Monday, May 30, 2011

The Hardest Thing I've Ever Done (pt. 2)

I mentioned in the previous post that part of what I've been doing concurrent with my weight loss is expanding my boundaries - getting out more, working more, getting more things done, etc. I've been attempting to do this relatively gradually, and I have the luxury of doing so because my husband bears the burden of making enough money for us to live while my income for the last six years has been largely supplemental. Note that this is not as inequitable as it seems. For about 10 years, my income was the main one and his was supplemental. There was a time when he was a part-time worker and part-time "househusband" and I was the breadwinner, until I broke under the weight of my body and depression.

When I quit my full-time job in a state of what I'm sure would have been diagnosed as clinical depression, my husband has been supporting me in multiple ways. He not only economically supports me, but he mentally and physically did so. When I was at my heaviest and in great back pain, he'd not only make the money, but he also would go grocery shopping to spare me and spend his limited free time emotionally supporting me. I was, in many ways, an invalid he looked after emotionally. He patiently dealt with me as I ate myself deeper into disability, knowing that I couldn't change until I was "ready" and knowing that I might never be "ready", but loving me all the same and therefore doing what he needed to do.

In the last two years, as I've experienced improved health, mobility, and emotional states, there has been a slow change in the dynamic between my husband and I. We're both happy that we can go out and do things together again (as we once did very long ago), and I'm relieved that he no longer needs to do things like grocery shopping for me on top of his large workload. I'm also pleased to be contributing more to our household income, which will eventually result in his reduced working hours and more freedom for him (he chooses for the time being to work longer hours to improve our nest egg).

However, as I mentioned in my previous post, I'm not emotionally whole by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, I'm often on the edge of depression, despair, and simply feeling overwhelmed by the array of changes and shift in my identity. The steady push forward is at a pace I can just barely manage, but I think it's important to keep pushing ahead in order to be the person I want to be. However, this is a lot like running a marathon at just the edge of my endurance. Occasionally, I find that I've pushed myself too hard, and I have to stop and catch my breath.

The main problem is that emotionally this is harder to detect than it is physically. You don't know you've exceeded your capacity until you're depressed or have some sort of breakdown. This means I'm often in a state where I'm on the edge, and I need his support more than ever. Unfortunately, my husband sees someone who is getting much, much better and who requires less support than before, and reacts by giving me less unconsciously. Also, it is possible that (equally unconsciously), he's weary of looking after me and ready to move on to pursuing his own interests more now that the burden seems to be lifting.

The problem has been for us that I need less physical support and as much or more emotional support as my "success" continues. I've said before that I believe that people who have destructive relationships with food (relationships which result in reduced health or quality of life and are powerless to change them) have a mental health problem, or, at the very least, their eating issues are part of a manifestation of underlying issues. No one simply "likes food" to the extent of gaining up to nearly 400 lbs. without something deeper behind it. That's like "liking sex" to the point of never getting up off your back. There's something deeper there.

Getting back to the point though, as I've "gotten better" superficially, I've struggled as much (or more) psychologically, but I've gotten less support from my husband. This isn't because he doesn't want to be there for me, but because he has other interests he wants to pursue and cannot see any impediment to doing so. I also initially saw no reason for him not to do such things, but as time has gone on, we've had arguments and I've suffered because of the extent to which he wants to do them. It's taken awhile to figure out that my body changing hasn't changed my mind's need.

I'm not the woman he had to listen to crying because people were cruel to her every time she left the house and every little errand brought a world of horrible back pain. Now, I'm the woman who doesn't know who the hell she is, what she is capable of, and who becomes sad at the drop of a hat for reasons she is sometimes not sure of. I'm the woman who finds that the old compass she used to navigate life doesn't work anymore and is constantly having to create a make-shift one as she is a work in progress and doesn't know how far she can go or what direction she should head in. I'm psychologically lost, and am figuring out where I'm going and where I can manage. Unfortunately, I'm often going further than I should or into places which are not good for me.

So, I find that I need more support, but I'm getting less and my poor husband is in the middle of it. The truth is that he is my only constant. He's the only point in life for me which hasn't changed at all and I rely on him not only to give me strength, but to be a tether in what is a constant emotional storm. I don't know who I am in relationship to pretty much everything else in life, but I know who I am when I'm with him. When he's not there for me, especially in times of difficulty, I feel like a pile of broken pieces.

Given the reasonable need for my husband to have autonomy and do the things he wants to do in the face of my no longer disabled life, but my need to have more support, we've had many fights about when and how he needs to attend to my needs. I feel bad about being needy, and he feels frustrated by the inconsistency of the situation. For him, the guideposts keep moving and he's not sure what he can do without causing me to suffer and what he can't. This has made a difficult situation even worse, and it has been playing out for over a year now and stretching both of us emotionally to the limit.

Recently, I told him that if he regarded my situation as a physical illness rather than a mental one, we wouldn't be struggling so hard. Since my problems are psychological, he unconsciously believes it's okay to walk away from my neediness. If I had a herniated disc and couldn't get out of bed, he'd come home and cook meals for me without question or protest. He'd understand the need and make the sacrifice. With my broken psyche, it's easier just to "let me go hungry" while he goes out and fulfills his own psychological needs.

My husband has said that "empathy goes out the window when ones own interests are at stake", and he is right about that. It's been very hard for him to realize that his empathy for me may have been less than 100% because of this very thing. Don't get me wrong about my husband because he has sacrificed a great deal in my interests during much of our lives together. He's unconditionally loving, kind, generous, supportive, and I worship him because he is so psychologically whole and incredible, but he's dealing with a wife with psychological problems and even he, with his near saint-like capacity to be patient and caring, can't work it all out immediately (hard as he has tried).

I've tried and tried to suppress my needs, to deny my issues, and to be "better" faster for him, but the bottom line is that this isn't a road with short-cuts. No matter how desperately I don't want to be so needy, I can't change it. I've tried. I haven't beaten myself up when I've eaten more, but I've mentally thrashed myself over this. I want more than anything to give my husband the autonomy he might want to just live without having to attend to my psychological problems. There are times when I'd rather go back to weighing nearly 400 lbs. than continue to impose this burden on him. My guilt and anguish over how much changing me has placed a burden on him is so overwhelming at times that I'd rather I went back to my other kind of suffering than to inflict this difficulty on him.

Fortunately (or unfortunately), there is no going back now. It isn't the thing I'm meant to do and I know there is a better place that I'll be at psychologically in the future, but I'm not there yet and I need him to hold my hand tightly for awhile longer.