I am two weeks from moving again, this time into a home I bought all by myself with no man, no help from anyone and it feels empowering in a way but also, I stand weeping in the home I’m still in sometimes, exhausted. This is the fourth time in just over five years my boys and I have switched dwellings and this last one, the one I’m in now, I thought of with permanence. I thought I could make a life for them and me that we could count on and clearly, I couldn’t. I finished my book last year, and when I did, I thought, how could I ever end a book that is ongoing? It was a book about ambiguous grief and trying relentlessly to become whole despite it. But everything needs a place to rest and where I was last year felt as good as any. A place to let my reader off the hook. A way of saying, look at where I am now, I’m going to be fine. Isn’t this what people dream of?
In the just over three years since I met my ex, a lot has changed. Back then, I worked at a coffee shop that was about to close and no one ever used the word pandemic in a sentence, and I was financially and emotionally unsettled but hopeful. Since then, I have gone from making $9/hr + tips to $15 to $18 to $22.07 to a salary that even includes paid time off. I have returned to grad school. I have started seeing a therapist. I quit drinking. I published another book. All of these things I did on my own, toiling away. But also, I was in a relationship. And that meant a lot of other things were also going on.
I nearly quit writing altogether. I have created so little new work these past three years, it’s startling. I used to love when the boys went to bed, retreating to my desk and piecing together my thoughts with words. But since living with my ex, I have felt that my time belonged to him, that I was obligated to watch a movie or have sex or do anything but what I wanted to. I don’t know if he made me feel like this or if I’m conditioned to think this, but I’m inclined to believe the latter. Being in a relationship makes me paler, less dynamic. I mute myself for someone else and then I hate myself for it. My depression, when in a relationship, explodes larger. I feel smaller than I am. I can feel myself shrinking. There were moments I believe are called detachment where I could feel myself getting small, like I was watching it happen from an alternate self.
But it isn’t only that. Things are so much more complicated than a single dimension, a few sentences strung together. Because also, when I’m in a relationship, I can feel so incredibly loved and worthy of love that I am elated in moments. Completely obsessed with the world and everything in it. My therapist tells me we don’t always seek out the love we need but sometimes the love we believe we deserve. The love that is familiar. In the beginning with this man, I felt loved beyond what I deserved. I felt so incredibly lucky and cared for. The exact feeling that keeps me seeking out romantic relationships. I know now about love bombing and gaslighting and manipulation and the language to put around it helps make sense of it but also it is more than that. He isn’t just that, isn’t always that. And is that even who he is or just who he was in moments?
I couldn’t make sense of what was true and what wasn’t, in both my brain and his. Living with depression is a constant question. Is this my rational brain or is this my emotional one? Is this my intuition or my recklessness? It is so easy to be tricked, so hard to be sure. And when he is also tricked, it’s hard to know what was intentional and what wasn’t. How can two depressed people be together? For us, we both understood each other in a way no one else had but also couldn’t trust the other or make any sense of them. The way I reacted to him made me hate myself. I got stuck in such a vicious cycle—of reacting to him and retreating inward to a place so remote that my outward self was only despondent—that I barely recognized myself. I stopped sending cards to people I love, stopped riding my bike, stopped reading, stopped doing everything I loved just to make it from one day to another. Without drinking as a cry for help, I was just here, managing as I could which wasn’t well at all.
People see my extreme productivity as a sign of thriving but my god it isn’t always that. It’s coping. I have two jobs, single parent two kids half time, I am in grad school, I co-run a non-profit. I am constantly running, never catching my breath. My brain doesn’t quiet itself enough to sleep well. I was diagnosed with depression (obviously) and anxiety and PTSD and adult ADHD this year. More language to put around what I struggled to describe to people before. It helps to understand myself, but also makes me wonder how to live, knowing what I do about this brain I’m blessed and cursed with. I started taking medication for my brain for the first time. I started talking through trauma I endured and that was its own kind of new hurt. I came home to a man who either adored me or despised me.
But now, I get to start over. I am lucky enough to have been given this chance before and to get it again. I have two more weeks here and then I have a place for just me and the boys and our kitten. I will have a place where I don’t have to apologize for existing and I can take in breath and release it. I am going to make it safe for us. I am going to protect us. I am going to fill it with art and friends and music and laughter. Sure, I will still cry and retreat, but there I can do it without also being screamed at. There I can have the privacy and aloneness I have constantly been seeking. That I need. I won’t have to perform okayness to protect anyone. It will be me and my kids and we’re going to carve a little life for ourselves that we are proud of. You’re welcome to swing by.