My Husband’s Manic Break Left Me Running for My Life

Nine years ago a battalion of police cars and a whole lot of crazy portended the end of my 16-year marriage, and I — someone who’d gone from living in my mother’s house to living with my husband at just 19 years old — was now completely on my own with two young children in Westchester in a crumbling house I couldn’t afford. To say that I was scared would be like saying this first year with Trump was just a little bit rocky. I was panicked. Low-key panicked in that way that vibrates off of you, no matter how cool you’re trying to play it. And I was trying to play it cool, at least for my kids. At 8 and 11, their whole world had been upended and they were struggling to comprehend why and come to terms with it all. They needed me to act like it was all going to be okay, and while I faked the funk for them every day, I needed everyone else in my life to tell me it would be okay.

That summer of 2009 will always be remembered as the crazy summer. The summer of running from one family member’s house to another’s to try to outrun the destruction of my husband’s second major manic break. We’d barely survived the first one four years before. That one had resulted in his abrupt hospitalization for a damn-near-biblical 40 days and 40 nights, returned to us as an overly medicated zombie with a bipolar diagnosis. But the kids were too young then to deeply register most of that.

I’d kept it together somehow. And I’d kept us together, going on to buy a new house the next year with the man who’d spewed vitriol at me as several orderlies subdued him and strapped him to a gurney. He’d believed I’d engineered it so that the hospital would admit him, as some way to get rid of him. I’d sat on the hospital corridor floor that day crying and wondering how my life had taken this turn. But when he was back I made it work. Because what was I if not his ride-or-die? Sure, I was working in what I thought was my dream job, as a reporter at People magazine. I had friends and colleagues who respected and cherished me. Yet my entire adult life had been with this man, and all I thought I knew of myself was in relationship to him, his love, and his belief in me.

But this time around, his break brought police into my life as he acted out in more and more confrontational ways. Things spiraled out of control. It brought child welfare service officials to my home, questioning my children’s welfare. That’s when I knew who I was truly ride-or-die for. And when I made that clear, by moving out of the house with the kids for a month, that’s when he brought violence into my life. Having someone I love physically attack me shook me to my core. It made me question my decisions and who I really was.

But no matter how ill-equipped I felt for what would come next, failure wasn’t an option. I played whack-a-mole with every new problem.

Starting with every new court date. I filed assault charges against him that very day and we’ve never been in the same room alone together since. I got help from a growing village of friends and other parents. I found money for the to-dos and split myself in half to be everywhere and everything to my kids.

With so much going on that I couldn’t control, I felt I needed a challenge of my own making that I could exert some measure of control over.

So, with only sixth months to train, and at more than 60 pounds overweight, I decided to run a half marathon. On my own. I had no money for a trainer and barely money for new sneakers. It was a low-cost exercise plan that had the added benefit of feeling like proof to myself that I had the strength and fortitude for this next chapter of my life. The very idea that life is a marathon, not a race, kept me sane and able to attack each problem in manageable bites. And I can’t discount the effectiveness of the adrenaline rush once I did achieve long runs.

Abby, after finishing the half marathon. (Photo courtesy of the author)

It turns out I’d always had levels of ambitiousness I’d never really tapped into. And now, the kids had a model of resilience in me, no matter how messy that looked. Friends and family seemed surprised by my decision to run, but immediately got on board and supported me.

So yes, I got up every morning at zero-dark-hundred hours to go running in a fancy neighborhood along the Long Island Sound. I timed it so I could watch the sun begin its rise above the water — and make me believe brighter days were coming.

The day of the marathon I got to Central Park before dawn, queued up with all these people I considered real runners, and got amped and emotional as we took off for the first loop in the park. Now I don’t claim I was good (and those Central Park hills are murder) but I did a steady 10-minute-mile pace early on. It was a bit of a run-walk by the time I crossed Times Square. And my knees were positively screaming as I approached the home stretch. But running down the West Side Highway I was crying more tears of joy than tears of pain because then I truly knew that I could do this new life.

I clocked in at 2 hours, 49 minutes, and 26 seconds, just 10 minutes under the mark to be placed and medaled. My kids and my baby sister met me at the finish line holding a sign cheering me on. The looks on all of their faces made me tear up, knowing that was living my life showing them what it means to dream big, sometimes falter, and keep on going no matter what. Because the only thing that matters is how many times you get back up.

Photo: Stocksy/Bonnin Studio

Originally published on March 2018

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2 Responses

  1. Stacy Pratt
    Stacy Pratt

    This is a story that is so seldom told, and I’m so glad you told it. So powerful!

  2. Robin

    Abby West, your story and your writing are amazing. My husband also had a psychotic break when my kids were around that age. Every word you wrote resonated with me.


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