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A Different Kind of Trip

Some people have partners that have to travel a lot for business. It can be especially tough when they’ve got kids because the parent that stays at home lives like a single parent, which, as you can imagine, might build a lot of resentment as the emotional and physical demands of parenting alone start piling up.

I’m fortunate to have Andrew at home most of the time. Well, he works a lot, and he’s out on the road most of the day and when he does come home, he is tied to his phone (the life of a realtor). We like it this way because we appreciate the trade-off of having flexibility in his schedule, but also that he is able to be with the kids a lot more than if he worked at his old job (he was an electrician for years).

Now there’s one thing that we do deal with: Mental illness. Because mental illness (or mental fragility, mental struggles, whatever term you’d like to use) takes a person on a business trip at the drop of a hat. There is no schedule, there are no plane tickets, just one person that unknowingly checks out of life and checks into somewhere else for a while. Sometimes that somewhere else lasts a nanosecond and sometimes it lasts a lot longer.

So, if you’re finding yourself left behind, here are a few things you can do to make sure you don’t build up resentment, lose your shit, or start day-drinking too much. These aren’t rules, I am not a doctor (but oh man would that would be hot), but they work for me:

Accept the fact that your partner is gone for a time.

They’re on a business trip, they’re not available emotionally, physically, spiritually. Don’t depend on them for what they’re usually capable of.

Do not, do not do not do NOT DO NOT take anything personally.

This is a war that they are fighting within themselves and this has nothing to do with you. You are not responsible for their actions but you are responsible for YOUR reactions. Don’t participate, don’t antagonize, don’t let your frustrations out on them, don’t use this time to convince them to come back, and don’t feel rejected when they can’t/don’t.

Have empathy.

It is very difficult to empathize with someone who is frustrating you, but it’s possible, and possible is all you need. Empathy will take perspective, and perspective comes with accepting #1 (your partner is unavailable) and #2 (this has nothing to do with you). If you’re struggling to find empathy, then think back to the last time you felt so alone and in so much pain. Remember that underneath it all is a hurting person, and that person is someone you deeply love.

Set boundaries and stay neutral.

Here’s an example. I’ll use Jake because I know he won’t mind me writing about him here. So, he and I talk a lot; we’re pretty close. A few months ago he started addressing me with “Yo.” I was like, no. But I didn’t go on and on about how it’s rude or how sad I am or start ripping apart his character or preaching at him; I just wrote back something like, “Oh Jake. Don’t address me with “yo” because it’s disrespectful. I won’t engage in a conversation that is lacking respect. I respect you, and I ask that you do the same.” It was over, just like that. Set a healthy and rational boundary, protect yourself, do it with kindness, neutral and calm, and stand firm. I now refer to myself as “Yo Mama.” It sounds pretty badass and it gives Jake a good laugh.

Now is not the time to help them.

When I say “help” I mean by giving them advice, lecturing them, begging them, and doing all the negotiating we like to do to get back a sense of control. You’ve heard me say it a zillion times and I’ll say it a zillion more: love asks us to let go. It is VERY uncomfortable, but I promise once you loosen your grip, a bigger gift of love will circle around and fly back to you and settle into the wounded parts. Have you ever heard how we’re not supposed to tell a drunk person that they’ve got a drinking problem? Same thing here. Wait until they come back, and then talk. There is bound to be things that they need to address, like maybe medication changes, or learning triggers, or dealing with difficult counseling sessions. They may need to make amends with you or others and forgive themselves, but now is not the time. TRUST ME.

Take care of yo Self.

Okay, so it took me a few years to actually accept the fact that this is our life. As long as Andrew and I are together, this is something that we will deal with and so I will deal with it because I love him so very much and I can’t imagine not being together forever; he’s my best friend. So when he goes on these “business trips,” I do my best to follow my own advice above, and then while I’m waiting, I write, I run, I take long baths with lavender oil, I read deliciously sexy books, I run some more, I type out texts that I want to send him but I don’t (I keep them in my notes section), I do push-ups, I play (hoop in the garage, sculpt playdough penises while Callum sculpts spiders and snakes, paint, cook cool stuff), I force myself to eat healthy food (I don’t eat when I’m stressed out so this is a tough one for me), I offer up prayers/dedications, I knit scarves (I used to, anyway), and? I cry. Hard. I get it out. I get it out because this is hard and it hurts and there is no sense in carrying around cries that belong in the abyss.

Also? Make sure you find people to talk to. This is a no-brainer, but I’d like to take it a little further and just say that it doesn’t have to be a counselor or a doctor (although those are bonuses). It doesn’t even have to be someone you see on a regular basis and in fact, after a bit of a steep learning curve, I realized that family and close friends aren’t the best option. Not because they’re not amazing (they are!!!) but because they’re too emotionally involved and it’s a stress on them too, so what happens is you’ll talk to them, they’ll get stressed out, and then you’ll end up carrying even more stress. I’ve got a few online friends, some that even have experience with bipolar disorder who have helped me immensely. Sometimes all I need is to know I’m not alone, so I’ll text a friend or two, tell them what’s going on, and all I need them to do is reply with an “I hear you.” That’s all I need.

Accept that mental illness is a part of your lives.

This one was a rough one for me to accept because I am so driven to do what most of us like to do: FIX IT. I’m a caregiver by nature so that “fix it” mentality transfers over to “fix everyone.” I’m nearly forty years old and I think it’s finally starting to sink in that I can’t fix anyone but me. If Andrew had cancer, I would drive him to chemo and make sure he still got regular haircuts. If he broke his leg, I would push him around in his wheelchair and put his socks and shoes on for him. If he gets diagnosed with bipolar disorder, then I learn about how to help him manage the rough spots.

I know I missed so much. Is there anything that you guys would want to add? Or want me to answer?

When is the last time you felt like things didn’t make sense? Like when bad things happen to good people? How do you deal with this?

You don’t have to answer any questions if you don’t want to. If you have a story to tell, feel free to tell it in the comment section!




{ 37 comments… add one }
  • Megan @ Meg Go Run January 3, 2017, 5:22 pm

    Well this post is definitely going to help some people! What does Andrew do about work when he is on a “business trip”? Is he sometimes able to work and sometimes not?

    I remember driving Paul to the hospital for his second brain surgery and I remember telling him I was going to miss him… while he was in surgery, while he was recovering because he wouldn’t be himself. You know, he’d be tired, slow, in pain, all that. The weeeeeeirdest thing was when he was in surgery and I couldn’t text him. I know that sounds weird and dumb, but think about it. Most people can always text their SO and even if they’re at work or driving or something and can’t get it right away, you know they’ll get it and they’ll be there.

    Well of course Paul is a freaking champ and the day after his surgery we were playing cards in the ICU. He’s such a show off!!!

    • suzy.suzyheather@gmail.com January 3, 2017, 7:50 pm

      I love your questions soooooo SO MUCH. Here’s the answer to the first one:

      YES! He is able to work and in fact? His manic tendencies (like most things) have a yin and yang to them. A destructive and a constructive side. He is full of energy, artistic out-of-the-box ideas, fresh perspectives, hilarious, magnetic, and exciting. Who wouldn’t want a realtor like that? Most people with bipolar disorder are very successful, artistic, intelligent people. Hypomania is like functional mania, where it’s not great, it leaves a mark, but it’s not an emergency (not life threatening). Hypermania usually does not happen often at all, and Andrew has only dealt with that once, and even when he was in the hospital, he still worked, met clients in the lobby and got listings signed!!! He’s an incredible person.

      I can’t count how many times I have told Andrew that I miss him when he’s in hypomania. He’s not himself, and I miss seeing his eyes clear, his body calm, his words gentle. It helps me to tell him that I miss him and I love him when he’s like that, and it doesn’t make him feel worse, so I keep doing it. I also keep touching him, because it grounds him. I hold his hand, I rub his back. And when he is back to his baseline, he takes care of me. We are a pretty good team, and it sounds like you and Paul have that same teammate chemistry going on too. It’s such a gift.

      That is so incredible how Paul was playing cards the next day. I can’t even wrap my mind around that. If anyone handed me a deck of cards after I gave birth, I’d use them as coasters for my Coronas.

      • Megan @ Meg Go Run January 4, 2017, 1:27 pm

        Well that is a plus that it doesn’t interfere with work! Because I have a feeling realtors don’t have sick days!

        • suzy.suzyheather@gmail.com January 4, 2017, 4:11 pm

          Nope, but they have nooners. 😉

  • Wendy@Taking the Long Way Home January 3, 2017, 5:48 pm

    The unpredictability of mental illness would make it so tough be so difficult to live with. At least if he was away on a real business trip, you’d still be able to talk to him. And you’d know when he would be coming home.

    I think you know my answer to your second question. WTF is happening to me?

    • suzy.suzyheather@gmail.com January 3, 2017, 7:42 pm

      Unpredictability is every human being’s worst nightmare. It’s why so many people are scared of cats. The Unknown is a horror film that won’t end until we can make it known again. UNLESS… here’s the clincher… we use the unknown to make us stronger, better people. Rather than get freaked out about it all, I welcome it. Fire refines gold. It’s in the letting go of control where we find ultimate freedom.

      I hope I don’t sound annoying. I feel like I sound like I’m preaching. This is all stuff that just works for me, and it helps me to type it out. That’s all. I swear.

  • Amy Lauren S. January 3, 2017, 6:02 pm

    I think Meg’s story above is a good one (side note: didn’t realize Paul had brain cancer). My aunt had brain cancer and your tips are good for someone dealing with an illness such as brain cancer or maybe dementia as well. My aunt wasn’t herself but it wasn’t her fault and there was nothing she, or any of us, could do about it. However some members of the family didn’t really see that, it’s hard to accept that it’s out of the person’s control too.

    Mental issues are a family thing… the person is not the only one dealing with them, after all. My dad has had his share of issues and it’s taken me a long time to just accept that’s him, this is our life. You make the best of it and know that you’re not alone- and these tips will help many dealing with the trips.

    • Megan @ Meg Go Run January 3, 2017, 6:59 pm

      Not brain cancer “just” a tumor. Most of it is gone, hoping it doesn’t come back!

    • suzy.suzyheather@gmail.com January 3, 2017, 7:39 pm

      Your comment reminded me of one of my favourite teachers from high school. His name was Mr. Neufeld, and he got a huge head injury during a students vs teachers soccer game and his personality changed that day. He’s still an amazing person, extremely successful, with a great reputation, but it’s fascinating how his personality was so affected by that one trauma.

      I think it’s important for me to add that we all have our thing. For some people it’s mental illness, for others it’s cancer, or whatever it is that packs a bit of a punch, we’ve all got them. And it’s not just mental illness that can take our lives for a ride, as it were, or on a trip. Sometimes our paths take a sharp turn down Holy Shit Lane, but we end up in a far better place than we were headed before.

  • Susie @ SuzLyfe January 4, 2017, 3:41 am

    I used to worry that I was turning into my dad. It is a long story, one that I will never delve into on the internet because it would hurt him, but one that I discussed with my therapist yesterday. I see so much of myself in him, and it can be really scary, actually. But I am at least cognizant of it.
    When I was first diagnosed, I prayed. A lot. Only a few times did I ask why bad things happened to me, but I did do it. I think that, if anything, I have gotten to the point where I realize that we make our own luck with the situations that we are given, and some people are just given more lucky situations. Also, that there is no “everything happens for a reason.” Things happen, you react. The world does what it does.
    But the comfort is knowing that all of that randomness, it happens to EVERYONE. Everyone has their shit, some just need to flush the toilet more than others.

    • suzy.suzyheather@gmail.com January 4, 2017, 7:31 am

      Self-awareness is everything! I’m a lot like my dad too. The good stuff and the bad stuff. I can see my shitty traits in one or more of my kids too and that kinda freaks me out, only because I know hard it can be to live with these traits (like OCD, ADHD, all-or-nothing, etc). But then it’s kinda cool because I’m able to help them manage that stuff, because I have first-hand experience.

      I feel like I’m babbling.

      I love your last sentence. That’s a quote you need to stamp with your name!

    • San January 4, 2017, 8:06 am

      Ahm, yes… don’t come to me with you “everything happens for a reason” approach EVER. I think nothing happens for a reason, everything is random and some people just get dealt a shittier set of cards. Simple as that.

      • suzy.suzyheather@gmail.com January 4, 2017, 8:51 am

        Yes, I love what Susie wrote about that. I hate it when people use that catch-all phrase because it takes away the credit given to the people who actually react in a strong and positive away. Saying something like that implies passiveness, not action.

  • Kristen January 4, 2017, 5:05 am

    First, I think you are absolutely amazing. For so many reasons.
    Second, I think your point about not sharing with family is a good one. One I learned the hard way. My mother is still holding a bit of a grudge towards my husband for something he said out of fear 2 years ago. I had long since forgiven him but when my mother mentioned that the comment was still hard for her, it hit me like a tonne of bricks that I shouldn’t be sharing with her. Not because she doesn’t love. Just the opposite, in fact. She’s a mom. My mom. And she loves me fiercely.

    • suzy.suzyheather@gmail.com January 4, 2017, 7:27 am

      Ha ha! I laugh because I can’t count how many times I’ve heard this type of story from other women friends! It happens all the time. It feels wrong to say that we shouldn’t count on family, but it’s not because they’re not supportive and helpful! It’s because it just adds more stress, even though they don’t mean to. Sigh….

  • Meghan@CleanEatsFastFeets January 4, 2017, 5:48 am

    I hear you.

    Blows kiss.

    • suzy.suzyheather@gmail.com January 4, 2017, 7:25 am

      I’m so thankful for you! You helped me so much this last time. XO

  • Ana January 4, 2017, 7:41 am

    Over the time that I’ve been reading your blog, this are the post I appreciate the most. I think it’s because you are so real and honest about the struggle, but keep remind us, in a very subtle gentle way, that you are strong.

    • suzy.suzyheather@gmail.com January 4, 2017, 9:00 am

      Well I don’t want to keep reminding you guys that I’m strong–that’s not important or helpful to anyone–rather, I want to remind you guys that vulnerability produces human connection which develops strength. That even though it’s scary sometimes, it’s so helpful not just to us, but to people who relate to us. I love helping people but if I’m honest, I love helping myself too. It’s a win-win.

  • San January 4, 2017, 8:08 am

    I love the metaphors you use around this topic. They’re so spot on.

    I feel the most important thing surrounding mental illness is self-awareness and the willigness to get help. Sometimes that is hard to come by and take time, but in the end, having a ‘plan’ for when a crisis happens is the best preparation to handle the ups and downs.

    You amaze me.

    • suzy.suzyheather@gmail.com January 4, 2017, 11:45 am

      I’m really fortunate to be with someone who gets help, even though sometimes it can feel embarrassing, rough on the pride, tiring, a waste of time, etc etc. Andrew is at the point where he too realizes that it takes a strong and healthy person to get help. When bipolar disorder takes him for a ride, however, he isn’t able to be self-aware or get help, just because of the nature of the disorder (takes a person away from reality for a bit) but once he gets grounded again, he gets help. And each time we go through a rough patch, we learn something new and come out of it a bit stronger.

      This is a bold statement for me to make, but from my soul, from my toes, I have never felt stronger in all of my life than I do right now. And shame on me if I were to ever keep this strength to myself.

      • San January 4, 2017, 5:46 pm

        I believe it. This does make one stronger and you’d better share this strength and wisdom with the world. Who knows who reads this and needs to hear it.

  • Ange // Cowgirl Runs January 4, 2017, 9:54 am

    I love absolutely everything about this post. It’s so spot on for dealing with so many kinds of mental illness. Sometimes I wish I knew a lot of what you said years ago, but that’s also not helpful or conducive to moving forward in life.

    • suzy.suzyheather@gmail.com January 4, 2017, 11:38 am

      Ya I mean sometimes the best way to learn is by going through it ourselves, trial and error, etc. I guess when I write posts like these, although I do like educating people, my passion is to connect with people, so they don’t feel alone, so *I* don’t feel alone. And that, to me, is everything.

      • Ange // Cowgirl Runs January 4, 2017, 3:12 pm

        Yes yes yes!
        This is why I started posting about my anxiety and struggles on my blog. Because we truly aren’t alone, even when we think we are. We’re not.

  • Claire January 4, 2017, 1:23 pm

    Thank you, for this. 🙂

    • suzy.suzyheather@gmail.com January 4, 2017, 4:11 pm

      You’re welcome, my dear. I have a hunch there is quite a tribe of us out there with thick skin and elastic hearts. <3

      • Claire January 6, 2017, 7:08 am

        I think you’re probably (definitely) right. I stumbled onto your blog about a year ago, and in so many of your posts it’s like you’re speaking right to me. Thank you for always laying it all out there and for your authenticity. We need more Suzys!

        • suzy.suzyheather@gmail.com January 6, 2017, 7:46 am

          Oh thank you so much for your kind words, Claire. I feel like this a lot when I read things or hear things that seem as if they’re directed at me. I love it when life is like that because it feels like we’re not as lost and alone as we thought.

  • Gretchen January 4, 2017, 3:53 pm

    You are seriously the best wife and person for Andrew. He’s so lucky to have you. I think the most important thing is to show that you’re always there for him and that you love him no matter what. And like you said- don’t take anything personally.

    • suzy.suzyheather@gmail.com January 4, 2017, 4:14 pm

      I feel like my feet represent my personhood: worn, rough around the edges, a bit bent out of shape, but willing to walk a thousand miles on their own, and in somebody else’s shoes.

  • Lisa @ Mile by Mile January 4, 2017, 4:59 pm

    This is such a great post and I really hope that it helps other people who are going through something similar! My favorite part was how you wrote about wanting to “fix it”. I think thats so natural, and a trap so many of us fall into when someone we love is struggling with their mental health. Recovery is a process and supporting them is the best thing that can be done.
    I know Ive talked about this before but for my job we teach a class called Mental Health First Aid (teaching the layperson to recognize someone in need of help and how to refer them to appropriate resources). We use examples/videos etc in the course but your writing is just so REAL. It has helped me to make the connection between what we are telling people and what can actually be happening in real life.

    • suzy.suzyheather@gmail.com January 4, 2017, 5:49 pm

      Lisa, that’s a huge compliment, and I appreciate so much that you took the time to type that out; I know you’re a busy person. Seriously, thank you so much. I think of you often, actually, because I know what you do for work, and I know we’d have a lot of similar stories/experiences! And it takes a special kind of person to do the work you do, and I’d bet a basement full of red wine that you’re hardwired as a people-fixer too (which drew you to your line of work) and that your biggest struggle is learning the skills to leave your work at work. Establishing healthy boundaries, where you’re able to compartmentalize what’s going on over *there* from what’s going on over *here.* It’s a holy shit and hallelujah kind of job, and you’re standing in the gap like a fucking champ. xo

  • Una January 4, 2017, 7:11 pm

    This. This this this. A thousand times this.

    I needed to read this. I need other people to read this.

    Can I share this?

    • suzy.suzyheather@gmail.com January 4, 2017, 8:12 pm

      Well yeah! Of course! Thanks Una!

  • Jody May 27, 2017, 6:39 am

    Doing an ugly cry for your releasing words…such authenticity, and vulnerability!! Found you through instagram…I’m up early training for my first ultra (with six kids too). Keep running, and writing…you are REALLY good at both!!

    • suzy.suzyheather@gmail.com May 27, 2017, 9:45 pm

      Jody! Sisterfriend! Thank you for your kind words. Dang, that meant a lot to me. First ultra, eh? And SIX KIDS?!?! Ha ha ha! You KNOW I love it. Atta girl. Keep in touch!

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