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The longer I journey through this life, the more I realize how committed I was to being happy in all things. To put on the smile and to settle. My mantras went something like this: I should be thankful. Life could be so much worse. I am blessed.  Why wouldn’t I be happy?

And I was blessed.  And my life could have been worse.  BUT I wasn’t happy because I didn’t get it.

Because happy is not a choice or an exercise of will.  Happy is not about me. Rather, happy is a gift given to me in moments by the One who created me and delivered to me through those He fills my life with. Happy is realizing that in all of the madness of this life – this life that cannot be normal and is never expected – I am loved, I am cherished, and I dare to hope.  Happy is being astounded that I am loved despite my shit and in the midst of it.  Happy is all about grace.

So I find myself less uncomfortable when life gets complicated or relationships get tricky and the happy is hard to come by.  Because happy is bigger than me, and that makes me happy.


That Damn Fence

What is it about our culture that allows the white picket fence dream to seep into one’s consciousness?  You know the dream, of course:  the happy marriage filled with incredible emotional connection, good sex, and uber-mature boundaries; the dog who doesn’t shed or pee on the carpets; the kids who are compliant in all moments; the jobs that produce money without inducing too much stress; the comfortable house with that perfect, white fence.  And even though that dream does not, cannot, exist, many of us work hard to present it to the world.

Last spring, I witnessed a friend tell another friend in an admittedly tense moment: “You know what your problem is?  You want the white picket fence.  And that fence doesn’t exist.” She was right.  And in nailing this friend, she unwittingly nailed me.  I worked for years to cover up the dysfunction and disappointment in my marriage, to replant the proverbial pickets of our happy life each time they fell down.  Because facing the loss and the pain felt harder than perpetuating the myth of that damn fence.  Because admitting you are at a total loss, desperate and scared and wounded, is terrifying.  Because to tear down the fence means to show your heart – in all its longing and beauty.  And that is some scary shit.

As I move into my next chapter, I am still scared.  I am scared of being hurt and missed and disappointed.  But I am done with the fence.  I don’t want it.  I don’t want it for anyone, really.  Because life and love is most real in the hurt and the missing and the disappointment. And  I.  Want.  Real.


Shortly after disclosure, we agreed that we would file for divorce.  We would love our son and raise him together.  But we could not live well with one another.  This week the divorce will be final and a new chapter will begin. The last year has been gut-wrenching and joyful and everything in between.  

But today is the beginning of a new year. Today I am grateful to be on this side of the last ten years.  Today I am stronger.  Today I am more me than I have ever been.  Today I am loving a toddler who amazes me constantly and reaches my heart in ways I did not think possible.  Today I am getting along with his father, softening and forgiving.  Today I am thankful for this hard and lonely and wonderful, joyful journey that has been and is my life.  

Today I choose to live and to hope and to open my heart.  


My husband’s final exit from our life was not full of drama.  Our son was nearly six months old.  I knew he had been acting manic for a few weeks, and when I confronted him yet again, he confessed to being off his meds.  To never being on his meds regularly throughout the last six years.  He rushed into and over me, yelling at me that this was not my issue to control and manage. That he would not live this way. I cowered beside the coffee table, shaking, and begging him not go to.  He went for a long bike ride.  He would not take my calls or return my texts.  He reached out to his boss who came over to the house.  His boss asked him to check himself in to hospital – to be a man and to stand by his family. 

After a week in hospital, he was discharged and told me that he had moved in with a colleague to an apartment downtown.  I found out later that he had leased an apartment on his own.  He was done with this life with me and our baby.  He assured me that we would always have money, that he would always provide for us financially. That he would always be present for our son. He agreed to do a little counseling, but said that he could not commit to be healthy and did not want a partner who expected that. 

Three months later, he disclosed during a counseling session that he had been unfaithful “numerous times” in the marriage.  He had a year-long affair with a woman in NY early in the marriage and then another long-term affair during the course of my pregnancy with another woman in NY.  I felt like my insides were rotting.  I asked him to leave.  I wept like I have never wept.  And then I felt sane for the first time in years.  All of the drama and tension was not a falsehood like he always claimed.  It was real, and it was horrible.  In his disclosure, he had set me free. 



Living with someone with bipolar disorder is a ride.  When things are good, they are beyond good.  They are sweet and passionate and the attention you receive is almost overwhelming.  You feel like the most important thing in the world.  You are showered with gifts and thoughtful acts.  And somehow these things help you believe that your partner is taking medication, seeing doctors, being honest.  Accordingly, when things are bad, they are terrifying.  You are left.  Your partner is gone in an instant, giving into the ride his brain will take him on.  The thrill and the high.  The self-indulgence.  

The second-to-final episode with my husband was the one of the hardest.  He showed up at my school out of the blue.  Came into my office.  Hugged me crazy tight.  Told me that he had a work happy hour, and that he would be home after that.  As he left, I knew he was already gone.  

I called his phone, but it was went to voice mail.  I reached out to the friends he was meeting.  They had laid eyes on him for a few minutes, and said that he had disappeared.  In that moment, and in previous moments like that, I became desperate.  I’d call and call and text and text – always hoping for a response, but knowing in my heart that he would not answer.  I would reach out to friends and to his family to see if he would take their calls.  I would try to sleep without success, telling myself that this is what husbands did sometimes – they took a night off, they needed a break.  I believed my lies. 

At about ten that night, I called the police. I told them my husband was sick and missing.  At about seven the next morning, they found him wandering around South Boulevard, trying to buy some electronics with cash, and talking about the music in his head.  He was safe, but he was not well. 

I met them at the hospital, and I again met the hardness that came hand-in-hand with his illness.  He was mad that I had stopped him.  He was pissed that he was yet again in hospital.  He sent me away.  He was gone. 

I spent the next days managing the blood-letting of the over-spending and searching for his car in parking garages downtown.  I spent most moments of my day wondering if I should stay or go.  But after two weeks in hospital, he stabilized, he apologized, he wanted to make it work.  I agreed.  Two years later, his longest period of stable and healthy behavior since this all began, we decided to start a family.  And I dared to hope.  I decided to risk, to believe in love and life.  Six months after our baby boy came to be with us, that love and life was gone.   

Moved On

In my last post, I wrote about facing the mess, embracing the mess.  And I’m figuring out that to embrace the mess, I have to name the mess of the last few years of my life.  Please do not misunderstand – there were some sweet, good times to be sure.  But there was  some extraordinary mess thrown in.  In this and the following posts, I will give words to those messy moments.  I will name them to take away their power and to honor their existence.  I this will help in the moving on…

About three years into our marriage, my husband had his first major manic episode.  He bought a car, started a business, tried to buy a building, told me that he was moving away, and that I was not invited.  Neither of us knew at the time that his mind was betraying him.  He had never been diagnosed, and he had never considered being sick.  He just knew what he needed, and what he needed, another place had to offer.  Money started flying out of our joint account, and he would not answer my calls.  I figured out that he had gone to New York City.  He needed space, he said.  He needed me to stop being so  damn controlling.  He threatened. He was cruel.

I had to change the locks on our home.  I had to tell his parents he had taken off.  I had to close bank accounts and credit cards in an effort to protect myself and him.  And yet he gave away hundred dollar bills on street corners, bought table service for strangers at clubs, entertained music in his head and ghosts on the street.  He would call now and then to let me know he was alive.

In the end, he was picked up at an airport in New York trying to hop his cab. He had no money. He was flying high.  He spent several weeks in a hospital up there.  I was told not to come.  He did not want me.  He would not want me.  His parents helped him lease an apartment upon his discharge.  They blamed me and believed him.  I felt crazy and helpless.  I dug into work. I leaned into friends.  I tried to eat, and I hoped he would come back to me. I clung to the vow of for better or worse.

About three months later, he stabilized, begged to come home, and drove his U-Haul back in one day.  After he was back and filled our home with the furniture from his NY life, I ignored his abandonment.  I ignored my need to feel safe.  I leaned into helping him manage.  To helping him get to the doctor.  To helping him come back to me.  But he was never really back.  And I never felt safe.  I felt foolish for hoping. I was resigned to his lack of emotion, his lack of desire for me.  I accepted his illness and his limitations.  And I slowly began losing myself.

Facing the Mess

I am coming to understand that I don’t like to face a mess.  Literally, of course, as clutter and the chaos of objects give me more than pause.  But more than physical mess, I realize I run from the emotional ones.  Both my mess and the mess of those closest to me. Over about six years of living with a spouse with mental illness, I continually ran away, turned around from, and ignored the messiness filling up our life together.  

I am sitting between the sagging cushions of the orange couch.  I am holding my husband, and he is crying.  He is crying because he is scared, and he is scared because he believes with all of his heart that bad people are after him – lurking outside our windows, listening in on his world.  He had been off his medication for a while.  He hid it well as he always did, and now I have to figure out a way to make it until morning when his parents can come and help me help him.  But I can’t help him.  I know I can’t help him because he will not choose to help himself.  

I know this now, and I think I knew it even then, but I didn’t want to face that mess.  I didn’t want to admit to being in a relationship that was full of subtle omissions and manipulations.  I didn’t want to admit I was sharing my life with someone who was sick.

And so, I did not tell anyone about my night on the orange couch with my sick husband.  I didn’t ask for help.  I didn’t cry.  I just moved forward, ignoring the mess.  

Today I give words to that moment in time.  Today I begin to clean up. 

“We are not afraid to look under the bed, or to wash the sheets; we know that life is messy.  We know that somebody has to clean it up, and that only if it is cleaned up can we hope to start over, and get better.” 

Beautiful Words

I am becoming a little obsessed with “pop-out” lines lately … perhaps it is to do with the idea that I am popping out of a long period of darkness and feeling more light.  This one by Anne Lamott speaks perfectly for me right now…

“You will lose someone you can’t live without,and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly—that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.” 

God Dialogue

In the midst of the trauma of the last five years of my life, I stopped talking to God.  I was overwhelmed with the darkness around me, and I struggled to see where God lived inside of it.  So I stopped the dialogue.  I didn’t question, I didn’t cry out. I simply stopped talking.  I do this in my life, I realize.  I stop or resist conversations that involve emotional risks.  I do not like to let others know they affect me.  But they do.  I.  Am. Affected.  So today I begin a God dialogue again…


It is time for me to be honest, to confess. I want to trust that you are working in all the crazy in my world, but I do not.  I do not trust that you are enough for me and that I will be chosen.  I find myself shaking my proverbial fist in the air and wondering where the hell you are.  Why did you give me this story?  Why do you keep letting it get worse?  When does the suffering turn into redemption?  When does the heartbreak turn into joy?  I begin this dialogue and I am struck that I sound needy and demanding, and I want to tamp that down and denounce it, but that is where I am.  I am in need of a Savior.  I need to be chosen. I am affected.  I am broken and lonely.  And I am starting the dialogue.  


Me: Hello?

Sarah: Hey, Em.  This is going to sound weird, but I think I just saw David’s feet through the back of an ambulance. 

Me: What?  That’s crazy. 

Sarah: I know.  I just thought I should tell ya. 

Me: Thanks, friend. 

Four hours later…I call several local hospitals and finally discover that David, who did not return home from a work happy hour and is not answering his phone, is indeed checked in to the ER.  He was picked up after having passed out in our front yard.  A neighbor called the 911 because she thought it was a medical emergency.  Turns out heavy drinking and psychotropic drugs are not a good mix.  So, I drive in the middle of the night, to the ER to collect my husband.  Looking back on this, I am struck by my not pushing the issue.  I did not question what had led to the events of the night, nor did I harp on his ridiculous appearance or story.  I let it go.  I did not voice my worry.  I did not give voice to the pit in my stomach telling me something was going terribly wrong.  I chose to believe the lie that everything was good.  That he loved me.  That he loved us.  That he would choose to be healthy.  That he would choose me.