Tag Archives: Sad

When One Becomes Two

(Image by Nora Whalen.)

(Image by Nora Whalen.)

Ali asks:

You talk about the bottom being pulled out from under you a lot and how to move forward – I’m wondering if you think ur ex felt the same way? Like she tried and tried to get through to you and eventually made the decision to leave. I am the one who initiated the divorce from my husband, and I felt like you describe, but was still in the relationship trying to save it when I felt that way… Just wondering if you thought about that? I felt depressed, alone, experienced the deafening quiet, etc. that you discuss, but my husband was still in the house. Think both partners feel that devastation just at different times? I read your posts and I feel bad for my soon to be ex, and then I remember that I felt that way too, just years ago… When he’s probably feeling it now… Not trying to criticize, just wondering if u think she felt how you felt as well? I started reading ur blog from the beginning, and am up to Sept 2014, so forgive me if u discussed this already. I’ve been finding your writing really helpful in this horrible process. Especially the shitty husband posts – at least now my family somewhat understands why I made this decision, because they are hugely unsupportive of me…

Yes.

I don’t think. I know. Long before I bothered trying to save my marriage, my wife was trying. Her only crime was not knowing how to effectively communicate with me. But, make no mistake, she was the better spouse for many years.

Maybe I was the worst kind of husband. Because I didn’t do that one big thing that totally ruins everything. And I’m nice enough and smart enough where one might have believed I was close to figuring it out.

But I never did.

Not really bad enough to leave. Not really good enough to love. Maybe she felt that way for a long time. I can’t be sure. But I can imagine it must have been hard being that half of the marriage. The one where you feel like you’re the only one giving a shit.

Because, yeah. It flip-flopped at the end. It’s so much harder being the one who cares the most.

The Me-First Only Child

I was an only child.

I have a couple stepsisters I only saw part of the year starting around age 7, and a “half” sister (I don’t like calling her that) who was born when I was 14.

For the purposes of personality and birth-order traits, I’m an only.

And I think that’s fine. Being an only child has its perks, but the older I get, the more I’m realizing how much my only child upbringing may have contributed to my marriage ending.

Here’s the thing: I spent my life having people tell me what to do all the time. My parents. My teachers. My coaches. And I had my bosses at work.

Once I became an adult, it became very important to me to feel liberated. To feel like I didn’t have someone telling me what to do anymore.

So, if I felt like playing online poker, or watching a football game, that’s what I did.

Sometimes, wives want husbands to participate in an activity, or to help with a project that we don’t feel like doing.

Sometimes, I’d fight. Because I don’t want to! AND. You’re not telling me what to do!

I made it a fight. She was going to learn, dammit! No one tells me what to do.

There’s not a lot of room for “I” and “me” in marriage.

There’s you. And there’s the other person. Two distinct identities. Two independent units. And when you’re single, that’s totally fine. Individualism is a nice thing.

Marriage is a union. Like a business merger. When XM and Sirius combined their satellite radio businesses, it was a lot like a marriage. It wasn’t an acquisition, where two companies continued to operate independent of one another. The two combined. Joined forces. Shared resources. And ceased to be just XM or just Sirius. They became something entirely new.

I thought marriage was two individuals agreeing to live together and share resources.

It took me a long time and a separation to realize how mistaken I was.

In marriage, X + Y ≠ XY. Not if you want it to work. If you want it to work, then: X + Y = Z. Something entirely new and different. (Let the record show that the second algebra equation here is incorrect math, but an effective visual aid. I beg your forgiveness.)

It’s We. It’s Us.

Sometimes young people don’t know that. They just think getting married is something you do in the relative near future after high school because that’s what they see everyone else doing.

We’re selfish, by nature. And it’s hard making that adjustment. And a marriage won’t survive without making the adjustment.

My wife spent about a year asking me to help her repaint the concrete floor that makes up half of our basement—the unfinished utility room with laundry and storage and a deep freezer.

No one but us ever went in there. I could not have cared less that the floor needed painted. So every time my wife asked me to make time on a weekend to help her get it done, I’d always find something better to do.

Always.

After many months of letting her frustration build, she just did it herself. The room looked so much nicer when she was finished.

And she did it all herself. Didn’t need me at all.

There were too many moments like that throughout our marriage. It’s an apt metaphor considering how the story ended.

Ali asks:

I felt depressed, alone, experienced the deafening quiet, etc. that you discuss, but my husband was still in the house. Think both partners feel that devastation just at different times?

Yes.

Your husband left you alone in your marriage. Aside from the obvious like infidelity or violence, it’s the most-often cited reason women say they leave a marriage, and a husband’s most-often committed crime.

I left my wife alone in my marriage.

Because I let her paint the basement floor alone.

Because I’d go watch what I wanted in a separate room of the house without trying to engage her to do something together.

Because I’d sometimes decline invitations to go to bed because I was too busy doing something for myself.

Because I was a selfish, me-first only child who took more than 30 years to grow up. And I still have plenty more to do.

Yes, Ali. We both feel the same thing. You just feel it first. When you’re abandoned during the marriage. To the outside world, everything’s fine. He doesn’t cheat or hit you or drink too much or gamble all your money away. He’s nice, so your friends and family don’t understand.

But you can’t take it. And you know you’re not crazy, but no one is validating all of these things that are crushing you.

The marriage train runs out of steam and stops dead on the tracks because one person can only shovel coal into the furnace for so long. If he’d been helping the entire time or started shoveling as you were winding down to keep the pace, the train would have kept moving. But he’d abandoned the job a long time ago. So when you did, too? It was over.

Because a marriage isn’t two separate things. It’s one thing made up of two things mixed together.

I didn’t get it. I was selfish. And I poisoned the one thing I was supposed to be an integral part of.

You see, Ali, we didn’t know what abandonment felt like until you chose to leave.

We never understood that you were feeling that way. It’s excruciating, and now we get it.

Selfish. Dense. Stubborn. Oblivious. Lazy. We are.

And then everything breaks.

And then everyone dies just a little on the inside.

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The Saddest Place in the World

everything will be okay

If the pursuit of happiness is our most-important Earthly mission, my neighbors and I are doing it wrong.

According to the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, my decision to live in Ohio—along with the other 11.5 million people who choose to live here—makes me a stupid moron.

The Buckeye State is the No. 5 overall saddest state in the United States, according to the 2013 index, down a couple slots from the year before. Had Gallup interviewed me, we might have been even higher on the list.

Ohio has problems.

We’re among the leaders in teenage pregnancy. The weather—at least in the Great Lakes region—is cloudy and shitty an extraordinarily large amount of time. We’ve got a bunch of meth cookers and users. Old Rust Belt cities. Disappointing sports teams. A bunch of dipshits. Too much crime and poverty for a state that is supposed to be part of the Midwest—America’s heartland—full of gorgeous fields, picturesque farms, quaint little towns and villages, and some of the kindest people in the world.

A plethora of decent-sized cities like Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati, as well as mid-sized population centers like Toledo, Dayton, Akron and Youngstown have created this interesting blend of country-ish Midwest, and Rust Belt urban centers.

Everyone likes different things. Ohio is the No. 7 most-populated state in one of the world’s so-called superpower nations. So, it’s not some rinky dink shithole by any objective measure. But it has some rinky dink shithole pockmarks in it.

Lousy real-estate values. Sub-par employment numbers. And an overall lack of mental and physical health all converge to manufacture this sad state of affairs.

If you look for the sadness, you’ll find it.

You’ll see it on the worn-out faces of blue-collar workers at the pub. You’ll see it on the faces of people walking down the streets, pushing or pulling all their possessions in shopping carts or rolling luggage.

You’ll see it on the faces of stressed-out moms and dads trying to have a pleasant family meal at some casual dining chain restaurant.

A family trying to manufacture a good time, but both parents and all the kids wishing they were doing something else.

I think that’s because you can be sad even while doing something we think is supposed to be fun.

Good News!

The state rank thing is bullshit.

For two reasons.

Reason #1: Despite the researchers claims that the results statistically cover 95 percent of American households, there are so many anomalies, it’s easy for me to dismiss it.

North Dakota, for example, went from the 19th-ranked state in 2012 all the way to No. 1 in 2013.

North Dakota.

I’ve never been to North Dakota. I understand it’s a gorgeous place full of super-nice people. And both of those things go a very long way with me.

And, please, if you’re from North Dakota, I pray you don’t take offense to this: But… really?

North Dakota?

I’m supposed to believe that the highest concentration of people with the greatest quality of life live in North Dakota? And that something amazing happened between 2012 and 2013 to justify the leap from No. 19 to the top of the list?

Sorry.

Reason #2: Wherever you go, there you are.

I was born in Iowa. Lived there until I was nearly five years old. I’ve spent lots and lots of time in Iowa. It’s ranked No. 10 on the list. It was No. 9 the year before.

And I do really like it there. At least the part of the state I consider my other home. People are very nice there. And they are a happy bunch, it seems.

But you know who’s not happy there?

People getting divorced.

People who lost their friends or their parents or their children.

People getting diagnosed with horrible illnesses.

People touched by some of the real horrors of the world: murder, rape, kidnapping, suicide, etc.

Those people aren’t happy at all. Even if they live in Iowa.

Even if they live in North Dakota.

The Sunshine State

I wanted to move to the beach because the sun and the beach make me happy.

Maybe it’s the Vitamin D.

Maybe it’s because it’s beautiful.

Maybe it’s a figment of my imagination.

I just know I wanted to be there, so I made it happen. I moved to Florida after graduating from college. But my then-girlfriend/fiancée and eventually wife was extremely unhappy.

I had my own issues with being so disconnected with my family and social network.

So, we made it our mission to return to Ohio a little more than a year down there.

It took us nearly three years to succeed. Every news reporting job I didn’t land was like a dagger. Things I used to hate, like shitty rusty cars and snow storms became novelties.

The sun and blue skies became a curse.

The pristine condition of the roads and buildings and automobiles felt sterile and fake. Things that are actually wonderful became not wonderful. Because of our perception.

And then we got back to Ohio.

A good job. A nice house (that we could afford, unlike in Florida!). Being surrounded by friends and family again—the most priceless, wonderful and important thing in the world, I think.

We were happy.

But Life Happens

It does.

No matter where you are, life happens. We know people who get sick and die. We have financial problems and stresses. We have drama at work and with members of our family.

Our human relationships suffer from ignorance. From selfishness. From stubbornness.

We age. We lose that innocence.

It’s brutal, I think. How ill-prepared so many of us are for the rigors of adulthood. All those years just blissfully running around playing with toys and video games and going to parties.

We can’t even help it. No one wanted to spoil it for us.

Our grandparents don’t tell us. Our parents don’t tell us. Other adults in our lives.

No one tells you the big secret: Shit’s about to get real.

And it does.

The shit gets real. As we lose people and things and marriages and ourselves.

I bet even people in places like North Dakota and Colorado and Hawaii feel that exact same way.

Nobody’s Gonna Tell Us How to Live

At least not me.

We get to make our own choices.

I’m a little stuck here in Ohio. Because of my five-year-old son who I will never, ever leave until he’s grown up and tells me to piss off.

And, yeah. It’s a pretty sad state of affairs around here.

The weather is shit.

The economy is shit.

I don’t have any family nearby.

And there are a million things to get sad about.

But I’m not going to wallow in that sadness. And no one else has to, either.

You should stand on the shores of Lake Erie on a beautiful summer evening. You can’t see the other side. The only thing missing is the coconut palms.

Gorgeous.

You should see how fun downtown Columbus is on a gorgeous Saturday afternoon after the Ohio State Buckeyes get a win.

Joy.

You should see the smiles on the faces of all of the friendly people. Infected by our Midwesternness. Beautiful smiles. And politeness. And charity. And kindness.

My people.

There’s no place like home.

But I know a secret: EVERYBODY feels that way.

You look around wherever you live—even in Los Angeles or New York—and you can see all of the good this world has to offer.

Everyone can do that. In every nook and cranny. And I think a lot of us do. But that more people should.

The fifth-saddest state?

Maybe so.

But I can choose happiness.

No family.

I’ll build something new.

Divorce.

Someone will want me.

Money.

I can be whatever I want to be.

I’ve lived in the saddest place in the world.

A lot of people live there. We all needed to be there, because it’s okay to hurt. But we’re always on the lookout. For a vacation out of there, or better yet, a permanent relocation.

There are no big, bright Exit signs in the saddest place in the world. There are no maps. No specific instructions to get us out of there.

And that’s because it’s an illusion. We can’t really run away from all of the things that actually matter.

All that stuff lives inside of us.

Mementos tucked away in a drawer.

Fuel that needs burned.

Luggage full of things we might need later.

We can’t run away. We can’t relocate to some magical place where the elusive “happy” exists.

It’s part of the lie we believe.

And totally impossible.

Our only choice is to change ourselves.

To change the world.

And that’s totally possible.

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The Catch-22

remember-to-breathe

Chest heaving, tears running down my face, the words pour out of me.

I couldn’t hold them in if I wanted to.

It’s compulsory.

Involuntary.

It just happens.

I recently revisited Charles Bukowski’s brilliant So you want to be a writer?” 

“if it doesn’t come bursting out of you in spite of everything, don’t do it.

unless it comes unasked out of your heart and your mind and your mouth and your gut, don’t do it.

if you have to sit for hours staring at your computer screen or hunched over your typewriter searching for words, don’t do it.

if you’re doing it for money or fame, don’t do it.

if you’re doing it because you want women in your bed, don’t do it.

if you have to sit there and rewrite it again and again, don’t do it.

if it’s hard work just thinking about doing it, don’t do it.

if you’re trying to write like somebody else, forget about it.”

After some more awesome in the middle, he finishes with…

“when it is truly time,

and if you have been chosen,

it will do it by

itself and it will keep on doing it

until you die or it dies in you.

 

there is no other way.

 

and there never was.”

Yes.

I want to be a writer.

And that doesn’t mean I just want to spew a bunch of words onto your screen.

It means I want to help you feel something.

Not sadness. Not anger. Not fear.

Even though I appreciate people’s empathy.

But rather, amusement.

Curiosity and wonder.

Hope.

Uh-Oh

This entire process has been a journey of healing. Of self discovery. The pursuit of happiness.

I’m seeking purpose. Opportunity. Healthiness.

I crave connection, laughter, fun.

And that’s all coming back. It’s working.

As the dark clouds of divorce dissipate, I sometimes get a glimpse of tomorrow.

There is more smiling. More comfort. More peace.

And that’s all well and good. It’s what I’ve wanted more than anything for more than two years.

But there’s a casualty.

My writing.

Because life after divorce is my muse. Fear, anger and sadness—my fuel.

And things are better now.

My life has improved.

So, naturally, I’ve created a new problem for myself.

Shit. Now what do I write?

And now I sometimes don’t know what to say. I wrote about Subway the other day, for God’s sake. I don’t particularly like Subway. But that’s what I’ve been reduced to.

That can’t be who I am. The guy who writes about Subway. I don’t want to be him.

My rule has always been: Write what’s on my mind. And when important human stuff—the inside stuff; the stuff that really matters—is at the forefront of everything I do and feel, that’s a good thing.

But I can’t be forcing it like that Subway post. That’s what me forcing it looks like. The sort of thing that makes Bukowski turn in his grave.

These words. These sentences. They’ll never be for everyone. They’ll never even be for most.

They’ll be for kindred spirits.

People who want to feel.

People who want to think.

People who want to grow.

People who don’t want to settle. People who believe there’s more to life than this. That pain and anger and sadness will not define our futures.

That’s what this is supposed to be about.

I still want to laugh. I still want to have fun. In fact, I need those things.

But mostly this needs to be about taking an honest look at ourselves. And asking the difficult questions. And taking responsibility for the choices we’ve made that brought us here. And making promises to ourselves to make better choices today because tomorrow doesn’t have to be like yesterday.

We don’t have to hurt. Or be afraid.

Yet, we do hurt. Yet, we are afraid.

I’m scared every day of running out of things to say. Of disappointing someone.

Of disappointing you.

Yes, you.

Or worse, not mattering at all.

The Blogosphere and Self-Doubt

The longer I do this, the more I notice.

I see the writers doing what I want to do. Being who I want to be. Geniuses. Artists.

The keyboard, their microphone.

The internet, their stage.

Am I good enough? To play in the same game?

My personal insecurities about my real life poisoning my happy place.

If my son’s mother won’t keep me, who will have me?

How will I meet people? When? Ever?

Who?

Why?

Where did all my confidence go? I know I used to have a bunch laying around here somewhere.

I’m not a genius. I’m a B+ guy who has to work hard for an A, and is lazy enough to get a C.

I’m not an artist. I just get mistaken for one by people with liberal definitions of what that word means.

I’ve been afraid of this for a while. I’ve written about it before. Writer’s block. But those fears have surfaced again, stronger and harder than before, as sadness and anger have given way to new fears and anxieties.

You see, I’m not afraid to hit ‘Publish’ when my sadness outweighs my fear. When my anger is more pronounced than my anxiety.

In fact, I can hardly help it. Writing just happens.

Maybe I can overcome them.

The fears. The insecurities.

Maybe I can shed them completely.

Or maybe I can tap into them for fuel once again.

Because the mind is extraordinarily powerful.

Even mine.

The Self-Inflicted Wounds

I still feel it sometimes. The pain.

I just hide it better now. Smile more now. Laugh more now.

Cry less now.

I still feel it when my young son wants me to stand at the window and wave goodbye to what used to be my entire world driving away in the opposite direction.

I still feel it when I drive by the hospital where my wife met the man she was with when she left.

I still feel it when I conjure up these moments.

Intentionally.

To just… feel.

I wish you could feel it, too. If only for a moment.

It’s happening now.

Horribleness on demand. Only muted.

A surge of anger where there used to be rage.

A tinge of sadness where there used to be breakdowns.

My body still tenses. My smile disappears. My eyes narrow. My stomach tightens. My teeth clench. My swallowing becomes more difficult.

That’s when I forget to breathe.

Remember to breathe.

In.

Then just a bit more.

Then, pause.

Then, out.

To keep those dark clouds moving.

To stay alive.

Isn’t that where inspiration lives?

Isn’t that where real stories live?

In life?

Breathe in.

Then just a bit more.

Pause.

Then, out.

Stay alive.

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A Glimpse

It's just a glimpse. But it lingers. When we slow down. When we notice.

It’s just a glimpse. But it lingers. When we slow down. When we notice.

There’s a U.S. military arsenal not far from where I live—adjacent to the small township in which my ex-wife grew up in Ohio.

Why here?

The story I always heard is that the government chose this area to build a military facility because it is statistically the cloudiest place in the United States—making satellite surveillance of this region particularly difficult.

I don’t know whether this really is the cloudiest place in the country. But it’s so gray that I’m not sure it matters. We have our share of pleasant weather in the summer and autumn seasons.

But winter? Even spring?

It’s certainly the cloudiest place I’ve ever lived, and that’s including two other locations in Ohio hours away from here.

A lot of clouds. A lot of gray. A lot of sad.

It’s the Great Lakes.

There’s a lot of water. And water makes clouds.

The grayness feels like a prison sometimes.

Whenever you fly out of here in particularly cloudy weather, it’s always fun to break through the cloud barrier into the clear skies at high altitudes.

Free!

Day after day after day of the clouds can sometimes wear on you. Mentally. Spiritually. Emotionally.

I don’t believe it’s a coincidence they call the ailment SAD, or seasonal affective disorder.

But ever the positive spinster, the geographic conditions do cause one lovely side effect. When the skies are clear and the grass is green, we tend to take notice.

We tend to not take it for granted. We tend to soak it in. We tend to feel gratitude.

So it is today.

The only remnants of winter, a few small snow piles that have yet to succumb to melting.

The grass, green.

The sky, blue. So blue.

The bare tree branches criss-crossing the blank canvass, giving our eyes more access to the big, blue heavens.

It’s not forever.

It’s only a glimpse.

Merely a sample.

One small taste.

A whisper of spring.

Silent and still.

To hear the whisper.

Sudden noise may scare it away.

So it waits.

And so we wait.

So still that it lingers.

Like a promise.

A promise that tomorrow, and next week, and next month can be better than now.

A promise of rebirth.

An opportunity.

To do what we want.

To be who we want.

But, don’t hurry.

Winter’s not through, yet.

There’s still time.

For the world to spin.

For wounds to heal.

For scars to form.

For dreams to take root.

For growth.

So for now, we wait.

Not on our time.

On nature’s time.

Not what we want.

But what is right.

That sweet day, full of warmth, light and birdsong.

When new life begins.

And we climb once more.

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