What is Real? Living Without Diagnosis

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by RI Editors

This essay in our Peculiar Minds series was anonymously contributed. 

Not the happy coupleAs a wife, I tried to be everything I thought a wife should be. I knew that my husband’s childhood was hard. I wanted to be supportive, give him time to heal, put aside my needs and show him a world free of lies and fighting for respect. I thought I could be an example of Christ’s love if I did everything God wanted, and He would make it all right in the end.

But it wasn’t.

My memories of my marriage are vignettes, forgotten until something triggers the image. When I signed up for classes after my divorce, I remembered sitting in the passenger seat as he drove us to work, yelling at me for suggesting that my BS degree might be a better source of information than an episode of Nova. He never completed college, and he was furious I “pulled the degree card.” I was terrified that I had challenged his intelligence. I hadn’t meant to make him feel badly. Even before he ever threatened me physically or directly, I was afraid of him. To apologize, I conceded that he might have more updated information than I did.

He has never been diagnosed with anything, but he has many symptoms in the antisocial personality disorder category. If I knew then what I know now, perhaps I would have seen the red flags. But I worked so hard at looking the other way, being patient; feeling that he wouldn’t lash out at me if I could give him security.

To be honest, I’m not sure how to write about living with him. Sometimes, it is clear to me that I made good decisions and did the best I could. Other times, when I am faced with my life now, unable to trust or open my heart, it seems like a foolish decision to have married him – it threw my life completely off track.

Living with him was like trying to sort puzzle pieces from a dozen 5000-piece puzzles of pastoral scenes all jumbled together, thinking that if you can get the pieces sorted and in the right place, you’ll finally be able to see the image of peace. It’s never being enough; patient, good, giving, clear enough. Always being told (and believing) that you are thoughtless, lazy, selfish. Not talking to friends or family when he was around, so you can give him your full attention. Thinking every action through completely to make sure it won’t make him think you’re cheating on him. It’s wondering what happened to make life so incomprehensible.

Living with him meant never knowing what was real, thinking that I was delusional, that my memory was unreliable, that what I knew to be true wasn’t true at all. It was believing that everything was my fault. If I could figure out the magic formula, he would be happy and I wouldn’t have to be afraid of doing the wrong thing.

In order to control, he kept me off-balance, scrambling to meet his demands, thinking I was going crazy. In the beginning it would have been easier had he actually hit me; at least I would have had a label for it and known what was wrong.

Only he knew what was true. To him, people lied constantly, always out for themselves. Life was survival of the fittest. Others existed only in relation to him, so there was nothing wrong with hurting them to meet his needs. To him they weren’t really hurt, anyway, only trying to manipulate him. The law was something to obey only because he’d get caught. It was one big game. He was charming, clever, charismatic. He loved to tell stories about himself. He bent over backwards to make me feel special when he wanted something.

I was in and out of counseling most of my married life. I thought I needed to learn to communicate better, be more understanding. He told me I was depressive, so I tried to get help. Some counselors tried to help me realize what was really going on, none of them agreed that I had the symptoms of depression. I wouldn’t hear it; I was convinced the faults were mine. So I would try another one, or quit going.

After his first big blowout — chasing me down the street at 5 months pregnant — we saw a marriage counselor through LDS Family Services. She tried to get us to meet in the middle and never noticed that the middle kept shifting. He flipped between waving the Binder of Information he had collected on me to begging me to take him back. I left sessions feeling defeated and he was practically skipping, convinced our marriage was improving. The last time he got violent, trying to throw 3-month pregnant me (another pregnancy) out of the house so he could watch his movie, counseling was the same. Through agonized prayer I learned how to draw the necessary boundaries to be safe. By this time many of my friends had burned out, but my parents were always there.

Now that I am no longer a wife, I still don’t know exactly what part of my tangled web marriage I did wrong, and what part was his illness. I probably never will. But I couldn’t live in a zero-sum game, control or be controlled. Especially not once his behavior crossed into physical abuse.

It has taken time and desperate effort to build back the person I was. Now, I can enjoy life again. I can spend an hour gardening without guilt for taking time to myself. I can hang an old print from my grandmother’s house without constantly hearing how ugly and old it is. I can plant flowers without him resenting the money I spent because he needed more for his car. I don’t have to wonder what he is telling people, or why another woman from work wants him to come fix her car.

I can be myself again, more than just his mirror. I am freer than I have been in years, and life is now beautiful.


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4 Responses to What is Real? Living Without Diagnosis

  1. Becky L. Rose says:

    I lived in a marriage a lot like yours for 17 months. It was all my fault and all 3 counselors we saw for 1 or 2 times together all said he had some sort of mental health issues. I knew it wasn’t me most of the time, but he was very convincing a few times that it was. I could not be myself, could not have an opinion unless it was his opinion. The shoe of anger or rage was always going to drop. I was just biding my time till it I could leave successfully. I had to leave the state to do it. He left me with thousands of dollars of debt on credit cards. I’m still paying them off, because he refuses to pay anything.

  2. Mee says:

    This story hits painfully too close to home. This is my story, though some scenarios differ, which doesn’t matter. What does matter is that sense of helplessness at not bei g able to figure out what you are doing wrong. Why isn’t it ever them? Why doesn’t it take two to tango in these types of marriages?

    I am still in this marriage, by covenant and by choice. Though a day doesn’t go by that I don’t ask myself why. I know this choice isn’t for everyone. It is a decision best made on your knees with The Lord (and a lot of Kleenex). There are days that are very low and seasons that appear to never turn into Spring. Through it all I have received a tender tutoring of The Lord and found something I never would have believed on days of physical or verbal abuse or days of infidelity discover, that I found myself in the atonement. I will live each day wondering if this is the day to move on alone. I likely will never trust him. I will also never know the kind of companionship a good marriage can offer. There is a lot to give up in a situation like this. I just won’t give up me. I have learned how to work around the control and still provide for my own happiness. I don’t look forit from him. I don’t expect anything from him. I serve him and love him as I covenanted to do and have found joy there too.

    I may stay this course for the balance of my mortal years (it has been 25 so far), or I may be offered release. Either way, I realize I will never have a name or diagnosis to call this condition, but I won’t make it mine. I am responsible for what I do, wrongs and rights, not his. It has taken years to get to this point. I don’t often stay so resolved. Such is the case in these types of marriages. One blessing I count on over and over is that of being able to go to the source of light and truth when my resolve weakens and I lose the strength to carry myself. I have that blessing and know it will get me through until I finish this assignment.

    • Kelly Christensen says:

      I pray God will continue to bless you with angels to help hold you up. The power of the atonement is beautiful. MEN ARE THAT THEY MIGHT HAVE JOY! I love that you can do that in the midst of difficulties. Heavenly Father loves you dearly. Thank you for sharing your story. I’ve been blessed.

  3. jendoop says:

    I am amazed at all of you women who have suffered through so much. My hope for you is that some day a wonderful man treats you so well that these memories become distant enough that it will seem like they happened to someone else.

    This post also points out an important aspect of dispelling stigma. If we become comfortable enough talking about and accepting the reality of mental illness more people will seek treatment – which means more mentally ill people getting help, fewer loved ones suffering as well. Being diagnosed and treated for mental illness is nothing to avoid. If you suffer from the symptoms you have the illness, all you are missing is a formal label which facilitates healing, help and hope.

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