beyond fixing

There’s a popular photo that’s made its rounds on Facebook and never ceases to make its way back into my feed on occasion. It’s a photo of an elderly couple with a quote overlaying them.

This image and accompanying quote are so popular that all I had to do was Google “old people love,” and there it was, on the first page, the happy couple embracing underneath the text:

old_couple

You’re going to think I’m bitter when I say this, but here goes:

Fuck that quote into oblivion.

I scroll down even further after closing out of the original image and see different elderly couples with the same text. Some of these photos look like stock photos of two 80-something strangers mashed together for the sake of the photograph.

“Look like you’ve experienced the kind of love that’s lasted through the terms of at least 8 different presidents, but convey with your eyes that the Reagan years were trying times for the both of you…”

At this point, I have no idea who the original couple is. Whoever they are, if they’re still around, I’m sure they’re still happily in love. I mean that! I love love, I really do.

I’m 26 and divorced, so my issue with this photo is personal. There’s no denying that. I feel bad for picking apart a harmless quote from two souls – with way more years on this Earth than I have – who just happened to believe in love. I promise I’m not going at this like a 4 year-old who can’t wait to smash open the piñata that contains everyone’s hopes and dreams.

It’s not the quote itself I have a problem with, but what the quote has come to represent after being shared until it became nothing more than a reflection of the insecurities of everyone who regurgitates it into social media again.

And, since this is personal: Whenever I see it, everything I’m supposed to feel about having left my marriage after 9 months stares back at me, and all I can do is shrug and laugh.

I’m supposed to regret not “sticking it out,” I’m supposed to feel like I have “commitment issues” for not staying in a relationship where I woke up every day thinking I was being drawn and quartered by my own desires, and I’m supposed to think I’m heartless for not really giving a fuck that the person I spent six years with is no longer a part of my life in any capacity. And yet, after leaving my marriage and deciding to move halfway across the country in the span of a month, I barely feel a thing other than relief.

But the reason that quote makes me cringe isn’t just about me.

I see the same reductive “fix it, don’t throw it away!!” philosophy applied to all sorts of toxic relationships everywhere. Unhappy people desperate to “make it work” apply Neosporin to gaping wounds each day in vain, with the hope that some quote about perseverance will make their suffering worthwhile.

It won’t. All the effort in the world isn’t going to make a fully grown narcissist grow the ability to treat you like you matter. All the echoes of “I can change” aren’t going to erase memories of years of abuse. All the energy you put into someone who’s never done the same for you isn’t worth waiting around to see if that person will reciprocate.

Your future is worth too much to waste years of your life trying to fix a totaled car because you’ve chosen to romanticize the “good old days” where leaving an unhealthy relationship was taboo, and women especially were taught that asking for more from their partners – even when “more” was to treat them like people – was “too much.”

If this doesn’t apply to you, and you’re in a happy romantic relationship, good for you. I hope you don’t feel like this was an assault on your feelings and the feelings of cute octogenarian couples everywhere.

This is for all of you who feel in your bones that you are on a sinking ship but haven’t quite found the nerve to get on a raft. Your reasons are your own, but know that I was just on that ship a year ago, and that getting on that raft is always the better option, even if that raft ends up in Antarctica.

My raft took me to Austin, Texas, where I currently live, love, eat, and seek adventures with some of my best friends, and for the first time since I fucked off to Russia for a semester in college, I feel like I’m exactly where I should be. My debilitating stomachaches are gone. My constant self-doubt has been replaced by cautious optimism.

And even though I’m single now, I no longer experience the kind of suffocating loneliness I felt while I was trying to make a relationship that was well past its expiration date “work” just because I felt obligated to do so. Come to think of it, I seldom feel lonely at all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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you deserve good things

It’s been a year.

When I first started, I wrote a lot about my struggles with anxiety and PTSD that I’d managed since my teen years. And it’s not a secret, but when I began to share my story last March, I was in a shitty place.

Here’s that first entry, for anyone who’s interested.

It definitely feels strange when I recall that, just a year ago, I was:

  1. Married (unhappily) and about to put a contract on a house
  2. Disconnected from many of my closest friends
  3. Struggling with stomachaches and severe anxiety in a way that was so constant and cyclical, I was unsure which one caused the other (with bonus insomnia)
  4. Living in a place I loved but had wanted to leave years ago
  5. Unable to drive more than an hour from my house

If you’ve ever seen “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure,” I have a mental image of me from the present showing up in a phone booth and telling me from a year ago what my life is like now. Of course, me from the past loses her shit.

As time went on, and I made major changes in my life for the better, a (semi-coherent)message that I’d never planned on conveying to others emerged:

You deserve good things, and if you’re in a shitty situation, please know that it’s not forever.

By “good things,” I mean (and some of these bear repeating):

You deserve a partner who will treat you with respect and give you the space you need to grow as a person. If your partner doesn’t make you feel like an equal member in your partnership, you’re not a bad person if you get the fuck out and go it alone. You are not the sidekick in your own life story.

(This applies to family and friends too, not just romantic relationships.)

You deserve to live in a space where you can nurture your own happiness, and if you feel like a town, home, or living situation isn’t working for you, you don’t have to continue living there out of obligation. We all have different relationships with the places we’ve lived and are from, and choosing to stay or leave doesn’t make you a better or worse person.

Ultimately, you deserve to not be defined by your past, no matter how much some of your experiences haunt you. This might mean outgrowing people, places, states of mind, phobias, that one band you loved when you were fifteen but can’t bear to listen to anymore. Your old relationships with yourself and with others are only a small part of you.

It’s easy to feel like you’re doomed to repeat mistakes and go through the same cycles of unhappiness. I used to pick through specific instances where some miserable event happened to me the same way multiple times in my life. I’d sit there and completely ignore all the times things worked in my favor and only remember the times I’d done wrong or been unlucky. Sometimes, I still do it, but it helps to see the pattern and stop myself.

I’ll never understand why so many people go through life telling themselves that they don’t deserve happiness and all of the good luck that comes their way. There have been times I’ve told myself I don’t deserve things even after I’d put in work that I could measure.

Writing about all of the ridiculous thoughts I’d been mired in for so long has been one of the best forms of therapy.

Without this outlet, I may never have realized that thinking I didn’t deserve to enjoy life was the driving force behind the anxiety and phobias that followed me for years. I had convinced myself that I deserved my situation and that, because of this, there was no exit. Once I started hearing from other people I admire and care about say that they often have the same doubts about themselves, everything started to change.

I never thought I’d be the kind of person to champion optimism and positive affirmations. Sometimes, it still feels like wearing a dress that doesn’t fit quite right. I grew up on a steady diet of skepticism and sad-sack paranoia, so it wasn’t easy to convince myself that there was another way to look at my place in the world.

But if it’s true for me, it’s true for you: You deserve good things, and I hope you know that they’re out there.

growing in many directions other than “up”

From the time we’re children, it’s instilled in us that “what do you want to be when you grow up?” always has to be followed by an occupation.

A paleontologist.

A zookeeper.

A doctor.

A professional athlete.

The occupation that follows is usually something that holds a certain level of prestige and is associated with making more money than the average person.

However, the older I got, the less I started defining “what I want to be when I grow up” by prospective career paths, and the more I started describing traits I’d like to possess. I’m not sure how much of this is me feeling jaded about job prospects and the cost of higher education in 2016, but I’m not sad that I made that shift in my head.

Yeah, I guess if I told my four-year-old self that I’d be a divorced Administrative Assistant at 26, my four-year-old self would be bummed. But my four-year-old self knew nothing of student loans and the everyday trials that come with young adulthood and Figuring Life Out. And my four-year-old self didn’t know that you can have the coolest sounding life on paper and still be a miserable asshole. 

I still talk about “what I want to be when I grow up,” because even if I’m an adult now, all I want to be is a work in progress. The antithesis of a miserable asshole.

If there’s anything I’ve taken away from this year, it’s that we should always grow (up, out, around, wherever) in the direction that feels best for us. Growth involves a lot trial and error, so you’re bound to fuck up somewhere along the way, but don’t let that deter you from staying true to yourself.

I have an honorary degree in Fucking Up from Probably Don’t Do That Ever University, so feel free to take any of this advice with a huge grain of salt, but I will say that, social media presence aside, I became a much less fucked up version of myself after abiding by a few things when it comes to personal growth:

Don’t grow in the same direction as your significant other for comfort’s sake when your heart is pulling in another direction. Ending a romantic relationship sucks, but the strain of knowing you’ve sacrificed too much of yourself to be a supporting role in someone else’s life story will do much more damage in the long run.

Don’t grow in the same direction as your friends for convenience’s sake when your mind is telling you to wander. You’ll see new things, make new memories, and meet new people, and if the friendships are solid, they’ll be waiting for you when you return.

Don’t have kids if you don’t want to have kids. Have kids if you want to. Don’t get married. Get married. Work toward a prestigious job. Do what you have to do to pay the bills so you can enjoy your free time. Whatever. But don’t do any of those things because of some weird nebulous force like societal pressure. There’s no roadmap that says that you can only be a happy person if you take Such and Such Road to So and So Landmark. Some people hit all the right milestones at all the right times and are still unhappy, and some of the happiest people take unconventional paths to get there.

At face value, it might appear as though I’m an advocate for leaving (a marriage, a career path, a home, a friendship) because this year, admittedly, I’ve been doing a whole lot of that. I’m sure there’s more than one person in my life who sees actions in the last year from an outside perspective as flighty and non-committal.

But the truth is, it’s not about bailing when things get inconvenient, it’s about knowing when the pressure to make something work simply isn’t worth the energy you’re exerting to maintain a baseline of sanity.

If you’re reading this, and you’re currently in a situation that you know deep down is shitty or painful or unhealthy, please know that there is no such thing as a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow that is your life that you only get for staying in a bad place because you were told you had to “make it work.” This is your life, and if you’re unhappy with your situation and can’t see it improving in its current state, do everything you can to change it. And if you’re not sure you’re capable of changing your situation, don’t hesitate to ask for help.

 

 

“divorce is always good news”/that time I was married

“Divorce is always good news. I know that sounds weird, but it’s true because no good marriage has ever ended in divorce. That would be sad. If two people were married and … they just had a great thing and then they got divorced, that would be really sad. But that has happened zero times.” – Louis C.K.

I got married a year ago. I’m not married anymore. It’s excellent.

What wasn’t so excellent was the time leading up to my decision when things just didn’t feel right. I’d been with my ex husband for over five years, even if we weren’t married for very long. I’d tried everything in my power to “make it work,” but every day I felt isolated, miserable, and trapped.

My therapist told me after I’d started to struggle again following years of stability: “there’s something in you I just can’t reach,” because I couldn’t bring myself to tell her the whole story of what was happening in my life. I was ashamed.

My ex-husband and I had a contract on a new house, but the closing date got moved forward. When this happened, I thought about what my life would look like in that house, with that person, day after day, and I finally started to see the bigger picture. I’d wanted to find a new home in another state for years, but up until that moment, I felt resigned to my fate. If I was going to spend my life with this person, I’d have to compromise. What I didn’t realize was happening is that I’d been compromising so much for so many years that I was no longer the main character in my own life story.

I saw all of the pieces of my identity annexed away bit by bit over the course of nearly six years. My early twenties were one big string of apologies for taking up space. I’d try to speak up, but I was always shut down. Every single day, I felt powerless. Every weekday, when he came to pick me up, I felt a heavy sense of dread. Why do I feel this way? Is this just my anxiety? I used to be so happy. 

In the aftermath, my friends would tell me of the house I shared with my ex-husband: “There was no sign of you in that house.”

I didn’t know what red flags looked like, so I found myself either ignoring or justifying certain behaviors.

“But he was always so kind to me when other people were around. And he was so nice when we first started dating. Maybe he’s just having a hard time. Maybe this is my fault somehow.”

“It’s weird that he’s admitted to trying to ‘train’ me out of my anxiety without my consent, but it’s possible he’s just trying to help. Maybe if I tell him it’s only making things worse, he’ll listen.”

“He’s only so controlling because he’s afraid to lose me.”

And he did. And things have never been better.

Getting divorced was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I recognize that speaking up for myself and realizing that I deserve to be with someone who treats me with respect isn’t selfish, it’s self-care. And now, I have the confidence to tell anyone who feels otherwise to fuck right off. After spending years giving away all of myself – my space, my aspirations, my time – to someone else’s demands, I’ve earned it.

A year and a divorce later, I don’t even hate the institution of marriage. On a personal level, I don’t think having marriage as a goal is necessary for a loving relationship, but if you want to get and stay married, go for it! Want to move to another country for a while? Hell. Yes. Want to date that person you think is awesome? Do it. If you want to leave that person who makes you feel stifled or unhappy? Also do that. Sometimes, you’ll fuck up (look at me!), but taking risks is more conducive to personal growth than sitting around wondering “what if I did that thing? It sounded cool but also terrifying?” and as a person with anxiety, I’m all too acquainted with those two words and how they often end up hurting worse than trying something and failing.

Making the decision to get divorced and move halfway across the country within the span of a month probably came off as impulsive to many of the people around me. I was leaving my partner of more than five years, my dog Trudy (honestly the hardest part), the comfort of my parents’ hospitality, and a satisfying job that helped me pay off my student loans. But I’d known a major change was in the works for months, even if I wasn’t sure where that change would take me. I’m an expert at hiding what’s going on upstairs when I’m still working things out, sometimes to my detriment. But the people who knew me best knew I’d land on my feet, even if the landing wasn’t pretty and I flailed a little on the way down.

And here I am.

 

 

 

three words

For anyone who doesn’t want to read any further, here’s the three words:

Feelings aren’t facts.

For anyone who wants to know how these words have helped me and why they’re important:

If you’re the kind of person who tends to over-analyze everything to the point of running in mental circles, it’s easy to forget that so many things are solved by simplicity.

I remember being thirteen and thinking that it took several months of listening to The Cure alone in my room and writing mediocre poems that “totally aren’t about a specific person and are open to interpretation” to get over inconvenient feelings. Usually, because a thirteen year-old’s universe is limited, those inconvenient feelings weren’t over something that affected my life in the long run.

But, since I’d had such little experience with hardship at thirteen, at the time, every single thing I felt seemed like it was urgent. My friend is mad at me because I forgot to invite her to hang out like I’d promised? A meteor is about to strike Earth. This dude I have nothing in common with but have put on a pedestal for some reason thinks my clothes are weird? All of the volcanoes whose names I can remember are erupting simultaneously.

It wasn’t until my early twenties, when I begun to understand the meaning of “feelings aren’t facts,” that things started to change.

What I like about using these three words as a mantra is that you’re not shaming yourself for whatever you’re feeling. You might be feeling something heavily, and that’s fine. It’s vital to remember that by telling yourself feelings aren’t facts that you’re not supposed to beat yourself up over having feelings in the process. Welcome to Being Human! Feelings are inevitable, some of them suck, and you’re going to have all kinds of feelings, many of which you won’t know what to do with at first.

In fact, go ahead and feel the ever-loving fuck out of those feelings, because resisting them isn’t going to help either. Just remember that, unpleasant as those feelings may be, they will pass, and they ultimately have as much weight as you choose to give them.

It’s vital to remember that a lot of us automatically give shitty feelings more weight than good ones, and that’s what trips us up a lot of the time. If your feelings are incredibly painful, keeping you from doing you, or involve negative thoughts about yourself, pretend they’re as light as balloons, let them go, and watch them float away. It sounds dumb, but it helps to actually visualize this. If you’re feeling great about finishing  a project, making new friends, or just being outside on a perfect day, let those feelings sink in and hang onto them when you’re struggling.

Here’s an example from my vault of experiences, which for those who know me, is full of wonder, mystery, and pointless junk in abundance:

Recently, I had to step back from a situation, because I realize that while I was mostly enjoying myself, it ultimately wasn’t right for my current state of mind, and I was starting to feel self-conscious. Stepping back wasn’t what made those feelings go away, however, even if it was the right thing to do. Initially, doing so exacerbated my self-doubt, and for two days, I ruminated on the situation and barely slept.

But over the span of those two days, even when I was feeling my worst, I constantly reminded myself: Feelings aren’t facts, and this is temporary. The words didn’t feel quite right at first. The temptation to stay mired in self-pity and confusion is undeniable, but ultimately, my desire to go on with my life and my ability to recognize that the situation only has as much power as I give it always wins.

I don’t know if “feelings aren’t facts” is the right mantra for you, but it’s certainly helped me realize that most of the things I’m upset about in the moment will only end up being footnotes in my life, if that. Any simple phrase that helps you remember not to invest too much in feelings that aren’t helpful or necessary at any point in your life can be vital to making it easier to see the big picture.

(Of course I still listen to The Cure, even when I’m happy.)

 

weathering storms

“And once the storm is over you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, in fact, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.”
Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore

This quote from one of my favorite books summarizes the first half of my year – and the aftermath – perfectly. Sometimes, I look at myself in the mirror not to see what I look like, but to wonder how I’m still here. It’s also timely, as it’s been storming for the past few days, and while I love the rain in small doses, I miss my swimming, my morning walks, and being outdoors in general.

While most of my days have been filled with company, and I’ve been keeping myself busy in general since moving to Austin, I spent most of today alone in my house, in the rain, with nothing but TV and my thoughts. And while this might be something I need right now, it’s certainly not what I want right now.

The storm metaphor resonates with me, because – as I’ve talked about recovery before – getting out of the major storm doesn’t mean there won’t be smaller storms you won’t have to weather along the way. There are very few things about being alive that are predictable, and some of the storms you don’t see coming will be easier to push through than others.

When something like this happens, I try to scan my thoughts and reactions to see if there are ways I could be treating myself and others better. Feeling shitty in a general sense might be an inconvenience, but when an inevitable storm approaches, it’s also the best time to ask myself if I’ve been handling a situation poorly or need a change of perspective on something.

Usually, the hardest part about being alone with my thoughts for an extended period of time is the realization that I don’t give myself the same compassion that I extend to others. It’s not always easy to convince myself I deserve to be treated well after going through an extended rut. I overanalyze interactions I have with people I know enjoy my company, yet when I get in my head, I tend to assume the worst instead of what’s most likely true.

I’ve been writing about my experiences with recovering from anxiety and PTSD since February, and whenever people contact me to say I’ve described exactly how they feel, I’m still surprised, even though it happens all the time. I’m constantly being reminded that I’m not the only one who feels this way and that there’s nothing that sets me apart when it comes to my anxiety. My anxiety is the least interesting, least unique part of me – every thought I’ve worried about, millions of others have ruminated on their own version of that same thought.

And way more often than not, it’s been a complete waste of energy. So instead, even in the middle of this storm, I’m going to be grateful for all of the times I’ve been wrong in doubting myself. I’m going to be proud of all of the excruciating bullshit I’ve waded through only to find light on the other side.

As always, if anyone feels like reaching out, even if we don’t talk that much or know each other that well, feel free to do so. If there’s anything I can do with my brief time on this planet, I hope I can spread empathy and let anyone who needs to hear it know that they are excellent and deserve to be happy.

moratorium on feelings, please?

I’m much more confident than I used to be, but I’ll be damned if there aren’t days when I don’t melt into the couch entirely unprompted, full of doubt.

And I’ll add that I’m actually having a great day, in spite of that? Feelings are weird.

Most of the time, I don’t show my negative emotions anymore, because I’m much better at processing them and determining whether they’re useful or a total false alarm. But I’m human too, and the sheer annoyance of “what even is this, and why did my brain decide to make this happen?” is sometimes enough by itself to make me wish I could take a vacation from thinking for at least a few hours.

At least the things I once feared are nothing but minor annoyances now, but when this happens, I occasionally revert back to:

Why is this a part of who I am? Can we not do this today? It would be great to be able to perform mundane tasks without the feral cat of self-doubt following me around.

Because of recent events in my life, the idea of vulnerability scares the shit out of me. I’m hyper-aware of actions in others that could lead to abusive or controlling behavior, and I’m self-conscious about appearing too meek or unassertive. I know what a parade of red flags looks like now (in both romantic partners and potential friends), but I’ll forever be the kind of person that looks for the good in everyone above all else.

And the result of being that kind of person – the kind who is cautious, but optimistic about others to the point of doling out a million second chances? The result of being that person often seems to lead to blaming myself for either things I’ve had no control over or taking too long to get out of toxic situations, because I refuse to admit I deserve(d) better.

I’m working to rectify that. People don’t always see it, but there are times even when I feel confident and in control that I’m also wondering “Did I say something wrong? Does this person wish I’d just be quiet? Am I asserting myself where I shouldn’t be?” only to find out later that I was doing the polar opposite of that.

It’s encouraging to know that everything is going in a positive direction, but the daily work of reminding ourselves to be kind to and take care of ourselves is constant, even if that gets annoying.