be different. It seems to be designed to help people rise above their difficulties, without offering pat answers or glossing over the reality of the challenges. I have yet to fully explore the details of all this site has to offer, but it definitely has my attention, and helps me to see that, while our situation might be unique, it’s not as uncommon as maybe I thought.
It also got me to thinking about that phrase, “Living well in spite of…” I mean, really, you could end that statement with just about anything. I’m convinced that we all have our particular cross to bear. Not everyone has to contend with mental health issues, perhaps, but there’s always something. I’ve always been of the belief that, if it wasn’t this particular challenge in my life, it’d be something else. Not that I want to borrow trouble, but it’s just the way life is. You’re either in a challenging situation, just came out of one, or about to go into one. One way or the other, tribulation in some shape or form IS going to come. Jesus pretty much made that absolutely clear. In this world, you WILL have tribulation.
And then, He says something curious…”but be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world”.
What does that mean?
Is it possible to live well, in spite of our circumstances?
Can I look back on challenging seasons of my life, and say that I lived well “in spite of it all?”
I’m not perfect. I have had several extremely dark nights of the soul over the course of these past several years. There were times when I felt so alone and isolated. I felt weird and abnormal. What do you say when your husband is “away” in the way that mine was? He was just…gone. Not dead gone, but inaccessible and incommunicado. He wasn’t off fighting a war, or away for a job. We weren’t separated or divorced, so it’s not like there was animosity or an antagonistic relationship that kept him away. He wasn’t sick in the sense that I could visit him or care for him in a hospital. He wasn’t in prison. And technically, he wasn’t missing. Most of the time, I simply didn’t know. Sometimes I knew, but he was so ill, I knew that reaching out to him would be futile. And all this time, I had no child support…nothing. Plus, he wasn’t just physically gone. His mind was not well…I suppose the closest comparison is when you watch a loved one with Alzheimer’s or dementia slowly lose themselves. One of the hardest and saddest things to witness is to see a person you love lose themselves, and their sense of identity and reality. I personally refuse to use the “c” word to describe a person in a mental health crisis. But some people might, because, well, stigma. Their entire behavior and persona changes, and can have no rhyme or reason to it. It’s just hard. There was literally nothing I could do but wait and pray and believe and hope.
In spite of that, I had a child to raise, I had responsibilities…somehow, I had to carry on. Now, looking back, I’m wondering to myself “so how did I do?”
I’m still in the process of answering that question and many others. But I can say this: I am at peace. Why? Because I survived, and not only that, but there were times when I actually thrived! And so did my daughter! We lived our lives. We went about life and experienced joy, sorrow, challenges, fun, adventure, wonder. She danced, we enjoyed our friends and family, we played music, we worshiped, we traveled, we worked, we learned and studied, we grew. We never wallowed in the muck and mire of our circumstances, but we kept moving forward. I vented when necessary, to God, close friends, counselors, my journals, etc., and moved on. I did what I had to do, and in some cases, I gave myself permission to leave things undone.
All the things we would have done had my husband been here, we simply did them without him. And God blessed us. He provided for us, He took care of us. He was a Husband to me and a Father to my daughter. If there were treasures to be found in my particular darkness, I do believe I found them.
It didn’t always come the way I wanted or envisioned. It wasn’t always easy…and it never is. I think if we can just settle that from the outset…it’s not going to be easy…it would save disappointment from unmet expectations. The good news is, while it wasn’t easy, it wasn’t impossible. There’s the difference.
If my husband did not have the issues he had, who is to say that we might not have found ourselves in a different kind of challenging situation? We still would have to figure out a way to live well in spite of it, right?
I think because I managed to find treasures in my darkest moments, it will actually make the transition of having my husband back in our lives a lot easier. Why? Because I won’t be looking to him to fill me fulfill me. I don’t need him to do that. I love having him back in our lives again, but I can put him in proper perspective. It takes a lot of pressure off of both of us!
My exhortation to you today is, no matter what circumstances you may find yourself in, seek ways to “live well in spite of…” whatever you’re going through. It’s not easy, but it’s not impossible!