What Real Love Looks Like

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In mid-2011, my life seemed to be on the right track—I had started teaching part-time at a local community college one class a week for two days a week and was off for the summer.  I had gone to the hospital that spring but only for a few days instead of my more typical weeklong stay.  The kids had done well in school and I was managing well at the house.

But trouble was always lurking around the corner.  I had fallen into obsession again with a guy I barely knew—he was a co-worker of Bob’s that I had met only twice.  He was attractive and had a loopy personality and was very much married to his college sweetheart.  I had friended him on Facebook like I had several other people that worked with Bob and was eavesdropping on his life that way.  I talked it out and talked it out in therapy and would sometimes seem to be over it, but other times I couldn’t go a day without fantasizing about him.  Mid-July 2011 was one of those times.

One night the obsession was particularly intense.  I was wrapped up in thinking about him and wanted to talk to him, hear his voice again.  So I pulled out my cell phone, asked for information, and called him.  I felt fairly certain he wouldn’t know who I was—I have a cell phone that doesn’t show the identity of the caller, just the number if you have caller ID. I knew I wouldn’t be on there long; I literally just wanted to hear him talk.

He answered and I evaded his question when he wanted to know who was calling.  After a few more words, I said, “I just called because I wanted to hear your voice again.”

He said, “Ooo-kay.”  Then after a few more seconds of silence, he hung up.

I cut the phone off, elated that I had spoken to him.  Little did I know what I had kicked off.

The next day, I was at the pool with my kids and turned on my cell phone to a text from him.  He was asking me to call him back and wanted to know who I was and what I had meant by calling him.  I was truly excited now at the prospect of speaking to him again.  So I called the number he left.  He answered with “Who is this?”

I said, “Who is this?  What do you mean, who is this?”

A long silence.  Then he told me gently that he wanted my word that I would lose his number and not call him again.  I didn’t feel like promising any such thing, so I didn’t answer him.  Finally he said he didn’t want to change his number but he would if he had to.

I said I knew I shouldn’t have called.  “Then why did you?” he asked.

“Because sometimes I’m not very bright,” I said.

“You’ve got that right,” he said.  Then he hung up.

My heart sank.  The contempt in his voice had been obvious.  I cursed myself for calling him back.  But I went on with my day.

Until Bob came home.  I was in our bedroom.  He came back to where I was and closed the door.  He sat down in one of our chairs and said. “I need to know what you said to (him) when you called because whatever it was, you scared him to death.”

I very nearly broke down but didn’t.  Bob looked hurt and scared.  I had never dreamed that his friend would figure out who I was.  I said, “I can’t tell you or I really will have to kill myself.”

I sat down in his lap and cried.    We talked on and on.  I finally told him the whole story.  He kept asking questions, and I answered them as best as I could.  I told him his friend had not done anything to get me hooked on him, that it was all in my head and his friend had never been anything but nice to me.  I said I had tried and tried to make it stop but I couldn’t.  I told Bob I loved him and never wanted him to know because I didn’t want to hurt him.  And I cried and cried.

Bob asked me if I needed to go to the hospital.  The suicidal thoughts had returned full force, so I said yes.  We called the hotline and did not get an answer.  While we waited, I sat in Bob’s lap and cried, with him doing nothing but holding me.  He didn’t seem angry, just hurt and scared.  After I was all cried out, I got up and stated fixing dinner.  We fed the kids and watched TV with them until it was time for them to go to bed.

The hospital finally called back.  By that time, I thought maybe Bob was going to be all right; I thought I had said the right things to him to reassure him that the feelings for this person didn’t have anything to do with him or anything he had done.  He was acting very concerned about me, and I thought maybe I was going to be all right.  So I didn’t go into the hospital.

We went on that next morning, and I somehow stumbled through the day.  I didn’t know what was going on with Bob until that night after we put the kids to bed.  He sat me down and started talking.  He said he didn’t understand why he had acted the way he had last night except that he must have just been in shock.  He was now very angry and very upset.  He said he didn’t know if he could forgive me.

On and on he vented, telling me that he had talked to his dad, who had said he should divorce me—and he wondered if his dad had the right idea.  For the first time since I had been diagnosed, I was afraid for my marriage.  I just listened to him talk and tried to reassure him as best I could.

We went several months in this way.  Bob became very paranoid and controlling.  I had to report to him every time I left the house, even to pick up Rachel from school.  We talked in between classes when school started up again.  I tried to be the kind of wife he wouldn’t want to leave, stressing myself over everything in the house from meals to laundry to our sex life.  We went to a counseling session with our pastor, which didn’t seem to do Bob any good.  We went to see my counselor once but didn’t seem to make any headway there, either.  But every few weeks, we would sit down and discuss our future.

It got so bad that I actually started making plans for what I would do if Bob divorced me.  I decided I would move back to Starkville and try to work for Mississippi State University, doing what I was doing at my current job for them.  I went so far as to call the current head of the English Department and get information about what papers they would need from me in order to hire me on a part-time basis and called an apartment complex there to see what the rent on a one-bedroom apartment would be if I had to leave home.

But I finally got the courage to sit Bob down and explain to him that I would not give him a divorce even if he left me.  I said I had no intentions of leaving him for anyone.  I said I would not sign papers for an irreconcilable differences divorce because I believed in our marriage and I didn’t want to do that to the kids.  I told him he didn’t have grounds for a divorce under Mississippi law and would likely be laughed out of court if he did try to get one.  That ended any more talk about it, but we still had a long way to go to build trust.

We went on for a year like that.  Very, very gradually he started easing up on the check-ins and monitoring where I went.  We endured the funeral of his grandmother during this time and Terrie’s first breakdown from her depression.  I obsessed less and less—all it took was remembering how hurt Bob was over it to stop them in their tracks now.  I continued therapy and worked even harder on my issues.  Bob simply had to have time to heal from it all; we had long discussions about where our relationship was going and what we could do to make it better. Thankfully, we survived the entire ordeal and celebrated our twentieth wedding anniversary in 2013.

Sadly, obsessions of this nature are part and parcel of bipolar disorder.  Sexual adventuring is a hallmark symptom of the disease.  I knew what I was feeling wasn’t real in the sense that it wasn’t love or any other sane emotion. It was simply an obsession—a trick of my mind.  Being aware of this truth saved my marriage in that I fought the obsessions with all I had even though I did slip that one time.  I know that in God’s eyes I was committing adultery against Bob by obsessing like this.  But I’ve been forgiven and was finally saved from it by the grace of God.

JulieJulie Whitehead currently writes and blogs from Mississippi at her personal blog.   She has been a university lecturer, a disability examiner, and a freelance writer.  She carries a diagnosis of bipolar disorder and blogs to create awareness and help others understand the disease and its effects.

You can follow Julie on Facebook, Twitter or her personal blog.

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