I wrote this on Father’s Day 2011 and then sent it to Jonathan, so that he could make sure that there was nothing in here that hurt his feelings or misrepresented what he’d said.
He responded that I could post, and he asked that I include in this that the reason he felt isolated was that he hadn’t been invited to the Father’s Day barbecue, and the only thing I need to add is that in the emails J sent me, he seemed to think that my ex-husband was going to be at the barbecue. Other than those additions here, I think this post stands alone.
Because I want this post to stand alone, I am going back over ground I’ve already covered.
I am married to a man – to Jonathan – who has schizoaffective disorder, which is a form of schizophrenia with a mood disorder. What this means is that Jonathan’s thinking is frequently skewed. He can get confused, and he can become delusional. When he does get confused or delusional, he initially responds with a bit of fear. I can see it on his face.
And I can also see – almost immediately – that fear being replaced with anger. I understand that. Being afraid is a crappy place to be. I don’t like being afraid; I’d much rather be angry. And to be afraid because you have become confused and aren’t quite tracking what’s actually going on in your world must be terrifying.
For the record, I had originally planned on sitting down this morning to finish my post from yesterday – The Futility of Sainthood – which was a tongue-in-cheek critique of my believing that I alone, when others couldn’t, could rid Jonathan of his devastating illness and make his life fulfilling, manageable, and downright wonderful. It was to be a humorous post. But, I don’t feel humorous this morning. I don’t feel funny. I feel sad.
I feel very very sad.
And before I explain why I’m feeling so sad, let me also explain that Jonathan is 24 years younger than I am, and he is ill. Because of the age difference, because of his illness, I frequently respond to J more as a mother than a wife.
I want to take care of him. I want to help him. I want to prepare him for a future without me. In fact, I am almost obsessed with trying to prepare him for a future without me.
I worry about him. What will he do? How will he cope?
And I write this, knowing that he will probably read it and may be offended because sometimes Jonathan tells me there’s nothing “wrong” with him, and there’s not. There’s nothing “wrong” about being ill. If he had eczema or lupus, no one would say there was something “wrong” with him; they’d say he was ill, but because he is mentally ill, people tend to think there is something “wrong,” and wonder why he can’t snap out of it? Why he can’t just get his act together.
Because he can’t. He simply can’t.
And I know it’s not really my responsibility to help him, but he asked me to help him, and I told him I would, and I meant it, so here I am: helping.
Even though sometimes, he doesn’t want my “help” because my “help” means there’s something “wrong” with him that needs fixing.
No, baby, no. There’s nothing wrong like that. Nothing to be ashamed of, nothing that makes you wrong and everyone else right.
God, I wish I had better words to get this across.
To get across that I love this man, that I want to help this man because he asked me to help, and sometimes helping is the hardest thing in the world.
Take today, for example.
Today is Father’s Day. Holidays are never good for Jonathan. He tends to feel isolated on holidays, primarily because in the past – and maybe in the present – he has been isolated. The problem is that it’s hard for Jonathan to be with more than one person at a time; it’s hard for him to follow conversations, and it’s hard for him if those conversations are not directed at him, as would happen in a therapy session.
So, if he, his doctor, and I are all together, then the conversation, which is focused on Jonathan and what’s been going on the past week, will be okay. It’s tolerable. However, if the conversation diverges and starts focusing on what’s going on in the house, that we’re putting in a garden, and the doctor and I begin talking about the best plants for New Mexico, Jonathan has difficulty. He isn’t contributing to the discussion – he doesn’t garden – and he’ll seem to feel left out, and then he gets angry.
Because he is smart, he will explain that he’s not seeing a doctor so he can chit-chat about plants; he’s seeing the doctor so he can get help with the schizoaffective disorder, which on the surface sounds completely legitimate. However, because the doctor is smart, she’ll tell him that chit-chatting is a way to see where his function is, and it’s actually therapeutic, which it is.
The point here is that Jonathan has difficulty being with more than one person. Holidays, by their very nature, are going to include way more than one person, which brings me back to today. Father’s Day.
I have been invited to spend part of the day with my daughter, her partner, his family, and my granddaughter. I want to go. I like spending time with these people. I enjoy their company. And I love seeing my granddaughter, yet…
I know how difficult it is for Jonathan when I leave. One of his former psychiatrists told me (and Jonathan) that he had trouble with object constancy, a developmental stage that children master somewhere between 2 and 3.
A lack of object constancy means that when people leave – even temporarily – the child believes they are gone for good. If a child doesn’t master this stage, s/he will go on to suffer from what James Masterson called “abandonment trauma.”
Combine Jonathan’s illness, which can leave him confused which in turn can leave him frightened and angry, with the age difference, which contributes to my being maternal at times, and what you have is a complicated mess.
Ideally, husbands and wives are partners; they do things together, reach decisions, especially decisions affecting a partner’s well-being, after mutual discussion. That’s not what Jonathan and I do. Jonathan doesn’t want to be involved in discussions, so I reach unilateral decisions – like parents do – and hope for the best.
Two problems: One, I’m really not Jonathan’s mother. I have no ability to make him do what I think is best. So in other words, I have little ability to enforce those unilateral decisions I may be making.
The other problem is hoping for the “best.” Rarely does mental illness leave anyone with the “best,” meaning tranquility and hope and joy. All too often, what mental illness leaves in its wake is despair, chaos, and confusion.
So where does that leave me?
On an airplane, flight attendants repeatedly tell passengers that in the event that you are traveling with a small child and oxygen is deployed, get the oxygen to your own face first and then take care of your child.
So, as hard as it is for me – and it is really really hard to see Jonathan feel left out, abandoned, unloved – I have to restore my own emotional equilibrium again and again and again, even when it causes Jonathan distress.