We were in the van, moving the last of his stuff to my place. I'd never lived with anyone I'd dated before. It had been a whirlwind, which, in retrospect, means, well, absolutely nothing. When we met, I was dating a Republican who was perhaps the nicest guy I'd ever dated--we just about niced each other to death. Deep down, we both knew it wasn't going anywhere, and when I pointed this out, he was so relieved that I'd finally called Time of Death that we both laughed before parting ways.
On Valentine's Day, I was at the theatre with a group of friends, Adam included, and all of a sudden I just knew that I adored him. We'd been teaching Shakespeare in the public schools for about six months--I was Juliet, he was my dad. He was a natural with the kids, had a great sense of humor, and a fierce understanding of classical theatre. Before I knew it, I was giving him a ride home and he was asking me to move to Vermont, have kids, and start a theatre.
I don't know why I believed it, but I needed it. And I loved loving someone. He let me love him! And he loved me back! He delighted me and I was filled with the joy of doing things for him and his exceedingly hairy back. He offered to wax, but I said I didn't care about the fur because he was All Mine, and also because I knew he didn't mean it. He had struggled with depression, too, so he wasn't overwhelmed by my struggles. When I told him about my parents, he told me, "I will always take your side."
This was a whole new game.
I met his family; he met my mother. He and my father spoke on the phone, but he was waiting to propose until they spoke face-to-face. An engagement party was in the works, and we had moved almost all of his belongings into my apartment. We were in a borrowed van, on the final trip from his place to mine.
"You know I'm a big believer in honesty. And I just wanna be honest with you, that there's someone else who I think is The One. Someone I knew in college who I felt an instant connection with. And even though I didn't feel that with you right away, my feelings have grown, and I have feelings now."
"Someone you dated?"
"No. She was a lesbian. The minute I laid eyes on her I felt this instant connection."
"Do you, I mean...what are you saying?"
"I just wanna be honest with you."
I didn't know how to respond, so we unloaded his stuff, and I went to cat-sit overnight for a friend. What he had said festered, so I called him from the air mattress where I was not sleeping at all.
"In the interest of being totally honest back, I have a problem with what you told me today. What'd you think that'd accomplish?"I had no idea that love could be killed in an instant.
"I'm sorry. I just thought it was important not to have any secrets. Tell you what. I can call her--I mean, I can't call her now because it's 2am, but I can call her in the morning--and if she's not interested, you and I can still move forward."
All of a sudden, the fact that he couldn't pay his share of the rent, the fact that he wouldn't put his stuff away in the apartment, the fact that he snored, the fact that I was super organized and did things for him that he couldn't do for himself, all of a sudden that didn't feel okay anymore.
So I did what I did when I needed a sounding board. I turned to my trusted friends, the people who knew me better than anyone else, and who also cared enough to not pull any punches.
I didn't need my blog readers to tell me my feelings were right or wrong, but I did need their reactions in order to gauge my own. I had learned to question my emotional responses to big events, because they were modeled on some fairly histrionic behavior. At the same time, I had an opposing tendency to discount my feelings completely, so I really had no True North on my pocket compass of healthy responses.
I laid it out. The whole story. Folks had been so excited for us both up until now. I wondered if the marrieds would tell me I was overreacting. I wondered if the men would take his side.
Every single reader said some variation of "Evacuate."
This was hard to hear. I wasn't yet healthy enough to parse apart why what Adam had said was so incredibly messed up. And I loved him. It was hard not to defend him.
Now, I get the sense from people that I front pretty well. People who knew me while I was at the worst of my depression were surprised to later learn what I had been going through. One of the biggest contributing factors to my depression was the childhood isolation, so once I worked through some basic social anxiety, I discovered that when I was around people I generally had a good time. They had no idea that I was crying on the way there and on the way home, or that my nights were filled with a nameless terror, or that just breathing was often painful because it meant I was still alive, when I wished I weren't.
Countless were the nights where, after crying for hours with no end in sight, I'd finally power up the laptop--and the second I started to share what I felt on my blog, I'd calm down. I was connected. Meanwhile, I juggled multiple jobs, and I wrote and produced plays. I got up each day because the thought of not doing so was so seductive it terrified me. No one knew the extent to which I was suffering, and so no one treated me any differently, and I have to think that was actually more helpful than had people coddled me.
But I noticed that, after the break-up, everyone started treating me Very Gently. I was a shell. My mother even let me stay with her while he moved his stuff out. People called to check on me, but I had no words. What was there to say?
I was in this numb state when I went to visit my father in July. After a lifetime of estrangement, we had reconnected a few years earlier, after he became a born-again Christian. He had proposed to his third wife, but she had insisted that he make things right with me before she'd marry him. Whatever his motivation, I was happy to finally have him in my life.
But now, I felt like I was collapsing in on myself. My father didn't know what to do--we had no established language for the difficult stuff, no shared experience or common history as a touchstone to deal with something like this. So I spent the entire visit with his wife. We walked on the beach and I poured out everything to her. She'd been through her own trials--this was her third marriage as well--and while she was coming at the issue from a Christian perspective that I didn't completely share, I appreciated her frankness and patience.
The thing about being depressed is, it's like trying to live your life while a bear trap is clamped on your arm. You're bleeding and broken and can't climb a ladder, but after a while, you become somewhat inured to the pain, and can even function fairly well. How often do you climb ladders, anyway? But you can't ever really forget that you're lugging around this bear trap, and anyone who spends any amount of time with you becomes aware of it too, because every second of every day you're trying to figure out how to get rid of the damn thing. You want to fix it yourself, but you don't know how, and no one else, understandably, wants to come too close, because after all, they can't fix it either. It takes a sturdy person to befriend someone who's in constant emotional pain.
I burned through a lot of friends.
Occasionally someone would come into my life--usually a stranger--and I'd get a deeper understanding of the causes of my suffering because of something simple they'd say. Near the end of my visit, she and I were lying on the beach.
"Some people have a hard life, but I gotta say, you've really been dealt a rotten hand, Calla Lily."
"I get so confused. I don't know why it's so hard all the time when I have so much good going on."
"Yep. Both your parents were abused, neither knew their father, they had no support. You were moved around, your poor mother was struggling just to survive, she didn't have any time for you or even herself, and your father was going through his own thing far away. So where did that leave you? You didn't even have a chance."
The compassion she showed not just to me but to my parents was more than I had ever offered myself.
"I wonder...I wonder if maybe one of the reasons I keep finding myself in these relationships is partly because my father didn't have anything to do with me, and so somehow I had to make that okay in my head because I needed to believe he loved me anyway. So I learned to love without getting anything back. And that's why I'm grateful for crumbs. Over and over."
"I think you're on to something."
Back in the house, my father had decided what I needed was a little curse-breaking. The Devil had a hold of me, and he had to be banished.
Now, I had not been raised going to church. My mother's mother was a Jehovah's Witness, and that had turned her off so much that she became interested in Tarot and reincarnation. I had grown up being trotted around to psychic healers my whole life, so I had an open mind. When Dad brought out a Bible and a bottle of holy water, I thought, What harm can it do? It was clear he was trying to help me. In retrospect, I wonder if he'd known all along what I'd just figured out on the beach. Was this his way of trying to undo the damage?
As we all sat there, heads bowed, holding hands, I wished that the curse-breaking would work, that it really would be that simple to erase my depression. When it came time for me to say something, to ask for divine intervention, I muttered a few feeble words and tried to believe.
Little did I know that the worst was yet to come. That in September, I'd head to the MacDowell Colony to write, sleep, and cry for a month. That in October, I'd lose 18 pounds in 3 weeks from the depression. That finally in January I'd get help and find out that I had Major Depressive Disorder, Baseline Disthymia, Passive Suicidal Ideation, and symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. That most likely I'd been suffering from these things since childhood. Since my dad left. When I was almost four.
I had done a lot of work on myself before, but this round would take two years before I was out of the woods, re-wired and armed with new skills to manage the self-destructive habits of my brain. Two years of hard work, day by day, breath by breath. No meds, because I knew in my gut that what was needed was aggressive pruning of my belief system. Things had started off wrong, and it was up to me to unplug from everything I had known. With the help of good old-fashioned talk therapy, I came to learn how normal I really was.
Some conversations you remember. Others you deliberately forget.