Broke open.

May is mental health awareness month in the United States. In Canada, more specifically, the first week of May is mental health awareness week. So it felt appropriate that on the last day of May, I would write this and share it with all of you. The rest of my life began on January 13th, it was a Friday. I was asking him what his intentions were, and even days later I still wasn’t sure I had believed the words coming out of his mouth-because they were exactly what would have come out of mine if I’d been asked the same question. What followed was someone who cared more for me than I did for myself, or that’s how he made me feel. There was very little intimacy in the form of physicality for the first few days because we were engrossed in learning more about each other-as quickly as possible. The deeper, more personal, and complex the questions got, the more connected we felt. He was very open from the beginning about his struggles with mental health, encouraged me to be able to talk about it with anyone I felt comfortable with and that his support system was in place so it wouldn’t be something that would affect very much of our relationship. He had struggled for the last decade with it, in part due to experiences before and during his dream career. I tried my best to understand something I had never been presented with or exposed to before. Within days I knew I was in love, which was such a crazy concept to me. There had to be something wrong, you don’t fall in love that fast, ever. And I’d even thought my previous relationships of months were fast. This was different. I couldn’t describe this properly to anyone, other than I had found it and that was all that mattered. It only took about 4 or 5 days to utter those words…I can still remember looking over at him and hearing him say it-basically laughing because it felt so ridiculous but we both knew it was true. I didn’t think I could feel happiness like this. We had the same lifestyle, all the same interests, the same stoke for life and love. Finally, after 26 years, everything I’d always wanted in life was right here-right in front of me…ready, willing, and able. On the water kayaking for his birthday, I felt crazy flutters when he asked me to marry him, saying he just couldn’t wait any longer. There was no way I could say no and we laughed and smiled until our faces hurt. I felt fulfilled. I felt like I finally had what I really deserved, what everyone kept telling me I deserved, what I had been waiting for all those lonely years. We talked about everything, from grad school to where we wanted to go with our careers, to how many kids we’d have and how we’d raise them. He was my soulmate. Some may find this ridiculous, but we have the exact same lines on our palms. EXACT. It felt like another sign. He was my other half and I’d found it. Never had I found someone with that same zest for life, who was so generous, kind and caring. Unfortunately he’s not always around, and I saw him less and less as time went on. 

It began from the beginning, I learnt months later. The lies upon lies building up a story about the ridiculous crazy ex he had who was doing everything to make his and our lives miserable. It pains me more even now knowing how much strength it took for her to apologize to me, like she had been the one that had done something wrong. She is such a beautiful person. She is a warrior, and I will always admire her for doing what she did for me, it means the world. Break-ins, stealing his stuff, begging for him back, sending people after him verbally and physically. It seemed like each week there was something worse. The lies spanned every aspect of his life and our relationship. It felt ridiculous, I’d never had so much drama in my life. And it made me upset why someone would want to do that to someone else. I was confused, and stressed that someone I cared so much about was having this done to him. It caused me to humiliate myself, say things to my friends and even the ex, trying to defend him and protect us…against nothing but an illness, in reality. There were things here and there that bothered me, and his illness started to surface with the stress of it all after about a month. I opened myself up to him being able to share his thoughts and concerns with me, not knowing shortly thereafter I started to recognize some behaviours that were foreign to me. Eventually it led to me leaving my friends and my home. He faked a black eye after I stood my ground on staying for another week before leaving, as he felt our safety was too at risk. Deep down I knew it was fake at the time, but I had been controlled and manipulated for so long at this point, and without my knowledge…that I couldn’t see past it. The scariest part of being in love is you have to, without fail, give that person the benefit of the doubt. Every. Single. Time. And so I did. I ignored my gut, even when I went to the police station to enquire about the restraining order that had been placed against his ex to find no record of this or of any of the incidents that supposedly happened throughout the winter. The week before we left, we even went into the police station together and talked to a cop about everything that had happened. He’d originally told me not to mention any of the previous misdoings on advice of his lawyer, even though I got so worked up I ended up telling most of it anyways. All those weeks I had felt so powerless, so helpless to all the abuse being done to the person I loved the most. It felt liberating and comforting to finally be able to speak out against all of it to authority. Unbeknownst to me at the time that everything were lies, it only made matters worse that the police officer had been through a similar situation with a jealous ex, and it only validated the accusations even more. 

So I left. I quit my job and left my home, because the person I was going to spend the rest of my life with told me we had to. For all of you, I am sure this comes as a shock. In ways it came as a shock to me, and I was stubborn about it. I don’t just go and let someone govern my life, yet here I was, doing just that out of love. It tore at my insides, the desire to stay and the desire to do whatever I needed to do to make everything go away so he could be happy again…so we could be happy again. I found myself desperate to speak with one of his therapists; I was playing catch up with mental illness and it wasn’t working. As his condition deteriorated, simultaneously with my own that I didn’t realize at the time, I felt more and more helpless. I was now in a place where I knew no one, with no money, no job, relying on my partner to hopefully get us back into sorts after such a stressful winter. 

The next week I started an intensive week-long avalanche course. During that week I endured constant verbal and emotional abuse on the drives to and from Lake Louise. Every day he threatened to leave me stranded in Lake Louise. Everything was always wrong and it was always my fault. I was riddled with anxiety, because no matter how hard I tried, how calm or upset I was…nothing I could ever say or do would be enough. He needed to talk, and talk, and talk, and talk. There was a suicide attempt on day three of my course. He would never stop arguing. I couldn’t sleep because that wasn’t allowed until we worked out whatever disagreement he had decided was relevant at the time. I gave myself to him in ways I would never fathom. I was sexually abused and taken advantage of time and time again in a desperate attempt to calm a severely mentally ill person off their meds. I didn’t know this at the time, but I now know that without my knowledge he could not afford them, and so he spaced them out and eventually was off of them altogether, for the entire month of March. On my birthday he stole my debit card and I ended up paying for everything, including my birthday dinner. I didn’t get a present, not even a card or flowers. We spent the day skiing and picked our wedding location. On the drive home he got so upset at me for not considering the fact that I wouldn’t see him for 4 months, and it was not acceptable. It was not acceptable I didn’t put our relationship above everything else. He stopped the vehicle, got out, and said he was going to walk home and I could figure out what to do on my own. I sat there dumbfounded and crying, questioning myself…wondering if I was too stubborn and independent and wondering if I did need to put our relationship first in a more profound way. Eventually he came back and we drove home. 

The next three days proved to me the worst of my life. I had an impending trip to Vancouver that he was clearly not comfortable with. The arguments ranged from my lack of commitment to the relationship, my lack of respect for him, not knowing how to be in a relationship after being single for so long…to how I got to go and have fun in Vancouver and he had to deal with everything, how I was going to cheat on him while I was gone. The worst was when I confided in a close friend that we were having some problems and I wasn’t sure if I was still coming. The most humiliating and dehumanizing moment was when he watched me call her at his demand and apologize for being out of line and discussing my relationship issues with anyone other than him, because that was inappropriate. I felt like I wasn’t even in my own body anymore. I couldn’t eat. I slept long and restlessly. I lost count of how many times he threatened to take my ring away and call off the engagement. Finally I cancelled the trip to Vancouver, the night before I was supposed to fly out.

The next morning was March 24th, a day that changed my life forever. I was so riddled with anxiety, so upset, so tired and so hungry. I had nothing left. The day began with him angrily telling me I had been kicking and punching him all night in my sleep and refusing to cuddle with him. I went upstairs to make breakfast, to which that meant I was upset about not going to Vancouver and if I had just cuddled him that morning for 10 minutes this whole argument wouldn’t have happened. I began emailing my parents in secret, because he was monitoring my phone so closely I couldn’t have been able to explain everything I needed to explain in time without him doing something about it. So every bathroom break I would write a little more, trying to encompass the last few months and ask my parents if I indeed was the problem in these arguments. If I was too stubborn and independent and wasn’t willing to compromise enough in the relationship. I tried to get him to agree to take some time away from each other for a few hours, so we could come back to the arguing with a better head. I told him I, at least, needed some time to calm down and think clearly. He wouldn’t agree to this. I tried to suggest leaving the house to pick up some packages at the post office and he threatened to end the relationship if I left the property. Once he found out about the email to my parents he was livid, but for once I stood my ground. After speaking with them for awhile and calming down I tried to approach him with several options on how to proceed. He refused to agree. So I had to do the unthinkable. It will always be the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. I called 911. He grabbed the house phone from me. Then he tried to grab my cell phone. He locked the doors. He told me he knew exactly what to say to make the paramedics go away. I felt ashamed when the police officer stood in front of me and told me he was trying to control me. I couldn’t believe I had gotten myself into this situation. 

I ended up packing up my life that afternoon, and leaving the house. I had absolutely no idea who I was or where I was going. I’ve never cried so hard in my life. For weeks afterwards I had panic attacks every morning when I woke up, and I didn’t sleep properly through the night for nearly a month. I lost 15 lbs over this winter, mostly from stress. The family friends I went to stay with noticed how much smaller I was and how different I looked than the happy, healthy person they had met back in the fall. Five days later I was kept up all night with constant phone calls, one eventually at 3 am from the police, back at his home. The next day he left me, and pushed me out. I don’t know what I would have done if my parents hadn’t been there. One of the hardest things was opening up to them and asking for their help. Once I returned home, on my own, I did the only thing left that I could do to get him get the help he needed, and then I tried to let go. The weeks that followed were some of the lowest of my life. I was numb to my feelings and I had no desire to do anything but sit on the couch and watch Netflix. I had hoped returning home I would feel rejuvenated and being surrounded by all my friends I could start to remember who I was. I didn’t. 

Then I had to go tree planting. At first it seemed like it would be good. Tree planting had always fixed all my other problems, and it would give me a reason to get up every day. I started seeing a therapist. I was eating and sleeping properly. The first contract was miserable. And then he came back into my life, more level headed, with the news of treatment and answers to all my questions. I have spent the last month and a half trying to process and deal with my own trauma, so that I would be able to make a decision about how and if he could be involved in my life again. So many days I have collapsed in my land and sobbed. I’ve never cried like this before. It’s not tears falling from my eyes, silently, as I try to hold it in. When I cry my whole body cries. I shake uncontrollably; its hard to breathe, its hard to think about anything else but how much it hurts. I was trying so damn hard. But I’ve been so tired. Emotionally, mentally, physically. Every day to get up and go plant trees has been a struggle. I’ve become a terrible person. I’m mean, miserable…I can’t seem to see anything good. Then on Saturday he had a, word for word, episode from 2 months ago. I hung up when he said he could easily go out and find tons of other girls just like me. I cried. And I cried. And I cried some more. And I told someone in my camp what was going on, because no one really knew. Silently, I’ve been suffering through it all, and no one I live and work with knows. I took Sunday off of work. For the first time in my 27 years, life was just too much to bear. I needed a break. I just needed one day.

Now I look forward. I talk with my therapist. I read all the books she recommends, and then some. Trauma, mental resiliency, overcoming hardships…all the self help books you can name and I’m on it. One common theme among all of them is how people felt after sharing their own experience. And I mean really sharing it. Most of them, by doing just what I am doing, posting it on Facebook. Some may not agree with it, and my family may wonder why I have done this instead of talking to them about it on my own. Please try to understand, how exhausting it is for me to tell this story. Every single time I try to encompass what I have been through and how I feel, its like running an emotional marathon. I have always been uncomfortable talking about my deepest feelings with my family members and close friends. I know this. I am working on it. It is my own fault and for that I am sorry. Through some of these books I’ve been reading I have realized how badly I need to learn how to ask for help. How much I need the support of those around me. Especially the last month when he came back into my life I was embarrassed to go talking to my support system of people who already knew what was happening…because I was afraid I’d be judged for giving him another chance. I have lost my self confidence, it has greatly affected my ability to plant like I know I can. But thank god I didn’t let that happen. I get up and like the god damn stubborn Polak I get out there. I’ve got grad school on the horizon, and if anything gives me hope and purpose its just that. I have always been terrible at asking for help. So this is me, really, asking for help. Because if theres anything I’ve learned about trauma so far, its that there are many people who actually benefit from it-its called post-traumatic growth. I want to be one of those people. I want to be better than I was before. 

I have never walked away from anything in my life, and its taking all that I’m made of to make peace with having to walk away from him. If you know me you know how stubborn I am; I don’t quit. Its excruciating knowing I can’t fix him. He is the most incredible and unbelievably talented person I have ever met. Knowing that I have no control over whether he is able to get healthy himself kills me. He deserves a good life. He deserves to be loved. He deserves everything he has worked so hard for. I know I need to look after myself. I hope that sooner than I can currently imagine that I will love myself again. I don’t know what I would do without all of you. All of my family, friends…I think now about all the amazing people in my life and how lucky I am to have them there. I am sorry for not talking with you. I am sorry for not telling you. I am sorry if I have been hard on you. I am so sorry it makes my insides hurt and I don’t want to be sorry anymore. So this is my story and this is why I will be stronger because of it. Not a day goes by I don’t think about him. Not a day will go by I don’t continue to learn about mental illness. A big part of me sharing my story is to TALK about mental illness. We still don’t talk about it enough. We need to not be so afraid. This morning I had anxiety and pure terror just thinking about writing this and posting it…worried about all the things people might think about it. I hope it makes people talk about how mental illness can hurt so many good people, most importantly the ones that suffer from it. No one deserves that. I want to honour him by trying to raise awareness about mental illness and how badly it can affect those around us, without even knowing. Its a silent killer, and I won’t let it be silent in my life anymore. 

“you should tell people 
how you feel.
you should be open and truthful.
you should get up
every time you fall.
you should fight
for what is important,
by that I mean
all the things that keep you
up at night.
you should believe in every breath
that leaves your body:
you are a walking miracle.
you should laugh a little more,
it looks so fucking good on you.

you should do all these things,
but only when you are ready.

everything will begin,
your world will begin,
but only, when you are ready.” -r.m. drake

I am ready. Thanks for listening. 

Love Erin

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