Tag Archives: relationships

Your Sex Is On Fire: The Intoxicating Burn of Love

Everything in your body changes when you have sex with someone. For me, when dating, having sex becomes the moment that I go exclusive with that one person and say, “This is the relationship I’m going to give a try.” But these days, I am more clear than ever that sex is an intoxicant, and should be treated with respect. I’ve certainly gotten into a few relationships due to great sex, that I might have avoided had I taken a bit more time to get physical.

I believe sex is a spiritual event. A connection on a level that begins to transcend the normal walking and talking interactions of daily life. I’ve never been able to have casual sex. (Okay, maybe in college a couple of times.) To me sex is the beginning of a commitment. I know that my brain chemistry changes when I have sex. I get all electrified and positive. And this is just the sex part. If you multiply that effect with a touch of “love” man you are in for a serious impairment. You cannot think clearly when the sexual chemistry starts. If you go physical too early in a relationship it may cause you to overlook signs that this might not be the best relationship. You’re brain and body are so focused on the sex, and getting more sex, it will blow right past the red flags warning you to take a harder look at what’s going on.

There is no hard and fast rule in dating these days, about how long you “date” before you have sex. In fact, I’m sure that the swipe apps of Tender and Bumble are more setup for casual encounters, for the younger set, but I think they are heading for disaster. However, if you were to make a decision to indulge in casual safe sex for a while, I suppose you can try to keep your emotions out of the sex. I’ve never been able to do it. But perhaps I’m old-fashioned.

As sex leads the way to love, the pathways in your brain really begin to get hyperactive. You start thinking about long-range plans together. You start imagining yourself with this person, living together, getting married, having kids. Love is the drug that has launched a million relationships. It’s also the drug that has gotten a lot of people in serious relationships with people they otherwise might pass on. If you hit the love drug too early in a relationship you might not have the opportunity to see your new partner responding to enough of the varied life experiences that happen. What is this person like under pressure? How do they respond to daily frustrations with work, money, life? Love paints over your observational senses with a rose-colored watercolor.

I’m only just back in the dating pool, but I’m setting my sights on 3 – 6 months with no sex. I want to have time to meet and play with several new partners before settling in on the one I want to have sex with. The one I want to take to the next level. That’s the plan. We’ll see how my resolve sticks when I meet someone who really clicks with me.

That’s the thing, click, get excited, but slow down. Don’t blow past all the early experiences of getting to know this person. Don’t skip any steps. And don’t let yourself get intoxicated before you have a chance to evaluate the potential relationship in honest, sober, terms.

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

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

image: sex is on fire, creative commons usage

Know What Your Problem Is? Mom and Dad.

Family of origin events and habits form a good part of what makes us who we are as adults. For example my dad never expressed his anger until he literally exploded and scared the crap out of all of us. I have that same repressed anger, except I never get to the explosion part. Of course, for my dad it took a drink or two to loosen his vitriolic tongue. And my mom taught me how to suffer in silence and worry, worry, worry about everything. She also showed me my first example of depression, after her divorce when I was 7.

Those several facts have given me a blueprint of my emotional DNA.

  1. I have trouble expressing anger.
  2. I have trouble with people who drink too much.
  3. I’m scared to death of someone raging at me.
  4. I worry a lot about things that never happen, wrecking a good bit of my here-and-now present moment.
  5. I have a depression symptom that looks a lot like simply giving up.

And all of these factors weigh into my adulthood personality and personality disorders. I am conflict adverse. I’d rather lie to you than fight you, about anything. (Kinda wimpy, right?) Well, these parts of me also caused me to lose the three primary relationships in my life in some form or fashion.

In both my marriage and my recent relationship my depression was really the crushing factor that caused the other person to opt-out. And I get it. I don’t blame either of them for their instincts towards their own personal preservation. I was a wreck. And I had no idea when or how I was going to get out of it. I was hopeless and it made them hopeless too. And two hopeless people can only be together so long before something breaks. It’s terrifying and heartbreaking at the same time. And both times I was asked to leave. I get it. I honor both of them for taking care of themselves. That’s all we can do in life, take care of ourselves. Even if it means ending a loving relationship.

This same DNA will form the future of my relationships as well. And the clearer I get on the issues and the solutions, the easier it will be to keep a relationship. It’s not 100% up to me. But my actions will determine my own course of action, even if that means getting fired and losing my shit and falling into depression. I hope that doesn’t happen, but I know the depression will rear its ugly head again in the next 50 years. It’s not if, it’s when. And the rest is up to me and my care team. Gross. It’s a disability that is part of loving me. And it’s one I have a hard time loving about myself. But I get over it.

And the drugs, in my case, do work when they work. They also poop out and leaving me a shivering fearful wreck. And really, we know that pharmapsychiatry is a dark art. They have no idea what they’re doing. The simply rotate the same handful of drugs until they find one that seems to make things better. serotonin, Dopamine, norepinephrine, the chemicals in my head, are simply concepts about what’s really going on. But most of the time even my psychiatrist is scratching his head, discussing with me options when things aren’t working. He doesn’t know anything. And all we have is my 10 year history together, and a lot of trust.

Depression aside, the most powerful work we can do on ourselves is to get straight with our family of origin. It may take a lifetime, and you may not be able to fully rid yourself of the unhealthy influence, but you’ve got to keep trying. So ask yourself, “What did mom give me?” and “What did I learn from dad?” And listen to what comes back. You might need someone else to talk to in order to gain some objective feedback.

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

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

image:  unhappy family, creative commons usage allowed

Facing My Personal Dragon: Depression

It’s a bit risky, all this talk about depression. By writing about my struggles I might, for example, give anyone googling my name access to my personal medical history. I might be limiting the future of my career. I might be scaring away potential employers, lovers, friends. But I can’t stay in my darkness alone. Depression is a disease of isolation and fear. I have courageously embarrassed my illness, though I’m not ready to admit to the actual diagnosis that is now part of most job applications. I have a disability. Hard to swallow sometimes, but real.

In my teens I experienced this major depression for the first time in my life. Sure, I’d been a moody kid, but a lot of that mood had been creatively fueled optimism. But when I moved away from home to attend a prep school, my foundations crumbled under the intellectual rigor of the school and swept me into a hopeless and airless place. I could no longer think straight. I was failing Spanish for the second time. And I was depressed and beginning to self-medicate with marijuana. Not a good period of my life.

Since that first breakdown I have struggled 4 or 5 times with utter and complete darkness. A darkness so dense that is wrecked every project, job, relationship in my life. And I know I will be depressed again. It’s a crippling diagnosis when you hear your therapist or psychiatrist say, “You will probably deal with varying stages of this your entire life.” How would you to share that with a potential girlfriend or employer? Hard to stay positive in most circumstance.

While the discussion about mental illness has come a long way, the real darkness and power of depression is not well depicted in our popular culture. Sure TV shows have “manic” or “depressed” characters, but seeing actual depression is nothing like the worst show’s scenes and conflicts. Quite simply, when a person is depressed, even if they “want” to write about it, purge it, let is come out creatively, it’s as if a power switch has been turned off in your creative brain.

Going into my last depression that was triggered by the loss of a new job, I knew I was headed into a depression, but I was powerless to stop my slide into despair. I could see it was coming. I asked my talky  doctor and my meds doctor for help. I pleaded for help. I committed to writing it out, and staying present with my sad ass self. It simply was not possible. Stringing a few sentences together while in full-blown depression is… well… nearly impossible.

So, headlong I went, tumbling, into despair. I was fulling conscious of what was taking place as my creative and emotional faculties diminished. I was front and center as my 2.5 year relationship crumbled under the weight of my illness. And ultimately I was left to face my dragon alone. Utterly alone, homeless again, and defeated. And yet, not defeated. Somehow, I kept going. I kept walking 5 – 7 miles a day. I kept eating and sleeping well. I kept making and keeping appointments with my care team. I kept going in spite of feeling like ending it.

There is no time to slay the dragon. The dragon is your friend. — Reshad Feild

Somehow, I have been forced to accepting my fatal flaw. I cannot escape my own demons, I have to live with them. I cannot fight with the dragon when the dragon is a part of my DNA. As crushing as it is, I have to befrind my own depression, learn to accept my limits, and continue to work on forgiving myself for succumbing to the madness that is depressive illness.

Let me describe for a minute the experience I had three weeks ago, as a new medication came on-line and vanquished my depression. From the pits of isolation and self-pity, I kept working my program. I kept taking the meds and demanded of my psychiatrist that we try something new. I was not satisfied with survival. I was going to thrive again. And while I wasn’t confident in my plan, or in my doctor’s ability to offer me a fresh torch inside my deep cavern of shame and sadness, even in the absence of confidence, I had to walk on.

And then an amazing thing happened. It always happens. I always come out of it. But this time it was so dramatic, this switching back on of all my facilities, this return of hope and confidence, that everyone around me noticed the change. My inner power source was lit again. I began blogging immediately, even though I was dealing with a major breakup AND depression. This new drug, somehow, lifted the sleep-like fog that had suffocated me and my loved ones for the last 6 months. Like night and day, I was writing, contemplating new songs for my band to rehearse, I was imagining myself back in a relationship, with a good job and plans for the future. I was reborn.

And that type of swing is scary as shit. It’s horrifying for the people arround you to see the lights go out and their happy friend vanish into some abyss of sadness. In depression my thoughts become so heavy, my very existence becomes so tentative, that I simply STFU (shut the fuck up). I can’t tell you how I’m feeling, so don’t ask. If I told you it would freak both of us out. I can’t express my utter rage and disappointment with my life or my illness that seems to routinely rip all the joy and hope in my life. So I get real quiet. And for someone who writes, and someone who loves to talk and laugh, this transition becomes obvious and dramatic for everyone around me.

Okay, so I have this illness. I have this diagnosis that isn’t ever going to change. I might have long periods of stability and progress, but in the shadows is ALWAYS this prospect of losing it all in a wash of bad chemicals in my brain. It’s no joking matter. My family and a very select group of friends knows or have seen my loss. For everyone else around me, I just seem to disappear. Sure I”m still ON Facebook but I’m not posting anymore, I’m lurking and feeling sorry for myself that so many of you are going on with your normal, amazing, everyday lives. I’m stuck in the asylum of my mind, struggling to get out of bed in the morning, struggling to stay out of bed in the afternoon, and struggling with the simple tasks like shaving and dressing in normal clothes every day.

And, once again, I’m hopeful. Once again I have confidence to look for a high-powered marketing job. Once, again, I’m open to looking for a new relationship, even though my last one was crushed under the weight of my sadness.

That’s the part that I’m more in touch with than ever. Okay, doc, so I’m going to go through cycles of this the rest of my life? I’m not sure how to plan for that, or tell prospective mates that they might lose me at any moment, but I’m willing to take the steps to keep moving forward. The dragon, my depression, is with me. He’s not going anywhere. And to fight him is to fight and destroy myself. So instead, I’m going to love and befriend this dragon of mine. And while the beast has the fire power to destroy my life again, I have hope, I have confidence, and I press on with the believe that understanding will make the cycles less potent., the depression less debilitating. Still I’ve got to talk to any prospective mate about this dragon before we begin making future plans. And while I’m not ready to check the box on job applications that says I have a disability, inside I know I do. Inside I know the fall is just a slight tweak of my brain chemistry in the wrong direction.

Keep the faith, and if you need someone to talk to, check out my coaching page.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

image:  my temporary tattoo, creative commons usage allowed

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

Why I’m Not Dating Again

Dating sucks. Perhaps in today’s lingo “dating” means having sex, but the whole concept is outdated. Or I am. Today i’m shutting done all four of my dating profiles. I’ve got two new friends and that’s all I can handle. The nice thing about proclaiming that you just want to be friends is it takes the urgency and pressure off both of you. Let’s just slow the whole thing down and take our time. The next relationship i want is going to be the ONE. I’m only going to accept that. No excuses, no exceptions.

And I’m certainly not going to get my body involved before the mind has a chance to explore some of the nooks and crannies of this other person. So why date? What I was really doing on those sites was looking for women to hangout with. Turns out they are both quite sporty and our friendship for several months will probably revolve around doing some sport together. What better way to spend time together? What better way to motivate myself to workout every day.

I’m in no condition for starting a relationship. And I don’t like calling it dating whatever it is. So I’m just online friending. And the future looks bright.

Get back out there, but make sure your mind and heart are in sync before you “date” anyone.

As we said in my divorce recovery group, “Don’t take your show on the road until you’re ready.” And I’m certainly not ready. Give me a few more months. But I haven’t put a time frame on it, and I’m not missing anything. I’ve got two new friends. And I can turn off the distracting emails and alerts from the dating sites. Whew.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

image: dating, 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

8 Lessons from My First 2 Divorces

WHOLE-2016-tangobw

Divorce is a hard learning curve. What you don’t know going into marriage (first, second, other) is what variables will change and how those changes will affect your life. But as you go through the entire process, marriage-to-trouble-to-divorce you learn some things. I’m going to try to highlight the big ah-ha moments I had in both my marriages.

Marriage #1

But if one of you is having major emotional issues, no amount of goodwill, good behavior, or good intentions will fix things. If you are waiting for the other person to change, you are in trouble.

We were young. I allowed her beauty and my passion to blind me to some of the issues we had early on. We had both just graduated from college and it felt like the thing to do. I was madly in love with her, but I didn’t know enough about her. I jumped into my first marriage on sexual chemistry and gut instinct. I thought if we were this happy then we’d be just as happy after getting married.

Lesson 1: Weather some storms before you tie the knot.

The first unhappy moments arrived my marriage on our honeymoon. I was suddenly seeing a very unhappy and angry person. Something, even in those early days of bliss, registered a big red flag. My thoughts as my new wife raged at me was, “Uh oh. I think I made a mistake.”

Lesson 2: As time goes on things that are not working are liable to get worse not better.

You cannot count on the other person changing to please you or make things easier. If you both agree to therapy, you can move the needle a bit. But if one of you is having major emotional issues, no amount of goodwill, good behavior, or good intentions will fix things. If you are waiting for the other person to change, you are in trouble.

Lesson 3: Rage and abusive behavior is never okay.

Aside from forging a new level of commitment, kids change the chemistry of the relationship as well. Overnight there are 200% more things to do. Chores become an issue.

It took me three tries to end my first marriage, mostly because I didn’t want to be the person who gave up. But when anger becomes abusive, there is very little left to work on. Therapy was helpful, but you can’t go to therapy for the rest of your life. When the therapy ended so did the positive behavior modifications. Ouch.

Marriage #2

I recoiled from my divorce for a while. I stayed out of the dating game for a year or so while I tried to recollect my own center and sanity. But I wouldn’t say I was healed when I ran into my second wife at a local coffee shop. We had gone to high school together, so we had an immediate connection, and from the initial reaction to seeing me, we both had some interest in exploring the possibilities.

Lesson 4: Pay attention to early things that don’t feel right.

There some initial miscommunication that later turned into huge problems. But during the early days of my courtship, I was unaware that she not only had a boyfriend, but that she was living with him. I think this secrecy on her part hurt us later on when other issues began to arise. Again, I fell passionately in love with her before any “issues” came to light. And when they did, when she told me about the other guy, we broke off the lunches. But I should’ve run for the hills. After a month or so she called me up and said she was done. I think my loneliness and the magnetism caused me to jump right back in.

Lesson 5: Kids change everything.

Aside from forging a new level of commitment, kids change the chemistry of the relationship as well. Overnight there are 200% more things to do. Chores become an issue. Exhaustion becomes an issue. And as you both slip into the overwhelm of raising kids some deeper level of personality comes out. In an overwhelming situation you’re either a happy camper making due or an unhappy camper complaining the whole way. I was generally happy.

Lesson 6: Trust is the foundation of a relationship.

There seemed to be a lot of trust issues in the last half of our marriage. It seemed that I was always in the process of doing something wrong, or covering up something else I had done wrong. In fact, I’m not sure I was doing things wrong, but the unhappy camper was certain that their unhappiness was due to me. I don’t think another person is responsible anyone’s happiness. And even therapy didn’t sort this one out. When the trust was broken the repair was difficult and ultimately failed.

Lesson 7: Intimacy does reflect a lot about a relationship.

It seems the biggest marker for success is the general outlook of the other person: Happy camper vs. unhappy camper.

Love Languages does a great job of marking out different ways people have of feeling love. And for sure, my 2nd wife and I had very different languages. But there’s a balance, even if you’re languages are completely different. And when touch is taken out of the equation for any length of time the entire relationship can begin to change. We are animals. And sex is a base-level need. When sex goes, the relationship is soon to follow. It reveals some deeper dysfunction.

Lesson 8: Even in cooperative divorce you need to get a lawyer.

As we parented 50/50 I was certain in our early divorce negotiations that we would end up in some 50/50 parenting in our divorce. So when the therapist we’d hired to guide us suggested starting at something much different I was upset but I did not stop and fight. I know today that I was whitewashed into accepting the Standard Possession Order and the non-custodial parent because it was what my then-wife wanted all along. We agreed to cooperate but right off the bat I was handed a non-cooperative ruling. In hindsight I should’ve stopped the process and lawyer-ed up and fought. But I’m conflict adverse and I listened to the reasonable therapist and my in-the-best-interest-of-the-kids wife. I was railroaded.

Upward and Onward

That’s a lot of water to pass under the bridge and still want to get married again. So I’ve got to take the time to learn from these experiences and check-in on all the points before getting married again.

It seems the biggest marker for success is the general outlook of the other person: Happy camper vs. unhappy camper. In my second marriage I thought we had a match, but the stress and change brought on by having kids sort of flipped her mode. In my current engaged status I have the opportunity to see and understand my partner in new ways. There’s no hurry between us, and even that’s something we agree on.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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reference: The 5 Love Languages  by Gary Chapman

image: tango in bar, creative commons usage