Goodbye to So Much

Tonight I say goodbye to my 30’s. This has been a hard year in so many ways, but also a very transformative year for me. I stood up for myself and what I needed for the first time in years. I stopped being someone I wasn’t, and went back to appreciating the person I am (most of the time). It has been really difficult for many reasons: saying goodbye to what I thought would be a forever relationship; understanding that I’m not an inherently terrible person but a woman with both good qualities as well as faults; allowing myself to understand that my decisions aren’t selfish but will, in the end, make me a better parent and a more complete person.

Since Wednesday, I’ve been on what I know will be the last vacation we will ever take as a family of four. Most of the weekend, I’ve been in survival mode. I’ve tried my best to get along with my soon-to-be ex-husband, and it hasn’t always been easy. But today I let myself go a little bit and just enjoy the ocean and my kids and even their father’s company. I teased him about a woman he found attractive on the beach, sending our cute younger son to ask what her tattoo was and then giggling with him about it when he got embarrassed.

We came home to a dog crate (and dog) full of what my nurse mother politely would refer to as “loose stool”, and had to figure out how to unload the car and shower 3 kids and a dog. Ordered pizza for dinner and it took over an hour and a half to arrive. We, as a family, made the best of it. We laughed and ate leftover tacos and had a mini whipped cream food fight. I made the kids laugh when I made ecstatic noises while eating my pizza, my almost 10 year old telling his father, “there’s something wrong with your wife.”

I just watched him put our kids to bed for the last time in this house, which belongs to my family, knowing this is the last night he will spend here. No matter how much he drives me into the ground; no matter how much of myself I lost during this relationship, I have gained these two beautiful, intense, precocious children that are part of him as well as me, and that means I can never hate him or blame him for how things have turned out. I simply fell out of love and realized that this will never be a relationship that fulfills me. And that’s ok. These moments are incredibly difficult, but also necessary for both of us to grow as people.

I know our kids are going to have a tough upcoming year. I know it will be hard on me, and still harder on their dad. But I also know that despite how bittersweet this moment is, on the eve of my 40th birthday, it’s necessary and I’m right where I need to be. In this house, with these people, looking forward to what life may bring us all in the future.

Scarlett O’Hara Doesn’t Live Here

I had (am having?) a panic attack for only the second or third time in my life. Unfortunately, they’re all coming fairly close together. I don’t know what that means, really, but I think maybe it’s just everything I’m feeling happening all at once. Usually with depression, I have periods of shut down but this feels different. Today feels different. I’m barely able to function as I feel the crushing weight of every emotion I’m experiencing as if they’re happening all at once. And it’s terrifying. I can barely speak. Noises are overwhelming. My heart is racing. My lungs feel heavy.

I spent most of the day alone at work yet came home and just robotically tried to get through the evening until the kids were in bed so that I could literally lock myself in the closet; a physical closing off from the world. I can’t talk to anyone, physically or even through text or online. It’s as if I can’t burden anyone else with my fear and sadness so it’s best to just not communicate, not even attempt it because I know I’m going to end up saying or doing the wrong thing. I’ve already done that once today to someone I care about, and I just can’t bear the thought of disappointing anyone further right now. 

Especially because what I’m feeling the most is self-pity. I loathe that feeling. I’d much rather feel self-hatred or sadness or emptiness or ANYTHING except feeling sorry for myself. It’s as if I woke up this morning and realized I’m turning 40 this week and the crushing realization of how far off the rails I am for a middle-aged adult just made itself known. I’ve been obliviously surviving the past few months with a kind of hopefulness that I’m strong enough to be alone and gaining my freedom will be liberating and wonderful and solve everything. Any today I really thought about how hard the next year will be.

I also realized that I’m having the biggest birthday of my life, and I’ve failed to plan anything for it at all. I do this to myself almost every year. I tell myself it’s no big deal, it’s just another birthday, I don’t want the attention it brings because I really just think no one should have to spend their time celebrating such an obviously shitty person. So I don’t make plans, but then I get sad that no one else seems to notice, as if confirming exactly what I thought: that my life is not one worth celebrating. And this year I won’t even have my family, my parents and my sister and nephews, because they’ve all made other plans for the weekend. So I’m stuck at the beach with the man I’m divorcing and our emotionally exhausting kids, packing and cleaning to come home, where I’ll be too tired to do anything else anyway. Welcome to my 40’s, I guess.

Compounded with the stress of living with a person that scrutinizes my every move, weeks of sleeping on a couch more than a bed, being physically ill every time I eat, having my heart broken, wondering if I’ll ever again love someone that loves me back just as deeply, and worrying about my kids and how they are going to be after the dust settles, and I’m pretty much just done. I’m done with everything right now. I don’t want to be around myself. I don’t want to be around other people. I don’t want to be alone with my thoughts. I don’t want to burden anyone else with my problems. I don’t want to die, luckily. I just don’t want to live, either. I want to submerge myself in water and just…rest. Not think. Not do anything. Just be. And I can’t do that, so instead I’m sitting in silence in the dark alone, chewing on my shirt and trying to take enough breaths to get through the next minute, before it starts all over again.

The struggle is real.

For all my recent discovery and positivity and self-acceptance, there are still dark moments that creep in around the edges. Days where I am angry at everyone and sad at everything, and nights where I wake up at 3AM unable to do anything but lie in bed and feel the dread gnawing at me. In these times, I wish there were some definable feeling that’s eating me alive, something I could focus on and work through, but usually it’s just some undefinable sense of self-hatred and the feeling that everything is about to close in on me. So maybe I’ll just free-form work through these and have a chance at going back to sleep.

Maybe I’m just not cut out for monogamy? I get it, I’m not even fully separated from my spouse yet and already trying to figure out what the future holds and I need to focus on life as a single mom and not get caught up in “love” and devotion and all that jazz. But, y’all, I miss intimacy already. I miss someone coming up behind me, brushing my hair away from my shoulder, and kissing my neck while I’m cooking. I miss snuggling against someone on the couch while watching a movie. And God damn, I miss kissing. All kinds…the slow burn, standing in the doorway, world-melting-away behind you kind, and the “can’t get through the doorway fast enough” to make it upstairs, practically ripping each others clothes off kind. But what if what I really like are all the beginning feelings of falling in love, the excitement of the first kiss, the thrill of someone reaching for your hand for the first time, and also all of the fulfilling sex you have in the beginning that I fear goes away eventually. What if I just can’t cope with how real relationships work, the give and take; what if I’m not supportive, and what if my soon-to-be-ex is right and I’m just unnecessarily cruel to my partner?

On the other hand, I had one of the worst thoughts about myself today that I’ve ever had. Maybe the reason I can’t consistently lose weight is because if I’m more attractive, I’ll have to admit that men don’t want to be with me because of my shitty personality. Talk about a sucker-punch. My brain is a real asshole sometimes, stringing me along with all these positive thoughts, making me feel like I’m making real growth and progress towards loving and accepting myself, and then out of nowhere saying “Haha, just kidding, your self-esteem issues have nothing to do with the way you look as previously thought…they really are just about how selfish and lazy and spiteful you are.” How do I move myself past this moment to trust other people when they say how much they enjoy my company or how great they think I am?

Crushing debt and the mile-long list of shit to do before I’m living in a separate household, and also are my children going to be ok? I won’t expand because I feel like these are absolutely normal middle-of-the-night fears.

Have I irreparably hurt someone I love? This one is tough. I’ve never been able to play it cool, to take it easy, especially when I connect with someone quickly, and I’m most certainly a “jump in with both feet” kind of girl. I don’t hold back when I care about someone. I let them know. I do all the things. I’m reckless. But I think my recklessness caused someone that I care about so very much to have a major life setback at a time when he really couldn’t handle any more stress. And I know it’s 90% not my fault, but that 10% that is, is just eating at me. I’m most definitely a “better to have loved and lost” person and I need to remember that not everyone else is. For some people, maybe the loss outweighs the brief, bright shining light that the love gave them. Maybe I should have seen the signs that he couldn’t handle too much too quickly and held back, and I didn’t. And that’s my fault. And I’m sorry. And the worst part is that I can’t fix it, or even help. Me being out of control has now caused someone else pain, and it’s out of my control. Sitting back and watching him struggle, and wanting to help but feeling like my love just literally destroys another person is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. And I feel like I’m failing at even the sitting back part. Any time I have any small bit of contact, I take it as a sign that I can stick around when maybe I need to just go away and give him back the space he carved out for himself to heal. But then I worry that my disappearance will make him blame himself and it’ll be worse. And I also hold out hope that we can be in each others’ lives in some capacity at some point, and I don’t want to miss that opportunity. So this one is really what keeps me up the most and gives me the most self-doubt.

I’ll be okay tomorrow. There are good things in my life to focus on, and I’m strong enough to cling to those like buoys in the middle of a raging ocean, until I can quiet my self-loathing long enough to swim to safer ground again. Writing helps. It’s cathartic to get my thoughts out of my head and into a place where they don’t feel like they’re eating me alive. It’s funny, having an online network of people that care but don’t always fully understand that you do these things to process is sometimes strange. People want to help, and I think that’s lovely, but it also means they take every bit of what I say seriously whether it’s meant to be just an observation or an actual cry of pain. Sometimes I just need to make the observation and send it out into the universe before moving on. This feels like one of those times. Also, I need a snack.

 

I *am* Enough

When you’ve suffered from depression for over half of your life, it feels sometimes like all the thoughts that need to tumble out of you are the negative ones. Some days it’s hard to identify the good parts of yourself; the good parts of your life. Despite the fact that this is a really hard day for me personally, I’m going to choose to focus on talking about my strengths because I really need to feel them today.

For the majority of my life, I feel like I’ve been code-switching, adapting myself to fit in best with those around me. It’s probably something that we all do to an extent, but it often makes me feel like I’m not being genuine, or that others see me as fake or flaky. Of course I have to tone down my gregarious, outspoken nature in professional settings, and of course when I’m around people that seem uncomfortable with my willingness to talk about anything deeply personal as though it’s not private, I am clued in. Mostly.

It’s hard sometimes being a natural extrovert, because the connotation of that is “bubbly, happy go lucky person”. That’s not necessarily me. My extroversion is the ability to find common ground with almost anyone, to be comfortable approaching people, to almost never feel socially awkward. It doesn’t mean I’m always positive. I try to be positive. I try not to be dead weight that drags people down, and I’ve always dealt with tragedy with wit. But sometimes I come across a friend that needs for me to pipe down on the jokes and take them seriously. And I can do that. I’m more than happy to let them talk their way through things, often only asking a question here and there, while they figure out what they need.

If physical support is what is needed, I can do that, too. I was the college friend that would drive 2 hours to get you drunk and laugh all night after a break up. I’m the friend that will pick your daughter up immediately if you call me because your husband’s surgery had complications and you’re a mess and can’t even think straight. I will organize a fundraiser and make sure you have food and offer to do your laundry or your taxes if you find yourself in the midst of tragedy. The most difficult part of making connections through social media is having people I care for living in far and wide places, because I’m not able to be there for them to hug them, to listen in person, to hold them together when they need it the most.

The most recent thing I’ve learned about myself is that I am so much stronger than I think. I’ve always thought of myself as physically strong, and strong-willed (not always a positive trait), but I’ve never really considered that I could be referred to as a “strong woman”. And to be honest, sometimes I kind of subscribe to the line of thinking that ALL women are strong women, but I don’t think that’s quite right. I think there are women out there that need to be cared for, whereas I only need to feel cared about. I’m learning through the process of separation and divorce that there are not many things I can’t handle on my own. I’m discovering that when I’m really, really struggling and down that I can get through it with music and humor and just a little bit of tears. I hope I’m strong enough that the people in my life can see me as a source of strength. I have so much to give, and I want to give it all away, and for the first time in a really long time I KNOW my own value. I know what I can give others, how I can be a positive force to others. That is huge because I truly have had such dark moments over the past few years where I felt like I was worthless and unworthy of anyone else’s love and attention.

More importantly, for the first time in my life, I feel like no matter what is happening, how much pain I’m in, it will be okay. Whatever the outcome, I can keep myself afloat until I’m able to swim successfully again. I can be enough for myself. I am enough.

 

 

This is the last time…

I never anticipated the most difficult part of ending a marriage. I thought for sure it would be the effect on our kids: the fear that they will struggle, the sadness they will experience, or the resentment that I will eventually be uprooting them from half of what they know in our nice little suburban small-town neighborhood life and moving them into a city of over a million people. And maybe it will be; maybe the most difficult part of this journey hasn’t even started yet and I’m fooling myself by thinking this is as bad as it will get…the 30 minute showers where I just silently sob because it’s the only time I can get it out without scaring anyone…the scream-singing commutes home as I dread walking in the door and facing that level of stress each night…the work meeting where I unexpectedly sprouted tears as we discussed summer vacation plans not because I thought I may have to work my birthday weekend (as my boss mistakenly took them) but because I realized I may be spending my birthday weekend alone this year.

No, the worst part is knowing that I’m the only one who truly knows we’re going through a year of “lasts” and it’s slowly eating me alive. It started around Christmastime last year, shortly after I came out and really let him know how unhappy I had been for so long. The truth of the matter is that over time the walls I built around myself allowed me to begin putting distance between us long before December, and I carry so much guilt that maybe I never gave him the chance to “fix” things, because I had already started considering that this would be the last Christmas we spent together. The last time we filmed our kids coming down the steps in that house on Christmas morning, the last time I spent much of Christmas Day at his mom’s peaceful old farmhouse, and the last time I get to be part of “Friendsgiving”, and event I helped start over 15 years ago, but also an event that I know I will be excluded from in the future because his brother’s family also attends.

We just scheduled a weekend trip in May with our best friends, and I know it’s probably going to be the last time we do this as a couple. What will the future look like with this? Will we both find other people and occasionally take separate trips with this couple that has been with us each for 20+ years? Will they choose sides and one of us may never get to travel with them again? This isn’t just a “normal” friendship. They have supported us through pregnancy loss; we’ve supported them through cancer. In small ways along the way, we have helped them begin and run a thriving business. Not knowing the future is terrifying, because they are truly family.

We’re planning our younger son’s 4th birthday celebration, and I already know it’s the last one that we will do as *this* family. Have we already experience my eldest son’s last birthday together? Did I miss that last? The last first day of school? The last baseball opening day? Have we been to church for the last time as a family? Was my nephew’s birthday party last weekend the last time we go to my sister’s house together? If we’re already separated by the time I go to the beach house for the first time this year, what will I do with all of his stuff there?

There’s a lovely, heartbreaking book about not knowing when your kids’ “lasts” come along until you’ve already had them…the last time they want to snuggle, the last time you put their shows on for them, the last time they ask to be rocked…it makes me cry every time. And let’s be honest, everything males me cry so that’s not shocking, but I never imagined that I would be experiencing the lasts of an 18-year relationship in much the same way.

And I don’t know what he’s feeling exactly, but on some level I know he suspects the same thing, that these are our lasts. He knows that the slim hope for reconciliation he has is just that: slim. The next month will be hard on both of us. Hard on him as he comes to terms with what I’ve known for months, and hard for me to watch him process it, even from the cool, detached, emotional distance I’ve put between us. I know we will both be okay, and I know that each of us has our own well of strength to draw upon, but I make friends easily, share easily, and allow myself to lean on others easily when they offer, and he has never been that way. He leans on me. So hard that for the long years I allowed it, it nearly pushed me into the ground. Now that I dug myself out of that and into the understanding that my faults don’t make me a faulty human, I worry which way he will fall when I remove that support beam.

What is Love, Anyway?

If you are looking to get lost in an alternate reality, Twitter is a crazy world in which to do it. And the vast majority of people are unhappy. Single people are unhappy, married people are unhappy, even the happily single or happily married often seen quite the opposite. And as humans, we seem to be built with this one driving force in mind: love. What is it? How do you find it? How do you know it’s real? If you lost it, how do you get it back? Do you even want to? Is the pain of losing it really worth the joy that having it briefly provided? If love is the dissertation, then Twitter is the most beautifully fucked-up research college around.

As someone who struggles a lot with accepting that I am not so terrible that I’m unworthy of being loved the way I want to be one day, I’ve found some interesting conclusions. Everyone is a therapist; everyone has an idea of what love looks like, and the truth is, we’re all wrong. And we’re all right. This is the great epiphany. The way I want to experience love is not likely to match up with anyone but a very small percentage of the world. Single women post things all the time like “if he cooks and cleans and is willing to go down on you, then keep him”. I’m sorry, but that’s like the bare minimum of what a partner should be (and let’s be honest, I’ve learned the difference between ‘willing’ and ‘it’s my favorite thing because it makes you feel good’). Maybe it’s enough for them? Maybe my judgment of their low standards is misplaced, because I cook just fine on my own and I’d much rather have someone around that makes me feel like I have the freedom to be myself without judgment or criticism. Other would-be love gurus think that my ideals are selfish: that if I love someone and there are things they don’t like about me, I should be willing to change those things to make them happy. You know what? If that’s what you value, then fine. I’m not going to stop you from believing in love the way you think it should be. Just like religion, please allow me the autonomy to believe in my version of love as well.

For a long time, I’ve mistakenly believed that loving someone means being their rock, propping them up when they needed it, absorbing their pain and replacing it with lightness. But the reverse of this school of thought is that means in order for you to love someone, they have to be willing to “let go” of their burdens and share them with you. Why? Why do they have to? What if their burdens are what keeps them moving forward? What if it’s what makes them feel as though they are conquering their demons? Our pain and regret can reside inside us without festering. It can just be there, silently pushing us through whatever life hands out, reminding us that we can make it through because we have a silent strength that other people can’t even fathom. Some people are simply their own rock. They don’t need you for that. They need you for other reasons, and it’s up to you to discover what those reasons are, if you want to be there for them in the way they will appreciate most.

In the end, it’s not up to me to decide what this words means for anyone but myself, and the people that I choose to share it with. Whether it’s in a romantic way, as a friend, or in the way I love my children and family, it’s up to me to decipher what the people in my life need the most and give it to them. I’m not going to get it right all the time; I’m still going to have moments where I think I’m doing the right thing and find out it’s not what they need right then. Rather than let that make me retreat into my shell and take it personally, I need to remember that they may not need to be loved the same way I do. If I can give them that even part of the time, and if I know I’m trying to let them be who they are and love them for it, then maybe I have a chance of convincing myself that I deserve to be loved the same way.

This is a huge change for me. For a long time I’ve simply thought I don’t need any kind of romantic love in my life: that my family, my kids, my amazing friends fill my heart up enough that I don’t have to worry about “falling” ever again. Once I’m free, I thought, I’ll just have a string of lovers…I’ll be a love ’em and leave ’em type. I’ll date younger men that can satisfy my needs without getting involved in the sticky mess of “love”. You know what, though? This is all bullshit. This is the insecure part of me talking, the part that whispers “you’re not good enough” constantly whenever I get ahead of myself, knocking me down a few pegs lest I think I’m SomeBody. I’m learning over time and reflection that the voice is wrong. I don’t want to be somebody’s good time. I want to be, as a friend recently put it in a raunchy but succinct way, somebody’s “life-altering fuck”. I want to be the one that makes them forget about whoever it was that broke them before. And I want there to be somebody for me that makes me feel calm and secure when my mind races and my body won’t sit still. And as I recently told a friend, when I find them, I want to be the one that lights their world on fire in the best kind of way.

I want this for all of us. I didn’t believe in love for a long time, but I feel like while it never quite left, maybe it just disappeared over the horizon for a while and now, like a sunrise, it’s going to make itself known again. If we’re patient and we pay attention.

Let’s Talk About Sex, Baby

We all know the truth: when the sexual health dies in a relationship, that’s where a lot of the other day-to-day issues that you could choose to deal with lovingly become things that grate on your nerves to an extent where you just can’t. do. it. anymore. I’m not going to lie; this is one of the areas in my marriage where I have totally and utterly failed. Weight gain, breastfeeding off and on for 6ish years, the stress of raising a family, and a rollercoaster of anti-depressants with sexual side effects all but ruined me. I’m ashamed to admit that we became one of those couples that engaged intimately maybe 3-4 times a year.

Sadly, while my body and mental health have started bouncing back over the past year or two, my sexual attraction to my husband has never found it’s way back. I don’t know how to fix this. I’ve read articles, I’ve consulted friends about how they survived their “rough patches”, and I’ve tried to follow the “fake it till you make it” philosophy of just “doing it more even when you don’t want to will make you want to more”. Negative.

I mean, don’t get me wrong…I *want* to more. And I think about sex about as much as any red-blooded American 17 year old boy. Or at least lately it feels that way. It’s just not about the person it should be…some days the idea of intimacy with him is the biggest turn off. Sometimes I don’t understand what’s wrong with me. I see single women all the time who describe all of the qualities they’re looking for in a man, and honestly I have to admit I have a good one overall. He somehow still finds me sexy even in the moments where I can barely look at myself naked. The idea of cheating would never cross his mind for any reason. He cooks, cleans, and tries his best to be a good parenting partner (even if sometimes it feels like a hassle for him to do the things I usually just handle without him even knowing).

It’s just that the more time that passes, the more I feel like it’s not what *I* want or need. This would be so much easier if there were clear signs of verbal/emotional abuse or cheating. I know that is a completely horrible thing to say, but part of me feels like I’m throwing away what others would perceive as “a good thing” over nothing but my own personal hang-ups. Is my self-esteem so low that I feel like I don’t deserve “a good man”? Is my heart so cold and dead and black now that I would just rather be alone than have to smile and fake my way through a relationship that is comfortable at best, and wholly unfulfilling at worst? Am I just overwhelmed at that feeling of “never being alone”? Sometimes when I’m driving home I pray for bad traffic, just so that I can spend more time alone in the car, singing and crying and trying not to pass my exit and keep driving until I’m alone at my parents’ beach house and no one can contact me for a few days.

Even so, when I do get those little “breaks” from reality, when I return to real life it’s a horrendously jarring experience. I feel like I’m retreating so far into my daydreams sometimes that I just can’t experience reality in a positive way anymore. I know none of this is healthy; I know all of this is my fault. I just don’t know how to fix it, or if I even want to.