Sharks At My Grave
The Fourth House
by: Sheri de Grom

From Journal Entry: January 2001, North Carolina.

‘As I look back over twenty years of living and loving Tom with bipolar disorder, I acknowledge how much of my life I carelessly discarded. Somehow I’ve imprisoned myself in an imaginary tomb: sinister, gloomy and cavernous.

I throw pieces of myself, one at a time, into this grave. I don’t want others to witness me floundering with Tom’s disease or observe the nonstop apprehension and terror I feel.

I pretend life has proceeded as planned and forged ahead with my career while masquerading as the person I perceive others expect. I’m adept at concealing the person who represents the real me—especially from myself.

My bitterness and disappointments toward myself churns deep. I’ve pushed away friends and acquaintances and now I’m alone.

Sleep is something I used to do. I can’t indulge any longer for fear of my reoccurring nightmare. Sharks will again circle my grave more and more menacing until in a panic, I finally manage to surface from the twisted clammy blankets to wrest myself.

‘My night terrors always begin the same. A shark sticks its head out of the ocean, where I’ve been abandoned and asks, “Tell me all you know about brain disorders, and I will go away and never return.”

I have nothing to offer, I don’t know anything. How can I pacify this cold-blooded predator when I’ve learned nothing?

I notice the happy face of a blue gill tuna. He has the audacity to come ashore and sit by a campfire I’ve made. In a friendly tone, he questions, “Hey, what’s happening?”

How can I explain I’m oblivious, numb and have no interest in or zero trust enough to bare my soul? I can’t be vulnerable by revealing to a new friend just how lonely and afraid I am. Nor can I admit my life has turned upside down like a capsized raft, and I don’t have a clue of how to right it.

With the eternal wisdom of the sea, an octopus propels himself out of the ocean and reaches out to hug me with all eight arms—b-ut—I’ve forgotten how to accept hugs and condolences. The pain is so intense I long for the darkness of my nightmare tomb. My unwelcome feelings remain locked away.

A shark appears again out of nowhere. He snaps, “I can make short work of your pain and misery. I’ll be happy to help you into that coffin you’ve constructed for your own pity.”

Simultaneously, I see porpoises at play, reminding me they could have chosen to be victims of the harsh and brutal coastline, but instead they are content to play and soak up the rays of the sun. They intuitively know what I’ve not yet discovered: it’s more fun to play with others than to internalize my fears.’

Today, emerging from bed and getting dressed, I headed to my garden sanctuary with a fragrant cup of coffee. Rage, anger, and irritability compel me outside. I do my best thinking while gardening and I can once again live with Tom’s brain disorder after a refreshing respite with Mother Earth.

Gardening allows me to tune out my obsessive worries and fearful thoughts. I’m alive with the flowers, birds, bugs, and gray or blue skies.

I watched the leaves I’d raked and piled in my wheelbarrow dance crazily in the wind. The leaves were powerless; the same as Tom is within the vindictiveness of bipolar disorder. How could I not be enraged that our life expectancy and plans have been radically shortened and forever altered?

Thinking about what had actually driven me into the garden, I became aware of how livid I’ve become with my inability to talk with family and friends about Tom’s disease. My disappointments, loss of candid conversation and thoughts of abandonment has built walls around my heart over the years; now no-one speaks of Tom’s disease.

I’ve studied my daily journals page by page and often I’ve recorded multiple entries on any given day. I carry my journal pages with me everywhere and I think of them as a friend in whom I can always trust and confide. On particularly bad days, it’s my only place I find an old familiar friend.

Not only are my journals a useful source of information for this blog, they’ve proven invaluable as an accurate record of Tom’s medical care. I’ve recorded every medication or change and the prescribed amount, plus the doctor’s name. I’ve even annotated doctor appointments to include name, location, date, purpose of visit, and obtained a copy of the medical records of that visit to store in a separate notebook.

Additionally, I keep the same detailed information regarding all tests and other procedures performed on Tom’s behalf. Unfortunately, I didn’t do this during the years I worked and the result has been non-repairable organ damage. Keeping up with any catastrophic illness and the fall-out that goes with it is a monumental challenge.

My goal in providing this blog is to emphasize the importance of my journal and the importance of medical documentation. There’s a saying medical personnel and insurance claims adjusters hold to the highest standard, “If it’s not written down, it didn’t happen.”

My journal provides more than medical information. It documents the emotions I felt and the events surrounding those feelings and often details how I worked my own feelings out so that I might live with myself.

People with bipolar disorder have no control over their mood states. Those of us who do not suffer from a mood disorder often expect mood-disordered individuals to control their emotions and behavior the same as we do. When we sense we are letting our emotions get the best of us and we want to wield some control over them, we tell ourselves things like, snap out of it, get a hold on yourself, try and pull yourself together. We’re taught that self-control is a sign of maturity and self-discipline. We’re indoctrinated to think of people who do not control their emotions very well as being immature, lazy, self-indulgent or weak. But you can only exert self-control if the control mechanisms are working properly. In people with mood disorders, they are not.

One of my journal entries during this same time period reads, ‘If Tom suffered a heart attack, or a fracture that would not heal, no one would wonder why Tom was in the hospital again. But if I say his mind is adversely affected by day-to-day events, most people fail to see any problem at all.

No one wants to hear that your brain can go bad, just like your body. Tom’s condition doesn’t mean he’s cowardly, heartless, or devoid of emotions. It simply means he no longer functions consistently because he has an uncontrollable organic brain disorder.’

Once again, thank you for reading with me as I continue my FOURTH HOUSE series. I appreciate each and everyone who comments, along with those who let me know they visited my blog by hitting the ‘like button’ and those who prefer to contact me offline. My e-mail address is at the top of the blog. I’m not a mental healthcare professional. I’m merely a woman who fell in love with the most amazing man and is committed to her wedding vow: ‘in sickness and health.’

Thank you.

About Sheri de Grom

Retired Fed/JAG, 5 yrs. on Capitol Hill. Former book buyer for B and N. Concerned citizen of military drawdown. Currently involved in mental healthcare reform, health care strategist and actively pursuing legislative change wherein dual retirees are exempt from enrolling in Medicare at their own discretion without losing tertiary healthcare benefits. Monitor and comment on Federal Register proposed legislation involving Mental Health, Veterans Affairs, Health and Human Services, Medicare and rural libraries. Licensed OSHA Inspector to include Super Fund sites. Full time caregive to Vietnam era veteran. Conceptualized, investigated possible alternatives, authored, lobbied for, and successfully implemented Title X, Section 1095 (known as the Third Party Collection Program of Federal Insurance).
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  1. Gallivanta says:

    Some people find the old style marriage vows stuffy and inappropriate. In many respects I think they are incredibly wise and there is a reason why the ‘sickness’ comes before ‘health’ in the words ‘in sickness and health’. Every couple before they embark on marriage should ask themselves, in deep seriousness, ” can we support each other in sickness”? Loving in healthy times is easy. Marriages/relationships do fail when illness enters the equation but, sadly, I think many fail to realise that the person with the illness is as devastated by heartbreak and their inability to fix their situation as the departing partner. The brain may not work as you would like but your heart still does like anyone else’s.

    • Gallivanta – I couldn’t agree with you more. When Tom and I married we honestly knew we didn’t want to spend the rest of our lives with anyone else. I’ll always remember how hard we looked for his bow tie and cummerbund. We both wanted them to be a perfect shade of forest green we were matching. We hunted high and low every weekend and kept coming up empty handed. After a frustrating weekend of shopping in San Francisco, we were driving home to Monterey/Carmel, CA and I said, “We can always go to Vegas and we wouldn’t have to worry about everything.” Tom turned and ever so serious, said, “There may be a wedding in Vegas but I won’t be there.” I knew immediately that Tom meant every word of what he said about having a ‘real’ wedding and ‘traditional’ vows. We married in 1983 and many couples were writing their own vows but Tom and I agreed, the marriage vows had served my parents well for 57 years and his parents for 62 years.
      In sickness and health, a loving and healthy marriage requires 100% from each individual. Tom gives to me in so many different ways and I’ll start posting some blogs that include some of the ways he makes my life easier.
      Hearts are fragile and Tom and I have each suffered enough heart break even before we met to know that we didn’t deserve to cause each other additional heart break. Thanks again for stopping by and reading with me. I always so appreciate your comments as you get me to thinking about something else I might be leaving out of the ‘equation’ as I call it. That’s one of the great things about having wonderful blogging friends such as yourself. Sheri

  2. Bryan says:

    Thank you for letting us in your story!

    • Hello, Bryan. It’s nice to see you and thanks for leaving a comment. How’s it going now that you have that darling baby? I can’t imagine how you can make yourself leave the house everyday. From your photos on Facebook (I do poke around there occasionally), I’ve seen some precious pictures. We all have a story and my goal is to let those that read my blog know a marriage with unconditional love will last and be strong even when the statistics are stacked against you. Ninety percent of all marriages end in divorce wherein one individual is bipolar. However, I’m here to show and tell, it may not always be easy but with faith, hard work and persistence love will prevail. Sheri

      • Bryan says:

        Thank you! Very encouraging and I agree that with work and persistence marriages can thrive. And…yes I love my baby girl with all of my heart. I understand now what others have said in the past, “I didn’t know I could love someone so much!” You are always welcome to stop by. 😀 Abigail means “Joy to the father,” and that is what she truly is a joy! I believe God will use her in a mighty way and is already using her to care and show love to others.

  3. Women commonly suffer more pain than any war hero ever does…You are even more than a “woman”, Sheri…You are very special. A remarkable person.
    Wish you and Tom my very best.
    Warmly, Luana

    • Luana – Thank you so much for stopping by and reading with me and commenting. In the numerous photography, poetry, short story, and other artistic expression blogs I read, I see pain everywhere. I don’t have the corner on that market. Thankfully, the blogosphere has allowed me to meet amazing artist such as yourself and I know I’m not alone in this world. Of course, I’ve know I was never alone, but having the input from your blogs and then when you stop by and visit me, it’s as though a village of beautiful souls has formed and we are here to help each other. Thank you for being a part of the village. Sheri

  4. Caryl says:

    Hi Sheri, I just nominated you for versatile blogger awards: Congrats 🙂

  5. Hello Elaine – I apologize for taking so long in getting back to your message for a reply. I read your message on my iPad but always prefer to respond using my regular keyboard. I tell myself I prefer the keyboard because it is easier on my hand/wrist/arm but truth be – I had 12 years of concert piano and my fingers simply don’t like being scrunched up on the i-Pad keys. Don’t get me wrong, I love the i-Pad and have no intentions giving it up. I wasn’t sure I needed one when I received it as a gift and now it goes everywhere with me. Isn’t it funny how we can become addictive to some gadgets and not others. Thank you so much for reading with me and taking the time to leave a comment. Sheri

  6. cyberbonn says:

    awesome entry…my heart is with you
    I was a caregiver for many years so I get it…
    this is an incredible journal-book perhaps?

  7. Wow, Sheri, thirteen years ago. You seem stronger now–more able to reach out to friends and let them inside. Your documentation is invaluable for your story, which needs to be published.

    As someone who has experienced a manic episode firsthand (the absolute worst week of my life), I can attest to the inability to control the moods. The bad thing is that I remember with crystal clarity every grandiose thought I had, every conversation I had, every misconception I had, every everything. When I emerged from that episode, I was terrified about how my mind had betrayed me. I had always prided himself on my intellect and mental balance. It took me a YEAR to start thinking that I could be a reliable human being again–that I could begin to trust my mind again. Although I have always battled depression, the meds have kept me from having another manic episode for 21 years.

    • John, Thank you so much for speaking out about your own experiences. The more we allow the public to know the truth about who we are and what we represent, the more stigma will become a thing of the past.
      Tom’s biggest fear is that he’ll lose his mind completely. I cannot remember the number of times I’ve held him while he cried out in the most agonizing howl, “I can’t remember, I can’t remember, I can’t remember a thing. Please help me . . . .”
      It’s amazing and wonderful all at the same time that your doctors found the correct combination of medication to keep your mood level.

  8. M. Zane McClellan says:

    I first began reading this shortly after you posted it. Within moments I knew I needed to be in a different frame of mind to fully appreciate it. At that moment my own emotions were too raw. It took me a couple more starts and stops before I read it all th way through this morning. I love the imagery of your dreams, the honesty you show in your writing, and your devotion to Tom. I hope that those who take the time to read your blog fully appreciate the contribution you are making. Your writing has a powerful way of addressing the needless stigma of mental illness.
    I am so happy that someone like you thinks so much of my poetry. After reading what you write I feel even more moved by the comments you have left for me. Deep and heartfelt thanks to you for that. Deep and heartfelt empathy for you and Tom struggling bipolar disorder. Peace.
    ~ Michael

    • Michael – Thank you for stopping by and commenting. I well understand about their being times when you are raw and cannot read. I’m exactly the same way. I have days when I have to move away from what I’ve written myself. I so want to share the journey Tom and I have and still do travel. I want others to know that a marriage can exist and unconditional love will hold strong in spite of the 90% statistic of divorce when one individual in the marriage is bipolar disordered.
      I know I haven’t commented for a few days on your poetry but trust me, I’ve been reading and your words are amazing. Your poetry of love and relationships is unquestionably some of the best I’ve had the honor of reading. Keep writing and we’ll keep reading. Sheri

      • M. Zane McClellan says:

        You always manage to leave me speechless, both with your writing and your praise for mine. Both are cherished because of your courage and openness. I feel free to share my feelings even more when I read your words. Thank you for that, Sheri.

  9. Sheri, this is a particularly heartbreaking post. I admire and respect your candid honesty and your ability to articulate so well the depth of your caring and your pain.

  10. Sheri I loved this and also I hated it for you! I know how you feel! I once tried to voice my feelings about my girl’s illness and I was met with family members that didn’t understand because I have kept that struggle to myself for years. I love how you express your anger, thoughts and the gardening, I so relate to that. I garden too. I have made so many gardens at my new house in the last 7 years out of frustration and no one can ever tell if I sweating or crying it all looks the same from the street. There are days I feel like you. I feel cheated in a way. I know that sounds awful, I feel like I was never loved as a wife or a woman but just seen as a caregiver all these years so when my girl older boy was I ready to live but then the illnesses kept coming and like you said you can’t NOT be there for fear someone will do something that will take their life. Do you think it’s all about this walk of grace? I hope one day I will live, but then I realized I’m almost 49 and if I don’t start living well I’m going to die like this! So I do it in spurts. Bless you for your blog. I love when I catch one of your posts while I’m working and I can share what’s really on my mind! Bless you and my prayers for you and your sweet man. God surround you with his faith and love! Michelle

    • Michelle – Thank you so much for stopping by and commenting. I had to keep Tom’s disease to myself until I retired due to my security clearance with the government. If I lost my clearance then I would lose my job and I couldn’t let that happen under any circumstance. Talk about backwards and stigma, that I could be considered a risk factor when it was my husband with the mental illness. I could talk with one very dear friend and that was it – not a word to another person. I had no idea how others would react when I was able to speak openly about Tom’s disease.
      After I retired, I signed on with the DC speaker’s bureau as an advocate of the mentally ill. I found it interesting that I could speak before thousands at conferences on the devastation of mental illness on a family and no one ever got up and walked out. Matter of fact, it was just the opposite. I answered questions until I often didn’t have a voice left with which to speak.
      Yet, our families might as well have had their hands over their ears. I tried and tried and finally in the interest of my own health decided to leave the families out of what was going on with us.
      I never gave gardening a single thought until Tom went into the hospital the first time. After that, I couldn’t get enough of digging in the dirt. Tom used to tell me, “If you are going to buy 30 roses at a time, won’t you please bring home 30 holes to go with them.” The garden is really my thing and as the years have progressed, when I’ve needed hard labor done, I’ve hired it out.
      Like you, when we were on 3 acres in NC, everywhere I turned begged for yet another garden. Tom was also in the hospital more in NC than in any other place. When we moved from our home there, the realtor estimated 1/2 acre that wasn’t developed into gardens.
      You mentioned living your life. I firmly believe you must make time for yourself. Having said that, it’s easy for me to say and much more difficult to do. I’d love to travel and the other things we planned to do when we retired are out of the question now. The years of medications have ravaged Tom’s body.
      I refuse to give up and say that ‘the man I married’ won’t be back. I would lose my mind if I thought that were all I had in my future. Sheri

      • Oh I love what you said I believe that to for you and Tom! You have to believe the best or else it would seem futile and I just don’t think it is at all! I love that about your gardens and can’t wait for Spring. Each year I start a new one like you! I adore Roses! Everything about mine are so wonderful! They bloomed 6 times last year. I dead head them and them boom it’s like they know I love them! 😄😄😄my daughter said once mom if you come home and your rosé bushes are gone that because they are scratching my window at night! Joking of course! I love to read that you give speeches that is so brave of you! Wow! I don’t share much with my family either it is best and like you find non-relatives more compassionate. Bless you I love your sweet compassionate loving heart! Hugs to you!

      • Hey Sheri I was thinking about you and how inspiring you are and I made this for mine and Jeanne Marie thinkingpinkx2 blog. It’s about being positive and living in the PINK happiness of life even though sometimes life is not always happy. It is meant to inspirational and I thought of you when I created this art, along with Belinda and Dawn those that constantly have to choose to be happy given circumstances that aren’t always happy. Hugs to you sweet friend.

  11. mihrank says:

    Reblogged this on mihran Kalaydjian and commented:

  12. You have exposed a side of yourself here I never thought about. I think of you as this iron-willed woman who can handle anything and doesn’t mind sharing herself and her travails with others. I never stopped to think about the anger, self-doubt and so forth you have in private. We never really know one another. I wish I could hug you.

    • David, You bring a smile to my heart. My secretary in DC made me special stationary (other than the formal Dept Head stuff I was supposed to use). I wish I still had some of it. You are aware I grew up in Kansas I think and my secretary adored my father (she’d go to Kansas on vacation and actually thought it was fun to work the ranch). Anyway, the letterhead she made had a prairie woman carrying a shotgun and she appeared on the hunt. The only written words were: S de Grom, Not Your Ordinary Kansas Farm Girl.
      It always amazed me that Becky, my spirited secretary, knew more about her boss than anyone else in DC. She never knew when Tom was in the hospital or what was going on, but she always knew the perfect time to have fresh flowers in my office. There was something magic and far beyond what a secretary was responsible for. When I put in hours far too long for any human, Becky made sure she had all 3 meals waiting for me and they included directions for heating, etc.
      I always think of Becky when I read one of your blogs having to do with those we meet along the way.
      For now, I’ll accept your cyber hug. It’s nice, after all those years, to not be super woman but I still don’t often let them see me sweat. Sheri

  13. cindy knoke says:

    “How can I explain I’m oblivious, numb and have no interest in or zero trust enough to bare my soul?
    Interesting isn’t it, that you have bared your soul so nakedly and beautifully in this post. Takes some real courage ma deah.
    Interesting isn’t it, that some of us find it easier to confide with the written word. I am this way too. This is how I process information most comfortably. spoken words can so easily be mistakes. Written words require more thought.
    I used to have recurring dreams of sharks after my children and I.
    When I left my last job, the dreams stopped like a light switch in the off position.
    I realized after the fact, that the sharks represented a couple of real people in my life who I needed to move away from.
    I wonder if the sharks in your dreams are Tom’s disease which you have to be careful to not let consume you?
    I love all the nice creatures in your dreams though, that are there to help you.
    You are simply a remarkable person Sheri. Your blog is such an eye opener and so helpful to everyone who reads it!
    Hugz & sincere admiration~

    • Cindy – Thank you for reading with me and taking the time to comment. All those years ago when I was writing the bulk of this post in my journal, I would never have thought of letting any one read it, much less posting it somewhere and the entire world had access to it.
      Of course, all the years I worked for the government, I didn’t dare talk with anyone other than my best friend. I could not take the chance of losing my job. Isn’t it crazy that I could lose my security clearance because my husband had a mental disorder? Not me, but him. For the highest level of clearance, the government still holds the same standard.
      For me, after 25+ years of searching and wondering, the shark represents my addictions. As someone that’s multiply addicted, finding recovery for one substance is never a victory. It took me years to understand that single concept. I know what seems like thousands of years ago, there’s no such thing as recovered and that I’ll always be recovering and freedom is earned one day at a time. Perhaps someday I’ll blog about that but for now, it’s important for me to tell our story of living and loving with bipolar disorder.

  14. It takes great courage to share your life like this…and to live it. Thank you for showing us the graceful way to do it. Sending you Many Blessings!

  15. Sheri…..Thank you again, for sharing your heart and soul with us. I learn more about this disease with each entry you post. Your amazing strength shows each time, as well. Hugs ♥ paula

  16. Sheri, I have to echo Patti … too many people truly believe that all you have to do is whistle a happy tune and everything will go away. I grew up with mental disorder and because of that I spent many years studying to try and understand what I could not as a child.

    Again, I tell you that your blog provides all those who read it with a “safe house” a place to come and know they will get straight answers. Thanks for sharing your pain and letting others benefit … no matter how difficult it is … you have the courage of your convictions 🙂

    • Florence, You and Patti are so right about the ‘happy tune’ concept of mental health. The only time Tom ever talked with his father on the telephone was after he had come home from the hospital and his parents called. His dad got on the phone and said, “get out of that ***** bed boy, you are worrying your mother to death!”
      By the time Tom’s father said this one partial sentence to Tom, Tom’s entire military career was behind him. I’ve often thought it was his dad’s evil behavior that sent Tom to the hospital the second time.
      As always, thanks for reading with me and I always look forward to your comments. I know I have an e-mail from you and it’s lost somewhere in the bundle of a messy in-box. Do you have a cure for that? It seems to be a disease at our house. Sheri

  17. Mae Clair says:

    What stood out for me in this post (aside from the strength and courage I always sense when I read about your bond to Tom) was this line: “you can only exert self-control if the control mechanisms are working properly.”

    Something most of us tend to overlook or forget. Your journey together, though heart-rending, is inspiring. The Lord chose well when he matched you with Tom. Hugs to you both.

  18. You write beautifully and movingly Sheri, in the midst of great pain.

  19. gpcox says:

    A very tough situation indeed, no one can quite put themselves in your shoes – but I can try.

    • G.P. – Hello friend. I hope you are having a great night. As I typed great night, a flash of silly thoughts crossed my mind of isn’t it interesting what makes a great night during different times in our lives. As always, I appreciate your presence and kind words. The neurologist changed one of Tom’s meds and that will hopefully help with the trembling. It would be wonderful if he could work in his studio a bit at a time. Take care. Sheri

  20. gdwest123 says:

    Very moving Sheri, wishing you and Tom all the best in everything. You are doing the very best you can, no one could do more

  21. thanks so much for so honestly and openly sharing. all the best! 🙂

  22. Dilip says:

    During tough times this ancient quote empowers us “This too shall pass”! Wish you both peace and harmony. Regards!

    • Hi Dilip: Thanks for stopping by and reading. I always appreciate you taking time out of your schedule and taking the time out of your busy schedule to comment.
      I like your quote of ‘This too shall pass.’ and a favorite of mine by Winston Churchill is, “When you’re going through hell, keep marching.”
      Unfortunately, an individual with bipolar disorder and those that love him have no day in the future to look for a ‘day to pass’ as the disease doesn’t have a cure. What I personally take from your quote is that we have many wondrous moments in our lives that I wouldn’t trade for anything else in the world. I’ve learned to live ‘in the present’ when those precious moments, however brief, arrive and drop whatever I might be doing at the time and participate 150%.
      Positive affirmations and prayer are accountable for my ability to get through the tough times, the times when Tom is having a serious depression or one of the many other issues that come from this hideous and unwanted disease.
      I hope you have a positively beautiful day filled with love and laughter not to mention the time you need for your continuing studies. Sheri

  23. Ms. de grom,
    I guess my question is what do you have to loose with opening up with a trusted friend or relative about your most personal feelings? What can happen in the finality of telling someone about the way you feel. I like how you blog about the situation and of course it is a way of getting things off your chest but without immediate response. I am not quite sure what it is that you fear in discussing your feelings? I am certain you would not be judged or put down or thought of in any different except maybe closer to the one you share with.
    I do respect your commitment to your husband and love your honoring your word. That means a lot. I also know that with Bipolar Syndrome you must have been angry at times and depressed at times and really just a whole range of emotions that can haunt us later in life and produce guilt that we weren’t perfectly the partner we hoped we could have been.
    The shark sounds like frustration to me! Maybe more recent events in your life are the culprit. I must thank you sincerely with such a personal and honest recollection for all to read. I am sure it helps others and I am sure many will feel strength in understanding that no one is perfect at all times. Finally I think the best motto is “All is fair in love and war”. Buddha the philosopher also commented and said, “If we keep looking back we can’t go forward”. Yes there is a lot to cherish in the past but there is also somethings dealt with and forgive ourselves and ultimately let it go….
    Thank you so much for being so courageous and strong in relating all you have to us, claudy

    • Claudy – I apologize for taking so long to respond to your reply. I only had access to my iPad for a few days and I really wanted access to a regular size keyboard before responding. In response to your question about what do I have to loose by opening up? My response: at the top of the blog it states: Journal Entry: January 2001, North Carolina. You are not the only individual that didn’t note the events of this blog took place in January 2001 and not February 2014.
      As I mentioned to Beth in my reply to her; I see I need to clearly point out for all readers the blog post is from a journal and not from events going on even in the recent past.
      When Tom and I married he had less than a year before he retired from the military at the age of 38 but I still had a little over 10 years before I could retire from my civil service position with the government. Because my career required the highest level of security clearance the government provided (and back then, they were real security clearances and not a government contract worker with a rubber stamp). No matter how discriminating it seems, I could have lost my security clearance over Tom’s diagnosis and thus my career.
      In those dark, lonely days I only trusted a best friend. My career provided 100% medical care and I could not afford to let that benefit get away from us.
      I recognize you haven’t been reading with me long, but there’s a series of ‘Fourth House’ blogs. Should you wish to read more about why I could not speak out about Tom’s illness until I retired and how that’s changed since I retired, you’ll find that information at my blog titled, Mental Health Care, Who Needs It? The blog is posted at:
      As always, Claudy, thank you for reading with me and for your comment. Sheri

      • Make sense! I wondered why a woman so smart and obviously self aware would hesitate to speak up making things better by just being able to talk about it! Now I see how not only did you live through such an ordeal but had even more pressure because of your security status. Poor thing! But now that is behind you and because of the experience able to share and surely help others. What a woman! Thank you for such a personal response back in detail for me. I appreciate you, claudy

        • Claudy – the – artist: Isn’t it grand when we understand each other? However, you pointed out to me that I must address clearly the ‘time issue’ of each blog because others expressed similar concerns.
          I didn’t mention in my last reply to you, but as I was scrolling the reader on my i-Pad yesterday, a painting full of bold colors, passionate design, and an explosion of emotion asking me to look closer – rolled into view. As I thumbed the reader bit by bit, I didn’t want to miss a second of what I was seeing and thus feeling; I knew the work had to be yours. Wow. And then – your name. I’d seen your work a couple times before but it’s unusual for me to tune in like this. It’s truly amazing.

  24. LIFE is a mystery at any time. I do not wonder you have kept a journal, which is, to me, the only logical way of tracking day-to-day as well as other changes.
    Either I am am a list-maker or a journal-ist because i have always been prone to writing everything of interest (to me) to remember (an analyze later). But this is about keeping records and I am all about that especially when dealing with anything life. We tend to forget details. Journaling is the perfect way of not losing details. 😀

    • Hi Tess, I’m a bit behind in responding to comments and you know how much I love the fact that you not only take the time to read my blog but also always make wise and thoughtful comments.
      I’ve been a journalist since I received my first pink one-year diary, complete with key, on my 6th birthday. I still have the journal and the inscribed comment from my grandmother, “My wish for you Sheri, on this your 6th birthday, is that you’ll continue to find excitement in the world as you do now. I wish you, my spirited granddaughter, love, joy, harmony and the opportunity to learn each day the remainder of your life.
      I’ve written in a journal each day of my life since my 6th birthday (except for when seriously wounded). My grandmother (from my father’s side of the family) was truly an inspiration to me and a week was never complete unless I phoned to check in, it didn’t matter where I was in the world. Totally blind from the age of 40, she lived alone until age 96 when she passed.
      When Tom became so very ill, I realized I had to separate some of my writing to keep my main journal still my friend but as I read, there’s a lot of overlap in both places. Thanks, Tess, for being here for me. Sheri

      • I love your grandmother already, but what a trooper, living alone in the dark for 56 years. That takes more than grit. I’m in awe of her.
        As well, I love how she treated you, not as a child but as a girl beginning to discover the world. My 10-year-old granddaughter was given a diary in December, but has no time for it even though I explained to her it is her secret and special friend. Makes me so sad. Diaries are lost to this generation.
        I haven’t kept up my journal but will have to find my way back because of my upcoming trip.
        I hosted ESL students from all over the world for ten years. The Japanese girls were given a journal from the time they were able to write and never stopped entries until they died. I’m sure some families weren’t as particular but I loved that a woman kept her own thoughts even as she lived as a wife and mother (I’m considering the culture in this case).
        I always love our discussions, Sheri. Maybe one of these days, we’ll have coffee together. I would be thrilled to pieces.

        • Tess – My grandmother would have loved you right back. She loved women that were feisty and not afraid to have their own opinions. She always encouraged me to not only have my own opinions but when I thought I had adequate information, I should take a stance and be ready to defend my position.
          I’ve always believed it was because my grandmother didn’t treat me like a ‘girl’ that I matured and achieved goals beyond my peers in a small farming community. My mother supported the decision for all of my brothers to have university education but didn’t see a need for me to have a degree. I’m convinced Dad’s stance was a result of all the times I’d spent with my grandmother. Dad’s stance, “I’ve educated the boys and Sheri will have an education too.” and that was the end of that.
          I can only imagine the richness the ELS students found in your home. What a richness you brought to their lives. I didn’t know the Japanese girls kept journals and kept them on into their lives as mothers and women. What a wonderful tradition to uphold throughout the culture. I believe journalling not only enriches my life but just think, if every woman in our country kept a journal we would also guarantee all women would know how to read and write and that’s something we can’t say at the present time.
          I understand when you say your granddaughter hasn’t shown interest in writing in her diary.
          In the US, our students no longer learn cursive. While I recognize much of cursive is illegible, I also know that’s the responsibility of the person doing the writing.
          Dad taught me the joy of holding a beautifully crafted fountain pen. I’ve been thinking about a blog, “He Who Has The Most Pen’s Wins.” It would be based on my days at Walter Reed Army Hospital in DC and it seemed a contest among the Generals of who could show up with the most Mont Blanc pens at any one briefing.
          How I’d love to sit down and have a cup of coffee with you. It’s interesting to me how this blogging world spins. When I’m forced to be away for a couple of days, it’s as if I’ve had to leave my friends to take care of other matters.
          Take good care, Tess. You are indeed a special friend.

  25. ksbeth says:

    yes, sheri, it is another illness and it is sad that people still attach a stigma to it. the word ‘illness’ in the term mental illness says it all. i’m sorry you’re not able to reach out and share more, with those you are close to, but know we are always here reading, listening, learning and supporting you on this journey. beth

    • Hi, Beth, thanks for stopping by. I realize from the many responses I’ve received on this post that I must make it clear that when I’m using a ‘journal entry’ that I must make it positively clear, (more than I have been) that it’s a journal entry I’m posting from and not something that’s happening today. In the case of this blog, the entry was made in 2010.
      When Tom and I married he had less than a year before he retired from the military at the age of 38 but I still had a little over 10 years before I could retire from my civil service position with the government. Our agreement was that he’d follow my career as I was relocated constantly. Because my career required the highest level of security clearance the government provided (and back then, they were real security clearances and not something a government contractor stamped with a rubber stamp). No matter how discriminating it seems, I could have lost my security clearance over Tom’s diagnoses. I ranted and raged about it with myself but it didn’t matter how unfair the situation was, I couldn’t risk talking with anyone other than my best friend, Catherine. I knew I never had to worry about trusting her. After I retired, I became an active advocate for mental health reform, did a great deal of public speaking and on and on.
      I no longer had to worry about keeping my job, which was critical for our insurance. When I retired, my insurance was grandfathered in and it was clear sailing for me to talk with friends, family, strangers, congressional contemporaries, and on and on.
      To tell the truth within this blog, I feel it’s my responsibility to let others know that often, there will be absolutely no one that’s willing or even want’s to listen when you talk about a partner with mental health issues. The sentence I’ve heard more often than not has been, “Why don’t you just leave?” And, you already know my position on that. Once again, thank you for reading with me and leaving a comment. Sheri

  26. When we begin to treat mental disorders with the same respect as we do other illnesses, then it stands a chance for cure. You write so touchingly about the ups and downs of dealing with this. My thoughts are with you.

    • Hello, Renee. I’m a bit slow in arriving at the comments for this blog but I also know you along with the others understand how life has a way of taking you away when you believe things are about to settle down.
      You are oh so right about treating mental illness the same of any other illness. We see stigma within the medical community that’s not mental health. How are we to expect the man on the street to grasp that concept.
      In my blog, ‘When It Is Not Mental Illness,’ I address the major issue of how difficult it is to find the first rate medical care Tom is entitled. I addressed this serious issue in my blog at: . I see the stigma from the medical profession as the worst stigma of all because they know mental illness is a chronic brain disease. How dare they not treat the medical problems the chronically mentally ill have?

  27. Oh, Sheri, your writing moves me. And when you said Tom suffers from an organic brain disorder and no one understands that he cannot just “shake it off” and “get over it”, it just touched my heart. My daughter is battling depression and I can’t believe some of the people who believe she should just “think positive thoughts” and she’ll be fine. Geez. I guess I will chalk it up to ignorance.

    • Yes, Patti, it truly is ignorance. I hope and pray that cloud following your daughter around will work it’s way out of her life and yours soon.
      I know you read everything you can get your hands on and you’re a terrific mother and braver than even you know to admit your daughter is suffering as she battles depression.
      It’s so hard being that outside person looking in, wanting to wave that magic wand, hold her tight and promise everything is going to be all right — but you don’t have that power anymore than I have that power when Tom is depressed.
      Are you familiar with the national organization, NAMI. They offer a great 12-week program called Family-to-Family. As far as I know, it is still free to anyone of interest that has a family member and that wants to know more about the disease, etc.
      I was already a member of the State Board of Directors of NAMI before I took the class but it was so valuable and we were already 20+ years into Tom’s disease. Matter of fact, I believe in the program so much that I became a certified instructor at first the state and then the national level.
      Other than knowing you aren’t alone and have the opportunity to hear others in your very situation express their concerns and get to talk through them and yes you have exercises you do together, but once the 12 weeks are over, hopefully you’ll have made a friend or two that will be someone you can continue talking with if you want. NAMI is founded on peer to peer.
      NAMI also has monthly meetings in local communities for family members of those with mental health issues. You might find a resource there, if interested.

  28. Skye says:

    Sheri, thank you for sharing this post with us; I will be praying for you and Tom. You are an amazing woman with incredible strength. An inspiration, truly.

  29. Denise Hisey says:

    Sheri, your determination and strength are truly amazing. Tom is so lucky to have someone as dedicated, patient, and understanding as you have been. Mental illness knows no boundaries and society stiff arms those afflicted as well as their caregivers. You are a breath of fresh air.

    • Denise – Thank you. I’m determined we will get through to the other side of this and as Elliot John sings, “I’ll Still Be Standing.” My own PTSD has kept me away from the computer for a couple days and I’ve truly missed communicating with everyone. I’ve been trying to come up with a suitable time to insert my PTSD for this to be a totally 100% blog the way I want. I simply feel it has to be woven in and not mixed up with the information I want to share about not only surviving with a spouse with bipolar disorder but also continuing to love, have a successful career some would consider breaking through the glass ceiling of government and still have time to write legislation and see it through both houses and passed into law, advocate for mental health reform, etc. I sincerely appreciate your reading with me and taking the time to comment. Sheri

      • Denise Hisey says:

        Sheri, I can see why you’d want to keep them semi-sorted out, though within the same blog. It will be with great interest for me to read what you have to say on all these topics.

  30. It’s so sad that you aren’t able to open freely with family and friends. I experienced isolation growing up with a schizophrenic brother. I am not sure it’s the same as what you’re experiencing, of course, and my situation was different in that I was young, in formative years, and didn’t want to expose the mental illness that I barely understood by bringing friends around and family never talked beyond, “something happened with him when…” To some degree I do understand that lonely place, but from my own subjective experience. I hope, most sincerely, that in your writing here, as well as your journal, gives you comfort and a sense that you are being heard and understood. Even though I may not be visible to you, I care about how you feel and what you write. Hugs to you. Paulette

    • Paulette – Thank you for your warm thoughts. Most of what I wrote in this blog was taken from an excerpt from my journal dated in 2010. As I commented to Beth above, my world has changed 200% after I retired from government. To many risks were involved while I was employed, but once I retired, I broke the silence and became a strong advocate for changing many laws having to do with the mentally hill, spent 2 years on the DC Speakers Bureau and each engagement with them took me all over the country wherein I was speaking to thousands of individuals at a time . . . I no longer had or have to worry about protecting my career.
      It must have been hard for you as a child to cope with your brother’s illness and have some normalcy of a childhood at the same time. We know stigma was worse then than it is now and it’s intolerable now.
      Thank you for reading for me and leaving a comment. Sheri

      • Thank you, Sheri. I missed that it was an earlier journal entry and was glad to see it was from earlier and all you’ve done since. I have a feeling it’d be very healing to sit down with you and talk about my past and learn more about yours. It’s not easy for me to open and talk about my stuff, but something in how open and honest you are… and well, I think it’s the safety you’ve created, and that your writing rings authentic, painful at times, but very authentic, has encouraged me to open a little here. It’s been really appreciated.

        • Paulette – I promised I would be brutally honest with myself as I wrote about mental illness and especially bipolar disorder. One of the things that helped me deal with all that was going on and especially the number of years I had to keep my silence was having a therapist of my own that I could trust. My blog within this series is, Mental Health Care – Who Needs It? In case you are interested, the link is:
          I knew I had to be as authentic as I knew how to be and not sound like a drama queen. There’s nothing easy about this business of mental illness or any other catastrophic illness and as soon as the world recognizes this situation, we might get somewhere with providing quality healthcare at an affordable cost. Thanks as always for your comment and discussion is always great. It affords us the opportunity to speak from our hearts and become a community in the healing of mental health stigma. Sheri

  31. pilbra says:

    You have lived an amazing life as read through your story I find an amazing lady with strength..You are in my thoughts and prayers

  32. Elaine says:

    Keeping you in my prayers Sheri, as well as Tom. I admire the incredible strength the Lord has provided you with.

    • Elaine – I’m not sure why, but my reply to you didn’t appear next to your comment within the comment section within my blog. Please always know I appreciate your wise words and gentle way of approaching each blog. Thank you for reaching out and I hope you are having a peaceful weekend.

      • Elaine says:

        Sheri I didn’t even notice that. Lol. I think the Internet has a mind of its own and just likes to keep us guessing by doing strange things to confuse us… Like we need help with that. Lol Sheri I admire your strength and fortitude. My mother suffered from a mental illness when she was alive and it was difficult to deal with most of the time. I wish I could have done more for her and that others would have grasped the fact that she could not just snap out of it. Hugs to you Sheri.

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