Cindy And Eric’s Silver Linings Playbook

May 30th, 2013

July 2, 2011,one gloriously happy day among many

My husband came out before I did, and he did it publicly. It was 2005.  He was living in Austin, Texas then and was approached by the Austin American Statesman to be a part of  stories of  Austin celebrities who’d struggled with mental illness.  He was by joined singer Shawn Colvin,  former NFL player Hollywood Henderson, and a former Lieutenant Governor. Eric was well known at that time for his years as an award winning radio talk show host there, and he was used to speaking his mind.  He’d never spoken about it on the radio.  He’d left the business and was working in the mental health field himself by then.  In the story, he spoke about being diagnosed with depression in his early 20’s and then bipolar disorder in his early 30’s, and he was glad he did.  He’d been well for many years.  He’s well now.

Eric tends to be gutsier about things like that.  I worry too much about what everyone might think.   I always have.  It took me years to discuss my early bout with post partum depression and my later battle with a perfect anxiety storm several years ago.    My rounds with illness are few and far between, but when they come, they’re pretty harsh.  .  Happily, I’m well now too.

I call it “coming out” because it is.  There’s a great big mental health closet in this country, and it’s bursting at the seams.  An estimated 26.2 percent of Americans ages 18 and older — about one in four adults — suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year.  That’s over 50 million of us.  We either need a bigger closet or more people to step out of it.  I get why they don’t.  It’s not because they aren’t brave.  They are.  It takes guts to live with mental health issues.  They don’t because it’s rare to find someone who gets what they have.

When I heard about the plot of the much lauded  Silver Linings Playbook , based on the novel by Matthew Quick, that looks at the relationship of a young man struggling with bipolar disorder and a young woman who is recovering from tragedy, struggles with relationships, and has a big dose of anxiety on top of it,  I had to see it.  It was, in a strange way, our story.  And, as good issue films can often do, it started a conversation.

One friend told me it hit too close to home.  Another friend stated pretty clearly that although the film had a happy ending, she was frankly worried about the young couple dealing with not only one mental illness, but two. She had a point.  Relationships are hard and relationships where one partner struggles with mental illness are most likely harder.  But what if they both  have one, like the characters played by Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence do, and like my husband and I do?    I wasn’t as worried for them.  When I see happy Hollywood endings, I know there’s more to come, (someone once said that the next scene after the credits roll  is usually about the fight over who’s taking out the garbage…) but I felt that this couple would make it, maybe because… we did.

I’ve known my husband for 12 years, and have been with him for four years.  We reconnected when I was fairly newly home from treatment for anxiety in 2009.   Our first conversation was about that, and that’s when he told me about his own battles with what Winston Churchill called “The Black Dog”.    I knew vaguely that he’d had depression, but I didn’t know the extent of what he’d gone through.  I heard the whole frightening story in that first conversation.  Here’s what he’s said about it, not only to me, but publicly.  He first became ill in the early college years at Beloit.  Then it hit.   After a horrifying stay in the hospital, and multiple types of treatments, he says, I was then able to recoup my sanity, work six years in a neighborhood butcher shop in Manhattan and resume my college career, which included  graduating Summa Cum Laude at Hunter College and acceptance into the graduate school of journalism at the University of Texas.”   A home run there, I’d say.

He goes on to talk about when it came back in his early thirties.   It was during those years in Austin that my true diagnosis became apparent when I was stricken with a ferocious onset of mania after which I was hospitalized and given my true cross to bear, bipolar disorder. It was a cross I did indeed bear well as I was able to become a successful journalist, radio talk show host and ultimately a certified peer specialist whose charge it was to assist others living with a mental illness in coming to grips with their own so-called demons.”  Knocked it out of the park again.

For a guy with that harsh an illness, he’d hit a whole bunch of home runs and it seemed he was most likely home free.  But still, it gave me pause.    The Eric I knew was a calm and centered guy, seemingly a perfect foil for my buzzy anxiety driven moods.  And he was.  But what if HE got sick again’?  It hadn’t happened for close to 30 years so there was no indication that it would, but still, I worried.  Not excessively as  people with anxiety disorders like me do, if they’re not managing it right, but I did worry sometimes.  I’d gotten so much stronger, and I was proud of my recovery, and I knew I couldn’t let anything put that or me at risk.

We moved on to courtship and romance, and all that fun stuff.  We were married in 2011.  I was in the best, healthiest, and most important, the happiest relationship of my life.  We could play like kids, but we were both grown ups.  Then he got sick.

It was Valentine’s Day 2012.  We were still newlyweds.  I knew he’d been feeling off, and had had a slight medication change, but he just hadn’t been 100% Eric.   But… he was functional.  I was looking forward to a planned night out to dinner and his usual roses and card and all the little wonders he’d do on special occasions.   What I got was a call from his department head at the community college where he taught.  She wanted to know if he’d gotten home all right, as she thought he might be having symptoms of a heart attack.  It wasn’t his heart, we made sure of that.  It was his brain.  It had stopped functioning the way you need to function when you want to go through life and go through it well.  If you’ve ever seen someone you love like that, you’ll know what I’m talking about.  It’s quite simply…terrifying.  A  “brain illness” (that’s what we call it) is particularly excruciating, not only for the person suffering through it, but for those who love them. You don’t know when it will end, and as psychiatry is still somewhat “trial and error”, you don’t really know IF it will end.

It ended and it ended well.  We got through it.  Strangely, as Eric got worse, though, I got stronger.  Someone had to be.  He’d done it for me as I was recovering and had been there, as my family had.  My turn, then.  Gradually, after a few one step forward, two steps back dance, he pulled out of it.    The meds that had stopped working for him were changed and they landed on the right “cocktail”.  He went back to therapy.  And one spring day, he was almost suddenly after several months, my Eric again.

I’m not sure if we have an actual “playbook” to manage what we manage.  “My Eric” is now the calm, centered, funny, thoughtful, and brilliant man I fell in love with.  But the struggling Eric was “My Eric” too. The  “In sickness and in health” clause we’d agreed to in June of 2011 was tested earlier than I’d thought it would be.  But we got through it.  We are actually better than ever right now.  We were tested.  We passed. And, if it comes back again, to either of us, we’ll pass that time too.

I’ve heard this line before.  I don’t know when, but I always liked it.  “The world breaks everyone, and some are strong in the broken places”.   We didn’t break and I hope this story, as hard as it was for me to tell,  can help just one of the millions who has or has ever had a dark time, or loves someone who has a dark time.  It IS dark, it is scary, and it is cloudy, but sometimes, at the end of that, there is a silver lining.

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