I’ve been married twice. I may have been struggling with my mental health long before I was married the first time. Definitely with depression.
These past two weeks have been killer sitting through church. The messages have been about marriage and divorce. Nothing condemning or guilt producing or traumatic in terms of the message. Just the idea of marriage and divorce throws me back to traumatic times and it’s hard to sit still and listen.
I was married to my first husband at a very young age. I was 21 and finishing my last year of college. He was a year older and was doing construction contracting jobs through family. We lived in a tiny apartment in a moderately crappy neighborhood in Chicago. We almost lost our apartment when an angry ex of a tenant came and blew up his ex-girlfriend’s new guy’s motorcycle, parked under the wooden stairway of our complex. We also experienced our first shooting as a couple when there was a shootout happening on our stairway and the Chicago Police gained access to the gunfight by storming through our front door.
We had a dining room table, two chairs, and a bed, that was it. Early on, I remember feeling a strange mix of terror (holy shit, we were married, this was it) and exhilaration (holy shit, we were married, this was it). I was struggling with an eating disorder (yup, there’s that pesky mental illness!) and we were both struggling with a mother (his) who thought we were too young for marriage and didn’t want to let go. Eventually, we moved to an apartment 4 blocks south of our first place, which put us in a slightly better neighborhood (where our first car was stolen), he got a job that was closer to his career aspirations, and eventually we moved out of the city to a brand new condo in a western suburb.
Things went from rough to worse. Maybe we WERE too young. I thought marriage was forever and wouldn’t have dreamed of seeking a divorce no matter how bad things got. He didn’t share the same value. Just 4 years in, including a year of marriage counseling, he announced to me one February Sunday afternoon as we were pulling into our driveway after a shopping trip, that he no longer wanted to be married.
Our lives went from the Friday previous where he kissed and hugged me goodbye before he left for work, to the following Monday, when he started slipping out of the house in the morning, off to work, without a word.
I remember reading and rereading his Valentine’s Day card to me, written less than 2 weeks before that Sunday. There was nothing there to indicate he would be leaving. I took the card and followed him around the house one evening, screaming at him, asking him how his mind changed so quickly. We ended up celebrating his birthday together in mid-March, at Red Lobster. We went out for ice cream after and he told me that he didn’t think he had ever loved me, that we should have just been friends. That we would have been great friends.
I lived in the condo until May that year. I couldn’t afford the mortgage so I moved into a studio apartment in Evanston, the first suburb north of the city. I was 6 blocks away from Lake Michigan, and I felt like a tremendous weight had been lifted off of me. I would walk to the lake regularly, sit on the shore, and stare at the lake for hours. It was so big and I was so small. My life, my husband, my marriage, the ending of my marriage, it was all like a tiny drop in the lake when compared with time. Even less than a drop.
I left the marriage with a total of $600, a bunch of furniture, a vacuum cleaner, a knife, pots and pans, and silverware set (which I still have and use to this day), and a leased Dodge Avenger. The intangibles I left with were probably more heavy hitting. Marriage doesn’t last, I can’t count on a man, when he left me, so did my livelihood, and I was not good enough for someone to stay married to. I would need to work my ass off for the rest of my life, and always question a man’s intention.
Of course what I expected to find, always found me first, creating a lifelong pattern that was maybe broken slightly with my second marriage, but I hadn’t processed the trauma and lessons from my first and I blew up my second.
I’m sure all my relationships have been sabotaged to some extent by my mental health and my inability to sit with or process my demons in an effective manner. This year it finally all exploded in my face. A lifetime of unprocessed relationship dysfunction. There’s a ton of stuff written on this, courses offered, support groups, etc. I’m sure it’s the experience of lots of people, it’s just not a popular topic in conversation with friends. You’re never sure…
Thanks for reading. Hearing from people who share their experiences, or just the fact that they’ve had similar experiences, is healing.