Finding Your Best You at the End of the World

NOTE: This essay was written on 9/20/2015 and was never published. I have had reservations about this piece as it is deeply personal and it includes some thoughts on my ex-wife, whom I care for very deeply. While there is nothing derogatory in nature, I am still sensitive to her feelings. At this juncture in time, more than a year since I began writing it, I figured it was safe to just drop it out there. I intend to have a follow up to this regarding dealing with depression, moving forward, and dating in your 30’s, which I should remind everyone, is just fucking terrible.


It’s the 20th of September. Today is my one-year wedding anniversary. This morning, I am celebrating it at home, in bed, with a sheet over my head. My dog and my wife’s cat are here. They’re in bed with me. My wife is not. She doesn’t live here anymore. Anyone with an eye for detail could probably detect that if they walked by my property. My Weber grill is sitting on the drive way. The ash collection tray features dozens of chewed up cigar stumps. I think I’ve forced myself to open up a bottle of Pine Sol once, however I can’t really remember what it was for. Maybe I wiped down a couch or something with it? I don’t really remember.

If you asked me a year ago what I envisioned marriage to be like, I could tell you that it wouldn’t be this. I lived with my wife for years before we got married. I believed it would be an extension of that but with more activities, long range planning, and gorging on delicious home cooked meals. Just to preface the meals thing, it would be a shared experience, one which I would slowly learn to participate in after I accepted the idea that meat and/or pasta was not necessary with every entree.

But as of this publication date, that did not happen for either of us.

I’m not going to go into the gritty details. That’s something that is between us and because I respect my wife, I don’t think it’s something for public consumption. What I can say is that it took both of us to get to this point and now we are both sitting in a position that has afforded us a lot mental anguish.

Our relationship was a little different than most. We met on OkCupid during the summer of 2011. She lived in Sheboygan, WI and I was in the suburbs of Chicago. We met in Milwaukee and shared lunch, a few drinks, took in a variety show act, and with no funny business, spent a night in a hotel because at 1:30 in the morning neither of us wanted to deal with the long ride back to our respective homes.

After commuting back and forth between Wisconsin for about 3.5 months, I did something insane and asked her to move in with me. Since her job at the podiatry clinic wasn’t lining her pockets, she said yes. Upon reflection, we were both insane. From there we dated for just over 3 years before we decided to get married. There were speed bumps here and there but the good times outweighed the bad.

And then we got married and things just kind of tumbled down hill.

Before things got to where they are, we had tried reading books, talking things out, and went marriage counseling. It didn’t work and it never will until both sides are committed to the process, which clearly we were not. Books actually need to be read and followed up by actions. Conversations about marriage need to avoid the circular patterns of placing blame and should instead be filled with talk on crafting solutions. Marriage counseling needs to be a place where both participants need to feel safe and ready to explore.

Marriage counseling is a weird animal. You go, sit in a lobby with strangers and wait for your name to be called. Usually there are uncomfortable chairs and magazines with crinkled corners. You see other couples go in. You see other couples go out. You look at them and they look at you and everyone is wondering the same thing, “Is this working for you today and if so, how can it work for me?”

When you get in, you sit down and you talk.

You talk about you. She talks about her. You talk about how you met. You talk about why you got married in the first place. You talk about why you are here together today and where you want to be tomorrow.

Then they talk to you about their credentials. They tell you about their process for healing. You nod your head. She nods her head. Since you’ve never done this before you assume that the placard on the wall is credential competency and that the healing process is infallible. So, with that false sense security you begin.

You begin with more talking. You talk to explain; you talk to heal. And when it doesn’t work, you talk because you’re paying to talk.

My wife doesn’t talk much. I do. I try to allow her to talk but there’s a lot of dead air. Because I’m an idiot, I just talk more and thus dominate the conversation. It was enough to where the counselor told me to politely shut the fuck up.

And I did. I shut up. I shut up to allow the verbal medication to take over. I shut the fuck up heal.

It’s not easy to admit your own faults but these days I’m getting pretty used to it. Counseling allows you to see the other person’s point of view. It makes perfect sense. You are not an infallible creature, no matter what you think.

At a certain point during this process, it just fell apart. I began to feel marginalized and disgusted. We would come home and be angry at each other about something the other party said during the session. Over the course of the week we would slowly mend the fences and then head back to counseling and start the entire process over again.

Wash. Rinse. Re-hate each other. With that kind of mantra, the counseling didn’t last long.

Not long after the counseling failed we discussed separation and agreed that it might be for the best. However, after she was gone, it was a shock to my system. After a few weeks of being alone, I couldn’t find anything that made a hell of a lot of sense. Upon the completion of my 5th jigsaw puzzle and binge watching television shows on Netflix, you start to dive head first into your relationship.

You start by writing things down. Trying to remember sequences of events and conversations. You think back to the beginning of the relationship and if you missed any red flags. You think about the middle of it and if some casual barb had a heavier weighted meaning than you had initially thought. Then you think about the potential for the end.

And here is where you collapse in a pile of self-doubt and anxiety because you can’t stomach the feeling of watching this whole thing explode in your face. It was always in the back of your mind but now it’s looking at you deep in the fucking black of your pupils because now it’s not just talk. The end is a very real, tangible, and scary as fuck possibility.

My emotional decent started early. As the quality of our marriage collapsed so did I. That might speak to the constitution of my mental health but I think there were a lot of mitigating factors that lead to that. I can’t speak for my wife; however, I am sure that the everyday slog that we were going through was not helpful in any way to her psyche.

Mental health is important. Anyone who brushes off another person’s depression with a simple, “They just need to see the bright side of things,” isn’t listening or is just incredibly lacking in empathy. It’s much larger than that. I have not been diagnosed as clinically depressed, however I have experienced cycles of depression due to periods of intense stress and anxiety. If my short-term bouts of it are even remotely similar to those who regularly suffer from depression, then I am sorry. It is a life crippling event that sends you into the swirling toilet bowl of misery for hours, days, or weeks.

For me, I started to believe that I was wrong. Wrong about mostly everything in my life. I felt that the decisions that I had made in this world were to be judged and placed under a microscope. I believed that I deserved this. I felt like I had wasted the time and money of my friends and family. More often than not I blamed the state of the marriage solely on me.

This thought process is completely asinine but when you are vulnerable, even irrationalities like this start to permeate the cracks in your battered mental shield. It doesn’t take long before you’re just a wreck and you’re looking for an answer anywhere.

For me, the answers came in the form of a bottle, food, pot, and heavy cigar smoking.

Sometimes you are able to get out of it. On a certain day you wake up and think that everything is going to be okay. You believe that either it will work out or this will all end and you’ll feel better again. Hours later you walk by a picture on the refrigerator or see an old memory on Facebook and you place that good thought back in the cupboard and you find those answers again.

Maybe I should preface this by saying that I’m lucky. I had a solid upbringing by social standards. My parents are still together. They came from nothing and have done well for themselves. My brother and I never fought, in fact to this day we get along extremely well. We both went to state colleges and finished and we were lucky enough to walk away with no debt at all as our parents covered tuition for us. We also work for our father. There are not too many people who have it as easy as I have (I say I because I don’t speak for my brother). Self admittedly, I think about that a lot and whether I deserve the life I have today. I didn’t earn this. I was born in it and I try my best not to take it for granted because entitlement scares the living hell out of me and the older I’ve gotten, the harder it has been to look away at people who haven’t had that kind of shot. You wonder if they would have done more with the opportunities. Would they do better or possibly piss it away?

I write that because a lot of people might just see this as the whining of a mid-30’s male who is having a life crisis. Frankly, it’s absolutely true and I wouldn’t blame you for saying, “Hey, dude. TL;DR. Hope you fucking get it together and have a nice life.”

The truth is that I struggle to cope with a lot of things. I think a lot of people see me as a jovial guy with lots of friends, and a self deprecating sense of humor. The other side features a grown man-child that struggles with his own personal finances, time management, and personal bouts of irrational anxiety. I have a personality that is sometimes addictive that causes me to either research issues to exhaustion or burrow down a rabbit hole of collecting certain items to completion (IE: Comic books, trading cards, action figures, all of the starting quarterback’s jerseys for the Chicago Bears since Jim McMahon). Additionally, I believe that I have very real issues with food and a massive problem with disappointing others, which has caused me to collapse when it comes to high pressure situations in competitive sport.

Those issues, albeit, are very minor. The word context is not lost on me.

At a certain point, I went to a counselor for my issues. In short, it was extremely helpful for a time and for anyone who is facing any form of adversity I would highly recommend it. I would also recommend it for anyone who is just looking to get a different perspective on things. My counselor is nice enough to let me know that occasionally, I can be a real fucking asshole from time to time. Additionally, she thinks I am a highly rational person who has the ability to come to multiple conclusions based on my level of empathy and willingness to see problems from multiple points of view. So, put that in your pipe and smoke it.

Over the course of the summer, I managed to clear my head and go on a few trips around the mid-west. On one of the trips I took my touring scooter and headed to Kentucky and shot around southern Illinois up to St. Louis and then headed back home. It was a 3-day excursion that was very helpful in rebuilding my psyche. Later I took a trip to Pittsburgh and eventually ended up in a small town in Ohio.

Truthfully, I took those trips to just get away from people. It was also an experience to help find myself. While I had a destination in mind, it never occurred to me that I actually had to get there. I found myself taking odd detours, stopping at various state parks and landmarks because I really had no where to be.

What is amazing was how well this actually worked for me. I told my friends, family, therapist, and wife. I had a new perspective about how I was going to look at things!

Then, one day the calendar flipped and I found myself in September. It didn’t take long for those old memories to resurface. Even with all of the exercises that I’ve employed in the past, my anxiety and depression seemed to get worse with every passing day.

On the 19th, one day before my anniversary, I joined a group of friends on an excursion that proposed we start at a bar in the city, hop on a bus to Toyota Park, tailgate, watch a soccer game, and a bus ride back to the bar.

While at the bar I talked to an old friend and her fiancé about their impending marriage and their wedding day intentions. As this conversation continued down the dark path of just how stupid seat covers and chiavari chairs are, an entire bridal party came waltzing into the bar. A big to do was made. Glasses clinked, congratulations were passed around, and smiles the sizes of prize winning cucumbers beamed across the faces of the newly wed couple.

All I could do was sit there, raptured in envy.

Wasn’t I just here a year ago? Was I this happy once? When do I get mine?

And when my nails finally broke the skin of my forearm, I rolled down the sleeve of my shirt and continue a measured and rational conversation with my friends.

Some cycles of madness just seem to die harder than others.

Perhaps some never do.

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