And so, I settled into my new life in Southern California. I lived with two dear friends at the time, a married couple, not with my boyfriend - I wasn't that foolhardy and impulsive, as it turned out. I spent every weekend and some weeknights at his place, but there was something deep inside of me that somehow knew that moving in together so soon would be a disaster. Not for me, but for him - he needed his space, and I knew that knocking him off his routine would make his anxiety skyrocket.
But some things are inevitable when you're in love; we eternally move toward the next step whether we want to or not. And so, about a year after we started dating, I moved in with him and we began the next step of our life as a serious couple.
And it was wonderful. It was. "You are beautiful, Allie," he'd say out of the blue as he watched me from across the room, the only one to ever call me that, the only one to instinctively know that in my heart, I'd always preferred that shortening of my name to "Lish," which is what everyone else had called me since I was a little girl. He was appreciative of my affection, my patience, the things I did to care for him. And he was brilliant. Oh, so brilliant. The only person I'd ever met, much less dated, who had ever cowed me in terms of being able to hold my own in an intellectual conversation. Light years and light years ahead of me, ahead of anyone in that regard.
But that, I learned, was part of the problem. For me, with my brain that never quit, that was always thinking of new ideas, stories to write, couldn't understand that for him, his brain ate him alive. I tried to understand why there were days when he couldn't bring himself to make a quick trip to the grocery store, couldn't, some days, even get out of bed. I tried to understand when those days came more and more frequently. And then multiple days at a time. I'd spend my time lying in bed with him, holding him while he cried after the anxiety got too bad, the physical manifestation of the pressure within, trying to encourage him to eat when the nausea had him in its grip, or rubbing his temples when the headaches, caused by his medication and anxiety, splintered his skull with pain so badly he could barely see. Or, when he wanted to be left completely alone, I wouldn't interact with him for a day or two at a time.
I tried to understand when his anxiety would spike out of nowhere, when his heart would be hammering like a jackrabbit and he'd be in a cold sweat, rubbing his back, whispering soothing sounds into his ear. I tried very hard to understand and not get angry when his anxiety would flare so fiercely that it triggered his schizotypal tendencies and he'd grow paranoid, say awful, cruel things to me - once in front of his mother - and then not remember a thing the next day. He would always be crushed when he'd learned what he'd said.
I read between the lines when he'd mention his father, estranged since a time long past, and his childhood, and the hint of something heartbreaking and nightmarish and horrifying lurked in between all the things he didn't say, all the things he hadn't yet allowed himself to voice, to confess. The dark things in his past he couldn't bring himself to say aloud yet were all there for me to see, in the way he'd catch himself mid-sentence, in the shadow that crossed his eyes when he spoke of his childhood, in the bleak and bitter flint in his voice whenever I'd ask about his father.
And I was the one who encouraged him to finally come out with the truth about his father a week after we learned of his death, with the story of his past, to set himself free. I was sitting right beside him on our big, comfy armchair as he invited his best friend over and he told us everything. I put my chin on his shoulder as he told us about the awful, unspeakable things his father did to him in the dark, the murderous threats should ever he have told, the quick punches to his stomach, the way he was young, young enough to believe his father's threats against his mom and sisters if he ever told, how he decided to carry the burden of the abuse alone, on his frail shoulders, how he started wearing t-shirts that he'd never take off so his mother couldn't see the bruises, the cigarette burns. How when his father got drunk - which was regularly - he'd get a predatory gleam in his eye, but not the gleam of someone who wanted physical violence, not in the punching bag sort of way, but in that way, the unspeakable way. We were the first people he ever told in all those years, the first he ever told. I wrapped my arms and legs around him, pulling him close, as if I could retroactively shield him from the pain and nightmares he had endured, but there was nothing I could do about the pain in his voice, nothing.
That was the night I vowed that I'd be strong enough to withstand the demons in his head for the both of us. The night I vowed that I would fight for him and for us forever. That I was all in, that I would not do what so many had and turn their back on him.
But the hardest of all was trying not to take it personally.
"Allie," he'd say for the hundredth time, "it's not you. Please don't take it personally. It's not you."
"I know...you say that it's not about me. But the thing is...you make it about me. If I'm the target you take your anxiety and stress and rage and depression out on, then...it becomes about me."
It was a conversation we had so many times that I honestly lost count.
Because that's the thing that you are never told about loving someone with mental illness. While you're trying to help your beloved lost soul, somewhere along the way, you lose yourself, too.
To be continued...
To read Part I, click here.