Those of you who know me and/or have read blog or other posts I’ve made on social media are probably aware that I am married to a wonderful woman who has a primary diagnosis of bipolar disorder, along with borderline personality disorder (BPD), PTSD, and ADHD. When we first met almost eighteen years ago, she overwhelmed me with her energy. She doesn’t remember it as well as I do, but the first day we were introduced, which happened to be at a LGBT choir rehearsal, she bounded over to me, said “Hi!” and sat right down on my lap. All I can remember thinking was, “Why is this cute, butchy redhead flirting with me?” And then just like a puppy dog who spotted a new toy, she was off. She continued to be the ultimate social butterfly, chatting and laughing with everyone there. For the record, I do believe the only lap she actually sat on was mine. 🙂
Back then, she had been diagnosed with depression, which surprised me considering how restless and impulsive she was. My other thought was that the medications managing her illness were working really well! Turns out that my first instinct was right. After two years of seeing each other, which included six months of living together, we decided she needed to find a new psychiatrist. Something just was not right. Her mood swings were severe, she’d go and go for days, sometimes not sleeping at night, and then she’d crash, not wanting to eat or get out of bed.
The defining moment for us was when she ran to Target to pick up a few things for our apartment. She asked if I needed anything, and I told her that I could use a couple of pair of socks – primarily black – to wear to work. I liked fun, patterned socks, so she had carte blanche in terms of what was on those black socks. “Surprise me!” I had said as she left.
A few hours later, she arrived home with six bags. I didn’t think much of it since we had just moved in together and were still setting up our new space.
Then she started unpacking them.
She called me into the bedroom and set the bags on the bed. “Look what I got you!” She was so excited, and I watched in awe as she pulled pair after pair after pair of socks from the bags. There were white ones with flowers, and butterflies, purple and pink argyle ones, paisley ones, red, green, tan, and brown ones, lots of blue ones with different designs on them, and lastly, a pair of black socks. By the time I counted them all, which were now taking up almost half of our queen-sized bed, there were forty pair.
After I thanked her and hugged her, I sat her down and looked her in the eyes. “These are cool socks, but honestly, this is excessive. Is there a reason you purchased this many when I only asked you for a couple?”
She cried, and so did I. She had no clue why she had, besides wanting to get me what I needed. After a painful heart to heart, she also confessed to me that she had come into some money from stocks when she left her last job, and she had already spent almost all of it in the last eight months. Other than paying for a trip to Hawaii for her and her two best friends and my forty pair of socks, she couldn’t tell me where the rest of that money had gone.
Thankfully, living in Minneapolis near the University of MN, we had access to some great doctors. A new diagnosis was given to her at her very first appointment – bipolar disorder, or the name I was most familiar with, manic-depression. Her medication changed, her treatment plan changed, her daily regimen had to change to be more balanced, and our life together changed drastically. It was a scary moment knowing that the person I loved more than anything would have to live the rest of her life with this disease.
We are still together after seventeen years, but the road hasn’t been easy. We separated once, we’ve moved four times, we adopted two rescue dogs, we bought a house and lost it to foreclosure, we’ve each had several jobs, she went back to school and got her Bachelor’s Degree in Culinary Management, I published a couple of books, and we’ve made it through three of her hospitalizations when she was close to ending her life.
If you are tempted to say “I’m sorry…”, you don’t have to. Bipolar sucks, but it is a part of our lives now. After all she’s been through, the med changes, hospital stays, support groups, skills building classes, individual and occupational therapy sessions, you’d think she’d be jaded, but she is the strongest, bravest, kindest person I know.
Last year, when she got her semi-colon tattoo, (pictured above), I finally felt ready to write a story with a bipolar/mental illness theme. That’s when Unfinished was born.
We were sitting at the tattoo shop, talking with her artist, and she had shared how many semi-colon tattoos she had done recently. From there, a story blossomed in my head, and my characters, Garrett and Dev, came to life. Last week, I typed THE END to that story and felt the most amazing sense of pride–something that hadn’t felt nearly as powerful when I did the same with my other books.
Unfinished is the title I chose based on the semi-colon movement’s idea that your story’s not over yet. This full length novel follows two men who meet at a tattoo shop while getting semi-colon tattoos. One wants to commemorate eight years since his mental illness diagnosis, and the other wants to mark himself so he never forgets his failed relationship with a man with mental illness. They struggle to find each other, fall in love, stay together, and make sense out of a life that has thrown them both some serious curve balls. Most of all, though, this book is about how they triumph over these hardships.
I recognize that most readers will not know bipolar as intimately as I do, and the last thing I want is for it to be a doom and gloom story ending in tragedy. I want readers to feel hopeful. I want people to know that despite what you see on TV or hear in the media, mental illness does not mean that you’re going to become a serial killer. There are thousands of people living with mental illness who maintain jobs, relationships, have kids and families, volunteer, go out to dinner, have hard days, pay bills, and overall live “normal” lives.
I’ve asked my wife to co-write with me a foreword to the book. Even though it is a work of fiction, I hope her perspective will add credibility to some of the situations depicted. Just as all my other writing is informed by my past experiences, so is this story, and my portrayal of bipolar disorder is only a small representation of people with the disease. I admit that I’m scared to put this out there, until I remember why I wrote it in the first place: if even one person learns from the story, has more compassion for people with mental illness, or seeks help because of reading my book, then everything I’ve put into it is worthwhile.
Life goes on for us. Like that semi-colon, there were and will continue to be times we have to pause, to rethink our decisions and focus on what is most important to us, but then we move on. My wife is my hero, and our story isn’t over yet.
Unfinished is set to be released on August 25, 2016 and will be available on Amazon.com.
*The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline phone number is: 1-800-273-8255 and they can be found online at www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.*