Hello everyone and happy Wednesday, wherever you are in the world! Today I’m continuing to share with you my personal struggle with mental illness–and triumph over it–in the blog series called A Light in Darkness.
What is A Light in Darkness all about? It’s where I share the highs and lows, the tears and scars, and the joy and spark and love that has ultimately gotten me to this wonderful point of my life. My path, my beautiful life. I hope that by telling my story, I can inspire others to keep going with their lives and feel wonderful.
I am by NO means a trained counsellor. I cannot offer you professional advice. I do hope that my words help, and it will be wonderful if they do. My only training comes from life itself, and I’m still learning! You can read my first posts in the series here.
Today’s topic is a bit of a tough one for me. It’s about divorce and finding oneself again after an emotionally and mentally codependent marriage ends.
Divorce used to always be a non-negotiable topic for me. I felt disappointed whenever I saw couples divorce, and I’d shake my young head and smugly smile to myself and say that would never happen to me because I was better than them and I would work on my problems instead of running away from them. As a child and teenager, I’d look at divorced people and think about how sad their lives had to be, and how HORRIBLE it was if they showed great joy at being freed from a loveless or otherwise dead marriage.
“Nope, nope, nope,” I’d say, crouching on my very tall pedestal and glaring down at everyone who I thought was beneath me. “I’m getting married for LIFE, no matter what!”
Yes, I actually thought those things. I was pretty cocky.
Now, wanting to be married to the same person for life is not an ignoble thing to aspire to. But you really need to know what you’re getting into, and you need to go into it with a clear head and after having lots and lots and lots of intense talks with your significant other. Of course you want to work through your problems and get counseling if need be, and not disappear as soon as the waters start looking choppy.
But when you marry someone for the wrong reasons and your mental health deeply suffers for it, then why would you force yourself to stay?
I had been desperately clinging to my now ex-husband as a way to get out of my severely isolated life in Virginia, and I saw him as my only possible salvation. To be able to really live in Canada, we had to get married and apply for spousal permanent residence. We married eight months after I first arrived in the country. And before I married, I felt like I had no identity at all. I couldn’t find it. So I thought being someone’s wife would give me an identity and give me some purpose in life.
And despite that some really bad things happened before and during our marriage (and yes, I did know about these things before we got married, but I figured marrying him would stop it in some magical way), I was determined to forgive him and make things work. Even though he wouldn’t talk about our issues or the things he’d done to me, would deny them, or just completely shut down. I tried very hard to not be the kind of person who tried to change him, or nag him, or become the so-called “typical” kind of wife I sneered at and reviled. I tried my best to only uplift, encourage, and support. I kept my communication lines open all the time. I blamed myself for the things he did, the things he wouldn’t do, for how he shouted at me when I had panic attacks in public.
I shouldered the entirety of our marriage for its brief existence before it fizzled and died.
I was absolutely miserable.
My depression deepened to such severity that I couldn’t get out of bed some days.
But I didn’t want to leave him because I’d been with him for so long. And I didn’t personally believe in divorce. I felt like as long as I was married, I was okay. I was safe, secure, and someone to somebody. I never left the house without my wedding ring because I felt like people looked at me and thought “Wow, she’s not married. She’s a useless nobody!” because that’s how I felt about myself. Our mutual friends almost never saw us separate from each other because I felt like I couldn’t exist without his presence.
So I ignored everything my heart and mind was telling me. I continued being arrogant and stubborn. I continued to tell myself that I loved him when I didn’t. We got along well, but on a friendship level. I kept hanging on, feeling increasingly lonely and depressed. I went on medication, but soon began to feel suicidal thoughts on a daily basis.
Sometimes holding on does far more damage than letting go.
When I began to open my eyes and feel breaths of clear air move through the stagnant, hurting parts of me, I was so afraid. Like, bloody TERRIFIED. How could I keep living? How could I just up and leave my husband? I wanted to die. I struggled with my morals, my decisions, my mistakes and my incredible unhappiness.
I knew it would do neither of us justice for me to stay.
The day I left was one of the scariest days of my life. I felt like I’d been suddenly thrust, naked, into blinding cold sunlight. I felt like I was nothing without my husband.
But then, slowly, I gathered my strength up. A tiny green sprout of happiness, self-awareness, confidence, and the identity I never knew I had began to grow. It was so fragile. One frost, one hard gust of wind, or too much sun or too much rain could destroy it at a moment’s notice. I was tightly wrapped in the joined, loving embrace of Liat, Alora, and Jon.
My doctor was still unwilling to listen to me to get me a therapist, so I tried more cognitive behavioural therapy and lots and lots AND LOTS of reading. I journaled a lot. Got out in the sun and wind a lot. Talked and talked to people who had been there. Lost myself in therapeutic art and writing, even if it was to just deliriously scribble on paper for ten minutes. Cried a lot, struggled, but wrapped myself in my tight golden support network. I lived without my husband, moved without him, laughed without him, and I saw who I really was. The woman named Mary slowly emerged from that fragile seedling, growing whole and beautiful.
I was me. With my own glorious identity.
Soon enough, I was with my twin flame, the one I knew I was supposed to be with to begin with. He celebrated my identity, lifted it up, helped me polish and repair all the cracked and dirty facets of my being until they shone brightly. He helped me see what it was like to be loved, respected, happy… And my mind and heart flourished.
Being in a relationship with someone shouldn’t really be how you build your identity and your personal happiness. Of course they should be part of that happiness, but they can’t heal your mental health with a sparkly sweep of their hand. However, they should be willing to stick with you, support you, uplift you, and share the load of your relationship so one of you isn’t doing it alone like I was in my marriage. And they definitely shouldn’t be making you depressed and anxious to the point of becoming suicidal.
Of course there are arguments, times of upset and upheaval, misunderstandings, and tears shed. My decreased mental health compounds things sometimes. But I’m more aware of it now and making small improvements all the time, and my love is one hell of a man. We’re great communicators. This relationship still moves fluidly and doesn’t sit, stagnant, with only one partner invested in it.
I think that if I didn’t have the experience of that relationship and that marriage, I wouldn’t have the wisdom I have now, or be able to truly appreciate the beauty of my current relationship. And I feel incredibly lucky to have the partner I have.
Two weeks ago, on a chilly and rainy afternoon, I met up with my ex-husband to go sign the last of our joint divorce paperwork before it was sent to the court for its 2-3 months’ processing. It’s an incredibly simple procedure when we have no children and no property or possessions to dispute over. And that’s when I felt even more like me, an individual, a grown and confident woman. I looked at my ex-husband as we chatted amicably, and I felt a twist in my heart because I knew I should have never stayed where I was for so long. And it’s not like he enjoyed me leaving him, either.
Late that night, I wrote him a gratitude letter thanking him for all these experiences in Canada, and for causing me to learn and evolve. I thanked him for good times and for bad. Even if we should have never gotten married, I still wouldn’t be who I am today without that experience, without all that important learning in my life.
I felt a great healing closure after that.
And I continue to heal, knowing I made the right decision, and I’ve been so happy in my life and with one hell of an awesome, ever-growing relationship.
Do you have any experiences you want to share? How did you find yourself after a long-term relationship or marriage ended and how did it affect your mental health?