Taking the Plunge Part V: Sadness and Living

Where to start. I just turned 33. I feel kind of old. I have a knee injury from playing ultimate frisbee. I live in Portland, OR, and bought a house. I saw the total solar eclipse and it was the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen (Chile/Argentina 2019 anyone??). I’ve been exploring parts of myself I haven’t explored much before. Sadness, mostly.

I just read through a lot of my old blog posts. I used to do this thing where I’d write an update on my life (Pt. 1, Pt. 2, Pt. 3, Pt. 3.5, Pt. 4), so I guess this is kind of like a continuation of that. But also kind of a different one. Because here’s the thing: I don’t really write anymore. Or rather, I haven’t written anything much for a long time. I like the things I used to write. But I only made one blog post in all of 2016. I had a few earlier this year, mostly about how I’m scared/curious about robots and economics. Very forced. Nothing about my feelings, except that short, cryptic thing about wolves. I also don’t do most of those things I wrote about being energized by in those previous posts: art, music, running (I hurt my knee), yoga (maybe once a week).

I want to get into that in this post. I’m probably going to be a little more long-winded and honest than is comfortable (Hi Mom!), but hey, if there can’t be a little honesty on the internet, what’s the point? (I’m also not going to touch on how fucked up and crazy the world and our country have been through the last year, and how awful some those things have been for so long, and especially with Harvey happening right now, but those have all affected me deeply through this process.)

I haven’t been writing, or doing those other things, because I’ve been deeply sad and hurt for a long time. It’s hard to say that. Or write it, I guess, but imagine I’m saying it. I would maybe consider saying that I’ve been depressed, but I don’t want to use a word that might belittle other people’s experiences. But I have been utterly, completely sad. I’m starting to understand it better now, and I feel like writing about it might help. And that maybe the things I’ve learned so far might resound with you, kind reader.

The catalyst for my sadness was a relationship that fell apart, repeatedly and painfully. I was sad in the relationship. I was sad when we were apart, and when we were back together. We dated for about two years, we had high highs, low lows. It was the kind of relationship that made me think about kids and family, but also there was something weird and off, and I was still sad, and then she broke things off for good a few months ago. And since then I’ve been heart-broken, a stronger word for the kind of sad I’ve been feeling, but slowly I’ve also become more understanding. I’ve cried more in the last six months than in the rest of my post-infant life combined. That has been terrible and wonderful and devastating and healing.

Some of the sadness has been acute: curling up in a ball, wailing (Men, I highly recommend you try some more wailing. It’s been trained out of us, but is the best), breaking down in front of friends or by myself or in public. Some of the sadness has been slow, lingering: feeling uninspired, bored, unmotivated, tired, unattractive. Sometimes I’ve felt like I’ve begun to rebuild my sense of self and wellbeing, and something will happen, or I’ll hear something, or I’ll see her, or nothing will happen, and it will be gone. My Lego castle of health and okay-ness will be overturned by some tantrum, the pieces scattered around the room and all the different thematic sets mixed together. I’ve begun to learn that sadness is not a bad thing, but it is a hard thing.

Part of the reason, I think, that this break up has been so hard for me, is that it has brought me so close to some of my deepest, most primal wounds. The first one I knew about, at least in some vague intellectual way: abandonment. My dad died when I was young, and this wound will always be with me. It is the kind that doesn’t fully heal but that I will slowly learn to have as part of me, I think. I don’t mind being alone (actually, I need it a lot), but I hate being left behind, or ignored, or excluded. Those things are going to continue to happen throughout my life, and now I’m realizing I need to learn what that feels like and how to be okay when it does happen. And to not try so hard to bend situations to my own liking in order to avoid having to feel that. I do this a lot, and it makes things worse over time.

The other one, which I’m only starting to have a grasp on, is feeling misunderstood. I hate it when I feel like people don’t get me, or that I’m not heard, or can’t express myself. But I also have this story I tell myself, that I’ve told myself for most of my life, that I’m complicated and hard to understand. I do things to perpetuate this story, even though it hurts me. And I’ve recently been playing with this idea that part of what drew me into this relationship in the first place (and why it’s been so painful to be out of touch since the breakup, unable to explain myself to her) was that I felt misunderstood and unheard by her, and that the relationship helped me keep this story alive. The truth is, I’m not that complicated or enigmatic. I’m smart and thoughtful and capable, and sometimes I don’t clearly vocalize my intentions or feelings, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done. And lots of people are like this. I can learn to say what I need to say.

The sadness, the heart-break lingers, and I keep reminding myself of a few things. I’m not the only one who has felt this way. The fact that I can feel this way means my humanity works: I am capable of love. Time will help me heal, even though it’s already been so much longer than I feel is reasonable, and even though she seems to have gotten through it so much faster. Everybody is different, and this is my path. And I was sad when we were together, too.

These last two seem important, because they both point to this important thing. I am responsible for my own life. In retrospect, I can see that our relationship was destructive for me. I don’t mean to put blame on my ex-partner — she is a wonderful human and has her own path. But together we created this thing that allowed me to break myself down, to forget who I am, to fall apart. I feel less comfortable and confident and creative in my life than I did three years ago. I feel diminished. But this is something I had to learn. I’m in a hard spot, but I’m beginning to realize that I will be more compassionate, whole, and wise with the experience than without it.

The moments of calm and clarity are beginning to spring up closer together and stay for longer, even though I am occasionally (often) derailed. And this is a big part of why I say “sad” and hesitate with “depressed”: I do feel like I’m growing and, little by little, living more fully. I am realizing that feeling diminished now will allow me to thrive more deeply and thoroughly in the future. I will be more ready for future relationships. And I am slowly discovering myself again. All these threads of sadness and anger and confusion from my ex and from the relationship lead back to me. They are my things do deal with and learn from, not anyone else’s.

I am responsible for creating purpose in my own life.

I am responsible for how I interpret my experience of the world.

I am responsible for learning about myself, especially about the difficult parts.

I am responsible for how I express those difficult things in the world.

I am responsible for feeling my feelings.

Most importantly, I have loving friends and family who want to help me do all those things.

So, thank you, and I love you, and I’m sorry, and please forgive me, and thank you again.

And now I’m crying at a coffee shop again, but in a good way.

2 replies
  1. christine graham says:

    Max , I hope you do not feel that people have not read this and been deeply affected by it, just because there might not be comments. This is so hard to respond to, it will take time. At the very least, the first comment can be to send you love, much much love. mom

  2. Mom's Mike says:

    Well thought, well felt and well said. The only brief comment I’d add, especially to “I am” #1, #2 and #3 is this. Whatever your view of your “purpose in life”, your framework for “interpretation of experience” and your model of your “self”, expect them to shift over time. This is not because you’ve been wrong. It’s because you’ll keep re-seeing these conclusions in better light, kind of like more wavelengths from more years (a little physics metaphor for you…).
    At least that’s how it seems 9 days short of 74 years.
    With admiration and affection,

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