This is a story about marriage, being in love with someone who suffers from a mental disorder, and how I’m married to a really great man. A man who loves wholeheartedly, is compassionate, selfless (as well as selfish), strong! God, is he STRONG! He is someone who is quick-witty and too honest, by default. He works so hard not only for our family but also, and more importantly, to be accepted. Some say my husband is extreme. He’s extreme in everything he does. Every emotion is maximized by 100. And he’s so passionate in everything he believes in. EXTREMELY PASSIONATE. He’s an intelligent man with brilliant ideas, views on the world we live in, and has hopes and dreams on making this world a better place. One filled with love. Pure love that is unbiased, unconditional, and full of understanding.
My husband was diagnosed with Schizophrenia at the ripe age of 21.
We met in nursing school, when I was 25 and he was 31. I remember the first day I saw him like it happened yesterday. He was wearing all black. Black Dickies® shorts (still his favorite brand to wear), a black button up, and black skater shoes. He had a shaved head and a goatee that was long and braided. His clothes were dirty and he had grease on his arms. I regrettably assumed he was the janitor and that he was not actually standing in line to take his photo to enter into nursing school. That was an assumption that was based on straight judgment and profile. If I could describe our feeling that exact moment, it was probably that, we were both uncomfortable, nervous, and wanted to hurry up and get the hell outta there! We never spoke that day. We were just two people trying to get our life in order. Have purpose. Have a life with meaning. During our first Saturday class when we all came to school wearing the same blue scrubs and white tennis shoes. The women had to wear their hair in a bun and the men had to be clean shaven. My husband looked totally different, like a brand new man, to say the least. It wasn’t until 2-3 weeks into school when he decided to draw a heart next to my name on the sign in sheet. You can imagine how embarrassing that was for me, a person who disfavors attention. All our classmates who signed the sheet before me kept asking me who drew the heart.
As. If. I. Would. Know? (Gahhhh!)
During school, my husband and I shared really awkward conversations. Our very first conversation was a story that happened when he was younger. We both were outside on break, I was sitting alone. He sat down next to me and told me when he was 5 years old he only knew how to speak Portuguese. It was trash day in his neighborhood and he was riding his little red tricycle. He parked his tricycle next to the trash bins and the garbage man picked up his tricycle and threw it in back of the waste truck. My husband came out running and screaming in Portuguese “THAT’S MY TRICYCLE!!! THAT’S MY TRICYCLE!!!” Sadly, the garbage man didn’t understand Portuguese and drove off with his little red tricycle. After my husband told me that story, he walked away so fast I didn’t even have a chance to respond. Hilariously awkward and uncomfortable! It wasn’t until our final and grades were posted that him and I started dating. Unfortunately, with an unfulfilled heart, a 2 year old daughter, and life circumstances: I failed the first semester and wasn’t allowed to return. That was when my husband went hard trying to keep me in his life. We had a strong electrical bond that we felt since day one. It was uplifting, full of love, refreshing, and exciting all at the same time. I can still see it in his eyes and body language that those feelings are still there, maximized by 100.
We dated for a year before he proposed to me in Orlando, FL. He had gone through one of his episodes, which was the first of many I’ve experience with him. Four total, the fourth being now. But I can’t really confirm that because it’s so different from all the others. Describing the first episode, it was scary as hell. Not knowing what to do. How to help. I cried. I was really stressed out. I remember calling his mom and telling her I didn’t know what to do? I was crying on the phone to her while she remained strong, calm, and collected. She told me what had to be done, but with him not having health insurance, it was hard getting the hospitals to admit him. I would drive from Long Beach to San Clemente just to make sure he was okay and safe. And if I couldn’t, I’d make sure to have him on the phone. There were times when he told me it was okay to walk away and it was okay to think he was crazy. None of those things crossed my mind. All I knew was I wanted to help him because I loved him and it hurt me seeing him scared and vulnerable. I wanted to take away the pain he felt. He was terrified of his thoughts and I wanted to comfort him. His mom bought us plane tickets to Florida that same week. I knew if I was feeling scared and stressed, then my husband was feeling these emotions 100 times worse than I could ever imagine. He couldn’t sleep at all. Concentrating and holding a conversation was hard for him during this time. His big hazel eyes would dilate and even though he was going through the reality of now, he was also experiencing his own reality but still, he held me at night and hugged me to comfort me, and vice versa. I remember my mother-in-law telling me I had to be strong for him. And boy did I remain strong through it all. My husband and I laughed and joked when he was able to snap out of it. We even took a photo at the hospital waiting to see a doctor. We both were wearing face mask because of the swine flu epidemic happening at the time. To this day, it is still maybe, one of our favorite photos. We also shared a good amount of tears. Even though I knew exactly what was going on, I fell more madly in love with his beautiful mind. To this day, I can still say, I love that man with every inch of my heart, every waking breath, everything inside and in between. I doubt that will ever change. Even though, there are and were times when I was uncertain and confused about it. We soon married on June 12, 2009.
Every episode thereafter, I don’t want to say was easier but I was experienced and I knew exactly what needed to happen and how to help him get the treatment he needed to get better. Each one was different but had similarities as well. On May 13, 2017 my husband texted me that he wanted a divorce. At first I was angry. It made me angry that he didn’t want to talk about it. I was angry that nothing was drastically wrong with our marriage that would call for us to separate, let alone talk about divorce. I was mad that even after being in my daughter’s life for 9 years, teaching her how to read, and teaching her how to think for herself. He felt that she didn’t need him in her life any longer. He felt that his job was done. I was hurt because this was the time we all needed each other the most. Hurt that after all these years of trying to hold it together, he could just walk away like none of it meant anything. I think I felt a great mix of emotions. Relief was definitely in my line of emotions. Back in March 2017, he decided he was going to stop his medication completely. Told me he wasn’t mentally ill and that he was just gifted. He experiences empathy and he’s an empath, which is common among people nowadays. But is also a common feeling for those who suffer from schizophrenia. He said he couldn’t live in the city anymore. That he needed to be away from people, somewhere with mountains, streams, and rivers. I did everything I could to understand him and even suggested we purchase a cabin in the middle of nowhere he’d be able to escape to. But at the same time, I developed this selfishness towards everyone and everything. Part of me only thought about myself. A big part of me! Only thought about what I wanted. What made me happy. I was immaturely thinking in the moment instead of long term. And I sadly admit that I lost the connection of wanting to be connected with him. I selfishly got mad at the situation because of his decision to stop taking his medication. And I knew he felt it as well because at the same time, he was stuck in his own world. He lives away from the family because he works in San Francisco and he only saw us on the weekends. Funny, because when we did get together on the weekends, he somehow forgot what it was like to be married. Forgot what it was like sharing a space with his wife. Even though we were happy, we were both also, in our own world. Could that be fixed? Sure, with time, effort, compassion, and understanding. A lot of hard work and communication.
This new life of being separated from him is still fresh. It’s painful. My days are full of sadness and devastation, confusion and anguish, all at the same time. Some days, I find myself in a non-communicative state towards some people. Other days, I remind myself how much I want him to be happy. I would never hold that man back from his hopes and dreams but I want him to do it in the healthiest way possible. Whether it’s through alternative medication, something organic? I’m willing to try anything but I also know he has to go through this journey in order to find reasoning and in order to seek help. Because as much as I want it to be about what I want for him, it truly is about what he wants for himself. I vowed to remain his #1 supporter as he goes through this journey. Not knowing how things will unfold is scary. The ‘what ifs’ haunt me day in and day out. ‘What if something bad happens?’ ‘What if he’s in danger?’ ‘What if his thoughts scare people and they react in a violent way toward him?’ ‘What if I get phone call or a knock on my door and someone tells me the worst has happen?’ I don’t know if I could live with that? And anything can happen from now until he’s fully going through another episode. I still don’t know if he’s experiencing an episode because he’s able to talk clearly, hold a conversation, his eyes aren’t dilated. It is 100% different from all the rest. The only thing I can say that’s similar are his thoughts and ideas. And the only thing I can do is; 1. Remind him how much I love him for all that he is and all that he has yet to become 2. Hear out his ideas and his feelings and try to understand him the best way I could 3. Keep open communication with him and give him my undivided attention, if he needs it. All while, still overcoming the recent event in our marriage, staying strong not only for myself, our daughter, and him. But also, for his family back home in Florida.
Don’t get me wrong, our marriage was hard. It was very hard to find a perfect balance as I’m sure every couple experiences. Relationships are hard work. We almost, probably more than we should have, called it quits. We learned throughout the years, more about each other. More than we could ever figure out on our own, I’m sure. We’re each other’s ride or die. And I can still hold true to that regardless of the circumstances and/or what’s to come. As painful and hard as it is, reminding myself how strong-willed, determined, and fearless he has always been and continues to be, helps me cope. For him, I have to remain stronger. He has taught me a lot about myself and taught me what I’m able to handle. If anyone sees me as a strong person, it was him who made me stronger. If I’m more understanding and compassionate, it’s because I had to be for the sake of the man I fell in love with. Communication is key in any type of relationship. A simple ‘how are you feeling today?’ and ‘is there anything I can help you with?’ can make a huge difference. Reaching out can help them cope and manage the illness better. Putting yourself last, is something you have to learn to do. As it’s something you have to do often. It might not seem fair at all, but when you understand what schizophrenia is, you’ll understand why. And in a sense, the qualities of our personalities are beautifully and equally aligned even though we’re totally different in so many ways. Even in his own personal version of reality, he says he doesn’t need us, except, he really needs us, his family and I, the most at this time to understand him and love him unconditionally.
This is my love story as chaotic, messy, up and down it can get. It’s still the greatest one I could’ve ever imagined for myself because it made me understand the true meaning of unconditional love. Beautifully written out with a whole lot of struggles, experiences, a ton of lessons about life, and so much love times 100.
I encourage anyone else out there who may be going through the same thing, to remain strong. It’s never going to be easy. And often times you have to be stronger than your partner. And it’s okay to cry. It’s okay to feel sad. It’s okay to get mad at the situation not the person. It’s okay to feel like giving up. It’s okay if things work out. And it’s also okay if things don’t. And if you choose to stay with this special person, it’s important to do the research and try to understand this person you fell in love with. It’s also very important to have a support group, not only for them but for you as well, to help you along the way. People you can trust and talk to when things get too overwhelming for you. Lastly, do not forget to take care of yourself as well. It can be draining, stressful, overwhelming. It’s important for you not to forget about yourself and taking time for your well-being. I promise you, loving this person will only make you a better person. Try not to lose hope because everything can be overcome.
One thing that still holds true are the vows I repeated to him on our wedding day. And if he asked me to, “marry him again someday?” I’d gladly grab his hand and say “let’s do this!”
… to be continued
Listen: Sia – Angel By The Wings