I crawled into bed next to my husband, whose eyes were just starting to slowly glaze over with sleep.
While certain he was exhausted and in need of rest, I leaned over to him and spoke, “We need to talk.”
“I know,” he languidly replied.
“I’m not okay,” I said, and then lie there staring into his eyes hoping to recognize sincere acknowledgment of my state of illness on his face, yet receiving only a semblance of emptiness and disregard for my state of affairs.
“I know,” he again replied with little enthusiasm, as though the response were one recorded on audio, like he just pressed a play button and let things sort themselves out however they should without his active intervention. He was just going through motions with me. I recognize it’s difficult to love someone who suffers from mental illness, but I wanted to scream or slap him across the face, tell him to wake the fuck up and start giving a shit if he didn’t want to keep pressing replay on these same tired scenes --- weeks of wellness and then a rapid, unexpected drop into deep depression.
If he knew I wasn’t okay, as he had just muttered to me, why was it me, the one who was afraid to leave the house, afraid to live, afraid that she was nothing but a worthless fuck whom was a burden on everyone in her life, who had to initiate this conversation? If he knew I wasn’t okay, why wasn’t he actively attempting to make things better?
“Well, if you know I’m not okay,” I then replied, “you should also know that continuing to ignore my illness is not going to make it simply disappear. Just because you don’t address my depression doesn’t mean it’s not there. You can’t just leave me under the covers and go about your day believing that I’ll soon reemerge and be well again.”
However, that’s how things happened. I was fine, fine, fine for weeks – in fact I was even well and thriving during some of this time. Then I would wake up one day with severe anxiety and depression and fall into this deep hole of self-hatred and horror for two days minimum to six days maximum and then reemerge again like I was whole and those ugly, dire days hadn’t even happened – like they were just a nightmare that passed over us in sleep.
“I can’t keep doing this. I can’t not be a competent, reliable employee, I can’t not be a patient, loving mother, I can’t not be a kind, considerate lover for several days each month. Something has to change. I don’t know what to do. I just don’t know what to do.”
“I don’t know what to do either, Angela,” he replied. However, when I spoke, it was clear that I was running through possible strategies in my mind, while his reply seemed resigned like there simply was no answer and he had given in to the idea of losing me for days. He didn’t seem to be aware that if we let this keep happening, where I wasn’t really myself for days at a time, the depression would continue to amplify to the point where he would lose me permanently to suicide.
“It’s just …” I began, not knowing how to explain my situation, as I didn’t understand myself how much was external, how much of my depression could be directly linked to trauma, and how much was simply neurological – a genetic chemical imbalance that couldn’t be explained, and was simply confounding for non-sufferers to understand. “It’s just I feel like there’s all these bricks, these bricks on my back. I’m burdened by bricks, and I can’t move, I can’t breathe, I can’t get over it all and get better.”
He nodded, half in acknowledgment of my speech, and half a natural nodding of his head as it bobbed gently into sleep.
“I’m not over what that district did to me,” I said, “I’m just not. And I know you talk about how proud of me you are for writing – you acknowledge how cathartic and healing it can be. But you know that I can’t talk fully about what they did yet, with the legal proceedings and what not. And the lawyers, I’m so angry, I’m just so god-damn angry. They’re not representing me properly. This suit has taken too long and that district needs to be accountable for what they did to me. They broke me, they fucking ruined me, you know?”
He knew; he knew all too well. He knew that I suffered so severely that I would lay awake at night thinking of ways to kill myself without also bringing harm to the child that was growing inside of me. He knew that teaching was never just a job, that the word teacher is part of my identity and they were killing part of me.
“And every day this bullshit lingers on, every day that they continue to get away with it, and the proper action isn’t being taken, it’s another brick on my back. It’s harder to breath because there’s no fucking justice in this world.”
He was struggling to keep his eyes open and pay attention to me. His arm was wrapped around my back, rubbing up and down, again just a motion with no real feeling or attachment evident.
“And because I’m stuck, tied to that sadness and that torment, I keep thinking about all the other injustices in my life, and the bricks pile up and I feel crushed. There are all the bricks from the dishonesty and discrimination from my former employer, and I hate, hate, hate that what they did to me is affecting my current job and I’m missing work. I’m in a district I want to be in, and I can’t make it to work because these bricks from the past are holding me down. It makes me so fucking angry, and this new district isn’t getting to see the wonderful, amazing educator and mentor that I am, that I know I can be, because the pieces aren’t all back together yet. I’m still just hurting so damn much.”
There was a physical ache in the pit of my stomach as I spoke these words, and I knew I had to start being honest about how much I was hurting. Being brave and trying to convince myself that I could go on wasn’t really working, not when I was missing two to four days of work every god-damn month.
“And you know, I want to be hopeful, I want to believe in myself, but I can tell you right now, I know I can’t work tomorrow. I can’t leave this home.”
He looked upset with me, but said he would call my employer, knowing that I couldn’t even communicate effectively when I was in such a depleted, dispirited state.
“And here’s the thing,” I continued. “Then I feel every fucking sadness and injustice of the past. So, here we go, load up the bricks. Here’s a brick for every time my father told me I was worthless when I was growing up, how he joked that he wished I was never born. Here’s a brick for the first time I was raped, violated by an individual that I believed I loved, the first person I ever loved. Here’s a brick for the second time I was raped, raped more violently by two men, made to feel like an awful, disgusting whore who deserved such appalling punishment for allowing myself to get so god-damn drunk. Here’s a brick for all the nights I spent sleeping with a razorblade to my wrist, just praying for the fucking courage to kill myself because I didn’t know how else to get out of my abusive marriage, stuck with a man who threatened suicide whenever I mentioned leaving him. Here’s a brick for the night he put his thick fingers around my neck and tried to choke me. Here’s a brick for the young man who lays in a grave somewhere, only seventeen when our cars crashed into one another and his life ended, and my life changed forever. Here’s a brick …”
I was crying now, sobbing and shaking. I was overwhelmed with this depression, and wanted to discuss the next step. Do we need to talk about hospitalization? Do we change medication again? What do we do? It wasn’t simply a question of what I needed to do next, because my husband is my best friend, my partner, my lover, my support. We are a team, and we needed to make this decision together.
I had been talking so long, my eyes closed, as though somehow shutting my eyelids allowed me to shut out some of the pain that accompanied all of these memories I was mentioning, brick by brick until I felt like I could barely breathe.
I opened my eyes and looked over to him, to discuss where we go from here, how we begin to lessen the load and eliminate these days of despair and dejection, these days of misery and melancholy, these days where I am completely immobilized.
“So, you know,” I said, opening my eyes and just staring up at the ceiling. I then turned to him to ask what he thought we should do, and I saw him there … asleep. I was burdened by these bricks, and he had fallen into a restful sleep, freed by dreams from the hollowness that filled my heart. My partner, my best friend, my teammate, left me alone to carry this load.