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.
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.
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.
If anyone can explain why he hasn’t been able to find the love of his life it’s Bill Murray. And I’ve often been likened to a younger Bill, so I read this Vanity Fair article with a bit of self-interest.
“Not to diminish a relationship with a woman but I can’t take care of another relationship if I can’t take care of the things I really need to take care of the most. It’s not a selfish thing . . . it’s just sort of an obligation.” – Bill Murray
What Mr. Murray latches onto as his reason for not being in a relationship is his own lack of attention and self-examination. He mentions his children from his previous two marriages, but it’s clear Bill hasn’t found what he’s seeking in a woman.
Murray did admit that he wonders why, at 64-years-old, he still hasn’t found the great love of his life.
“I do think about that. I’m not sure what I am getting done here. I do have kids. I have children that I am responsible for and I enjoy that very much. And that wouldn’t have happened without women.” – ibid
>He knows he need to so the self-examination work, but he doesn’t really want to do it. He’d rather show up as a comedian extraordinaire and find his love in the public embrace. One of my favorite movies with Bill is Lost in Translation. It seems to capture the loss and ennui of Mr. Murray’s self-reveal in this article. Fascinated and crushing on the young Scarlett Johansen, Mr. Murray tells much of his life story. I’m guessing that this film captured a bit of what it must be like to be Bill Murray. Detached and disoriented by the “jobs” that send him all over the world. Drawn to youth and beauty. But in this touching film, the father-figure chooses not to take advantage of the young woman. It’s an amazing moment. And it’s a huge win for both characters and the film.
Only from a place of inner-wisdom and self-knowledge can you hope to regain your balance in life and open your heart back up to the possibility of love again.
And Mr. Murray plays his role in a number of Wes Anderson movies as well. Perhaps it is easier for him to act out the scripts that others put in his mouth rather that examine or work through his own troubles.
Robin Williams is another character and body type I’ve been associated with. I share the bear-ish shape with these two rock stars as well as some of their demons. Whatever depression Robin was dealing with, he killed himself while his adoring wife slept in the next room. How terrifying. How dark his night must’ve been to extinguish even his bright star of hope.
AS a bit of a frenetic funny man, myself (I’m not putting myself in the same league with these greats, please.) I am also prone to flights of fantasy and falls of desperation. And it’s wonderful to hear that someone as buoyant as Bill Murray can come out and share his own difficulties, much like he does in Translation. I can take a different path from either of these body doubles. (I wrote myself in as Ferris Bueller in divorce, as well.
I am committed to self-examination and taking care of as much of my sh*t as possible. In the same spirit I can do what it takes to keep my dark thoughts at bay. Often it is the self-examination and self-revelations that come from doing deep work, that keeps me above water. Bill speaks of the difficulties of stripping off the mask and looking at the ugly truth.
Asked what has stopped him from committing to himself, Murray continued, “What stops [any of] us is we’re kinda really ugly if we look really hard. We’re not who we think we are. We’re not as wonderful as we think we are. It’s a little bit of a shock . . . it’s hard.” – ibid
As men, we are often not encouraged to dig deep and feel what’s going one. The man’s role in the world is to be strong, to be stoic, and to be a good provider. I don’t see either of these men being described as feeling fathers. Perhaps Mr. Murray has had to distance himself a little from his role as a father. (Of course, I have no idea.)
What it takes, as a man, to deal with divorce is the courage to strip away the facade and let the feelings and frustrations out. You can do this in therapy, on a blog, or with friends. You cannot do this with your kids or your ex-wife. But most of all, you have to do it. You have to strip back down underneath Bill’s Caddyshack character and understand what’s hurting inside. Only from that place of inner-wisdom and self-knowledge can you hope to regain your balance in life and open your heart back up to the possibility of love again. Because with the risk of love comes the risk of failure, again.
Note: My brush with greatness involves Bill Murray. I was on the set of Ghostbusters, my sister worked for Warner Bros. at the time. During a break Bill came around the corner and saw a teenage boy standing there in red painter pants. “Whoooooo’s the madman!” he shouted, as he reached out and shoot my hand.
I’ve written about this before. I’d like to recap and bring some structure and organization to the story of my house struggles and my depression surrounding the crushing effects of the divorce on my personal and financial stability.
In divorce the man often is the parent who is asked to leave the house, and leave the rest of the family as undisturbed as possible. I get it. We are trying to lessen the impact of the divorce on the kids. But… What about the dad? As they continued on in some sort of “daddy’s on a business trip” mode, I was immediately homeless and alone. Um, it is quite different.
And one of the first challenges, if money is an issue, is establishing a new home, a place where you can begin being a dad again. How long it takes to reestablish this residence depends a lot on your mental state of mind and your employment situation. In my case both were significantly damaged. I moved into my sister’s spare bedroom. And this might have been a saving grace. I was not ready to be alone alone. When I was “off” I had my sister and her two kids to keep me company. My story became, “And I didn’t need to be alone. I was so lucky.”
My divorce was finalized in August of 2010 and my next full-time job came along in December of that year. I appeared to land on my feet at a fairly high-profile and well-paying gig. Immediately I started looking for a place to live. I knew with the way credit works that I needed to establish myself as a home owner as quickly as possible. And in February I found a smallish house in a neighborhood a lot less expensive that our family home, but within my kid’s school district. And in March we launched the “gnome house” chapter of our lives. My kids were in 4th and 6th grade at this time, and my house was actually closer to my son’s middle school than their mom’s home. It was a short-lived victory.
In July of that first year, my employer changed their entire business model and eliminated my position after six months. Now, I could give into my mom and sister’s evaluation that I jumped to early, but I knew that my options for buying were going to be much harder without the big job. I was glad I had a home, but I collapsed into a summer of hardship as I struggled to find work again. At the same time, my kids and I had a great summer. We swam in the nearby lake, we played basketball and soccer in the twilight of the summer evenings, when the Texas heat gave way. We had an adventure together. And for all intents and purposes we were happy in our little house. On the days (most of them) when they were not with me I thrashed and struggled with my life and the impending loss of my newly established home.
When school started up again, things began to fall apart for me.
We struggled on, I continued to profess my intention of getting caught back up with the child support that was set during the divorce at my “big corporate job” rate. She started feeling the pressure of the cash call as well, and there is no blame here. She was a very responsible money manager. In her mind she was doing what she felt was necessary. I was doing what I thought was necessary as well. I remember an email exchange between us where she said, “You seem to think that your mortgage and expenses are more important that your responsibility to your children. I don’t understand that.”
Um… My response was this, “I think we knew this was going to be hard. And I think dad deserves a place to live and a food and electricity to provide a place for himself and his kids, when he has them. I will get caught up on the child support, and I assure you I am not spending any discretionary money. I have no discretionary money. I am working to find a job so I can keep my house and resume full payments to you.”
At this point I was just irregular. When things got really bad is when I actually missed a full payment. Her emails became more hostile. And our “conversations” devolved into sometime resembling this exchange. ME: “I think we should talk about the kids summer plans.” HER: “When will you have the next payment?” ME: “Um… I don’t know. I have some prospects, but nothing has come through.” HER: Silence. And that’s how the communications between us, that had been positive and kid-focused, got off track. And things went down hill fast after she started refusing to discuss anything with me that didn’t involve a payment date and plan from me.
And then things were forever changed. She filed her cause with the Attorney General’s office. And we were suddenly in a legal battle again and I went from struggling and working and not making enough money to a “deadbeat dad.” But that wasn’t enough. I was also now nearing default on my mortgage. I again pleaded with her to give me some options. She began her new response, “I signed an agreement with the AG’s office not to negotiate about money with you.” END OF DISCUSSION.
As the last year began to close it became clear that she was blocking my attempts to file restructuring bankruptcy to try and keep the Gnome House. I looked to my mom for some financial support, but she really hadn’t like the house from the beginning. Fuck. I was out of options and in newly threatening weekly letters from the AG’s office. It was time to sell. And without a full-time big corporate job I didn’t have the income to even look for a place to “move to.” And so at 51 years old I was heading back under the roof of my mom. The shame was palpable, but what were my options?
So in March of this year, 2014, I sold my home and moved in to my mom’s house. OUCH. My mom and I laughed through the situation with a phrase, “Well, it beats living under a bridge.” Yes, it does. But it didn’t have to go this way.
Some where in the divorce she had lost all compassion for me. When my house was being threatened by foreclosure she pressed the entire issue, her issue, to the AG’s office, thus obstructing any potential remedy I might seek. And in the loss, my kids and my mom and I have gotten very close. And it’s funny, they have better rooms and better meals than they ever had at my house. In my haste to reestablish a homestead and a place for me to be dad, I had chosen a house that has some fundamental issues. (No dishwasher, a septic system, and only one kid bedroom.)
At this moment I’m in a converted single-car garage in the middle of a rich neighborhood. It’s not bad. I’m not thrashing. But it’s hard. I have no privacy, no place to even think of establishing a relationship. And what’s the first warning sign anyway? Someone with money troubles, or god-forbid, no home.
In the divorce I am certain we were both doing the best we could. In the blindingly sad negotiations I agreed to giving up my request for 50/50 parenting, and I accepted the financial responsibility that would lock me into the big corporate track for the duration of the agreement. (Until my last child reached 18.) But what I didn’t know is that in all this “good will” negotiations that my soon-to-be-ex-wife would press the entire thing onto the state’s attorneys.
She did it with little more than a reference to “looking after the children’s interests.” Um, sure, maybe, if I was doing something that demonstrated I was trying to skip out on my child support payments. That’s when you go to the AG’s office! Not as a normal course of business. And when my home was threatened is the moment, I think, that you get real about the situation, you show some compassion for your co-parent, and you pause.
In divorce, you are still in a financial coupling. When I lost my job we all suffered. But that’s not the moment to file against your former partner. I do think she’s still mad at me, the same anger that infected our marriage. I’m not sure how that happens, or how someone dissipates it on their own. It takes work. And in a recent kid-focused therapy session her rage surfaced again, and I was again seeing the woman who I gladly release. I don’t need to be in any kind of relationship with someone who harbors such vitriol. And so we drop down into a logistics-and-money relationship. Sad. But maybe that’s more accurate. That’s kind of how the marriage had become as well.
After divorce, struggling with identity and depression is common. This single dad has found strength by focusing on hopefulness and cultivating a joyfulness within himself.
It’s been over five years since I walked out of my family home and changed everyone’s life for ever. Sounds dramatic now, but when I was going through it, I was not sure what the rest of my life held. There were moments I could not tell you one good thing that was ahead for me. And I cratered for a bit, taking refuge at my sister’s house while I decided what I was going to do.
When you’re flat on your back in depression and failure, what you learn is how to get back up.
Now, looking back on it, the worst event I can recall in my personal history, I have somehow grown more resilient after having survived it. And I suppose my kids have also gained a bit of survival-in-the-face-of-the-storm strength. And today, even though I’m in a similar start over place, I am not afraid or unhappy. I have taken a tumble as the result of my own actions, my own over-optimism, and the hostile ex-y. I have landed here. Starting over again. And there is hope here. The horizon is bright.
And the evolution of The Off Parent has followed a similar trajectory. I have come from angry and vindictive to forgiveness and now letting go. And reaching this point offers some new opportunities. Rather than dealing with the Divorce I am thinking more about Dating and what another relationship might look like. Rather than writing vitriolic screed I’m leaning into love poems.
And I have learned a lot on this path. And even today, with a chest cold a fever, I can say I am happy. I have learned to take, even the catastrophic failure and flip it around into opportunity. And then somehow continue to see the hope in that opportunity. There really is a wide range of paths out of this moment of pause. And there is no reason to thrash. I will reemerge when the next job provides the means to support both myself and my kids. And until then I’m going to enjoy this moment to the fullest. I’m recommiting to tennis and fitness. I’m starting to sing songs again.
I have been able to not only show them, but instill in them this tendency towards optimism and hope.
When you’re flat on your back in depression and failure what you learn is how to get back up. And inside that how is the hope that is self-generated and self-sustaining. Hope is the key. Without it the daily grind is brutal and even the smiling pictures of your children don’t lift you. But if you can imagine a single hopeful idea, cling to it, set it on fire and tend the hopefulness. You can find the energy again to reach out for what you need by building and nurturing the hopefulness in yourself.
In the five years I’ve shown my children a lot of emotional sides of myself. I’ve remained true to my promise of keeping all money issues and anger out of my relationship to them. The adult stuff needs to be handled outside their sphere. And I’ve shown them how to rebound with hope and energy time and again. In recent years, as my life has stabilized quite a bit, I have been able to not only show them, but instill in them this tendency towards optimism and hope. That’s my gift. Seeing them dealing with setbacks in their young lives with similar resilience has been a fine reward for both their mom and me.
And I want to do better, and I want to not enjoy just a smidgen of her troubles… But she can still make me madder than anyone else on the planet. And that’s understandable, she’s my ex. Legends about the evil ex abound. There are even Twitter hashtags devoted to the cult of the ex. Of course, she’s not that bad. (On Twitter see #thatswhyyourmyex)
My unvented anger became anger pointed inward. That’s one definition of depression: anger pointed at yourself. And I just about rowed that boat over the waterfall of darkness.
In fact, in this fourth year since our divorce, I am working to release her from the evil ex moniker. But a little healthy anger can sometimes help, if we know how to use it appropriately or dispose of it. Keeping your anger inside is a known stress booster, it shortens your life and lengthens your belt size.
I’ve been framing up something I’m calling The Divorce Recovery Roadmap, and anger plays a very critical role in this growth through and ultimately freedom from anger at your ex. I believe anger is part of the engine that got me out of my depression. When my world was shattered, even if I was complicit in the dismantling, it wasn’t until I found my anger, and began to voice it, that I started to recover my authentic self.
I’ve talked a lot about the self-awareness part of my recovery. And I will state it again as clearly as I can. Divorce has been the most devastating event in my life. And it has transformed me, sometimes by fire, sometimes by tears, back into the happy and creative individual I was before the divorce, maybe even before the marriage.
When I started this blog, even as I was still living under the same roof with my ex-y, I tapped into the vicious anger that was brewing inside. “What? You’re fucking giving up on me?” I wanted to rage. But I wrote it instead of yelling it. And it wasn’t all pretty. In fact, some of it was hurtful and spiteful. As if I wanted to say, “If you’re taking me down, I’m taking everyone down with me.”
But the fight wasn’t with my ex-y at that point. The fight of your life, the recovery from the wounds of divorce, is with yourself.
In that summer of discontent, when I had lost everything and was living with my sister, basically homeless, I raged. I wrote the FUCK YOU that I couldn’t say. I got a few pats on the back for the blog and pressed on, and eventually found my voice, with The Off Parent.
Then she found out about the blog and called me on the phone.
“I found The Off Parent.” she said.
“And I want you to take it down. It makes it too hard to trust you. And we’re trying to raise these two kids together, and it’s just too hurtful.”
At that moment, I was so distraught at my situation, and my self-pity (we’ll get back to that in a minute) that I simply said, “Okay, I’ll take it down, now.” And I mothballed the blog.
What was not apparent to me at over the next month of so, was how quickly my unvented anger became anger pointed inward. That’s one definition of depression: anger pointed at yourself. And I just about rowed that boat over the waterfall of darkness. I didn’t get suicidal until the following summer, but I lost touch with my anger at her. Healthy anger. Anger that needed an outlet.
In order to flip your life back to ON you needed to commit to Massive Action. You had to commit to doing EVERYTHING all at once to get well.
I crumbled. And maybe that’s when I hit what alcoholics refer to as rock bottom. Because I started feeling really sorry for myself. I started placing the failure and blame on myself, on the things I did or didn’t do. When, in fact, I made numerous pleas with my ex-y to stop and reconsider her request for divorce. I wanted reconciliation, I wanted change. But I didn’t want a divorce.
I had been exposed to the 12-Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous a long time ago, when I started attending ACOA (Adult Children of Alcoholics) meetings, back when that movement was emerging. And some of the principles I learned, still guide me. But in my despair I grabbed onto two AA principles that lifted me back from the dead, even without this blog.
The first principle was Self Pity. It is one of the core shames we learn when we are raised in broken or breaking homes. As we uncover just how horrible things have been, we begin feeling sorry for ourselves and our plight. (This is magnified 100-fold for folks battling alcohol addiction, so I don’t mean to make light of it.) In my case, as I was in my sister’s house, basically breaking down mentally, was this sorrow at what had become of my beautiful life. My regrets and should’ve-dones became like a mean Greek chorus shouting me down as I tried to find my footing as a single late-forties man. Man In Divorce, it’s a thing.
I started reading some recovering alcoholics notes on the web. I attended a few AA and Alon meetings to remember how miserable I was, and how far from those darknesses I still was. And the idea of getting over my self-pity, my wallowing in my own stew of misery, was a good one. I wanted to comply, to shake it off, and to grow up and grow a pair, but it wasn’t that easy. Those AA slogans are great when you finally believe in them. Initially they come across as unhelpful platitudes. Still I grabbed on to the life ring of Self Pity and waited for someone to pull me back to safety.
Of course, that’s not really what happens either. Not in real life, anyway. So I slogged on. Read some AA material and tried to apply the maxims to my life. Live and let God. Giving up my pain and process to my Higher Power and all that. But it wasn’t until I hit the next gem of wisdom that I finally got moving.
I was reading a blog about recovery and the phrase that struck a nerve with me was “Take Massive Action.” The idea is, in recovery from addiction it is not enough to go to meetings, say the sayings, read the literature, you could not dabble in your recovery process if you were serious about getting well. In order to flip your life back to ON you needed to commit to Massive Action. You had to commit to doing EVERYTHING all at once to get well. And leave no little pockets of doubt that you could fall back on later.
I needed to build and agree to my own Massive Plan of Attack. Here’s what I did.
I enrolled in an Aikido class that was a few miles from my sister’s house and I agreed to go to class 3 or more times week.
I enrolled in a divorce recovery class that started in two weeks, based on the book When Your Relationship Ends.
And two weeks later I was already feeling the changes as I attended the first night of the divorce recovery class. And when I started hearing this masterful gentleman talk about the divorce recovery process I knew I had hit a vein of gold. Here were 20-or-so men and women in various stages of divorce and willing to admit that things sucked and we needed help.
The very real, very visceral, and transformative power of that night of anger, brought me back to life.
And that first week after the class we were required to call at least two other classmates and check-in on the phone. I remember really hitting it off with the first person I called. And as we chatted she let me know she was a recovering alcoholic. She became one of my champions in my Massive Action campaign.
I called her a few days after our first phone call and said, “I don’t want to go, and you don’t need to call me back, because I’m going to my Aikido class right now. I’m not happy about it, but I wanted to let you know I was going. Fuck.”
(People in that class liked to cuss a lot. And fuck seemed to be one of the best words in use. Maybe because none of us were fucking.)
And so my massive action plan began to take shape and I began reshaping my relationship to the divorce. More importantly, I began reshaping the relationship to myself.
About seven weeks into the class comes Anger Night. Essentially you go through a process of expressing all the “fuck yous” you need to by writing a letter. A letter you never send, of course. And then you share your letter with some of these other people in your class.
I was sad and overweight when I started my massive action plan. And by Anger Night I was at least in motion, but I was still pretty depressed. But the night after the class, when we were given the assignment, to write the real letter, I came uncorked.
That night, in the process of writing out all my fuck yous and complaints to my ex-wife, I reconnected with the healthy part of the anger. The part that I had been stuffing and hurting myself with. The fury, once unleashed, became unmanageable. And I wrote from about midnight to about three in the morning. But I was transformed.
When I accessed my anger that night, it was like a switch had been thrown on inside and the power to my healthy system was restored. The transformation was notable. And four weeks later, when the good doctor was looking for facilitators for his next session, he invited me to be one of the shepherds. What an honor and a validation for the work I had done.
By the end of the class I was on a roll. I was negotiating a new job, I was still hitting the mat in Aikido several times a week, and I was beginning to feel like “life” was possible again. I’ve never looked back at that letter. It’s still here, on this computer, somewhere. But I don’t need to read it. The very real, very visceral, and transformative power of that night of anger, brought me back to life.
The summer is done, the kids are clicking right along in their new classes, and even my work seems to be okay. But the service engine soon light keeps coming on. And it’s more than a metaphor. While I am on the positive side of the divorce, and growing stronger by the minute, some of my fundamentals are still damaged.
First fail: I am not making enough money. I’m behind on my mortgage, trying to avoid bankruptcy through additional work and applying for full-time jobs. And the work is coming. Two new clients and a former client are all asking for more hours. That’s good, but it’s still “coming.”
Second fail: I’m still not doing a very good job of keeping the dishes done or the house picked up. It’s easy when there’s no one to entertain (I even used this as a way to keep me from pursuing a sexual relationship, last month) to let things go a bit. But I’m not doing the greatest job of setting an example for my kids. I can do better.
The breakdown happened in my marriage. The continued breakdowns were facilitated by our relationship that began to spin out of control at some point.
Third fail: Inspection and Registration stickers are both expired on my car. And I have a ticket out there someone waiting for me. That damn “service engine soon” light means there’s something wrong, and that something will prevent them from giving me a healthy inspection sticker until it’s fixed. Sure this is how the system is supposed to work, but … GRRR.
So at what point does the system (me) simply breakdown?
There was a moment, during the darkest part of my marriage, when my then-wife said to me. “There is no rescue coming. We are it. There is nobody else.” At that moment we were still in the collaborative mode of fighting against the economic struggles caused by 9-11 and my subsequent depression, that brought my earning power, as a consultant, down in a hurry.
Is there a reset button? What’s the reset for me? Fall apart again?
In fact, even as I face the most difficult financial time of my life, where my back is pressed against the proverbial wall, I’m feeling stronger than ever. October has begun, healthcare might be more affordable for me and my family, and I’m ramping up towards my birthday in November, when my powers of strength and imagination tend to peak.
The breakdown happened in my marriage. The continued breakdowns were facilitated by our relationship that began to spin out of control at some point. And while the financial fight before me is high, I raise my cup of coffee every morning at 6 am and laugh at the day. I am alive. I am happy. I am thriving. And I WILL FIX THE CAR, when I have the cash.
i am down but i was up just a little bit ago
feelin high singin songs smiling through the light in the hotel room window
but now i’m down, can’t find what’s on the ground in my mind
i’m underneath, in-between, i’ll be right back with who i really wanted to be tonight
if you’ll excuse me please, it won’t take but a day or two or a week
when i hit it just right
i could be back here in an hour
swimming in the pool
but nothing is cool about this foolishness today
nothing is colder than the grip of icy fingers across the back of my neck
i won’t be down for long, cause i don’t play this way
but when i can, i let the time and the rest and the touching lead the way
just wanna be with me, wanna be talky or play a game?
ya wanna go fishing?
go somewhere different
we can have coffee in a new cafe, everyday, don’t ya think?
cause there’s nothing to be done for it that ain’t already be done
there ain’t no vibe that a kicking rock song can’t find an edge
something so pretty, something of sparkling bliss
that can pick me up, take me out of this state
i’m a bout half as tired as when i went to sleep last night
all the words and projects and figuring it out
never gave my gentle thoughts equal time
i’ve been like this before, and if i can move beyond the bum
i can sometimes find my way into fascination
fascination and creativity are doors out of this hole i’m in
singing connects all of my arts with word, soul, resonance, breathing…
performing for people sets me free, shows all of my parts
a poem, written fragment of hope before the demise…
This is a list of todos to help with my emergence out of depression was ahead of this love letter to myself:
PLAYING WITH KIDS • and FAMILY
seeing live music •
writing music •
The blue dots represent parts of my life currently reactivated today 5-27-13. With a little bit of effort and good fortune I could light up the other tasks shortly.
Tonight was one of those nights when you see your ex, and you think, “Thank god I have been released.”
It’s not that she’s suddenly become unattractive. Or that she’s doing a bad job at being a co-parent. (Hammering me for money is another thing altogether.) But there’s a hardness that I hadn’t noticed before. She’s gotten too thin. And kinda mean looking. (This is not meant to be a rag, sorry.)
She also looks very professional, and I am grateful that she seems to be thriving in her current job. As we no longer combine forces, she no longer has my sympathies, but I respect her hard work. She’s always been a dedicated worker.
But tonight, watching our son perform in orchestra, I was glad she came to sit next to me and then decided, “I need to be closer where I can see,” to move towards the front. I had a nice side view of her intense face. She was staring into her phone. (Seems to have become more and more the mode for her.) Perhaps she was exchanging chats with her lover. Perhaps racy emails with her girlfriends. Who knows. But what I saw was a complete disinterest in what we were doing at the school. It was a check box. A task that needed to be completed at the end of the school year, like so many other tasks. And it was the last event that was keeping her from her night with her lover, before a weekend where SHE HAS THE KIDS.
It really must be odd, and I don’t know the feeling, of wanting to be elsewhere when your kids are around.
I should have been the one working late, not her. If I had been a better provider, she wouldn’t have to work so hard.
My daughter said something tonight, about how there was never any food in the house. “L the babysitter always goes to the store for dinner stuff, and there’s never any left overs.” Now, my daughter, who was saying this, has a tendency to be dramatic. But she was sharing a glimpse into the life that my ex-y has constructed.
I know it well. When she got on the work train, while we were married, there were many times when it was assumed I would feed, read, and put the kids to bed. I was being her “wife.” Well, I was grateful again, that she was employed. And I would do whatever I could to make a nice house, a nice leftover plate for her, and a bunch of smiling (from bed) kids for her to return home to.
And, god knows, there were even more times when she was performing this type of 100% parenting for me, while I was working late. But there was some different tone about the entire thing.
For me, it was more acceptable. Like the man at work, the wife at home making dinner. While I spent a number of years at a large corporation, it was a lot easier for her to work less than full-time, and spend a lot of extra time with the kids, at their school, doing projects at home.
When she was working late, by contrast, it was kind of dramatic. Like there was some great urgency that was keeping her at the office. And some sense that it was quite unfair for her to have to be working so hard.
WAIT A MINUTE!
That was MY INTERNAL VOICE saying those things. It’s dawning on me — right this very minute — the resentment I was feeling was not about her attitude, it was about mine! WTF? Seriously? I should have been the one working late, not her. If I had been a better provider, she wouldn’t have to work so hard.
Maybe she played into my shame, a little. I don’t know. But I can now see this was MY SHIT not hers.
In the discussions with women, of our age, about who they are meeting in their dating lives, what I get is that most people our age are cynical and bitter.
I’m wondering if my scoffing at her taut looks tonight is also a product of my shame. I’m asking myself, “Sour grapes?’
I don’t think so. BUT, she was the best thing I’d ever had up to that point. She stayed with me through the toughest times in both our lives. And then she gave up on me.
No, for that I won’t be forgiving her. For the release from a sexless and joyless marriage, I have to thank her. I won’t be putting up with that again either. Ever.
And that’s the wonderful thing about the story. Even if I don’t know the ending, what I do know is the possibility is out there. GF #1 showed me what it feels like to really be adored. I CAN HAVE THAT AGAIN. And I actually deserve it.
In the discussions with women, of our age, about who they are meeting in their dating lives, what I get is that most people our age are cynical and bitter. I am always complemented on my POSITIVE ATTITUDE. “You’re so positive.” or “So much positive energy.”
It’s not exactly the same thing as irresistible, but I’ll take positive right now. And that’s the side I’m showing my kids.
The ex-y also asked me if I would let the kids know about the money shortage as well. As if she needed me to fess up to my own contribution to whatever struggles they were having about “stuff.” I spoke to them tonight about my current situation. I said we could not go to the BBQ place for dinner, because I didn’t have the money for it, and I had plenty of food at home.
“Why don’t you have any money?” my son asked. It was just a point-blank question, no real emotional inflection.
“I have three clients that owe me money right now. And it’s not like I don’t have any money, it’s just that when things get low, I really don’t spend money on stuff like eating out, when I have food at home.”
That satisfied both of them. My daughter, who has become somewhat obsessed with Starbucks, was quiet.
I am positive. I am certain I will continue to dig out of the financial hole the divorce and my subsequent low-times wreaked on me. All systems are go, the work is ahead, the clients are happy. (Affirmation: no low-times this summer.)
And I am positive I will find a more compatible mate. Now that we have this kid thing sorted out, there is only the relationship between me and this new person to sort out. I don’t need anything from them but adoration and the opportunity to adore them back.
Today was one of those days. Nothing really happened to make me sad, but dropping the happy bubbling kids off at the ex-y’s house today I felt the depth of pain again. And maybe I have to come clean, maybe I need to look at my loneliness for a minute rather than skate over it in the name of exhaustion, too much work, apathy, and entertainment.
I don’t want to write about missing my kids. I want to go off and queue up a Game of Thrones episode and relax and forget about it.
I felt the pang of anxiety for the first time in months last week. I was dialing in some financial details and realized the bulk of the work that was materializing two months ago, had still failed to produce the steady income I needed. So I’m back against the wall, it’s the new month, and I still owe half of last month’s child support payment.
It is hard to share that. I’d rather curl up and be depressed. Maybe this is too raw, unedited… I can feel the emptiness and hopelessness that comes as part of this new planet I have landed upon. At the moment, I’m blogging, not writing the story. But perhaps the voice can come through and punch me back into gear.
At the moment it is exactly TWO WEEKS since I started this post. And the anger, vibrancy, and passion has veered off course into self-doubt and sadness.
1. Exercise. YES
2. Eating well. MARGINAL
3. Sleeping well. YES
4. Keeping up with work. MARGINAL
5. Loneliness quotient: VERY HIGH
Dammit. I do not want to be here. I’ve called my support team. I am looking at what is going on with attention to ACTION rather than RUMINATION. And now as the sun is going down, I’m gonna have the 2nd walk of the day. A short one, an appreciation.
I’ve fallen down, but I am also in the process of getting up. Again. We get up again.
One a day, or one day at a time, is the only way to think about recovery from divorce. Recently a trusted friend said that we DO need to take vitamins, that there were some key elements (in the general population’s diet) we were just not getting from our diet any more. And while I’m certain she was thinking of something more holistic than one-a-days, the price and convenience was right.
Each day, I dutifully swallow these little green happy pills. And I can’t help but wonder, “When are these new minerals and vitamins going to kick in? When will I feel better?” (Of course, if you need real happy pills be sure and talk to your doctor.)
There is no map out of this land of confusion. You press on, day after day, because you must, because there are people [kids in my case] counting on you.
There are going to be good days and bad days. And even when you feel completely free of the influence of your ex-y, something will happen, a trigger, a song, a restaurant, a movie, that will trigger you feelings of longing and loss again. It’s okay, it’s good to feel into those deep feelings in the moment, and then move on past them.
For me, the routine is the thing. I’m usually up by 6:00 am when I do my creative writing. (I developed this habit when I needed time to write and I would wake up before the entire house to get an hour in before I needed to wake everyone else up. It was always a little like being Santa Claus. Every one was soundly dreaming away an I was up making coffee and lunches and sitting in my comfy chair and writing. It was a golden moment.
And I enjoyed the routine of getting the kids out the door every day, for school. I was the breakfast dad. And I’m sure, from what my kids tell me, things are a bit different at the old house now. My son told me he shared with my ex-y about how I get them up in plenty of time to listen to some music and roll around in bed before having to get dressed. There’s always music in my house.
I do have to get the work done, so I can keep the house, and keep making child support payments, and eventually catch up on my taxes and credit cards.
So now there are 4 or 5 days in a row when I don’t have them to wake up, when they are with their mom. I still get up at 6 and write. And even by myself, even on weekends, I love this time alone. And I think this blog, this writing about it, has brought me up and out of any lingering sadness completely. Not so sure about the One-a-Day vitamins. I think my friend was imagining a more holistic vitamin. (grin)
So I’m up and at it early every day. And not that it’s getting really damn hot during the day, I try and get my walk in before 10 am as well. There is no question that the walking has helped a lot. Not with my buddha belly (yet) but certainly with the energy and confidence that comes from “doing what’s good for you.”
And today, just for a moment, speaking to my son on the phone, I wanted to be with him rather than where I was. I could’ve changed my day and done something else with him, but instead I stuck with the plan. I do have to get the work done, so I can keep the house, and keep making child support payments, and eventually catch up on my taxes and credit cards. Onward we go.
And walking down the road or trail with my iPod blasting, I can imagine that I will come through all of this in a better place. (Hey, maybe that One-a-Day is working.)
He came out of nowhere with a grin and a wild look in his brown eyes. The black dog began following me this morning on my walk. It was as if he was lonely for someone to cruise around with, and he took my singing with the iPod as encouragement. And he was like a shadow.
So much of the time recovering from divorce is about recovering from depression. “Clinical” or “temporary,” depression is a bitch. It keeps you in bed when you should go to work. It makes you eat crap when you should really start watching what you eat even more carefully. And for me, the worst part, it makes ME isolate like a motherfucker. That’s the killer for me.
I’m not depressed at the moment. So I am able to see and respond to the black dog [sadness] with an open hand. My energy level is high, I’m walking, so that’s good, and the music is weaving its tentacles in my brain and I’m feeling quite buoyant at the moment. So where did the black dog come from?
One of the most pivotal moments in recovery is admitting to yourself that depression is a problem. For me, isolation is pretty deep on the list of symptoms. By the time I’m isolating and fucking up at work, the other mechanics of depression are in full bloom.
My check-ins look kind of like this:
sexual desire (even masturbation can be a positive sign)
laughing or playing
calling people back
spending time with friends
When any of these balance points gets way out of whack I’m heading towards a wrestling match with the black dog. The last real battle lasted 4 – 5 months and could’ve easily killed me.
So when the black dog of depression is showing itself, I try to take evasive action as soon as I can.
go for a walk
play a game (online with others if I can’t be with real people)
clean up my diet (it’s amazing what junk food and sugar highs can do to your overall life-performance)
see if there’s anything pornographic that interests me (if I can get an erection, at least I know I’m alive, I have a desire)
call one of my D-buddies (“Um, I’m just calling because I don’t want to call, and I don’t want to get together for lunch or anything.”)
meet with my counselor or doctor (talky therapists are critical, and meds doctors are too, if you’ve ever had deep bouts of depression)
The most important thing for me is to stay out of the isolation chamber. That is where I slowly, patiently, kill myself.
So this morning, I’m not feeling much charge from the depressive side of my life at the moment, and the black dog is more of a friend and companion. He won’t come close enough for me to pet him, but he smiles at me just the same. He keeps his distance, I keep singing along to the music on my iPod, and we mosey on down the road together.
And then out of nowhere appears another set of black dogs. The twins from down the street. These guys I know.
For a minute I’m not sure if the black dog is going to gel or fight, but I keep walking, imagining they’re going to work it out between themselves.
I look back about 5 minutes later, to see if the black dog is still with me. The three dogs are doing some sort of ecstasy-daisy-chain-circle-dance, They are lost in their dog-ness.
I am happy the black dog has found better companions. I’m not afraid to befriend him. The converse is true. Depression is part of loss. And if you are FEELING the divorce, you will probably feel depressed.
For me, this blog became one of my re-stabilizing forces. I write to process. I write to learn and make sense of what is happening. The first time, when my ex-y asked me to take it down, I was depressed. What I realized only later, was that I was in the early stages of depression. By shutting down the expression of my anger, sadness, and loss; by killing this blog, the first time, I actually hastened my own slip further into darkness.
Today the black dog (of depression) is my friend. I will see him again from time to time. He will travel with me for a bit. And we will part ways when one of us has a more interesting opportunity.