When we dream about marriage, we often dream about our wedding day, not the actual marriage itself. We handpick every detail of the big day. Roses or calla lilies? Lilacs or baby’s breath? Will that purple be too purple? Of course all the bridesmaids can pick their own dresses as long as it’s the same shade of fuschia. We analyze and scrutinize every decision made when it comes to the big day, but when it comes to the happily ever after, we wing it. Relying heavily on the ideas pushed in bad romantic comedies and ballads proclaiming that love can conquer all.
The big day comes and we answer the preacher’s prompt of “will you love through sickness and health” with a resounding yes, complete with big doe eyes and a plastered on perma-smile.
How often do we think we will encounter the actual sickness part of the “sickness and health” deal?
How often do we consider that the sickness bit could be referring to mental health?
For me, it didn’t fully cross my mind. I figured we were talking about seasonal colds or issues arising from age. Never did I think we would experience that part of our vows within the first year of marriage.
In fact, I thought I had made a terrible mistake when I first noticed the symptoms. I thought the man I married had somehow tricked me into a relationship.
I started to feel betrayed and afraid. It started small. Mood swings that caused insignificant arguments. A frustrated kick at a box or a well-placed swear word that hurt my tender heart. It wasn’t abuse, but it felt off. It felt as if I didn’t truly know my husband, and I began walking on eggshells, never knowing what might set him off.
Then the moods would lighten, and there he was again—the person I married. It was like he went to bed, a switch flipped, and familiar eyes were staring back at me. The months he was himself were food for my soul. It helped me trust him again.
My guard fell as I again tumbled back into a deeper love for my husband.
It seemed just when I began to settle into a rhythm, new symptoms appeared. Him staying up all night, drinking too much, and being hyper-focused on random projects filled our days. When you’re in the midst of living with someone who has a mental illness, it’s hard to see where they end and the mental illness begins. This pattern went on for two more years. Months of normalcy, followed by weeks of mania, then depression. It was like an ocean wave when you’re too far out to get out of its way, but you see it coming just before it pulls you under.
I distinctly remember praying over my husband as he slept. Touching his head as I asked God to give us an answer to what was going on. Asking for the peace that came when the wave went back out to sea. I would pray throughout the day for the patience needed to stick out what was going on, but even though I prayed fervently until we got an answer, the word divorce stung the back of my throat on more occasions than I care to admit.
It burned and ached as the word formed itself in a barbed-wire ball balancing on my vocal cords. A time or two the word left my lips.
By the end of our third year of marriage, we had a name—Rapid Cycling Bipolar Disorder. The diagnosis was a relief, but it took nearly two more years before we found a medication regimen that worked and didn’t cause strange side effects. It’s been more than two years since he’s had any symptoms. Our home is peaceful and full of love. When my husband looks at me, I see him. The man I fell in love with. The man I promised to love through sickness and health.
No one prepares you for the sickness part.
No one walks into a marriage knowing the future. Love doesn’t conquer all like all the ’80s love ballads say, but it’s a catalyst to get you through the tough times. Marriage isn’t always picturesque. There will be some seasons of your marriage where the garden tends itself, and others where you have to water, weed, and plant new grass in the bare spots. Predicting all seasons isn’t possible, but loving your spouse to the best of your abilities makes the difficult seasons better.