“My Tamed Monster”

This is a brief account I was asked to share in an upcoming book.  It highlights how difficult, yet rewarding it was at times to be the only support my husband had as we struggled with his mental illness and our faith.  My plan is to pen a more detailed accounting a book one day titled “My Tamed Monster.”

Dear DougThank you for inviting us to share our stories for your upcoming book.  I will do my best to squeeze 20 years into a short recap and cover your questions at the same time.

Jimm and I met during my senior year of college when he was working as a security guard at the same mall I was working at during my summer break.  During his shifts, he would come into our store to chat with me and the other girls I worked with.  I had a big crush on him but unfortunately for me, he didn’t even know I existed.

Since our store was going out of business and Jimm was always “hanging around,” we invited him to go out with us to celebrate our last night working together.

After having a blast together we all went back to our cars.  Still wanting to hang out, Jimm invited me to go sit in his car.  When he opened the front door of his car I saw a Bible on the passenger seat.  I was like, “is that yours?”  He later told me how he was going to say, “no it was my Grandmother’s” so I wouldn’t think he was some kind of a religious fanatic or something like that.  But he didn’t and instead he said, “yes it’s mine” and I said “cool!”

He never tried to do anything other than talk with me and even sing a few songs to me into the early morning.  That’s when I knew right then, I was in love and I knew he was “the one.”  Again unfortunately for me, it took him a lot longer to think and feel the same way about me.

That night in June of 94′ a wonderful friendship and relationship was started.  Jimm was quite the romantic man.  Constantly surprising me with flowers, showering me with cards and homemade dinners but most of all he was the first man in my life that really showed he cared for me when he put my needs before his.  He took the time to get to know me, my dreams, my past, my insecurities, everything about me.  It was refreshing.  Jimm was the first Christian man I had ever dated and he really seemed to have a strong hold on who he was and what he stood for.  I admired that quality in him.

As I was on college break during my senior year, I eventually had to go back to school in August, just a couple months after we started dating, but the distance did not hamper our love.  We spent hours on the phone, I took trips back home almost every weekend or he would come up to visit me.

Spring break of 95′ I saw my first red flag there was something different about Jimm. During this break I was at home and called Jimm as I normally would but this time he was unusually different on the phone.  He was very distant, very cold, and he began to say strange things.  He said I was supposedly saying things about his son who he was trying to get visitation with during his divorce.  Even though none of this was true BOOM just like that he broke up with me!  After that call, I was in complete and utter shock – it was like I was talking to a complete stranger, not the wonderful sweet guy who made me feel so special.

I let a day or so pass to see if he would call me and clarify what was really going on but nothing.  A few days later, I went out with my parents for dinner and when I came home everything I had ever given to him was sitting on the back porch.  In my mind, that said it was over….again I was crushed…but I got the nerve to show up at his front door and find out what the heck was really going on.  I just couldn’t figure it out.  I mean if it’s over and he doesn’t want to be with me then fine, but let’s get to the root of this strange and erratic behavior.

Jimm was living in the basement of his parent’s house at the time because he was going through a divorce and was also trying to work out visitation schedules with his 3 year old son.  It was that night he opened up long enough to tell me how he pushes people away when they start to get too close to him.

He also admitted to making up all the things he said I had said about him and his son.  He was simply trying to push me away and just to be done with us.  He had never had a relationship that had lasted longer than a year because he always succeeded in pushing others away.

Well, I thought that was a pretty lame excuse and I wasn’t having any of it.  I knew we were great together and this too shall pass and we could move on.  Being in a relationship didn’t scare me and I wasn’t going to let whatever issues Jimm had with commitment kill a great thing!  After hours of talking he eventually opened his heart again and let me back in.  I remember how wonderful it was that night to just be sitting on his lap and having his arms around me.  It felt so right and I felt whole again.  I knew God had special plans for us.

Whenever Jimm would talk about our relationship with others he’d always say how it was a triangle.  God was at the top and we were at each of the corners and as long as we kept our focus on God, he would guide us and we would grow closer to each other.  We still hold onto that way of thinking even today.

I guess you can say once we got past that surprising little bump he really started to let his walls down and the longer we were together a Jimm that I has never met before began to show more and more.  I suddenly began to see his “moody” side.  If you know me, I’m bubbly, perky and always smiling, so spending time with someone who spent most of his time bouncing between moods was very difficult for me.  It rattled me and it confused me, it made me really uncomfortable.  I began to develop the mindset that it was my sole responsibility to cheer Jimm up.

Being the “good girlfriend,” I would stop by wherever he was working to drop off some candy, a little treat or sometimes I’d go out and buy him things, you know–easy peasey lemon squeeze!  Most times it would usually put a smile on his face, which then made me happy.  I know that if I was a feeling blue or grumpy and someone did something like that for me it certainly would put a bounce back in my step.  Many times I found myself making excuses for his moods.  I’d tell myself the sudden and drastic mood changes had something to do with his job, his divorce and visitation with his son, or the struggle of trying to raise his son and a young single father’s frustrations that can go along with those responsibilities. Often times the excuses were easy to come up with and we just kept moving along.

We were married in November of 96′ and that’s when I found out what they say is true, “you don’t really know someone until you live with them.”  Just inside our first year of marriage things got rocky real quick.  Jimm was jumping from job to job, sometimes more than two or three times in the same year.   His moods were worse and lasting longer. Sometimes they lasted for days on end and the anger; he had this anger that just stewed inside and if something was out of whack he would lose his temper and act out physically on whatever was within reach but never me or anyone else for that matter.

I remember him being in a bad mood one day as he was ironing his work shirts and the wrinkles weren’t releasing the way he felt they should’ve been.  Like the flip of a light switch he got so angry.  He tried to rip the cord out of the iron and then threw it across the room.  I was sitting on the couch, watching tv, and was completely shocked at the rapid escalation of his anger and how it just exploded.  There was another time when his laptop was not doing what he wanted it to do so he began tensing up getting this strange look about him.  I watched as he reared back to put his fist through it.  Knowing what was coming next I yelled STOP!!! and surprisingly, he did.

It’s like when he is in a bad mood he’s a ticking time bomb and when he has a trigger of frustration – WOW! Level 10+ in seconds.   Those kind of reactions were very scary.  Again he NEVER took his anger physically out on me or anyone else, but rather himself or whatever it was that seemed to be frustrating him at the time.  Years later into our marriage he opened up to me and shared how he even gets scared at those reactions and how quickly and seemingly uncontrollable they are.  He doesn’t understand what comes over him and never seem to realize what is happening until he is already in that place of what feels like no return.

It was common practice for me to walk on eggshells in our apt anytime Jimm was around.  He always wanted everything a certain way (OCD – big time), if he found water spots on the sink, labels on products not facing forward or things not in the “proper spot.” – I was spoken to as if I were a 5 year old child and scolded for not having everything – perfect – YUCKO!

Let me clarify also – when I say mod, I also mean SILENCE, which was even worse than his anger.  It seemed so easy for him to shutdown completely and ignore me as if I didn’t exist. The lack of communication really began to create a wedge between us as this would go on for days and weeks until something would eventually break his mood.

I began taking his silent treatment and his moods very personal.  You see when ever we were around other people, it was as if a light switch was flipped and suddenly he was a happy guy, talking, laughing, etc.  Many times I would use this to my advantage and ultimately began to crave the company of others.  If it was just the two of us, alone,  the “monster” would be back.

But most times being around friends and family seemed pull him out of his mood, at least for that moment.  Sometimes and on a rare occasions he’d actually show me affection by giving me a hug and just like that things would be back to “normal,”  at least until the next episode.  Even though these episodes were frequent, most times I could feel them coming on, simply based on his tone of voice or his body language.  And when I saw them coming my stomach would tie up in knots because I knew, “oh gosh, here we go again.”  So much of our first year of marriage was like this.

I found that when Jimm spent money it seemed to help lift his moods and quite spells.  Since I handled all of the finances in our marriage, I didn’t put any freezes on his spending.  I was able to keep paying our monthly debt and keep our heads barely above water.  Jimmy liked to shop and I knew when he was is in a mood if I bought him a treat (remembering back to the dating days – buying him things) this helped – I mean, how can you not be nice to someone who buys you something?  I would make up excuses of why I would buy things for  him. Needless to say I was feeling the financial crunch of our everyday bills getting tighter and harder to pay.

After our first year of marriage we decided to move into a small apartment above my parent’s house because we had a lot of debt we were trying to pay down due to the relentless spending of money plus now we were talking about buying our first house.

I was working long retail hours so Jimm spent a lot of time either alone, shopping and spending ridiculous amounts of money or taking his friends out and treating them to endless night of drinking.  Needless to say things were only getting worse and our communication came to an almost complete stop.  The distance between us was growing wider and we started growing further apart.

The moods were still there and I was still trying to do everything in my power to make him “happy.”  I was completely miserable and broken inside and I didn’t understand what more could I possibly do?

One day while home from work, I was watching The Oprah Show.  On this particular episode there was a panel of women talking about their battles with depression and mental illness.  They talked about spending money with no consequence, changing jobs all the time, mood swings that would change for no reason at the drop of a hat, OCD tendencies and so much more.  I began seeing many of the same characteristics these women had as being identical to Jimm’s behaviors.  It was also mentioned  how women and men handle depression differently.   Women often get very emotional and cry while men typically express their depression through anger – BINGO.  When Jimm came home that day I was nervous but took a step faith in God and asked him if he would be willing to see a doctor to possibly explore some medical reasons for his behavior.  To my surprise he agreed!

We found a psychiatrist who quickly told us believed Jimm was probably manic depressive with some ADD characteristics.  Actually the diagnosis was a relief, because for Jimm it meant he had things going on inside inside that weren’t typical or normal and there were pills that could fix everything.  At least that’s what we thought and were led to believe.

This began a very frustrating time for both of us.  The pills prescribed to Jim were constantly changing as we were told there are different pills and different doses for different people. I think for almost a year he had more concoctions and mixtures of pills than we could possibly remember.  This pill was for this, that pill for that and another pill to offset or enhance the effects this pill and that pill.  I believe the constant inconsistent changes in his medication is what ultimately spun him into the most terrible depression he had ever been through.  He totally shut down like I had never seen before.

I’ll never forget Thanksgiving of 98′ because for the life of me I couldn’t get him out of bed or even to talk.  He lay completely
motionless in bed staring out the window.  I remember at one point asking him if we should pray together?  No response.  I was so upset, so afraid and unsure of what to do.   I tried to have some normal conversation with him to get him talking. At one point I had even said, “I bet you could lay there all day?” In a cold empty voice he finally spoke but only to say, “not all day, the rest of my life.”  That sent me into such a hysterically crying spell.  Totally lost at what to do I felt like I was about to lose my best friend and husband forever.  Then praise God, with no emotion whatsoever he looked up at me and simply said, “I need to get to a hospital.”  I sprang so quick and called his psychiatrist and was told to immediately take him to the Paoli hospital emergency room for fear that he may become suicidal.  Once there he was admitted into their psychiatric unit.

During his hospital stay he went through so much testing and so many therapy session with doctors.   Jimm was clinically diagnosed with Bipolar 2 disorder, OCD, ADHD and some other mental illness tendencies.  Even though his first psychiatrist had thought he had depression, this time was different.  He was more educated with what was going on inside of him.   He started asking about his medications and their side effects, he started reading and watching videos about Bipolar, depression, etc.  He made a decision, while under hospital care, that he was going to be more pro-active with his mental illness to study and learn more about it so he could actually be an advocate for himself.  He did give me fair warning that coming home would be different and we needed to work on this together as well as seeking counseling.  I was all for it!  Thank God!  We were on our way.

We immediately began counseling and working together on this.  I cried so much during  our counseling sessions as we talked about the many difficult things that happened with us over the first few years of our marriage.  I learned that even though I didn’t know it at the time, often times I was actually enabling many of the moods and depression.  I wasn’t causing them but contributing to them.  Even though I took his mood swings very personal.  I had to learn and understand that I was not the source or the cause of his moods and depressions.  Much of the time I was the one who was getting the brunt of his moods, his coldness and his silence.  But deep down inside that monster, what I saw on the outside was not the man I had met who made me feel so special.  He truly was such a generous, genuine and honest man.  I wanted to fight for him because that was the Jimm I fell in love with and TOGETHER we would find him again.  I knew he just needed someone willing to support him as he found his way.As we began a new journey together we decided we were going to fight this and we were going to win.  In counseling we learned when Jimm was going out with friends, drinking or spending money, he was inadvertently trying to “self-medicate” himself.  He was trying to get that quick fix of joy and happiness so he could feel better.  Looking back at those behaviors, we are now more educated.

The biggest lesson we learned in counseling was the need to communicate.  Jimm would talk in our sessions and share how many times even if he was in a bad mood, deep inside he would be thinking to himself, “just ask her how her day was,” ” ask her what she wants to do this weekend,” ” just walk up to her and give her a hug.”  He couldn’t understand why it was so difficult to act out those simple and meaningful thoughts.   In our sessions I learned the Jimm I was seeing on the outside was not the same Jimm who was trying to break free from the inside.  I learned this was nothing he had complete control of.  I learned the he truly didn’t want to be this way and that if we could ride out the tough times in counseling and the changes in medications, then we could be happy once again.  That is exactly what we did then and continue to do today.

Jimm learned to communicate like he never had before and he still does today. When he feels moody but doesn’t know why he gives me a heads up.   Sometimes I look at the situation and suggest possible triggers so we can discuss them.  Sometime I’ll let him be alone and do things on my own or he’ll go out for a drive to get some air or some space from the trigger or situation.  As long as we don’t ignore the situation giving him a little space helps.  Many times I pray for God’s guidance because there is so much emotion that comes from being a part of this support system for Jimm that I also need to rely on God to remind me how to be that strong supporter and not the old enabler.  The life that Jimm and I have now is such a beautiful blessing and such a wonderful gift from God.  I am so proud and honored to be his wife.  In our toughest times we have fought for our relationship because we never doubted God had plans for us.

It wasn’t until the summer of 12′ some of those plans started to reveal themselves. For nearly all his life, Jimm has had a calling on his heart to be in some form of ministry to help others but for one reason or another each time he’s tried in the past to get involved doors have closed on him. In August of 2012 Jimm realized his calling.  He knew God had given him this specific life journey, his struggles with mental illness, so he could share hope and encouragement to others suffering as well.

Jimm willingly and openly shares without any effort, his suicide attempt in high school, his struggles with undiagnosed mental illnesses as a child at school, at home with his family and friends as well as our struggles as husband and wife.

His life experiences, I feel, are inspirational to those who are struggling.  Why do I feel that way?  Because he has been where many others currently are and he shares with such an honest open heart that he is inspiring even to me, someone who doesn’t suffer from depression or mental illness.  Jimm shares this hope and passion through the non-profit initiative he started called, UMTR2ME – You Matter to Me.

I know our faith in God as well as God himself has kept us together during those darkest times when we oth had thought of giving up.  This journey has been a very difficult one to take but we never gave up, we fought with God’s strength, not ours but his alone to keep us together.  What a blessing this life is!  I thank the Lord I didn’t walk away from Jimm.  Sure there were many times I thought in the back of my mind, “well, if this doesn’t work out I know my purpose in all of this was to be there for Jimm and open a door for him to get the help he needed to enjoy a wonderful life.”  I really thought that was my purpose in our relationship for many years.  But I was so wrong.  I know our purpose TOGETHER is to show that anyone can live well and manage their mental health.  How?  Through support and encouragement.  Sometimes something as simple as being by someone’s side is all it takes.  A simple yet sometimes difficult choice to make

Jimm has not take any medications for nearly 8 years.  He’s  always felt that when he was on the different drugs they would cause him to feel numb and zombie like.  We both knew that was not how life should be lived.  He wanted his emotion back.   He wanted the ability to feel happy when he’s happy and when the moods an depressions rears their ugly heads, we simply buckle up and ride those storms out.

Jimm is still the wonderful, honest and loving, caring and romantic man I fell head over heels in love with nearly 20 years ago and our love is still deeply rooted and we truly are best friends.

It is a wonderful life and one that I would never change a single moment.  We don’ t ever say that Jimm is healed or cured but we do say he and I both advocate to live well and live the best life God created us for.  We are so truly blessed

I will always advocate for the Jimmy I know is inside, “My Tamed Monster.”