Here’s another excerpt from my book on pain where I’ll be sharing my greatest brushes with pain and how I moved through them in hopes of encouraging you to walk through your own pain with courage. There are two sides to the coin of life: pain and joy. They are stuck together and we cannot have one without the other. It becomes our choice to learn how to flip the coin and make way for joy again.

I locked the door behind me and made my way to our king size bed. I perched myself up on the corner of his side of the bed and crossed my legs. I was ready to intercept him at the door if he tried to run away from this, but I was giving him the impression I was comfortably settled in, ready to listen.

He leaned against the end of the bed and asked, half defeated, “What do you want to know?”

“I want to know everything that happens in your head leading up to you saying ‘the only relief I can ever imagine actually having is dying,’” my heart was steady but fast. The first few times he had said something insinuating his wish to be dead or suicide, I would crumble to the ground in a puddle of tears. His words, and worse – his desire – tore me apart. But it that was years ago. Now I was just a perfect combination of frustrated and curious. So I was ready to force his hand.

He stared at the floor and shook his head. I allowed the silence to build pressure against his thoughts and force him to talk to me. He puffed “pshh” and then pursed his lips and shook his head.

“You don’t really want to know. It’s not good,” he said slowly.

“I do want to know. I want to know what torments you. I can help you. I love you. Just tell me what kinds of things you think about,” I was begging him to let me in.

“Fine. As soon as I wake up every day, it starts. ‘You’re worthless. You’re trash. You’ll never amount to anything. No one cares about you. You’re stupid. No one loves you because you’re so stupid. There’s no point in you continuing to live. Everyone you know would be better off without you. You’re nothing. You’re a burden. You cause problems for everyone. Just die already.’ And it only stops when I’m really drunk or asleep. But even in my sleep it happens sometimes.”

He was pacing back and forth across the carpet beside the bed where we lay together every night and wake beside each other every morning. This bed we’ve shared for seven years. Seven years I’ve laid beside him peacefully sleeping in my blissful ignorance while he tormented next to me, battling his mind. Fighting in a war for his life.

I was weeping now. Tears pouring out of my soul. But my cheeks were dry. I was in shock. My insides were twisted and contracting. How… why could I not see this? I’ve been so selfish, so naive. All this time I’ve been so focused on our relationship and trying to build intimacy and he was over there silently trying to keep breathing another day. All my prodding and pressuring him to give me more – more time, more affection, more attention, more help with the kids – he was hiding the torture in his mind. I cannot believe how wrong I’ve been about this – us, him, marriage, life.

“Oh my God, babe. I had no idea… I am so sorry.” I didn’t know what to say. What’s the proper response when a human – your human – tells you that your whole perception of what your life together has been was only a fraction of what really playing out underneath the surface?

I was put in my place that day. Everything shifted. He fought it for almost eight years, knowing what it would do, but he finally let me in. I would never be the same after that afternoon. I have had several reality shifts in my life: my mom marrying my stepdad when I was 11, the birth of my little sister when I was 12, my parents’ splitting up when I was a teenager, going to college, moving to Colorado alone, getting married and starting a life with someone, but I had never been shaken down to bare bones like this. I felt exposed, ill-equipped, out of place, incapable, helpless, and alone. I had never heard anything like this before, yet at the same time, it explained so much of the confusion, disappointment, and brokenness we had experienced in marriage. I knew it was real, but it was a reality no one ever talked about in everyday life. I had no idea where to go from here. What kind of help is there for this kind of thing? Who do we talk to in order to find the resources we need? This is going to scare people like it’s scaring me. But what other choice did we have but to start telling the right people and get help?

“Our friends and family, my boss and colleagues – they would all freak and make a huge deal out of it if they knew. I can manage it, I’ve done it my whole life. So, don’t worry and don’t make a big deal about it. I’m seeing my psychiatrist and the mood-stabilizers are helping. It’s just something I need to continue to pray through and surrender to God.”

His response felt flat and generic, completely disconnected from the gravity of what he just disclosed. He had a pattern of diminishing things, though – his feelings, my feelings, and apparently now life crises too.

“Well, I don’t know what to think or how to respond yet, but this feels like a big deal, like something you deserve help managing.” Was I trying to persuade him to do something specific? If so, what exactly?

“Trust me, I know how to work through it. I’ve had a lot of practice.” He was almost smiling. Was that pride I sensed in his tone? Was he proud that he has spent every waking moment of his life being bloodied and beaten in the secret torment of his mind, managing to come out alive every day for as long as he can remember? It made sense now why he minimized my “petty” emotional outbursts about exhaustion and feeling disconnected when this is what he dealt with on the daily.

“I think there’s a better solution. You deserve to live free and be… happy. I cannot imagine ever thinking one of the things you said about myself, much less all of that (and, who are we kidding, more than that) every single day. Is it always playing in the back of your mind? I mean, isn’t that painfully torturous and exhausting? How do you have energy for actually living?” It was starting to sink in now.

He scoffed at my naivety, “It’s all I’ve ever known. This is normal for me. It’s just the way life is. I’ve learned to accept this as my lot in life.”

This was crushing to hear. A slice to the jugular. My whimsical, dreamy heart was beginning to bleed out. It was changing me. Sharing this experience with him was changing who I was. This is what he was trying to spare me from in all those years of his silence. He knew I would have to shed parts of my beliefs about life if I was ever going to truly wrap my head around the kind of life he maintained behind the pulpit and microphone, the trendy clothes and cool hair, behind the perfect family photos and cute house. He learned long ago that he was different from other people. He didn’t think the same, sleep the same, or believe the same about the world and people. He was darker, jaded, broken. But he was also extremely intelligent and charismatic. Over the years, he watched and practiced how other people behaved and he began to mimic that. By the time he met me, he was a master of disguise – concealing the dark torment that only increased with every promotion, success, or stride forward he made. Because “it wasn’t the real you that did so good, it was just the persona you created to fool everyone into thinking you have some value. But you don’t. The real you is twisted and decrepit, and no matter how much you pretend, your life will never be worth living.” So, the longer he lived, the smaller he became. And small, tormented people make for dangerous, unpredictable spouses.

Understanding mental illness in all its dysfunction and horror is necessary to have a chance of reaching those it plagues. We have to do our best to learn and remember how to properly care for the ones silently struggling to live everyday. Doing so will test the limits of our humanitarianism, our grit, and our beliefs, but it’s far worse for the ones battling their twisted kind of normal. They can’t imagine how “normal people” don’t have to fight like hell just to stay positive, sober, or alive every day. For most of them, it’s been a war for as long as they can remember. Battling to live another day even though they have no hope that their reality will change. They beg for their perception and feelings about life and about themselves to change, but so often there is no hope for it. Without hope, however small, it is unbearable to keep living. This is their normal. They’ve never experienced anything else.

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