Carrie's Side of the Story

Last time, I highlighted areas of privilege that put me ahead despite the struggles which got a lot more attention in my writing. This week, I want to expand on just how Carrie's been supporting me this whole time as well as how hard it's been for her. Sometimes we aren't the ones facing the hardships in life, but we have to watch the process of a loved one experiencing it. This post is a dedication to the faithful supporters and partners of those in the shitstorm.

Carrie has her own life, and with it comes its own set of struggles. I'll try and lay out a rough timeline of what she went through over the past few years, linking it to my experiences for context. Like many children, Carrie was born. Then she graduated university in 2010 and started working right away. In May 2013, she started taking prerequisite classes outside of her full-time job in order to prepare for applying to a Masters program in counselling psychology. In January 2014, she was accepted into the school program, and all in that year, I started working at TELUS, she quit her job, we traveled Europe, she entered into the grad program in September, and then she started a new full-time job in October after recovering from burnout over the summer. A lot of changes in a short time, but not entirely unmanageable.

2015 rolled around, and Carrie finished one semester of school, but she was still testing the waters to see how much she could juggle at once. She started a part-time job; this being on top of her full-time job and two grad courses. We partied in Whitefish in February, I started seeing a counsellor in March, we went to Coachella in April, and then in May, Carrie quit her full-time job but continued working her part-time job. She had a break from school in May and June. Then we managed to close the purchasing process by July on the studio we were renting. July and August also made for a really brutal summer semester, with two weeks of mandatory attendance in eight hour classes each day. In September, I published my post about my childhood sexual abuse, and in November, she started a new full-time job, where she is still currently employed. In December, I cut out my family and my uncle passed away. During this year, Life threw us quite a few curveballs, but we rolled with the punches. Our lives began moving in a better direction, but it came at a price. By the end of 2015, Carrie was handling, but barely.

New year. Throughout February, Carrie applied to practicum positions for September, and all the while she added a third course onto her timetable. That was a really fun semester of her working eight hours a day, coming home and working another four to six hours on school. Because I was going through my own stuff, Carrie didn't even mind that I was zoned out on the couch most nights because it meant leaving her alone to do all her writing assignments. This went on for months; neither of us was truly present in our marriage. Spring semester rolled around, where they compressed four months of learning material into six intensive weeks. Except this year, the UofC had Congress, so that meant Carrie's spring semester was compressed into five weeks, not to mention the UofC got hacked and everyone's emails got locked out. Despite being in school May and June, we did some fun things like birthday parties and Sled Island Music Festival (Carrie's favourite). She got a break in July, which we spent hanging out with Carrie's sister and nephew, at the Calgary Stampede, and at the Pemberton Music Festival. I also took Short Term Disability off work mid-month. Lots of big events in half a year, and this is when we both started spiralling out of control. Neither of us was doing well, and neither was our marriage. Carrie was fatigued. She could barely get out of bed for work everyday and would binge sleep on weekends, once for 16 hours.

Then the August Fiasco happened, and we were both completely wiped. Except Carrie still had her summer semester -- another eight hours of class per day for eight days. Her anxiety spiked. She ran off adrenaline everyday, couldn't sleep, couldn't eat, and did school work sometimes for upwards of 16 hours a day. I stayed with her parents for a week to give her room to work. Finishing the semester, she felt completely empty. I didn't get paid for all of August, and Carrie took time off work to go to class. I went to Tofino and Vancouver, and this allowed her some time to recover. September was the start of her practicum, so there was orientation and training all month. Then I quit my job and got surgery because I was living with a hernia. Throughout the year, Carrie showed up to basically everyone's birthday, and then she threw her first big birthday party in a few years. As you can see, Carrie has her own life, which is incredibly full on its own, and then she has to carry me. She was not doing terribly well by September.

Despite her busyness, she still makes time and special effort for me and our marriage. Part of the privilege I have in being married to her is that she's a counsellor. The topics that I encounter in therapy are ones she's familiar with. When I have a session with my counsellor, I'm able to decompress and process with Carrie. But as you can imagine, it's still terribly draining for her, even if she's experienced in counselling work. What if I married someone who didn't know how to handle my PTSD and anxiety? August was the lowest point of my life, but I'm certain I would have collapsed a lot earlier if Carrie hadn't studied as a counsellor. She weathered the storm, pulling my limp and almost lifeless body alongside her.

When someone is drowning and you have to perform a swim rescue, sometimes you're supposed to let them drown first. If they're still conscious when you're trying to bring them back to shore, they'll panic, kicking and flailing, pushing you under as a support until you both go down. Only after they're unconscious are you actually capable of saving them. Once they're back on shore, you can pump the water out of their lungs. Somewhere probably at the beginning of summer, I started drowning. Meanwhile, Carrie is handling her business, but there's only so much she can spare for me. She also started to drown. I think I finally collapsed in August. In actuality, it stretched out for two and half months, but I'm still going to call it the August Fiasco. Alas, imagine the discipline and conviction Carrie displayed during my difficult time. Observing her own needs and capabilities, she had to prioritize school and work even though I was in pain. I did my best to protect and nurture myself and to also provide for her, but she had to carry on with her own life even though she was tempted to fix mine. I think one key to a strong and healthy relationship is when both people take ultimate responsibility for their own lives, and only after that, they support each other on their separate and shared paths. Pretty much our whole relationship, we both knew that I had been sexually abused as a child, but she couldn't push me onto the path of recovery until I was ready and wanted to do it for myself. In the same way this year, Carrie couldn't stop my downward spiral until after I hit rock bottom and picked myself up again.

It's October, and I think we're doing a lot better now. The Fiasco is over, and school is easier. Carrie is in her practicum now, which means fewer writing assignments every week. Her work days are a bit longer, but she says it's easier to work 12 hour days when you mix it up. Her daily routine is to wake up at 5, get to work for 7, go to her practicum for 4, and then come home at 8:30. She still does a lot of the cleaning, laundry, dishes, and managing our finances. We have our evenings back now though, so we can actually hang out again. We can go to the mall for no reason, grab some ice cream, or stay in and watch 30 Rock.

My self-care and self-compassion are better. If I keep consistent with my self-care activities, then setbacks are less likely to knock me down. I got my first EI cheque last week, so that was a breath of fresh air. Four out of seven days this week, I got remarkable productivity squeezed in. Fixed a leaky toilet (long story), lots of car stuff (replacing remote starter, the windshield, oil change and coolant flush), sent some important personal correspondence, followed up on medical appointments, got my flu shot, installed a Wi-Fi repeater for the in-laws, started the transition process for their phone plans, and put in some important time for making my Halloween costume. Recall how not very long ago, all I could really manage was to eat every day. I don't know what was the difference this week, but something clicked in and I finally felt like myself again. Even though I'm still not quite in the clear, I finally have leftover energy again, which I can re-invest into making Carrie's life easier by taking care of the home and myself.

Certainly, I'm not the only support that Carrie leans on. Her girlfriends have been amazing through everything, showing up when she needs them the most. Her school friends. Her Worst Friends. Cheryl. They are invaluable to us.

As I was Pokewalking through my neighbourhood a couple weeks back, the song "Falling Away (Festival Mix)" feat. Lights by Seven Lions started playing and broke my heart, causing it to rain on my face while I was chopping onions.

We have it all / In front of us / And I can't see the / Sun is up to cover us / I'm lifted up / Take me to a beautiful day / And I feel like our / Shadow is falling away / Falling away, falling away

The last line "And I can see our / Shadow is falling away, falling away, falling away" really resonated with me. I really do feel like the shadow hovering above me is falling away. I've written at length about how awful my life has been trending the last few months, but I feel like things took a sharp turn this week specifically. I thought that all this time, I had a problem with containing my problems and emotions, which was true to an extent, but ultimately it came down to finding shelter and waiting out the shitstorm. Things are objectively less awful for me and Carrie right now. The rain is slowing down, but it's not dry out yet. She won't have it as bad now that I'm "back," getting around to chores and errands both large and small. My EI lasts until the end of January 2017, giving us enough runway to return to full strength.

Carrie's side of the story is about sacrifice and perseverance. She helped me, and I helped her. I'm finally starting to feel like myself again, so now I can give back to Carrie who's endured so much with me. So much of my experience has been dependent on Carrie's. As her school and work shifted, so did my life. We made the decision for Carrie to go back to school, and we never could have predicted that my life would explode and that we would have to make a lot of tough decisions. We couldn't have predicted any of what happened these past few years. Things were looking down for quite a while, but I feel like our shadow is falling away.

Jonathan Phan Lê @jon_le