When Love Tackles Mental Illness

July 2, 2017

Rebecca Lombardo is 44 years old and has been happily married for 15 years. She lives in Michigan with her husband and cats. She is a published author, a Huffington Post blogger, contributor for The Mighty, and a podcast host. She was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at the age of 19. She has battled that as well as several other conditions for over 20 years. In 2013, she attempted suicide. Grateful that she survived, she decided to tell her story in the hopes that she could help others choose a different path.


To see more from Rebecca you can view her website and facebook page, follow her on twitter or purchase her book




When I was 19, and I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I don’t think I took it very seriously. I just knew that I was sad all the time, and the pills the doctor described would probably clear it right up. My parents didn’t have a lot to say, mainly because they didn’t know exactly what it meant. My mom was more on the “just snap out of it” spectrum, while my dad was a “sit in the corner doing his crossword puzzles, hoping I was going to be okay” type of guy.


Eventually, when I realized that the pills weren’t a magic cure-all and that the symptoms could get even worse, I felt very alone. I suppose that’s why I put up with far too much abuse in terrible relationships; I didn’t want to be alone. I spent most of my 20’s on a roller coaster ride. Eventually, self-injury entered the picture, and that terrifies people. If it’s not something you’ve ever experienced yourself, chances are very slim that you’ll ever fully grasp the concept.


I wasn’t very kind to myself. I self-harmed, I starved myself, got into dead-end relationships, and stayed up for days at a time. I met up with a lot of guys I talked to online. I was lucky, every one of them was the same person I had met online. I never once thought that it was a serial killer or a predator meeting up with me at the mall.


Back in the 90’s, American Online (AOL) had a feature where you could become pen pals anyone, far away or nearby, it was your choice. I started a pen pal friendship with a guy named Joe mainly based on our love of wrestling. By this time, I’d had enough bad experiences with the men in my life that I was fine with taking I slow, and maybe never even meeting.


However, Joe and I did meet eventually. We met up in a parking lot closer to his side of town, and we went to see The South Park Movie. We had a good time, and he was very nice, but our schedules just seemed to clash. He was in a band, and if he wasn’t working, he was practicing. I think a small part of him felt that perhaps it wouldn’t be best to get involved with a woman with so much baggage.


He stopped communicating with me, and I was left to wonder. Even my mom asked me where he was; she had liked “that one” as she put it. I went on about my life struggling with the pain of depression and self-harming several times a day. Eventually, I was admitted to a group home to try to help me get my life back together.


It was early on in 2001 when Joe started to call again. He admitted that he had been too immature and afraid of what he didn’t understand. He wanted another chance, so I said yes. We dated as much as we could, and we talked a lot. I needed to know he was in it for the long haul this time. On May 18, 2001, we officially started an exclusive relationship. On August 3, 2001, we were married. This August marks 16 years together. When you know, you know!


It took us a little while to get our footing, especially Joe. He needed to learn that if I did self-harm, getting angry with me only made me want to do it more. Now I was ashamed because I’d done it, and felt an immense amount of guilt for putting him through that again. He learned quickly though. This week I am 4 years clean from self-injury, but there were certainly some pitfalls along the way. Joe learned to tell me that he understood that I was in pain. I didn’t have to harm myself to show him how bad it was. That felt like a huge burden was lifted from my shoulders.


He started going to all of my doctor appointments right away, which was a huge blessing on many levels. He remembered details better than I did now, and instead of it looking like I was trying to lie to the doctor, I had someone there to back me up.


Joe has helped me down off the ledge more times than I could ever count. I haven’t always been a joy to live with. There was a point where I could think of nothing, but suicide and I kept telling him to go and leave me alone. I didn’t want to ruin his life too. He stuck it out, and he learned by trial and error what he should or shouldn’t do.

I can’t work, so being stuck at home all day and into the night wasn’t the best for me, but when he came through that door, it was like a light switch would turn on inside of me.


Even if I was still depressed, I felt comforted. I knew that my best friend was here to help me navigate these emotions, and calmly talk me through whatever I was going through. In 2013, I did attempt suicide, but I don’t blame Joe in any way. It was more about me feeling like a burden to him and everyone else. Being away from him while I was in the hospital was torture. Knowing I was going home to him and my safe place was all that got me through.


Now when I’m struggling Joe just says, “what can I do to make it better?”. I don’t think he realizes that caring enough to ask the question has already lifted a burden.

We are there for each other every day, in every way. He is my soft place to fall when I can’t hold on anymore. Which is why I will forever be grateful to have him in my life. He’s been my savior, my voice, and my advocate when I couldn’t do any of that on my own. I feel sadness for anyone that must tackle mental illness on their own. I would loan you my Joe, but I’m afraid he’s spoken for. He has helped me to channel my negative thoughts, he has helped me see things more clearly, and he has helped put me back together when someone else has broken me down.


I would be lost without him. He has an impact on every part of my mental health, and always for the positive. Sometimes all it takes is for him to come home for the darkness to lift. I’m blessed, and I am grateful. Even if I do still find myself in the pit of despair, I know there’s someone that will climb down there with a blanket and snacks and ride out the wave with me. I only wish everyone could say the same.



- Rebecca 


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