Prepared For Hell
“I am so tired,” she said, resting her head against my shoulder.
I stroked her hair gently. “Just try to rest, my love, OK?”
She sighed, then suddenly sat boldly upright and looked intently at the print on the wall opposite: a child’s drawing, filled with flowers, people, sun, moon and stars around a blue-green earth. I looked at her, dreading the next moment. She stood, peering intently at the picture, and traced around the earth with her finger.
“I see it,” she said, “I get it.” Then she turned to me wild-eyed. “Do you see?”
I wished I could, but shook my head.
“You never do,” she said, disappointed.
But I did. I saw everything; the gradual descent of my wife, the woman I loved most in all the world, into this heart-breaking state. It was her, but at the same time, not her.
“Why don’t you come and sit down?” I asked her gently, reaching out my hand to draw her to me. She looked at me, her eyebrows furrowed in concentration, as if struggling with some immense internal conflict.
“I can trust you,” she declared, nodding her head vigorously. It was at the same time a question as a statement. Then she sat down again, resting her head as before. “I’m so tired.”
My aching heart wanted to break into a thousand bitter pieces, but I had to keep it together. We sat quietly in the white, antiseptic corridor, her breathing deepening as she dozed off. The doctor would be with us soon, they had said. So I waited, and waited.
“We’ll take good care of her,” the nurse said, looking back. My eyes filled with tears as they walked her away, past the double doors, to the inpatient psychiatric ward. I had visions of white padded cells, screaming, mutilated madmen, and leering, rapist guards with brutal hands. I turned to the second nurse next to me. “Will she be okay?”
The old woman smiled at me, and touched my arm gently. “She will be fine, dear, you’ll see.”
But how could this be made better? How could the God we both loved and served allow this to happen? An age old question to which I knew all the hollow intellectual answers, but now it was mine, cutting brutally through my heart. I walked out of the hospital into the chilly night. The stars twinkled brightly overhead around a kindly moon, but I found no comfort. Great sobs escaped from deep inside me, and I looked up at the hand of the Creator, and cursed Him.
I saw her the next day. She was playing Scrabble with some of the other patients. I hadn’t slept a wink and had hurried back to the hospital as soon as visiting hours permitted. I approached cautiously, watching, waiting. She looked up, her face pale and wan, her eyes unrecognising. I said hello, but she looked away. I was an unwelcome stranger to her.
“The medication is quite strong in the beginning”, said the nurse at my side. “Give her time.”
I left, never before feeling so alone, but suppressed my anguish — the kids needed picking up from school.
She came home eventually, bearing a bag of pills and a diagnosis: bipolar with psychotic episodes. With the help of my dear mother our home assumed an uneasy peace after the storm of before, the children laughing at granny’s inability to master the practical necessities of motherhood. Then it came, again.
“I don’t want you in my house.”
She stood at the top of the stairs, pointing accusingly at my mother who’d been tidying up with me. My mother looked at me, her eyes full of hurt, looking for comfort, but I had little to give. I touched her gently on the shoulder, shrugged and turned away.
My mother left soon after.
It’s over now, the nightmare now nothing but a painful memory. Thanks to the marvel of medicine, the Bipolar Beast is tamed, and I have her back, or least someone like her. I feared her at first, expecting IT to pounce at any minute and wreck our lives like it did before. How I hated that illness that toyed with her mind, but then I learned to love her, to really love her, not the soppy romantic promises of a young fool who vows for better or for worse but knows not what he’s saying.
I haven’t quite forgiven God, I don’t think, but He’s big enough to take that, and if not, well, f*ck it … I reckon I’ve been prepared for Hell.
Edit: This was written in the period of brief respite following my wife’s initial diagnosis. We soldiered on for 15 years after that, struggling to maintain a husband-wife relationship in the face of the disease’s incessant onslaught. Our marriage finally collapsed just shy of our 26th wedding anniversary.