When I got married at the age of twenty-four, I never imagined I’d be looking back at our past ten years of marriage with the realization that our love has survived mental illness.
But the reality of mental illness is that it doesn't discriminate. Like cancer, it strikes without warning. Like cancer, it’s life-changing. Like cancer, it tests the strength of the important relationships in your world. It's ruthless and heartless, and at times I felt as though I were drowning and I'd never come up for air.
I met my husband when I was nineteen years old. We dated throughout college, even though we attended universities two hours apart. Long-distance wasn’t a piece of cake, but it was doable. Both of us had cars, and the drive wasn’t that bad. Each weekend one would drive to be with the other and when we graduated, we couldn’t wait to live in the same city. It wasn’t long before we were engaged and ready to make it official after having been a couple for four years.
He proposed early one morning, kneeling by my bedside at six in the morning, while I tried to force myself to wake up so I could memorize what he said, the look in his eyes, the magic of the moment. He whisked me away to the Bahamas for the weekend, my fairytale proposal. I remembered thinking at the time, “What did I do to deserve a man like this?” It all just seemed too good to be true.
He chose a beautiful, smart, driven, fun-loving fiance as the woman he wanted to spend the rest of his life with. He chose me. He didn’t choose mental illness.
He never signed up for this.
Our wedding was perfection, from the good-luck rain which fell as my dad and I ran from our limo into the church where he was waiting for me at the altar, to the dinner and dancing with our friends and family to the luxury hotel room where we peeled off our wedding attire at the end of the night. I took mental pictures throughout the night so as not to forget any detail. It was everything I had dreamed it would be. Only better.
I never imagined two years later I’d be blindsided with a manic episode so severe that four months later I’d be forced to quit the career I had worked tirelessly to develop.
Through it all, my husband’s love never wavered. Even though what happened to me terrified him more than it did me - in the moment I couldn’t comprehend what was going on - he didn’t flinch. Instead, he took control of the situation and made the call for help.
I can still recall the authority in his voice, the strength in his embrace as he tried to coax me to the car so he could drive me to the hospital, and the way he spoke with the EMT’s and police officers with respect and appreciation for their help as they arrived at our house to take me to the psych ward.
He’s been by my side, holding my hand, each and every time mania has overtaken my mind. His arms never tired from hugging me close, his thumbs wiped countless tears from my cheeks so that he could kiss me gently to encourage me to keep my chin up. We took things one day at a time and eventually I found my path to recovery.
But I don’t know how I would have found my way if he wouldn’t have been there to walk with me.
My brother has said before that he couldn't have hand-picked a better husband for me. I couldn't agree more. I am the luckiest girl in the world to have ended up with such a supportive, loving, dedicated man.
“In sickness and in health…” hit us a little sooner than we had anticipated. On this Valentine’s Day, I celebrate how my husband was able to be the light during my storm. Our love was tested and thankfully we made it through, and continue to weather the storm, with flying colors.
Happy Valentine's Day, honey. I love you with all my heart. xoxo