Wednesday was my 20th wedding anniversary. If I had one wish for every single person on this planet it is that they could have a person in their life like my partner. Whether it is a friend, a spouse, a family member, at least one person like my Dana.
Dana and I got married very young and our relationship started when I was deep in the trenches of the trauma that would shape the rest of my life and mental health problems. When we were dating he would often be on the phone with me as I cried myself almost to sleep each night. That should have been a sign for him to run the fuck away as fast as he could but he was young and kinda dorky (in the most charming possible way) and maybe just didn’t think he could do better (he definitely could have).
I moved out of my house when I was 17 to live with him (and escape) and we were married the month after I graduated high school. I was not pregnant, just in case you were wondering (there is no judgement in that statement it is just that is usually the look I get from people when I tell them I got married at 18 years old). We were mostly happy and we were in love.
Our marriage has not been easy. Marriage never is. My sister got sick during our first year of marriage and died just before our first anniversary. So on top of the trauma I was working on pushing way down deep as a way to cope and move on and start my new happily ever after there was the new fun of some pretty extreme grief. This was all new territory for Dana.
Now don’t get me wrong, his life was by no means a fairy tale but he had it pretty good. He had pretty great parents, no trauma or abuse, he had never really lost anyone super close to him. He had a pretty normal life. Now he was thrown into this marriage with the complete opposite. And on top of that I had no idea how bad it really was. I had mostly lived a life where I went minute to minute and never really dealt with anything. In order to make it to the next thing and make it through I just had to leave all of the bad stuff accumulating behind me. There was no time to deal, I was just in survival mode. If I slowed down enough to actually think about what was happening and the emotional fallout of all that bullshit I would have killed myself a long time ago.
So we went on with our lives. I buried my feelings, I buried my grief. I occasionally brought it up but Dana just didn’t seem to get it and how could he? In fact I was sort of happy that he didn’t. But I felt a little alone. I mostly kept stuff to myself unless it got really bad but when we talked about things he just couldn’t get it and didn’t seem to want to try and it made me sad. I think he used to be one of those people who thinks depression is just sadness. You just have to be happy. Count your blessings. Be thankful. Pull yourself up by the bootstraps. Hell I used to be like that too. I thought “Well I survived all the shit I survived and turned out okay (spoiler alert, WRONG!) why can’t everybody else?” So little by little I talked to him about it less and less. And buried it a little deeper.
Fast forward to the last 3 years or as I like to call it my own personal hell. Things got worse. And worse. And worse for me. I started having mini breakdowns. They became more and more often and less and less mini. He still didn’t get it. I made some new friends. Ones that understood it more. I turned to them more and to Dana less. I thought that was okay, as long as I had someone who understood I didn’t have to burden him with the shit he didn’t understand. But then things got so bad. Like I pretty much checked out of life bad. You would have to be blind not to see that things were clearly not okay.
Things are a little blurry at this time in my life but eventually the word depression came up. I sent him a couple links to blogs, to articles and he read them. And one night as I was crying on the couch wanting to die his language changed. It was a simple statement. “I don’t know how you feel but I can imagine that must be so hard”. Fuck. He had never said anything like that ever in our marriage. It had always been I can’t understand. He couldn’t get past the fact that it made no sense to him. A totally normal reaction by the way. When it comes to emotions Dana is pretty simple. He feels one at a time and handles them pretty well. I am at any given time feeling 43 different emotions simultaneously and I have emotions that there are not even words to describe. We are polar opposites in this way. But with that one statement it showed me he was TRYING to understand. I have never felt so seen and heard. So loved.
From here I eventually started therapy. He showed genuine interest after each of my sessions. He still didn’t understand and didn’t always deal with the emotional fallout of each session well, but he tried. He communicated with me and asked what he could do to make me feel loved. When my therapist assigned books he read them too. He talked to the kids about what I was going through. He talked to me more often. He read so much literature about depression and mental illness. He educated himself and he changed the way he thought about it. The way he talked about. His language became more compassionate, more understanding, more loving. When things got so dark that meds seemed like the only other option before I ended my life he fully supported me. No judgement. He offered to go to my appointment with me. He encouraged me to start this blog. To share my experiences. And even though I often share things that are very personal and I worry about how that will reflect on him he fully supports me in my honest bravery.
His love turned from feeling to action. Don’t get me wrong, Dana has always showed love. He has always made love a verb. That is how our family lives. But he brought that kind of love to a thing that he previously didn’t understand. He channeled his energy into educating himself and making damn sure I knew I was loved and needed and had value. It is still hard for him but he makes the effort. He spends time always trying to understand it more. To show me how important I am to him. He has become my person.
A few months ago. Dana decided to look into the crisis text line. He wanted to help more people. He went through training and once a week he volunteers time to helping people in crisis. You guys I am so fucking proud of him I don’t have the words for it. In the last couple of years he has gone from a person who didn’t really believe depression was real to a person on the front likes of stopping the stigma and helping those in crisis. He is my hero. He gives me so much hope.
I often used to say that Dana saved my life. He got me out of the trauma I was experiencing as a teen. He rescued me then. White knight style. But that was not the only time. He saves me every day with his love. With his compassion. With his willingness to be uncomfortable and to constantly learn more. He doesn’t always do it right, I mean who does? But he is always trying to be better. He is always trying to understand more. And he is getting better at learning that when there are no words and no way to understand he can just hold me and let me cry and just physically be here for me. He is still my hero. Every damn day.
Dana has truly become my best friend. The person I can talk to about everything. He loves me without condition. When I do not deserve it. And even though it has been so hard to get here, here we are. I am so fucking lucky. And it only took 20 years (I joke, I joke).
Marriage is the hardest thing I have ever done and I have done some hard shit. It is a balancing act and it is about persevering through the really hard times so you can enjoy the really great times. It is not always easy but it is always worth it. I am thankful for where this journey has brought us. That we have made through so much and that we can truly enjoy each other. I am so happy that Dana saved me back then and that he keeps on saving me every day. Here’s to 20 more years. And beyond.