I’m writing a memoir called Daniel Undone, in which I tell the story of my mental undoing. I want to understand how it happened. At what point did I truly lose control and was there a point at which I was simply being a bad person. It’s not so simple to distinguish.
I made choices along the way. I do not doubt that. But based on what? I believed that my marriage was coming to an end. I believed that my wife was a bad partner. That she was controlling, manipulative, frigid, and unappreciative. I believed that she was standing in the way of my grand dreams. I believed that she did not love me. I even convinced a marriage counselor of it. I thought that I had no choice but to seek love elsewhere. I thought she deserved it.
When she found out I was cheating, not with one woman, but with six, I left her. But she did not kick me out. In fact, she wanted, even then, to work it out. I couldn’t for the life of me understand why. When the episode ended and I began treatment, all of those perceived problems went away. She was not what was wrong with our marriage; my illness was.
I was caught up in a delusion which was built piece by piece over the course of several years and became intensified with anti-depressants. Many people build delusions about their spouses. That doesn’t require a mental illness. That’s what marriage counseling is for; to help couples see the truth about themselves and their spouses.
But this seems different to me. The delusion ended very abruptly. I could see that my wife had been hurting. That what I perceived to be controlling was her desperation in living with a man who was out of control. And yet she loved me through it all; clinging to her vows. Clinging to hope that we could somehow work it out.
And so, was I in control? In the end, I wasn’t. I pleaded with a minister to pray for me to be able to be faithful. I believed that I was incapable of it at the end. I would have paid my life’s savings not to do it again. So, yes and no. If all of those things I believed about my wife were true, I still did not have to cheat or fight or drink at least not until the end. I could have tried to worked things out. I could have tried counseling for real. I could have divorced her. I chose to cheat. But I chose to cheat under the influence of a bipolar delusion.
It’s a fine line between illness and excuses. My wife took me back on the condition that I stick to my treat, never even look at another woman, and treat her well. I agreed and I’ve done my best. We are happy. But what if I don’t have bipolar? What if I just want to stay married and I’ll do anything to do that. What if I’m simply looking for a way to get off the hook?
I’m sure people wonder that. Maybe she does. But I know that it’s not true. I know what happens when I miss meds. I know what happens when my disorder progresses as it is now. I’m not normal. I’m not myself when I’m unmedicated. I am aggressive. I am a cheater. I am impulsive. I am mean. I am delusional. That’s not me. That is my illness.