Sometimes it takes a lemon to spark a dream.

Judy Sutherland – My Path to Freedom

My husband is a brilliant, hard working financial consultant. He has incredible stamina and an ability to keep going to work without complaining. I believe his work ethic operates as a way to fulfill his need to be close to others. Yet, paradoxically, he forbids others from being close to him. He is extremely private and disregards the consequences of his own behavior. He distances himself from others in order to avoid the development of a positive interpersonal relationship with anyone who is interested in an equal partnership. Of course, this puts immense strain on a marriage.

Our house is filled to the brim with his sport, movie, and music memorabilia as well as his art collections, stamps and coins. These items hold no meaning for me, except the dreaded one: I feel crowded out of his life and my space. Recently, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. I believe his dedication to his work makes it possible for him to go on as if he isn’t suffering from an illness. After many years of feeling isolated and unnoticed, I have made the painful decision to move out.

As with many marriages, ours began like a fairytale. I first saw my husband over 50 years ago through a dancing crowd. Our eyes met, only to shyly turn away. Yet, I knew immediately that we had a connection. How that connection would impact me remained a mystery until 1977, when my husband was diagnosed with manic depression (bipolar disorder). He had been suffering from hallucinations, delusions, non-stop talking, racing thoughts, the inability to concentrate, feelings of heightened creativity, optimism, euphoria, as well as anger and blaming others who criticized him. Lithium helped ease his symptoms, but left many questions for me unanswered, such as “What do I need to learn as the wife of someone with mental illness;” “How can I take care of myself and my family?;” and “What direction should I take?”

I decided to go back to school and earn a master’s degree in counseling psychology. I combined that degree with a registration as an art therapist. Then, I was asked to create a master’s program in art therapy at a professional school of psychology. I agreed, even though it meant earning a PhD, which I eventually accomplished at age 59. The art therapy program at Adler Professional School of Psychology prepares students to guide clients to self-understanding and change through art. More information about the program is available at: PsychologyArtTherapyMAT. I am living proof that it is never too late to achieve what may seem like an insurmountable, but promising task.

My new path in art therapy helps me achieve a greater sense of self-awareness. My art reflects my life and gives form and symbolism to my feelings. It illuminates and helps me to understand my thoughts and my place in the world. It also connects me to others. Art is a way for us to tell our own story. For me, it acts as a mirror as well as a sedative.

Over the years, my experience with my husband has taught me to stay in the moment and to take one day at a time. I enjoy reflecting upon the first time I saw my husband and wonder whether our two separate circles can begin to slightly overlap again, now that I have found meaning in my life and work. But even if it is not possible, I am at peace with my place in the world. I understand better now the universal struggle between man and woman, to find balance, to reach unity and harmony, to achieve wholeness while maintaining separate selves.

Most importantly, however, I have recognized that if it weren’t for the “lemon” of my husband’s mental illness, I would not have had the springboard to a whole new, satisfying career and freedom. Through my career as an art therapist and artist, my life has new meaning as well as fulfillment, a fulfillment that could not have existed any other way. I know that others who are struggling within their own marriages and lives can find meaning from life’s dark moments. Lemons truly serve a purpose.

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