“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
< back to Single Parenting
- Showing Up In Spite of the Lizards (Surviving the Depression)
- Admitting My Depression Publicly
- The Long Tail of Parenting and Custody After Divorce
- When Will I Get Over My Divorce?
- The Divorce Part You’ll Never Understand: Living Within the Compromise
- I Want To Thank You for the Divorce
- Things Broken and Unsaid
image: dad, creative commons usage
There’s no doubt, I get some sense of power from this blog. And certainly a sense of release has come over me, as I continue to write my way out of my marriage and into “what’s next.” And while this material is not intended for my ex-wife or my two children, there is a bit of self-satisfaction in the writing and releasing of this work. When the ex-y is making my day a bit more unpleasant than usual, I write and publish and promote with an additional zeal. I’m aware that my dark material must feel like a loaded weapon to my ex-wife. I get that.
And I wish I could say, I’m above it. I’m not. Well, let me take that back. I am unashamed of my own struggle and emotional collapse as a result of my divorce. (My second divorce, but the only one that involved children.) I have struggled. I have ranted. I have celebrated recovery, slipped back into depressive episodes, and refound my inner strength, again and again. But in all of it, I have continued to strip myself bare and attempted to uncover the dynamics at work in my life and relationships.
I am weaving a story.
I am clear today about several things.
- The divorce was my release from a dysfunctional relationship
- My kids have seen both my ex-wife and I struggle and regain strength.
- My kids emotional, mental, and physical well-being trumps most of my plans, for now.
- Only I can be responsible for my own health and fitness.
- While I crave a next relationship, I am happy and content as a single dad.
Finding that balance in my life, between parenting and self-actualization has been one of the great teachings of my divorce. I learned again, as I had known before we married, that I am essentially a happy being. I wake up happy. I meander through my days, happy. And it is this happiness in spite of the tumble and turmoil of life, and this divorced life, is what I have given to both of my children.
Finding happiness is one thing. Learning to maintain an inner happiness even when things are not going to plan, is another skill that I celebrate in each of my kids. We’ve even talked about how the transition of the divorce has ultimately been good for all of us. Sure, there are times we’d rather be together when we are not (those times are about to pass through the teen years) but for the most part, my kids flutter between our two homes with little drama and stress in their lives. They can focus on school and friendships and developing their passions.
I am also involved in a similar trajectory. I can focus on myself, my work, and my passions. And, is it happens, my next primary relationship.
Still, there is this matter of the loaded gun. I can sort of understand how my ex-wife resents and angered by this semi-public exposé of our lives. The highs and lows of marriage as well as the rough business of coparenting in less-than-optimal financial times. And sometimes I wonder if she thinks, hesitates for a moment, before taking action against me. I can’t really ask her (because I have and I only got back loud noise) what caused her to file with the State of Texas as a deadbeat dad. There was no call for it. Somehow she convinced herself, or was convinced, that I was not going to abide by our decree.
Even as she knew the child support we agreed upon was way over the income amount I was able to achieve, even as she knew I was struggling to restructure my mortgage so I could keep my starter house, even as she agreed that I was not trying to hide money from her… Even with all of these indications she chose to load her own weapon and threaten me with it. Perhaps her “AG’s Office” threats were her version of this blog. You’d better get your shit together or I’m going to turn everything over to the state’s attorney.
But wait. I am still the same person she parents with. I am still the same partner she asks to take the kids when she needs to travel for work. I am still the man who agreed to change-up our parenting plan to accommodate her schedule with her boyfriend. I’m still the father of her children who gave her a nice house while I was jettisoned off into the wide world, alone, with a new $1,500 monthly payment, that didn’t include any food or shelter for me.
And some how I’ve managed to take the higher ground. Except with this blog. I have released and ranted here with my perceived injustices. I have complained, whined, yelled, and cried at the unfortunate evolution of our divorced with kids relationship.
And still, I have also risen back up several times from despair. And writing has been like a continual therapy for me. And unwinding of dark things, an opening of new ideas and possibilities, and even a release and prayer for the health and happiness of my ex-wife. She will do what she does. And I’m sure she will do more dumb stuff. And I’m sure she will think I am being an asshole about something, yet again.
I’ll keep writing, and doing my best to leave it here rather than echo it back into my kid’s lives. Yes, I have the loaded gun too, but I have made a vow never to fire it off.
The Off Parent
< back to The Hard Stuff posts
- Back to the Beginning: Serenity with Your Coparent
- The Best Will Come Out, Eventually… But First This
- Texts From the Ex. What’s the Crisis?
- Give Me a Bullet to Bite On: My Ex and Her Anger
- The Winter of My Discontent: Ex-Partners and Co-Parents
- Patience Please, I’m Doing The Best I Can
image: paris, marais 2013, denise bocquet, creative commons usage