Tag Archives: divorce

Breaking Up: Loss as a Journey

I thought I was going to die. This last breakup was more expected and yet more devastating than any I’d gone through before. I think it was because I had such a strong relationship that had come to pieces. I think it was also because my entire identity was wrapped up in being a couple with this person, being codependent. It’s easy to do for those of use prone to over commitment. So, even though the actions toward suicide were never put in place, my mind often yielded to the fantasy of dropping myself off a high bridge, except I was afraid of heights. Suffice it to say, it was bad. I was in bad shape as I moved back into my mom’s house to recover.

Grief

Feeling the hurt after a breakup is one of the keys to healing and recovery. You have to go through the pain of loss, you cannot shortcut your recovery. As a typical male this process was hard for me to get started. I knew I needed to cry. I felt the sadness deep in my bones, but I couldn’t access the tears. I wrote letters to my ex. I took inventories of what was good in the relationship. I accepted my faults and wrote about where I had failed to live up to my end of the deal, where I had gotten scared and recoiled from my partner rather than turn towards them.

One of the things I did immediately was start going to Al Anon meetings. 1. I needed to be with people and not isolated in my single bedroom at my mom’s. 2. I needed to hear from others who had been through hard times and used the program and their “higher power” to gain strength to recover. 3. I needed a network of friends I could call when things got tough. And the local Al Anon meetings provided all this support immediately. I was not alone. I was not the only one hurting. I was encouraged to call others and talk about what was going on.

So, I accessed some of the pain through journaling. And I watched some sad romantic movies that got a few tears going. But mainly, I just sat with my sadness. I wasn’t inspired to read, though I did buy most of the Al Anon literature as a starting point. I couldn’t just make myself cry, though that’s what I felt I needed. So I sat. And as I ruminated about the past and was bombarded with images and feelings of my ex I tried to say a prayer of appreciation, “Thank you, Samantha, for these wonderful times. I bless you and give you up to God.” And I said it over and over.

I learned to pray again in the simplest terms. “Help me to hope again, God.” “Help me to heal.” “Help me to see a future.”

And I continued my exercise program by walking or playing tennis every single day, without fail. No excuses. This was one thing I could easily control, and if I put my mind to it, I could succeed. And some success was important to me at that time.

Alone time. Prayer. Journaling. Meetings. Phone calls.

That was my strategy. And in a matter of weeks I was having momentary flashes of hope. I would notice walking around the lake that I was actually having positive thoughts about the future. It was subtle. And the ups came with reciprocal downs, but the roller coaster started leveling out and I was having days with little or no obsession about my ex. I was grateful. I built on that momentum and went to more meetings and called more friends. And as the grief began to lift I felt myself imagining and hoping for a new relationship, again.

Turning Point

As things were starting to get better for me, I remember a distinct moment when I decided to get back on the online dating sites again. There was something hopeful about imagining hundreds of women who were looking for a relationship. I wanted to dip my toe in the water and see what they looked like.

I wrote in my profile that I was first looking for friends. And that’s what my intention was. I wanted to meet some women to do things with, but not necessarily to date them. I was pretty certain that my relationship boundaries were not up to snuff, but I could certainly go for coffee or a walk with some women and see what happened. And I think it was this action, this hopeful seeking that really turned the corner for me emotionally. Even the tiniest glimpse of desire in me was a welcome indication that something had changed. That hope was still inside me. And while I was in no position to date right away, I was optimistic about the possibility of having another “date” at some point in the future.

Results

As of this writing, I’m about three weeks in on the dating thing. And I’ve had some interesting experiences. I have one woman who I play tennis with. That’s all we do. We haven’t talked about “dating” the entire time we’ve been playing. I’ve had a few promising first dates that went nowhere. And I’ve got a few first “hello” dates planned for the next few weeks. And while I’m not planning on making any of these women my girlfriend, the idea of having a few women friends that I can hang out with, is quite exciting. Where things go beyond friendship, well, there’s no telling. My heart thinks I’m ready, I know I’m not. So, we’ll see how things progress from here.

Take care. If you want to talk to someone about love and single parenting, let me know.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

image:  elvis, creative commons usage

Divorced with Children: It Does Get Better

I’m pretty sure I thought I was going to die when I found out my wife had been to see a divorce attorney. The worst possible outcome for my life was coming at me like a freight train down a one-lane tunnel. I was afraid, I was sad, I was angry. But most of all I was scared to death of what my life would look like alone. Truly alone again, for the first time in 13 years.

And it was hard. It may have been the hardest thing I’ve ever been through, but I survived. And on the other side of that loneliness was me. Learning again that I am happy when I’m by myself. I don’t need someone to complete me. Sure, I love being in a relationship, but I don’t need one. Well, I kinda do, but you get what I’m saying. I learned, again, that I can be perfectly happy by myself.

I have my own time schedule. I can go out with friends at any hour for lunch, drinks, or breakfast tacos. I don’t have to check-in with anyone. I just go. And for sure, that’s something I’ve been doing is getting together with lots of friends. Friends I might have neglected a bit in my last relationship.

Well, I’m back to being single again. And I’m discovering a new angle as well. My kids are more important to me than any other relationship. I let that one get away from me in the last 3 years. I was putting my desire and devotion to this new woman, above time with my kids. And it wasn’t really a conscious decision. But I kept opting towards my girlfriend and away from being dad. Of course, as teenagers, mostly what your kids want is transportation. And they are busy making friends and being teenagers, so they “need” us a lot less. But I was not actively showing up, not actively asking for “dates” with them.

I’ve changed that since this last break up. I now have regular tennis dates with my daughter. I call her for lunch randomly. And while we haven’t made it yet, I’ve been talking to her about going to my favorite church on Sunday. As I am alone again, I have a lot of time to reprioritize my life. And my kids come first. I forgot that idea for a while, that was my fault. But I won’t forget it again.

A year ago I exchanged this text with my daughter while she was at her mom’s. house.


screen-shot-2016-09-26-at-6-13-29-am

She was letting me know she saw my activity on her Netflix account. I was sharing with her until my ex-wife found out. Oops.screen-shot-2016-09-26-at-6-12-38-amAnd as we begin to exchange more notes and texts she is reaching out for rides and coffees. I’m happier now than I have been since the divorce. My current living situation is not ideal, but my mental, physical, and spiritual programs are running in high gear.

So, what I’ve learned in the last seven years since my divorce, is that yes, things get better. My last relationship really showed me what authentic, non-judgemental love felt like. And while it didn’t work out, she gave me a new benchmark for what a good relationship looks like.

I am blessed with two great kids. It’s up to me to make dates, set boundaries, and show up as a fully empowered dad. I’m working my program, and life is about as good as it gets.

Take care. If you want to talk to someone about love and single parenting, let me know.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

image: dad with kids, creative commons usage

Growing Up in a Warzone: Childhood Trauma and Adult PTSD

It’s no wonder I don’t know how to express anger. The anger in my family of origin was shown to me as a dangerous weapon. My father raged and the entire family cowered. I was four when it started. In these times, the war times, as a four-year old kid, what you need is a comforting adult to pick you up and soothe you. “Everything is going to be all right.” Except, in our family everyone was triggered and afraid. There were no adults in the room. And when my father drank in addition to raging, all hell would break loose inside our house. It was during these times that I escaped to my stick and stone fort up in the hills behind our house.

I was building forts and stocking them with stick guns and rocks. And I would take refuge in the hills whenever things got to hot in the house. And this happened often. And again, what a little kid needs at this point is a parent to come and find him, hold him, reassure him. What I got was relief from the roaring house and isolation. I was a lonely little boy. None of my friends could understand what was happening at my house. Sometimes I was afraid to have them over to play, because I didn’t want them to experience the war zone.

As an adult this coping mechanism is still triggered. And honestly, most adults suffer from isolating behaviors, even if they weren’t born into the anger zone. I think those of us with depression just find deeper and darker silences than most. So as an adult under major stress I head for my fort in the hills. I keep my mouth shut. And I huddle alone waiting for someone to rescue me. The rescue that never comes. The rescue that can’t really come, because I have to rescue myself. No mom or sister is going to come and find me. And even if they did the relief would be temporary.

The fear and isolation are inside me. And in my childhood I learned to be a wonderful performer. I made straight A’s, played all the sports, and even became a profession magician at 12. I was doing magic tricks all the time to keep the family happy. Of course, it didn’t work. I was sad. My family was sad. My dad was rageful.

It is such a familiar feeling when I retreat back into my isolation. It doesn’t feel good, but it feels familiar. My broken and alone self is one I identify with. I have been broken for a large part of my life. I was broken at the age of four and the trauma is still deeply hidden. Of course, the body does not lie, and that trauma comes out at shame and lack of self-love. I’m really horrible to myself. My internal voice often says things so mean I wouldn’t say them to an enemy. I’m working on that one, big time.

Still, growing up in an unsafe and hostile family home trained me to be hyper-vigilant. I guard against anger and disappointment, by trying to be a better person. I’ve learned some of my weaknesses and I’ve learned to compensate for some of them. It’s a long process of growth and recovery. Today, however, I’m happier than I’ve ever been. Even ending a 2.5 yo relationship, I find myself in a “sky’s wide open” future mindset. Today I could go anywhere, do anything.

The path for me now is to be still. I often rush into things before I am certain of the answer. Today my higher power is in charge of the next steps. I’m going to live my life with joy and grace and see what opportunities step up to meet me.

image: anger, creative commons usage

Sitting In Silence with the Grief

I didn’t think I was going to survive the last breakup. Sure I was experiencing a prolonged depression that was kinda scary, but this was darkness multiplied. I was certain I was going to collapse into a depression so deep that I would be unreachable.

I knew even before I moved out that I needed to beef up my support network. I started attending Alanon meetings almost daily. I got a sponsor and about 4 phone numbers of guys I could call just to check in. What a great resource. And what a great lesson the program teaches: you can’t focus on the alcoholic and their recovery, you can only focus on yourself. In fact, you are the only one you can worry about. You are the only one you can change.

Dear God grant me the serenity,
To accept the things I cannot change
The courage to change the things I can
And the wisdom to know the difference

The serenity prayer from AA and Alanon got me through this dark period. But prayer and community were not enough. I was still left with hours, days, nights, of aloneness. And the darkness came and tried to swallow me. The hardest part is the loneliness. Sure the heartbreak is a bitch unlike any other bitch, but the loneliness is the killer. Loneliness keeps you up at night when you’re tired and hopeless. loneliness is the killer. And loneliness is only in your mind. Loneliness is a feeling. An idea. Loneliness is changeable. But getting beyond the loneliness takes time and effort. And for me that meant a lot of praying. Getting spiritually connected again was the gift that keeps on giving.

AA and Alanon are spiritual programs. No matter what you believe in, you come to believe in a “higher power” as you begin to visit the meetings and listen to everyone else’s stories. That higher power can be God, Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed, nature, or even the collective love and power of the group. You’re relationship to your higher power is up to you. And here’s the real eye-opener, your significant other has a higher power too. And they must surrender and find that relationship for themselves. There is no fixing the other person. And there is no waiting for them to change. Their path is between them and their own spiritual program.

In the darkness, and the days and nights of silence I began to pray again. Simple prayers like, “Help me God.” Not really asking for anything specific but guidance for God’s will for me. Which is really my will and hope for myself powered by prayer and belief that there is some larger force in the universe that I can put my trust in. And there is a force in the universe that I can release the drinker to. Their path involves this transition too. It may take a year, it may take a lifetime, but I believe we call come back to a god of our choosing.

The silence and loneliness and grief brought me back to a deeper connection to my own soul. A deeper connection with myself. And that ever elusive self-love.

May you find your own path back to a higher power. And may you learn how much you are loved and valued in the world. Even if it’s only the love of the group. Attend meetings. Talk to people. Get phone numbers of people you can call when you’re down. And then sit quietly and listen. Your soul and inner voice will begin to tell you stories. Maybe some lies too, that you can examine over time and release.

You have to love yourself before you can love anyone else.

If there’s anything I can do to help you on your journey, let me know.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

image: sad child, creative commons usage

Refinding Yourself After a Breakup

It’s easy to lose yourself in a committed relationship. And for those of us inclined towards codependency, it’s too easy to get overly wrapped up in your significant other. It’s not like I made a conscious effort to skip other activities or turn down invitations from friends to go do stuff, but I’d rather be with her. I don’t care if we’re cleaning the house, watching tv, or reading in bed. Being beside your girlfriend, fiancé, wife, is more comforting and rewarding than almost anything.

There’s something else that happens as a result of this dependency. You begin to cling to that person. You begin to lose touch with other friends. You stop reaching out. Because you think you’ve hit your happy place, you sit and wait for your bestie to get home so you can be together doing “whatever.” But it’s not the most healthy choice for a growing and evolving relationship. And I got into this trap, big time.

This was one of the hardest lessons of my recent break up. I had no one once she was gone. I had 3 close friends. And I spent a lot of time alone wondering what went wrong. I did get on the process of building up a support network by going to Al Anon meetings and asking for phone numbers. And I attended a lot of Al Anon meetings, just to be with people rather than being alone.

Then something amazing happened. I started reaching out via Facebook and people started reaching out to me via Facebook. What? Facebook? I know, it seems contradictory to most people’s complaints about Facebook. Still, I reconnected with some high school buddies and started having conversations.

Yesterday after work, I drove an hour out into the Texas Highland Lakes area and went fishing with one of my good friends, one of my hanging buddies, from high school. We’d spoken a few times over the last year. But it was this man who reached out to me a month ago to “check-in” and make sure I was okay. He noticed my usual bouncy and over-sharing self had gone quiet on Facebook. And he just wanted to check-in and make sure I was doing okay. I was not.

At the time I reassured him that I was just taking some time away from social media. But I was lying. I was dying. I knew the relationship was in serious trouble. I was depressed. I was anxious. I was miserable. But we don’t usually reveal these things to friends. “I’m fine,” is usually the answer.

A few weeks ago I reached out to him and let him know his “check-in” had really touched me. I let him know what was going on in my life and that I was not doing well. His response, “Well, the least I can do is have you out to go fishing.”

And last night I went and met this friend of 35+ years and it was like we’d been friends all along since high school. We had a lot of stories to share, catching up. But it was as if we’d never missed a beat. And then we hit the fishing hole and floated around in bright green kayaks and caught quite a stringer of bass.

It was a perfect afternoon and evening as the sunset drew long red lines across the fishing hole and we floated and chatted and cause a cooler full of fresh fish. It was the most fish I’d ever caught in a day. I understood for the first time why men who know how to fish love to fish.

The friendship, however, was the most important and healing part. Here was a selfless and giving friend. A spiritual friend. An example of a happy marriage. And a man who had seemed to put the pieces of work, love, and play together in his life.

Losing my consuming relationship was critical to finding this loneliness and then finding the way to reach out to people who cared about me. Even if I didn’t really understand how they cared about me, I could not deny his check-in on Facebook.

Give in to the invitations. Reach out when you need help. And return the favor when you have the ability. I don’t know what I can give my friend at the moment, except excellent friendship. But he has given me more than he knows. He’s given me a new hope. A hope for connecting with another person at a deep level. Hope for just learning to live life to its fullest. And hope for finding a mate to spend the rest of my 50 years with.

Thank you my friend. And oddly, thank you Facebook.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

image: a stringer of fish, creative commons usage allowed

Don’t Wait and Don’t Settle

You are worth it. You should be with someone who makes you feel special every day. Sure there can be disagreements and dark periods (most relationships go through some trials) but as long as both parties play by the rules and never do anything to hurt the other person, relationships go on. Mine dragged on. And I realise after the fact that I was settling. And I’m worth more. I am loving and loveable and I deserve the same in a partner. Not sometimes, not mostly, but all the time, even when things are bad. I deserve that and so do you.

So, if you’ve been following along you know I’m single again. Not by my choice, but I think this wonderful woman did us both a favor. I’m also conflict averse and I was never going to say uncle. And after a glimpse into the online dating pool, I’ve decided I’m not ready for a relationship yet. Not with anyone but myself. I’ve got a lot to learn and a lot of work to do. If you don’t love yourself, how can you love someone else.

I had fallen out of love with myself. I was the most negative voice in my head. All the time. I hated myself. Imagined offing myself. And I knew I was pathetic and worthless. All because I lost a job. A job that was not right from me from the beginning. The problem is, this was the 3rd job in a row like this. Miserable. But this last miss crushed more of my spirit than I could handle. I mean, when you’re imagining that you’d be better off dead, you’re in a seriously fucked up place. That’s where I was.  And in this relationship we were hanging on, both wondering where the relationship and magic that we started with had gone.

Now, I’m working on finding out more about myself. I’ve been on a weight loss journey that has given me the healthiest body I’ve experienced since my 20s. And for the first time since I can remember I don’t have love handles. I’m not down to my 16 yo swim team weight, but that’s where I’m aiming. Why not? I should have that body again. Would I be more attractive and loveable? Probably not. Have I gotten a huge self esteem boost from losing all this weight? Yes. And it feels good to feel a bit hungry. That’s my body working on becoming a better machine. A leaner machine.

And the biggest part I’ve got to work on is loving myself. I know I’m repeating myself but I’m saying it for me. I need to hear it. My friend texted me one day while I was feeling particularly down, “You are loveable and you are loved.” It hit me with some force. I didn’t feel lovable at that moment. Far from it. But this phrase has become somewhat of a mantra. imagining myself lovable is a task. It’s a practice. It’s my journey towards loving myself. Not losing more weight. But just accepting and believing that I am loveable just as I am. I still don’t believe it, but I’m working on that issue right now. A am. And you are loveable too.

And you deserve to be loved fully and unconditionally. I know that sounds like a stretch. Like who really believes that woowoo shit? But it’s true. Even 2% out of sync is not what you need. You need 100% loving or you’ve got to pass. Miss almost, no matter how appealing she might appear, is not the one for you. Sometimes we call them red flags. And at this time in your life, you should not settle. Not one iota. I know this means it will take longer to find that match, but it’s going to be worth it. And you are worth it. I believe in you. And I believe in this Real Love.

So I’m staying out of the dating pool for a while as I reset my own self worth. My esteem was at an all-time low because of my job loss, which turned into one of the most protracted depressions I can remember. And while I’m no longer depressed (thank god) I’m also not about to start thinking about another woman. I’m not ready. I feel it. Sure, I feel the desire and longing to be with someone. And sure, I desire sexual connection with someone other than myself. But I’m not ready, and I’m worth the wait.

But I also said don’t wait. And what I mean by that is GET ON WITH YOUR PROGRAM. What do you need to improve about yourself. What kinds of non material things, what types of activities would make you feel happier? Seek those out. Learn again what YOU want to do, not attached to anyone but yourself. Only when you show up 100% for yourself can you really be ready for the next relationship of your life.

That’s what we’re talking about here. THE ONE. And if you see the signs at any point along the relationship journey, any red flags, the deal is off, the person is not the ONE. The person does not deserve you. And I’m sorry to say, they don’t get a second chance. Once you’ve seen someone’s true colors and you know in your heart that their behavior was hurtful or at best unthoughtful, it’s time to move on. “Let them walk,” as T. D. Jakes would say.

I’m walking my path alone right now. And I can say I’ve missed me. All that time in a chemical depression showed me, once again how bad it can be, and I’m grateful to be vibrant again. I’m developing a relationship with myself and I will eventually believe that I am loveable. And so will you. And anyone that takes that glow away from you is not worthy of your gifts.

So get on with it. Get on with yourself and your program to find the ONE. Anything less would be unfair to the awesome you that you are continuing to become.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

image: couple, creative commons usage allowed

Never the One to Quit

In my last two relationships, heck in most of my relationships that lasted more than a few weeks, I was not the dumper I was the dumpee. I have been left or asked to leave. Even when I was confident we still had a chance, that things would get better (but I’m an overly optimistic child), I was shown the door. Both times, in my marriage and in my last engagement, I was on the receiving end of a dear John letter. And now, looking back, both women were right in kicking me to the curb. Sure we might have done things a different way, but… I was also so unhappy, but also so conflict adverse that I stayed loyal in the face of huge betrayals and huge red flags that should’ve been grounds for ME breaking off the relationship. But I stayed.

One thing this did for me, in my mind, was give me the higher ground. I still catch myself saying, “But it wasn’t my idea,” still. UG. Victimhood feels so crappy. And I’m not a victim. But still, “It wasn’t my idea.”

I wonder about both women if they sometimes wonder, “Did I do the right thing?” And I get some sick satisfaction imagining that their answer is “No, I want him back.” But I’m dreaming silly thoughts. And thoughts that are not helpful in getting on with my healing. In answer to that question, to both women, I would say, “Yes, honey, you did what you needed to do. And I was just to scared to do it myself. So, thank you.”

But there’s no need to have that conversation. I am not on the higher ground. I to am 100% responsible for my part in the failing. That’s the part that I’ve got to accept and own. Avoidance is never a winning strategy, in business, life, or relationships. But I avoid like hell because I want everyone to be happy and to like me. I’ve always been this way. Seems to me, this has to do with the chaos in my early childhood where I was trying to soothe everyone while our home and family was going to hell.

I’m still learning. And while I’ve partially recovered from the grief of my last loss, I know I’ve still got work to do. We all do.

I think one of my biggest challenges is trusting myself, my feelings, and my anger. But anger is very scarey for a conflict-avoidant person. I have to own my sadness. I have to expose my anger. And I’ve got to learn to (sounds corny) love myself as much as I love others. I give myself a harder time than I would give anyone in my life. I’m downright mean. And it’s part of my depressive illness. When it gets out of hand I start falling away from reality and falling into some despairing hopelessness, that tends to overwhelm and freeze me. It sucks.

But they say awareness of the problem is the first step. So today, I admit I am powerless over my destructive coping mechanisms. And I’m turning my life over to the care of a higher power. And this takes place first thing in the morning, and many times during the course of the day.

In both of these devastating losses, I was still clinging to the hope that things would get better. And while I thought I was working to make them better, in both cases I was as unhappy as they were, I was just too dependant to admit it. Thank you to both these beautiful women, I loved them when they said it’s over, and I love them still. But I love them for breaking the toxic pattern and letting me go. Letting me fall back onto my own path. It was never their responsibility to take care of me, or make me happy, or do anything but be honest and live their own lives. We’re all on this journey, but it’s a singular journey. We may feel that a relationship gives us protection from loneliness and isolation, but it doesn’t. Everyone is doing the very best they can. We have to remember that at all times. About ourselves and about others in our lives. Nobody is trying to fuck things up. Give them and yourself a break. Take it easy. Take a step back. Then you’ve got to take action to preserve yourself and your journey. No one can do that for you. You’re on your own.

I hope you find your path to healing as well.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

image: breaking up, creative commons usage allowed

relationships, breakups, divorce, single dad

What My Breakup and Recovery Have Felt Like

4 weeks ago I lost my best friend and lover. I moved out of her house and promptly fell apart. But then again, I didn’t fall apart like I thought I would. I was certain that deep depression was in my near future. I was certain that I would give into the pull of isolation and shut everything down and everyone out. That didn’t happen.

Here’s what I did. I put my mind on the next step. Heal. Grieve. Get my shit back together. And move on. I kept my exercise routine in place, every single day. And I found support in Al Anon. I did not isolate. In fact, I was less isolated than I had been in my partner’s house. I kept my chin up and felt the overwhelming sadness and kept going.

I also shut down 100% of the communication between us. This was advice from a brilliant book Getting Past Your Breakup by Susan J. Elliott. They called it NC, no contact and I believe it was essential to push me into the longing and loss I was feeling. I tried to find things to make me cry and I cried. I tried a new therapist along with my current therapist. I knew it was going to take some time for me to even feel normal again, much less able to consider a new relationship. The NC was key for me. Everything I wanted to tell her I wrote in letters I knew I could never send. I found my anger. I found out how much I missed the little things we did together. I dug into the tears and kept saying, “Goodbye” over and over until I believed she was gone.

I’m not saying I’m over her. I’m not. But at least I’m not thinking about her every single day. In fact, deep relationships you may never get over fully, but they take on less weight as time goes by. So in some ways time does heal all wounds. I wasn’t going to take the passive approach. I went after my grief with a vengeance.

And something good came from all this. I no longer felt constant anxiety about losing her. She was gone. I no longer pined for us to be together again. And I started to think about other women in my life. I contacted some old friends, mainly women, just to be around different women. And yes, I got on the online dating sites, but I’m not really looking for a relationship. Too soon. I’m just looking for some ways to talk to and be near women. And it made me feel hopeful that some women seemed to like my profile and want to talk to me too.

In Susan’s work we say “Do the work. Feel the feelings. Make peace with the peace.” And that’s what I’m still doing. I might always feel the prick of a finger every time something reminds me of her, something we did, something we talked about doing, anything really. But the prick doesn’t have to derail my day. Sometimes it only takes about 30-seconds before I redirect my wandering mind back to something more positive.

I’m not saying I’m over it. I’m not saying I’ve moved on. I’m saying I’m happy by myself for the first time in a long time. And I like it this way. I’m exploring new horizons and new options. From here I can go anywhere.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

image: https://goo.gl/images/DhYpZh, creative commons usage allowed

My Side of the Mountain – Understanding Depression

I can only talk about myself and my experience. And my experience includes some serious lapses into depression. Hard for me to admit, I’ve got an achilles heel, that scares the hell out of me and everyone near me, including my marriage and my last relationship. The disease is hard on everyone. And if you’ve never experienced it, you have no idea what it’s like, but I’m going to try to give you a glimpse into my dark days.

Depression is different from feeling sad or unmotivated. Depression is not laziness, though some of the symptoms may cause your loved ones to think you are just not trying to get better. I can assure you I was doing everything in my power, using all of my tools, to get well. But sometimes, even when things seem to be going well, the meds poop out and the depression grabs me and jerks me back below the surface of the water. Depression feels kind of like the flu. It’s as if your body has no energy for doing things. And nothing, I mean nothing, sounds good. You don’t want sex, you don’t want ice cream, you don’t want conversation, you just want to isolate and be quiet with your dark thoughts. But that’s a bad idea. That’s always a bad idea.

Depressions are usually triggered by some major emotional event. And my variety of depression comes along before your twenties and colors the rest of your life. My first freak out happened when I was sixteen years old and away at prep school. I’ve been touched ever since, with varying degrees of seriousness and duration. And I learned early on that meds were my friends, that I needed the equivalent of a pharmaceutical vitamin to keep me regulated. Over my life, it has been a real struggle to accept that fact, and several of my falls have happened years after I was off all medications and seemingly doing great. But it’s always there in the back of my mind. What if it comes back. And it just did, and probably will, with variations and if I’m diligent with smaller and less severe cycles. But I know that it will be back. This disease once it has been diagnosed doesn’t ever get cured.

I’m not trying to have a pity party here, or get sympathy. What I am trying to get is some clarity on what just happened to my loving relationship as a result of a prolonged bout of depression. They call it treatment resistant depression. That’s when the meds that used to work, just stop working. My free fall into fear and anxiety happened last December. And by January things were tense and unhappy in my relationship. Not just her. But I was deeply unhappy too.

The thing about my symptoms is I go off on apocalyptic fantasies about the future that I can’t stop worrying about. And I’m not just talking about some vague concerns about money, or career, or the future of my relationship, I’m talking about wild ass fantasies that consumed my consciousness so that I became forgetful and scattered. And this kind of depression makes it very hard to keep a job in the high-tech sector of marketing. But I couldn’t just get over it. I couldn’t just “man up” and keep going. I almost became mute because I didn’t want to share what was going on in my head with anyone. Fortunately I had a loving therapist who consoled me. Unfortunately there was no one consoling or coaching my then fiancé.

Here’s what’s scary. This same pattern caused the failure of my marriage to the mother of my children seven years ago. And I don’t know if this disease is going to continue to show up, freak out my partner, and end up with me alone and more depressed and hopeless. It’s hard for me to imagine it’s not going to happen again in some car wreck of a breakup. And that’s a way to get hopeless pretty fast.

But there is some good news. My story is going to end on an up. For me, meds work when they work. Unfortunately it may take a lot of tries to get it right, but when they kick in I am my old creative and loving self within weeks. And that’s just what happened two weeks ago. After being on a new med for 45 days I suddenly began to have creative thoughts. And this was after I broke up with my fiancé. So even in the depths of what would cause normal people to be sad, my meds allowed me to get a handle on my mind, put things back into perspective and develop the most critical part of recovery: hope.

Today, even alone, I feel hopeful. I know more about what happened. Perhaps I’ll learn how to get my partner to get a support system that will help her through her own doubts and fears. And here’s the plan: when a med works, stay on that med. So I could have years of good results, with ups and downs like everyone, but no crashes. That’s the goal, and that’s what I believe. When I was 16 my brain shut down on me and brought my sophomore year of high school to a screeching halt. And at several points in my life since then, during some major life crisis, I just give up. Well, I don’t give up, I’m fighting like hell, but my brain gives up and focuses on creating pictures of doom so dark I was afraid to tell my therapist what I was thinking sometimes.

So we start again. I’m alone but hopeful the next relationship will get it right. Of course, the relationship I need to work on most is with myself. Forgiving myself for my part in the demise of a seemingly brilliant relationship, with a committed future. And then, letting go of my best friend enough to imagine myself in a new relationship. I’m not there yet, but I have the clarity and energy to work on it.

Oh, and the funny thing for me, is when I’m starting to feel better my creative drive comes back and I start writing. Yesterday, with my blog post, I was showing myself that I was emerging from one of the longest depressions I’ve been in as an adult. For me creativity and brain health go hand in hand. So I’m happy to be back, still working, but on the up swing.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

image: john mcelhenney, creative commons usage allowed

In Divorce: No We Can’t Be Friends

whole-dontkissme

Let’s do it differently, please.

I’d like things to be different between my ex-wife and me. I’d like us to be friends. I’d like us to be cordial and be good parents. But that’s not how it’s gone between us and I’m sad about it. I learned today, there’s enough sadness to go around, and too little happiness. What we are looking for in divorce is finding the joy of parenting, and not just the managed tolerance of one another. I’d like it to be different, but I’m only one voice.

As with the divorce, I would’ve stayed married for the kids. And perhaps that was not the right answer either. But as it fell apart I tried to stay connected. I tried to stay close.

Sure, I did my best as a collaborative divorcing parent, but as things got tough, the tough came between us and created anger. Perhaps I walled up that anger as indifference. I’d rather not know anything about my ex-wife’s life. I’m content to know she’s remarried and that my kids like the other guy.

But it’s not enough. I still want us to be friends. I still have this idea of us being cordial to one another. And, unfortunately, that — again — is not what it’s like.

And yesterday it took a third-party to finally get it through my thick head. I am writing a tv series about divorce and I was meeting with my cowriter. As we talked about our divorces I gave her an example.

“So, I’ve been out of work for a few months and yesterday I notified my ex that I’d gotten a new job and that the AG’s office had been notified. I was at least expecting a response. A ‘Good job,’ or something.”

“Oh,” She said. “You still think you are friends.”

“Well, yes, we try to be friendly.”

“She’s not your friend. And you need to stop expecting anything from her. Any acknowledgement of your good deeds would mean she’s still engaged with you. She’s not. She’s moved on.”

“So I’m just like a paycheck for her, and she doesn’t care about me at all?”

“Basically.”

“That sucks.”

“Welcome to divorce.”

“Okay, so I know and I’ve written that serenity begins and ends with me. But I was expecting us to at least be cordial.”

“Why?”

“Well, we’ve still got kids together.”

“Yes, but she’s focused on them. She doesn’t care about you and your journey. She’s glad you’ve got your new job because it means the steady checks are going to start coming in again. That’s why she turned you over to the AG’s office. She’d rather not deal with you at all.”

I’m not sure I’m fully over the idea of us being friends, but I sure got a lesson in practical divorce yesterday from my cowriter. Sometimes it’s great to be given the view from the other side of divorce.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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image: don’t kiss me, creative commons usage