“My dreams were shattered”…REALLY???

philadelphia 1

By Kenneth Justice

~ This past weekend I was in Philadelphia sitting at a cool little coffee house called Caffeination. I was taking a short break in-between meeting with readers and fellow bloggers when the woman near me asked if I could plug the cord of her laptop into the outlet next to me and we ended up talking.

The tall, late 30ish woman asked me what I was doing in Philadelphia and when I gave her the details of my Drinking in the Culture Tour her eyes lit up,

“You’re looking for stories? Then let me tell you my story and how all my dreams have literally been destroyed” she said

Apparently, the woman grew up in a somewhat religious household and married at a young age to one of her fellow parishioners, a childhood sweetheart of sorts. They soon had a little family going of two children. Her husband was the primary caretaker of the children and only worked part time as a carpenter because she was enjoying so much success in her career.

Everything was going really well and I used to often think to myself that we were totally living the American dream” she said

According to the woman it was around the fifth or sixth year of marriage that things began to go haywire,

I noticed things about my husband that just didn’t sit right with me. Nervous ticks that he had, things he would say or not say. It wasn’t enough for me to put my finger on anything specific, and it’s only in retrospect that I’m now even able to see what was going on” she said

Her husband it turns out was diagnosed as manic depressive and slightly schizophrenic, “By the 8th year of marriage our relationship was literally non-existent. Ever year he became worse and worse emotionally and mentally till I couldn’t take it anymore” she said

Thankfully there was no abuse, “He never hit me or intentionally harmed our children. But because of his mental state I couldn’t really trust him anymore. He became just so damn irresponsible and I could spend hours telling you of all the times where he put our children at risk

Eventually she was forced to separate, yet because of her husband’s mental problems she felt responsible for taking care of him, “What was I supposed to do? Kick him out and have him live on the street? He got to the point where he could barely show up to work on time” she said

Obviously there is more to the story and the woman admitted as much, “It feels good to tell a stranger” she said, “But even in this there are a lot of private things that still hurt too much for me to tell you

The woman is now raising three children all on her own and still giving money to the husband so he can stay afloat, “If I used to be living the American dream, now I’m living the American nightmare” she said, “I’m working a full time job, raising my kids, giving money to the psycho-man from hell, and most of the time I cry myself to sleep at night. I don’t trust men anymore, how can I? How can I take the chance of opening up to someone after my entire life turned to s**t because of one person? My children aren’t able to completely understand what is wrong with their father, and so they still love him. Some days I feel like it would be better if he got cancer and just died. And after five years of being separated, I feel just as heart-wrenched as I did in year one” she said

It’s difficult when I have conversations like this because all I want to do is come up with solutions. What about psychosomatic drugs? What about intensive therapy? What about your parents and siblings helping you? But it’s not my place to start a therapy session in the middle of a coffee shop with a stranger, and besides; I’m sure the woman has thought through many different solutions to her problems.

It’s April and I’ve now completed coffee house stops in Atlanta, Chicago, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. This weekend I’ll be in Madison, Wisconsin. As I take a moment to reflect on the past four weeks, I’m realizing that there are so many different emotions people are going through in this world. On Saturday I went from hearing this tear drenched story from the mother of three, to hearing the incredible joy-filled story of Rebecca the missionary from India I wrote about yesterday.

For myself, this has already been quite an emotional roller-coaster. The people I’ve met and the conversations we’ve had have challenged me to rethink a lot of things in my own life. I’m having a difficult time understanding all that I am feeling and thinking at the moment.

I wish every story I write could be warm and fuzzy. Unfortunately, the world we live in is filled with both joy and tragedy, and learning how to navigate these varied emotions is perhaps the secret to long-term maturation.

Just a few thoughts as I sipped my coffee this morning,


Categories: Culture & Society

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79 replies

  1. I understand this poor woman’s history because I lived it, too, though not with THREE children (but full-blown bipolar with trimmings and no meds because he wouldn’t take them). I lost my career over it, and there WAS abuse. But just when I thought I was ready to spend the rest of my life alone and in fear, I met Papabear, who became my son’s real, best father and my own Protector, Provider, Leader and Teacher. It is from this perspective that I continue to insist that it is NEVER too late to live happily ever after. I hope she reads this.

  2. Life is like a heart beat chart.
    It gets tough in marriage cuz we promise: in sickness and health…till death…. apart. Nowadays don’t see many happy ever after ending 😦

  3. Life is life. Uplifting as well as sad. And what I relish in this encounter is one sentence: “I’m sure the woman has thought through many different solutions to her problems.”
    Listening rather than fixing. Supporting rather than intruding. Respecting jurisdiction. That takes honest connection and hearing. Another characteristic in short supply.

  4. ” I don’t trust men anymore, how can I? How can I take the chance of opening up to someone after my entire life turned to s**t because of one person?”

    It may be still too soon to start another relationship with a busy life and 3 children, but one day this woman has to take responsibility for her negative outlook. She has to acknowledge that you don’t ‘stop eating because you had food poisoning once and landed up in a serious condition at the local hospital.”

    Sometimes one finds it’s safer to start with small bites and then move on to generous serves of the good things in life much further down the track.

    How about a coffee with a male friend or colleague, then move on to a date? Meeting a male at a pre-arranged public place is surely a good start and not too intimidating. Or chatting to someone in a place where you have similar interests.

    Instead of looking for a male partner/lover/husband, how about just being a good friend to an unattached male.

    Well,……..it does happen that men can be good friends. Errrr……..even I had one once. Actually he was a work colleague and we had some great chats over a drink or a coffee (back in the days when I drank alcohol and coffee).

    • “how about just being a good friend to an unattached male”

      I really like that Vicki…. what a great place to start. Just being friends with someone and not having the pressure of being in a relationship

    • Ha, Kenneth highlighted the point I was going to highlight…friends. Vicki, you just keep doing what you are doing…take pictures, enjoy life and find that inner happiness that is you…if friends develop along the way, fantastic…but sometimes is okay to be with just you. My experience has been that when you least are looking, things come your way.

  5. Amazing post! People never want to talk about mental illnesses, thank you for posting about this woman’s horrible experience. I think experiences like this are more common than people think. My family has a history of bi-polar disordered women… so I’m like on the look out for any psycho signs, and so is my husband lol… luckily, I’ve seen how it can play out in your life and your children’s life, so knowing that makes me ever the more careful and aware. Knowledge is power. The more people don’t talk about things like this, the more people just don’t know what to do when they’re faced with it.

    • Mental illness is something that draws a lot of emotions from people….I think its why there is such a diverse range of opinions in the comments today .

  6. How can I take the chance of opening up to someone after my entire life turned to s**t because of one person? And yet this woman opened up a fair bit to you Kenneth despite not trusting men.
    OK, I feel sorry for this woman, it’s difficult living with someone who has an illness like that. But the man is ill. It’s not like he wants to be ill, or like the psycho man from hell as she describes him.
    There must have been good years for them and that’s probably best shown in the fact the kids still love their father. Manic depressives are not like that all the time either, they have some highs. It may have been difficult for her but she doesn’t seem to recognise it’s difficult for him too. I’d feel more sympathy for her if she showed a little more kindness towards him, after all this was not an abusive relationship, just the break-up of a marriage when one partner became ill..
    She can go on and find another relationship , after all, not all men are like her ex-husband. It’s going to be much more difficult for him though. I can’t understand how she considers he broke her trust by becoming ill and won’t trust any man in case they do the same. What are the chances?

    • “its going to be much more difficult for him though”

      David, your totally right.

    • David, you have an excellent point.

      Normal, healthy people don’t understand that no one wants to be ill or have chronic mental or physical health problems. It’s difficult (and who wants their life to be difficult). People want happiness and a good life.

      If this woman considers her ex broke her trust by becoming ill, then there’s obviously more to this story that on the surface of this blog. It’s not illness that breaks up relationships. Its the inability to deal with the ongoing effects and changes to a person (that breaks up a relationship).

      Marriage vows of ‘for better or worse, in sickness and in health’ are meaningless, in general, these days.

  7. When I hear a story like this one I remember to tell all the women I know to not be in a hurry to marry and have children. There is so much that you have to learn about a man that you wish to have children with. His health problems may have seemed to have gotten worse over time. I say that people who are lonely or move too fast in relationships are not seeing the person clearly. It may not be a fuzzy story, but it is one too common in romantic relationships.

    • Thank you Ellen, great comments.

      And you right; loneliness is indeed probably one of the things connected to people moving to fast into a relationship

  8. What a difficult and sad story.

  9. Kenneth:

    I really enjoy the stories from your tour. I am hoping that we can connect this Saturday in Madison.


  10. I understand the man’s perspective and seriously wonder if this woman is telling the full story or only what makes her appear a hero and sympathetic to others. Sometimes i feel people use others illnesses to make themselves look better .

  11. The judgmental tone of some of these replies is disturbing. If you haven’t lived this way, torturing yourself because you can’t work out the difference between this and something like diabetes, you shouldn’t be judging her.

  12. This makes me sad. I imagine this was a hard one to write.

  13. Mental illness is such a complex subject. Also, I wonder what you thought when she claimed she couldn’t open up to anyone as she was standing there talking to you. It never ceases to amaze me how people just turn to you and start talking.

    • I think ultimately, people feel very bottled up in our culture and want to connect with others. Not everyone is going through extremely serious issues…. but we are all thinking about things that we want to talk to others about :0)

  14. I’m not being judgemental I’m just saying actions speak louder than words. What we know from the story is that she sat down with a complete stranger, a man she claimed she couldnt trust and unloaded alot of details about another person’s personal life and struggles that really wasnt her business revealing to strangers . She’s not as good a person as she appears if she is a malicious gossip and reputation ruiner.

    • JS, maybe sometimes its easier to talk to a stranger than to talk to people close to us?

    • I don’t think I’d call her story malicious gossip, JS.

      There’s always a story (behind a story). And while we will never know the ex husband’s point of view, I think it’s far too simplistic to condemn this woman because she opened up to a stranger.

      Kenneth is a counsellor and trained to deal with difficult situations and emotions. I daresay he is ‘the type’ that encourages people to talk about themselves. I think we all tell strangers things we might not share with families and friends. Rightly or Wrongly, this woman has every right to share her problems with whoever she chooses. It’s her life, not ours.

      We all want to ‘be heard’

  15. Something I have really learned from listening to people share their heart break is that we tend to create most of our own misery. Nobody likes to hear that but it is as true of me as it is of anyone else. In fact, I can take it to a whole new level and actually dream up problems that don’t even exist yet. It’s lovely that you listened to that woman’s story without trying to fix it. That’s hard to do, but that is how you “fix it.” In the telling of the tale, to a stranger in a coffee shop, she may well hear her own words and find the answer hidden in them.

  16. Honestly, *she* sounds kind of like an icky person. She’s not going to trust men because of what he did??? I find it pretty unlikely that he went out and caught himself a fun case of the mental illness just to spite her. Would cancer or MS or any “physical” diseases have left her with mistrust?

    But what really got me was this: “My children aren’t able to completely understand what is wrong with their father, and so they still love him.”

    Is she honestly suggesting that these children should *not* love their father because he is mentally ill??? Or that they won’t love him once they understand that he has medical problems? I don’t know…her story left me thinking she’s not a very nice person and her ex-husband could probably really use some kindness.

    • You make a lot of good points…..i’m simply not educated enough to agree or disagree. Ultimately,i think people with mental illness effects everyone and the people around them differnetly

  17. Love that you were there for her. It’s not a matter of anything else except she needed someone to talk to and you were her blessing that day! If you decide to hit more than just Austin when you come to Texas, let me know!

    • I’m am working feverishly to complete the final travel agenda for Seattle, Texas, san Diego,san Francisco and beyond….I’ve been sick off and on for the past two weeks so things are going slow 😦 thanks for the encouraging comments Kate 🙂

  18. We can not have one with out another. So as happiness shows on our faces the tears may fall in our hearts.
    But even worse is that one man can ruin a life of many. and for many.

    I am sure she does not ask for help as she does not trust. but it is up us t step without thinking of gain. to just help.
    If we can help people without thinking or wanting to gain something from it, we might just be able to truly help those around us struggling.

    heartbreaking story. but again it is part of our life. it is how we deal with that makes us unique.

  19. While this story is disturbing and this woman’s story is sad indeed… ENABLING is an even sadder thing. We choose how we are treated in life. We set boundaries, we make choices, we manifest energy. This story is way DEEPER than can possibly be apparent here. I wish the woman goodness and some enlightenment. But nothing will change until SHE DOES.

  20. Your ending summarizes what life is about. A mix of elated and tragic moments. This is a disturbing story. I have also met people who stuck to their loved ones despite mental issues (as long as there is no danger of course) and helped them to seek help. Sometimes with success, sometimes not. Hard to decide for someone else, of course, what’s best, especially when children are involved. Again, love your coffee stops.

  21. “You’re looking for stories? Then let me tell you my story and how all my dreams have literally been destroyed” Great opening quote. Your travels might make a great one person show, if you are of the Theatrical bent.

    • A one person show lol! yea I don’t know if my voice could handle that much talking! I’m better at listening 🙂

    • I’m guessing that maybe some readers here might be willing to take on such an endeavor… maybe Kenneth here could serve as a director or producer.

      Any good entertainment projects require more than one person to be involved, at some point, if you know what I mean.

  22. It is good to talk and listen. People really suffer and what they articulate may be a fraction of what they go through or worse than what they go through but people need to communicate.

  23. Hmmm. I feel like there is more to this story than meets the eye…of course you may have intentionally left out details (as you mentioned she did as well).

    I just feel like this is another story of how people do not know how to deal with mental illness. As a person with bipolar disorder, her attitude honestly offends me. (Most) people who have mental illness do not want to have it…it is not a choice. Perhaps he refused medication and treatment, so I can understand being upset from that standpoint, but what if he is doing much better now and she remains bitter? And shouldn’t she feel fortunate to have a full-time job and children? I wasn’t there, so I am probably being too hard on her, but I tend to think it is not nearly as bad as it sounds.

    I cannot imagine the turmoil of having children while experiencing mental illness – she mentioned her children were put in danger numerous times – but hopefully the father is now stable and on medication…that is my prayer. I also pray that she and her children continue to love him regardless. It was love and support from my family and friends that got me to come to terms with my illness and finally become stable, not a negative attitude.

    • Kylie, you know me well enough I think to know that I DEFINITELY left out details….. in my quest for preserving people’s anonymity when they share me ‘tough’ stories, I always change things up in order to protect them.

      And I’m with you; the turmoil surrounding being a parent, mental illness, children…. well, its a massive issue that only people involved can truly understand 🙂

    • Understood. Guess I shouldn’t be so hard on her knowing that I only know bits and pieces of her story. 🙂 and yeah, children being involved in the ups and downs of mental illness is something I have never thought about…scary!

  24. This is a tough one. We deal with this differently in India

  25. “I wish every story I write could be warm and fuzzy. Unfortunately, the world we live in is filled with both joy and tragedy, and learning how to navigate these varied emotions is perhaps the secret to long-term maturation.” Beautifully stated, Kenneth. One of my sisters was diagnosed with schizophrenia at 16 years-old. She is doing extremely well at the moment. She is my hero as she has crawled up from the depth of psychoses many times. I marvel at her strength of character. No, life is not all warm and fuzzy. It’s truly a mixed bag. Most people have a story that will break your heart and one that will make you laugh your socks off!

    • Cate, wow, that kind of stuff is just so difficult to wade through…..I’m so impressed with you calling her your ‘hero’…absolutely beautiful 🙂

  26. Mental illness is such a hard thing. It’s easy to forget that the one with the illness isn’t exactly having the time of their lives (despite the many jokes about enjoying mental illness). That said – it can be very difficult to be the one to support one who has those struggles. It simply messes with you and the negative energy can suck you in; it’s difficult (or so I imagine anyway). I agree with many of the commenters here – you handled it well by just listening. It’s hard to not want to provide some advice or tips (I know that’s what I tend to really want to do because I’m a fixer – I want to fix things for people but that rarely actually helps). I also very much agree that our world is so much yin and yang; ups and downs; positive and negative. It would indeed be nice for everything to be warm and fuzzy but if we went all negative or all positive that fine balance would be lost and who knows how it’d all play out. I do always wish the best for all the folks you encounter in your travels. 🙂 They sound like some pretty amazing people.

    • everything you said is right on Jen….. mental illness is an issue I know that I need to bite my lip, because how each of us respond to it may be very different .

  27. Awesome insight and sharing of the Human Condition. Keep on getting those stories.

  28. Well that was a tough one for sure. I am glad you let her speak and not get into therapy that is my tendency as well. It is difficult. Keep up the tour it is enjoyable to follow.

  29. Wow, what a heavy story. Sometimes people just want to be able to tell their story. In Portuguese there’s an expression “desabafar”. It kind of means ‘unload’. Women are like that. Good thing you didn’t try to ‘give solutions’. Women oftentimes just need to unload. And when someone tries to give a solution, they can get emotional and feel as if there’s no hope. Believe me, I’m talking from experience.

    • Staci, I LOVE that “unload”….desabafar……its exactly how I feel at times when I am sitting with people; that they merely need to desabafar

    • Interesante. Because Spanish and Portuguese are still pretty close linguistically in their vulgate Latin roots, I wanted to see what the Spanish word was (because I’m still learning that language). Apparently the equivalent is deshogarse… haven’t figured out a more literal translation but “hogar” refers to hearth and home.

    • Hey Jaklumen. Yea, I studied spanish before Portuguese. Then when I found out I was moving to Brazil I learned Portuguese. I’m fluent in Portuguese, and speak decent Spanish, although I’m not fluent. I guess you can say I speak Portañol 🙂
      “desabafar” literally means, “to relieve”. In Brazil we always use it in the sense of “unloading”, such as you see in my comment. Like, “to let go of”. So in this case, I can see why they use ‘desabafar’ as a way to express ‘to unload’.

  30. “learning how to navigate these varied emotions is perhaps the secret to long-term maturation” Yes, I think you hit the nail on the head with this one.

    What makes one person think their life is shattered with tragedy and another see the opportunity for compassion and growth I wonder?

  31. I have a friend who went through something very similar. I still don’t know the whole story because he had been separated for a year or so when I met him. The woman he married had mental issues as well. I don’t think either of them knew until after they were married. Now, they are officially divorced. I don’t think he has anything to do with her anymore. I’ve never thought of it before, but I believe certain mental issues, like schizophrenia, don’t start to show until the early 20s. That might be a pretty solid argument for waiting until you are a little older to get married. I have no idea when this woman married or how old my friend was when he got married…. but it just seems like another reason to be cautious.

    I feel terrible thinking that way, though. People with mental issues still deserve love. Certainly we shouldn’t condemn them to a life alone just because they were dealt a difficult hand in life. It just goes to show you that love can’t fix everything, especially when one member of the partnership is suffering from an illness that may make it impossible for them to really love anyone.

    • TK, your TOTALLY right….a lot of mental illnesses can’t be spotted until later in life and that’s the crux of the issue; once your in a relationship you can end up feeling stuck 😦 that was what the woman was getting at while talking to me .

    • But it’s sad to think that way. I mean… don’t we marry the person who will always be there, regardless of what happens? If we get into a horrendous car accident and come out with a mental handicap, don’t we expect our chosen life partner will be there for us?

      And I’m not saying what this woman did or what my friend did is wrong. I would have probably ended the relationship too. It just ads a layer of complexity to the concept of “in sickness and in health.”

  32. Kenneth, sometimes in life we find ourselves facing things we find difficult to imagine or understand. But, if your listening to her and allowing her to get her thoughts off her chest, made her feel better…if only for the moment, then it was a good thing.

    Sometimes we get overwhelmed, sometimes we think things that don’t show off our better sides…like the one you mentioned recently. Sometimes people say them out loud, whether they really meant them or not, is only something they could know. But, I personally have experienced not being able to tell someone what I was feeling because it would be considered improper or inappropriate…and you can feel the rage building up…sometimes you just have to allow yourself to vent and get it off your chest. I wasn’t there so I can’t tell what the situation was…but sometimes, in life…you lose. Hopefully she will be able to find a solution that is more bearable than her current one.

  33. Woe is me???? Really?? There is a lot that wasn’t told in that story, especially were there parents advising her at that young age to wait a little before settling down; grow up a little bit before committing to a marriage with your church sweetheart.
    Pretty hard to feel sympathetic or “anything” about this situation when it’s just one person’s word. I am pretty sure the guy has a story as well. And I can truly say, “poor dude”; what kind of person wishes someone develop cancer and dies? And she grew up in the church? Wowx2

  34. All one can do is to praise the woman for doing the right thing, and reflect a bit on how humans tend to need to think of transcendence. Because life sure seems like crap sometimes.

  35. I’m not sure how many of your readers will see this, Kenneth, but:


    I’m sure some of those reading already know (as I inferred from their comments) that these conditions *are* treatable. I know that for me, that is the case.


    I struggled for over 20 years trying to get my treatment right. I had to put up with a lot of schmucks, putzes, and other jerks in community mental health. Burned out doctors. Doctors who were mentally ill themselves. Counselors and therapists who were not fully well themselves. Dunno if you remember Aussa Lorens (who has commented here in the past)… she’s blogging a lot about truths working in a psych ward. Her stories are funny but at the same time the notion that some of her co-workers are more imbalanced than the patients at times should give anyone pause.

    I guess it was helpful that I learned about things BEFORE I got married at 24; no, I didn’t get married early. My lovely wife didn’t witness ALL the ugliness, but she still witness some of the most bitter ugly parts: bad and almost lethal side effects from some drugs, and one of my inpatient stays. Even my eldest daughter remembers my second inpatient trip– it is painful for her to talk about it, but she acknowledges it maturely for an almost 12 year old girt.

    So maybe this husband refused treatment; I can only guess. I have a few friends who manage without medication– but they have their own disciplines in place.

    In short: I’m rather frustrated by the story of the woman you talked to AND the ex-husband she described. Mental health STILL needs more advocacy. Healthcare (and our society) NEEDS to step up to personalized medicine, IMHO, *especially* because the problems pharmacology has with psychiatry and neurology generally.

    Apologies for such a long comment– this is an issue I’m INTENSELY passionate about BECAUSE I have lived it, in blood, sweat, and tears. Literally!

  36. Beautiful stories! Loved each and everyone of them! People opening up to you like that must be a special feeling.

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