Caregiver Chronicles

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I Was Afraid To Sneeze

Mental Health Family Caregiver: Karen, 19 yrs old

Caring for: Ronald, 22 yrs old

Diagnosis: Bipolar Disorder & PTSD


(Names have been changed to protect the identity of the individuals)


I could see Ronnie turning the corner and pulling open the door of the ice cream parlor and Corbin realizing where they were as he started to bounce and wave his little arm he was holding onto my husband’s neck with the other little hand. They were safely inside now.


I saw a lady come out of her house she was standing on the porch looking in my direction, she called to someone in the house and a teenage girl came out. She said something to her and the young girl came over to the car. “Excuse me Miss, my mom said are you okay?” I realized she must have seen what happened when Ronnie was shouting at me moments earlier.


“Yes I’m fine.” I smiled and looked at the little girl, “thank you baby but I’m good. Tell your mom thank you too.” I could see the woman stepping down from the porch and walking over to me. She stood at the sidewalk as if she knew not to come any closer. She said, “Look I’m not trying to get into your business baby but from what I just saw you need someone to pull your coat tail. That man was talking to you like you were his child is that your boyfriend?” She had a very concerned look on her face.


“No it’s my husband” I said as I looked over at the young teenage girl who was looking just as concerned as her mother.


“Well you don’t look old enough to be married yet how old are you she asked as she came forward to look into the car window. “You pregnant?” She was stooping down and looking into the window now.


“I’m 19.” I answered not sure why she was asking so many personal questions. “Yes I’m pregnant; I’m 6 months why do you ask?” I was getting annoyed by her questions and intrusive presence at the car window.


“What your mom and dad think about your husband?” she asked.


I was fully annoyed with her by now and I wanted to know why she was asking me so many questions. “Why are you asking me so many personal questions?” I asked her trying desperately to let my frustration show in my voice hoping she would get to her point or leave me alone.


“I’m just concerned you may be in trouble and I just want to know you have some family to go to if you needed to. Look you see that little girl back there? She was 3 when I left her father, he was the same way. You have to be careful with those type of men. They are dangerous, they don’t think clearly…”


As the lady was talking I realized I hadn’t paid attention to where Ronnie was, he didn’t like me talking to people we didn’t know or ‘telling our business to strangers’. I didn’t want him to show up and she was still standing at the car window. I would have to explain who she was and why she was talking to me. He would create all kinds of scenarios in his head about why she was there, ultimately concluding she was the sister or mother of some guy I was secretly dating and she was giving me a message.


“Look I don’t want to be rude but my husband is really particular about who I talk to. If he sees me talking to you he will freak out and God knows what he will do. I rather not have more to deal with today.” I said with pleading in my eyes.


The lady’s face softened immediately and her eyes were very compassionate when she said, “believe me baby I understand. I just want to say this, talk to your parents if they don’t already know about what’s going on. You need to speak to someone about what is going on. Is he hitting you? If he is that’s wrong you understand? That is wrong. There are places you can go to get help if you are in trouble or if you are being hurt.” She stood and turned to walk away but she kept talking to me.


“If you ever get into trouble and you need a place to go for help you come to this house here and knock on the door, my name is Margerie and I’ll help you okay?” She motioned for her daughter to join her on the side walk  and she took her by the shoulder guiding her up to the grass near the drive way where they stopped just short to standing behind their car and at the front of my car. “What’s your name?”


I could see what she was doing and I was so grateful, I was also shocked that she was able to calm me and avoid being seen speaking to me by Ronnie all at the same time. For a moment I felt like someone understood my life. I was drawn in to know more about this woman. “Karen” I said looking back up to the corner where I saw the door of the ice cream parlor swing open and Ronnies back as he held the door open.


“That’s my husband I said, he’s coming now…” sensing the panic in my voice she walked around her daughter and spoke to her, I couldn’t hear what she said I only saw their movement as they got into their car. There they sat in their driveway.


My eyes shifted back and forth between them and Ronnie and Corbin as I watched them walking back to the car, Ronnie had both hands filled with ice cream sundaes and Corbin ‘wobble walking’ behind my him. After all that just happened seeing Corbin walking back to the car made my heart beat faster. I opened the door, got out, and began walking towards them. My husband was smiling and stopping every so often to look back and encourage our son to keep walking as he walked sideways shuffling occasionally to opposite sides of the sidewalk out of the way of Corbin who was finding it difficult to walk in a straight line.


“Do you see him baby, you see him walking, my lil man is growing up so big. Look at him…come on lil man keep going.” Corbin stumbled and fell I wanted to rush over and pick him up but I was worried Ronnie would flip out and accuse me of spoiling him.


“Here, here take these let me get my baby…” Ronnie handed me the sundaes and trotted back to help Corbin up, “Come on lil man you can do it daddy’s right here I’m not going to let you fall…” Ronnie was so patient not at all like the raging father who’d left me in the car not even 30 mins ago. As angry as Ronnie could get he could calm down and be back to normal in no time at all, many times behaving like nothing just happened.


I caught sight of the lady…Margerie in her car now with the brake lights on backing slowing out of her driveway. Ronnie picked Corbin up and sat him on the hood of the car to tie his shoes just as she backed out and stopped in front of our car. My heart raced. I prayed she didn’t say anything to me and I hoped Ronnie couldn’t see the fear in my eyes as she stopped. A voice from the car shook me back to reality,


 “Awww look at those little boots! Those are just too cute! Where did you buy those that small?” It was Margerie she was looking at Ronnie and waiting for a reply. I could see she was nervous too.


Ronnie looked up and smiled, he loved getting compliments especially on the way he dressed Corbin. He went through great lengths to get clothes for them both that would match or as close to match as he could. “I bought them at the Rodium. Thank you. This my lil man right here.” He was smiling and rubbing Corbin on the head.


“Well they are just too cute. You have a beautiful family.” She looked at me, “When are you due?”


I was so surprised she was playing along like we’d never met but I was feeling also a kinship to her, a comforting feeling like someone understood and was working with me. “September. Septemer 9th I said.” With a nervous smile.


Margerie smiled back, “do you know what you are having?”


Before I could answer Ronnie said, “A girl, I’m getting my lil girl. She’s gone be pretty just like her momma. I don’t want her to look like her ugly daddy, I’m glad lil man looks like me but his momma put the extra kick on it and he gone be a lady killer, ain’t that right?” He pretended to knock Corbin on the chin with his fist.


I looked at Ronnie and back at Margerie with a concerned look. One she must have really understood because she did one of my diffusing numbers and I was floored by how accurate she was. “Well you look like a handsome young man yourself and I can see where your son resembles you myself. You guys have a blessed day. Let me get out your way so you can enjoy what’s left of this day. Take care. Bye lil handsome boy. What’s his name? she said as she began backing out into the street.


“Corbin” both me and Ronnie said at the same time. He looked over and pinched me and said, “You owe me a soda”.

Margerie didn’t hear what he said and she looked concerned, a lot like my mother would look when she was watching us interact in a quiet corner while Ronnie ‘chastised’ me for something I did he ‘didn’t like’.


“Oh it’s okay!’ I said before thinking. “It’s okay..” I said looking at Ronnie to see if he caught what I’d just said, he hadn’t so I continued. “we have this thing we do if we say something at the same time, we pinch the other person and they owe the other a soda.” I was so scared Ronnie would hear me explaining and think we knew each other.


Margerie smiled nervously as well,  “ya’ll so crazy, bye” she said as she drove off hesitantly. I stood there watching them go down the street and for just a moment wishing I could have left with them, we were having one of the ‘up down’ days I called the "high clycling" days Ronnie would have during mania.


“They was cool huh?” he said as he lifted Corbin up and walked to the back door to put him into his car seat.


“Yeah they were” as all I could muster the strength up to say. I was so tired already and it was only 6:30.


We stopped at the park on the way home to eat our ice cream and let Corbin play on the swings and slides. I noticed Ronnie was really quiet on the ride home, he’d asked me to drive and he’d sat on the passenger side and just stared out the window.


“I’m so tired of living over here baby. I want to give y’all a good life. You deserve more, you are a good woman, you take good care of me and of my baby, you deserve so much more.” Ronnie’s voice was trembling. I knew it meant he was on the lower end of the mania where he would become very depressed. Sometimes he even cried.


“You’re a good man baby, you work hard for us and we don’t want for anything. Our time will come, it’s hard right now but we will get through it.” I meant what I said. Ronnie was a good father and husband. Outside of being sick he was an amazing, caring, thoughtful man but when he got sick he could become violent and out of control at times. I wished he could have more days of being symptom free and that people would get to see that side of him more. I began to feel guilty about being afraid of him earlier. I started justifying he only spoke to me that way because he was symptomatic.


We stopped and got food from Tams, we stopped by the liquor store where Ronnie got another beer and we stopped by his brothers house where he insisted I wait in the car while he went in to give him some money he borrowed. I knew he was going to get pot. I was always conflicted by him using pot. I hated it. He wasn’t allowed to smoke in the house and up to that point he’d respected my request. He seemed much more relaxed and quiet after but the next day he became extremely violent and paranoid. 


“Okay baby let’s go home..” Ronnie slammed the car door and my insides tensed. I don’t know what this evening will look like but I sure don’t want to have to run out of the house again with Corbin.


On the ride home I didn’t say anything, and he didn’t either. He knew how much I hated him smoking pot and I think he just didn’t want to argue with me about it anymore than I wanted to argue with him about it. He reached over and turned the radio back up, “If This World Were Mine” by Luther Vandross was playing and all I could think of was if this world was mine I would erase Bipolar and PTSD from my husbands mind…



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