UPDATE: I took this post down within 15 minutes as I thought it was too personal, and I wanted to make sure it was balanced and reflective rather than accusing and blaming. Within the short time it was up, it had been read. I received a lovely email expressing how much this post resonated, and how insightful it was. I have therefore decided to re-post it in it’s entirety.
It is fair to say that since my beloved pooch, Cassie-dog died, life has started to feel somewhat stressful. Exacerbated by the return of my ex from overseas (for some reason I needed to see the whites of his eyes to get closure), the stress hormones circulating my body involuntarily – remember fight or flight – were so high that I feared I was teetering on the edge.
Grief compounding grief
Now, my wise cousin, I have introduced you to him before, counselled that I should be cautious about meeting up with my ex so soon after losing my beloved pooch. The reason being, he counselled, was that the confirmation I was seeking as to whether I had done the right thing in ending the relationship while he was 6,000 miles away could lead to me experiencing a sense of loss and grief for the relationship we had.
Good advice. The problem was, that knowing he was back in the country, and asking to meet with me, was stressing me out anyway. So …. we met and shared a meal (home-cooked). So far so good. The meeting was cordial and some points of view were exchanged in a reasonably healthy way. Did I have closure? No. Did I want to see him again? Not really. So why did I?
Facing the pain
There was a part of me that wanted to become re-acquainted with the man I knew, the man I loved, and the man I was supposed to marry in September of last year. Ostensibly to replace the warped image of him and his character that I had come to hold in my psyche that had been shaped by pain and disappointment. There was also a part of me that wanted to …ahem … metaphorically cut his balls off. Black widow spider springs to mind. Sorry. I’m only human.
Although reluctant at first to have a second meeting, I eventually agreed. On some level, I was looking forward to it – although still cautious about what I wanted – or more importantly didn’t want from this man. On the morning before I was to meet him, a piece of news was imparted to me by a close friend. I won’t go into the details as this should remain private – and much as I may have wanted to assassinate his character at various points along my journey – that would be unfair on him and unhealthy for me.
The meeting went ahead, but didn’t last the length of a shared meal, as had been arranged. So basically, he didn’t get fed – but I did get the bottle of prosecco he promised me. A result on some level at least :-). Within half an hour of his arriving I had asked him to leave, and expressed that I did not want to have further contact with him.
Now this is where my cousin is really, really good. The emotional pain and turmoil I was experiencing was like no other I have felt before. Naturally, coming so soon after losing my beloved pooch, this compounded my grief for her and I was feeling her loss acutely. That first night I had not one second of sleep.
The healing effect of reflecting positively without becoming overwhelmed
It is natural to reflect and search for answers, and so I embarked – wisely or not – on a marathon trawl through our communications since the time we split a year ago. This on the surface may seem like very maladaptive behaviour. However, in the very early hours of the morning – I saw some of the more recent messages anew … and realised that whereas I had an expectation that when we finally met we would do so on equal terms within a context that I had created for myself based on my interpretations; what I learned, about 5 o’clock in the morning, is that we were not even in the same metaphoric continent let alone the same country on where we were emotionally (did you notice the intended play on words? Clever, eh:-) ).
Just in case you are wondering, I did not – on the conscious level at least – want to reinstate our relationship. For me, it was about getting closure, but also about letting him see the better side of me. This, because I lobbied quite an arsenal of grenades his way at various points leading up to and following our break up. Again, in my defence, I am only human. It is extremely difficult to have tempered conversations and reasoned emotions when trying to communicate feelings when you are 6,000 miles apart. At least – it was for me. Also in my defence, I was a “little bit unwell” at the time. OK – so maybe it is not a defence but it is a reason for me to try not to beat myself up about it.
What I came to recognise is that we operate on different levels. Neither of them right or wrong. Just different. So maybe, despite the love between us, or relationship was doomed from the start despite his jaunt to far off lands. I’ll come back to that.
Positive reflection leads to greater insight and awareness
Of course, with reflection, comes an amount of regret – and then – hopefully, compassion and acceptance. It has been a very painful journey for me the last few days. One I know, I am not at the end of. Though greatly saddened at the end of our relationship (in terms of the good bits – of which there were many), I have come to a realisation that it wasn’t anybody’s fault, and that at the time, within the context of our individual situations, it was an inevitable event.
Why do I think this? Looking back over our relationship, I can see that whereas initially we pulled together as a team, ultimately our individual personal demons got in the way. During the early days of our relationship, I experienced the sudden and tragic loss of a dearly loved brother-in-law, a sister beyond shocked and bereft, a mother with alzheimer’s who ultimately died and the loss of Bess, one of my furbabies and Cassie-dog’s sibling the week after my mother. This in itself would be enough to test any relationship never mind a relatively new, although recycled relationship (we were engaged when we were young adults). In addition to this, we had life stuff to contend with.
I had undiagnosed health problems and my emotional stability was a little jarred with trying to commute to work in a different city from where we were then living and be involved with supporting my sister in my home town as much as I could. This meant, that we were often spending some of our precious together time racing up and down the motorway. This on top of a demanding job was, for me, a recipe for disaster. My ex had his own baggage to deal with.
Now don’t get me wrong, there was a lot of mutual support. There was certainly plenty of love. And there was definitely a lot of fun along the way. Unfortunately that isn’t always enough. At times, locked in our own stuff … I think we found it difficult to be as supportive of each other as we would have liked to have been.
Not being able to relate is not the same as not valuing
Now, any reasoned adult knows that no-one else is responsible either for their wellbeing or meeting their emotional needs. That said, who amongst us manages to remain sufficiently balanced when they feel their needs are being overlooked and the stressors in their life are exceeding what they could reasonably be glass half full about. This is the situation I found myself in.
At this point, I have to tell you, my ex is a pretty amazing person. Surprised? Let me tell you more. He often gave more than he received in terms of support. We did not know at the time, but I had undiagnosed ME. For any of you who know anything about the impact of ME, you will know how difficult it can be to maintain energy levels and therefore function at your optimal level. He ran baths for me in the morning. He walked my pooches everyday come rain or hale. He drove up and down the motorway so that I could spend time with my family. He forewent holidays so that I could holiday with my sister who was devastated at the tragic loss of her husband at the very young age of 50.
Yes, I did give back in many ways. The point I am making – to myself mostly – is that he is a decent man with no sides and the propensity to operate from a glass half full perspective.
Now here is the rub.
We all have our different ways of dealing with things. His was to paste on a smile and look for the fun in life. There were times, unfortunately, that I interpreted this as lack of consideration and caring. He wasn’t – and isn’t – an inconsiderate man. We are just different. Which probably explains why we split up in our youth in the first place. Now there are plenty of stories of reunited loves who absolutely have the most amazing, supportive – life-long relationships. I am sad that we weren’t one of them.
Everyone’s reality is different
To be fair, the perception grew whilst we were apart – he in South Africa, and I back in the UK. Now this is where my sorry tale becomes cautionary. For those of you who read with me regularly, you will know that for much of my adult life I have experienced fluctuating mental health. When I am well, I am most definitely an optimistic, enthusiastic and glass half full kinda gal. The trouble is, when I am unwell – I am not. Now to many, depression is a hidden illness. Everyone experiences stress and strife in their life at some point. Unless you are one of the 3/5 people who experience debilitating depression – or indeed any mental health issue – you simply will not get it. That is OK – your brain works differently – why would you?
Where the difficulty arose, I think, is that whereas I have a higher than average impulse control, I have an exceptionally high need to express my emotions – whether or not to do so is detrimental to me. How do I know this? Emotional Intelligence assessment a few years back. At first glance at my scores across the board, I should have highly developed emotional intelligence. In fact, I do believe that I often demonstrate emotional intelligence. The difficulty is, if certain emotional buttons – triggers – are pressed – I find it near impossible not to have my say. Nothing wrong with that you say? Trouble is – I don’t seem to have an off button unless I get resolution.
Love is not always enough
Sadly, much as we loved each other – my ex triggered one of these key buttons. I sometimes felt that he was dismissive when I tried to explain something to him – usually in relation to how I felt about something. Yes, I hear you say, lots of men aren’t driven by their emotions and therefore find it difficult to hear – or simply don’t understand – emotional communication. I guess that is why a lot of perceived advice around effective communication is to take the emotion out of it. Easier said than done when you are one of those emotionally driven people.
Subconcious issues can hold us back
The trigger – or at least one of them (erm … not sure, but there may be more than one) is that if I feel unheard – frequently – I internalise this and become resentful. The issue – which might be a minor one, then forms a loop in my brain which causes me to repeat, and repeat and repeat. If I am still not heard – I turn into a screaming banshee. So, if the issue is a major one – god help the person on the receiving end. God help me too – as it can be very damaging.
Now for those of you who are unclear on this point, listening is not the same as being heard. If you can repeat back what a person has just said to you – you have listened. If you understand the impact of what a person is saying – you have heard. My ex listened frequently to me. Need I say more? Not being heard is a deal breaker for me. Because I know the impact it has on me.
I am sure he was bewildered by my seemingly Jekyl and Mrs Hide behaviour. I was bewildered too – and somewhat embarrassed when in a less emotive-driven, more balanced state. By nature I am a reflector. I find it hard to let things go without understanding them. I therefore embarked on a quest to understand why my communication style was so – well – damaging. The problem was … one of my triggers is also a need to be understood……
You with me? Yes … I bombarded him with various missives trying to explain my irrational behaviour. This did me no favours. To be fair to him – he was in a foreign land, trying to get to grips with a new job and a new culture. I am sure he found it very difficult to come home after a hard day in the office – or to wake up in the morning (often my missives were conceived, crafted and sent into the ether in the early hours of the morning) to read what must have seemed my angst-ridden – attacking – essays. The more he shied away from being attacked, the more attacking I became.
Now lest you think I am a complete nutter. Let me share with you what may have triggered my insecurity about our relationship.
It is fair to say that it took some getting used to him being away. The lead up to him leaving was very difficult – largely because I made it difficult. I was sulky and I was not nice to be around. Let me explain why. On the barometer of wellness, I was operating at about 6. Ten being my most severely depressed where I can’t function – to 1 being quite fine and dandy thank you very much. Although I did experience episodes of depression in the time that we were together, this was more at the anxiety end than the can’t function end. The reason for this I attribute to being in a (somewhat) supportive relationship. Also, at this point – I had undiagnosed ME. Now, this thing about not being heard – and the ongoing impact of his particular baggage on our circumstances – was already an issue in our relationship. For me at least. So you see … perhaps we weren’t as solid as he thought we were. At least, I assume from what he told me that is what he thought.
Before I continue … and lest you think wow .. he is well shot of her … there was plenty that I had to contend with in relation to his baggage. None of which is for me to share – as it is his information.
Perception informs our judgements and actions
So … trying to settle into a new arrangement, where we would share Skype conversations – usually at 11pm at night which wasn’t particularly great for my ME-depleted-energy levels – we were ticking along reasonably nicely. I had started to settle down about not having been able to go out there with him (the plan) and the expectation was that I would follow at some point.
One evening, after a very productive day of client, study, volunteer training and building my ’empire’ … we embarked on our usual webchat. I spied a glint as he moved his hand. I enquired as to what he was wearing on his finger and he swiftly replied “nothing”. OK. The next evening … again I spied a glint on his hand. A thunderbolt hit me as I realised it was his wedding ring. (He had been married and was separated when we hooked back up).
This naturally, floored me. I could not fathom – in my universe – any conceivable reason he would think it was ok to wear this ring, given that we were supposed to be in a committed relationship and planning to marry (don’t even get me started on the non-divorce status 2 year down the line). I wasn’t even aware that he had it in South Africa with him. He naturally was upset at my shock, and assured me he was only wearing it for safety reasons. I did not believe him. And therein lay the problem. The trust was broken. Though greatly hurt by this, I gradually accepted his reasons – expressed how it made me feel, and tried to put it behind me.
Now given that, I was probably at a 6 when he left for SA, was overloading myself a bit with intensive volunteer training, trying to build up my business and studying for a level 7 award – all with undiagnosed ME not to mention the strain of being parted from the man I loved – I unfortunately crashed. What he doesn’t realise is that I largely spent the next three months in bed. Too much time on my hands, not enough social interaction – dodgy mental wellbeing. Oh by the way … did I mention the stressful situation in relation to my employment coming to an end on health grounds? Oh dear.
I needed his support. He was 6,000 miles away. A brief chat on a dodgy Skype connection at 11pm at night didn’t really cut it. He needed my support too – and I tried to give it. But over time my anxieties about our relationship were spiralling out of control.
To cut it short(er) … as I have been writing for hours and could write for a few more – he made some decisions that I found hard to stomach. In my state of fear – I saw them as diminishing the importance of our relationship in his world. I am now pretty sure they weren’t. It was just he was more confident and sure of our relationship than I was. In a balanced state where I was occupied fully with my own life – I can see that I would not have had the time to analyse so deeply every aspect of what was or was not occurring. Well – that is the positive version – I don’t really want to share the negative versions I had.
Emotional intimacy and the issue of proximity
Every relationship needs nurturing. It doesn’t matter whether you see each other every day or less frequently. It definitely needs nurturing when you are 6,000 miles apart.
I ended the relationship because I felt he did not value it. Did I want the relationship to be over? No. I wanted him to hear me. Did he value the relationship? Only he can answer that.
This brings me back to our differences. And our individual demons.
Here is a small fraction of what I have learned through this experience:
- If I don’t feel loved – I do not perceive that love
- If I feel dismissed and unheard – it presses some buttons that may just activate heavy artillery
- When I get it wrong – I get it spectacularly wrong
Or do I? The jury is out on that one. This did matter a great deal to me. Less so now. I have seen the whites of his eyes. It did give me some answers – not the ones I was expecting. I have so many more, that will remain unanswered. To meet my need to understand, requires him to engage on a level that is not comfortable for him, nor serving of any purpose or need he has. So I simply have to let it go.
The blame game is not healthy
It seems that we weren’t suited after all – and that is why it failed. The angst has been around would it have survived if we had not been separated? Would it have survived if I had been more centred at the time? I wanted to believe so. But to be honest, I don’t think it would, as at our core, there were fundamental differences in our makeup.
So you see, no-one is to blame. We really just weren’t suited after all.
The pain I feel will subside. I also have a deeper understanding of myself and my subconscious triggers that aren’t very helpful. This gives me something to work on, as we don’t exist in a perfect world, and there will always be something pushing our buttons. The trick is how we deal with and react to that.
Do I have any regrets? Plenty. At the end of the day I am me. My depths of light and shade are both what is uniquely special about me – the problem arises when my triggers are activated – and what is not so good about me. These triggers are held so deeply that it is hard to perceive why they are there. I can hazard an educated guess. Time to explore and bring these little devils into the light. Not too much though – I mean – some of my friends refer to me as crazy/zany Carol – in the nicest possible way.
Human beings are complex. We exist in a complex world. We are taught emotions are bad and should be contained. They are not – they are a healthy indicator – a barometer of our world and how we experience it. The emotional intelligence bit is using our emotions in a balanced way that allows us to express ourselves without denigrating others.
Notice those around you
This brings me to the point that inspired me to write today. It was not to share my sorry tale – it was to use this as a backdrop to sharing an experience I had. I guess in writing about my woes on the superficial level, it started to feel cathartic and I was unable to stop.
All in all .. the last few days (make that months) have been very stressful. It is also fair to say that I am a bit battered and bruised. I was out and about today, and was waiting patiently for an appointment. There was a lady in the room who was stood ‘talking to the room’. What I mean by that, is that she was talking to no-one in particular – or rather, anyone who would listen. I had assumed initially she was talking to the people closest to her, until she kept trying to engage eye contact with me. At first, I looked away, intent in remaining in my own little bubble. This can be a bit of a protective feature if I am unwell. After a minute or two .. I could not look away any longer. I decided that I needed to listen to what she had to say, as she was clearly at the end of her tether about something, which I later learned, was impacting on her health – and no-one was listening.
I then maintained eye contact with her to signal that I was now listening to her and wanted to hear her story. The lady approached me and sat down. She told me her story. She was clearly struggling to cope and was upset and frustrated that there seemingly was no help for her. She had recently split with her fiancé and returned to the area where she had lost contact with friends – so apart from her mother, she has very little support. She also had some significant health problems. As I listened, and as she shared her story – I decided to offer the hand of friendship. I gave her my number, and told her it was her choice if she wanted to contact me, but that I would be more than happy to receive the call.
I do hope this lady makes contact.
This reinforced to me how much of a struggle life can be – no matter what your circumstances or what your troubles. The next time you see someone rambling to the room – being unheard, consider whether you can make a difference to that person simply by reaching out to them and acknowledging their presence. This lady wanted, and needed to be heard. I can identify with that.
I know that my current state of pain will pass. Although writing this has been cathartic, I am insightful enough to know that there will be ups and downs as I settle back into a more balanced state.
Perhaps – if we all took the time to extend the hand of friendship and open our ears and hearts to listen to people who seem to be struggling – or seem a bit irrational – the epidemic of mental un-wellness in the UK may start to diminish.
Mental health is a social issue
I do believe that mental health, not withstanding organic factors, is largely a social issue. That said, in my recent experiences, I definitely feel the link between my level of involuntary stress, my mental wellbeing and my ME.
Body and mind are inextricably linked. If someone behaves in a way that you are not able to relate to – try to have some empathy. It may simply be that you are luckier than they in that you are centred and balanced and have the love and support that facilitates wellbeing.
In summary, I would highlight the importance of being mindful to #value those around you, #nurture your #relationships and #notice the unnoticed and bring #mentalhealth out of the shadows.
If you have managed to reach the end of this mammoth post, I applaud you. And I thank you for taking an interest in my journey to acceptance.
Look after yourself, and be there for those you love.
Question: Would you extend the hand of friendship to someone who seems to be struggling, or would you look away? If so, I would love to know why in the comments section of this blog.
If anything that I have written about today, resonates with you, please leave me a comment. I would love to hear your views. If you know of anyone who would benefit from reading my story and my journey to insight – please share this blog. Yet still, I would love to hear YOUR story – you can reach me on firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. You can even find me on facebook and twitter @BeYourBestSelf2