we were on a break...

I've taken a little break from writing for the past month or so. I've felt a little blocked, not particularly just in regards to writing, but in general. I've been feeling overwhelmed. By what, I can't really identify (and yet, I can...). Life has been busy - bad things flowing out, good things flowing in. Overall, really positive developments and things to look forward to.  So, what's the problem?

When I get scared, I get overwhelmed. I avoid. I procrastinate. I recognize my patterns.

I'm not used to things going well. I expect and prepare for the worst. I flourish in the darkness, so to speak. It's a habit, a defense mechanism.

The way I write is the way I think - full conversations in my head, every day (and just as loud). I analyze everything, often to exhaustive levels. I consider situations and occurrences from every perspective, and this most definitely includes myself. It would probably be more accurate to say - especially myself. I feel like this self reflection helps me to try to be the best person I can be. Sometimes I keep it to myself, sometimes I say it out loud...sometimes I overshare. Oh, well. I've never been in the business of worrying what people think, so I won't start now.

Consider this your fair warning to stop reading if you don't like what you've read thus far. Also be warned that this post doesn't necessarily have a solid, definite point...or, maybe it will. We'll see.

I always make it a point to look back on where I am now, compared to where I used to be. I like to think of it as one of my ways of living a life of gratitude. Some people hate to look back on the past, but I find it necessary, and helpful to gauge my growth.

With that being said, I have certain go-to memories that I consider turning points in my life, and I've been analyzing them more than usual as of late. My ex-husband is a frequent subject of my scrutiny, because he is something I don't understand. To clarify, I don't understand me in relation to him. I don't understand myself and who I was back then; I am unsure how it ever even happened and why I let it occur. There are a few facts surrounding said events, but it's mostly a blur and still doesn't add up. It's not a matter of regret, it's one of confusion. People change and they grow, but I will never understand how the 2003-2009 versions of me existed and made such decisions. Regardless, I take a great deal of pride in how far I've come since that time.

Recently, after visiting a friend in south Jersey, I got lost on my way home. I had lived in the area with him while we were together, so I quickly found my way, and things began to look very familiar...uncomfortably familiar. Unexpectedly, I came upon old landmarks that brought upon a flood of memories (for one, the diner we went to after we had the first ultrasound of our son, on his birthday). My heart began racing, my hands were sweating, and I felt like I couldn't breathe - I felt dizzy - I felt like I could pass out while I was driving. I had my first ever anxiety attack. While I have known that period of time was traumatic for me, the fact that it brought out a physical reaction so many years later was still unsettling, and it set me back a little.

It made me think...

When you think of the words strength and success, what images pop up in your head? Similarly, when thinking of 'failure' - what do you see?  Do you allow yourself to be defined by these words, these images, events, or better yet - by other people that have not walked in your shoes? By those that have the audacity to assume that they CAN assume?

I don't. However, I was obviously once more vulnerable than I am today.

At the time, the anxiety attack made me feel weak, and think back. I was reminded of one event that stands out for me - I was 26 years old.

I answered the phone that day, happy, feeling like relief was in sight; he dully responded to my excited greeting.

"I'm not coming home today. I just don't think I'm ready to be back in the 'real world.'"

I stood frozen in the kitchen, the smile falling off of my face, followed by instantaneous hot, angry tears, defiantly running down my cheeks. It wasn't the first time he had let me down, but it was still unexpected, and I was ill-prepared. He was supposed to be on a flight home from Florida later that afternoon. I was drowning, and I needed him. I had waited for this day, for his return, for over a month. I missed him.

He never asked, he never wondered how I would feel, or how I would make it all work on my end. He obviously didn't care.

What about me? 

I didn't remember getting a choice on whether I was ready for the real world. I was just there. 

I hung up the phone without saying a word. Click.

He immediately called back, this time speaking to his mother. I refused to speak to him, I just couldn't. I didn't know how to express my frustration, my anger, my sadness.

Feeling hopeless, I picked up our 6 month old son, wondering how - and why - I had been granted the looming title and responsibility of being the strong one, the one that has to keep it together. I was the one that always had and kept my job, that took care of us financially. When I didn't want to move into the bigger apartment, he convinced me it was necessary. I finally caved to the pressure, but made him promise that he would step up and contribute to our family, do his part. He didn't; on my first official Mother's Day, I was busy packing boxes and moving into my in-laws after being evicted for failing to keep up with rent, bills, and life. We had only just been married 2 months before; I kept it all a secret from my family because I was ashamed. Both they and my friends, my entire support system, lived over an hour away. I was sad, I was embarrassed, and I felt like I had no one to talk to. I felt really alone.

Within a week of moving in with his parents, he approached me upon my return from a business trip. He needed help, and he wanted to go to rehab. It wasn't a new discussion, and I was scared, but I knew he was right. I told him I loved him and would support him however he needed. He then informed me it was already a done deal, he was already booked on a flight for early the next morning. I felt something - annoyed, hurt, 'something' - that he really had it all planned out, he wasn't really asking my permission or input. After all, leaving meant I had to figure out my work situation, because no one would be there to watch our son... and I surely couldn't afford a sitter. There was a lot that went into supporting him, despite it being the best thing for him - there were real life, adult decisions that had to be made and figured out. Apparently, I had to do it all on my own (with some help from his parents). And, I did. 

But, it all took its toll.

I often sat in that kitchen, feeling like I was in my own prison and I just wasn't sure how to claw my way out (the kitchen was a better option than the tiny room which we had moved into in the house). I felt like I had done everything I was supposed to, so why was it like this? He was the one who hadn't...I juggled work (I was lucky enough to have a boss who kept my secret, and helped me work out a special schedule during his time away), parenting alone, and money, though barely. I wanted him to get better, of course; however, it was difficult to swallow the whole thing at times, seeing as his program took place on the sunny beach in Florida. "His irresponsibility gets rewarded with a vacation," I would think to myself. It didn't feel fair. I couldn't complain though, because doing so would make me a selfish person and bad wife - he was battling this addiction, I had to be supportive. I brushed my feelings away, again.

His therapist personally reached out to me from Florida to explain his/my ex's side of things. I had never met or spoken to him before. He was a cheerleader for my ex, and totally in favor of him staying as long as he felt he needed to - regardless of the impact it may have on me or his son. He told me I was being selfish for being upset with my ex about deciding to stay, and "your husband is not just your babysitter." All I had wanted was to be included in the conversation, in the decision; as his wife, and in general, I felt he had absolutely no regard for me or my feelings (again). Once again, I felt the angry tears coming on, as I tried to explain and defend myself against this stranger that didn't know me, my life, or obviously what real responsibility and parenting actually meant.

I was angry about that interaction with my ex's therapist for a long time, because his comments were so blatantly ridiculous and unfair to assess me in that way, especially as I was trying my hardest to keep it together and support my ex. However, as much as I logically knew his judgment was inaccurate, I wallowed in shame and insecurity simultaneously. I let him get in my head and doubted myself. It's so easy to let complete strangers in and give them that power sometimes, isn't it? To let someone that doesn't know a thing about you judge you from an outside appearance or byline on a story they were told. Sounds crazy and stupid, right?

That's because it is.

During all this chaos, my mother-in-law sat me down and convinced me to see a therapist, because she recognized that I was falling into my own black hole. I had never before known what depression felt like, and I wouldn't wish it on anyone. At that moment, everything about my life made me feel claustrophobic.

People are afraid to talk about depression as though it's taboo. I have sometimes hesitated myself, because to ignorant people, there must be something wrong with you if you have not been happy for 100% of your life. Well, I'm not fake, and I don't fake it. I only met with my doctor a handful of times - but it didn't take many sessions of talking it out to realize I wasn't imagining things, and I wasn't wrong for feeling how I felt. I wasn't crazy, and I wasn't the person that others perhaps painted or assumed me to be. Did you ever see that quote/meme that says - before you diagnose yourself with depression, just be sure that the people you're surrounded by aren't assholes? It's true - that was pretty much my diagnosis.

These memories are ironically something I look back on fondly - they are what make me feel strong now... and sometimes I just need to remember all of this to really appreciate it.

Good things are on my horizon, and for me, that can be scary. I'm more comfortable using my 'strength' to fight 'battles,' and not at all comfortable letting my guard down. The anxiety is both scary and exhilarating. Trusting in it all is difficult. I might not find success, but I definitely won't if I do not try.

The flashback above was particularly relevant because recently, someone that doesn't know me tried to size me up and put me in a box - and I almost let it happen. They tried to tell me what I'm capable of, or what they think I can or cannot do. I almost listened, but then I looked in the mirror and remembered who the fuck I am. They have no fucking idea - they actually know nothing.

It takes strength to leave yourself open and to not care what people think about you.

Judge me if you like - I don't care. I don't know how to be anything but authentic, and I won't ever change.

If there is anything to take away from this rambling post, let it be this ~

Don't let anyone tell you who you are, or what you're capable of. People can and will judge you whether you like it or not; they can tell you who they think you are or can be. Make no mistake, there are no better teachers than life, time, and experience, and people that try so hard to define others likely don't know a thing about any of it -  not yet, anyway.

Give it time.


  1. There is a therapist, educator, and activist I've been reading in the last two years named Lundy Bancroft. He specializes in domestic violence and abusive relationships. One of topics he addresses has to do with the way that a controlling partner will enlist allies like the therapist you described. In his book “Why Does He Do That: A Guide to Angry and Controlling Men” he writes: “[M]ental health professionals routinely ignore or minimize allegations of partner abuse and child abuse, assume that women are hysterical and vindictive, and treat all problems as mutual in origin. … Similar kinds of errors abound in the work of many individual and couples therapists.” As a result, Bancroft makes it a practice to speak to not only the men he counsels, but also their former and any current partners. [http://www.amazon.com/Why-Does-He-That-Controlling/dp/0425191656]

    It's refreshing to hear that you found a counselor who didn't immediately continue that kind of gaslighting and helped you recover.

    On a much lighter note, I've been sharing this video which pokes fun at the kind of emotional labor imbalances you describe (and in many cis-hetero relationships): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7JeWKdofjls

    1. Gaslighting - so glad you used the word. Yes! The only benefit now is that the past made me very confident and sure of who I am. It takes a lot to shake me and I'm not easily impressed by those that "talk big."


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