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Three years ago, I wrote a piece called Through the Screen Door. It was written from a hospital bed, during a long admission that seemed to have no end in sight. Hope felt next to non-existent. I didn’t believe that I would ever get better, or be able to build the life with Kathryn that I had imagined.

That post was about picturing kids playing in our backyard, knowing that some day Kathryn and I would be raising those kids together. It was about imagining a time when mental illness wasn’t the driving force in our daily life, and about using all we had learned through my illness to teach little ones to live with hope deep within them.

We had gone to a fertility clinic earlier that year for an initial consult. We had also spent long hours researching and talking about the pros and cons of anonymous vs known donor sperm. We had not set a specific timeline in motion, but we were well on our way to beginning to grow our family. I remember Friday nights spent wondering how much sperm was being tossed away in houses all around us.

I’ve wanted to be a mother since I was little. Probably since I knew that babies came from mommies’ tummies. I was the girl eager to babysit the neighbours’ kids, always volunteering in the nursery at church, enraptured by the pregnant women and babies that seemed to constantly flow through our community. I remember my grade one teacher, who had gone on maternity leave, bringing in her newborn infant for the class to meet and trying to get as close as I could to see the tiny one’s eyes, her lips and fingers. I was the little girl that imagined my wedding and picked out my kids’ names long before a healthy relationship was ever a reality in my life.

So when Kathryn came along and we got married, it seemed logical to start planning for kids almost immediately. I had a new motivation too – I desperately wanted to see her be a mother, and see aspects of her reflected in our children. I was in love with this woman, and couldn’t wait to nurture her through pregnancy and care for a child together. I probably would have agreed to pregnancy on the honeymoon if she was up for it. It’s a good thing she’s more practical about these matters.

But she was on board with planning for kids within a couple years of the wedding. She had never imagined getting married before she met me, and couldn’t imagine herself as a parent until I showed her what I saw in her. She developed a unique bond early in our relationship with my then ten year old niece. As more friends began having children, she too started to catch the baby bug. It was incredible to watch how children were drawn to her very laid-back approach. Even kids deemed timid eventually found their way into her lap.

And when that long year of hospitalizations came in 2014 and interrupted all our plans, it was painful for both of us. When our second niece was born that fall, my heart simultaneously burst and broke each time I watched Kathryn hold her, care for her, play with her and teach her things. I was so amazed (and still am!) at all the potential in her small body, at everything she had learned each time we saw her – to lift her head, or make eye contact, or roll over. The first time she said our names my heart melted.

But it wasn’t our time. I was ill, and getting better was the priority, and although it was the wisest thing to put off pregnancy-planning, it was still painful. So we actively imagined the future in order to build hope, we put the building blocks together piece by piece so that one day, it would be our turn. We bought a onesie and a teether together as a promise to each other that although the time was not yet, it would be.

Those items have been sitting in our cabinet next to my childhood stuffed bear and Kathryn’s stuffed lion for three years now.

And this spring, after a lot of processing with Kathryn and my therapist, we made the decision to let go of that promise. With the recent relapse of my illness came a realization that we may not ever be able to promise each other the stability that raising children would require.

A few people we have talked to have said, “you’re still young, you will change your minds.” Others have assured us that I won’t always struggle this way, that we can and should look forward to long periods of wellness. It’s also true that lots of people parent, and parent well, with mental illness.

There are a lot of reasons why we’ve made this choice, but here’s the key – even if I could guarantee five years or ten years of stability, the chances that at some point a deep struggle with suicidal ideation will re-emerge seems very likely. I’ve been dealing with suicidal thinking since middle school. And it seems that every time I finally begin to say I am free of the torment, it comes rushing back in to defeat me. I am not willing to put a child in a position where suicide is introduced to them as a way to cope or escape. It’s so fucking hard to reroute that neural pathway. And the stakes are way too high.

In some ways Kathryn has had an easier time accepting this new reality. Of course she has grieved through this process as well. But her world didn’t shatter the way mine initially did. It’s possible that part of the reason is because she had begun to question our plans earlier than I had. She says that her only desire is to have a fulfilling life with me, and that she’s spent a lot less time defining what that means to her. She also didn’t spend her teenage years imagining nursery colours or reading parenting books.

The message of a woman’s role as mother has bombarded me daily through this entire emotional process. The movies we watch, commercials on television, comments from others, and our own damn hormones all seem to reinforce motherhood as the ultimate definition and purpose of womanhood. I weep with all of you who have been accosted and accused by these messages. You aren’t alone in your grief, for whatever your reasons. We’re learning to sit with it too.

I don’t expect others to fully understand our decision. It’s true that things may change in the future, this isn’t written in stone. For now, for us, we decided we had to get to a point where we were okay with not being mothers, that our lives would not be defined by that role. And accepting that has been its own step toward hope. We’ve had to reimagine our future together. We’ve had to take apart all those pieces in order to find out what we have left to rebuild a new life.

My sweet wife carries scars that are not hers. When the monster of mental illness grows strong within me, all too often Kathryn becomes its target. When I can barely keep myself alive, the monster feeds on her to destroy us both.

And still, she is here. Firmly by my side as the monster rages and whispers and crawls inside my skin. For the life of me I don’t understand why she stays. Her stated reason, “because I love you,” sounds like a foreign language, an echo I remember was once native to my own tongue.

She could wake from this nightmare, break free and leave the monster and me to live or die alone. But she stays, endlessly spinning the monster’s battles into a dance, a painful turning, full of the fear of losing me to the monster, the guilt of not always knowing the steps, and the worry that she’ll say or do something to make the monster hungry again.

The dance is slow, dizzying and lurching, our feet falling from under us. But she keeps dancing, pulls me into her, gathering my ragged emotions to her chest, my restless hands to her hips, my screaming and racing mind to her neck.

And for a few moments I forget to fear the monster. I forget the terror to flee and find instead the safety of embrace. A soft rhythm moves from her hips through my bones and together we sway like the river grasses against the coming storm’s wind. And maybe, for a fleeting second, I remember the distant call of playfulness, of silly laughter and simple gratitude and quiet peace. And I remember to breathe.

I remember to believe. With two hearts and eight limbs, our insightful minds, and abounding love, we will keep dancing through the panic till our blistered feet, aching bodies, and pounding skulls carry us away from the monster’s reach to a place where we can rest tangled in each other’s skin, waiting to learn whatever music comes to us next.

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Painting by Karis Kazuko Taylor

*”Dancing through the panic” is a reference to Leonard Cohen’s song Dance Me to the End of Love.

 

Tonight, she is the moon.
She is the light on my horizon.
She loves with her whole soul and reminds me to breathe.
I am more wholly me because of her love.

Tonight, she is depth.
She is the northern lights.
She finds beauty in pain and hopes with abandon.
This love persists beyond fear.

Tonight, she carries flowers.
She is early signs of spring.
She warms my heart with her touch and steals my breath with her smile.
Home is wherever I’m with her.

We live these sacred moments.
Whatever happens, this is.

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I’m not an American.

Same sex marriage has been legal, nationwide, in my country for close to ten years.

My wife and I have been married for nearly three years, and are surrounded by friends and family that love and support us.

But today’s landmark decision by the United States Supreme Court fills me with joy and hope and even tears.

(Why am I not in a crowded pub celebrating right now? Oh right, it’s not even 11am.)

How do I tell you about the hope and fear that swirled within me as I awaited news of this historic day?

How do I show you the surge of gratitude I feel, knowing I celebrate my marriage every day even though I did not fight for it?

How do I explain to you the pounding in my chest when the words “The Fourteenth Amendment requires a State to license a marriage between two people of the same sex” first appeared on my screen?

How do I describe the restlessness that rushes through me as I sit alone in my living room, unable to share this elation with anyone?

A few months ago, Kathryn and I stumbled across a pro-gay wedding celebration card in Home Outfitters, with two grooms on the front. We smiled, then our eyes watered, then she kissed my hand. We celebrated because we live somewhere where being gay doesn’t have to be a secret. And we lamented for those who do not.

Today represents a shift that has been long and slow and built on the back of suffering caused by hatred and fear and ignorance. Today represents the swell of people – families and religious leaders and friends and politicians – who are telling their gay loved ones “you are no different.” There is no reason to feel shame, to feel secretive. Companies were tripping over each other to show their support on social media as the news of the Supreme Court’s decision rolled out. Because of today, it won’t be so surprising to find a pro-gay wedding card amidst a sea of brides with their grooms.

Today I watched a promotional video in which a man who is about to marry his spouse said through tears “I remember [thinking] why me? What will I do? Will anyone love me? I’ll never get married.”  The video brought me to tears because I once felt this too. Before I met Kathryn, I remember thinking “Okay, so I’m gay. I guess that means I’ll be alone for the rest of my life.” I didn’t know anyone who had married a same sex partner, I had barely seen gay relationships portrayed in the media. Now, for a kid who is ten or twenty or even fifty years old, coming to realize he or she is gay, there is a torrential river of media that says “Yes, you can find love. Yes, you can get married. Yes, you can have a family.”

I can’t just sit here and do nothing as this moment passes. I feel an inner pulling to mark this moment, to set a ceremonial cairn in this place, to light a candle.

Yes, I will light a candle, “to tell everyone,” as the poet Ben Okri wrote, “that history, though unjust, can yield wiser outcomes, and out of bloodiness can come love, that the future is yet unmade.”

Yes, I will light a candle.

I will remember the pain of all the people, whose names I will never know, who stood up for love at great cost so that it would be easier for me to stand here today.

I will remember the courage and honesty of four individuals, Kristen, Jay, Lorena, and Dan, whose own coming out stories directly influenced mine, and I will strive to live as courageously and honestly as I can.

I will envision a world where every beautiful person has the right to marry the one they love, and can share that love without fear.

And I will make room for love in my own heart where fear, ignorance, and even hatred, toward those who are different than me still lingers in dark corners.

“It gets better” has become an anthem against the oppression and marginalization of people based on their sexuality or gender identity. But it does not just get better. We make it better. We make it great.

There is a little more room for love in the world today.

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“So you’re the Spiritual Care Guy, right? The one with the answers?” “Yeah…” he says with a grin. He knows by now that conversations with me aren’t often easy. “So where is God in all of this?” I ask. His grin disappears, and as tears fill my eyes, he responds, “My honest answer? I don’t know.”

We meet about once per week to talk about life here in the hospital. This is our hardest conversation yet. I have to fight to keep from ugly crying. “I overdosed a few days ago,” I tell him, though he probably already knows. I had a chance to spend a few days relaxing at a cottage – swimming, playing games, enjoying good food – and I threw it away. One minute the pills were in the bottle, the next minute they were in my stomach. It only took about twenty minutes for the sedating effects to kick in. The next thirty-six hours are a blurry haze.

“Do you remember our conversation from last week?” the Spiritual Care Guy asks. I draw a blank. He reminds me how we talked about self-sabotage and the impulse to self-destruct. I laugh at this twisted predictor of the events that occurred mere days ago. But the laughter doesn’t last. With tears running down my cheeks, I beg him for an answer to my need. I need to understand why I am so hell-bent on self-destruction, why 99% of the time I can be focused on healing and growth, fostering peace and resiliency; and the other 1% of the time, I throw it all aside.

His tactic tends to be asking questions rather than answering them and he asks me, “what gives you hope?” I stay quiet, waiting for an answer to surface. The only one that comes is love. Wild love. Untamed, organic, unabashed, illogical love. Love for my niece (and the one on the way!), my parents, my brothers and their wives, my dear friends and of course, Kathryn. Love for her, above all else.

And yet she is the one most hurt when I am emotionally dysregulated. “I WISH I HAD NEVER MET YOU!” I screamed this at her, turning my anger outward. I was angry that she wasn’t with me, that she wasn’t meeting my current need. Mostly, I was angry that she was at the cottage and I was stuck at the hospital. How is this love? How is this the way I choose to treat the woman I say I’d give my life for? In what reality do I think these words are okay?

The answer is that they are not ever okay. She deserves the best of what I have to offer. And now my instinct is to turn this anger inward, berate myself for the way I behave. “She deserves better,” I say. “She’d be better off without me.” I try to assess what I bring to the relationship and all I come up with is pain. But this too is an unhealthy road and does not lead to me loving her well.

I tell Spiritual Care Guy all of this, and he tells me about addiction and how those who are addicts must admit they have lost control in order to begin regaining it. It’s this way with mental illness too, really any type of illness. I must admit the areas of my life that I have lost to mental illness in order to begin rebuilding them. And I must acknowledge my strengths, the places in my life where my illness has not beaten me.

It’s a great mystery – love. The love Kathryn has for me. My parents’ unending support. The love of Immanuel. Love is where God is in all of this. I will never understand these gifts, but I can choose to cherish them and in each new moment, offer love in return.

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