Author note: This essay is about an invaluable experience I had five years ago.
I wish I wasn’t here. I wish I wasn’t sitting across from him now eating the number four enchilada combination we always order—his chicken; mine cheese. I’m not hungry. In fact I can’t remember the last time I had an appetite.
My body temperature is rising and my eyes seem to be playing tricks on me. Squiggly lines resembling the Predator lurk in my peripheral vision. Greasy cheese and pickled vegetables sting my nose, making me nauseous. Darkness begins to surround me until I can only see him eating. “I need to go home,” I tell him and then I utter the statement that plagued our marriage: “I’m getting a migraine.”
Today is our sixth wedding anniversary—at least it should be. We separated months ago. While we were married, there was no pattern to my migraine occurrences. It wasn’t until we bought our first home that my body decided to scream at me. Not only did the migraine headaches intensify, I started suffering from panic attacks, manic mood swings and loss of appetite. My body had internalized every frustration that I had, every lonely feeling, and every failed discussion with my husband.
Maybe I should have realized the glimpse into my future when we first moved in together. He would spend entire weekends—staying awake for 24 to 36 hours playing video games with his friends. When he did finally come home, he slept. I rationalized this behavior. Telling my friends that the time he was away allowed me time for myself. But into the third year of marriage, the technology had changed and the all night and day gaming sessions moved into our tiny apartment. Sounds of virtual guns would reverberate through the walls. I became antsy and anxious and felt trapped and suffocated, in my own home. I escaped whenever I could—games or no games.
I started race-walking and decided to do the Los Angeles Marathon. Training kept me busy but after awhile he complained that it was taking time away with us. (The games didn’t do that apparently.) So I changed my habits. I woke up in the pre-dawn hours while he slept so I could go to the gym or train for my latest road race. He complained that my nightly preparations took away from him, which didn’t bother me. He insisted that we watch Fear Factor while we ate dinner. When I decided to talk to him about not watching gross things during dinner, gaming taking away from our time or even household chores, such as cleaning the (read: his) cat’s litter box, I always walked away feeling dejected or guilty. He called me a martyr or accused me of only wanting things done my way (honestly, that part could be true).
In these situations, I tried to communicate but the outcome was never a release so the tension got tighter, except that I didn’t realize it. Instead my body blind-sighted me, hoping that if it knocked me down with migraines enough times I eventually see my marriage clearly. After a while, anxiety struck when we were in the same room or when I was returning home. When we were intimate I felt suffocated, like if he didn’t get away from me I would die. I would be gasping for air and panicking, feeling completely helpless and trapped. I wasn’t happy and there was a part of me who knew it. But instead, I thought that the stress of my job had steeped into our home and affected my ability to be intimate.
To the outside world, we showed a happy existence, but to me, it wasn’t one played out in our home. Instead, his forgone airport pick-ups and drop-offs, all-night video-gaming sessions with his best friend, and undiscussed large purchases ruled. For instance, I made it clear that I didn’t want a handgun in our home. I don’t have too many things that I feel really passionate about but on this issue, I do. One day, we were talking and out of the blue he says, “I’m going to buy another gun.” Excuse me. Another gun? Apparently, his parents bought one for him and brought it on one of their visits. They all agreed to not tell me. I felt betrayed. I didn’t feel respected. I was pissed. But, it didn’t matter. Ultimately, he bought another gun because since we already had one, what was another one? Also, as he put it: he made good money and he should spend it how he liked. This was also the phrase he used when he announced that he was putting a down payment on a Mustang Cobra that hadn’t even been produced yet. So what if we were saving for a house and trying to eliminate debt? He wanted it. There was no discussion.
We did save enough money to buy a townhouse in the San Fernando Valley. Within the first month of us living there, I had to go away on business for a week to Las Vegas. I made this trip each year and though I could bring him, I opted not to because my hectic schedule made it difficult to keep him happy and do my job simultaneously. The week was hard—waking up early, going to bed late—and at its conclusion I couldn’t wait to get home. I had this overwhelming yearning to feel secure and safe. I was hoping that I would find this in his arms when I returned home. But I knew that if I didn’t I would need to talk to him.
I returned home. He hugged me. I felt nothing; except that suffocated feeling and wanted to be set free. I don’t remember the next ten minutes. I only remember him asking me if I loved him.
“No,” I replied. As soon as I uttered the word, I wanted to reach out, grab it and stuff it back in my mouth.
And so here I am, five months after the word “no” escaped me, sitting with him in our usual Mexican restaurant being attacked by my body. Having it scream at me that this meeting shouldn’t be happening and that this attempt at reconciliation will not work. And then it dawns on me: I haven’t suffered from a manic episode or a panic attack since I left him.