Monday, October 29, 2012

Misery loves company (and other lies we hear)

Unpredictability is the worst part about living with someone who suffers from an emotional ailment like depression and bipolar disorder.

Your loved one could be getting along wonderfully one day, and then the next day BAM! He's become a hollow shell of a person -- sitting on the couch, staring into space, looking as if he's told the world to continue on without him because the mere thought of interaction brings a massive amount of pain and fear.

At first, the urge to say, "Suck it up. What do you have to be sad about?" is overwhelming. But eventually, if you're brave enough to stick by someone suffering from this wretched -- sometimes terminal -- illness, you learn that words like that only make things worse.

You eventually find yourself at a crossroads.

One direction points down a road that leads yourself and your partner in two separate directions. I'm not going to lie; it's difficult to stand by someone as they struggle through the symptoms of depression and bipolar disorder. I'm not here to judge. If that's the decision that needs to be made in your case, then so be it.

I could not take that road. I chose a direction that wound around, took me through ups and downs and into some very scary places. It took me to a place where I found myself gauging my mood, my happiness and my progress in life by my ailing spouse's standards.

If he was having a good day, then I was free to have a good day.

If he was having a bad day, then I set aside what I needed to do what I could to make him happy.

If his mood was indifferent, then I found myself in a state of limbo. I sometimes saw myself as a hostage to an emotional roller coaster. I later learned this path had a name: Codependence.

It's not easy to separate your identity from that of an ailing loved one. Society gives conflicting information about how to live in these situations. If we leave, we are heartless for letting our loved ones slog through the illness on their own. If we stay, we are questioned about why we think so little of ourselves to allow someone else to manipulate us in the way they see us being manipulated.

Because it is one big vicious circle, someone walking down a path of codependency eventually will wind around and find themselves back at the crossroads, where they will discover the last road available. That road is comparable to what Nebraskans call an MMR -- a Minimum Maintenance Road.

MMRs are like cattle trails. A short tuft of grass grows up between two narrow side-by-side rows of sand or dirt. In nasty weather, the only way to navigate an MMR is by using the proper equipment. The nice thing about an MMR, though, is that both tracks are generally clear from obstruction, so two people have enough space to walk beside each other, as well as move at their own individual paces.

That's what needs to happen in order to effectively live with someone who struggles from an emotional ailment (or addiction). You must learn that it is okay to unplug from your loved one's emotions. You can't control the moods of your suffering loved one.

The old adage is not true: Misery doesn't love company. It didn't make anyone feel better when you joined your loved one in their misery.  You can give yourself permission to be happy regardless of their mood. You can walk with them but be separate from them.

For the sake of your own happiness, it's worth a try.

1 comment:

Steven Sobotka said...


Thanks for sharing that post - very courageous writing. Then again, isn't that what real writing is about? Taking chances...

As a Nebraskan, I especially appreciated the artful analogy of your less than predictable path to the good ol' Minimum Maintenance Roads. (I've been lost on them before-literally)

Your writing has an obvious, honest quality and in my humble opinion, that is at least circumstantial evidence that you are maintaining your own identity through the use of your voice and your gift. Keep writing - have a great day :)