I’m Sorry But It Doesn’t Work That Way…

Not too long ago, someone who used to mean a lot to me tried unsuccessfully to re-enter my life.  Though they wholly admitted to treating me horribly for the last year or so that they were previously in my life, they then tried to minimalize the pain they had caused, claiming that all the good they had done for years before that should outweigh the bad of that last year.

We talked briefly for that one night that they dropped that bombshell.  I was beside myself with shock and honestly wasn’t sure even what to say to that sentiment.  I knew, however, that they had become a toxic presence in my life so I chose to pull away completely, blocking them and ceasing all contact.  I had begun my journey towards a healthier and happier life and refused to let them derail me.  What they said, though, took up residence in my head, a little kernel bouncing around, waiting to pop and expand into something more.

As is often the case, that kernel got pushed aside to a back burner.  Life happened.  Family happened.  Love happened.  Holidays happened.  But I knew that eventually, no matter how much was happening around me, that kernel would reappear.  And just as expected, late this evening, it finally did, fully formed and realized.

As I sat there considering it all, that one line from that commercial with the old lady posting pictures onto the wall in her living room came to mind.

“That’s not how this works! That’s not how any of this works!”

There was just no way that a prior decade of good times and happy memories could erase, overwrite or minimize that one final year of cruelty.

That is not to say that I was not grateful for all the good times that I shared with this person or that I didn’t value all the times they were there for me when I had no one else to lean on.  I will always cherish all those memories and will truly appreciate all that they gave of themselves over the years.

That is not to say, also, that relationships aren’t comprised of ups and downs, highs and lows, good and bad.  People don’t always get along.  Conflicts happen.  People disagree and argue.  When someone truly matters, you try to take the good with the bad, for better or worse.  There is a fair amount of forgive and forget in friendships and relationships.  It all comes with the territory.

However..

There are some actions that rise above and beyond the normal wear and tear of relationships, actions that exist outside the realm of random daily disagreements and headbutting. When someone, in an essence, declares war on another person’s heart, emotions and trust, disregarding their feelings and intentionally going out of their way to repeatedly, without qualms or remorse, lash out and hurt someone else, it is no longer a matter of forgive and forget, for better or worse.

All the good does not negate or erase the bad in those cases.  When he made it his mission to hurt me repeatedly over the course of that last year, it forever changed things between us.  There is never an excuse for intentionally lashing out, trying to damage and break someone that you supposedly love.  All the good he may have done previously does not take away all the heartache in those final months.  All the prior good does not excuse all the times I was ignored and mistreated, all the cruel words and actions hurled my way, and all the times I was ghosted and discarded at the end.

Though with his words he swore I meant the world to him for years, his actions over the last year spoke volumes in the opposite direction.  No matter how good he used to be to me and how sweetly he used to spin his words, none of it can erase the fact that he treated me like garbage for that last year.

That’s not how it works.

If a person lays their hands on another person, they cannot then say “what about all the years before I beat you?  Don’t they count for anything?”

If a person cheats on another person, they cannot then say “what about all the years I didn’t sleep around?  Why aren’t you taking them into consideration?”

If a person tears you down again and again, discards you repeatedly and treats you like you’re worthless, they cannot then say “what about all those years before I showed you what you truly meant to me, before I treated you like you were nothing? Shouldn’t that balance everything out?”

If someone who claims to love you is repeatedly and systematically cruel and uncaring towards you, it does not matter whether or not they used to be sweet and loving once upon a time.  A broken heart is still a broken heart just as much as a broken bone is still a broken bone and a split lip is still a split lip.  Once you abuse that trust and break my heart, I cannot push it aside and pretend it did not happen.  Though it does not erase all the good, it changes things irreparably.

A decade of kindness and love, no matter how wonderful, cannot erase that final year of heartache and heartbreak.

Many people preach forgiveness.  I’m sure that will come in time.  I can honestly say I do not hate him, nor do I wish him any ill will.  But all the trust is gone.  I cannot have him in my life to any extent.  Walls are up.  The place he used to have in my heart has been boarded up and is closed for good.  I’ve reached the point of no return.  There is no going back to how things used to be.

Broken trust and a shattered heart, much like a fractured bone, is not easily mended.  And even when everything does eventually fuse back together, that damage beneath never disappears.  It is always there, just under the surface, forever evidence to the damage that was done.

Perhaps if the order had been reversed, things might have been different.  If the years of kindness had followed after the year of cruelty as a sincere attempt to make amends for prior bad acts, it probably would have counted for more.  That way, at least, there would be an act of contrition and penance for being unnecessarily cruel.  But to expect to be given a free pass for a year of wanton and reckless heartbreak on the basis that you used to be better to me is beyond ludicrous and unreasonable.

Actions speak louder than words and his actions over that final year he was a part of my life spoke volumes about just how low I ranked in his life and heart.  Having an “Oops my bad” moment of admission, especially without any real action of remorse to back it up right after the fact, could not even come close to touching or resolving any of the pain he caused over the last couple years.

Don’t get me wrong.  I am grateful for all those years of friendship and love that were given.  I’ll always cherish the times that he was there for me.  It just doesn’t erase or negate any of the hurt of that final year.  It doesn’t work that way, at least not for me.

Some People Just Don’t Get It..

For almost a decade, I had someone in my life I considered my best friend.  We had bonded over similar experiences and shared pain.  I thought they understood me better than anyone else ever had.  Then, right when I needed them most, they disappeared from my life.

I did what I do best.  I continued on and I survived.  Miraculously, this time I even managed to go above and beyond that.  I rose above it all.  I began to grow and flourish.  And in the midst of all the rubble of my life, I found love.

The love I found was a thing of fairy tales.  A flame from childhood rekindled and a bond beyond anything I ever imagined possible.  We connect on every level and communicate with an openness and honesty I’ve always dreamed about but had always believed was beyond my grasp.  It took me completely by surprise because, though I am a hopeless romantic at heart, I had begun questioning whether a love like this even existed outside of storybooks.

After almost a year of ghosting, that supposed best friend decided recently to touch base, attempting to talk as if no time had passed and all was still well between us.  Though still hurt by their abandonment, for the sake of a decade-long friendship, I tried to have a civil conversation, catching them up on all that has happened and filling them in on how I had been.  After all, I was proud of myself pulling myself back up, holding myself together despite facing so many difficulties alone.  I was proud for all I had accomplished in such a short time and amazed at the love I had managed to find for myself.

To my astonishment, instead of being thrilled for me, he declared that I had “won”.  Apparently, I had, in his eyes, done better in life in some way than he had done.  Even more apparent, he resented it.  He made numerous passive-aggressively snide comments and even attempted to guilt-trip me over my newfound love because he and his partner, though together longer than I had been with mine, were not at all in love.  It saddened me to hear him describe his relationship as an arrangement and a convenience, devoid of emotion altogether.  The more he talked, the more it felt like he was probing, searching for a kernel of misery within my relationship, hoping to reconnect and bond again over a shared unhappiness.

In that moment, it was as if a switch had been flipped.  A light came on and I saw things so much clearer.  He and I had “bonded” for years because we were both residing in a shared misery.  It was not some magical connection.  We did not even have a friendship.  We had a codependency that revolved around leaning on someone else who understood our pain.  He had no problem discarding me when his situation began to improve because he fully expected me to still be there, brooding in the darkness alone, waiting for him to eventually need me again.  My love and happiness was an inconvenience that did not fit into his life so it was met with hostility.

He just doesn’t get it.  That is not friendship.  Friends don’t disappear or abandon each other when times get tough.  Friends also don’t resent each other’s accomplishments or happiness.  They give a shoulder to cry on when times get rough and celebrate each other’s successes as if they were their own.  Though what we had may have been friendship at one time, it had since warped into something unrecognizably negative and self-serving for him.  It had been a long time not only since he had treated me as a friend but also since he had considered my feelings, my well-being or my happiness at all.  Everything was completely on his terms and always all about him.  That is not friendship.

He really does not get it.  There was no reason to attempt guilt-tripping me because I had found happiness.  It isn’t that I somehow magically “won” anything because I’m currently in a better place than he is at the moment.  It isn’t a competition with him.  It never has been.  The only person I am ever competing with is myself, hoping to improve my life whenever I can.  I was not living my life trying to “one up” anyone else, least of all him.  I was living my life just like everyone else, trying to find my own happiness and purpose.  I wasn’t striving to “beat” him.  I had always hoped for his happiness and well-being, as well as my own.

He just didn’t get it.  Finding a genuine love was a very big deal for me.  I’ve spent the majority of my life believing I was inherently unlovable, wandering in and out of abusive and dysfunctional relationships. Again and again, I allowed others to treat me poorly because I believed I didn’t deserve any better.  Having someone finally treat me with love, admiration and respect was an enormous thing for me.  I had always been made to feel like I was either not good enough, never measuring up, or as too much, too needy, too clingy, too much to handle.  This was the first time in my life anyone had made me feel not only like I was enough, but that I was perfect just the way I was.

I finally get it.  I am unapologetic in my happiness.  Though it saddens me that his life has not been turning out as well as he had hoped since we parted ways, I owe him no apologies because I have done nothing wrong.  I was not the one who walked away from our “friendship” or discarded him.  I deserve happiness in my life.  I am not going to downplay the good in my life or reject it altogether, either, just to wallow in misery with him so he has someone else to bond with in shared negativity.

I finally got it.  I had to walk away from the conversation and block him.  It had not been a true friendship.  I haven’t been able to count on him to be there.  He was there only when it was convenient to his life and when he needed someone as equally low as he was feeling to help lift himself back up.  My newfound happiness was met with pettiness, anger and spite by him because I was no longer capable of being what he needed me to be.  My happiness was not allowed in his life.  It did not fit.  He made me feel like I had to choose between having him in my life or having happiness and love.  It was an easy choice.

I am okay with it.  I don’t need any more dysfunctional relationships in my life.  I need to surround myself with people who not only offer support when I’m struggling but who also cheer me on when I succeed.  I need people I can trust to be there consistently instead of discarding and abandoning me periodically on a whim.  I need more love and happiness in my life and less negativity.  After far too many years, I finally get it now.

Allowing Love and Happiness Into My Life

Recently, in one of the online support groups I am in, I stumbled onto someone who was experiencing something very similar to some of the struggles I have gone through.  As we began to talk in earnest about our lives, it felt more and more like I was speaking with my former self, the person I was not so long ago before I began my journey for mental wellness.

They talked about being unlovable.  Not FEELING unlovable. BEING unlovable.  It resonated with me because I have spent the majority of my life feeling the exact same way.  As I began responding to her, I found myself writing to my former self, as well, and to everyone else struggling with those feelings of worthlessness associated with mental illness.  I said:

… Please don’t believe even for one moment that you are unlovable.. trust me, I have been there.. lived with that feeling for years. Growing up, my mother (who suffered from often untreated, always undertreated mental illness herself and had a lot of abuse in her own life she never fully processed or healed from) was extremely abusive, particularly toward me..

The first time I remember her telling me she hated me and wished I was never born I was eight.. She used to tell me often that I was “inherently unlovable”.. that there were some people that, through no fault of their own, just did not possess anything truly good or lovable within them.. She used to tell me to never let anyone see or know the real me or they would see the truth of it themselves and leave.. I grew up thoroughly convinced I was broken, faulty, completely unlovable on a genetic level..

When you feel that way inside, when you convince yourself that it is an undeniable truth about yourself, you put up walls that prevent anyone else from ever being able to get in and love you..

I was the queen of walls.. I shut everyone out.. Even people who believed they were close to me barely even made it into the courtyard outside.. I was always there for others because I’ve never wanted anyone else to experience even a small portion of the pain I had been through in my own life.. but deep inside, I felt unlovable.. I felt unworthy of love.. so I never allowed myself to experience it..

It took far too many years for me to come to terms with my childhood and the abuse I endured.. far too many years for me to be able to even say I liked anything about myself let alone even consider the possibility of loving anything about myself or to accept that I needed to treat myself with the same kindness and compassion that I gave others..

Please know this though: You are NOT broken. You ARE worthy of love. And you MUST open yourself up to the possibility of accepting and loving yourself first and foremost because as long as you treat yourself as unlovable, you will never allow anyone else to fully love you, either.

I know the concept of loving yourself sounds improbable.. impossible.. baby steps.. Learn to acknowledge that there are things about yourself that you don’t hate.. things about yourself that aren’t all that bad.. Whenever you find yourself beating yourself up or being extremely harsh with yourself, stop and question whether you would ever say those words to anyone else.. Would you ever treat anyone else that way? if you wouldn’t be that hard and unforgiving to someone else, don’t do it to yourself.

Allow the possibility of happiness into your life. We are struggling with mental illness – a physical and mental disability that revolves around our brains not working properly – THAT DOES NOT DEFINE US. IT IS JUST OUR DIAGNOSIS. Having depression and anxiety does not mean we are forbidden from being happy.

We are going to have those blah days where we feel numb and struggle to do anything at all. We’re going to have those devastatingly negative days where our world spirals downward out of control and we feel the world will never be right again – they are all symptoms of our illness. But they are not reality.

We need to train ourselves to look for positives every single day, seek them out, embrace them. They don’t have to be big positives. Just little things to make us smile and remind us the world isn’t a hopeless, terrible, soul-sucking place where nothing good exists.. the feel of a snowflake melting on your nose.. cute fluffy little kittens.. the smell of freshly baked cookies.. We need to allow ourselves to smile.. allow ourselves to enjoy the little things in life.. the happy things..

Because that is a part of loving ourselves.. it makes it easier to consider allowing ourselves to have bigger things, better things.. to allow happiness and love into our lives.. We need to change our mindset.. refuse to let our illness dictate our lives.. I’m determined to be the happiest person with depression anyone ever meets because I refuse to let it control and dictate my life any longer.. It is an illness. It is not me. It is not you, either.

Reading over all I had written, I realized just how far I have come.  It wasn’t very long ago that I was in her shoes,  convinced that I was completely and inherently unlovable and broken beyond repair.  It wasn’t all that long ago that I was held hostage by my mental illness, convinced that my life was hopeless, unable to see any identity for myself beyond my illness.

I know now that life doesn’t have to be that way.  I cannot change my diagnosis or the symptoms that present themselves.  But I can refuse to let it control me or steal away any more of my life.  I AM going to struggle but I am also going to fight it every step of the way.  I not only deserve love and happiness in my life but I truly want it, as well.  I have taken one of the biggest steps towards truly loving myself: Giving myself permission to be happy.

Why, As Someone Who Speaks Out About Mental Illness, Donald Trump Scares Me

These are scary times we live in.

We are literally waking up every single day not sure if we will find ourselves in the midst of a nuclear war, a race war, or one of many other possible tragedies caused by the hasty words, actions and decisions of our nation’s “leader”.  Beyond all of that, as if that is not enough on its own, I have numerous mental health-related reasons why Donald Trump scares me.

Mental illness has become an epidemic of global proportions.  According to recent statistics released by NAMI, an estimated one in five people in this country, over 43 million people, struggle with it every single year.  Currently, only 41% of people struggling with mental illness are receiving mental health services.  Watching Trump whittle away at health coverage means that even less people will be able to afford to get the mental health treatment they need.

My fears regarding Trump extend far beyond the medical coverage he is systematically and vengefully stripping away from our citizens that need it most.  There are many other reasons I am sincerely afraid of our current president.

The fact that he openly mocked a disabled reporter for his condition in front of the press corp is mortifying.  Looking through his list of tweets provided by The New York Times, he has repeatedly taken jabs at his opponents and adversaries, hurling insults commonly used to mock the mentally ill like “crazy”, “wacko”, and “a real nut job”, acting as if mental  illness is a joke.  Mental illness is a bonafide disability that has been battling stigma and fighting to be taken seriously for far too long.  Trump has made it clear that he has no respect for those with disabilities.  We do not need nor deserve to become another one of his punchlines.

I have personal experience with narcissists in my past and have spent a great deal of time reading about and researching narcissistic personality disorder.  Many of the actions and behaviors he exhibits are commonly known and widely accepted markers for this mental disorder.

In one breath, Trump proudly declares that it is perfectly fine to grab a woman inappropriately and that he has done so in the past, suggesting that, as a man of power, he can get away with it.  He admitted to it in his own words in an interview with Access Hollywood’s Billy Bush:

“I’m automatically attracted to beautiful [women]—I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything … Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.”

To forcefully touch a woman without her consent is sexual assault.

The next moment, he is touting that any accusations of sexual assault made against him are complete lies and fabrications, claiming the allegations are “totally phoney”“100% made up”“already proven false”, and “made up events THAT NEVER HAPPENED”.  That is classic gaslighting.  When someone is gaslighting, they repeatedly insist past events never happened or minimize their actions, trying to make the victims appear crazy even when clear evidence exists to the contrary.

His narcissistic entitlement goes beyond women.  During his campaign trail, he happily declared that “I could stand in the middle of 5th Ave. and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters.”  Though Trump paid $25 million dollars to settle the case out of court, he continued to dispute allegations made against Trump University and did so “without an acknowledgment of fault or liability.”  People with narcissistic personality disorder believe themselves to be above other people, sometimes even above the law.

The narcissistic personality traits do not end there.  He actively “love bombs” those who support him, only to discard them and replace them with a new supply when they are of no further use.  He has repeatedly used triangulation to play opposing sides against each other, a common narcissistic tool.  He appears incapable of accepting any responsibility for his own actions or words.  He is overly arrogant and self-inflated, has an inherent need for approval and a lack of empathy for anyone else.

Perhaps the biggest thing that scares me about Trump, though, is that there is no question in my mind that he himself needs serious mental health treatment yet is highly unlikely to seek it out.  Narcissists are incapable of accepting that there is anything wrong with them.  The problem always lies with everyone else.  Yet, everyone who has dealt with someone with an untreated or undertreated mental illness can spot the signs.  I know I can.

I grew up with a mother who struggled with often untreated, always undertreated bipolar disorder.  I lived through the ups, the downs, the irrational, delusional behaviors and potentially dangerous choices with no consideration for their consequences.  I suffered through the relentless lashing out and honing in on one specific target until the horse was beaten well past death.

I see so many of those behaviors mirrored in Trump and it terrifies me.  Whether he is going after Hillary Clinton, the NFL, the media, Obamacare, or Kim Jong Un, once he sets his sights on a target, he is incapable of stopping himself.  He keeps going back with an unfettered and illogical, unwarranted rage, intent on obliterating his target by any and all means necessary.

I’ve seen that rage before.  I grew up with that rage.  I grew up watching untreated mental illness that is fueled by that rage.  I know how it ends and it is not pretty.

With my mother, it ended with her showing up at my father’s work and shooting him twice in the head.

It isn’t a pistol, however, that Donald Trump is armed with.  As our president, he has the ability to deal damage and wreak havoc on not only a national but a global scale.  Among other things, he has the ability to both take affordable health care away from millions of people struggling with mental illness and the ability to start World War III.  His potential devastation is only limited by whatever his mind has honed in on at that particular moment as a target worthy of annihilation.

Nobody realized how dangerous my mother was until she had her pistol in hand.

I know the signs.  I’ve already lived through this story once on a smaller scale.

I don’t need a bomb to drop to accept how badly all of this could end if he is left unchecked and untreated.

It is a terrifying world out there.

And I am justifiably scared.

 

To the Last Person Who Abused Me..

I have suffered many types of abuse at the hands of many people in my lifetime.  I have been raped, beaten, mentally and emotionally battered.  I have been lied to, cheated on, had my heart torn in two.

There is no doubt in my mind that the abuse I have endured has a direct correlation to my struggles with mental illness.  Over the years, my depression has convinced me that I was worthless and broken, that nobody will ever truly love me, that I will never be good enough.  When someone walks through life weighed down by so much negativity, any attention, any affection, feels like a miracle.  I found myself settling for less than I deserved just to have someone there.

When I was a child, I suffered through abuse because I was too little, too afraid, felt too weak to do anything or change anything.  As an adult, I’ve accepted so much abuse at the hands of people who swore they loved me, minimalizing it with such ridiculous justifications as “it isn’t that bad – it could be worse”, “it’s not like he hit me – I would never put up with that!” or “he didn’t really mean it – he’s just upset or having a bad day”.

The fact is, abuse is abuse.  And all abuse is wrong.  It doesn’t matter if they have laid their hands on me yet or not.  And abuse tends to escalate.  It starts out small.  The more someone forgives, the more they are condoning.  If an abuser believes they can hurt someone without consequence, they will not stop.  I can tell you from experience that, over time, it only gets worse.

You said to me “I hate that you make me hurt you”.  You pulled me in repeatedly, swearing you loved me and wanted to be with me, only to hurt me, shove me away and discard me again and again.  You accused me of pushing you into hurting me by loving you back, by being confused by your actions, by not understanding what was going on whenever you threw me away.

Since you walked out of my life, I’ve seen this one saying appear again and again:

“Normal people don’t go around trying to destroy other people.”

There is so much truth in that statement.  Normal people don’t.  When someone intentionally tries to hurt someone else for no other reason than that they can, they are being abusive, whether or not they lay their hands on anyone else.  Lashing out and trying to destroy a person, whether mentally, emotionally or physically, is abuse.

It is also abusive to blame the victim for the damage you inflict.  Nobody asks to be hurt or have their heart broken.  Nobody asks to be manipulated or mistreated.  When you abuse someone else, you and you alone are to blame for your actions.

I write to the “last” person to abuse me because I have drawn my line in the sand. No more.  No more abuse, no more lies, no more pain.

For years, I tolerated abuse because I didn’t believe I deserved any better.  I accepted abuse because I thought any love, even a warped and unhealthy love, was better than nothing at all.

Things have changed. I have changed.  I know now that my depression has been lying to me all these years.  I have always believed that nobody deserves to be abused but somehow never added myself to the collective.  I have since learned that I have just as much right to be treated well as everyone else.

I will no longer let anyone talk down to me or demean me.  I will never again tolerate someone lying to me or cheating on me.  I will no longer let anyone manipulate me with threats to withhold their affection if I do not comply with their demands.  Most importantly, I will not take the blame for anyone else’s cruelty nor will I apologize ever again when I have done nothing wrong.

I have finally found someone who treats me well.  He doesn’t mistreat or manipulate me.  He is considerate with my feelings and gentle with my heart.  Now that I have experienced what it is like to be loved and accepted unconditionally, to be treated with kindness and respect, I will never again settle for anything less.

I may struggle with my self-worth from time to time because of my depression.  However, I will never again mistake attention for affection or accept abuse in lieu of love.

mightylogoRepublished on The Mighty on 2/28/18.

The Evolution from Dysfunctional to Healthy Love

From the beginning, my views on love and relationships were dysfunctional. I was surrounded by people who were supposed to love each other, though in so many ways what was between them was anything but. At six years old, I had a mock wedding with a young boy down the street that I couldn’t stand because we both believed people got married to argue and couldn’t think of anyone else either of us hated more. That speaks volumes about my earliest views on love.

Yet strangely I grew up to be in many ways a hopeless romantic. I believed in the presence of love, at least in theory. I believed in the happily ever after of fairy tales and the foot pop that occured with true love’s kiss. I believed with all my heart that there was someone out there for everyone, that one beautifully wonderful love that would remain strong and endure even through the roughest of times, a love that could stand the test of time. Though I had never personally seen such a love, I believed wholeheartedly that it was out there. I just honestly had no idea how to find it or where to even begin to look.

When I was a teenager and began to date, love was about fulfilling expectations. Identities seemed to be linked to pairing with others. Everyone strived to date because to be single meant something was wrong with you. Being with someone reaffirmed your worth somehow to others. It was never about how I felt, what I wanted or how I was treated. Being in a relationship, being in ‘love’, meant fitting in, being somebody. When I found what I thought might be love, I held on for dear life. I believed it was him and me against the world and love could conquer anything. I had been prepared to face anything with him at my side, never realizing that I was fighting a losing battle because you cannot keep someone there who wishes to be elsewhere. After years together, he blessed me with a child and then he ran. Despite all the faith I had in love, I found myself alone again. Yet at the same time, I would never be completely alone again.

On the verge of my twenties, I became a young mother. Everything in my life changed, love most of all. When I began looking to open my heart again, love became about family. When I searched for love again, it was ultimately to create a strong family, to find someone who would be good for my daughter, someone I could build upon my family with, growing it into something more. Love wasn’t about me at all. Love was about building a marriage, a family, trying to hold on and make everything work despite how I was feeling or hurting. Love was about being the best mother I could be and about trying to be what I believed a wife should be. Love was about playing roles and going through the motions. We were young. What did we even know about love? In hindsight, I’ve often said that what two kids in puppy love think they want turns out to be much different than what two adults in the real world need. In the end, we were just too different. We were never meant to last.  But I was blessed with beautiful sons that made it all worth it.

When my marriage fell apart, I felt so unlovable, unwanted, like such a failure for being unable to somehow hold everything together. Love was something I was terrified of finding again. I had never been more vulnerable, more scared of letting anyone in. An unlikely and unusual love still managed to push its way in, a love surrounded by safety and bonding over similarities and shared loneliness. My heart didn’t stop to consider longevity or practicality, it was just grateful to finally matter to someone. For the first time, albeit briefly, I didn’t feel invisible or inconsequential. Somehow, for the first time ever, I fit into the equation. Love became about holding tightly to someone who I could trust, could talk to, someone who I knew wouldn’t hurt me, was incapable of hurting me. It didn’t last long, burning hot and bright before fading to ashes swept away in the wind, but it was enough to open my heart back up, make me believe in the possibility of love again.

While rebuilding after the ashes, I stumbled onto a narcissist with a gift for playing the victim. He had supposedly been through so much and I found myself desperately wanting to take care of him, to somehow make his life better. My heart had been opened wide and he took full advantage of my empathy and vulnerability. For over a decade, throughout all of my thirties, love became about trying to take care of him, to help heal his wounds, trying to be enough for him, wishing that at some point I would begin to matter, too. For eleven years, I hoped that if I was just there enough, loved him enough, he would be able to heal, to change and we would finally be able to build something real and lasting. I had so much faith in the power of love that I was unprepared for someone who was incapable of letting anyone else in or loving anyone else in return. Love became very codependent, with my accepting abuse and making excuses for his transgressions instead of holding him accountable for all the hurt he kept causing. When he finally left me for someone else, the last in a long line of infidelities throughout our relationship, it was a blessing because my heart and soul had become so battered and broken by years of trying to give all the love within myself while receiving nothing in return. I had become an empty vessel. Yet somehow, I still believed in love.

Overlapping the pain from loving a man incapable of ever loving me back sprouted a new and unexpected type of love, one born out of a close friendship. It was much like the ill-fated love I had stumbled onto over a decade earlier when my marriage had collapsed, but at the same time, it was so different and so much more. He became my best friend, my confidante, the one person who truly saw me, knew me, accepted and loved me completely for who I was without judgment. If not for his presence during most of the eleven years of narcissistic abuse by my ex, I would not have survived the ordeal. I loved him for it, loved him more than I probably ever should have. Over the years, it grew into more than friendship for us both, though it was always suppressed by our obligations and commitments to others. When we were finally set free from the nightmare of our relationships with others, however, free to finally possibly explore what was between us, everything had already irreparably changed. The damage was already done. Though I still believed in love, believed in him and the vision we had carried for years of an ‘us’, he had given up on himself, on his future, on me, on love itself. Love needs to be fed and nurtured to flourish and grow. Love cannot be sustained by only one person. If both aren’t willing to put in the effort, it will wither and die. Though the foundation was strong, the walls still crumbled because there was only so long I could hold on by myself, only so long I could be the only one trying to make things work before I had to give up in order to save myself from dying along with our love. It was never that I didn’t love him or want to be with him. I just ultimately needed more than he was capable or willing to give.

In my journey through life, my search for love, my perceptions on love itself have changed again and again. Both my first views and my first experiences with love were highly dysfunctional. Over the years, with each new relationship, a different facet of love presented itself, each a piece to the puzzle, a fragment of the whole. With each new facet, a new perception of love emerged for me, as well. Though each love seemed to have so much possibility in the beginning, looking back, I can understand why each failed in time because love must be whole in order to work. Both partners need to matter, to fit into the equation. Both partners must be willing to put in their all, as well. Over the years, I have found fragments of love, each different, though none could stand the test of time. Though strangely, out of the rubble of all these failed relationships, a new love I had never expected has taken root and begun to grow.

As a child of abuse and dysfunction, over the years I’ve struggled to even like myself, drawing my worth from the warped views of others around me instead of from within. I never expected to ever truly love myself. Yet somehow that love crept in, took root and began to grow, like a daisy sprouting through the cracks in the concrete, refusing to give up or give in, fighting to survive. Though it was never nurtured, it managed to grow just the same. I once saw a simplistically beautiful motivational saying that stated “The moment you start wondering whether you deserve better, You do”. And the truth of the matter is that I do deserve better. I will no longer accept fragments when I deserve a whole. I will no longer settle for loving anyone who isn’t willing or capable of loving me back just as much in return. I love myself too much to set myself up to be hurt again.

Though I’m still honestly not sure where to find that fairy tale love, the hopeless romantic in me still wholeheartedly believes it exists. I will learn from my past, from my failed relationships and heartbreaks, and move forward in a healthier way. I will no longer settle for less than I deserve nor will I ever allow myself again to be abused or to become inconsequential. As much as I crave love in my life, I would rather be alone than mistreated, rather be single than be fed empty words or false hope. I believe, in time, love will once again present itself and this time I will be ready for it. I am willing to fight for love, to put all of myself into a relationship, though this time around, I will settle for nothing less than that in return.

The Depression Dialogue

The Reality of What I Hear in My Head

Depression is a master manipulator.  Regardless of what is being said or done around me, my depression has an uncanny knack for twisting and morphing everything into a dark pit of hopelessness and despair.

I talk a mean game.  I’ve been told by some that I am the happiest depressed person they’ve ever met because I am always sweet, friendly and smiling, always reaching out to others to see how they are doing.  What everyone doesn’t realize is that it is all a survival mechanism.  I smile because it is easier than letting others see me cry.  I reassure others that I am peachy because it’s easier than trying to talk about everything that feels wrong, some of which I cannot even pinpoint or put into words.  For me, living with depression means bolting on that cheerful, smiling mask.  Sometimes it’s the only way I can get through the day.

In my head, there is constant turmoil, constant chaos.  No matter how many friends reach out here and there to check on me to see whether I am okay, my depression tells me that there is truly nobody there, no one who cares, nobody I can count on.  Depression convinces me that I am all alone and that the only reason people are even asking is because they feel obligated to or feel guilty that they haven’t spoken to me for a while.

Depression tells me to be suspicious of everyone’s motives for saying they want to be there and never let anyone in too close because it will only make it hurt more when they leave.  According to Depression, everyone is going to leave sooner or later anyway.  It is hard to argue that point because everyone always has.

Depression tells me that I am a burden on everyone, that I have too much baggage, too much drama and that nobody needs that in their life.  So I isolate to spare everyone from that burden and spare myself from eventual abandonment.  It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.  I am alone.

Depression tells me that nothing I have done has ever been good enough, that all I ever do is mess everything up.  Depression harps on my flaws, reminding me of every mistake I have made, every time I have let anyone down.  Depression tells me that I am a failure.  It asks me why I should even bother trying to do anything because I just mess everything up anyway.  The constant badgering leaves me petrified of failing again, terrified of even trying.  I find myself paralyzed, afraid that no matter what I do, it will be wrong.

Depression tells me that nothing will ever get better.  No one will ever truly love me.  Nothing I do will ever be good enough.  Depression tells me I have failed everyone in my life – my children, my friends, my partners, even myself.  Depression tells me I’m not smart enough, not pretty enough, not good enough, that everyone deserves better than to have me in their life.  Depression tells me that I’m a waste of space, a waste of breath, that the world would be better off without me in it.  Depression hones in on every single one of my insecurities and uses them as a weapon against me.  Depression spews out a constant barrage of absolute negatives until it is all I can hear.  It drowns out everything else until it is all I hear, all I know.

Though part of me knows deep down knows it is the depression talking and not reality, it is so hard not to listen, not to believe all it says.  After all, depression has been my steady companion for as long as I can remember.  It has been a part of my life longer than any family, any friend, any love interest.  It is hard not to believe that one voice who has been there longer than anyone else.

When I talk about my depression, I describe it as a battle, a struggle, a fight because that is essentially what it is.  Every single day, I am assaulted with a barrage of negativity and hopelessness.  On good days, I am able to fight back, to tell myself that none of it is true and find a way to move forward and be positive.  On bad days, I’m left feeling critically wounded and crippled, unable to even climb out of bed or face the day.  Every single day it is a fight.  Every single day, I wake in this battlefield, never expecting to ever win, just hoping to survive.

People who don’t understand depression assume it is just random bouts of sadness and cannot understand why someone suffering from depression cannot just get over it and move on.  They cannot see this monster I carry with me, this beast that is constantly attacking me, wearing me down, stealing away all hope and dragging me down into the darkness.  They cannot hear the steady barrage of attacks I face every day or see how wounded and broken it leaves me inside.  More than anything, I wish others could see and hear the war that is being waged inside me so that they might understand how weary I am from a lifetime of fighting for my life.

mightylogoRepublished on The Mighty on 03/03/17.

The Isolation of Depression

Depression speaks in lies.  It utilizes absolute negatives, convincing you that no one else could possibly understand what you are feeling or going through.  No matter how many people are around, you feel completely alone.  It seems easier to become anti-social and push everyone away than to explain your condition, defend yourself or make excuses for your behavior.  Those suffering from depression feel alone so they isolate, turning that lie into a truth.

This feeling of loneliness bleeds into every aspect of your life.  You feel constantly out of place, sticking out like a sore thumb.  It feels as if everyone can tell you do not belong.  No matter where you go, you are self-conscious that you’re so broken and damaged that you have no place there or anywhere.  Your anxiety builds and you constantly want to retreat and flee to avoid awkward and uncomfortable situations.

That insecurity leads to guilt.  You want to be there with others, to belong, but you feel so out of place that you retreat.  You beat yourself up for pulling away, feeling bad that you cannot be the person you assume others wish you could be.  You hate that you cannot fit in.  You isolate yourself out of shame because you feel you failed everyone on a fundamental level. You blame yourself for everything, convincing yourself that you’d be better on your own, away from everyone else.

You feel alone even though there are others there.  You systematically pull away from everyone, one by one, until you are alone in reality.  You withdraw from those that you don’t believe understand what you’re going through because it’s too exhausting to try to explain everything you’re feeling.  You reject those you believe will judge you because it is easier to push them away first than to face their harsh criticism.  You isolate from others because you feel awkward or guilty or ashamed of the person you’ve become.

This isolation goes in cycles, a self-fulfilling prophecy.  You do not feel like you belong so you react to that feeling.  You retreat then beat yourself up from the guilt of your self-imposed isolation.  It all begins with a lie, told by your depression.  It ends with you turning that lie into a sad truth where you’ve walled yourself up, pushing everyone else away, until you find yourself completely alone.

Depression lies because its strength comes from its ability to separate and destroy.  In isolation, it can convince you of other falsehoods you would never believe if surrounded by your support system.  If you had reassurance and compassion from others, depression could not trap you in that web of lies.

The truth is that no one suffering from depression is truly alone.  According to recent studies, one in five people will struggle with mental illness at some point in their life, with depression and anxiety at the top of that list.  That means that, though no one else may have walked directly in your shoes, there are so many others walking along that same path.  So many of us understand exactly how you are feeling.  We can empathize.  You are not alone.

Don’t believe the lies depression tells you.  Don’t isolate or push others away.  People do care.  You do belong.  You do matter.  People care.  Let others in.  Talk.  Do not let depression win.  You do not have to be alone.

If I Were Gone…

When Suicidal Ideation Takes You to Dark Places

Suicidal ideation differs from being actively suicidal in that there are not any active plans to kill yourself.  You are not intending to take your own life, but rather your mind finds itself contemplating how tired you are of living a life that feels hopeless.  You are exhausted, drained and just want to stop hurting.  You find yourself thinking about death in abstract terms, almost as a sweet release and ponder how the world would be without you.

When I am overwhelmed with anxiety and stress and my depression has spiked, my mind will travel to dark, scary, morbid places.  I find myself pondering how everyone’s lives would be better without me.  I dwell on the fact that if I was to give up tomorrow, I don’t even have family that could make arrangements because all I have in my life is my children who are not old enough to take on such a responsibility or burden.  I have no intention of taking my life, yet there are days that these thoughts consume me.

Today, in the depths of my despair, I began to think about what my obituary might read if I were gone.  In my mind, it would read something like this:

Today, we lost Beth W-.  She was 40 years old.  She had a kind and compassionate heart, always trying to reach out to help others even when she was struggling to stay afloat herself.  She had a great love of animals, nature, children’s cartoons, bad movies, good chocolate and life in general.  She was quick to smile, laugh and give out hugs even though she was always crying inside.  Over the course of her lifetime, she filled many roles including fiance, wife, friend, student, teacher, caregiver and author, though there was no role she cherished more than motherhood.

She passed today after losing her battle with a lifelong invisible illness, complicated by the apathy of others.  She bravely battled both her demons  and a system who saw her as a number instead of a person, doubting what they could not see.  Though she fought long and hard to get help, she met roadblocks at too many turns, eventually being consumed by the fiery wreck of her own life.  She truly wanted to live but was not sure how, or whether life itself truly wanted her in it.

She is survived by amazing children with beautiful hearts and sharp minds who deserved so much better than the mother they received.  She is also survived by a handful of friends, some distant because though they cared, she was too overwhelming to be around for long periods of time and some estranged because she pushed them away so they would not see how broken she truly was.  She is also survived by a best friend who had too much on his own plate to see how her life was crumbling beneath her.  She was preceded in death by both of her parents, who passed to her the legacy of dysfunction and abuse.

There will be no services because she has no family to arrange them.  In lieu of flowers or donations, it is requested that parents hold their children tightly to ensure they know they are loved, that friends make a genuine attempt to listen to one another and that society in general begins to openly talk about mental illness and depression because deaths like these are both tragic and needless.  The world would be such a different place if everyone walked it with compassion and empathy.

As I sat here morbidly imagining what I would wish my obituary would say if I were gone tomorrow, I realized there was neither anyone to write it, nor anyone I was sure would care enough to read it.  My passing would likely go largely unnoticed, my death another number added to the statistics of the mentally ill.

Such is the case with so many people struggling with mental illness today.  We are struggling, stumbling, floundering through life.  We are trying so desperately to live and not give up hope yet we feel all alone in the world.  All too often, we find ourselves drowning in depression, just wanting the pain to end.  Whether or not our situation is truly hopeless, all we can feel inside is despair.

More often than not, even when we reach out for help or assistance, we’re met by roadblocks and red tape.  There are so many hoops to jump through, unknown roads to navigate on our own that it quickly becomes overwhelming, complicated and unbearable.  We are met with doubt and suspicion along the way as if we are fabricating our struggles or looking for attention.  We are treated coldly, without compassion or care, like we are numbers and not people.  We are made to feel like we are inconsequential and somehow less than human by the same groups and agencies we have turned to for help.

We watch as one by one friends and family distance themselves from our “drama” but we don’t fight it because we already feel like a burden.  We begin pushing away those who are left because we come to believe it is only a matter of time before they would leave us, as well, and it seems easier to cut the ties ourselves.  We feel completely alone.  On some level, we feel we deserve it because we are such a mess.  We honestly believe that everyone would be better off without us in their lives.

Meanwhile, we’re drowning.  We’re drowning in hopelessness, helplessness, depression and despair.  We’re struggling harder and harder to find reasons to pull ourselves out of bed, reasons to keep living.  It’s not so much that we want to die that we are just so very tired of living this way.  We already feel dead inside.  Our minds take us to dark places, dwelling on morbid situations that we know are unhealthy yet give us a strange sense of peace.

Deep down, I know I would be missed, at least by my children and by the few friends who have stood by me through my struggles.  It is a fact I cling to on my hardest days, when I feel like I am spiraling down into that hopeless abyss.  No matter how hard I try to fight it, that darkness sometimes seeps into my consciousness and beckons me.  Though I am not actively planning to take my own life, there are days I cannot help but ponder what it would be like if I were gone.

Cutting Free

Today, I cut all ties with someone who once meant a great deal to me.  It isn’t that I didn’t love him as a person.  He claimed even to love me back.

It is that how he treated me was wrong.  It was unacceptable.  He made me repeatedly feel like I was nothing, worthless, like I didn’t matter.

Ironically his last message to me had numerous lines that echoed almost verbatim from the abuses of my childhood, words that still haunted me decades later.

He broke my heart repeatedly and tried to blame me for it because I chose to put my heart out there in the first place.  He felt he bore no responsibility because I kept choosing to care.

I used to believe that love could overcome everything.  What can I say? I’m a hopeless romantic at heart.  But I know now that sometimes all the love in the world can’t fix some things.

I don’t claim to be perfect in all of this.  I know I’ve made mistakes, too, and I’ve hurt him over the years, as well. He’s been quick to remind me of it all so I’ll never forget.

But I’ve never point blank told him that he meant nothing or just wasn’t worth the effort.

Once a relationship has gotten so bad, so toxic, that I find myself crying and wanting to just give up, give in, it is time to say enough, let go and cut the ties.

No friendship, no love, NOTHING is worth holding onto once it begins hurting me so badly that I begin thinking, even for a moment, about giving up.

Love should never feel that way.  You don’t intentionally try to hurt those you love.  You don’t try to break the people that love you.

Love is supposed to be gentle, kind, compassionate and understanding. Love doesn’t belittle, talk down to you like you’re stupid or damaged or worthless.

Whatever that was, it was not love.  It was not healthy.  It had to go. Before it killed me.  Before I became consumed with thoughts of escaping that pain.

Everything deleted. Everything blocked. Everything done.

No one is worth giving up on life over.

Nobody has the right to come into my life and inflict that much damage and hurt.

Anyone who makes me feel that worthless, that hopeless, that unlovable, that lost, that I find myself longing for the pain to stop for even for a single moment does not deserve a place in my life or in my heart.

When he tore into me tonight, that edge clearly came into view.  It beckoned, whispering those sweet lies about a peaceful release.  Much like he said to me tonight, I, in turn told that edge “Fuck you”.

It cannot have me.

And neither can he.

I’ve cut all ties.

It hurts like hell.

But I’ll survive and I’ll eventually be okay.

Because I’ll still be alive.