November 15, 2023

A Goodbye Letter to Living with Someone Else’s Mental Illness.

I’m writing this letter because although he said everything he wanted to say, I was not allowed to respond.

His anger was unleashed in paragraph after paragraph over text message. Each line increasingly worse.

At one point, I deleted his words but later went back and read them in utter disbelief. Like the car crash you can’t look away from, my brain tried to comprehend how life could be turned upside down in an instant.

He hurled accusations, and then shut me out, writing, “Goodbye and good riddance. Do not reply.”

I had been exiled before. I recognized this angry, out of control person. I’d seen him before over the course of our relationship. He was the polar opposite of the man I met and fell in love with—yet they both existed inside of him.

He once said, “I just hope to show you my redeeming qualities before you realize just how crazy I am.” That was early on, and we laughed. I thought he was joking. I didn’t realize how much truth there was in that statement.

The same man I laughed with was the one capable of inflicting unimaginable pain with his words. Someone who could shower me with promises of forever, and then turn around and deliver a powerful verbal blow, seemingly over nothing.

There were signs, of course. Signs that confused me, and gave me a sinking feeling in my stomach. Signs I ignored. Event tickets bought, but never attended because he changed his mind and no longer wanted to go. Excuses made for why we rarely left the house: too cold or too hot, too crowded, to much pollen in the air, too tired. A dress hanging unworn in my closet, bought for a party that he slept through.

So much sleeping. I would spend weekends quietly tiptoeing through my house, leave and come back hours later to find him still sleeping. I’d crack the door open and whisper, “Are you alright? Do you need to eat?”  He’d tell me he was sick, without opening his eyes.

The more time we spent together, the harder it became to hide.

The first few times we broke up, I blamed myself. He made sure of that. A simple disagreement would cause him to storm out, veins on his forehead bulging, tossing things into his vehicle. I would stand there, reeling. And minutes, hours, or days later, there would be texts, emails, or phone calls meant to convince me that everything was my fault.

I felt toxic and ashamed of myself for not knowing how to love better. I would scramble back up his impossible-to-please mountain, rocks sliding beneath me all the way, apologizing and trying to make amends, but he would control how or when we had contact. If I left him alone, in the silence he demanded, the apology letter would eventually arrive.

He was sorry, ashamed, horrified at his own behavior. He promised that I would not see that side of him ever again. That I was the best thing that ever happened to him, the one person in the world he couldn’t live without. That he needed me and needed to try harder to prove his love, one more time.

The problem was, his needs were ever-changing and I couldn’t keep up with the multitude of ways I disappointed him. If I managed to please him for a few weeks, and I jumped over enough hurdles, we would sometimes go two or three months where I could relax a little. Those weeks were magical. When we were in an upswing, we could talk for hours, and it was us against the world. We planned out our future with intimacy and laughter and music and creation. He made me feel like his greatest love, the one he had been searching for all his life and finally found.

Sadly, it never lasted. Slowly, yet predictably, I could feel the tension creeping back in. The list of my supposed transgressions continued to grow. Conflicting, contradictory irritations. Subtle criticisms. We weren’t on the same page. I was backpedaling again. I was failing him again.

The final break was when I realized I was worn out from walking on eggshells. This time, I recognized the pattern and let him go. I stopped responding when he got upset. I stopped believing it would ever be different.

I read everything I could find on depression, bipolar disorder, narcissistic personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, and trauma bonds, just trying to understand. I also learned a lot about myself. It was gut-wrenching to think of him struggling and alone, but I knew we could not continue in the repetitive cycle of emotional dysregulation and expect to get healthier.

I talked with my therapist. I talked with my friends. Without being cruel, their overwhelming response was, “You can’t change this. You can’t save him. Pour all that love you had for him into yourself.”

Easier said than done, but I decided to try. My nightly gratitude journal marks the baby steps of healing, acceptance, and forgiveness.

I wonder how he is. If he’s eating enough, or drinking too much, or going to work. I wonder if he stuck with the therapist I helped him find. I hope that he’s okay. When I walk through our memories, it is a museum of pain and untold truths. The truth is, in loving him, I almost completely lost myself.

He disregarded the boundaries I carefully tried to put up to keep resentment out and my peace of mind intact. But I accept that he can’t help being sick or the fact that his brain is wired differently. He can’t help not having the capacity to give me true and lasting love and partnership—and I can’t help needing that.

I remind myself daily that what I am not changing, I am choosing. I must choose love that  brings joy and peace. I’m grateful for the tender moments, where I was able to bear witness to someone else’s internal battle and learn more about the fragile state of the human heart. I’m grateful that I gave it my all, until I absolutely couldn’t anymore.

But most of all, I’m grateful for this resilient heart of mine that allowed me to crack open, alive and kicking with happiness, dive deep into despair, and heal back up, stronger than before.


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