The title may evoke thoughts of both “The Story of O” and the Marquis de Sade, but if you were seeking something titillating, you will not likely find it here.
While there are some rather explicit sexual details, this is my memoir of loving someone who has a mental illness.
It is also about the destructiveness of lying. As I became more aware of Michael’s problems, I became more willing and able to cope with them—except for the lying.
I am Sara and this is the story of my relationship with Michael.
I love Michael. I did not “fall in love” with him, nor am I “in love” with him. I consciously chose to love him. And my love is always unconditional.
I recently read Jessie Close’s Resilience: Two Sisters and a Story of Mental Illness, a memoir about her history of mental illness. Ms. Close was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in her early 40s, after many years of struggling to cope with an often out of control life. She was much later diagnosed with bipolar disorder with psychotic features, as well another undiagnosed disorder.
My late sister Roberta was first diagnosed with multiple personality disorder in her late 30s or early 40s, and much later correctly diagnosed with bipolar disorder. My most simpatico friend, Ann, was also diagnosed with bipolar disorder late in life.
What I gained from reading Resilience is not so much a deeper understanding of what bipolar disorder is or what it is like to live with it, but how difficult it is to diagnose and treat mental illnesses and how prevalent they are.
Ms. Close’s book quotes her sister Glenn’s line in a public service announcement they made together: One in six adults has a mental illness.
I was—and am—flabbergasted by that statistic. The National Institute of Mental Health’s statistic is closer to one in five.
My on and off relationship with Michael that spanned eight years has now ended. Not long after we met, he told me that he had difficulty with interpersonal relationships. He was often in conflict with colleagues and patients at work and was unable to sustain a “significant other “type of relationship. He said that most people think he’s an asshole.
A Jessie Close journal entry: I’ve been known to complicate my life.
When we first met, Michael told me he didn’t want any drama. It took me quite some time to realize that his life is full of self-created drama. He complicates his own life.
But for most of our time together, I chalked what I considered to be his “difficult” behaviors up to him being immature, stuck in adolescence.
It was only in the last year that I realized he is mentally ill.
From Resilience again: One of the symptoms of mania, according to the American Psychiatric Association, is overindulgence in “enjoyable behaviors with high risks of negative outcomes.”
Unstable moods and impulsive actions are symptoms of both borderline personality disorders and bipolar disorder.
What I saw clearly early on was Michael’s inability to communicate openly and honestly and his lack of empathy. I saw that he was moody and unsettled, but not that he was unstable.
Now I see that he is emotionally immature, manipulative, and a pathological liar; he lacks empathy, feels no remorse or guilt, and accepts no responsibility for his actions. He makes poor decisions because he is impulsive. He is pleasure-seeking and sexually promiscuous.
He lies, he cheats, and he put my health—and other women’s—at risk.
He engages in “behaviors with high risks of negative outcomes” in all areas of his life.
Michael is now 70. He was forced into retiring last year after he refused to attend communication training, which his employer, Kaiser, deemed he needed. He was not ready to give up practicing medicine. It is all he is and he feels he is nothing without it. But he was unwilling to do what was required of him to continue working.
He precipitously sold both his home in Oakland—where he had lived for 20+ years and had a sense of being part of the community on his blockand his vacation home in Grass Valley, and moved to Hawaii in 2014, after signing a five year contract with Kaiser.
He is now forced into retirement, and planning a return to Northern California.
I suspect, as Jessie Close was considered a “problem child,” Michael has been throughout his adulthood considered by those closest to him to be a man with “issues.” It took me a long time to realize that he is mentally ill.
There is no doubt in my mind that I could have lived with Michael and all of his problems except for his compulsive lying.
The last time I saw him, he was convinced that he was experiencing the onset of dementia. I had already decided that I could commit myself to standing by him through failing health, including the loss of mental faculties.
Nothing on my part precluded continuing my relationship with Michael other than his lying.
It pervades my memories of him. Occasionally a thought arises that evokes amazingly wonderful feelings in me. I quash those feelings quickly by reminding myself that it was all a sham for him. I was never more than one of his many dalliances. He is always coldly calculating.
This “story” consists of my correspondence with Michael during the latter years of it. Because the earlier exchanges were deleted, I’ll give you a brief history of that time, and will then keep my comments to a minimum.
You will come to know us both intimately through our correspondence. I am hoping that I will come to better understand us both too.