The Mountain’s Shadow

It’s frightening, really, how easily we stuff trauma under our proverbial mattresses, put on a smile, and move on with life. Even the darkest, most difficult experiences we have ever experienced can be whittled down into a “phase” that we went through. How terrifying.

Will and I obviously had a difficult summer. We are reminded of it almost every day, since we are newly relocated, working jobs that just pay the bills, and cut off from our family and friends of the past three years. Our struggles this summer are never too far from our minds.

But, since we’re trying to avoid being pariahs here in our new place, we have watered down our story, focusing on the high points and explaining away inconsistencies with vague references to illness and “bad experiences.” Will and I don’t like editing the truth. But what choice have we had? I left my teaching job in October for my fiancé. My fiancé is a teacher as well. Why did we relocate since it obviously wasn’t job-related?

So far we’ve been able to tell two people the truth in our new home. And one was a psychologist. Will is seeking counseling for the first time, hoping to deal with the trauma he has sustained from years of life and bipolar. I went with him to his first appointment, so the psychologist could grasp the context of our relationship as well as the story of the summer.

As we shared our story, anxiety constricted my chest and tears filled my eyes. I was sad and silent (truly a miraculous occurrence) for several hours. The trauma was overwhelming. The hurt and confusion, fear and anger, uncertainty and stubbornness. As we left the appointment, Will noticed my distress and as we discussed it, he suggested that I also begin counseling. Fear and anxiety spiked even higher.

We are newly married—happily married. What if we discover some deep, horrible issue that takes years to overcome? I know dealing with issues is crucial to having a healthy, functioning life, but I also know that psychology often unearths mountains of pain and trauma before it can level the ground again. My mother spent decades faithfully chipping away at her mountain. I respect her courage and determination. But, if I’m honest, I don’t want the challenge.

Suffering has been a constant theme in my life for the last few months. Everywhere I look, whether in the Bible, sermons, books, articles, life in general, suffering is discussed, dissected, and lived. The last two weeks have been downright depressing as I have dealt with a new round of therapy to recover from my multiple concussions and a recent car accident. Will’s support has encouraged and strengthened me but many days, all I want to do is curl up in bed and pretend the world no longer exists.

That is simply therapy for my body. What will therapy for my soul and psyche uncover? I’m afraid. For me and for Will. But I want to be like my mother. I want to possess the strength and perseverance to get out of bed each morning, bless the Lord for life, and confront my suffering. I don’t want to wait for trauma to sneak up on me and debilitate me with its unexpectedness. I want to be healthy for Will and for myself. I want Will to be healthy for Will and for me. I want to experience true, soul-level freedom and peace.

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Limits to Love

I was stringently warned not to marry Will in light of his disorder. Disaster was all that would come of moving the wedding up nine months. They worried that Will would be in the hospital the following day; or he’d turn into an abusive monster; or I’d be forever stuck picking up his pieces.

All of them insisted that they loved Will dearly, but they wouldn’t wish his disorder on anyone—particularly me. That is how this whole situation has been—“We love Will, but….” I thought love was supposed to be unconditional? Maybe unconditional love is reserved for that certain brand of perceived perfection—you know the ones: talented, charismatic, flawlessly groomed, dynamic, inspirational….

Newsflash: that was—and still is—Will.

I’ve always feared inescapable abusive relationships. When Will was manic this summer, saying and doing things that were so contrary to his character, I was afraid. Would the man I loved become abusive? Was that the horror that awaited me if I stayed with him? I hoped not.

Despite the uncertainty, I was reminded that God went out of his way to bring us together, despite our bullheadedness, and that I loved him. He was—and is—my choice.

I have entrusted my life, safety, and well-being into Will’s hands in many ways in our two-year friendship. Saying “yes” and marrying him was the most forceful, tangible way to show Will and everyone else that I trust God and, by extension, Will.

I didn’t want to be like everyone who said, “I love Will, but….” The people who have forgotten that Will has been the most compassionate, influential person in his communities. That he has defended the weak and small, challenged the strong, encouraged the frustrated, and inspired the young.

That is the man I married. Not the bipolar guy. Did I marry him because he needs me? No. Because I’m a saint? Hardly.

I am one of the weak, hurt, frustrated people he has loved. Yes, I am strong, determined, stubborn, and intelligent. But I am chronically injured and have CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy).

Since we wed, Will has taken care of me. He has half-carried me up and down mountains, held my hand during doctors’ appointments, comforted me as I cried, made me breakfast, and done the dishes. Yes, he still has bi-polar. Yes, one day our roles will reverse and I will take him to the doctor. But that’s what marriage—what love—is: being present, selfless, and unconditional.

Sometimes, when I read books like Harry Potter, Chronicles of Narnia, Twilight, Wizard’s First Rule and I am nauseated by the over-used idea that love conquers all. Gag me. I haven’t suddenly become a hopeless romantic. In fact, I just quit reading two of those books yesterday because I couldn’t handle the lovey-doveyness. But I have seen the power of true love:

  • Will and I met a guy for coffee yesterday. We told him our story and his response was, “Wow. That must have been really hard for you. I’m sorry.” A man we barely know loves us enough to accept us unconditionally. He didn’t shy away. Will and I couldn’t wipe our ridiculous grins off our faces. We were euphoric! We were known and loved and accepted!
  • My chronic pain ruined three climbing dates in a row—Will is an avid and occasionally obsessive climber—while I was disgusted with myself and feeling worthless, Will smiled at me, kissed my tears away, and helped make me more comfortable.
  • I refused to reject Will, even when he—and everyone else—was hoping and adamant that I go. His wonder and confidence grew, gradually replacing the shame and regret that had clouded his mien.
  • Jesus, Son of God, became a weak human to live a sucky, hot, sweaty, uncomfortable life that ended in an undeserved, torturous death and defeated death—humanity’s implacable foe—by coming back to life. Why? Because he loved us, even when he knew our every flaw and disgrace.

I don’t always enjoy the conclusion that love conquers all. And I am sure that marriage will be tough. Will and I are only human. But I have seen the confidence, worth, purpose, and life-changing outlook love inspires in my life. I love Will, and I believe he is just as deserving of that love today as he was yesterday, this summer, the five years prior, every day before then, and is every day after this one. And I know he would say the same about me.

Let’s not love someone, but…. Let’s love someone, and….

Our world could change.