Let’s get real for a minute. Living with someone with mental illness can be challenging. And though I state in most of my bios that I write about mental illness, I have skirted the issue. You see, talking about Mental Illness is one thing but admitting that you have a mental illness is quite another (I didn’t even put 2 and 2 together until about four months ago that this is what my label is, in my mind, only those crazy people over there are the ones with mental illness, what I have is a debilitating panic disorder and stuff; that’s not mental illness). I like to think of myself as an enigma, mentally and medically unique (which I’m actually not if you compare me to other people who have actual mental illness, and my doctor once said, “you’re a medical enigma”). When I was little, my mom told me I was faking my mental illness. Some kids fake having a cold or fever, and once when our middle daughter was seven, she pretended to throw up by mixing weet•bix, yogurt, and something green with water and splashed it all over her bed then called me in and said she couldn’t go to school because she threw up, which would have worked had her sister in the top bunk not witnessed her Julia Childs like skill of producing spew on-demand and called her out on it. Anyway, no, I didn’t fake for years the mental illness-induced psychosomatic stomach pains that left me in the fetal position for days on end, feeling like my insides were going to explode. We determined that I had issues of this kind after my dad had left, and I ended up in the hospital for a few nights at the age of 8, where they tested me for sinister stomach problems that only a pro could fake so well. I got to drink a pink barium milkshake and take a ride on a rotating table that rocked back and forth while an X-ray took photos of the nasty contents of my drink making its way through my intestines. There was no indication of appendicitis, gallstones, or a blockage (my mom would have been happy with this diagnosis as she attributed every illness to the fact that “you probably have to poop!”). After two days of wheelchair races, eating chocolate pudding, and being petrified when it was time for lights out in the children’s hospital ward, my mom picked me up. She was happy to see me but annoyed at the money wasted to find out I only had a urinary tract infection.
In all honesty, I have never felt like I have been faking anything. Whatever each one of us has going on in our mind or body is genuine, whether anyone else can understand it or not. My husband says I am like a thoroughbred. I am tough, powerful, and beautiful, but I injure easily. When I imagine what it would be like to be married to me, I think it must be hard living with someone like me; I understand because I know and have lived with others who have mental issues or have battled with addiction or abuse. Paul is a trooper of the highest honor. When we first started going out, I remember discussing the kind of people he had dated in his past. He gave me a quick rundown and highlighted the crazy girl he had gone out with who was from OHIO. he said, “that chick was a psycho. Come to think of it; I have dated a couple of whackos from there. I don’t know why it seems like the messed-up ones are from Ohio, at least in my experience.” Then he asked me where I was born. I said, OHIO. As a result of this conversation, every time Paul would spend the night, I told him the medication I took in the morning was a prescription vitamin to replace some stuff in my body that I was low on. What I was saying in code was that I had a prescription that I took to replace chemicals that were missing in my brain. I had to tell him the real deal at some point but waited until he was sufficiently in love with me before I fessed up. He took it pretty well. He hadn’t experienced anything strange, yet so we were all good. As time went on, he learned about my acute panic disorder, anxiety, depression, recent recovery from anorexia (it was too severe yet), and obsessive nature. He always seemed to sail right through my episodes, and after a while, we learned to work through the tough stuff together.
Paul and I have been together for 28 years, and as long as I’m taking my medication, I might have one or two episodes total in an entire year. Looking back, we have had some big adventures on the wild Jeri ride. Earlier this evening, we were sitting on the couch, and I said, “you must feel traumatized every time one of my weird and scary episodes rears its head.” We never know what kind of glitch my body or mind will have when I have an attack. I felt for the crap he has had to work through with me over the decades and admire his patience. Not many people outside of my children, husband, mother, and a couple of siblings have witnessed these terrifying moments, and if they have, they had no idea what was happening. Paul thought about what I said then revealed a tiny secret to me that I was unaware of that helps him get through these moments in our life. He said, “no, I don’t feel traumatized; I feel fine. I truly forget everything, the next day, I wake up, and it’s like nothing ever happened.” I was honestly surprised and almost felt let off the hook a bit, “oh, so you’re like Dory, you know HI I’M DORY, the loveable fish with short term memory loss from Finding Nemo Dory?” “Yeah, exactly. I think that’s why you and I have lasted so long.” Thank God for Paul’s poor memory due to his adversity to drama, or I would be a childless crazy cat lady living in a cardboard box in the woods somewhere singing Memory from Cats over and over again like a warped record.