How to Stick With It

How to Stick With It

I like my wife, but she makes my life miserable kind of frequently. And I feel shitty because I let her do that.

I was inspired by Penelope Trunk’s intense honesty to write this. I read certain authors even though I don’t give a shit about their subject because they are just too good to ignore. I feel like reading their words makes me a better writer. Penelope is one of those, and one of the main characteristics that makes her writing great is how intensely honest and vulnerable she is.

A Break in Creativity

The reason I stopped writing around March last year, just as my blog was taking off, was that my wife was sick and I had no mental energy left after taking care of her to write. It wasn’t just that she was ill with cancer or something. We had no idea what was wrong. This sickness turned my wife into an emotionally abusive maniac who required constant care to feed herself and take care of her basic needs.

The thing is that the mania came and went. She’d make breakfast with a smile, then, sometimes only minutes later, walk past me into the bedroom. She had a certain way of walking that was close enough to “normal” for plausible deniability, but that really meant a shit storm was approaching.

lightning storm

Mouth a little tighter than usual, steps a little quicker than usual, eyes cast downward just slightly. No one would have noticed but me.

She’d walk past me in “that” way and I would dutifully follow. If I didn’t, it meant I didn’t love her.

She’d flop down on the bed and tell me to leave her alone, even though if I actually did that she’d be devastated and accuse me of not loving her.

She’d stay silent while I tried to get her to talk. If I stopped trying, I didn’t love her.

When she finally did talk it was to tell me the particular way I was a bad or unreasonable person, and that I didn’t love her.

She’d say something to get a rise out of me, then scurry away before I could respond. If I didn’t chase her out of the room, I didn’t love her.

The conclusion would be that I was deliberately making her miserable for my own nefarious purposes. Probably because I didn’t love her.

The real answer was always that she needed to get her chemistry balanced again, which required eating glucose tablets for the sugar spike then protein for staying even (this was the wrong thing to do, but it was the best we knew at the time).

Most of the time between 20 and 45 minutes after eating, she’d cry and tell me she was sorry, that I was the best husband in the world, then go back to whatever she had been doing. We’d go out that night and hang out with friends like nothing had happened at all.

Should I be mad? sad? understanding? How about just numb.

Meanwhile my mind is in shambles. Should I be mad? sad? understanding? How about just numb. Too confusing to think about, so I just keep trucking.

Eventually the good moments were just a break in the clouds in the storm of misery. Good hours turned into good minutes, and eventually disappeared altogether.

At some point, I couldn’t work, I couldn’t write, I couldn’t think. I lost touch with good friends, I lost a bunch of weight that I shouldn’t have lost. I haven’t weighed this little since I was 15.

A Break in the Clouds

In August 2010 she was finally diagnosed with a combination of reactive hypoglycemia (we knew that), and candida which is a systemic yeast infection (we didn’t know that). Yeast had overgrown her digestive tract, at first sucking up all the nutrients she ate which exacerbated her reactive hypoglycemia. Eventually the yeast began eating the villi in her small intestine, making it impossible to absorb nutrients even if the yeast were under control. In the final stage of the illness, which can be fatal, small holes in her intestinal lining allowed whole proteins to enter her blood stream and brain undigested. Essentially, the food she ate was poisoning her to death.

After she was diagnosed and began to improve, it was like the sun coming out again. I could work and write and think again. But without that pressure cooker to keep me busy and panicked, I began to realize that I had never been remarkably happy in the relationship. I realized that the year she hid her illness from me after we first met had been long enough to reel me in. That by the time she spewed her first hateful words and told me I should move out for a reason neither of us understood, my hero script was primed and ready to endure hell to prove that I was the type of person who could endure hell. The worse it got, the more determined I was to make it work no matter what happened.

That’s how real world problems work. Your husband doesn’t just beat the shit out of you out the blue. He breaks your vase first, and that’s not over the line, right? Your boss doesn’t threaten to fire you if you don’t pull an all nighter on the first day. He attaches a blackberry to your scrotum first, and builds up from there.

At some point, you find yourself a frog in water that’s starting to bubble. What do you do then?

Out of the Rolling Boil

You might imagine ahead of time that you’ll be courageous and decisive, and that it’s a matter of making a choice not to let people cross your lines. But when she crosses the line, she crosses a different part of it than you expect. And she crosses it just a little, so you’re not sure if she actually crossed it at all, or if maybe the line was actually farther back than you thought.

It’s normal to feel bad when you read advice that makes everything sound easy, then fail to act on it because the situation is actually more complicated. The reality is that the advice really is simplistic and your situation probably is more complicated.

How do you keep moving forward toward your dreams when it seems that the world is conspiring to hold you back?

  1. Get out of bad situations. If you’re in a miserable situation like a dead end job or relationship, get out of it. Just leave. It will suck your life away until you have no will left to even fix it. I can’t tell you when you should leave, but if you’re asking yourself if you should leave for a long time, you should leave.
  2. Create time for yourself. If you’re in an overwhelming situation, you must create time for yourself. I didn’t do that, and I let my writing slip. You must give yourself mental space. Get out of the house, spend daily time alone, recuperating. If you can’t do this for some reason, see #1.
  3. Have a schedule. I post on Mondays and I post on Fridays. Those are the days I post come hell or high water. If I didn’t have the schedule, it would be easy to put everything off in favor of the distraction du jour. That’s why I haven’t produced any movies since the first one, I have no schedule. Wednesday. I just decided this very moment, as I typed this: my videos go out on Wednesdays.
  4. Incorporate your struggles. When I don’t have the energy to write because things are weighing on my mind, I write about those things. Today is unusual because most of the time I write about them without actually saying so. I ask myself: what advice would I like to hear in the situation I’m in now? Then I write that.
  5. Do it. Look, all this advice boils down to this: if you want to do something, then you have to do it. Just do it. You want to write but you can’t because you’re distraught? Write anyway. You want to paint, program, build, or plan, but you can’t? Yes you can. Just do it.

My wife has been working really hard for the last couple weeks to be sweet, kind, supportive, helpful, and all the things a loving partner should be. I appreciate that, even if it doesn’t always work.

No matter what she does though, I’ve learned my lesson from 2010: I have goals, and I will reach them. I will maintain a positive environment, I set a schedule and I will damn well stick to it. I’ll write even if it takes all damn day typing a few words at a time between staring at the wall, just like this post did.

Responses

  1. Ann Becker-Schutte ()

    Pete, I rarely read one of your posts without feeling touched, challenged or inspired. Thank you for your honesty and courage in this post. I hope the sun continues to come out. (Reply)

  2. PB ()

    I read Penelope’s post just yesterday; I found her blog a couple days ago. “Worst Professor Ever” is another blog I found then, too. I admire that those writers, and you, write candidly, about real life trials and tribulations. I don’t dare write about those things publicly, because I teach. I don’t want students or administrators reading those posts. I don’t want those individuals having access to my private life, and also I don’t want to give those among them, who cannot or will not practice clear or logical thinking, fodder for my files.

    If you’ve not watched the movie “Good Dick” yet (unfortunate name for a movie that’s actually NOT about what is suggested by the name), you should. It touches on similar themes. You can see it on Hulu.

    We are complicated creatures. Men and women, both. Relationships are hard! Kudos to you for writing candidly about yours. I don’t think there’s an easy solution. Different people are going to call on different resources.

    I turned the “crazy” page, for good (good enough anyway) a while ago, and two things helped me do so: philosophy, and good ole rejection (a real asset, when you look at it from a philosophical perspective!). I won’t suggest this would work for anyone else, I only suggest that this is what worked for me.

    I used to let “poor me” thoughts run loose in my head, and trod well worn paths to and fro. I would react to things in “crazy lady” fashion because it was all I knew, and it felt deliciously good, like gorging on chocolate cake or something does (though a couple hours later it makes you feel sick). Friends and significant others not wanting to go the distance with me was a wake up call to myself. I realized *I* needed to fix things myself, rather than wait for prince or princess charming to come rescue me (from myself!). Finding philosophy (no offense to anyone, but the self help section never did anything for me, always made things worse) was the second catalyst. It helped me shoo caustic thoughts out of my head, and forge new “reaction” paths. Logic, a good healthy dose of “get over yourself” (repeated to myself again and again)…and well, these days, I simply don’t “go there” (to crazy land) like I sometimes used to. Once in a while my emotions get the best of me, and make life temporarily difficult. But those moments are extremely rare.

    Living alone helps. Realizing that I am not the marrying type helps (I would feel trapped, no matter how wonderful he or she was). Realizing that I need lots of alone time helps. Choosing my close friends very, very carefully helps. Knowing when to say no, and when to “break up” with old friends, and even a couple family members, who don’t want to have an honest conversation helps.

    Anyway. Thanks for the candid post. I think it’s very useful, for you, your readers, and your wife. Without knowing all the behind the scenes details, though, I hope you’ll take the last thing I want to add lightly, as it may not apply to your situation….but it’s something that has helped me immensely: a mentor–who was a total whack job, yet full of good advice–once told me “A lady always knows when to leave a party”. (Reply)

    • Pete ()

      Thanks PB, what you wrote means a lot, thank you for sharing that.

      I’ll go watch Good Dick. If I watch it and enjoy it I’ll forever be able to say “I like Good Dick every now then.” And that is priceless! (Reply)

    • PB ()

      P.S.

      “A lady always knows when to leave a party” could be variously applied to your situation. Readers may wonder if I meant “know when to leave your wife”. While it could be interpreted that way, I meant it like this, as I applied it to myself long ago (so in a sense it’s more a “you can do it!” message to your wife):

      Know when to leave the “I’m a crazy person who reacts this way, and cannot help herself” party. I cannot speak for her, but I can speak for myself: I realized I COULD retrain myself to react in more productive ways. Do my emotions control me, or do I control them? My answer is the latter. Sometimes I fail. But the first step, I believe, is believing that I CAN control them, with lots of practice. The trajectory of my own life these last 5, 6 years suggests I can indeed do what I once thought I couldn’t: change the way I react.

      I hope this blog post does not cause problems with you and your wife. Then again, if it does, dare I say it’s another sign that a new direction is, perhaps, in order. (Reply)

  3. SM ()

    It’s hard to read the truth sometimes. As difficult as this was for me to read, I think it’s a valuable message for anyone going through anything remotely like this and realizing they are not alone. Part of the problem with my illness was that both Pete and I felt miserably alone…it seemed like no one else had gone through something like this. So thank you, my sweet, for having the courage to post this. I hope it helps someone.

    A note to PB: I found your response really thoughtful and inspiring. I’m certainly in the “lady needs to leave this party” mode…I’m ready to hammer my disease out of the outfield…thank you for that analogy. Really, no sarcasm intended. As I recover from, a ravaging illness (my crazy “moods” were caused by undigested food particles floating in my blood, malnutrition and severe hypoglycemia), I find myself in these mental patterns I’m working hard to break out of (I was in the “woe is me” camp for a while there, then I switched to being pissed off at doctors for not diagnosing me correctly…with my blood sugar at 23mg/dL and after spending a month in bed, unable to walk up the stairs without almost keeling over I was told it was “my age”…and I’m still having a hard time with what to do with that anger). It’s hard to spend time being an invalid and then pop back to life, even if you have a cure, like I do. But I am confident that with patience, love and philosophy, I am going to emerge from this experience a better person than I was. It’s certainly given me the information and tools I need to build a better relationship with my husband and with my friends. (Reply)

  4. kara rane ()

    wow, thank you for all that honesty- Pete, & comments. It is so easy to see other peoples “wheels” yet hard to see our own,
    People can be a mirror for our own discovery- and relationship/partnerships are the magnifying glass. (Reply)

  5. Michelle ()

    Found your blog through Skool of Life – like what I’ve seen so far. :)

    I wish you and your wife the best of luck, and the best decision for you guys. I also have reactive hypoglycemia (though hopefully never experience a systemic yeast infection, sounds AWFUL *knock on wood*) so I know the mood swings you describe all too well. Actually, thanks for linking to the resource, because although I’ve got much better about managing mine (usually only have about one low blood sugar episode a month, give or take) it’s been entirely through intuition, for lack of finding good resources.

    Chronic illness can be really hard to deal with, for everyone involved. It’s an incredibly frustrating experience. Again, I wish you guys the best! (Reply)

  6. Mrs. X ()

    Hello, I read your blog and felt inspired by your willingness to share your views and feelings with others. I always felt honesty was tricky because it is subject to our own filters and personal reality. Being honest to oneself is tough enough, let along sharing it with others.

    I empathize with your situation as I am a person who has had a life of difficult relationships. This started at a young age with my most basic relationships; my mother, my father and my brother. My family dynamic was broken and I was unhappy. My mother and brothers are manic depressive and bi-polar. This meant shit storms came all the time. My instincts were to just survive, so it meant adjusting to emotional abuse. My mother always told me, if you loved me you’ll let me (be her emotional dumping ground – those were her words)… I loved her, so I did.

    When I set out into the world, I knew this was my time to have something different in my life. I was fortunate to move 3,000 miles away to live a different life. I was able to pluck the courage and see my faults and work on “self-help”. But my biggest challenge was to recognize my own broken-ness when it came to relationships. This is hard because it usually is only apparent while “being in a relationship” so I couldn’t recognize or work on it until it was already happening. I had to work on replacing my old reactions with new actions. I needed to seed the relationship with healthy patterns (being proactive instead of reactionary). So my life has been a continual struggle to change my patterns and to know the difference between being loving and supportive, or just being an emotional dumping ground.

    Changing existing dynamics is the hardest! That’s because it changes the existing equilibrium between two people. When you change (positively or negatively) you impact that other person. Even if it’s to elicit the most positive results, it does create an imbalance that the other person has to struggle with and the ripples will affect how well you are able to maintain… or morph.

    Working toward changes means accepting whatever happens. You will see people come and go in your life. You will have struggles with others. Not because what you are doing is necessarily wrong, but the universe within you is changing the environment around you. This process may hurt and you may even be accused of “not being loving” but if you trust yourself, trust what happens. Sometimes, when you act out of a higher love, it doesn’t always give us or others the results we want… but the results are right.

    Best wishes on your journey.

    Relationships really aren’t about how much you can trust another person. Relationships are about how much you can trust yourself. Trust yourself that no matter what happens, it was meant to be. Sometimes, others are planets in our universe, orbiting, recurring and there for the duration. Other times, others are blazing comets that while beautiful and amazing in our sky, they pass and we’re left with just their memories. (Reply)

    • Pete ()

      Thanks X, that’s poetic: some people are planets, others are comets.

      I’ve learned a great deal about myself because of this. The reality is that I have helped create the situation and dynamic because of my own scripts and impulses. Learning how to stop the cycle means learning where my impulses come from, what needs they satisfy within me, and what (more healthy) alternatives might there be.

      I feel good, like I’ve come through this tunnel and I’m seeing light. (Reply)

  7. Marnie ()

    I applaud you for sharing such a personal post with us.

    I have to wonder though. Won’t this cause more problems at home? (Reply)

  8. Dave from The Longest Way Home ()

    Wow. I think this article can apply to more than just people affect like this. I think it can be applied also to people who simple spend too much time on a PC blogging rather than looking after their relationships.

    I’m sending this to someone I know. Well done for your honesty. (Reply)

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