I was his kiteboard. His full suspension mountain bike. His rock climbing gear. His crochet needles and leather carving kits. I was his paddle board and recurve bow. His trip to a new country to check off his list. And just like each and every one of the things that came before me, what I wasn’t was his solution.
He tried everything. Anything you could think of, he tried it. He was a thrill seeker, a doer. When he decided he was going to try something, it didn’t mean he was going to go halfway. He was going to be all in. It was 100% or nothing. He didn’t just try kiteboarding. He bought a board, two kites and a kite board trainer for his whole kitebaord setup. He didn’t just get any mountain bike. Not him. He dove in, head first, and bought a custom built, one of a kind, mountain bike. And he didn’t just find a girlfriend. No way. He found me and ten weeks later, after he had promised me he would never leave my side and that he wanted to be a father-figure to my children, we were married. Husband and wife. There was no in-between with this man. It was go hard or go home. And in the end, he went hard as hell.
So here I sit. Alone in my house, typing on the computer that used to be his along with the kiteboards, paddle board, archery supplies, rock climbing gear, camping gear, hunting backpacks, his mountain bikes, bags full of unopened crochet needles and balls of yarn, leather carving tools, his custom built motorcycle…all of the things from which he tried to get a rush. And like each of these items, I feel I have been discarded along with everything else in this pile of barely used goods. He picked each one of us up, got excited about the possibility of forgetting his problems with the intoxication of something new and exciting to play with. He committed everything he had to making each of us a part of his life and took us out, showed us off, paraded us around and told everyone how much he loved us. Then, just like a typical junkie, the high wore off. The same item that got him so high in the beginning just didn’t do it for him anymore. He abandoned his once prized possession to seek potential comfort from something else, something stronger.
I can’t describe how deflated I feel in the moments when I face the realization that I was his last ditch, and ultimately failed, attempt. The likelihood of him being truly happy was almost non-existent. He had tried to hide that, unbeknownst to me during his life, from the time of his teenage years. He really did try to find joy and I do believe he wanted to believe he could make himself happy as long as he kept moving and taking risks and seeing new places. The problem with his happiness is that it sat on top of a sieve that was built out of his true self. The sieve covered a deep, dark crevice in which his demons communed and plotted, in which his contentment sunk into the deep as if a weighted object in quicksand. The hole became deeper and deeper with each passing day and eventually, without anyone else realizing, was too big and porous to ever stay completely filled. When he latched onto new items, hobbies or even me, he believed that he had found enough beatitude to fill in the hole and, in the beginning, it would seem as though his efforts had worked. The sand of his joy would be dumped out, all at one time as he gave all he had to each passing thing. It would cover the top of the sieve, a thin veil concealing the darkness that lay beneath. He knew the hole was there, still becoming deeper and deeper, but as long as he was distracted it was out of sight, out of mind. However, the sieve would eventually do its job. All of the happiness that was once lay atop the surface grew thinner and thinner as it slowly and finely fell through the holes and was devoured by his dark underbelly. His darkness would win again and it became time to search for another supply of the good stuff. A different dealer. A new hobby. A new place to explore. Something more extreme. A new, better high.
When I came along, he seemed so happy. And as I look back at this point, it pains me to know that the happiness I recognized in him was superficial. It was only as deep as the ever-dissolving layer that was laid on top of his sieve. But he seemed so genuine. He was larger than life, always smiling to show his beautiful teeth and letting his laugh erupt out of him as if he had so much joy built up inside of him that he couldn’t contain it any longer. He was one of the best actors I’ve ever seen. He hid the darkness so brilliantly and put on the happiest face anyone could ever muster. He was so convincing. He convinced me and I was sold from the get go.
I realized far too late that he suffered from both depression and bi-polar disorder. He had spoken of taking his own life since he was young and had been showing signs of mental illness throughout his teenage and adult lives in the form of manic episodes and self harm. I learned these things about him after he was already gone from talking to his friends and family trying to piece together the “why?” His suicide did not come out of the blue to those that knew this about him. Or, rather, it shouldn’t have, in my opinion. He had built up to the final jump, prepared for it and toyed around with the idea many times. But I didn’t know. I didn’t know any of it until it was too late. I was so taken by him from the start that I ignored every red flag that was thrown my way. Was I hasty? Absolutely I was. Did I give myself enough time to know all of his inner workings? Not a chance. But I was in love. I was so deeply in love with this man and there wasn’t anything that could have been done to stop us from doing what we did. He was in love with me like that too. If you had seen us together you would have known how much love there was between us. We were amazing together. That is, until the sieve swallowed us through its holes, sinking him into its depths and leaving me hanging on to the underside by what felt like a single, slipping finger.
All of this hurts so much. It hurts to think about, it hurts to write, it just hurts. He told me the last night he was alive that he wasn’t a good person. He told me he loved me more than anything. He told me we would be together forever. He cried and the pain ran down his cheeks as we slow danced to the song that would be the last song he would listen to the next day before he left me. He held me in his arms, my head to his chest. He told me he was sorry for being so negative. I told him he was amazing and that our love was all that mattered. I tried to reassure him. I didn’t know how hard I needed to try. I just didn’t know.
We didn’t sleep until almost 5am that morning, which would be his last morning alive. We slept wrapped up in each other the way we always did. I wish I had known as I walked out of the house that morning that it would be the last time I saw him whole. I wish I had known that the entire night had been one big goodbye. A farewell. A spilling out of who he felt he was for me to finally see before he spilled out his own blood the very next night.
Now, here I am. A widow sitting amongst the pile of his things I know I will never use. At times I feel as worthless as his unopened crochet needles. I feel humiliated at times. My anger is vicious at times. My sadness all encompassing. Insecurities screaming at me, shouting all of the negative things I have ever said about myself so loudly into my ears. Abandonment trying to convince me I was never worthy of him, of anything. The anxiety steals my functionality. I find myself wishing I had the courage to join him then hating myself for those thoughts. The panic attacks, the depression, the nightmares….holy shit…the nightmares.
I wouldn’t have been able to stop him. I wasn’t going to be able to change him, change his mind. I didn’t have the ability to save him and it wasn’t my job to save him. Nobody in his life would have been able to stop, change or save him. He was the only one capable of these actions. This is the truth. I know this now.
Mental illness doesn’t discriminate and unfortunately for my husband, he was saddled with the heaviness of depression and bi-polar disorder. I will never know what I could have done to help him, but I can say for certain that the pile of his unused goods weren’t the answer. Ignoring his mental illness wasn’t the answer. Him not sharing that part of his life with me, his wife, wasn’t the answer. Our society making people feel weak for dealing with mental illness sure isn’t the answer either.
If we are to help others who have walked in the same footsteps as my husband and many others who have suffered or currently suffer from mental illness, we need to be able to acknowledge their plight and remove the stigma for them and for all of us who love them. We need to be willing to embrace our loved ones for who they are and accept their struggles as not a burden but a way to better understand them.
I would give absolutely anything for the chance to make this different, to be able to breathe again, to be able to smile again, to touch his face again, to make sure he knew how much I loved him. I would give anything for him to have felt comfortable talking about the struggle with which he was dealing. I would give anything to have known how mental illness affected him before it was too late and make sure that he understood that I was there to stand next to him, to help him, to be there for him, to simply love him unconditionally. I would give anything to go back and help him realize that he wasn’t as alone as he felt. I would give anything to go back and tell him that his mental illness didn’t define him and that it didn’t have to be his demise.
I would give anything. For him. To have him back. Just the way he was.