One Is A Lonely Number
The Fourth House
By – Sheri de Grom
As I struggled to maintain my own sanity while working a demanding job and being Tom’s sole caregiver during the years we lived in Washington, DC, my journal became my best friend. There, I could confide anything.
An early entry reads: ‘I know my career success at Fort Ord, California, has preceded me to DC and the Department of Defense expects me to hit the ground running. They don’t care about anything but my cleaning up various departments. Will my success at Fort Ord, California, be detrimental to me now? How can I possibly keep up that pace in metropolitan DC? I know no one here and have no connections. Who can I trust?’
My best friend, Catherine, had been such a stabilizing force in Monterey, CA. Did I really think I could manage everything on my own without a sounding board I trusted?
I’d learned much about bipolar disorder from 1987 to 1993 and I also learned there weren’t any magic answers to what Tom and I were facing.
Tom’s descent into bipolar hell knew no boundaries. It traveled with us wherever we went. Both his mania and his depression were equally deadly. For me, the woman at his side, it seemed as though he’d all but vanished, leaving little more than the shell of the man I’d once known.
Another journal entry during the same time frame reads: ‘Sometimes I feel such penetrating sorrow and suffering. It’s like an endless funeral. It’s a different type of grief, yet I’m caught in this tunnel of complete and incessant, unpredictable agony. Worse there is no departure service, few hugs, and even fewer condolences for my perpetual loss. My deprivation cuts to the essence of my soul, yet no flowers or cards of encouragement arrive. Future plans become faded memories. The daily roller coaster of living with bipolar disorder precludes making long-range plans. Bipolar disorder steals Tom’s and my lives indiscriminately.
When riding a wild wave of mania, the ocean wall holding back that last crashing wave breaks loose and the dark despair of depression suddenly sucks me under, all light and hope disappearing amid the desolation of desperation and hopelessness.’
I’d armed myself with ammunition in getting Tom the best mental health care possible. Thankfully I’d had a generous relocation package included in my move to DC and I’d built in extra days for me to interview doctors and other care providers for Tom. This process will be the topic of another post.
I’d worked tirelessly to stay in our home in California. I loved my work, our community of long term friends, knowing who I could trust with the most intimate details, knowing who to call when Tom needed help.
One-hundred percent of my security disappeared as we pulled out of our California driveway that fateful day. It still brings tears to my eyes and a clenching of muscles around my heart. How could we leave? How could I do this? I hated myself.
I’d been saying goodbye for well over two months as attorneys and others I’d worked with in the community called and asked to take me to lunch. Judges, criminal investigators, and friends I’d made through therapy groups and individually called for one last meal. How could I eat when I might never see these individuals again?
Coming from a place of fear and insecurity, I told Tom that if I accepted the transfer with promotion to DC, he could never go into the hospital again. I was horrified at the thought of being alone in DC and I also knew my work would demand my full attention.
How could I have said such a thing to the man I loved? Afterwards, I proceeded to beat myself up—both in and out of therapy—until I became physically ill because I knew my words had hurt Tom, although he never said one word about the inexcusable comment.
Once I came to my senses, I wondered who I thought I was to tell him that his disease could not deter me from my professional advancement.
I’d convinced myself I had gained the knowledge to help Tom control his bipolar disorder. When I look back on that insane attempt to control our reality, I realize how I had set us both up for failure.
Bipolar disorder is a killer. Families and friends battle the relentless beast time and time again. It has the power to trap those who live with it and those who love someone with it deep in its inescapable maze.
I’m convinced unconditional love is the best defense against mental disorders and also the best medicine. However, I know Tom requires professional help and it’s my responsibility to ensure he receives the best care possible.
I’ve also learned I must take care of myself and that means continuing therapy. Living with depression and mania on a regular basis isn’t easy but with a trusted therapist of my own to lean on at times, I’ve weathered some frightening storms and discovered interesting things about myself in the process.
Thank you for reading with me. Upcoming Fourth House blogs include: Sharks at My Grave, An Afternoon with Sid, Finding Psychiatric Care, and others.
I’ve also heard from soldiers providing personal experience with burn pits and will be following up on my original Burn Pit blog. You may read it here.
And for those of you that aren’t familiar with my Morti & Me series, you may read them
My heart is filled with joy. I didn’t know how my Fourth House series would be received and each of your supportive and uplifting comments have touched me in so many different ways. They’ll keep me blogging about our very personal story and how our unconditional love has remained intact.
INDEX TO PREVIOUS FOURTH HOUSE BLOGS: