Happily Ever After

When wedded bliss takes a bad turn.

by Annettee Budzban

I had the same aspirations many women share of getting married to the perfect man and living happily ever after. On Valentine’s Day evening, 1997, I started my journey toward a happily married life when I walked down the candlelit aisle toward my husband-to-be.

As the festivities of the evening wound down, my new husband and I snuck away from the crowd and ducked into the dark sanctuary. Sitting together in a pew, we held hands and prayed, “God bless us on our new adventure.” We wondered where this adventure of marital bliss would take us.

Early challenges

The first year of married life was like that of most couples. We spent time getting acquainted with each other’s living habits. We asked questions like “What kind of toothpaste do you like?” and “What’s your favorite brand of soap?”

We thought we were breezing through life when we managed disputes about who would sleep on the outside edge of the bed without nightly arguments. But toward the end of that first year, we started to face the biggest challenge of our wedding vows: “In sickness and in health.”

Declining health

My health was declining. I experienced breathing and digestive difficulties when I ate certain foods or was around perfumes and other odors. I had severe pain in my legs and feet. I could hardly walk or stand without feeling as though daggers were shooting through me. Oftentimes I became fatigued and couldn’t think clearly when I went outside or rode in the car.

I also suffered a form of migraine headache, as well as many other minor yet disturbing symptoms. Medications, supplements, and allergy treatments seemed to make matters worse. And the assortments of foods I could eat without having these reactions were dwindling.

I was finally diagnosed with Environmental Illness, meaning I had allergies to things in the environment, foods, and medications. Between the frightening symptoms and the diagnosis, I felt alone in my pain and misery. As a nurse, I had taken care of the sick for eighteen years. Now I was on the opposite end, being cared for.

Dashed hopes

Regardless of my symptoms, the doctors remained hopeful for my recovery. However, days turned into weeks, weeks turned into months, and months turned into years. In our third year of marriage we found our hopes dashed when my symptoms continued to worsen. My faithful husband drove me to each appointment and sat dutifully by my side during each doctor visit.

During one visit my doctor said, “I have done all I can do. I don’t have any treatments left to offer to you.”

During the long, silent car ride home, we struggled to hold back our tears and process the information.

Failed treatments

But after a good night’s sleep, we discussed not giving up regardless of the doctor’s report. So I called around and found some other options. Homeopathy and acupuncture were among the alternatives we tried. But even after several trials, these failed to provide any symptomatic relief.

Unable to function in normal surroundings without reacting to the smells of soaps, cleaners, or hidden molds, I was soon forced to quit my job as a nurse. Before long, I couldn’t do any of the dusting or cleaning in our house, so Jeff was forced to cook, do laundry, grocery shop, and clean. Giving up my job felt like giving up my purpose, and I struggled with depending on my husband for everything. I cried out to God, “Teach me how to live!”

Financial strain

Then our savings started disappearing and ended up in the pockets of the many doctors who tried to help me. This is not how we had envisioned our marriage. We had expected fun and vacations, not sickness and discouragement.

Jeff and I often fell asleep at night with our hearts full of despair. Tears stained our pillowcases from all the nights we held each other and cried ourselves to sleep.

Positive moves

But through all our pain and suffering, we turned to God. Praying together each morning before getting out of bed, and each night before closing our eyes in sleep, gave us strength to carry on. When one of us had a bad day and frustration set in, we learned to be honest and open with each other. As one of us vented frustration, the other listened attentively, even if we didn’t feel like it.

Oftentimes we stretched ourselves to discover ways to enjoy each new day. I attentively watched the things that brought Jeff happiness and learned to enjoy them, too. He has a great sense of humor, so I watched videos and TV shows with him to join in with his spirit of humor.

Good out of bad

None of this may sound like true marital bliss to most, but as Romans 8:28 says, God has a way of working all things out for our good if we obey Him. Jeff and I have truly found it a time to be thankful, for God has given us a love, grace, and understanding for each other that many married couples never know. He has grown our marriage and our love far beyond its years. He has shown us that happiness is not living without negative circumstances but finding life and joy within them.

My husband and I still pray that I will overcome my illness, but we hope to never overcome the knowledge we have been given — the true marital gift of learning how to live happily after the wedding day no matter how bad life turns out.