Tuesday, December 23, 2014

2014 - The Worst and Best Year of My Life

2014 has been a hell of a year.  By that I mean much of it was Hell.  I began the year realizing that my marriage was falling apart.  It didn't come as a surprise to me even though it did.  There had been problems in our relationship from the very beginning:  issues with trust, with emotional support, with the fundamentals of our personalities.  In truth we just weren't particularly compatible, but force of habit and a daughter and a house later had convinced me that all was well, or at least that it was worth preserving.  Part of the reason I clung so desperately onto this sinking ship was my own cultural perceptions, my own personal feelings about what a relationship was "supposed" to be.  Divorce, like abortion, certainly should be allowed, but it was something OTHER people did.  I had a vision of what my life was supposed to be: married, in a house, with a kid, going to PTA meetings, going on family vacations, buying a mini van, getting a dog and maybe another cat for good measure.  It was a version of a life that my parents lead, my parents who had been married for over 40 years.  It was the life of sitcom families and my friends.  Heck, most of my friends were already on their second kid.  10 years ago I never thought that I would live that kind of life.  10 years ago I was telling my mom that I didn't think I would ever get married, that I didn't think I would ever have children.  Then I met my ex and some kind of switch turned on.  All those things that I never thought I wanted before suddenly became so important.  After the birth of my daughter, this became even more true.  The notion of motherhood of what a mother should be or what a mother should do became so important to me.  I wanted to be the kind of mother that MY mother was to me.  I wanted to be the kind of mother who made Seders and planned birthdays and drove to softball practice, who was room mother or den mother or on the committee.  Even as I knew that my marriage was ultimately damaging to me psychologically, I was so terrified with the idea of being a SINGLE MOM that I tried to stave off the inevitable, convincing myself that all was well, that it was ok, that it was just a rough patch.

And then the hammer dropped in April and my husband of nearly 6 years asked me for a divorce.  In many ways, MANY many ways, I am glad he did.  I am glad he did because I would never have done it.  I was so afraid of what the future would be like alone, so convinced that people were just supposed to stay married even if they were unhappy for the sake of the kids, so unsure of my ability to find somebody new, so worried about how it would affect our daughter, so concerned about the financial impact on my life, that I may have remained married to him for years, perpetually unhappy, convinced that I really was.  How could I have been so convinced I was happy even though I wasn't?  Because before I met him I was clinically depressed.  I was on medication for depression and anxiety off and on for years.  The depression began in middle school with the constant bullying I suffered at the hands of my peers, and continued through college.  I had my friends and tried to get out some, but the deep seated unhappiness just wouldn't go away.  Sure I had fun and I went out, but in my heart I was just defeated.  After I graduated, I moved back home for a time, but most of my friends from high school weren't really my friends anymore and then just 6 months later I moved to San Jose for grad school, a town where I knew exactly nobody.  I was older and I wasn't living in a dorm and I didn't have all these crutches to make friends, and I was miserable.  There was a time when I first moved to San Jose, when I was living with this horrible roommate, that I barely left the house.  I felt perpetually self conscious about my body, perpetually down on myself because I had had quite a number of "hook ups" but nobody who had even asked me out on a proper date in years.  It was horrible. And then it slowly got better.  Here I stood 8.5 years later and I didn't feel that way anymore.  For the first time in my life I could look at myself in the mirror and see my squishy bits and not stress about them, I was in a job that didn't particularly pay me very well, but where I felt like I was making a real difference, I still didn't have too many friends but I enjoyed going out with them.  I wasn't clinically depressed.  Stressed?  Yes.  I was constantly stressed.  I was in a relationship where I didn't feel like I was being valued, where I didn't feel like my partner truly understood or supported me.  But I wasn't depressed anymore!!  It was better!!  It had been such a long time, long past my shitty brain could remember, that I had felt "good" that "not wanting to die," "not feeling like the weight of the world was crushing me and wanting to crawl into a little ball in a cave somewhere," felt fantastic!  I didn't feel good.  I felt like crap.  But feeling like crap sure as hell felt a lot better than "HORRIBLE." I would have continued to feel like crap for years because it felt better than what had come before.

When he told me he wanted the divorce I was angry.  Angry and terrified and sad.  I was angry at all the reasons that had driven us apart in the first place, angry at the life I could have lead.  For financial reasons and because I wasn't sure what the custody situation would be, I remained in our home for 3 months after we legally separated, living in the guest room in this sort of miserable limbo, uncertain how I could manage things financially, uncertain what the future would hold, festering in anger and resentment. Why HE didn't move into another room or move out, are arguments I have long since lost patience for, but which consumed my every waking moment for much of the summer.  In July I found an apartment and at the end of the month I moved out, and the custody was decided, and that was that.  And remarkably I discovered, quite surprisingly, that I could do it.  Once it was done and it had happened and there was nothing to be done for it, I realized that in truth it was the best thing that had ever happened to me.  For the first time in my life I was standing on my own two feet.  For the first time in my life I truly appreciated what I could do on my own, I realized the kind of person I could be.  For the first time in my life I could go out with people and hook up with people and not feel dirty or slutty but comfortable and confident in my sexuality.  For the first time in my life I realized the person I could be all along.

Here I stand today at the end of a year that has really tested me.  But at the end of the day it was for the best.  Because I say with no shame of seeming too boastful or self aggrandizing that I am a better person than I was this time last year.  I have gone from a person who was consumed with "shoulds" and "could haves" to someone who genuinely looks forward to the uncertainties.  I have gone from a person who felt she had to hide what she was thinking to make the peace or smooth things over to someone who has no qualms about being honest.  My bullshit tolerance has decreased considerably. I'm not as worried as I was even a month ago, and the worries decrease every day.  Not because the problems are going away but because I realize that they could be so much worse.  I have had friends this year who have had miscarriages, friends who have had medical problems, friends who have lost jobs, friends who have lost family members and friends.  I have lost my marriage.  I have lost the person I was closest to. I have lost the life I thought I was going to lead, the path I thought I was going on.  It seems like so much.  And yet... I'm happy.  I can say without equivocation that I am happy.  Not because my life is just the way I want it, not because I have everything, not because things are financially stable or comfortable, not because I have a significant other, not because I have a shiny new car or a shiny new life but because I'm happy.  Because I just am.  Because I feel happiness inside of me.  I used to think that things MADE you happy, whether they were people or something else you could hold or touch, or even things intangible.  Now I realize that nothing will "make" you happy, that happiness really is just a state of mind, as sappy and new-agey and bullshitty as that sounds. This happiness has been so strange and new and wonderful that a few months ago I even called my friend Dan and asked him if maybe I was manic, if maybe this happiness was just some illusion.  But it isn't.  This happiness is different than the kind of joy that you feel on your birthday with friends, or going to Disneyland, or high on a drug.  It is a happiness inside of me, a peace inside of me, a comfort I can't really describe. 

Another strange thing has happened to me along the way:  I have become more accepting, more understanding, as I have become happier. I'm accepting of my ex, of the way he is.  I'm not angry anymore.  He is the way he is and I am the way I am and I have just accepted that in a way that is profoundly relaxing and comforting.  Holding so much anger wasn't healthy for me.  Besides, what is the point of being angry, what good does it do?  Now I can direct my anger and frustration at the things that really matter: at injustices in the world, at things we can change, at our society in general.  I have tried to be more open this year, less judgmental.  Before I began shopping at the 99c store I used to subconsciously judge people who shopped at the 99c store.  Before I knew what it was to get into debt just to pay the bills each month, I used to judge people who were living outside their means.  Now I don't judge.  People get by the way they get by. I am not in poverty, not by any stretch of the imagination, but my change in financial circumstances has humbled me that's for damn sure.  And an odd thing is that I have given more to charity these past 6 months than I ever did before, which is not a humblebrag, just a statement of fact.  Even though I have less, I want to give more.  I had taken my life for granted before.  I was so consumed with my own dramas that it was impossible for me to look outside.  Now I see how easy it is for a life to change, how fast your life can go from something seemingly certain and steady, to something scary and unknown.  And I want to do more.  I want to give more.  I want to be more.  I want to try.

I'm still frustrated with things: I'm not sure where my career is going, I would love to sign up and take a class but I don't know how I would be able to given my custody and work schedules, I still don't have that many friends in the area and I'm not sure how to meet people (other than the folks I meet up with from dating sites).  And I still get sad: I got really sad in Orlando with my parents for a time because I realized it was the first family trip I had been on in 8 years without a major part of my family, there are still moments when I wake up to an empty apartment when my daughter is at her dad's that I feel lonely, there are times when I look at the happy families together at the library or at temple or just on the street and I miss the kind of family I had before.  But there is a difference now.  The difference now is that I like who I am.  The difference now is everybody feels sad or frustrated or challenged or angry sometimes and that's ok.  It will be ok.  That used to be a thing me and my ex would argue about.  I would be stressed and sad and overwhelmed and I would want him to just hold me and tell me everything was going to be ok and he wouldn't.  And I would get angry.  Because I NEEDED him to tell me it was going to be ok, because I was depending on him. And he should have, because that's just something that people do when they care about each other, but he's not that kind of person and that's just who he is, and that's ok too (as long as I don't have to be in a relationship with him). Now that I don't have anyone to tell it to me, now that I only have myself to lean on, I've learned to tell MYSELF that it will all be ok.  And it will.  Everything will be ok, as long as you have an open interpretation as to what "ok" means.  Ok to me means that I have a fantastic, bright, wonderful, remarkable daughter, I have parents who are supportive and loving and generous, I have friends who care about me, I have a cat who cuddles me even though he occasionally poops on the couch, I have a job that is rewarding even though it doesn't pay me particularly well, I have a new Star Wars movie and a Captain Marvel movie and a new season of Game of Thrones and a new book by Patrick Rothfuss that will come out some day, I have Comic Con to look forward to, I have all the places in the world I've never visited to see, I have books to read and places to go... I have living to do.  And I'm happy.  I'm happy to be given the opportunity to live.

So goodbye 2014.  You have been a bitch of a year.  There is so much pain and suffering and anger and fear and terrible things in this world, so many things that have happened that I could linger on, that could defeat me.  But I will not be defeated.  Because I am strong.  I am stronger than even I knew just 6 months ago.  I can do this.  So come on, 2015, give me your best shot. 

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