Love and Mental Illness
By Sarah Schiro
To My Husband,
Remember the night I first managed to come clean about my fear of being unlovable?
Our wedding was just days away. Every night we’d go on long walks, holding hands, praying about our future together, and baring our souls to each other, but that night the joy and hope that normally filled our conversations was replaced by my palpable anxiety,
“Sarah can you tell me what you are so afraid of?” you asked with compassion in your eyes.
I pulled my hand out of yours and hugged my scarred arms tight to my chest as I acknowledged in barely a whisper, “I am afraid I am too broken to be a good wife.”
My whole body convulsed then with the shame of my confession. More than anything I wanted to be enough, to be worthy of your love. Throughout the course of our engagement you had reassured me time and again that I was lovable and beautiful, but I couldn’t believe you. My mind was filled with images of all my secret broken places, each evidence testifying of my unworthiness.
Only I knew the depth of the darkness that I experienced when I was depressed. I alone was intimately acquainted with all the desperate and self-destructive choices that I had made in my struggle to live with mental illness. I had so much bad history, and even though I shared with you pieces of my story I knew it was one thing to hear about anxiety and another thing to live with someone who has an anxiety disorder. So despite your reassurances when I asked myself, “If he really knew me would he love me?” my answer was “no, you don’t even love yourself.”
We stopped walking then and you had me sit beside you on the curb
“I am afraid,” I continued quietly, “that if you marry me we will never have children. What if the eating disorder that I struggled with in the past has caused infertility?” I shuddered, “I really think I may never be able to have children.”
Do you remember what you said?
“Sarah,” you said, tears running down both of our faces, “Infertility could never change the way I feel about you. Where you see yourself as weak and contemptable, I see a woman who has had the strength to overcome adversity. Where you see your scars as ugly, I how courageously transparent you are with the journey you have been on. That is beautiful to me.”
That moment changed the way I looked at myself, as person who lives with depression and anxiety. Your unwavering support in that moment gave me the courage to walk down the aisle and see our hearts and futures inseparably bound together. I am grateful every day that I did.
As the years go by in our marriage you have proven my fear that “if he really knew me he would not love me” false. Thank you.
Thank you for proudly standing beside me on our wedding day when I wore the dress that did not even try to conceal my scars. You made feel so beautiful.
Thank you for coming with me to my therapy appointments when as a newlywed I found myself facing old fears in the new light of our marriage. You didn’t sign up for that, but you never complained you.
Thank you for those times early on in our marriage when you wrapped your arms around me as I sat on the bathroom floor in our basement apartment rocking myself because how deeply brokenness from my childhood still haunted me. Just having you there healed my heart in ways I cannot explain.
Thank you for praying with me a thousand times that God would give us child. You knew more than anyone else how broken hearted I was month and month and you just loved me through it. You were my rock, never once blaming me for the years of waiting.
Thank you for your kindness to me on the days when exhaustion and anxiety keeps me at home because I am too afraid of what people think— And thank you for always reminding me of the truth, “You don’t have to be perfect Sarah. People love you for who you are. You are a good person.”
Thank you for being sensitive to the day to day struggle that is living in recovery from an eating disorder. You have helped me see my scarred body, my pregnant body, my post-baby body as beautiful; and whenever we witness body-shaming in our culture you are always quick to preemptively remind me that I never need to change a thing about the way I look to make you love me.
This love you show me every day, despite the real ways in which my struggle with depression and anxiety affects you, has helped me learn to love myself completely. You have helped to understand the power of my perspective, my story, and my voice.
You and me. Us. It isn’t easy. We both bring our own set of challenges to the relationship, but somehow they are what has made are love stronger. It is in the difficult times that love is seen most clearly and I know without a shadow of a doubt that you love me exactly as I am.
I love you exactly as you are too.
And more every day.