Divorce, Single Parenting, Dating, Sex, & Self-Recovery

depression

What I’m Not Saying

I can’t talk about it yet. Well, I am talking about it, but over here http://wholeparentbook.com. But this place, The Off Parent is for the rad posts, the anger posts, the depression posts, where I can really let things fly. And I’m not ready to go there. In fact, I’m scared to go there. When I hit the anger about my lost relationships I know I will be furious.

So for now, if you’re waiting for the next chapter, head on over to my PUBLIC blog and take a read of what I’ve been up to in the last week or so.

I will be back here, I’m sure. And of course, some of that silence was my depression coming on strong and sticking around for a long fucking time.

I’m getting the varnish remover ready on my writing so I can give you the dirty truth about what I’ve been dealing with for the past 2.5 years. But not today. Today I just wanted to say “Hi. I’m here if you need me, and I’ll be back with my OFF writing soon.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

@theoffparent


The Long Retelling of My Divorce

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What I thought marriage would be like.

I was getting married for the second time so I was certain I knew what I was looking for. I needed someone much more stable than my first wife. I needed someone who understood depression; heck if she suffered from it herself that would be okay too. I wanted her to be solid, serious, and able to express herself creatively. And sure, we had to have fun.

What really happened in my marriage.

There was some drama in our courtship. As we were just getting started “dating” my future wife cut off our relationship. She needed to get right with her current boyfriend (WHAT?) and give that some time to sort itself out. It was a classic dear John lunch. And we agreed to not see each other for the foreseeable future. What she didn’t tell me at the time was she was actually living with the guy. Kissing me and living with the guy. I never knew until later. So we embarked on what I called our “moment of silence.” But what it really should’ve been was a BIG RED FLAG to get the fuck out. I didn’t.

She called me several months later, saying, “It’s done.” I was excited and we jumped into the “relationship” part of our courtship rather quickly and easily. She moved in with me a several months after that. And I remember our first fight was over when we would start trying to have a baby. She was getting freaked out by her age, and really wanted children. I did too, but didn’t subscribe to the drama of how quickly we needed to start trying. She freaked out. I consoled. We agreed we would start trying soon after we got married.

We bought a house in the fancy part of town (great schools, expensive, both of us had gone to the same fancy high school and we wanted the best for our kids) and rented my condo. Very quickly we had a mortgage together and were constructing our nest for the kids. She suffered an early (first trimester – were we even into a trimester language yet, I don’t think so) miscarriage. This gave her some sense of urgency that we try real hard to get pregnant. She was very goal oriented.

With the first kid came the burden of the child care and the house upkeep weighing down on us, we began to show some stress. I was working freelance, but had a steady gig with an online magazine. Times were good. 9/11 swept my business right out the door. And she was working part-time for her big employer, mainly to keep the insurance that would provide the coverage for our second child. I was crushed. We were both freaked out by money. We continued down the path to have a second child, but we were both struggling personally.

I suffered a major depression after 9/11 and during the medically challenging birth of our second child. She and mom suffered from a rare medical condition known as Kell. Their blood was incompatible and the mom’s body was trying to kill the daughter’s body. We visited a neonatal specialist every Monday morning for a sonogram that determined if our daughter was would need to be delivered in an emergency C-section, or if we could make it another week. It was harrowing. And our relationship suffered rather than got stronger. Doubt began to creep into my mind for the first time.

Then the hard middle years. Me struggling with depression, trying to find work, and the two kids eating up time, energy, and budget. Of course we were also in the glow of being new parents. We did bask in the amazing joy of being parents. But it was more us and the kids rather than us as a couple.

Nothing ever seemed to be settled for her. There was always something wrong. There wasn’t enough money. There wasn’t enough housekeeping help. There wasn’t enough spontaneous super-dad repairman around the house. She was mad that she had to ask me a couple of times to change a light bulb in the hallway. I was asking, “But the bulbs are right there, you can change it.”

During this hard time she confided in a new male co-worker. They shared several lunches together (just how she and I had gotten started) and I stumbled on an email between them where he was consoling her for being married to a person with depression. In my mind they were having an emotional affair. She apologized when confronted, and though she never apologized for the actual dating, she said she understood how it could make me upset and she would stop immediately. She never said she was sorry for doing it. She was sure she had done nothing wrong. But she would stop because she saw how it was hurting me.

This issue drove a wedge between us that may have been the crack that broke the marriage. We took it into therapy. We struggled with our financial issues. We were both stressed and not really going to each other with the work that needed to be done. I was using the energy to stay up late and write poetry, stories, or go into my music studio and compose. She was going to bed with the kids and waking up groggy and late. I became the “kids to school” dad. I was up. I was energetic and enthusiastic. She was always still getting ready.

Somewhere in that hard period she must’ve thrown in the proverbial towel. I don’t think she suffered from the same eternal optimism I did. I was solid and sure that we could return to the good times. I’m not so sure she felt the same way. She began to tell me how much I was disappointing her. It was part of our therapy that you could and should complain when something was out of balance. So she complained a lot. I struggled to find the way back to the joyful life that I knew was just around the corner. She began saying she didn’t believe that therapy or any of this “working on it” was getting us there.

In the end she made a decision to leave the marriage. While I was still sunk in the business of rebuilding she began to imagine life without me, parenting without me, and perhaps finding a new love, finding happiness again, with someone else. That’s the only motivation I could figure. More happiness elsewhere.

The final straw was certainly on my back. I was let go from the job that had saved us financially. And for three days I struggled to keep it a secret as I was working a new contract gig and interviewing for new jobs. I wanted to tell her, but not from a defeated place, from a place of hope. I wanted to say, “I lost my job, but I’ve already found the way to replace the income, so don’t worry.” It didn’t go down that way.

I was let go on a Friday. She and the kids were out-of-town for the weekend. When she returned on Sunday, I should’ve told her. Maybe I should’ve told her on the phone, but I didn’t want to wreck her holiday. She needed a holiday, for sure. So Monday rolls around, we’ve hardly had a chance to talk and I roll out the door just like I was going to my job, but I was going to my contract job, and later that day going to an interview. I kept the devastating news inside for one more day. I mean, I did have work. I did have a plan. It was a shitty plan, and a shitty thing to do. I thought I was doing it to save our marriage. What I was really doing was giving her the perfect reason to ask for a divorce. My untrustworthiness.

On Wednesday, while I was out at my “job” a letter came in the mail about COBRA medical coverage options. The jig was up. She was rightfully freaked out, more than usual. I was the liar, the untrustworthy child who wouldn’t grow up and take responsibility for his life. And in that position the only thing I had to argue was, “I think this is a turning point for us to regroup, reconnect, and recommit to our relationship.” It was a weak case at a bad time and she didn’t buy it.

That snap took place in March of 2010. In order to keep our kids in school through the end of the year, I argued to stay in the house and keep things “as is,” so they would not have to deal with this until summer. She did not agree, but the school counselor convinced her to wait. “Give them the summer to process this. Don’t do it while they’re finishing up their 3rd grade and 5th grade years.”

We lived in stasis. One of us slept on the couch or in a bed with a kid. I still did the morning breakfast routine, but the “relationship” was gone. In June I left the house and moved in with my sister. In August the divorce was final.

What I brought to the divorce.

I am conflict adverse. I’d rather settle, negotiate, lie, suppress, than get in a fight. My dad the raging alcoholic didn’t give much room for conflict in my family of origin. This caused me, over time, to avoid raising issues with my then-wife as things got tough. When sex went south in the marriage, I simply took care of myself and hoped for better days. I should’ve stood up and demanded we figure it out together.

I also brought my depression to the marriage. As an artistic soul I fluctuate sometimes between inspired highs and hopeless lows. I believe it’s manageable, but to some people it’s too hard.

I also have had a strong desire to work for myself. The “day jobs” I had were often a struggle as I scrambled to find the hours late at night, or early in the morning, to do my craft. It strained the marriage when I was always looking to steal back a few hours for myself. In the last years of my marriage I was helping put the kids to bed at 9 and staying up until 1 or 2 in the morning. Then going to work. I was burning the candle at both ends, and somehow napping, to my then-wife, was a sign of weakness, not a strategy to get more time later at night.

What was good about the marriage.

We did share some tremendous love in the early years of our marriage. While the time with the young kids was stress provoking, we mostly managed to focus on the bliss of becoming new parents, and the amazing evening activity of observing and interacting with these little humans. We loved our kids more than each other, I think, and that was ultimately the decision she made. Towards them (with 70% custody) and away from me. But for a good portion of our marriage we were two artists in love with our children and each other.

We did a good job of focusing on the parenting rather than the issues in our relationship. In divorce, this has been the saving grace. Our kids are now 14 and 16 and are showing signs of being intelligent, well-adjusted teenagers. While the fires have raged over money and the AG’s office, we’ve kept our kids above the fray. I’m sure there are frustrations they are aware of, but for the most part, the story is, we still love each other, we were just not right for each other in the long-term.

I did learn to love full-on in this marriage. I learned to put my whole soul into the project and come back with the joy of being a parent, and being in love, and being married. This total commitment is part of what blindsided me in the divorce. I was okay with things being a bit out of whack, because I “knew” they were going to sort out. I knew we would be happy again. In fact, inside, I was still happy, though the relationship was quite hard for the last year. I still woke up with joy and hopefulness in my heart. I’m not sure my then-wife ever recovered that joy in herself as she seemed consumed by a deeper rage and a sadness that was deeper than our relationship.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

 

@theoffparent

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My Ex-Wife Never Was All That Honest

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She was living with another man when we started having lunches. She started dating me before telling me or him of the other person. Along the way, that summer, she shut down our relationship so she could go “finish up” with him. She called me about six weeks later.

That opening volley should have been a red flag. But I was smitten. She was/is very pretty. I was very lonely. We hooked up soon after she moved out and she moved in with me in a matter of weeks. She made a very sensible move. She let go of the man who was unlikely to ever give her a child, something she had desperately begun to think about, and she found a man of means who was also ready for kids. Bingo.

There were a couple of wrinkles in her fantasy, however. 1. I did not make enough money to support a stay-at-home mom in the neighborhood we were committed to raising our children. 2. I suffered from occasional bouts of depression. She did too, but that’s another story all together.

So there we were, heading towards kids with some drastic changes to make. I was playing in a band, working for myself, and living in a condo that was paid for but not big enough to raise a family. What she needed was for me to get a real job, quit the band, and buy a house that could support our desired 2 kids in the neighborhood with the good schools. I caught the vision to. And so that’s what we did. I quit the band, got a full-time job, and we moved from my condo to a house in the “good schools” neighborhood. Of course we were 5 – 6 years ahead of needing those good schools, but hey, we were kids, we were in love, we were becoming parents.

So time goes along for a bit, we have two kids, a boy and then a girl, and we start having the frictions that married-with-children couples do. And a lot of that trouble had to do with money. I didn’t really think of it at the time, because we had decided to have her stay home with the kids as much as possible, while I continued the “big job” pursuit. While things went okay, the job market after 9-11 was awful. Our boat was taking on water. We spent most of the cash from the sale of the condo, and we were down to bare bones on our mortgage and house repairs.

It was about this time, and for some of those reasons, that I started a major slide into overwhelm, otherwise known as major depression. Not only was I responsible for an entire little family now, and a house payment, I also had lost my self-employment opportunity when the real estate market shut down after 9-11. Everybody had it hard, I get that, but somehow we didn’t join together as a team. Somehow we grew apart and the plan was for me to work, and work harder at finding work, and for her to … Well, we weren’t really sure what she was going to do. She didn’t know what she “wanted” to do, so I was committed to letting her fish around and figure it out. Meanwhile, our finances are swirling down the drain. But I never was one for being a stickler around money.

About the time things got really hard, she began to take lunches with a co-worker from a new group she was consulting with. Of course, I had no idea she was doing lunch with anyone. I stumbled upon a series of emails between them one afternoon while I was de-spamming our communal computer. BOOM. I was punched in the dick. She was revealing her deepest secrets, her concerns for my depression, her loneliness, and even her own inner struggles about being married to someone with depression.

I remember she came home with the kids and tried to talk to me about the evening plans. I was almost incoherent. It might have been easy to chalk that up to my struggles with depression, but this was different. Somewhere along the way she had taken out our personal love story and begun sharing it with another man. She was introducing him to the free coffee at our neighborhood library. She was doing lunches with a younger man just when her actual man needed her the most.

She came clean at this point. Not at doing anything wrong, but in acknowledging how this behavior might hurt me. She agreed to never do it again, and to end the “relationship” with this other man. But the damage had been done. She’d broken our sacred trust. And I am not sure if I ever felt 100% secure in my relationship after that. When sex went on hiatus, I remember wondering if she were seeing another man on the side, this time with physical comforts as well as mental comforts. I don’t think that was ever the case, but I’m not 100% sure.

Once the infidelity happens, even if it’s only emotional, the trust suffers. The odd thing, however, is how she made our “trust” an issue that I was mostly responsible for damaging. The “trust” issues seemed to all be about me. Not us? Our therapy sessions were less than productive as we searched for answers to MY depression and MY trust issues. She was the “okay” one.

Today, it’s easier to see how the entire relationship had been based on half-truths and omissions. I don’t have any regrets, at this point, because I look at our kids and I know we did the best we could. The best we could, however was less than 100% from her. At the moment when your partner is suffering and in need of your comfort, that is not the time to begin a “friendship” with a new person from work. A woman, maybe, but a handsome man?

I have learned a lot about trust and honesty in my life. My first and second marriages have taught me many things. I know that I will not tolerate infidelity, emotional or physical, and that TRUST is an issue that is shared. We had a trust issue in our marriage. While she was actually out doing something untrustworthy, I was the one being attacked. Perhaps the attack was the only defense she could come up with, for the way she was feeling inside.

She knew the moment I spoke of it, that afternoon when I found the email, that she had betrayed me. She never fully apologized for it. She said she wouldn’t do it again. That was as good as it ever got between us. I think that fracture is what led me towards divorce once it was offered. While I fought against the divorce, when I saw what I was up against, I gave in and complied. I guess I did the same thing at the beginning of our relationship when I first heard about the other man she was living with.

Things would be very different in my life had I walked away. I did not.

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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When You’re Trying to CoParent with a Narcissist

off-childrunningThe truth is, for a divorce to happen, you both had to do something wrong. While at first you might feel like the splitting of your marriage is a failure, I’m here to testify that it can also be seen, eventually, as the best thing that ever happened to you.

In my marriage, to the mother of my children, I didn’t know it at the time, but I was married to someone who has a pretty miserable view of the world. THEIR time was always more compromised, more valuable, and more stressful than anyone else around them. Now, divorced from this woman, I can gain some perspective of what I was dealing with while trying to keep our marriage together.

While married there always seemed to be some problem.

  • Not enough money
  • House not clean enough
  • Too busy and too tired for sex
  • Parenting routines were considered chores, to be taken care of rather than enjoyed

I wasn’t this way. I was raised with money as a given. I was always confident in my earning ability, even after being let go from a job. I cleaned house when things bugged me, but often they did not bug me. Sex was important to me, and felt like one of the spiritual and emotional ways two people can bond. And the kids were always a gift, a blessing, and the routines, always cherished. I wasn’t one for complaining about how tired I was, or making excuses for any of it because I was soooooo busy. So much busier than you, in fact.

Needless to say, my then-wife and I came from different universes emotionally. I was mostly happy. I woke up each morning with a clean slate, and eager anticipation of what the day might bring. She woke up with a chip on her shoulder, and usually it had something to do with me. I was the cause for her unhappiness.

Today, six years later, she’s remarried to a man with “plenty of money.” And she’s still not happy. She’s got new shoes, new gadgets for her house, and new handbags, but she still has the resting bitch face all the time. All. The. Time. She’s expressing how she’s not happy about life in general, and me specifically.

Take the back to school night at my kid’s 10th grade year of high school. Sitting in the classes listening to my son’s teachers talk about their program and their expectations for our kids, my ex-wife was opening her bills on the desk in front of her. Opening her mail, in my son’s back to school night? What could be more self-centered. I’m sure she had good reason to be so rude to everyone in the class including the teachers. I’m sure she’d just been too busy to do it at any other time. But why was she even at the back to school night, I wondered, as I shook my head in disbelief.

I’m certain I didn’t understand why she would do such a thing. I’m sure I wondered about her boundaries, and what she felt was appropriate vs. necessary to get HER schedule moved a few squares ahead. I was livid and cordial. And somewhere I was also noting my superior social skills and her lack of a clue or care for all the people surrounding her.

And just this week, she also started the kids on a very expensive regime of Invisilign braces. Now, under the “joint custody” rules she can not make these kind of decisions without talking to me. If I’m going to be responsible for 50% of extraneous expenses, I need to be consulted BEFORE the expense is incurred. I found out about them because one of my kids was complaining about the braces. He apparently did not know why he was enrolled, and how he might get unenrolled if he objected. She didn’t share the important details with him either. Typical narcissist: doing what matters to them without much attention given to those around them who will be affected by their actions.

Okay, so my wife is still unhappy, though “happily married,” as she claims. She’s got plenty of money (both from my child support payments, but more so from her new wealthy husband) and she’s not happy. And she’s still acting out of spite towards me, and that spite sometimes includes the kids in her range of fire. She’s a piece of work.

Most of all, though, she’s still not happy. Not about anything, that I can tell. All of her correspondence with me about the braces were filled with “I can’t fucking believe you are reacting like this” to “I didn’t think you were interested in things like the kid’s health, or their dental appointments.” See, shes’ still mad that 70% custody means she has 70% of the doctor’s appointments too.

She’s just not happy.

I am happy.

Most of all, I am happy to have the perspective that now shows me it was not my actions or failures that made her unhappy and destroyed our marriage. She’s just this way. Somehow life is just a little more difficult for her. Somehow her chores, and her time, are more burdensome than the rest of us. And for that, she’s not happy. Not ever. Sure, she can smile on demand, but generally her expression and outlook, at least while we were married, was ANGRY. Doesn’t she work with this in therapy?

Glad to be in my own skin, my own environment, and a new relationship with someone who sees life from the “half full” side of life, every single morning that we wake up together. My ex-wife’s continuous displays of contempt for me, and her repeated aggressions in emails and texts, just expose just how self-centered she is. It’s too back for my kids that she is this way. My son is a bit more cynical than I would like. But he’s doing fine in spite of it. And god knows I haven’t been the 100% rockin father that I wanted to be. But they do know and acknowledge that I have always done my best and stayed available and close to them. I can’t say the same for their mom. But maybe that’s just how she is.

Peace and CoParenting,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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Rationalizing Your Divorce

Screen Shot 2016-09-12 at 1.40.53 AMThere’s no getting over the fact that a divorce is a failure. And I may never forgive my ex-wife for changing my time with my kids forever. The system is rigged in a mom’s favor, and as a dad I was given my “deal” and told to grin and bear it “for the benefit of the kids.”

FK That.

My kids were 5 and 7 when they lost me. And my ex-wife made the plans to move on, without even letting me know. Sure we were in couple’s therapy, but I thought we were doing it to save our marriage. I think she was doing it to plan for her future. I never understood how cynical she’d become, and I didn’t clue to the fact that her toxic anger was directed 99% of the time at me. I didn’t get it. I was so in love with being a parent and being a good father, that I missed the clues she was putting off.

There were some clues I couldn’t ignore. In the last year, when I was still clueless to my then-wife’s scheming, she would occasionally burst out with a, “Fuck you.”

She had to apologize several times when she shot the verbal FU in-front of friends. She was incapable of keeping her rage contained. “Where,” I wondered aloud, “is her individual therapist in this situation?” How could a good therapist allow their client to seethe month after month.

While divorce is a terrible thing, a worse crime is staying in a marriage “for the kids.” I suppose, if I were to be honest, in the last few months, before she went to see an attorney, we were not very happy. I was definitely “staying for the kids.”

But I was staying out of strength and conviction that our marriage and our love relationship was worth saving. She was occupied with another pursuit. She wanted to know her options. She wanted to build financial models base on our assets. She must have known months in advance, how much money she would need to survive after divorce, even if I gave her the house.

I didn’t fight, once she’d told me she’d consulted a lawyer, “to understand her options.” I should’ve lawyered up at the same time, but I didn’t. I naively thought that our good intentions would serve us. I stupidly imagined that the phrase, “In the best interest of the children,” actually meant we would cooperate to find the resolution of our relationship that would benefit our children the most.

Her idea: Mom gets 70% of the kids time. Mom get’s the house. Mom gets a nice monthly stipend so she doesn’t have to work quite so hard at being a breadwinner during this trying time.

My idea: We shouldn’t be getting a divorce at all. If she would get real she’d see that this hard time was the perfect moment to reset, rebuild, and recommit to our marriage. AND if we were going to divorce, I wanted 50/50 parenting, with a 50/50 schedule.

The divorce therapist we met with sold me down the river. Sure it was 2010, but I really didn’t have a chance.

“This is what you would get if you guys went to court,” the therapist said to me in private when the 50/50 idea was being railroaded by both her and my soon-to-be-ex. “So why don’t we start there and work on the things you have some say over.”

Wait, what? I was paying this woman to tell me 50/50 was out of the question. I still wonder if my ex had been talking to her on the side, before we got into our parenting plan negotiations. I was almost laughed out of the therapy session when I brought in my 50/50 schedule and my three books that told why coparenting was better than custodial parenting.

I lost everything. For every night I had my kids, my ex-wife had two nights. I fell into despair. Had I been more susceptible to alcoholism, I know this would’ve done the trick to slip me into the addiction. As it was I dealt with a nasty episode of depression. Ouch. AND I dealt with missing my kids twice as much as my newly divorced ex-wife had to.

The deck is still stacked in the mom’s favor. In Texas, my home state, the man gets the non-custodial role in 80% of all divorces. The mom gets the house and the child support payment. I guess in a wealthy divorce that’s the split that makes everyone happy. Dad get’s less time with the kids but more time to make money. Mom get’s to hold on to her matriarch role and get paid well for the privilege of staying home with the kids.

The good news, I don’t ever have to go through that again. More good news, the state is doing 50/50 plans, with ZERO CHILD SUPPORT, about 50% of the time these days. And if the parents agree to joint custody and 50/50 parenting, the AG’s office doesn’t get involved.

That’s not how it worked out for me and my kids. As a result I will always have a sad place in my heart and memory about that time. But we’ve moved on. My kids are now 13 and 15 and we are entering a new “teen” phase of our relationship. And I have to hand it to my angry ex-wife, we’ve done a good job at being civil and keeping the relationship between us focused on being good parents first, and financial partners second. We’ve never gotten our priorities mixed up. Well, except for my wife’s angry move to involve the AG for enforcement of the decree when I was 60 days behind on child support. She will never be forgiven for that violation of trust and integrity.

It’s water under the bridge they say. And today I focus on my happy and well-adjusted kids. She’s 50% of that parenting team. And while she still holds the loaded gun to my head financially, she’s kept her mom-hat and mom-responsibility in the proper ratio. Our kids are doing great in school, they seem to be thriving in their lives, and as they grow older, I know our relationships will continue to change and prosper. But when we were going through it, it was all I could do to agree to the divorce, much less FIGHT with my soon-to-be-ex about custody, parenting plans, and money.

I give you my thanks dear exy. And I hope you choke on your own vitriol while keeping our kids happy and well-fed.

Peace and CoParenting,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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#dad #divorce #depression

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“They may have less of me, but they’ve got a fully empowered and alive dad.”

My recent series of depressions were a direct result of my divorce 6 years ago. There’s no way to beat around that bush. I had been depression free for quite some time, but the fragility was still there beneath the surface. So, even as I counseled my kids, negotiated with my soon-to-be-ex, I was reeling inside with doubt, sadness, and plan old garden variety depression.

In my counseling sessions with both my meds doctor and my talky doctor we discussed the difference between chemical depression and existential depression.

I missed my kids every day they were not in my life. And as a dad, that meant about 70% of the time I was alone. The crisis came swiftly as I was asked to leave my house, my neighborhood and support system, and move into my sister’s spare room. There was not a large amount of money in our accounts, and I’d recently lost a high-paying corporate job. It was a hard time for anyone. But with my propensity towards hopelessness, I was set up for a fall unlike any I had experienced before.

In my counseling sessions with both my meds doctor and my talky doctor we discussed the difference between chemical depression and existential depression. The circumstances of my physical life were depressing = existential depression. AND, in my case, the chemical depression caused by my brain functioning improperly and giving off distress signals that were causing untold havoc in my body, mind, and attitude.

Through a number of previous “really hard periods” I had learned the pattern of hopelessness. I was prone to giving up when things got too bad. In my youth this was a result of being kicked out of a top prep school and the death of my father when I was twenty-one. Each of those events affected me profoundly. And part of me decided that the deck was stacked against me in some way, and perhaps — the depressed person incorrectly reasons — I need to give up. I suppose the ultimate giving up would be suicide, but I was a bit of a softie for that. Heights and guns terrified me, and pills, well, there was a lot of bad pill stories out there, if you’re researching how to do yourself in. It wasn’t going to be my thing, suicide.

Instead I was going to wallow, fall, cry, complain, sleep, and hope in a magical rescue that would bring me up and out. Going for a rescue is another one of my common patterns. I make my life look so horrible that maybe someone (in my high school days it was my mom) would see my distress and rescue me. But as an adult there was no person who could sooth my hopeless soul. There was no one in my life to say, “Everything’s going to be okay.”

It’s hard to say which came first, the positive attitude or the improving life, but it’s clear that there is a direct connection between the two.
That’s really your therapist’s role. My talky doctor and I examined past and present depressions and tried to reason some things out. My meds doctor consoled me with the idea that the meds would eventually have a lifting effect on my mood. But it was more than mood. It was life. existentially, in divorce, I was in a depressing place. Still, I had to find a way to make a go of it, for my kids, for my family, and ultimately for me. I had to find a way to stand alone, as a single dad, and proclaim that life was good. I was a long way from that a few years ago.

Today, I’d have to say, I’m in a stable relationship, I’m working and paying my child support, and I’m happy with my life. I’m okay with the divorce. My existential life has caught up with my positive attitude. It’s hard to say which came first, the positive attitude or the improving life, but it’s clear that there is a direct connection between the two.

When my existential life is crushed my mental life will often follow. But the level of stress I can endure without cratering is also substantial. I had been able to sustain a wobbly marriage for a year or more and get us into couple’s therapy to see if we could save the core of our relationship. I was working and doing my fair share of chores and kid duties. Neither of us was HAPPY but we were working on it.

I was not aware when we entered therapy that she was actually already considering divorce. The yaw of divorce had not been allowed to enter my consciousness. Divorce was the 100% dead option. Divorce to me WAS suicide. And while I continued week after week to talk her down off the ledge, I was ultimately unable to fix things that I didn’t see as broken. It was probably more about her family of origin than about us. But still I failed.

In failing at marriage, I was certain that I had failed in my life, that I had failed my kids. I was most certain that I failed as a man. The full story is I didn’t fail, I was still giving it 100% when I was told things just weren’t going to work out for the other person. There was nothing I could do.

Divorce changed everything about my life in a matter of weeks. From that collapse I have rebuilt a stronger, faster, smarter me.

I fought. I tried to bully her back into the relationship. I pleaded. I reasoned. I failed again and again, because she had decided and never wavered from her decision. The rest was my reaction to this failure. My reaction to the loss of the majority of my “dad time.” There is no way to understand the loss until you are a parent and you learn that you’re going to get 1/3 the time with your kids you are used to. It felt like a violation of my life, my principles, my religion. But it was just a divorce. And in divorce the kids get split between houses.

Would I have not gotten depressed if I gotten 50/50 parenting like I’d asked, I doubt it. My stress level, in the “year of negotiations” trying to keep my wife in the marriage, and now the collapse of my marriage and loss of my kids and house, for any amount of time… I think I would’ve succumbed. The existential depression was inevitable. Could I have started the chemical repair sooner? Sure, but until things broke down I was feeling really strong. Stressed, but strong. Once I was out of my family home I was no longer certain of my positive future.

Divorce changed everything about my life in a matter of weeks. From that collapse I have rebuilt a stronger, faster, smarter me. And in some ways, I think my kids (13 and 15) are also stronger and more resilient as a result of our break up. If she wasn’t happy, she was showing them through actions and words, what unhappy looks like. If I was stressed I was not able to be my effervescent self and the dad I wanted to be.

I am showing them how to recover from a loss, and to become a happier, more focused man. And as a dad, I am showing up in ways I couldn’t have as a married man. I’ve got more energy, more time, and more attention for each of them, in the smaller amount of time I have. They may have less of me, but they’ve got a fully empowered and alive dad.

… I will continue tomorrow…

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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Showing Up In Spite of the Lizards (Surviving the Depression)

Screen Shot 2016-09-04 at 10.12.42 AMI was seeing lizards everywhere. And not the good kind. The kind of lizards that were whispering to me, telling me lies, breaking my heart, and causing me to break the promises I made to myself.

I had a hard holiday season. I have a history of hard holiday seasons ever since my oldest sister committed suicide by jumping of a nearby bridge into a dry creek bed. So this Christmas was a bitch. But it also taught me a number of things about myself and my resilience.

In the first day of the spiral, I could tell what was happening. It’s sort of like a metallic taste in my mouth.
I’ve had depressive episodes since my teens. I didn’t know what was going on back then. Today I know exactly what’s happening. That’s not to say I can stop the slid into darkness when I feel it happening. (That’s what I’m getting better at, but I know it will happen again.) I feel the tingle in my groin that shares the same sensation with looking over the edge of a tall building. The thrill, the terror, the flight. It’s like that. But in a bad, not exhilarating way.

This holiday season I had a number of factors that brought me down. (And by brought me down, I mean going from upright enthusiastic and hopeful, to ready to follow my sister off the bridge.) I was stressed about my job. I was tired from a long day of traveling home from vacation. AND I had the holidays staring me in the near future. And this summer, different from any summer, I was going to have my teenaged kids in the house with me and my fiancé for 8 straight days. I was worried about everything.

In the first day of the spiral, I could tell what was happening. It’s sort of like a metallic taste in my mouth. And a little bit of electrical current is being applied in my armpits, like torture. It’s subtle at first, but I recognized my old nemesis. And even with all of the awareness and experience I’ve had, I was semi-powerless to mitigate the slip.

I really wanted to disappear. I didn’t directly want to kill myself, but I could see the appeal of not waking up in the morning.
I went from being a productive and happy member of my family to being a stone temple frog. I didn’t speak, because saying anything carried the risk of actually telling you what bad craziness was going on in my head. Like the best/worst Hunter Thompson scene from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, I was seeing lizards everywhere. And not the good kind. The kind of lizards that were whispering to me, telling me lies, breaking my heart, and breaking the promises I made to myself. I didn’t want to go DOWN, but kicking screaming was not my way. I silently slipped beneath the surface of the dark water, hoping no one would notice my absence.

I really wanted to disappear. I didn’t directly want to kill myself, but I could see the appeal of not waking up in the morning. BUT… I had so much to stop me, from suicide, that is. There was nothing that could stop me from hitting the dark days, but my reaction and ability to just fucking show up, was my superpower in depression.

… I will continue tomorrow …

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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Admitting My Depression Publicly

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I must be in a really good place or a really awful place to begin talking about my depression publicly, again. My talky therapist cautioned me. “There might be some future complications.” As in, health insurance! Or looking for a job.

In depression we want to constantly collapse. We hope for constant rescue. But the truth is we’ve got to be self-rescuing knights and princesses.

If you’ve ever had to seek services for a mental illness you’ll begin to understand what he was hinting at. 90% of the therapists I’ve seen are private pay only. What that means is your health insurance that appears to cover mental health, really covers some consulting by your family PA. Or at the maximum, a beginning therapist who’s willing to see patients for $35 – $45 per hour. And I can tell you, that’s not many.

And here I am, freaking out my family (no my fiancé however) by coming out as a sufferer. Why would I do this? Fame? Hardly. Fortune? Um, yeah, from what, an Oprah appearance? No.

I started this new blog (my 5th) to capture all of the writing I’ve done in the last 6 years about depression, creativity and depression, and divorce and how it triggered my worst depression ever. I’m coming out. Much in the same way sexual orientation used to be the stigma, I think today we’re more afraid of someone with a mental illness than we are of a gay or transgender person.

The media, and the congress majority party like to point to mental illness every time there is a mass shooting. But what they are doing is deflecting the bullets that should be going right for their main financial contributor, the NRA. Yes, mental illness is a huge problem in the US. And yes, many of the people who commit horrendous crimes are suffering from mental illness either temporary or clinical, I mean, how else could you shoot someone outside of a war zone?

Mental illness is very poorly understood. And, in fact, the doctors are only slightly more informed than those of use who suffer. See, we tend to do a lot of research, seeking out relief from this invisible and debilitating disease. And the pharma industry is working hard to replicate the success of Prozac, but even the drugs are a shot in the dark.

In my case, a cocktail of some of the old drugs, the cheaper ones now in generic form, tends to work the best. I tried some of the fancy new drugs, atypical they are called, and they flattened me out like road kill. So I go with the tried and true, and cheap, Wellbutrin-generic. (The same drug sold as a smoking cessation med.) And this drug serves like a persistent cup of coffee during the day, more than a feel-good drug. And I occasionally need to add in some Lexapro-generic when I’m starting to have obsessive thoughts. Between these two drugs I have successfully recovered over and over. It’s exhausting. But it’s better than the alternative.

Now I’ve just admitted to my illness and given you my prescription. But there’s a lot more to my strategy and care team. The drugs can help, but believe me, they are not a cure. The only cure is in my actions. I must take action to feel better. The Welbutrin tends to help me get out of bed in the morning. But it’s what I do with those 12 – 18 hours before I get back in bed, that really matters. The actions are up to me.

If your therapist agrees with you about what you can’t do, they are giving you the permission to not do stuff that you need to do for your recovery.
I believe in talk therapy as well. And I have learned over my 30+ years in therapy, that there are huge differences in the quality of care provided by the different schools of psychology and the different levels of training a therapist has. But the main thing in finding a talky doctor is to feel and empathetic bond with them. This is not transference. I don’t want my therapist to be my mom or my dad. I want them to FEEL into me, and understand and be articulate about FEELINGS. And then help me to take ACTION.

I’ve had men and women therapists and both have provided great care in my past. I have noticed a tendency that’s worth noting. Women therapists, in my experience, tend to be more empathetic and nurturing. But in the same vein, they tend to coddle me a little bit too much. They give me support where they should give me a harsh talking to. Sometimes, a therapist will collude with my depression. This is a role they must never have. None of your care team should ever agree with your diagnosis or symptoms of depression. Let me explain.

When I’m in my happy place I can laugh at and examine my depressive episodes from all angles. This is often where some of the good work around coping strategies gets done. BUT… When I’m in a depressive state it is easy, when talking with me, to want to give me encouragement and hope. Some of that can veer into collusion. Here’s what I’ve learned about that.

  • I want you to accept and nurture me.
  • When I’m depressed I need acceptance and warmth.
  • When I’m depressed I will say very convincing things about what I can and can’t do when I’m depressed.
  • You should never agree with me about what I can’t do. That is collusion.
  • If your therapist agrees with you about what you can’t do, they are giving you the permission to not do stuff that you need to do for your recovery.

Dear loved ones and therapists, please do not give me permission to stay in bed all day. Please do not excuse my missed appointments, or missed dinner dates, for any reason. They are a symptom of my depression and an example of how I am NOT DOING WHAT I MUST DO.

The recovery from depression always comes from forward momentum in action. Taking action is a contradiction to the depression that is telling you to close-it-all-down, stay in bed, isolate yourself to protect others. But those are lies.

In my childhood (between 4 – 7 years old) I would often take to the hills when my father would hit a rage-filled moment in his alcoholism. We lived in a neighborhood that had huge lots. So I would climb the hill behind my house and build stick and stone forts. I would go there to be alone, to be safe. I would gather rocks and sticks nearby for weapons. But who was I defending against? My mom and dad? How was I ever going to win or even survive that battle?

As an adult I exhibit some of the same behaviors in response to high stress and depression. I isolate. I think that I will feel better by curling up in bed and closing the blinds. But it’s a lie.

I did not get better up in my stick and stone fort. I only got better when I returned to the house and found my mom. I only got better by taking action against what I really wanted to do. I really wanted to stay up in that fort until they sent out a search party. I desperately wanted someone to come find me, pick me up, and tell me it was going to be okay. As a kid that is a perfectly acceptable request. It’s what parents should do with kids. As an adult this type of behavior and desired response from others is likely to cause you a lot of pain. It might even get you in trouble with your job, or put your relationship into jeopardy. You cannot wait for someone to come rescue you from your stick and stone fort.

I cannot call in sick, I cannot opt-out of activities I used to love just because I am depressed.
The only way out of the fort is by your own action. The only way out of your depressive moments is by making contact with others in the world. You might call your care team. You might call a friend who understands. You might have a loving spouse who can give you warmth and cuddle without the coddle. That’s what you need. You need peace, love, and understanding, and then you need action.

Only you can take the action. Your therapist and family can all make suggestions, can all think they have a handle on what’s best for you, but only you can do it. Only you have the ability stand up in your mess of a fort/life/situation and ask for help. You have to tell those around you what’s happening and what you need. And you must ask them NEVER TO COLLUDE WITH YOUR DEPRESSION.

Telling me he understands my stick and stone fort is a therapist’s job. Telling me it’s okay for me to call in sick is colluding. I cannot call in sick, I cannot opt-out of activities I used to love just because I am depressed. Sure, I don’t need to add a lot of stressful activities, but I cannot isolate. Only through massive action, action forward, action back towards engagements and people and tasks, can we find the grip on the slipper slope back to wellness. We must fight to climb back up the hill ourselves. We can have a team of people around us cheering us on, but it’s an individual sporting event.

Today, back at the top of the hill, reengaged with my family, with work, with my creative process, it is easy for me to shout about ideas and strategies for doing what I’ve just outlined. But only two months ago, I was in my own stick and stone fort hiding from everyone. The holidays are typically hard for me. But this past holiday I “took a digger.” And my lovely companion didn’t collude with me or my isolation. She constantly showed up, cooked healthy meals, asked me what I needed, and demanded we go for a walk. It is through those laborious trips up the neighborhood hills that I got my strength back. More than the meds and more than the talky doctor, it was the daily living experience that I had to heal within. And walking, staying close to someone else (even if you don’t talk much) is the key to getting better.

I may never be 100% free of this terrible disease, but I can do better each time. I can show my care team where I hide and ask them to call me out every. single. time. There are no exceptions to this rule. Anytime I was let off the hook, “Okay, you can stay home, I can see how tired you are,” was a time when I ultimately felt worse not better for the release. In depression we want to constantly collapse. We hope for constant rescue. But the truth is we’ve got to be self-rescuing knights and princesses. The truth is we can only do it for ourselves. Our friends, family, and support team can cheer us along, but it’s our legs and our lungs that have to propel us back up the hill.

… let’s continue tomorrow …

Respectfully,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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What I’m Missing Today as a Divorced Dad

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It’s been nearly seven years since my divorce and on average that means I’ve missed 2/3 of my kids lives since then. I’m not depressed about it, but the sadness does occasionally creep up on me on the nights they are with their mom. I fought for 50/50 parenting but was shown the law book as an excuse for doing the right thing. If you parent 50/50 both mom and dad should have equal access to the kids after the divorce.

What I was missing is the tender years, the developmental years when they are really kids and really attached. That’s what I lost 2/3 of. That’s the pain of divorce.

For me the loss of my kids and being thrust into alone time was the most traumatic part about divorce. We had built a happy (somewhat) home and I was determined to keep it together. And sure, I was keeping it together for the kids, but probably I was holding on to a crumbling marriage because I didn’t want to be alone again. I loved the routines: 1. home from school; 2. homework and play; 3. dinner; 4. bath; 5. bedtime stories. My kids were young when we split. And the harsh interruption of this family dance was almost too much to take. I survived. We all survived. But for the most part, their lives stayed the same and my life was upended and cut off from all I knew.

It’s odd when you leave your house for the last time, all the little things you’re never going to remember to ask for, but you leave behind. In my case, I didn’t have anywhere to move to, so I moved in with my sister while I tried to get my act together again. So 95% of all my stuff stayed in the house. At some point, a few months in, she and one of her girlfriends packed all of my clothes and belonging into boxes and moved my material corpse into the garage. I’m grateful I didn’t have to do it. But it also felt like I was being buried, or put in my place.

I was fortunate to have a sister in town who happened to have a mother-in-law plan that worked out for me and my kids. While I didn’t have any privacy, my room was next to the media/tv/gaming room, I did have a place to sleep. And the room was big enough that over the summer the kids could spend their dad-weekends with me. So, I didn’t have it to bad. Or should I say, it could’ve been a lot worse.

But seeing my kids and ex-wife in the house, with all my stuff, continuing on with life as usual. It was like “daddy was on an extended business trip.” But I would never be back.

A few nights ago, on a typical kid-free Monday (M-T-W nights were always kid-free) I was feeling sad and I tried to examine what was making me ache. Again, this is seven years later. It was easy to identify that I missed my kids. Their laughs and stories about their day at school. Getting to hear what’s going on in their lives. But it was deeper.

In my mind I was howling for the pain my kids would go through. But as the time went on I learned it was the pain I had gone through with my parents divorce that I was howling about.

What I was missing is the tender years, the developmental years when they are really kids and really attached. That’s what I lost 2/3 of. That’s the pain of divorce. And I’m sure it cut both ways. I’m sure that my ex-wife was sad on the nights when they were with me. Those young-kid nights when everything was about them and their connection to you and the world and each other. Here I was, seven years later, feeling sorry about what I’d lost when they were younger.

It’s different today, being in parenting relationships with teenagers. Most of the time the parenting role is about transportation and food. And with friends and boyfriend/girlfriends they’d mostly like to be somewhere else. We still have the tender moments, but they are sparsely scattered throughout our time together. What I was sad about a few days ago is the loss of that time, the tender time. My kids are still precious, and I am completely devoted to them, but there’s a longing, like wanting a puppy to stay a puppy, for that earlier time. Of course, it’s never coming back, and my sadness is just about me. Perhaps it’s me feeling sorry for myself all these years later, about what I lost back then.

This was the pain of divorce for me. The minute she said she had seen a lawyer I howled. And in my mind I was howling for the pain my kids would go through. But as the time went on I learned it was the pain I had gone through with my parents divorce that I was howling about. When I lost my dad in divorce the loss was absolute. It was as if he fell off the deep end of his isolation and alcoholism. He was gone from my life. What I had after the divorce was a ghost of a dad.

I am not a ghost to my kids. I am a fully alive and empowered father. I was handed a less-than-fair deal and we’ve all learned to deal with it. Today my ex has been mentioning a 50/50 schedule, toying with the idea rather than making an offer. We haven’t reached any agreement, but there are more things in motion. And again, it’s just an “idea” she’s floating.

I’m also considering letting my sadness be my own and not mixing it up with my kids-of-divorce sadness, because, my kids seem extremely happy right where things are. My sadness is my own. It’s more from my little boy than my middle-aged man. I can recognize that and deal with it, on my own. And we’ll see how our relationships evolve over the coming years.

Respectfully,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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Divorce and the Goodbye Monday Blues

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Divorce is about goodbyes. Goodbyes you never thought you’d be saying. Instead of everyday, like I imagined, I only see my kids 10 out of the 30 days in an average month. That’s a lot of time without their smiling faces. And when you’re the off parent, it’s a lot of time alone.

In the spaces between being dad I learned to reinvest in myself. I healed from my sadness and divorce by writing, exercising, and living through it.

Today I’m in a much better place with it, but it’s never easy. I miss them. And I’m amazed when days go by without even a text or Snapchat. But they’re teenagers and doing their own thing. I get it. Still, it’s a heartbreaking situation for someone who’s emotionally open and connected. I suppose there a people who are more business like about it, but I’m a card-carrying member of the attachment parenting movement, and perhaps the attachment is just as strong both ways.

I’ve been a divorced dad for almost seven years and I’m still going through empty nest syndrome. Perhaps this is one of the gifts of divorce, the real empty nest won’t be so hard for me, since I’ve been 2/3 empty already. But the gift is a painful one.

On Monday mornings, at the end of my four-day run with the kids, I drop them off at school and then return to my old house and drop off their bags. Early on in the divorce this was hugely depressing. Everything about it brought back the pain. My old house. Dropping them at school knowing I wouldn’t see them for several days. And that one day thing on the off week is pretty hard too, but drop off Mondays were really a bitch.

Just this past Monday I had a moment of sadness and overwhelm. There were a lot of other pressures that converged on this particular Monday, but something about the drop off really struck a deep chord of pain in me. There’s no explaining it. I used to get sad sometimes dropping them off at day care when I was going to see them that same night. I miss my kids. I like to hear about their day (what they’ll tell me) and their ambitions for whatever. Being around them in their daily activities is a joy.

Today, I’m glad I have the time to devote to all the messy loveliness of being in a relationship again. I’m engaged to be married and very happy about life.

The only tonic to this sad dance is picking up your own life and moving on. In the spaces between being dad I learned to reinvest in myself. I healed from my sadness and divorce by writing, exercising, and living through it. And I continue to work on myself outside of my relationships, doing the emotional excavation to understand my sadness.

I was asked by a friend the other day what was the hardest part of divorce, losing my primary relationship or losing my kids? Kids. It wasn’t even close. Maybe that’s still some of the anger of the divorce talking, but I could imagine myself without my ex-wife, I could not imagine my life without my kids. It’s not that I’m living for or through them. But your love for your kids is something unlike any other relationship. There’s no explaining this to someone without kids. It simply doesn’t compute.

Today, I’m glad I have the time to devote to all the messy loveliness of being in a relationship again. I’m engaged to be married and very happy about life.

Do I still get tripped up on drop off Mondays? Yep. It’s part of the ebb and flow of life as a divorced parent. One day things seem okay and the next day the universe is split in two: time with your kids and time without them. I’ll take what I can get and do the best I can in that time. The rest is up to me.

Respectfully,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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The Long Tail of Parenting and Custody After Divorce

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At the time of my divorce my ex wanted primary custody. I wanted joint custody. She wanted the majority of the children’s time. I wanted 50/50. In my understanding of parenting and what my kids needed, I was certain that our roles were equally important. For some reason, probably financial, she did not agree. And in our fair state of Texas she was awarded the custody just as she knew she would be.

It’s interesting today, that my now-ex is much more interested in arranging a 50/50 schedule. She complains how exhausted she is from running the kids to all their activities as a single parent.

So, for the last seven years from the time my daughter was six and my son was eight, she’s had the responsibility and pleasure of parenting my kids two hours for every one hour I get. Back in the early months and years of the divorce this was devastating. I never got enough time with my kids. I longed for them twice as often and twice as long as she did. And in those tender years our kids really needed both of us. My son needed his dad more than he was getting him. My daughter craved my hugs and happy lifestyle. But that’s the way the divorce went down.

It’s interesting today, that my now-ex is much more interested in arranging a 50/50 schedule. She complains how exhausted she is from running the kids to all their activities as a single parent. Well, she is engaged, but it’s a separate house, separate living quarters kid of engagement. And I imagine she is not lying when she says it’s hard.

And there is a part of me that still misses my kids during the 2-for-1 hours they are with her. But today, as teenagers, the quality and type of relationship with your kids is very different. Back then I wanted to teach my son to ride a bike, I wanted to take my daughter fishing more, I wanted to expand their horizons and let them see and be with their happy father. I didn’t get as much of an opportunity to do that. But back then it was a different type of parenting.

Today, as teenagers, my kids are even more interesting and self-driven, but they are also a lot more work. Most of the parenting activity in the teen years is driving them from place to place, waiting for them and their friends to get ready, and feeding and clothing them. It’s not as rewarding. It’s still engaging and important, but the “kid years” are really the golden age of parenting and attachment parenting specifically.

What I am able to give my kids now, in the reduced-dad role I was given, is a happy, energetic and always positive parent.

My life is also very different. A bit over a year ago I started dating a woman who quickly captured my heart and imagination for the future. Today we are happily engaged and living together in a modest house that has two rooms in the back for my kids. And I relish every hour I have with them. But I don’t necessarily want more carpool and cafeteria shifts. That’s the hard work, low return, parenting duty that makes up the majority of parenting teenagers.

What I am able to give my kids now, in the reduced-dad role I was given, is a happy, energetic and always positive parent. I am more than happy to carpool them. I thrive and excel at making them breakfast before school and getting them to their appointments on-time. It’s not a chore, it’s a pleasure. I’m guessing, my overwhelmed ex is asking for 50/50 parenting now because the mundane teen years are harder and less interactive than before.

So I lost the golden years of parenting. My son is a bit less masculine at times and he still doesn’t know how to ride a bike. He doesn’t want to learn, either. That’s okay. We have the relationship we have as a result of those years of absence. All those years where their mom tried to fill in the dad blanks. But I was not there. And I was given that share of the parenting duties by her selfishness and greed.

I’d love more time with my kids. But… I am okay with the time I have with my teenagers. In the time I do have with them I know I am the best dad they could ever have. And they are not begging to go 50/50 or anything. Why would they want things any different? It’s my ex that wants the change and today, unfortunately for her, she’s got the Standard Possession Order (SPO) she argued for and won. She’s got the kids about 2 hours for every 1 of mine.

Today, in the long tail days of parenting, it makes me smile. I’m still missing my kids just as much as I was as a newly divorced dad, but I’m missing a different role. I can’t get back that early dad role. They are grown and growing now and have different needs. There are different ways I can be an influence on their lives. And one of my greatest gifts is showing them how to live a happy and fulfilling life.

Now, I need to go wake one of my teenagers up so we can have breakfast together and talk about the world.

Respectfully,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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Announcing a new blog My Dark Days

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I think it’s pretty obvious what this one is about. Launching this section on The Whole Parent I was discussing a book project with a publisher. She said, “If you had the same platform for depression as you do for divorce, we’d be interested.”

I give you my new platform. My Dark Days. Collecting my writing on depression from all three of my other blogs. Join us. Talk to us. Comment, share, and heal from what ails you.

February 2016


Where the Sidewalk Ends

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[This post is a continuation of this series: You Are Ahead By a Century and Collaborative Divorce My Ass!]

It’s a shame how divorce tears everyone apart. I have a dream (had a dream) that divorce could be different. I wanted my divorce to be fair, kid-centric, and loving. I was an idealist.

We will be cooperative after all, about every expense after their 18th birthdays. So she’d better get cooperative and collaborative now, because the law won’t help her in a few years.

Divorce is messy no matter how collaborative you are. There are sticky issues, even for the most cooperative co-parents. Like who’s going to pay for the out-of-pocket health care expenses, even if dad is paying the $1,200 a month COBRA bill? And we’re going to be coming up on some new bigger wrinkles that our decree offers very little guidance about.

My son will be able to drive next year. And he’s certainly thinking his parents will be able to provide him with a car. And we will, but who pays for that? It’s not in the decree. And what about college? If my sister’s kids are looking at annual tuition of $60,000 per year, even a $20,000 scholarship is just part of the payment. You see, when you go out past 18 years of age, the bills and financial commitments don’t just end, they actually get bigger.

And my ex and I won’t have the agreement to guide us. For me, that’s a good thing, as I’ve shouldered the lion’s share of the cost of getting divorced. We will be cooperative after all, about every expense after their 18th birthdays. So she’d better get cooperative and collaborative now, because the law won’t help her in a few years.

I say this as if I’m bitter. Well, there should’ve been a more equitable agreement between us. We parented 50/50 and we should’ve divorced 50/50. But that’s not how she wanted it. So I was forced to give her the upper hand in the custodial parent roll and by paying child support. AND I’m paying for 100% of their health care. I’m not sure how this is fair, but that’s pretty much the way the law falls if you’re a dad.

It’s not how it has to be. You can ask for 50/50 custody. You can ask for 50/50 financial agreements. The state is not used to that arrangement, but basically if you and your ex-spouse agree on an arrangement, the state is not going to get in the way. Of course, again, that’s not how my ex-wife wants things.

But did she consider the implications of setting the AG’s attorneys on me? Did she know or care that it would strip my ability to keep my house? No she did not.

Today she’s happy to keep the AG’s office at my throat. She claims she’s never gotten regular payment of the child support except once they were involved. I try and remind her, that no money coming in (unemployment) means no money to her or me. She doesn’t care. She just wants her money on the due date.

I’ve got an arrangement now, but it’s not a happy one. According to the AG’s office I owe my ex-y $27,000. This amount is greatly inflated, and it’s true, when I lost my employment, I had a number of months that I could not make my child support payments. But wait, she got the house (with a very low payment) she got money from me, that was greater than her house payment, and I payed 100% of the health insurance? Yes, I can see how that would work out for her.

But did she consider the implications of setting the AG’s attorneys on me? Did she know or care that it would strip my ability to keep my house? No she did not. Did she give a flip when I asked her to release the lien on my credit account so it would quit showing up on my credit report, the same credit report that potential employers often run to see if a new hire has got their financial house in order? No she did not.

I only have one asset and one potential inheritance. And at some point one of those events will take place and she will get her blood money. But it’s not the way it should’ve been. It should’ve been figured on both our incomes. It should’ve been figured on both our expenses. And it should’ve been changed the minute I was unemployed. I would’ve helped her if the tables were turned. But again, we are very different people.

We grew up in different economic households. I believed, that there would always be enough to go around. I still believe that we will be able to cover our kids college with future earnings and those inheritances when they occur. She believes that having the AG’s lien against me is a good leverage to make sure I keep paying my child support.

What do you think it would take for her to believe I was GOOD FOR IT? Do you think a YEAR of making solid payments would allow her to relax the AG’s grip? Do you think she has any benefit from taking the DEAD BEAT DAD label off my credit report?

It has prevented me from getting at least one high paying job. It prevented me from renting a house or qualifying for a used car loan. She’s not concerned with my well being. I mean, how could she be, she’s busy, she’s over worked, she’s tired. She’s still living in the house we bought together from my money. Money I had before we’d married.

I do believe you have the kid’s best interest in mind. You’d love to justify your actions with the AG’s office by pointing to the great results you accomplished.

So she says the AG’s office is the reason she’s getting paid on time. Well, the real reason, honey, is because I have a job. My first obligation after food and shelter is the kids. But you don’t see it that way. You think the kids are my primary obligation before I can afford a house or a car or even a rental.

Well, it’s fucked how things turned out between us. And it’s really a shame because I do believe you have the kid’s best interest in mind. You’d love to justify your actions with the AG’s office by pointing to the great results you accomplished.

But you forget to add that three time so far the AG’s office has simply shut down my bank account and left me without money to pay bills, buy food, or even gas to get to work. You think that’s in the best interest of the kids? Well Fuck You and your AG’s office lien against me. I will hold that against you from now until the time the kids are both 18 years old. Then… dear ex wife, you are on your own.

Respectfully,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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Collaborative Divorce My Ass!

OFF-header-reading

[This post is a continuation of this thought: You Are Ahead By a Century]

Perhaps the mere fact that my then-wife must’ve been “planning” her exit rather than talking to me in couples therapy about it… I mean, why didn’t she tell our therapist she was thinking about divorce? Why didn’t she tell me, so we could work on that. It seems the whole premise of collaborative is “we’ve worked on it and we agree we’d be better off alone.”

Certainly the divorce was pre-meditated. As in murdering our family in cold blood, BEFORE we had a chance to talk about it in therapy.

When the other person goes to see a lawyer, WHILE YOU’RE IN COUPLES THERAPY, the idea of collaboration is BS. She was collaborative to the extent that I would agree to her terms and conditions. Other than that, she was sort of taking advantage of my good nature, my conflict aversion, and my willingness to see the best in her.

Was she manipulative? Certainly the divorce was pre-meditated. As in murdering our family in cold blood, BEFORE we had a chance to talk about it in therapy.

See, I asked, point-blank, during a particularly confusing couples session.

“Have you been to see an attorney?”

She looked shocked, embarrassed, and mad all in the same second.

“I have. I’m sorry.”

I should’ve shouted, “Then what the fuck are we doing here, paying $120 an hour to talk about our relationship. You’ve already moved on to your ‘options.’”

What I said was, “Oh, that puts a different spin on things. Now I feel pretty hopeless.”

I did feel hopeless. It’s as if the months leading up to the confession had been a lie. How long ago did you go see a lawyer sweetheart? I mean shouldn’t we have been talking through that idea right here, instead of dropping the revelation on me… Or me having to figure it out and ask you. That’s not how this couple’s therapy is supposed to work.

But something about honesty and letting me know in advance was not in her best interest. And there were minor indications that this might be our fate earlier in the relationship. There were signs that I should’ve walked away from the relationship. But I was infatuated too soon to let go.

It really is NOT a crisis, it’s just her way of driving the conversation and demanding that I respond to her.

At the outset of our relationship we started a series of casual lunches. We’d known each other in high school, so in my mind we were just catching up. But early on the tone of the lunches and the texts in between got very flirty. The part she forgot to mention, she was living with a man.

And later in the course of our marriage, when I was having a rough time, she also shared a few lunches with a coworker and a few very deep and connected emails about my depression and her loneliness. Um, that’s called emotional infidelity, folks.

There were other things too. Like when I’d learn two weeks after the fact that she’d gone to lunch with her ex-husband. What? Why not just tell me, like I told her, when my crazy ex called me to have coffee. What was she afraid to tell me about? Why would you withhold that little detail from your discussions, if you are going for 100% honesty and transparency? Well, you wouldn’t.

And yet it was HONESTY that she was killing me on in therapy. Like I was hiding a mistress or late-night drug habit. I couldn’t understand the urgency, when I failed to tell her that I’d gotten a speeding ticket. To her it was as if I’d cheated on her or developed a closet drinking habit.

Week after week in therapy we skipped around about how unreliable I was. How I didn’t do enough chores and it made her too tired for sex. How I was the one with the honesty problem. Maybe it was her projection. I was simply doing my best at minding my own business, sharing what seemed appropriate (like a lunch with my ex-wife) and getting hammered for not being trustworthy. Really?

We weren’t “heading” towards divorce. We were divorced, she just hadn’t told me yet. I have taken years to catch up.

The issue I really wanted discussed was why I was unable to convince her to have sex for months at a time. And how that was OKAY with her, but me forgetting to bring home the dry cleaning was a fucking disaster. The crisis seemed manufactured to deflect the deeper issue.

And that’s how things are today. Crisis after crisis is manufactured to illicit some response, to get something she wants. And I’m better at spotting a false alarm these days. I simply don’t respond for the first 3 – 4 text messages. It really is NOT a crisis, it’s just her way of driving the conversation and demanding that I respond to her. It’s as if she were saying, “You’re not responsible if you don’t help take our daughter to the doctor this afternoon, with no notice, and it’s a really big deal, so you should pay attention.”

I’m no longer paying attention to the crisis. I am listening for the message underneath the crisis. You never help with doctor’s appointments. You never help with the kids. Our daughter is in crisis. I’m in crisis. You need to take care of your responsibility.

If I understand this perspective now, that the crisis is her way of controlling the situation, I begin to see how and why her “divorce attorney” revelation was sprung on me. The crisis was created immediately. The imbalance in power was complete. I reeled for months while she planned, strategized, and got me into parenting plan discussions, and financial split discussions, before I was ready to even consider that we were heading towards divorce.

We weren’t “heading” towards divorce. We were divorced, she just hadn’t told me yet. I have taken years to catch up. And today, 6-years later, I’m just starting to put the picture together. She sprung the divorce on me. It was to her advantage NOT to talk about the relationship in the couple’s therapy, she was already planning her escape.

Respectfully,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

This post continues here: Where the Sidewalk Ends

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You Are Ahead by a Century

Screen Shot 2016-01-27 at 8.45.52 PM

Let’s talk a bit about the dumper and dumpee. If you were NOT the one who thought of the divorce first, you are the dumpee. And there’s an amazing thing that happens to dumpees. We are divorced and alone long before we get used to the idea of what’s happening. In my case, I objected with a vengeance, but quickly learning, in counseling and eventually divorce financial consulting, that it takes two people to want to stay married.

And that’s when the world was thrown up on it’s end. I was being asked to simply pack a bag and tell the kids I was going away on a business trip.

So let’s assume that my ex-y had been contemplating the divorce for six months. Taking steps to secure certain parts of her plan. She wanted to make sure she had her ducks in a row, long before I knew I was being lined up for an exit.

And, yes, it’s usually the man who leaves the house. That just makes it easier on the kids. (And if you believe that bullshit line… Well, we don’t have to go into that now.) So now, I’m learning for the first time that my wife had already been to see a lawyer about options, and she was asking me to leave the house. Just walk out in the middle of April. Two months before the kids were to be finishing up 3rd and 5th grades. Um… NO WAY.

I was surprised in our marriage counseling by something that she revealed. Something didn’t sound right. “Have you been to see an attorney?” I asked.

And that’s when the world was thrown up on it’s end. I was being asked to simply pack a bag and tell the kids I was going away on a business trip. What? Why?

I knew we were having problems. That’s why we’d been in therapy on and off for years. But DIVORCE? I was crushed. Angry. Stunned. And most likely in a state of shock.

In the session I flatly refused to leave the house. “If you’re so unhappy, and so ready for a break, if that’s what you’re calling it, why don’t you take a trip?” Both my ex-y and the therapist looked at me with eyes of concern. Perhaps it was pity. I was thrashing against the idea of the divorce, and she was asking me to leave tonight?

When you are the dumpee it’s likely the other person is much further down the road to healing from the split. In fact, they may have reached a place of being ready for it all to be over.

As it’s often the woman who gets the house if you have kids, it’s also very common for the woman to reach the breaking point while the good-natured husband just thinks it’s a “rough patch.” And until I learned that afternoon, that she’d already been weighing her options and strategy for leaving me (or getting me to leave, to be more accurate) it was only a rough patch.

“I may not like you right now, “ I had written in an email a few weeks earlier, “But I love you very much. We will get through this period. It’s just a rough spot.”

One rough spot too many I suppose.

When you are the dumpee it’s likely the other person is much further down the road to healing from the split. In fact, they may have reached a place of being ready for it all to be over. And this is before us poor saps even know we’re heading that way.

And the mechanics of divorce can happen very quickly. From the moment she told me, to when I was actually leaving the house for the last time was about two months, but this is only because I fought with her about the idea of splitting before the kid’s school year was done.

It was a hellish two months. But today, I can say, I held the line for THEM. I kept their soon to be uprooted lives sane for two more months so they could have the Summer to fall apart with me. Their mom was already working on “what’s next.” The head start down the divorce path becomes a very strong tactical advantage. I was still willing to bargain and negotiate, because I was certain we would work something out. She was already working out how to pay rent on the house after I moved out.

No one is going to take care of you in divorce. Your ex will make selfish decisions and continue to make selfish requests couched in “the best interest of the kids.”

She was a century ahead of me in all the negotiations. I was still reeling from the loss and onset of depression from my sister’s downstairs bedroom, and she was working on the taxes and the financial split arrangements. (She takes the house. I take the house. We sell the house. I didn’t want to lose my house or my family.)

While I was her ex she was still my beloved, but troubled wife. The mother of our two kids. Oh, the kids. They were the ones who were gonna suffer. It’s all about them. This divorce stuff is for grown ups. In divorce you do everything to shield the kids from the fight and fallout. Which includes letting them stay in their primary home with the primary caregiver. (Again, I call bullshit, but I was so confused and sad at this point that I was not negotiating at all, I was recoiling. I was in duck and cover mode both emotionally and financially.

When her lawyer requested a heafty child support payment AND 100% of the health insurance premiums I was compliant. I didn’t even retain a lawyer except to look over the final decree. (Maybe that was a mistake.)

But we’d decided to do a collaborative divorce.

Yeah, the nice guy needs a lawyer. Take my advice, no matter how civil you think you’re going to be, no matter how cooperative and collaborative she is at the beginning, when the shit hits the fan, the one with the lawyer wins.

No one is going to take care of you in divorce. Your ex will make selfish decisions and continue to make selfish requests couched in “the best interest of the kids.” Bullshit. If it’s about “primary care giver” or “primary nurturing adult” I was both. She was the mom, yes, but she was emotionally unavailable to the kids – sort of still is. I was the emotional heart of the clan. She was the accounting and hard ass board member.

Go for 50/50 if that’s what you want. You might not win, but you won’t regret it if you lose. I regret it that I gave up in the name of “doing what’s best for the kids.”

Perhaps it does not have to go this way. Perhaps there are goodwill collaborative divorces. And I’m sure there are. Ours was supposed to work out that way, but things don’t always go as planned.

My first big loss was in being refused 50/50 custody and 50/50 parenting time. This will continue to be an issue that I feel frustrated about the rest of my life. I should’ve had my kids 50% of the time. That’s how we parented. Why was I suddenly a lesser parent (non-custodial) and the only one required to pay the other person. What if I lost my job? Well, we were gonna find out about that one soon enough.

Here’s my belief. If you parented cooperatively and intend to divorce cooperatively, great. Get a lawyer. And if you want 50/50 custody and parenting, ask for it. No, better than that, FIGHT FOR IT. It turns out the courts are more likely these days to give 50/50 requests

In my case I waived the right to an attorney. And when our high-paid counselor said the 50/50 parenting plan I presented was just “not what she would get if you went to court” I lost everything. I lost the house. I lost the money. And most importantly I lost the time with my kids. The time when they were in their tenderist years.

Well fuck that. Go for 50/50 if that’s what you want. You might not win, but you won’t regret it if you lose. I regret it that I gave up in the name of “doing what’s best for the kids.” It wasn’t. It isn’t. And I should’ve fought for it.

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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Getting Too Close to the Sun

banan

I’m pretty tired of writing about depression. I really am. I’d like to be back to working on my parenting relationship, or my primary relationship with my fiance. But, alas, the depression requires some serious consideration and management.

Part of the creative spirit is the ability to suspend disbelief and doubt. A huge part of depression, for me, is giving in to the doubt and fear associated with creative projects.

My depression is directly related to my creative output as well. When I’m writing and playing music is when my life is in the best condition, as in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. When I’m actualized I’m creating and living on the same frequency. When the depression strikes the first thing to go is the creativity. I get quiet. And suddenly my creative expression, perhaps part of what keeps me on an even keel, is the first thing to go. I’m left mute and isolated, even from myself. It’s not a pretty picture. Let’s take a look at how the creativity and depression on interdependent.

Part of the creative spirit is the ability to suspend disbelief and doubt. A huge part of depression, for me, is giving in to the doubt and fear associated with creative projects. When I hit a moment of doubt in depression I am immediately taking back to survival mode, reptilian brain and all that stuff. The only thing that matters at that point is food, shelter, and rest. All of my extracurricular activities not only take a nose dive, but they become minor panic inducing worry about future planned events.

Case in point, I play an annual music festival here in town with my band. When the doubt struck this year, I was ready to jettison everything. There was no “point” in playing the gig, in fact, the mere idea of it caused me to hyperventilate. I was so freaked out at the next band practice, that I’m certain the guys thought I was on drugs. The problem was, I was not yet back on the drugs that might help me moderate the panic and anxiety. I was going cold turkey and failing.

So as cliché as the term bipolar is, that’s a bit what this looks like. You get so depressed that you want to head towards the bottom of the ocean, or at least the bottom of your bed, under the covers. And when I come out of it, and the creative energies are once again brought back online, I want to lean into the excitement and “muse” and let the mojo flow. Isn’t that understandable? Is this bipolar, or just mood swings? Is there a difference?

It’s the loss of hope, the hope that I with EVER be happy again, that cuts the legs out from underneath me. Even when I’m feeling strong and have had months or years between slips, the next one is just a complication away.

It’s not hard for me to see the link between my creative process and the depression that causes everything to fall away. Survival becomes my modus operandi. It’s a sad state of affairs. And I can create a lot of drama just by shutting my mouth for days at a time. I don’t want to tell you about. I don’t really want to tell my therapist about it. I’m so frustrated by having been dropped to my knees again, that I’d rather stay at home and be alone. But aloneness is not the solution, nor is it a very good place for me to be.

It seems to be that part of my strategy for dealing with the eventual low again is to really grok the idea that it ALWAYS abates. I always come back to where I am today. It’s the loss of hope, the hope that I with EVER be happy again, that cuts the legs out from underneath me. Even when I’m feeling strong and have had months or years between slips, the next one is just a complication away.

In deciding to blog/journal about this process for me, I am attempting to put the brakes on the next slip before it happens. Or when I start feeling the LOW again, that I can begin here, with the affirmation that I DO come out, and I WILL come out sooner if I allow just a bit of HOPE to creep in. It’s the hope that’s almost impossible to find, as if my hope blood cells had all been drained away.

I can drink. I can stop drinking. But I’m not sure how good I am at getting sad and not turning on the sadness fire hose at the first sign of things going off.

I commit to writing through the next LOW in the hopes that I can prevent the damage I just experienced. Sure, 90% of that damage and drama was in my own mind, but my lulls are not without effect on others. I think I have a pretty good handle on things. I think I’ve been working my recovery pretty hard these days, but as this depression showed, I am never completely free of the potential for depression. Much like an alcoholic might have a propensity towards wanting to drink 5 rather than one margarita, I tend to dip down through five layers of normal sadness into something that looks very little like the person who is writing this post today.

Let’s do this together. I’d love to hear from you if you’ve suffered from depression. Sure, my most recent bouts were triggered by my divorce, but it’s a lifelong journey for me. I can drink. I can stop drinking. But I’m not sure how good I am at getting sad and not turning on the sadness fire hose at the first sign of things going off.

[In future posts I will examine how this life of struggle may have affected my kids and what I will be watching for as they move beyond high school and jr. high school.]

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

This post continues here: Collaborative Divorce My Ass!

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The Unbearable Weight of Things

sad

When you’re down, everything seems hard. I know this sounds like whining, but it’s something deeper. My silence usually means one thing. SAD.

It’s a bit more than sadness, however, that pulls me under. It was a bit more than sadness that changed the marriage to my kid’s mom as well. And before I get the push back about depression just being a weakness of character, or laziness, let me clarify what I’m talking about.

Negative predictions. Catastrophic terminations of everything from my job, to my love life, to my life in general.

You know the sinking feeling in your body as you can tell the flu has entered your system? Depression is kind of like that feeling, except you don’t have any outward signs of illness beyond your refusal to do things that bring you pleasure and avoid everything that’s hard. But it’s not like a hiding that’s going on when your depressed. It’s more like a death that’s happening right inside you. There is simply no pleasure to be had. It’s as if the hope molecules have been completely depleted from your body. My self assessment comes in the form of ice cream and my craving or lack of interest in it. If I can’t get excited about Ben and Jerry’s Coffee Toffee Crunch, then something is seriously out of whack with my system.

The minute I feel it coming on, if I’m that self-aware, I begin taking action to delay or avoid the storm. I try to exercise regardless of the ballast that’s beginning to weigh down on my back. I do my best to get enough sleep and good food. I try to keep talking to my loved ones. But sometimes, despite my best efforts, I fail and fall in to a period of silence.

The silence is only in what I’m willing to share. My brain is not quiet at all, if fact, it’s on fire with bad ideas. Negative predictions. Catastrophic terminations of everything from my job, to my love life, to my life in general. And again, I want to stress this (especially now that I’m on the other side of this “episode”): depression is an illness like no other. The flu-like symptoms are mainly in your mind. And when I try to tough it out, it’s usually the sadness that wins.

And it’s not that I’m giving up, either. I’m fighting like hell to maintain my outward appearance of normalcy, but it rarely works. In normal times I’m fairly loud and flamboyant. When I go quiet, everybody notices.

Today I’m moderating my joy. I’m trying to take simple steps back into the routine.

On this side of the darkness I can look back, examine, plan, and talk about ideas that might help next time. When I’m IN it, there are almost no words that help. Here are a few that did make a difference. My significant other did her part to remind me that she was here for the long haul, that she loved me, and that she was not leaving. And even when she couldn’t quite understand what had happened to me, she stayed close, cuddly, and supportive. That’s the best you can do. Stand beside me. Don’t try to make it better, that’s my job. But do tell me you’re not leaving. And then stick around.

Depression is exhausting for everyone. If you, as my partner, can stay out of the tractor beam of my darkness, you can take time for yourself, and let me know it’s hard. And primarily, take care of your heart and your emotions. Mine are shot. I will try to get you to save me, primarily by replaying my helplessness. But don’t give in. I’m not helpless, that’s the depression. And it’s my fight against my own feelings of helplessness and hopelessness that is my path back to normal times. Happy times. Even ecstatic times. (Oh, but be careful about those, the term bipolar is bandied about too easily these days, but it must be taken into account.) Those of us with the deepest lows often spring back into hyper highs. And without meaning to, we can rebound off the happy ceiling and blast right back into the sadness. It’s a vicious cycle, this cycling. Something must be done.

Today I’m moderating my joy. I’m trying to take simple steps back into the routine. I’m introducing my “big projects” back into my activity stream, but I’ve got to be watchful that I don’t blast off. Finally released of the flu-like hopelessness, you can only imagine how much I want to soar, and zoom back into my ultra-productive hyper times. My thinking today is that it’s the small steps that I can take to come back online. It’s also the tiny victories I will log as I reject my avoidance habits and step back into full responsibility for my actions.

It’s when I try to disappear that I realize I’m avoiding. Avoiding even my own life. That’s a bad sign.

It’s not like depression is a release from those responsibilities, but it’s as if I no longer see myself as being capable. And when you begin imagining yourself absent from the future consequences, because you simply won’t be alive, you can see how this too (suicidal ideation, they call it, thinking about suicide rather than acting on the idea) is an avoidance. We learned avoidance when we were really young. And as a defense mechanism it occasionally serves it’s purpose. But as an adult coping mechanism, avoidance is the worst. I can’t say it’s the reason I fall off the wagon, but it’s one of the harbingers of my decline.

Taking the responsibility for all of my life again, requires some ramping up. From things like, making a dentist appointment, getting the car into a service appointment, and even showing up at my daughter’s basketball games, is part of my responsibility to SHOW UP. It’s when I try to disappear that I realize I’m avoiding. Avoiding even my own life. That’s a bad sign.

We all need defense mechanisms. I’m looking to build some healthier ways of coping with stress and complications of being a parent and recently engaged partner. If I can just say the things that are worrying me, write them down, share them, I can find a way to own up to getting them done. I believe for me, those are the baby steps back towards making the unbearable actually joyful again.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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image: into the blue, arindam bhattacharya, creative commons usage


With the Time I Have Left: Keep Climbing the Hill

couple

I’m not a young man. I’m 53 years old. And still tripping and falling flat onto my face. And each time the structures and supports around me have supported me, but not before I have done damage to my friendships, my professional reputation, my creative partnerships. Everything comes to a screeching halt. And then, miraculously, I bounce back.

I’m up, making music, writing stories, and cruising along, and then I’m off my horse unable to get back to my feet.

But the set backs have been vast. And my confidence is shaken every time, like there is a new small marker of doubt planted in my mind reminding me that my darkness is ready to pounce down and crush my plans. Even as things begin getting good, there’s a shadow of doubt now that causes me to question my hopefulness. I’m not saying that I can never go back down, but I am actively seeking a way to avert the slide as it begins happening, notice the signs before they become symptoms, and keep writing and telling my story throughout the entire experience. How does that sound? A bit grandiose, don’t you think?

I don’t want to become the poster boy for bipolar disorder, but there’s no sense calling my cycling by any other name. I’m up, making music, writing stories, and cruising along, and then I’m off my horse unable to get back to my feet. That’s a pretty wide swing.

Just as I think I’m done with it, as I proclaim that my episode is over, I begin forgetting what got me down and what types of activities helped bring me out. Not this time.

Bringing my Achilles heal out into the open may give me some insights, and I may also lessen the impact even as another swing is in progress. Here’s why I think that’s so.

  1. When I’m in the deepest pain my own thoughts become dark, circular, and very self-focused. My depression seems very real and consuming, but when I try to articulate “what” is getting me down, I have a harder time explaining it to someone else. In my head it’s perfectly clear how f-d up I am. When I try to explain it to someone else, a friend or therapist, it suddenly seems irrational and silly.
  2. By opening up my dialogue to include this audience, I’m hoping that the same illumination becomes easier.
  3. Most of my depression is a narcissistic whirlpool of self-pity and shame. As I reveal and discuss those things I think are literally killing me, I’m hoping I will see that my madness is more made-up that real.

Nothing about my depression was fake. But a lot of my fatalistic thinking was 100% false. We cannot know the future and obsessing about it, replaying scenarios where NOTHING works out, is a very quick way to sink yourself into anxiety and depression. For me the two are closely linked, like thunder and lightning, anxiety and depression. Anxiety piles on when I’m starting to lose my footing, and suddenly I’m in a semi-catatonic state, just wanting to be left alone.

I kept having to close the exit of death as a possibility and start dealing with some of the things I simply wanted to avoid.

That’s the other fallacy of my depression: being alone sucks. My past as a child, and as a depressed person has trained me that being alone was safer when I was depressed, but it’s certainly not better for me. I know this is true. As much as I want to hide and isolate, I know this is part of my illness. Wanting to be alone is a bit like wanting to disappear. If I could just be gone, just sleep on, have a heart attack, something, this pain, this self-sabotage would stop.

Of course, that’s wrong too.

My oldest sister jumped off a bridge when I was in my twenties. It was Christmas day. The joy of the holidays has been bleak ever since. For a while, my young children provided a distraction and fun activities to chase away that time, but this holiday season, as I got further down, further away from my authentic self, my sister’s death felt like a call to action, and not in a good way. I’ve never really been suicidal, but the idea of just being gone, occasionally crossed my mind over the past few months. And something about having a history of suicide in my family, seems like it would be understandable. “For whom?” For the people left behind? My daughter and son? No. Not acceptable.

I kept having to close the exit of death as a possibility and start dealing with some of the things I simply wanted to avoid. The old sticks and stones fort was not working. As part of my recovery I had a faithful partner who stood with me and encouraged me to keep exercising, even when I didn’t feel like it. And to my own credit, in the darkest times, I probably said no twice. And right as she was exiting to go on the walk/run without me, I regretted it. I got what I asked for, to be alone. I wanted to be with her, I just didn’t want to exercise. But that was part of our deal, part of our relationship, part of what bound us together. She goes and I follow. Each time she would ask, I’d remember, “Be careful what you wish for, you might just find yourself alone.” I’d put on my winter coat and hat and running shoes and off we’d go. Together.

She could’ve run on ahead up the hill and been done.

As I was catastrophising in the last few months, one of the things I was soooo sad about was losing her, losing this wonderful relationship. She gave no indication that she was leaving, she actually continued to tell me she loved me and was happy with me, even in my current state. My sadness didn’t believe her. But that’s okay, she kept saying it, kept asking me to climb the hills, and kept showing up every night to make dinner together.

And something my meds doctor said as I was asking for help, “She sounds like the real deal, and I just want to get you some relief before you blow through her. We’re on this planet for such a short time. I mean, how many more chances to you have?”

Today I can hear that as a positive challenge. At the moment, I turned it from dread into effort. Effort to get better, effort to keep saying yes and climbing the hills beside her, and effort to keep showing up as the man she fell in love with.

In both of our previous marriages we were the partner who really fought for the relationship. And as we were initially coming together, just about a year ago, today, we both appreciated and acknowledged that if we were both the fighters in our relationships then perhaps we’d fight together for this one and win. We are a win-win. And today, I am even more grateful to her for her steadfastness and courage. She didn’t have to stay beside me. She could’ve run on ahead up the hill and been done.

She didn’t. We are still climbing together. And I hope through writing and speaking about this illness I can first shed light on my own situation and strategies, and perhaps give encouragement to others to “keep climbing the hill.”

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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image: standing on the beach with my sweet woman, the author, creative commons usage


Little Ghosts Still Flutter My Heart

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The depression was a killer. (As depression is actually a killer.) But in my case, it was almost too hard to manage. Somehow, I managed. My fiance said during one of our walks up a very steep hill, “You’re either going to make it up the hill, or die.” It was a pretty good metaphor for depression. Even when the hill feels insurmountable, you have a couple of choices: deal with it as best you can, call 911, jump off the nearest radio tower.

I don’t talk to anyone or tell them where I’m going, or what’s wrong. I simply leave and hide. It’s a terrible coping mechanism for an adult.

I can recall that when I was between 5 and 7 years old, I used to have fantasies about the very high radio towers that were near our house. When I was feeling particularly bad about my parents divorce, or my perceived shun of a cute girl at school, I imagined myself plummeting from the top of one of the towers. How sad everyone was going to be. How if they had known they would’ve loved me like they should. How if my parents had really cared about me they would’ve stayed together and my father would’ve stopped drinking. That’s not how it happened. Fortunately that’s not how I chose to deal with it either.

One of the ways, in my young, sad, and confused times, I dealt with being overwhelmed with sadness was by climbing up the forested hill in my back hard and building rock and stick forts. I would construct a shelter, sharpen sticks for weapons, and typically freeze my ass off. I’m not sure why it is always winter in my forted memories, but perhaps that’s more mythology than truth. I’m sure I had many overwhelming moments (dad yelling) in the heat of the summer as well, but for some reason in my mythical fort I am also freezing.

As an adult, I sometimes find myself behaving like this young boy. I isolate just as I did in my fort. I don’t talk to anyone or tell them where I’m going, or what’s wrong. I simply leave and hide. It’s a terrible coping mechanism for an adult, but when my brain has begun to shut down and get hopeless, my thoughts quickly turn to how I can kill all my plans and stay in bed. This probably sounds very weird and juvenile to anyone who hasn’t dealt with depression, but something happens, and the “rise and shine” of life becomes “duck and cover.”

As the most stabilizing force in my life, this woman leaned in, continued to tell me she loved me, and continued to ask me to go walking, every – single – day.

And this isolation technique didn’t work any better as a small child. I would hide, cry, defend against my feelings, alone in the stone fort. I would wait for the yelling to die down, perhaps a car to speed off, or darkness and quiet to descend before I went back into the house. In the past few months I was dead set on getting out of all obligations beyond work, feeding myself, and feeding my kids and getting them to school when they were with me. But a beautiful thing happened and continued to happen.

My fiance stayed beside me. She asked me to go on walks, to play tennis, to eat good food. She carried on conversations between us when I was in STFU mode. And to her credit, she took nights and time off for her own rejuvenation. But she never abandoned me. In my little boy brain, that can emerge during depression, I was abandoned by my dad with his anger and drinking, and ultimately when he left the house in my parents divorce. In my small mind, I was also abandoned by my mom who didn’t come rescue me up in my rock fort. So I’m looking for signs of being abandoned during these down periods. And this loving woman, and still-new relationship, stayed solid. I tried to tell her what was going on. I tried to include her in some of the decisions I was making about meds and strategies. And she hung in there.

As the most stabilizing force in my life, this woman leaned in, continued to tell me she loved me, and continued to ask me to go walking, every – single – day.

I remember a conversation with my therapist at one point, “No one else is willing to spend that much time with you being with you. She must really care about you.” The logic held. The relationship weathered a massive structural change, and we continued to work, love, and play together as best we could.

I’m pretty sure it’s the hope I am currently running on that allows me to smile at this ghost rather than get afraid.

Now on the other side of this event, the two of us are starting to sort through more of the details and stories behind what was going on. We are celebrating the emerging laughter and ideas that are beginning to come out of my mouth. And through it all she never stopped kissing me, or asking for me to join her on trips, walks, “adventures.” And I kept saying, “Of course,” even when I meant, “No fking way!” And 95% of the time I got up and out of my pit and went for a walk up the torturous hills behind a spry woman who was leaping and chattering ahead of me.

Even as I am coming out of it, I can still feel some of the residual effects of the last few months. There’s an anxiety that pops up, often at night before bed, that worries about some future event. “What if it returns? And comes back right now, just as I’m getting some of my joy back?”

For these little flutters I’m stopping and recognizing them. I am almost waving at the anxious flutter to acknowledge my current state of mind, and the careful balance that will keep me from slipping back down. I say a few Serenity Prayers and a few gratitude prayers of thanks, and then I move on. I’m pretty sure it’s the hope I am currently running on that allows me to smile at this ghost rather than get afraid.

For me depression is a lot about getting afraid and then continuing to listen to the fear more than the present. I’ve used some mantras during my walks that have seemed to push me up the hills with more energy and joy. “Further, Stronger, Healthier, and Happier.”

That’s how I move up the hills even when I don’t want to. There’s something to be gained from all this hard work. I can’t always get there, but with my ally, I am given the opportunity to show up even when I want to run away. I have to keep showing up.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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Getting Quiet Again; Recovering from Another Fall Into Darkness

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When you look back at depression, sometimes you laugh with swagger and bravado. You pound your chest, offer support, and if/when the sadness sneaks up on you again… Boom.

Quiet.

I am also aware that knowing how to heal is very different from the one-foot-in-front-of-another struggle it sometimes takes to keep going.

Well, that’s is my pattern anyway, and I’m coming out of a dark period of silence that spanned the holidays from Thanksgiving to New Years. I am committing to writing about it, journaling through my own recovery, and working to keep writing even when I’m not doing so well. Letting my facade down even at the risk of appearing to have failed at my own recovery.

This blog is not about depression, but in many ways it is. These stories represent what it feels like to get divorced, to fall apart, and to find ways of healing and getting strong again. I believe that I have some stories to tell that might be helpful, or more importantly, hopeful to someone going through a dark period themselves. THE BLACK THREAD posts about depression are missing much of the experience of actually being down. That’s because I clam up. Rather than talk about or reveal my warped thoughts, I STFU. (Shut the F*** Up)

I am also aware that knowing how to heal is very different from the one-foot-in-front-of-another struggle it sometimes takes to keep going. The alternatives are death, going to jail, aloneness, homelessness. I don’t know what’s on the other side of my darkest fear, but I suppose it has something to do with being discovered to be a fraud. As if all the work I’ve done to reach this peace, is destroyed if I get depressed again. That’s not the truth.

If I write about divorce, depression, and recovery and then I again, fall into a pattern of depression, I have a fear that this means I have failed and that my work here is somehow wrong or bad. I do know, today, that this is not the truth. But I am only able to have awareness of the value of my writing when I’m on this side of the black thread. When I am deep in my self-suffering, I want to delete this entire site. I even have thoughts, unrealized, of deleting myself. Bad idea. Bad thoughts. Hard time.

What I have shared here, has gotten me through some of the hardest times. And in uncovering, and un-quieting myself to explore what’s happening within me again, is yet another step in pealing the onion of myself. The writing has become a kind of dialogue, perhaps a form of self-therapy, that when I’m quiet, I lose much of my own inner voice and confidence that comes from writing, journaling, telling my story.

Probably the hardest thing about falling into a depression is knowing the effect I am having on the people around me.

This then is the beginning of a new tale, and the oldest tale I have: sadness and the repercussions of being an empathic and deeply feeling person. My thinking is, at this point, that keeping the dialogue going, even as I’m pulling myself up and out, might be helpful for me. Might keep my recent wins and recovery on the path towards joy again. And even checking-in, without shame, as I am having a hard time, might also prove helpful to myself as well as others who struggle, like I do, with bouts of the blues.

Probably the hardest thing about falling into a depression is knowing the effect I am having on the people around me. My fiancé did not bargain for this. But she stayed beside me, she talked to me, she remained steadfast in the times when I was most certain I was unworthy of her love and caring. One more time into the abyss,

I don’t know what the future holds as I move forward with my depression writing. But I had no idea when I started this blog about divorce that it would grow to be about so much more. As I weave my own life as a parent of teen agers who has suffered bouts of depression, before, during, and after divorce, I am going to try some fearlessness in staying in contact with my writing, even when I am ashamed of my sadness.

This is one of the hardest aspects of depression, the shame. I am ashamed that I am dragging the people I love with me into my maelstrom of madness. Shame be gone! As I have grown beyond the shame of my divorce, now I will grow beyond the shame of my depression. From this side of the sadness glass I am breaking the silence on the black thread that has been woven all through my soul. This is part of me that I can no longer afford to silence. As I keep seeking relief and working strategies to alleviate my own suffering, I promise to bring you along.

It sounds scary. Let’s see how it goes…

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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A Quick-Start Guide for the Divorcing Dad: The Off Times

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When you go down the path of divorce, however you got there, a few realities are going to rush up and greet you rather quickly if you are a man. There are two important issues that it is critical for you to understand. Time and Money are the only negotiating points you have. Let’s jump straight into the story, shall we…

When my time with them dropped so significantly, I began to crater on the days and weeks that I had zero access to their smiling faces.

The legal system is set up to support single moms and to force dads to make their child support payments, regardless of changing situations or dad’s ability to pay. That’s not their problem. And the typical support package includes the Standard Possession Order and some percentage of your income, depending on the number of children you have. Let’s get real clear on both of these new realities in your life, as a dad.

SPO (Standard Possession Order) is the parenting schedule you will most likely be offered. The reasons behind this 70/30 parenting split were established by the state over years of divorce and custody battles and negotiations. The rationale behind it sounds like it made sense 30 years ago.

The mother as the primary care giver will be given the majority of the time with the kids. This allows the continuity of their primary relationship in this trying time. This leadership role will be called the custodial parent. The Attorney General’s office, should they ever be needed, will treat the custodial parent like a client. The non-custodial parent, on the other had, is a bit of a second class citizen. This morning when I was confirming some of the details about my current arrangement, I noticed this contact list on the AG’s website.

Screen Shot 2015-09-18 at 8.07.29 AM

The custodial parent get’s their own line. As do employers and people not so certain of their paternity obligations. All others please call the general number and get put on hold and endless transfers through voice activated systems. “If you are the custodial parent, press one. If you are the non-custodial parent [the only reason you are calling us is because of a problem, and you’re probably a dead beat dad] press two.

Time and Money. Those are the two negotiations you will have to settle in order to get divorced. I was the uber-cooperative divorcé. I agreed to everything. I was told it would be in the best interest of the children for the mom to get the house, the child support, and the lion’s share of the time with the kids. I had a naive idea at the outset that we would divorce 50/50 just like we had parented. I was wrong. And the state’s attorneys have given us a lot of precedents that show this role for the dad is the best one.

Non-Custodial Parent. Standard Possession Order. Child Support. Those three little phrases are about to become very important in your life. And your understanding, navigation, and negotiation in setting them up, might save you a lot of the heartache and drama that I’ve been through.

TIME

The 70-30 split sounds a bit abstract until you are in middle of your “off” week and you are trying to imagine surviving the next 4 days until you see your kids. Here’s how the typical schedule breaks out. Dad gets the kids every other weekend. During dad’s ON week he gets two additional nights. Thursday and Friday. If your kids are already in school, that’s really after school time, and getting them up for school on Friday morning and Monday morning, if that’s your schedule. (All schedules can vary and still be basically the SPO.) On the OFF week, you may or may not get a single night sleep over. Again if your kids are in school, that’s really one cycle of feeding, homework, and back to school the next morning. Those single night stays were hard. The loss when taking them to school on the off Fridays was brutal.

I struggled to stay brave while I was with them, and suffer greatly when they were gone.

Time with my kids was the most important aspect of my life after they were born. Everything I did, I did in consideration of my then-wife and my kids. I centered my hopes and dreams around being a great dad, and being there for them every night, every volleyball game, every time they needed advice. And when they were younger, say after 3rd and 5th grades, they really did need a lot of interaction and caring. When my time with them dropped so significantly, I began to crater on the days and weeks that I had zero access to their smiling faces. I might have done better to fight and receive a more equitable divorce. Maybe Joint-Custody and a real 50/50 schedule would’ve provided more connections between us. Maybe I’d have been able to get my son into tennis or bike riding. Maybe I wouldn’t have crashed so hard into depression.

When I was thinking about the math last night, I was surprised to understand that she had the kids more than twice as much as I did. The 70/30 split is very abstract until you are losing so many nights and weekends with your kids. I still think a 50/50 schedule would’ve been better for my kids. And today, I have some ideas that might make that possible. But today my kids are teenagers. Today they have their own independent lives. Today, my interactions with them, even when they are here, is fleeing, abstract, and often superficial. I dig being with them, and I try and make myself open for their questions. But at this stage the lead in the relationship is up to them. Asking your kid, “What happened in school today,” will never get more than a “not much.” When your kids want to chat they will seek you out. By being available, still only 8 days out of a 30 day month, those opportunities have smaller windows.

So my ex-wife gets more than twice the time with the kids. Wow. It’s a lot. But until you’re IN DIVORCE and have kids, you can’t really understand what the loss means. It took the breath out of me for over two years as I struggled to stay brave while I was with them, and suffer greatly when they were gone. The OFF parent has a lonely road ahead.

MONEY

This is where the rubber meets the road in divorce. In general the dad will have the child support obligation. The idea is that he is often the primary bread-winner, or at least as a man, employable at a higher wage. And as the story goes, the kids and their mom should be able to continue with the lifestyle that they have grown used to. (No mention of what’s about to happen to dad’s lifestyle.) And while that language sounds okay, the execution of these documents are often brutal and pugilistic.

Here’s an abbreviated version of what my “deal” looks like.

29% of my take home pay will be paid to the ex-wife for the children’s care and feeding. That money is tax-free to her, since the taxes were taken out of my wages prior to the withholding. Wow, that’s a pretty good deal. Seems like it should be a deduction for me and the taxes should be taken out equally. But that’s not how it goes.

When you are considering divorce, as a man, consider the two most important issues as a parent: Time and Money.

And if you have or hope to have a high-paying job, that’s the mark you will use in the negotiations for the decree. In my case the rough number was set at 1,200. Okay. But wait, that’s not all. In most cases the dad is also responsible to pay for health insurance. Again, this might be more fair if it was split 50/50 but that’s not usually the way it’s done. Again, I think this was set up when dad had the big job, and this would prevent him from tanking that job and losing the good insurance as a way of punishing his now ex-wife. Either way, this additional obligation is tacked on to the sum of $650 – $1,100 depending on your plan, and depending on your employment status.

So, just to sum things up for you. At this very moment, since I am employed by a contractor who does not offer health insurance benefits. My monthly total in child support obligation is $2,300. Wow. That’s a chunk of change. It puts a significant squeeze on my opportunities for employment, since I have to make that before I can begin to think about rent, food, car insurance, phones, for myself. If you start every month with a $2,300 bill, that’s a real demotivational blow. It has felt insurmountable from time to time.

And when I lost my job, as a result of the tanking economy, the child support obligations or payments didn’t change. I could’ve hired an attorney and asked for a reduced child support payment, but I didn’t have the time or the money to do that. I was trying to figure out how I was going to keep my house. The house that I’d managed to buy, in spite of the large child support payment, when I landed a great new job, post divorce. Only the great job didn’t last. The startup changed their business model and eliminated my director-level position.

The killing blow, the unforgivable transgression that I’ve had to forgive, came when my ex-wife decided the proper course of action would be to turn my late support payments over to the AG’s office for “enforcement.” This one act of anger, has cost me and my family thousands of dollars and has actually gotten less money into my kids pockets. And the debt, as seen by the state, is a huge lien on my credit. This one act caused me to lose the house. And for one year, I actually had to live with my mom again. Fortunately, she and the kids and I had a humorous attitude about the whole thing.

“It’s better than living under a bridge,” my mom would joke. And she had a garage that we converted into a place for my bed. The kids each had rooms. So in my mom’s house, at least I was able to accommodate my weekends. By filing with the AG’s office, while I was trying to restructure my debt so I could keep the house, was the last act of anger and aggression that she could take. She took it. I lost everything.

From those ashes however, and even under the $2,300 monthly payment, and now a big fat lien on my credit, that prevented me from qualifying for a used car loan when my car was destroyed in a hail storm, despite all of that, I’m still surviving. I wouldn’t say thriving yet, but I’m getting by.

When you are considering divorce, as a man, consider the two most important issues as a parent.

  1. TIME: If you parented 50/50 and would like to continue to maintain your relationship with your children at the highest level, you should go to the court and ask for 50/50.
  2. MONEY: When you negotiate child support you can do two things very differently than I did. Ask for joint-custody. You can then be assured you will have equal rights if things ever get to the AG’s office. And make sure the amount you agree to in the decree, the amount that will determine your child support payments, is either conservative, or real. In my case the amount was set on historical data and on the hope of a promising job interview, that didn’t pan out.

Finally, if you’re going to agree to a cooperative divorce, make sure you add in a clause about NEVER INVOLVING THE ATTORNEY GENERAL’S OFFICE. EVER. My ex and I were in an argument about the timing of my child support payments and how I was planning on catching up, when I lost my job. She waited a few months. At this time she began to get very belligerent. She refused to meet with me in person about parenting or school issues. Her response to my email requests were simple “when can I expect my money.” That shut down all opportunities for co-parenting that summer.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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This early negotiation breakdown is chronicled short summary.

The big AG breakdown in chronological order and how my life fell through the cracks.


The Painful Business of Divorce

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Divorce is big business. And fk that.

I’m not in the divorce business. I’m not a divorce counselor or coach. I’m kinda anti-divorce if you want to know the truth. But we all go through a divorce or two in our lives. If not you and your partner, than a friend or family member. It’s just how the modern world is.

If we could truly get our heads around “in the best interest of the children” we might be able to divorce in a friendly manner.

The other night, when picking my daughter and three of her friends up from a birthday party, I asked, “How many of you girls have divorced parents?” 100%. In our time, divorce is no longer the stigma it was when I was a kid. Today we plan things, we think about the kids first (at least I did) and we try our best not to damage them on the way out of our married life and into our divorced life. The exy and I did okay. I think I took the brunt of the swift kick to the ego, pocket-book, and time with my kids, but hey… I’m not trying to write a bitching post. I’ve done plenty of those.

No this post goes out to all the people involved in the business of divorce. The trolling for divorce attorneys. The coaches who are reposting and retweeting my articles to help their clients.

I’m just sick of the Divorce Business. Sick of it. It’s a necessary evil, I understand this, but does it have to be so sleazy? And sure, cooperative divorce ain’t for everyone, I get that. And I know there are high-conflict (usually coupled with high-wealth) divorces that require special handling. But if we were honest about divorce we’d all have a cooperative divorce. The problem is, things get messy. Divorce is emotional. And emotions can run hot and get you in a lot of trouble.

So we blabber, yell, and hurt to our attorneys, at $250 an hour (therapists are a lot cheaper) so that we can make the best deal. Again, I have a bitter taste in my mouth, and I apologize for my disdain, but my beef is with my ex-wife and not with the woman who advised her. My beef is with the woman who was paid to be our impartial divorce counselor and then told me to get with the program.

If we could truly get our heads around “in the best interest of the children” we might be able to divorce in a friendly manner. But it is often not about the children. How can a family that is democratic and fully shared be divided in a way as lopsided as the custodial/non-custodial parent?

Even when we attempted to do everything in a cooperative manner, we did not. Even when we agreed to a cooperative and fair divorce, she had other things on her mind.

Yes, my then-wife began to go after my parenting skills in the therapist’s office. She was convinced that she needed more time with the kids. She was certain that she could feed, shelter, and nurture them in a more consistent and “mothering” way. There was a fine line between the “interest of the children” and the interest of what she wanted. And according to the law in my state, she was entitled to get.

So even when we paid to be civil we were not. Even when we attempted to do everything in a cooperative manner, we did not. Even when we agreed to a cooperative and fair divorce, she had other things on her mind.

I don’t think she set out to screw me. But she had the jump on me by at least two months when she finally told me she wanted a divorce. She’d met with an attorney, and was no longer interested in our couple’s therapy. Her word was cynical. She no longer believed that any good would come from sticking it out with me. For the kids, or for herself, she saw the light at the end of our marriage as a way to happiness for herself.

She was wrong. Well, of course, I can’t say she was wrong about the marriage. On that front, she did me a favor. But she was wrong about the happiness. And she was only thinking of her happiness and not the happiness of our children, when she got a lawyer to consider her options. She was only thinking of herself at that point. She’d had enough of what I wasn’t giving her. She was done waiting for me to take care of something she could no longer ignore.

Unfortunately for me and the kids, I believe that thing was a sadness inside her that may not have an easy solution. That sadness that we both suffered from occasionally.

The dam burst in my dark heart and ice water began rushing up through my veins and I could hardly think after she spoke the betrayal.

Well, I chose to turn into the sadness and confront it. And from time to time, it got the better of me. I’ll admit that. And some of the times WE worked through together were unfathomable. We survived. We never quite made it back to thriving, but we supported and loved each other through some really tough blows on both sides.

But somewhere in the recoil and release of the hard years, she jumped out of the train and began looking for an escape path. For a while she didn’t tell me she wasn’t in the train any more. She was running along side the train, and I thought we were “good.” Or at least I thought we were okay. “Working on it.” Was how I would’ve framed it at the time. But she was way ahead of me on her exit trajectory. And the little lies, like why she no longer wanted to have sex. Or where she had been all afternoon when she wasn’t responding to my texts.

This is my howl into the dark night. Her change of heart derailed the train for all of us. And while we’ve done the best we can, and while I have to admit I am *much* happier in a new relationship, I still have sadness about how the trust between us was crushed with that single admission in couple’s therapy.

“Have you already been to see a lawyer,” I asked.

She was teary-eyed when she looked at the therapist and then me. “Yes.”

The dam burst in my dark heart and ice water began rushing up through my veins and I could hardly think after she spoke the betrayal.

Why hadn’t she brought the issues into therapy? How had she gone to an attorney before unpacking her grievances with me and our helper? Maybe the helper wasn’t helping enough. Maybe her father was passing her his sage advice. The man who married and divorced her mom twice. Maybe she was already in love with someone else.

Or maybe she just gave up on me.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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Confronting God Alone, After Divorce

OFF-jesus-necklace

We are the rebound and rebuilding of our past loves and losses.

I’m certain that I prayed to God to save my marriage. More than once or twice. I would’ve done nearly anything to keep my little family unit together. I counseled with my minister, I shouted out loud at the heavens, I wrote prayers that sounded more like love poems. And nothing…

It was a time for miracles and togetherness. One shiny family, orbiting God, and giving thanks along with lots of giggles and screams.

Turns out, somewhere, a bigger plan was being put into motion. Praying for the repair of something broken might not have been aligned with the plan. Who’s plan? What plan? And when would I know the rules and routes of the plan? I knew very little about any plan, and I was getting pretty snarky in tone as I pleaded with my higher power to fix things. I wanted them fixed the way I wanted them. I had no idea what was in store, but I had a lot of living and self-discovery ahead before I would catch a glimpse of my bright future.

My then-wife and I got really spiritual about the time we decided to start “trying to have a baby.” That means we ended all birth control and had a brief window of joyful and bountiful sex. It was the opening up to the possibility of a child, or children, that was the big Ah ha moment. We had some woo woo things we did, like talking to the baby in the womb and going to birthing classes. And we prayed and said thanks all the time. Life ahead appeared to be full speed ahead.

In less than a year after being married, we were gifted with the first child, a son. Once again, our lives were transformed as we surrounded him and each other with a warmth that only comes from some kind of spiritual grace. We were aligned, in-tune, and in-communication with God, capital G, for sure.

Through toils and snares we tried again and were given a baby daughter this time, to fulfill our pair, one of each, our unimaginable fortune. For years and years the kids took all of our energy, all of our creativity, all of our focus, and a lot of our time. But we were happy for the transformation in our lives from self-important to parents. It was not a sacrifice to tell friends, “Sorry, I can’t come see the movie, our kids are working on an important Lego fortress and I’ve got to help.”

I was devastated and depressed and God was nowhere to be found.

It was a time for miracles and togetherness. One shiny family, orbiting God, and giving thanks along with lots of giggles and screams. As it turned out in our case, the bliss didn’t last. And after a series of events, none of them catastrophic, we agreed to get a divorce. In spite of our love for each other, and our love for our kids, the love of our relationship had wained. Perhaps we didn’t focus enough on each other as we were praising and singing to our children. Perhaps we didn’t pay enough attention to our own individual needs. But in the Spring of 2010 we were no longer a family unit, we were two houses and two kids and two single parents.

That’s the moment I came face to face with my own relationship to God. It’s not like I went looking for some spiritual revelation. Actually, it was quite the opposite. I began to crumble under the loss. The nights and days without seeing my kids was torture. All the years we had spent as one unit, to be locked out of my own house, outside the circle, and given about 30% of my parenting time back, was akin to being turned into a zombie. Lucky for me, I had family in town who took me in. I had recently lost my job, and had no money for an apartment, and no desire to find one. I was devastated and depressed and God was nowhere to be found.

Except when my kids arrived. Everything changed when they were around. My little girl snuggling and asking me to chase her around the house. My son hard at work on some project or another, rather stoic and aloof. And me, trying my best to put on a brave face. I was anything but brave. I did hold it together, somehow, but there were times when I was actively trying to give up. That’s what depression is: giving up. Of course, when you have kids, there is no such thing. I suppose you could run off and vanish from their lives, start over in Montana or something. But without that option, the future was here, in the same town with my ex-wife and my kids, trying to hold it together at school functions and holiday kid swaps.

Somewhere in that period I went through my dark night of the soul. I had joined a divorce recovery group and we were supposed to write out our “anger letter” to our ex. I started out at about 10pm, with a fairly tame rant. By 3am I was on fire and fuming. This anger was the energy and turning point that expelled the depression from my heart. And even as I was writing the words to her, I was also expressing my anger at God, at “the plan,” or “his plan,” if that’s what you want to call it. I was fuming mad and I was going to get it out in every way I could.

Depression, the saying goes, is anger directed at ourselves. Well, I had un-targeted myself and was shooting sparks at God and my ex-wife and all of her friends and the friends who had abandoned me… I was just plain mad. A bit “mad” actually. But the anger sure got me motivated and un-depressed.

In the process of this rebuilding, if we listen for spiritual guidance, what we hear is our own hearts, our inner spirits.

During this period, one of the weekly chores of the divorce group was self-care, or doing something that helps you feel better. I started an Aikido class and began learning how to get thrown down on the mat every afternoon. And I didn’t think much about God except during the quiet times, when the kids were away, and my Aikido hadn’t burned all the fire out of my day. In these moments, staggered between loneliness and the potential of growth and energy I was cultivating that I began to pray again. These prayers were much more like love poems. Like Rumi as he called out to the beloved, I was also seeking a beloved. I still had a long way to go, but I began to hope and dream about being with a woman again, and the possibility of even falling in love again. Hard to imagine, but easier to pray about.

In the quiet moments, I do think my higher power was listening. Maybe it’s just the higher power in me, but the praying, and love poem writing began to soften the anger just a bit. The driving force that got me up off my ass was not very conducive to finding a date. I was pretty far from dating material, but I was at least beginning to think about my quality of life when I was the “off” parent, when the kids were not with me.

Looking back at this time of rebuilding, strife, prayer, Aikido, and living with my sister, I can sort of imagine the roadmap that got me here, to today. I can acknowledge that my marriage to the mother of my children was not serving either one of us, for whatever reason, and in the moving on I was given a new lease on happiness and even love. All of those fractured years, after the divorce, I spent building new ideas about myself, about what was important to me, and keeping the focus on building my now time-limited relationship with my kids.

Today the love poems are arriving en masse for a woman who has arrived to wake up my sense of God once again. “How could I have known?” I ask her, playfully. “That all of that shit would crack open my creative spirit again, and that from these prayers and poems I would find you.”

She still smiles at my pontifications and says, “Those that fired us, brought us here.”

We are the rebound and rebuilding of our past loves and losses. And in the process of this rebuilding, if we listen for spiritual guidance, what we hear is our own hearts, our inner spirits. It is in the listening that I was able to hear what aspects of a relationship were important to me, and what things I would like to avoid in the future. And while there’s not guarantee, the woman of my dreams is sleeping beside me these days, as we flow through the happiest moments of our lifes. Even when my kids are not with us, the joy between us… Well, isn’t that God, in a way.

Love = God.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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I Want To Thank You for the Divorce

OFF-breakfastinbed-2015

It’s already sounding snarky to me, but I have to give thanks to the mother of my children for releasing me from a marriage that had grown unbalanced and unhappy. She pulled the trigger and set the separation in motion long before I was willing or able to admit we were done. But we were. Kind of.

I was not done, but I was very unhappy. As an eternal optimist I trained myself over the course of our marriage to sublimate the desire for sex or the desire for joy. I was a good husband and a good provider. But I was not good at just going through the motions. We described the last year of our marriage as “living like roommates.” I was unhappy about this, she was more matter-of-fact. Things weren’t living up to her satisfaction, why would she continue to have intimate relations with someone she no longer loved.

As I took matters into my own hands and forgave her for some loss of libido, I was also beginning to feel a bit hopeless about my ability to remain centered and happy. Of course, I was already way off-balance, but I didn’t know this. I thought I was being the honorable and stable one. What I was being was stoic and stubborn. I should’ve called for a time out or a pow wow long before we reached the D stage. But I didn’t.

I’ve learned I’m what’s called “conflict adverse.” If I can avoid a fight I will. I will hide certain facts (like a speeding ticket or bounced check) in order to not “get into it.” But this sort of behavior, even as small as it was, was maddening to my then-wife. She had trust and security issues. And any minor infraction of this “trust issue” as it became known in our counseling sessions was met with cynicism and “you will never change.”

In therapy we seemed to focus on me and my issues. She kept bring us back to some crisis of trust. Over and over.

The problem was our relationship while built on the desire to have kids was not strong enough to build and rebuild once the kids reached school age. While I was always pursuing my creative crafts (writing, music, blogging) my then-wife had put most of her artistic ambitions in the closet, right behind the vacuum cleaner. She became more obsessed with the cleanliness of the living room and less interested in the connectedness of our relationship. How could someone you love be okay with going a month without sex? I was astounded and hurt that we had reached such a distant state. I asked for therapy, and contributed actively to the rebuilding idea, but something was not working.

In therapy we seemed to focus on me and my issues. I suppose, due to my bouts of depression, I allowed this to happen, even when the issues, in my eyes, were more emotional. She kept bring us back to some crisis of trust. Over and over. A little thing, a receipt from a restaurant that I forgot to report on my company expense report for reimbursement could become a “thing.” And the issues continued to grab the lion share of our therapy sessions. Meanwhile we were sleeping in different beds about 90% of the time and my suggestions at intimacy were rejected by habit.

As our emotional life was being crushed we were counseling about “trust issues” and my “mental health.” Of course, my depressions had been awful, and I have nothing but respect for this woman who stood by me through the worst of it. I also began to believe that she might never return to her happy state. She might never joyfully suggest sex or show up in the hallway in matching bra and panties. She was somewhere else emotionally. She was packing her bags as she was hammering me about my next job and when the new insurance would kick in from the new job.

She’s laughed with me at the stupid complications my ex-wife has injected into my life through litigation. We laugh a lot.

Today, almost six years later, I can say, I am very happy and very sexual in my new relationship. And while we’ve got our work ahead, I have to acknowledge that something is very different about how we relate to each other. For one thing we BOTH really like sex, and we BOTH seek out that connection. (Who knew that the best sex was ahead?) AND we seem to have both gotten our emotional and psychological issues mapped out enough to related on a very open and honest level.

She’s seen me depressed. She didn’t freak out or run away. She’s seen my financial status vacillate from AWESOME to BROKE and back. And she’s laughed with me at the stupid complications my ex-wife has injected into my life through litigation. We laugh a lot.

And on my part, I’ve seen things in her that were a bit different from what I imagined. I had developed the idea that only a mother would have the skills and empathy to understand my own kids. What I didn’t know at that time, was how complete this woman could be with her life and her choices and how she could WANT my kids in her life, even if she didn’t have any kids of her own. In fact, the non-kid aspect made our early courtship a lot easier as we merely coordinated around MY kid schedule.

Today, I can openly give thanks to my ex-wife for giving me the opportunity to seek and find a different kind of love. And I look forward to build a new life around and with my kids and this wonderful new partner.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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