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Growing up with Depression

First Day of School

I guess it has always been there to some degree since childhood.  I would love to say that my childhood was happy and that everyone around me was loving and supportive.  But who has that childhood?  I have met a few who have been fortunate enough to at least have strength in their basic foundational relationships.  The lucky few who are supported by both their parents, have a secure and safe environment, and a steady predictable routine. My upbringing was relatively stable in most respects but emotionally I would describe it as volatile.

I don’t blame my parents, and at my age I would feel a bit silly putting any blame on them considering my circumstances.  I wasn’t abandoned or left to starve and I wasn’t neglected or ridiculed.  My parents got married young and had four children in five years.  We didn’t grow up with much, and money was a constant source of stress and anxiety.  Their marriage wasn’t perfect and they were not ideal parents but they always made their children their primary concern.  So with all of their faults I knew the did the best they could consider the obstacles they were up against.   I may not have had a father I could have tender moments with, but he worked overtime, marched on picket lines and lived with very little material wealth for the sake of his children.  My mother was in over her head with four babies and a husband who worked all the time but she always made us the center of the universe.   She constantly took us to trips to the library, bought us every educational toy or game we could afford and made sure we did our homework.  She may have been too obsessed, but I would rather grow up with her than an indifferent mother.

School wasn’t much of a solace as I was awkward and socially withdrawn.  I found children my age to be a bit of a mystery and found more enjoyment reading a book than playing with other kids.  There is much more I could write about, but I won’t because I cherish relationships I have with certain family members.  I don’t want to dredge up old traumas for the sake of this blog.  Some things need to remain private, for the sake of my siblings and my immediate family.   When things got bad I literally hid in a closet in our basement.  I would shut the door and wait for my world to stop spinning out of control.  To this day I don’t think anyone in my family knew I would go down there, I guess they might know now…if they read this blog.

Depression has always been there.  The dread that will sometimes wash over me that I can’t shake.  It causes me to overreact and panic and lose faith in others.   My divorce made it much more pronounced but depression has been with me for as long as I can remember.  I had no idea how bad it would get until post-divorce I became suicidal and nearly completely lost my sanity.  Clinical depression is nothing to joke about or to shrug off as just the blues.  I realize now that I suffered from a mental illness that is quite common but extremely frustrating to manage.  But I fought back with traditional therapy, medication, cognitive behavioral therapy and eventually my situation greatly improved.

Although now, I can feel the seductive pull of the dark clouds sucking me back in from time to time.  At first it feels comfortable to give in to the black moods and collapse in tears but they soon take over.  And instead of having a quick therapeutic moment of release the dread wins out and starts to devour me.  I find myself lying on my bed looking straight up trying to fight back a panic attack.  I haven’t had one in over a year, and I am so proud that I have been able to stop them but when things get bad it is a constant struggle.  At least now I know I have some control, I don’t have to huddle in a closet until it passes.   And just knowing that I have some control has been paramount to my recovery.  As a child I didn’t know what it was, I couldn’t understand why I wanted to retreat by myself, why I had difficulty dealing with other and why I constantly had crying fits that were nearly inconsolable.   I couldn’t understand why things got so black in my head, and why hope was such a hard thing to imagine.  My Catholic upbringing caused me to look for a supernatural source but now I know the real demons live inside my head.  If it is brain chemistry or some genetic defect I don’t know, or if repeated trauma caused something in my brain to develop abnormally.  The source of my depression doesn’t really matter, at least that is what therapy taught me.  What matters is management, and trying to live with and fight against this affliction.

For the most part I do alright.  I am so much better off than I was just a year ago, but I still struggle.  And I know from the amazing feedback I have gotten from this blog and from fellow sufferers of depression that this disease is a tricky one.  If you are reading this and you have struggled with depression since you were a child, don’t give up hope.  You can and will beat it.  Some of us aren’t as lucky in life as others, some of us are born with more obstacles that the average person, and some of us are born with the biology that causes depression.  But it doesn’t mean that we can’t beat this disease and we can’t overcome it.

I wish I knew what I know now when I was six years old, if I could I would go back to that little girl with the ice blonde hair and the rosy cheeks and tell her that God isn’t punishing her when the gloom overtakes her mind.   Whatever is going on in her head is not pay back for any sins she committed and it is not a battle between good and evil.  The dark moods are just a slight flaw in her wiring, and that flaw is depression.  And everyone has a flaw, no little girl is born perfect.

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Life After Divorce: Just Keep it Simple?

I Want a Divorce

I Want a Divorce (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am adding the following disclaimer to all of my dating related blog posts.  I change details, and create composite characters when I write about dating archetypes such as “Mr. Houdini, Mr. Angry, etc.  I would hate it if someone wrote about a high energy blonde comedian negatively in a blog, so because of that I never include a person’s occupation or anything about their physical description.  I also change enough details that I doubt anyone I am referring to would even recognize themselves if they read one of my articles.   I have split one person into three, or taken several people and put them all into one example.  So simply put, I am very ethical on this blog.

Online dating profiles are a window into a person‘s soul.  Most profiles don’t really tell you that much about a person, but the usually tell you enough to know when to send an email and when to keep moving.  One such profile popped up as a match on my OKCupid.com profile.  The man was generally attractive, age appropriate and seemed obsessed with cycling.  But he also had one overwhelming theme that was repeated throughout and that was

“When it comes to life, I believe in keeping it simple”

He said this around four times, including in the

“You should message me if….you believe in keeping it simple when living life”.

I hate to say it, but that was the final straw for me and I decided not to message him.  Sure we can all keep things simple in that we try to hang out with people who love and support us and avoid self-destructive behavior but if my divorce has taught me anything it is life is hardly simple.  His obsession with this premise just made me think he might be shallow or dim witted, and since I have sat through some fairly painful dates with both shallow and dim witted men I decided against contacting him.

Human relationships are nuanced and full of many shades of gray.  Life is in fact quite complicated, not simple at all.  My relationship with my ex-husband is complex to say the least.  Up until June 21, 2009 I considered him my best friend, my closest confidant, and then in an instant found myself staring at a man I hardly knew.  A bond and trust like that can’t be immediately severed, instead it took months and years for it to morph and change from overwhelming feelings of anger and resentment to a now familiar attachment that is difficult to describe.  What has been actually more troubling are the other relationships I lost when my marriage fell apart.  People I thought were as close as family just drifted away without so much as any real condolences or understanding.  In fact from some of them criticized me for being too hard on my ex.  If they only knew the layers of sacrifice and burden I had to endure for much of my marriage, the deception and betrayal they would never dare say something so profoundly uninformed to me.

As I witnessed many of my friends also go through difficult and painful divorces I experienced the extremely complicated nature of human relationships.  Some of my friends sabotaged their marriages with blatant infidelity or with downright abandonment towards their spouses.  Do I cut those friends off because of the way they treated their marriages?  Or do I understand the relationship was between those two people, and only they understand the torment and struggle they were going through.  Other relationships simply fell apart due to the every day wear and tear we put each other through, and any couple who has been together more than a decade or more knows, sometimes two people simply do grow apart.  And of course I had friends who were subject to cruelty and betrayal on extreme levels from their spouses.  Some of the stories still cause me to tear up when I think about them.  Married for twenty years only to be thrown away for a newer model and to find out the betrayal stretched on for the entire duration of the marriage?  Again anyone in a long-term committed relationship knows how much two people can go through in that time span especially when they have children together.  And then what of the children?  Damaged by the failure of a marriage and scarred up from the feeling of abandonment by one or both of their parents.  Not to say that the children won’t heal and might be better off in a divorced situation rather than a toxic household, but divorce is traumatic for all parties involved.  Or how about instances when one spouse is horribly treated by another then has to manage a healthy co-parenting relationship after the fact for years.  Life is not always so simple, and human relationships are hardly simple.  In fact they are quite complicated, and anyone who has survived a difficult divorce knows this truth all too well.

Life After Divorce: Fighting off the Dread.

One Is a Lonely Number

One Is a Lonely Number (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The other day someone I had met once, and really didn’t know at all said the following to me.

“I think there are more divorces in your future, you are going to die alone”

Or something to that effect, I am not really sure exactly what he wrote.  Glad he thinks I am getting married again, personally I can’t see that happening but you never know.  Now again, the person who said this didn’t know me at all.  I had barely interacted with him in any capacity online or in person.  He got upset because he thought it was perfectly acceptable to randomly pick a fight with me on my Facebook wall. It started with a positive comment on my part and ended with him calling me a “c*nt” making that remark and claiming I insulted him, which I never once did.  I simply stated that I didn’t really know him well, had never posted on his wall, and then asked if he even lived in NYC anymore.  I assumed he lived in LA, apparently he lived in NJ and took this as some sort of huge dig.  I thought if he lived in LA that it was weird that he was even bothering as that is just half way across the universe.  That is all I meant by my comment.  But I am just assuming it was the NJ reference as I never called him a name, and I never once insulted him.  I don’t know how I would insult someone I barely knew other than calling him angry and I didn’t even do that, I simply said I found it annoying when people I barely know post inflammatory things on my wall…and it is annoying.  But if he thought that comment would hurt me, he was way off.  As I don’t need random angry white males who know nothing about me making comments like about me when I have my own brain to do it for me.

You will always be alone, you will always be alone, you will always be alone

Sometimes I feel like everyone I have gone out on bad awkward uncomfortable dates with since my divorce is now having absolutely amazing romances.  Maybe they are, maybe they aren’t.  But the feeling of overwhelming dread is a constant fight I battle nearly every night.  In my darker moods, I will walk around the city and play back all snippets of every horrible date I have had in my mind.  Some weren’t so bad but there were still non-productive in that there was no connection and we both felt it.   So the dread creeps in there, usually at night, when I am trying to shut down my engines and finally give my brain a rest, I find it just goes into hyper-drive.

You will always be alone, you will always be alone, you will always be alone.

I know it isn’t rational, and I know it isn’t true but it bounces around regardless in my skull every night as I am trying to calm down.  I just don’t see much of an end.  Since I have started working on my memoir it has only gotten worse.  At least I have the work to distract me but now I am even more isolated than ever.  And I know so many others like myself, both men and women past their peak dating years and single.  I am not going to radically change the person that I am to the core of my being and suddenly start running around pursuing a polyamorous or promiscuous lifestyle.  I am a one-man woman who just feels stuck.  I could go out with someone 10-15  years younger than me, as I get a lot of offers but I find I rarely relate to men that much younger than me.

You will always be alone, you will always be alone, you will always be alone

I know it’s not rational thinking and I know I can control it.   And I try to use my Cognitive Behavior Techniques to try to shut it down.  All or nothing thinking, irrational thinking, of course that is not true, no one will end up always alone.  But then I think about a comment the total jerk made to me and it rings true, not just for me, but for every human on this planet.  As most people don’t actually die with their spouse or significant other.  Unless they are both killed in some type of accident, or die of the same disease at roughly the same time…most of us…do in fact…die alone.  We might spend years even decades by ourselves after a spouse has passed.  Or even if our spouses are alive when we go, most of us don’t always have those hallmark moments with loved ones surrounding us when we leave this earth.  Death comes in all sorts of ways, and many of them are hardly warm and fuzzy.  We might even have to face the horrors of watching our children or nieces and nephews die before us.  That is life, sometimes it is just that brutal.

You will always be alone, you will always be alone, you will always be alone.

So I guess I really shouldn’t dread that voice in my head or the occasional stab from some random stranger.  I put my vulnerability out there in the form of this blog.  I am the proverbial dog who has decided to bare its belly for the world.  So take your stabs, my skin is Teflon at this point.  At least I tried a long-term relationship and it failed.  But at least I am not drinking myself into oblivion every night or thinking I can fulfill myself from an audience because that is dragon chasing its tail if there ever was one.  Or thinking that a better job, more money, more exposure will somehow cure the insecurity inside of me, when it won’t.  Even if that dreadful thought becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and I hope it doesn’t, it really isn’t so horrible as most of us deal with loss, loneliness and grief.  It is just a part of life, and at least I will admit that I am flawed and damaged without shame.  I have lost, will probably lose again and it doesn’t make me a horrible person, it only makes me human.

The Tree of Forbidden Foods

So regular blog readers, this is sort of writing practice for me.  I have just acquired a literary agent and I am working on a memoir.  Not exactly the book I was planning but I am overjoyed by the opportunity.  This wouldn’t go the book, as its subject matter doesn’t pertain to what I am basing the book on.  But this was one of my most popular stories that I performed on stage and I am trying to adapt my style more for the page rather than a stage.  They are after all two totally different mediums.  I hope you like it.  I will probably continue to edit it, as that is what I do. 🙂 

English: A peanut butter and jelly sandwich, m...

One of the reasons I have a complicated relationship with the religion of my youth is that without it, I probably wouldn’t be here.   My parents practiced the 1970’s Catholic version of family planning, most of which consisted of prayer.   My mother didn’t have four children as much as she had a litter.  She basically had two sets of Irish twins.  We weren’t exactly 12 months apart but our births were so close that she had all four of her children in five years.  Having us so close together definitely affected her parenting style–which would be described as passionate, dedicated but foggy.  She would usually get the big picture as we were all clothed, fed and supervised but tended to miss small things.  She was constantly calling each of us by the wrong name, a problem made more difficult by naming us all names that started with the letter J.  And she wouldn’t notice fairly obvious problems.   I wasn’t diagnosed with my lifelong asthma until I was an adult, my sister went an entire day with a broken arm until someone decided to take her to the doctor, and my brothers would come in scraped and bloodied from fights and rough housing and she wouldn’t blink.  We rarely arrived to sporting events or school functions on time and sometimes she would completely forget about them.  Her organizational style was ambitious but her plans never really worked out, it was if she was an architect without a contractor.  She would painstakingly go through the linen closet making labels for each shelf in her beautiful perfect handwriting.

One shelf would say

“Fitted sheets”

And another

“Pillowcases”

The problem was that the shelf labels didn’t correspond to their contents.  Instead of fitted sheets and pillowcases the shelves were full of random items such as 10-year-old sunscreen bottles, the occasional cloth diaper and strange unknown medical devices that I suspect were left over from her multiple pregnancies.  The sheets themselves were all mix-matched and thrown in one on top of each other in great heaps.  Some were so threadbare you could see your hand through them.  It wasn’t that she didn’t care; she was simply in over her head.  My father worked long hours as an auto mechanic and when he got home planted himself in a recliner to watch non-stop television programs while engulfing copious amounts of peanuts and beer. His parenting style was to scream and threaten in loud outbursts and then go right back to watching television.  Not exactly the most effective way to manage children, as all it did was to make us fear him and avoid him at all costs. And children tend to mirror their parents behavior.  So when fighting with each other we tended to scream and terrorize just as we had seen our father do.  It was a small three bedroom home full of four maniacs acting more like a pack of wild dogs than children.  So given this environment, a lot got overlooked.

At the age of nine I got hit with some bad news.  Our dentist informed my parents, that I not only needed braces but serious orthodontist work.  I had inherited the under bite that ran through nearly all the females on my father’s side of the family.  If I didn’t get my bite fixed soon, I was going to need headgear, and not just the kind of headgear worn at night, but the kind of humiliating soul crushing headgear that is worn all day long.  He was so dramatic in his warning that he made it seem that braces weren’t an option, but they were a medical necessity. If they weren’t cemented on my nine-year-old teeth I might as well just resign myself to a life of working as a freak at a sideshow attraction.   X-rays were slapped on lighted screens, hushed tones and dramatic voices used to illustrate his point.  My favorite example was the plaster model cast of my mouth.  He used this for to the most terrifying effect.  When he made the teeth go up and down, with an under bite that I suspect he exaggerated, he was telling my parents with this little puppet show—your daughter’s a monster.   Get this girl braces or else.

I grew fast and early as a kid and had lost all of my baby teeth by age nine, so there would be no extractions involved.  But because of my father’s health plan, they were only going to cover partial braces for the first year and then the rest would follow.  Partial braces might sound better but they were a horror show.  The braces were attached to only my front and back teeth leaving a vulnerable wire connecting everything.  Eating anything hard or tough would cause the wire to shift often cutting into the back of my mouth and the inside of my cheek.

So knowing this was a problem certain foods were to be avoided.  My orthodontist even had a “Tree of Forbidden Foods” in his office.  It was an actual miniature Christmas tree adorned with plastic examples of all of the items a kid with braces was supposed to avoid.  Apples were prominently displayed.  My mother completely forgot about this and would just give me the same sad lunch she gave all of my siblings for most of our childhoods–A peanut butter and jelly sandwich with an apple in a paper bag.  The bread was the extremely inexpensive kind bought from a discount grocery store.  We would buy it in bulk and throw it into an ancient electricity guzzling deep freeze in our basement.  Throwing one in on top of the other caused the loaves to become smashed and deformed.  The peanut butter came out of a huge bucket (sometimes government issued) and the jelly was never better than store brand.  Every day the weight of the apple in our lunch bag would cause the bread to flatten and the jelly to seep through the sides.   The apples were the cheapest kind available, probably intended for applesauce, not to be fed individually to children.  For years I had that same pathetic lunch, sometimes she would mix it up and I might get pickle loaf or liverwurst with mustard but it was nearly the same thing every single day.

My Catholic school had a very Dickens like quality to it.  We had one grade per class and everything was rundown and barebones.  Our lunchroom was the basement of the church and we sat at long dark brown wooden tables with tired old matching benches.  We were each given a half carton of milk, but the rest of our lunch was up to our parents.

So it was my smashed and deformed sandwich with a low-grade apple next to lunches that a child could only dream of eating–hard-boiled eggs, Capri Sun juices, ham and cheese sandwiches made with light fluffy wonder bread, little tins of pudding or canned fruit and the two items I hardly ever ate as a child because they were deemed too expensive, yogurt and seedless grapes.  Even now the thought of both of them send me into a dizziness of expectation yet I still rarely buy them because they are after all expensive.

So when surrounded with bounties like these, I couldn’t even give my lunch away, and since I couldn’t eat the apple without pain and injury, I had to throw it away.  One day while discarding my apple, the school janitor caught me in the act.  He was a large creepy looking man named Mr. Cooper who had a sheen of serial killer about him.  He was tall with fuzzy red hair that only covered part of his scalp, it was messy and seemed to grow in patches.  His belly was enormous and stuck out so much that it was his most prominent feature.  He wore this one piece blue uniform that always seemed to have stains of unknown origin down the front of it and was two sizes too big.  Every day it was always the same uniform but with different stains. Mr. Cooper looked like an escaped hillbilly convict and he smelled like old socks and stale beer.  And he was constantly sweating.  He would sweat even when it was cold outside–we were all scared of him.  When he discovered my crime of tossing the apple he immediately sent me to the principal.

Every kid in elementary school has a principal, but having your priest as your principal is an entirely different matter.  If your principal is your priest and your priest is God then your principal becomes GOD.  My principal was the pastor, or head priest of our entire parish. Father Hogan was a controversial figure.  Father Hogan was a bit of an egotist and refused pretty much all criticism, not that he got that much.  People tended to love or hate him, and I will admit he scared me more than Mr. Cooper.  It wasn’t any one specific thing he just had the aura of a self-important sadist.  It was all about Father Hogan, all the time.  He was bald with a pleasant face, but he suffered from the skin disorder psoriasis and his treatment included lying under sun lamps, so he was constantly sunburned.  His face was usually a bright red, which gave him a slight demonic quality.  I have a photo from my first communion where Father Hogan is half-embracing me, and I remember at the time it was taken I wanted to run away from him as fast as possible.  He was also known to have a penchant for nice cars and fancy vacations, which seemed odd for a priest but as my mother said.

“What else is he going to spend his money on?”

And I guess she had a point.  An example of his inflated ego was in how he treated the school intercom system.  It wasn’t enough that any time he entered a classroom we were supposed to jump up at attention and immediately pronounce in unison.

“Good Morning Father Hogan”

But he used the intercom system throughout the day at random to check in on the teachers.  I think he did it just to strike fear into our hearts

“Good Morning Class!  It’s Father Hogan I hope everything is going well.  God Bless you”

The intercom hand of God even freaked the teachers out.

It was well-known that Father Hogan had a yard stick on the wall of his office and did not see anything wrong with “doing what needed to be done” to anyone foolish enough to force him to use it.  The Tales were wondrous, everything from slaps across the back of the hand to full beatings.  I never knew anyone to personally experience it, but I didn’t want to find out.  I was so freaked out by the tales that I was scared to go to the office even when I was sick.

My trial.  I remember being in the tiny beige office, looking at the yardstick on the wall and both Father Hogan and Mr. Cooper behind the desk.  I was in a large wooden chair and even though I was big for my age, my feet barely touched the floor.   Father Hogan began to scold me on being wasteful, selfish and basically a horrible person.  I had indeed thrown out my apple into the garbage, a perfectly good apple that my working class parents had spent their hard-earned money to buy, the apple that starving children everywhere could be using as nourishment, the apple –  my sin MUCH LIKE EVE revealed.  The truth was I actually felt bad about throwing it away.  I was fully indoctrinated the bloodied and tortured Jesus Christ on the crucifix that hung on the wall behind Father Hogan, scared the living hell out of me and I did not want to get on his bad side.

My punishment.  After berating me for several minutes it was decided what was to be done.  My own personal witch trial of sorts, not only was I going to serve penance for my sins, but I was going to do it publicly.  The large plastic 50 gallon garbage can was dragged out to the corner of the playground/parking lot.  And I was forced outside in front of the other kids during recess to dig into the garbage, find the apple and eat it. I remember trying to plead my case, braces, bleeding gums, pain, not a good idea to eat food from the garbage, but all to no avail. I think they showed some mercy because it didn’t take long to find the apple, I think they must have placed it near the top.

I ate the apple.  Crying throughout as it caused my braces to get caked up and scrape against my gums and bleed, the wire shifting and cutting into the back of my mouth.   The adults just stood there staring at me in disgust.  Hadn’t any of these losers ever seen a kid with braces?  Didn’t they know about the Tree of Forbidden Foods?  I think I had bits of apple in my braces for weeks.  The rest of the kids just stood there frozen.  No one laughed or made the situation worse for me, I think they were traumatized.   When it was done we all went back to class and it was never brought up again.

Now you would think after telling my mother of the apple incident that she might call up the school and complain, or that she would at least try to plead my case with Father Hogan.  Or at least apologize.  I didn’t pack my lunch, she had.  But my mother has always had a difficult time admit fault on anything and she never went against a priest so after a long pause she said simply.

“Julie you should have given the apple away instead of throwing it away”.

And then she just sort of walked away. That was it.  I was publicly humiliated, could have damaged my braces, bleeding, in tears and that was it.  My mother couldn’t stand up to the priest, as at least in our family as in most Catholic families the priest was an extension of God and you just didn’t question a priest.  It was to be the beginning of my loss of faith in the church.  How could I take them seriously after blatant child abuse was not only condoned, but turned into a spectator sport?  I realized that day that adults can be far worse than children.  I had always looked up to adults thinking they had all the answers and they would do the right thing.  But after that day, I discovered the janitor was a petty thug, my priest was vicious and cruel and my mother could inadvertently frame me for a crime.

Eventually my mother forgot about the apple incident entirely and instead of giving me oranges in my lunch the apples came back.  I became an expert at throwing them away, almost ninja like in my techniques.  I got so skilled, I could get rid of them before entering the school building.  For months, flocks of birds and squirrels survived on my discarded fruit.  I don’t blame my mother though, like I said, she had a lot to worry about.  If anything the whole incident taught me that sometimes logic won’t win out, and that it is sometimes better to hide an injustice all together rather than pleading with those who could care less about your plight.  And strangely my situation was the opposite of eve, instead of eating the apple I threw it away yet it still destroyed my innocence.  Adults could be worse than children, I would never look up at them in the same way again.

We were eventually transferred to public school with its fancy luxuries like carpeting, brightly painted walls, art and music classes, playgrounds with actual playground equipment and a hot school lunch program where everyone ate the same lunch and everyone was happy.

Life After Divorce: A Child gives me perspective

Originally published on July 18th, 2010  This blog post is from another older blog that I am currently shutting down.

So if you know me at all, heck if you have even encountered me for more than five minutes since June 21, 2009 you know a few things about me.

1. That I am going through a divorce, and thank you New York State for making the process drag on so long.

2. That my husband was gay, a closet case which I had to forcibly “out” after finding evidence.

3. That I have generally had a rough time of all of it.  I went on antidepressants and was suicidal at one point.

4. I have found it next to impossible to date anyone for any significant length of time, or even keep anyone’s interest for more than a couple of months.

5. My husband is a clown, and got me into doing clowning for a living and I am near starvation now because of it.

So knowing all of that, let me paint a picture of what happened to me today.  I was scheduled to work at a large outdoor music festival in Central Park for children and family audiences.  I was running late due to some train trouble and when I get there I am greeted by someone who has said the worst thing to me that anyone has said to me in regards to my divorce.  Her statement some months ago was that

In EVERY relationship when you really break it down, both sides are equally to blame in a break up

This was unsolicited advice on her part, and when I tried to argue with her she dug her foot further into her mouth.  In the case of my breakup, one side was definitely to blame far more than the other.  I was true to my husband and loyal to a fault, he was the one who deceived me for the entire nine years we were together.  If I did anything wrong in that relationship, it was not getting out sooner.  Since this woman spoke those words months ago, I haven’t been able to even look her in the eye.

So this individual is the first to meet me at an outdoor gig in extreme heat.  My contract said there would be two face painting stations yet, when I get to the gig there are three.  She tells me that I am not to set up at her station but to go to another area of the park, she does in such a clipped fashion that I immediately turn and walk away.  She tries to welcome me and ‘give me a hug”.  But I would rather not, I don’t consider her a friend, and I don’t really want to hug someone in a disingenuous manner.

I then go over to the area, and I am sent to the worst position to begin face painting in the group.  Well I think to myself, I am running late it is ultimately my fault.  I set up, and another face painter arrives with her brand new baby.  Lately other people’s babies, especially friends babies, almost elicit tears of sorrow in me and not of joy.  I am 37 years old, I am not dating anyone, nor can I seem to successfully date anyone or even get excited about the prospect of dating.   When men are attracted to me lately it just makes me nervous, not excited.  I figure they are just going to cause me further pain and grief, and as my therapist tells me all of the time.

“You have major trust issues”

No kidding.  So the likelihood of natural childbirth for me shrinks by the day, and any hope of having a child on my own is slim due to my increasingly dire financial state.

I have never felt overly welcomed by the community of clowns to begin with, generally speaking ” the clowns” tend to treat me like a Yoko Ono figure.  Since my husband is very successful in his craft, and I only began clowning once married to him, some clowns have been mildly to downright overtly nasty towards me.  As if I would marry someone to further my clowning career.  My head spins at the very notion of such insanity.   I have been performing since childhood as an actor, but some of “the clowns” this fact is completely disregarded.  And since the split I have felt more excluded.  Since Joel is so good at what he does people always want to hire him and now are reluctant to hire me because they are worried about drama on a job.   And try sitting down at a job interview for a “normal” job and explaining how you have been working for eight years as a clown!

And to further my sense of isolation the other three face painters share one large table and I am left by myself at one huge table.  Why we didn’t go two and two is still beyond me, but there it is.  Meanwhile I watch as my soon to be former husband runs around the event as emcee and general crowd-pleaser with huge accolades from everyone.  It was a rough gig.  I just wanted to go home.

Then she sat down in my chair, a striking girl probably around age six with medium brown skin, beautiful copper-colored hair neatly done in twists around her head, light almond-shaped hazel eyes and a sweet smile.  The woman I assumed was her mother explained she wanted a butterfly on her arm.  I thought nothing of it, since some kids are shy and it is common for parents to make requests.  While I was painting I heard the woman sing along with the band onstage, and said to the little girl.

“Your Mommy has such a lovely voice”

There was an awkward silence which I didn’t quite understand.  Then I said

“What do you think?  Do you like the butterfly?

And the woman explained that the little copper haired beauty only spoke French.

“Do you have her enrolled in a French school?”

My first thought was she might be Haitian but I thought I would go with the more obvious choice of an expensive private school since this was Central Park after all.  The woman then explained that the little girl was struggling to say something but couldn’t communicate.

“I am her cousin, we adopted her after she lost her family due to earthquakes in Haiti.”

I remarked how well she looked and the woman said

“She has been through so much, and she is doing so great all things considered”.

It was hard not to start crying right there.  Here I was depressed about my life falling apart but at least I hadn’t “lost my family”.  Sure the little girl will grow up with a much greater quality of life living here in New York than in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, but at such a great cost.  I can’t even imagine how horrible it would be to lose both your parents, possibly siblings, extended family and the life you had known in an instant.  And then to come to a strange country where no one speaks your language and EVERYTHING is different.

After she left my whole attitude changed, I still wanted to get home but my problems didn’t seem so significant, amazing how the universe will do things like that for you.  If it be some type of God, karma or positive energy I have found over and over again that just when I need it, I seem to get a kick in the head waking myself up from self-pity.  Whatever our sorrows or trials are, there are always those who have it much worse off.  And I don’t remember who said the quote but I try to remember,

“No one is fortunate all of the time”.

We are all just doing our best to make it to the next day.   One of the things someone told me going through addiction recovery was to “treat everyone like they are dying”  because when you think about, we all are anyway.

 

Dating After Divorce – Wife Shoppers & Baby Momma Math

English: A sleeping male baby with his arm ext...

English: A sleeping male baby with his arm extended (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I always thought I would have kids, my husband and I planned to eventually have a family, but at the age of 36 I discovered my husband was a closeted homosexual.  My marriage immediately ended and I entered the dating pool past my prime reproductive years.   I knew it would eventually take time to have healthy relationships again, and I definitely felt like my biological clock wasn’t just ticking but banging loudly like Quasimodo’s bells through my entire body.

Because I am over 35, some men view me as a lousy match if they want to have kids.  I didn’t think it would be this bad, but in my age range I tend to find hook-up artists who never want to settle down, men messed up from a break-up or divorce, extremely socially awkward men with no dating experience and the men I refer to as wife shoppers.   A wife shopper is usually the following

  • Over 40
  • Never Married – No children
  • At the peak of their professional career
  • About to buy property or has just bought property

Wife shoppers are men searching for the future mother of their children.  They make no bones about wanting to start a family and many won’t consider women over the age of 35.  Women do lose reproductive capacity after 35, and in health terms pregnancies in older mothers are deemed higher risk.  Yet none of my extended or immediate family members have had to use any extraordinary means to get pregnant.  In fact, most got pregnant almost too easily, my aunt and my grandmother both having babies in their forties.  So do I have to print out my medical history and that of my extended family and bring it to dates?  Should I put it on my online dating profiles?  Something tells me that bringing up fertility on a first date would cause most men to bolt.

I have discovered most wife shoppers through online dating websites.  Something about online sites just make it too easy for them.  Men can sort of pick the traits they prefer, height, build, eye color, hair color, age, and if a woman wants children.  On dates, a wife shopper will bring up reproducing almost before they have ordered their first drink.  One of the habits I have noticed is something I call baby momma math.  My date will look at me, ask me my age again, and then I watch them adding up how long we would have to date before trying to start a family, and they aren’t exactly subtle about it.  I have also gotten questions right off the bat such as

  • What neighborhood do you think you would want to live in?
  • Private or Public School?
  • How much debt do you have?
  • How many kids would you want to have?
  • Do you have a good relationship with your family?

I don’t remember this ever happening to me when I was in my twenties.  Maybe it’s something about the personality traits of any man who waits until they are at the peak of their career before getting married and having kids.  In their mind they have a checklist and once they have gone down everything else they want to accomplish in life they move on to starting a family.

Having my marriage end the way it did has given me major trust issues to begin with, so the idea of running down the aisle with a man hell-bent on becoming a father is terrifying.  Divorce is hell on earth and the thought of having another divorce only the second time with children is especially nightmarish.  Rushing into a situation in order to have children with a partner I barely know seems like a recipe for another divorce.

Of course women have been doing this sort of thing for ages.  It is almost a cliché of the single woman over a certain age talking about eggs, biological clocks and running out of time.  When I meet a wife shopper, at first I think it is a good sign because at least this man isn’t like the multitudes who just seem to want to get laid and nothing else.  But then I start to feel like little more than a womb.  Keeping a healthy marriage together especially one with children is extremely difficult.  The union between the two adult partners should be the most important thing, communication, lifestyles, goals, and temperaments must work in harmony before the added stress and pressures of children are added to the mix.  I have accepted that having a biological child may not happen for me, as I would rather not bring children into a haphazard marriage situation.  I just wish I could find something in between the hook-up artists and the men who think nothing of ordering up a wife they way they would a sandwich.

Life After Divorced: Being a straight spouse two years later.

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I still remember my wedding day, vividly.   Any day planned and fretted about for months is going to stick in your brain for a lifetime.  Any day built up as the beginning of the rest of your life will burn into your psyche, in the same way horrible trauma sears its pain and anguish deep into your bones.   Try as you might, you can’t shake it the pain becomes a part of your very foundation.  Few positive memories have the same effect.  For whatever reason, our bodies, hearts and minds tend to cling to the negative memories such as: being humiliated in front of your class, not being able to get jeans off in time due a broken zipper and wetting myself at girl scout camp, seeing my father lash out at me in a yet another blinding rage, losing a  job or role for reasons unknown, having a voice teacher tell me I would never be a singer, seeing the face of a lover suddenly go cold and distant, having no one show up to my 13th birthday party….and on and on and on.  The traumas and disappointments get inside of you like a bad virus you can’t shake, but the good memories fade quickly.  The memories replaced instead by just vague emotion.  Instead of specific images they blur into shifting colors through a window.  Instead of the detailed sharp piercing prongs of negative memories happy thoughts become reduced to feelings.  I can’t remember holding my cat for the first time, hugging a friend I haven’t seen forever, the first kiss from a person I adore, winning a competition….they drift, they fade only warm pretty shadows remain in their place.

The memory of my wedding day is now traumatic but still beautiful in my mind, so like the crazy nuanced event it has become, it is now a hybrid of negative crystal clear clarity and blurred fuzzy happiness.   The one image that keeps coming back is the walk down the aisle.  I used to have PTSD style flashbacks of the very event.  I would be sitting on the train or reading a book and for no reason it would flash into my brain as clear as it was actually happening.  The cathedral, with his family on one side and mine on the other, the organ music, with all of these faces turned towards me.  It was so overwhelming, all I could do to get through the ritual was to focus on my soon to-be husband and move closer and closer to him and the rest of my life.  I knew that if I turned to look at people on either side I would start crying and I didn’t want to cry on my wedding day so I kept focusing on the task at hand and that was to get down the aisle without shedding a tear.  My husband was now my new family, the scars and damage from my old one were over and I had chosen this new man to start over and help wipe away the darkness and pain of the past.

Since my divorce, I have had recurring nightmares of being outside of my body trying to run up to myself in the moments while screaming

“Don’t do it, don’t do it, don’t do it”

The sound of my screams echoing through the great hall of marble, but no one looks up, no one even flinches and I still just keep moving forward.   Nothing I can do can stop me, it is like looking at ghosts re-enacting the same scene in a play over and over.

I hate it when people say,

“Well at least your husband was just gay, it could have been a lot worse”

Or anything to the effect of that I have somehow had it easier than a typical divorced person.

I guess in some ways I have, in that the end was so absolute.  There was no reason to second guess why I was leaving my husband, no amount of couples counseling, no amount of therapy or listening skills that would have made anything better, no horrible act of betrayal that I would regret for ending everything.  But on the downside I felt cheated.  I got cheated at a chance at a normal marriage, with a man of the same sexual orientation who loved me like a man is meant to love a woman, in mind, heart and body.

I was cheated of the chance of having children and being a mother.  I know I _might_still have time left, but dating at age 38 is difficult as half of the eligible men already have children and don’t want more.   And in my current state I couldn’t afford to raise a child on my own, as I can barely take care of myself.  There are times on the subway or in the park that even the sight of a young mother with her child will send me spiraling.  Suddenly tears come from nowhere and I can’t make them stop.  Why is she so lucky to have the one thing that I will never get to experience?  I am constantly told that I shouldn’t give up hope but I haven’t been able to sustain a relationship for any length of time and every other man who I find compatible is already a father and doesn’t want more children.  I had to end therapy because literally every single session was the same conflict, the same fear, the same resentment over probably losing the chance to be a parent.   When my therapist suggested I go back on medication, and then tried to get me to justify what I consider a fairly innate human desire to procreate I couldn’t take it anymore and ceased the sessions.

I was cheated of the dream that everyone has when they get married, that despite the obstacles in life and arguments, fights, and petty annoyances I no longer have a partner for life.  I was cheated on the intimacy of an adult human sexual relationship.  It seemed normal at first but it quickly became dysfunctional but because I loved my husband I stuck it out, and now I beat myself up for not leaving sooner.

So over two years have passed, but I am still not right.  I am still not healed and I don’t know if I ever will be.  I am suspicious of every man I meet, and I trust no one, it is so debilitating that I actually stick around in relationships that aren’t fully formed, that aren’t as scary, that aren’t as real…I am scared to have a real one.

But my shattered life has in some ways made me stronger, like a piece of metal cracked and then welded back together, or a bone broken and then reset.  I am no longer the same shape, my insides, my skeleton is not the same, and I don’t react to pain the same way.  I am far more empathetic to another person’s pain especially anyone divorced.  I feel deeply for them, and I cut them a lot of slack for self-destructive behavior or lashing out at themselves or others.  I know they are in a ton of pain and that most of their actions are not directed at me or anyone, but instead directed at the emptiness inside of them.  I have also learned that I have to heal myself before allowing anyone else in.  I no longer have my husband to unload my emotional baggage on.  And friends get tired when I repeatedly do it to them, so I am now forced to deal with it on my own, with just my broken heart and damaged soul to mend myself.  These things have definitely made me a better friend and a better person, but the lack of trust and emotional scars have made me more skittish and more apprehensive about letting anyone new in.   I have become damaged goods complete with certain memories playing repeatedly in my mind.  Hopefully I will one day be able to replace the photo sharp negative ones with more blurry happy thoughts.  But until then, I try to ride the nightmare of the memory of walking to my new life of fraud, deception and loss.  Two years ago I was pushed off a cliff and I survived, now I just need to figure out how to pick of the pieces and start climbing again.