Do these attributes ring any bells for you, as they do for me?
Every now and then, a flood of very ugly, bitter memories overwhelms me. This week has been one of those seasons. I hate it when it comes, but there it is. This morning I woke up, feeling much better after talking with a lifelong friend, last night. I called this process “lancing a boil.”
The years immediately following DH’s leaving me were more horribly difficult than I can begin to describe. In common parlance, I had a nervous breakdown. Okay, for the sake of accuracy, I’m told there’s no such thing, medically speaking, as a nervous breakdown. The term is a sort of lay umbrella term that is so nonspecific that it doesn’t really mean anything. It covers dozens of situations and so becomes pretty meaningless. The neighbor who had a bipolar episode requiring hospitalization could just as well be said to have have had one as I could, dealing with the nightmare stress and anxiety of going through the separation and discovering DH is gay.
More, at the time, I was under the impression that a nervous breakdown meant someone had been found curled up in the fetal position mumbling incoherently to herself, and couldn’t be pulled out of it. I wasn’t nearly so bad, I thought; I was functioning (more or less). Besides, I couldn’t think of things like that, there was too much at stake, I had a family to take care of, and I had to keep going.
But this is what I experienced. I am sharing so that others going through this can know they’re not losing their minds, but experiencing something not at all uncommon among us:
* I couldn’t concentrate. This was particularly inconvenient since I was in college at the time, and English majors read a lot. I’d look at a page for long minutes and not be able to figure out what it said. I’m not really sure how I was able to graduate and keep a B average.
* My mind was all over the place. Mostly, as I remember, was a litany of “I’m so afraid” or “I don’t know if I can do this” sorts of thoughts. Worse, a lot of my thoughts, and the interior voice that comes when one is reading silently, were screaming at me.
* I wanted to sleep all the time. Sleep was an escape. Plus, I was so, so overwhelmingly tired all the time. I could drop off to sleep so easily, and I hated waking up and having to be in the real world again (I still love to sleep, my dreams can be so entertaining! but I am also glad to wake up again.)
* I felt tense and anxious all the time. I came to refer to it as feeling as if I were living on the epicenter of an earthquake. Every single thing I did, no matter how normally inconsequential, seemed to loom in front of me as possessing potential for catastrophic consequences. I was certain that whatever I did, even to choose the pink button-up blouse over the blue knit pullover, would be WRONG.
* I couldn’t cry. I just couldn’t. Still don’t. I pretty much isolated myself with my children and tried not to go to pieces. Complete isolation was impossible, being in college, living on campus in married student housing, having children. But I curtailed a lot of activities and kept to myself, still and quiet, as much as I possibly could.
* I felt on edge, had “the jitters,” all the time. No respite. For years.
* I had already established overeating, and eating the wrong foods, as a way of self-medication during the bitterly unhappy marriage. This continued through the Dark Days following the separation and the discovery that DH is gay. I’m not sure it actually increased, but it might have done.
* For months, people urged me, “Don’t deny the rage.” I didn’t know what rage was — until a horrible tragedy befell a friend, a year after DH moved out, and the cork popped. Once it popped, there was no shoving it back in, and I seethed and boiled and simmered with rage. It wasn’t just that I developed a short-fused temper (also connected to my fear of catastrophe striking again at any minute) but my usual sense of humor turned sharp-edged, sarcastic, “black.” The negativity and resentments came out sideways. So did an overabundance of profanity. Frankly? I didn’t like myself at all during this time. But I couldn’t seem to stop.
These things I simply attributed to “stress,” but it was stress to the breaking point. For fun, I took one of those “stress tests” that assigns number values to different stressors — highest number for the death of a loved one, down through a series of other situations to more minor situations like car repairs. A test similar to this one. The test warned, if one scored above an 85 over a six-month period, one’s health might be in jeopardy from excessive stress over the time indicated. I scored 320. Okay, I stretched the six months to 18 months or thereabouts because most of those issues were still currently causing problems. But that was still a frighteningly high number.
Being unable to recognize what was going on, I didn’t seek professional assistance. I’d already dropped out of therapy because DH cashed and kept the Blue Cross/Blue Shield benefit check that was supposed to have gone to our therapist for “marriage counseling,” and I was terrified of debt. I didn’t realize that I might be in need of medication to see me through the worst of it. I couldn’t see that continuing in therapy would have been a very sound investment for my recovery and my future life.
I had no family support. None. Due to problems in my own family, some of which deserve a post of their own, I had no help or support whatsoever from my parents. My evangelical church, which DH left as soon as we separated, was no help; the pastor laid the whole burden of blame on me. The support and encouragement I did have came solely from the college community, from faculty and administration who knew me.
It’s hard to look back and to see just how bad things were. I shed a few tears, yesterday, thinking what I’d had to go through, and how utterly alone I felt (and, in fact, was). “Bleak” skims the surface, and I don’t know of a better word to describe the experience — a thesaurus of words, maybe, would be required.
A regular divorce is bad enough. Stress enough. But a divorce PLUS the discovery that one’s spouse is gay? The world that I thought I knew was suddenly revealed not to have actually existed. The most essential realities of my life suddenly — not true. Or vanished altogether. The world had collapsed, a new world had to be recognized, and I didn’t know who I was in this unfamiliar place. I was terrified of failure, but failure seemed inevitable.
This is NOT the end of the story — but it will suffice for now — again, as an assurance to other women going through this nightmare: your experience is not singular, you are not in completely unchartered territory, although it’s not a well-travelled path. You can survive this. You can probably come out of it better than I did. Take comfort from my experience, and learn from my mistakes.
(To be continued – – – God’s Grace Carries Us)
Blessings this week:
Signs of Spring: The Bradford pear still looks lovely, despite gale-force winds that blew through here a few days ago. Also blooming: forsythia, wild plum, American Redbud, quince (I need to plant a couple of quince bushes; my aunt used to make the most wonderful quince jelly!), daffodils, jonquils, and narcissi, that strange tulip-looking Magnolia (saucer magnolia) – – –
It’s chillier again, but only seasonably so. After several cloudy/rainy days the sun was out for the past three days, and it’s been simply wonderful!
I saw a goldfinch while out and about, one day — the bright golden yellow is always startling.
I found old radio drama adaptations on YouTube of Dorothy Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey series, starring Ian Carmichael as Lord Peter. Very enjoyable productions!
More energy! both mental and physical. What a blessing that is, after a winter of being in the slumps!
I bought a bunch (7) of pink tulips at the grocery store. They cheer me up every time I look at them.
Low. Not sure what has triggered it, maybe the big anniversary or the realization I’m single for the duration or something I haven’t put my finger on . . . or maybe it’s the cumulative effect of several things at once. Anyway, it is what it is.
Several years ago, I came up with the idea of recording the unusual, the beautiful, the blessed things that I encountered during the course of ordinary days, to counter the sense of drowning in grief. I quit after several weeks, when I was back on top of things, again. I think it’s time to revive the discipline
You see, I believe that every beautiful thing that comes by us, even the “ordinary” ones, is a way God is telling us “I love you.” And every reminder that God loves us is a step out of the dark hole, or a pushing away of the Black Dog —
So here goes:
BLESSINGS AND BEAUTY, Week of February 25, 2018
Signs of Spring: Daffodils and jonquils are up and in full bloom. Ornamental cherries. Bradford pears are a cloud of bridal white. Saw some forsythia yellow on my way to Mass, Friday.
A good bit of sunshine, last week, with temps in the 70s, giving us a break from the clouds, rain, and general early spring chill that we’ve returned to, today (Monday, 2/26).
A squirrel came within a yard of me, yesterday. I don’t know whether he was distracted by his food or just used to people moving around him but he didn’t seem to mind me at all. I like squirrels.
A turtle was by the sidewalk as I came out of Mass, yesterday. A good-sized turtle. I stopped and got some photos. He/She hissed and turned his/her back to me, but I still took pictures.
There’s a fragrance in the air, here at my country home, that reminds me of my grandmother’s grape hyacinths’ fragrance. I’ve no idea what it is or where it comes from – there are no hyacinths anywhere around me! and this fragrance is strong. But it’s a wonderful scent, and I wish I could capture it into a perfume to wear all year round.
My cousins’ dog came to visit both Saturday and Sunday. There’s something very sweet about a dumb animal choosing one as a personal favorite. Several students’ cats and dogs also seem to have chosen me as a favorite; their humans tell me they don’t behave the same open and friendly way toward other people who come to their houses.
My cat seems to be very sensitive to my state of mind, and he has stayed very close to me, these past couple of weeks, all cuddly and — well, demanding and sometimes annoying. But it’s still sweet.
A young friend honored me this week by sharing a moment of profound vulnerability with me.
Another friend shared with me one of her personal sorrows.
I received a most generous gift from another friend, a gift that has covered my recent car repairs and given me a little to put aside for the next crisis.
Another friend, an artist, contacted me, “Can I help you with your writing and speaking business promotion?” She designed a business card for me, and coordinating notecards. I have to pay the printer, but she gave me her talent.
“I love the hymns we sang today,” someone told me, after Mass. I choose the hymns each week.
Some of these blessings also bring pain and sorrow — the love of my young friends and their parents is such a contrast to the estrangements I live with in my own family, and the affirmations of others’ gifts brings me the pangs of remembering the struggles to be known and taken seriously by my parents and by DH — but this is also part of the healing. One pushes through the resistance to find peace.
And I will push through. The fact that a fragrance can stop me dead in my tracks while I delight in it, and the cloud of pink from a particular ornamental makes me say “ooooh!” before I’ve known I’m going to say it — these are signs of great hope. I may feel low, but I am not too low.
A judge in Hamilton County, Ohio, defied common sense and decency, today, and gave full legal custody of a 17-year old girl to her grandparents.
The parents had declined to go along with their daughter’s declaration that she identifies as male and wants to transition accordingly. The parents, acting perhaps out of some religious convictions (according to prosecuting attorneys, that was their only ground for opposition to their daughter’s decision) but also out of an informed concern for their daughter’s physical and mental health, were deemed incompetent to act on their daughter’s behalf. Grandparents, who perhaps were not so well informed on the issues, were more amenable to indulging the girl, and so were granted custody.
My heart aches for these parents. Everything I have read of them indicates that they have taken time to become informed of the risks of transgender procedures — from the increased risks from hormone therapies to the nearly 50% incidence of attempted suicide, and the increasingly-high rate of transgenders who request to be re-transitioned to their original sex at some point down the road. This is a heartbreaking loss for them, and it’s a damnable folly for our courts to be promoting a sexual agenda so dangerous, physically and mentally, as transgenderism.
Judge Hendon ordered that the parents shall have visitation rights, with a view toward reintegrating the family unit, according to CNN. That translates to, “the parents shall have to give in and be persuaded that they are now wrong in order to reconcile with their child.” Utter insanity. I hope that the voters of Hamilton County will demand a recall of this judge and assure, through their votes, that she never hold elected office again.
If you’re interested, this is the talk I gave at the Atlanta Courage/Encourage Open House, yesterday (Saturday, February 3):
I so greatly admire the folks who participate in Courage. I’m honored to have been invited to speak to the Atlanta Open House, this Saturday, February 3.