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Looong post about seeking contentment

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  • #363540
    Ry
    Participant

    Relatively succinct summation:  I’m nearly 44 and am twice-divorced. After a “happy accident,” I married my child’s mother when I was 20 because it seemed like the right thing to do. Joined the military and got divorced and my ex and daughter moved back home across the county. I eventually met and married a fellow military member. She had battled with severe depression and I thought that maybe I could help her. We divorced in less than a year and then she attempted suicide. Ended up having electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) a few years later. I ended up doing 10-years in the military and moving back home to be closer to my daughter who had just turned 13. I did not want her to grow into an adult and us to continue to be strangers. I enrolled in college and graduated with a BA, eventually getting a job with the local government. Nothing great but a safe and stable job. After a few years, when I was no longer paying child support, I joined the AmeriCorps and spend a summer out West. Eventually, a friend I served in the military helped me to navigate my way into a federal job near DC. The caveat was that I had to be a student, so I enrolled in an online MBA program. I left and the end of 2018 and that’s where this post (sort of) begins.

    I’ve dated off on since I separated from the military in 2011. For me, it was always casual as I’d been married twice and didn’t want to settle until I was settled. Unfortunately, for my ex’s, my practice at keeping my feelings and emotions at a distance caused them much grief. Breakups were always bad, and I always hung onto the guilt. A few years ago, I met someone in a training class for work. I had already been offered the job in DC, and was upfront with her about it, but we still pursued what was a casual relationship at the start. (I thought that I’d be leaving in about 4 months after the class together.). Thanks to the nature of the federal government, fast forward 16 months and I was finally DC bound. And by that time our relationship was no longer casual. She has a young son–who was a toddler when we’d met–and who we had subsequently formed a strong bond. She and I had a strong connection too. Both battled depression and both tried to help us see in ourselves what the other saw. She even enrolled in grad school because I inspired her. I remained in the mindset that I was leaving but she saw a future together and wanted me to see it. So strongly in fact that she found a job with an amazing company in DC and followed me up a few months later. (I pathetically never gave her a “Y/N” on whether she should move up.)

    She found a place outside DC and she and her child moved in. She expected me to join her, but I never did… My “dream job,” which took so so long to come to fruition, was rife with deficiencies from the start and I began looking for other employment while continuing grad school. Things deteriorated for us there, but we remained friends. She was not doing well there as a single mom without her “village” as she called it. I lived an hour away and would visit on a Sunday and try to spend a night there during the week. We did a lot of exploring of the area together, but things were often bad. She was lonely and miserable being a single mom, as she had previously lived with her parents before moving up, which she wasn’t happy about either. In less than a year, she would move back home, and I would move to the Midwest for work. She arrived back home in November 2019 and I arrived here in January 2020. We both try to remain friends but there was so much damage. She swiftly tried to date two people in the weeks after she returned, and finally started a relationship with someone in April. After months of depression at returning home with her tail between her legs, she seems happy, and her child is close to family again.

    And now the point of all this rambling… I’m here in a town of fewer than 30,000 people. I finished grad school two weeks before the pandemic hit. Having only worked a short time before the quarantine, I do not know anyone here. Other than a 30-minute walk at night, I rarely go out except for the grocery store. I am so lonely, but I try to not let myself sink into a depression. I have had two telehealth counseling sessions with the VA, and I have my first in-person one this next Friday. Since my ex has begun seeing someone, our communications have understandably become more infrequent. Her child and I would often FaceTime when she returned but it has been months since we have. Her parents still text me photos on occasion, which is very nice. I’ve continued sending her and her child the occasional gift–as I did when we were together–but have stopped since she told me things were serious with her boyfriend. I didn’t do it out of guilt, and she always said it made her feel like a project, but it made me happy when I would gift her something. Guess it’s a part of my love language?

    I suppose that I’m just upset with myself for yet another failed relationship. She had I had many things in common but there were things I could not overlook (e.g., her short fuse with her child, herpes thanks to an ex, her tendency to smother). I miss her child terribly, but the child is young enough that I will someday become a distant memory; however, I am grateful that I could be a father figure in their young life for a few years. I just miss the emotional intimacy of the relationship. I am not in a hurry to jump into another relationship until I work on myself, which is why I try to see this as an opportunity, but I fear ending up alone. I know it’s a bit of jealousy and loneliness that makes me pine for her now. Don’t get me wrong, I miss them both. I miss how strongly she believed in me and how much she fought to push me to see myself in a better light. I miss our travel and culinary adventures. But she moved home and I moved her and she harbors no romantic feelings towards me. So what’s done is done.

    I battled self-esteem issues when I was young until my early 30s. I was a tall, skinny kid with bad teeth. In the military, I began eating better, working out, and got braces. Eventually, I felt damn near handsome on a good day. I was diagnosed with dysthymia when I served in the military, and the Veterans Administration (VA) has elevated my dysthymic condition to a “recurrent major depressive disorder (MDD).” It’s called “high-functioning depression” in which I tend to forge ahead to succeed with my goals, but my depression remains largely invisible to those around me. They also believe I suffer from anhedonia, which is the inability to feel pleasure. I have suffered from concentration issues much of my life, and it is through sheer willpower that I was able to successfully complete my undergrad and grad degrees.

    I don’t know how I stumbled upon this amazing website but I’m thankful that I have…just for the ability to write down what’s in my mind. Thank you whomever for taking the time to read my mess. I’m happy to expound if anyone feels like engaging. Thank you.

    #363572
    anita
    Participant

    Dear Ry:

    I read your post, glad you feel better just for writing down part of your story. I am not focused enough and will need to re-read your post tomorrow morning. You mentioned that you will be happy to expound, therefore I ask: can you tell me more about your “inability to feel pleasure”- what kinds of pleasure can’t you feel, and is the inability to feel these pleasures ongoing, always or during times of increased depression?

    Also, if you would like to share about your childhood experience, please do.

    I will be back to your thread in about 12 hours from now.

    anita

    #363579
    Ry
    Participant

    Wow! I did not expect a reply so soon. Thank you, Anita…

    My anhedonia is one of the lucky features of my MDD. I have fleeting moments of happiness, but largely feel mirthless. It makes it hard to describe exactly what I’m feeling. Emotional withdrawal–which affects my relationships. Decreased sex drive. Negative feelings about myself (and others to an extent). I really have little interest in any hobbies. I just remain flat.

    This is a quote from my ex from early in our relationship:

    When I tell you I love you, you often explain that you’re trying to show me I can be more than I was and that I’m meant for better things. So I ask of you:  Don’t downplay yourself. R. If there were words in the English language to express how amazing you are, what a light in my day/life you are, and just how damn near perfect you are then I might come close to describing how much you mean to me. I don’t know if you feel like you don’t deserve to be loved or if it’s one of the other several scenarios running around in my head, but please don’t find it so hard to believe that someone could be so overwhelmingly fond of you.

    For as long as I can remember, I’ve struggled with accepting love and embracing it.

    Another issue is that my memories of my childhood are limited. Often, my sister tells a story involving my parents and myself and I cannot remember. I do not believe there was any abuse. My mother is often emotionally cool, so perhaps this plays a part in my issues?

    #363595
    Brandy
    Participant

    Hi Ry,

    Congratulations on finishing grad school, an impressive accomplishment and one to be very proud of!

    The loneliness that inevitably occurs after a break-up is difficult even for those surrounded by a large group of supportive friends and loving family members, but you are in a new and small town with no support system. If there was no lockdown and you were going to work each day, I presume you’d be interacting with co-workers, meeting new people, getting your mind off past relationships, and moving forward, but the pandemic has made that nearly impossible. During this challenging time we all need to take extra good care of ourselves. We need to reach out to others often like you are doing through your telehealth and in-person counseling sessions, but also with friends, family members, coworkers, or through online forums. The more people we can connect with each day, the better. But most important for me is the conversation I have with myself before I get out of bed each morning about how I see my day unfolding. For example, I’ll think… first I’ll exercise (i run and swim), then I’ll do my morning meditation (20 minutes), then I’ll knock off all those things I need to accomplish that day. Seems so simple, right? Well, not really because I know that I’ll also have distressing thoughts throughout the day (regrets, worries, etc.) that will interfere with my progress and leave me feeling bad. So I’ll remind myself that when those thoughts surface, I’ll be ready for them. I’ll take some slow deep breaths and let them pass. Sometimes I’ll need to physically walk outside, feel the sunshine on my face, see the beautiful blue sky, listen to the birds chirping, and I’ll make my way back, outside of my head and in a better place, ready to continue my day. Maybe this is something you could try too, Ry.

    B

    #363612
    Ry
    Participant

    Thank you so much for taking the time to reply, Brandy. I can’t tell you how good to feels to not feel quite so alone. I will edit this reply later after work.

    -Ry

    #363615
    Ry
    Participant

    May I ask a follow-up question?

    I agree with what B was saying about the loneliness and remaining fixated on the present. Obviously, this year has worn on everyone–and more so those who struggle with their mental health. As anyone can tell from my original post, there remains a strong connection in me to my ex and her son. We began seeing one another when her son was about 18-months old, so I was a part of his life for half of it. We were exceptionally close and I continue to grieve. My ex’s parents text photos/videos of him almost every weekend, but that really doesn’t take the place of anything more substantial.

    My ex has a different way of coping with her emotions to an extent–neither good nor bad, I suppose. One she moved home, and I to the Midwest, she put her “walls” up as she often said. For example:

    My mom always gives me shit for being someone I’m not. Being tougher than I am. Having walls and being cold. Because when I finally let go of that shit, I finally wear my heart on my sleeve again it gets shredded every time. Every fucking time.

    While our relationship was ending before our move to DC, we really only had each other to rely on there, so the lines often blurred, which inevitably caused more pain and stress last year.

    A test from my ex early spring 2019–from nearly the end of our romantic relationship to one of friendship:

    I’m sorry that I was so angry.  I didn’t necessarily mean to take it out on you.  Much like you, when I can’t handle things anymore I shut down/clam up and retract to my cave.  Also, much like you, I don’t always let people in.  Especially when I feel that I’m the only open book.  And yes, I do need to think about me and consider what my next chapter is.  A large part of the reason I moved out here was because I was trying to solidify my building a relationship with you.  A long-term one.  I realized that was going south in November, but wanted the adventure anyway and figured this global management consulting firm could do good for my career – since I wasn’t necessarily working on my personal life goals anymore.  But, while it could do good things for my career, I just see another ladder that I have to climb and I’ve climbed enough ladders in my life that I don’t feel I should have to now with my experience and education.  I don’t expect to be CEO tomorrow, but there’s no reason I shouldn’t be at least an assistant manager somewhere, and that’s not happening with this firm anytime soon.  So, I’ll take my life back home where my parents can help watch (my son), I’ll get a place with a friend so she can help with him, and I can work on a career without having to stress about it possibly calling for nights and weekends.  And, the reason I’ve been harping on you purchasing me things lately is partially because it makes me feel like a project because you don’t let me do the same in return.  But it also means that based on what you buy, I will think about you every day for the next x amount of years.  Every time I pick up my phone for the next 2-3 years I will think about you.  Every time I open my computer.  Every time it rains and I use that umbrella.  When I lay down at night.  When I wear a raincoat.  When my son wears certain clothes.  And so on.  And it’s not that I don’t ever want to think about you again, but there’s a sense of healing that has to happen over the next couple of months and it can’t if you’re still taking care of me or packages are still showing up at my door with things that I will have for years to come.  And I don’t know how to show appreciation while protect myself at the same time.  I’ve been working on distancing myself emotionally so that when the time came I wasn’t left standing with my heart in my hands – I’ve learned to protect myself and rebuild my walls once I start seeing red flags. But, there has to come a time when our relationship clearly makes the switch from romantically involved to friends.  And not just physically, but emotionally.  Officially.  For me.  And that’s a lot of what Sunday was.  So I’m sorry I laid into you.  It’s not so much that you’re a bother as it is everything I’ve just explained.

    Her walls went up again when she returned home late last year and I moved here, but yet I could not completely let go. Selfishly(?)/Stupidly(?), I would continue to buy her things on occasion to help her cope with life there back home: A speed bag since she could not go to the gym. A box of cold brew since she couldn’t grab a coffee on the way to work. Educational toys and clothes for her son. Just little things like that since I knew that money was tight and she was stuck in her apartment with her son (and depression weighs heavily on her as well). To make matters worse, an ex committed suicide shortly after she returned home:

    He loved me til the day he died. I don’t know that anyone else ever will. Other than my family. I’m just tortured internally. It never stops.

    I offered my support and told her I would be here if she wanted to talk about it. She briefly texted but said it wasn’t a conversation she wanted to have with an ex. And she finished with this:

    Yet again, I’m friends with someone who couldn’t/wouldn’t commit to going the distance and playing the long game with me.

    I guess the post of all this is that I feel like I’m wasting my time with a friendship. I feel at times like I’m being quite pathetic. I sent her a Mother’s Day card and gift; however, she did not text me until the night of Father’s Day to apologize for not wishing me a happy Father’s Day sooner in the day. (I neglected to mention that I have a daughter who’s 22.) That stung, to say the least.

    Now that I’ve written this, it seems that friendship, as it is, is not beneficial to me.  She’s been seeing someone for a few months now, so it’s not as though her walls will fall and we can have a deeper friendship again. I suppose the point of this follow-up post is that I am seeking confirmation that I need to step away. No matter how much I perceived we helped one another become better versions of ourselves, it is clear that her version of a friendship is the infrequent text or sharing of a TikTok video. It’s just silly that I put so much credence in any little communication when there is nothing more than that now.

    • This reply was modified 1 month, 2 weeks ago by Ry.
    • This reply was modified 1 month, 2 weeks ago by Ry. Reason: Fix formatting
    #363568
    Anonymous
    Inactive

    Sometimes we label things in a negative way that are really our lessons in life. To see the last relationship as “failed” labels it as bad. Perhaps it isn’t a failed relationship nor bad. Perhaps it is a life lesson that you needed, something to learn from as we all must. To see this relationship as being a lesson in your life that you need to learn from labels it as positive. People come into our lives for a reason and sometimes that reason is because we don’t have good self esteem or we are seeking external validation. Sometimes we need external love because we don’t have internal self love. Others are there to fill our emotional needs to feel good about ourselves. Sometimes that reason is that we are ready, and have done our work, to become who we need to be to be in that relationship. You have had a lot of change in life in the last years which often throws us for a loop. You also write about your diagnosis and I call these brain health disorders from what I read one time in a book. What if your depression and anhedonia make it more problematic to have healthy relationships and require more work on your part to heal yourself? Not saying you are wrong or bad but what if this journey has not ended for you yet. What if the learning is still going on. I finally have a good husband but am lacking in friends due to moving, due to being picky, and covid-19 stopping in person gatherings where I live. I had an old friend call me recently and she is still so dysfunctional, depressed, and filled with crippling anxiety. I tried to give her advice which is why she called me but the call made me remember why I had to detach from her. Our relationship is extremely lopsided, I have grown and matured and she has not. We are both grandmothers, and I am entering this stage happier and she is frightened and miserable and unable to take care of her personal business. I tell you this because sometimes if we keep looking back, we can’t see the road up ahead. I am going to suggest you start doing positive self talk and journaling about how you feel. Get in touch with how you feel. Find the positive that this last relationship has taught you or has brought to you. Maybe you think nothing, but there is something. Maybe the lesson is to know yourself more or to do more internal work. Just using that as an example, or maybe that lesson is to keep seeking brain health disorder help.

    #363626
    anita
    Participant

    Dear Ry:

    My summary of what you shared with quotes:

    Your memories from your childhood are limited, “Often, my sister tells a story involving my parents and myself and I cannot remember”, “My mother is often emotionally cool, so perhaps this plays a part in my issues?”

    “I battled sell-esteem issues when I was young.. I was a tall, skinny kid with bad teeth”. It was in the military, as a young adult, that you got braces, started eating better and working out, finally feeling “damn near handsome on a good day”.

    In the military you were diagnosed with dysthymia (a persistent depressive disorder, chronic), later to be elevated to a recurrent depressive disorder. “I tend to forge ahead to succeed with my goals, but my depression remains largely invisible to those around me.. I have suffered from concentration issues much of my life”, “I have fleeting moments of happiness, but largely feel mirthless… hard to describe exactly what I’m feeling. Emotional withdrawal- which affects my relationships. Decreased sex drive. Negative feelings about myself (and others to an extent). I really have little interest in any hobbies. I just remain flat”, “my practice at keeping my feelings and emotions at a distance caused (ex’s) much grief. Breakups were always bad”.

    Your recent ex told you early on in the relationship: “Don’t downplay yourself, R. If there were words in the English language to express how amazing you are, what a light in my day/ life you are… I don’t know if you feel  like you don’t deserve to be loved.. but please don’t find it so hard to believe that someone could be so overwhelmingly fond of you”.

    At about 21 you married a woman because you got her pregnant,  joined the military, got divorced, remarried another woman, and got divorced in less than a year. After 10 years in the military, at 35 years old, you moved back home to be close to your 13 year old daughter, and you dated off and on, “For me, it was always casual”.

    Back home you enrolled in college, graduated with a BA, and got a safe and stable job with the local government. Later you moved to the US West Coast to join AmeriCorps,  and later found a federal job near Wash DC. After being offered the job, while still living on the west coast, you met who I referred to earlier as your recent ex, a single mother who lived with her parents with her toddler son. You pursued a casual relationship with her, having told her that you will be moving to Wash DC in a few months. But it took 16 months for the job in DC to materialize, and by then the relationship was no longer casual: you formed a strong bond with her son. She felt a much stronger bond with you than you did with her: “I remained in the mindset that I was leaving but she saw a future together and wanted me to see it. So strongly in fact that she found a job ..in DC and followed me up a few months later. (I .. never gave her a ‘Y/N’ on whether she should move up”.

    She found a place for her and her son outside DC, expecting you to join her, but you never did. You lived an hour away from her. You enrolled as a student online (a requirement for the DC job), and you were looking for other employment because the job was “rife with deficiencies from the start”. You visited her and her son on Sundays and tried to spend a weeknight there as well. You didn’t like the following about her: “her short fuse with her child, herpes thanks to an ex, her tendency to smother”. But you liked that you and her had a lot in common: “Both suffered depression and both tried to help us see in ourselves what the other saw”, “I miss how strongly she believed in me and how much she fought to push me to see myself in a better light”.

    In DC, she was “lonely and miserable being a single mom”, and regretted moving to Wash DC.  The relationship deteriorated, and “things were often bad”. In less than a year since the move to DC, in Nov 2019, she moved back to the west coast,  and on January 2020, you moved to a small town in the mid-west for work, and you currently reside there, alone and lonely . She started a relationship with another man in April this year, and “she seems happy, and her child is close to family again”.

    “I’m just upset with myself for yet another failed relationship… I miss her child terribly… I miss how strongly she believed in me and how much she fought to push me to see myself in a better light.

    My thoughts: you grew up with an “emotionally cool” mother, a woman who did not return your immediate and natural affection for her. As a result, you emotionally withdrew from her, from yourself and from everyone else. You were not born withdrawn, you were not born anxious or depressed, not any more than any other baby. You became these things as a reaction to your cold mother.

    Fast forward, you meet your  recent ex, she tries to reach out to you, to make you feel warm inside, but she is too late- the woman that mattered most in your life has left you cold.

    The only person to whom you describe closeness with is her son, not your daughter, not any of your exes, just that little boy: “there remains a strong connection in me to my ex and her son. We began seeing one another when her son was about 18-months old, so I was a part of his life for half of it. We were exceptionally close and I continue to grieve. My ex’s parents text photos/ videos of him almost every weekend, but that really doesn’t take the place of anything more substantial”- I think you saw and you still see yourself as a young boy, in your ex’s son. You feel connected to him, maybe you want to save him from the life of disconnection, loneliness and joylessness that you have experienced for four decades, at this point.

    Your ex’s parents know that you feel so close to the boy, they know because they saw it in your face, because your ex told them, because they can see the gifts you send him: the clothes, the educational toys, they know you love their grandson.

    “I neglected to mention that I have a daughter who’s 22”- it’s the boy that you feel connected to, the one who broke your walls of disconnect and withdrawal.

    This all means, to me, that you can still connect, at 44, you can still experience a close relationship with a woman, maybe with your daughter, with others. It won’t be easy and it will not be as good as it would have been if you weren’t .. cold for 4 decades but life can get warmer for you, as you move forward step by step, with some guidance, toward more and  more healing and better living.

    anita

     

    #363636
    Brandy
    Participant

    Hi Ry,

    One of the ways to get past the painful emotions of a breakup is to have no contact whatsoever with the person you’ve broken up with. This is what your ex is doing in order to get over you. But you want to keep the lines of communication open as friends because you miss her and her son, you can handle this type of relationship with her, and also because you are all alone in a new town and need support. But she can’t handle this type of relationship with you. As painful as this situation is, I hope you consider stopping all contact with her in order to allow healing to take place. The time may come when she is open to a friendship with you but right now she’s not so you really have no choice.

    I understand how devastating it is for you to lose contact with her son and I’m sure it is a terribly painful loss for him as well.  I wish you both didn’t have to experience this particularly painful loss.

    B

    #363671
    Ry
    Participant

    Hi and thank you for taking the time to reply twice, Brandy.

    Yes, I agree that I should break off contact… Our communications largely consist of her sending the occasional banal text about work–we used to work in the same organization before the move to DC–or she’ll share a TikTok on every other day or so, or a Snapchat every week or so. She made it clear that we would exist as friends about 6-weeks after she returned home (after she had flown back up to attend her former organization’s Christmas party, and I was her guest):

    “It’s not that I don’t miss you but things just have to be different. I don’t mind having you as a part of my life, but we broke up months ago. I know we were still close and I let lines blur sometimes, but it doesn’t change the facts; we aren’t a couple, we are friends. It’s not that I’m mad at you for how things were left last week, but it was very clear that there needs to be a definitive separation between us. I can’t go to Italy with you. I can’t do a road trip with you to move your stuff. I can’t do a weekend with you in the mountains for my birthday. You didn’t want to make the full commitment to me but you also struggle with this being just a friendship. I didn’t have the ability to put my foot down on the line between us when I was in DC, but now I can/must. I really didn’t want to talk about this. I just wanted you to take the facts and the hints and let the friendship settle where it will. But you continue to push for romantic settings, and I’m not sure how else to easily let you down. I don’t hold resentment towards you but I also don’t hold any romantic feelings for you.”

    I know she’s coping with things too. She has the benefit of going to work and having family nearby, so that’s helpful for her mindset. And her son actually FaceTimed me today for the first time in months. He was at her mom’s home, so I guess he felt free to call. Only a few minutes but it was sweet to have a conversation with him.

    #363675
    Ry
    Participant

    Hi Anita,

    Thank you for responding with such an extensive reply…

    Yes, my connection with her sweet son certainly helped to break my walls of disconnect and withdrawal. I had a purpose with him as a playmate, teacher, protector, and father-figure. I’ve known him for nearly threequarters of his life, so that makes the distance even harder.

    What the relationship with my ex taught me is how paramount it is to be open and vulnerable with a companion. That is something I simply must work on with my therapist, as I cannot continue to hurt women (by my coldness) and I do not want to end up alone in life. I enjoy and am much better when I have a companion in this world.

    -Ry

    #363681
    anita
    Participant

    Dear Ry:

    You are welcome. I wish you success in your next relationship. I think that you have learned and understand much more about yourself because of this  last, meaningful relationship, and you can do much better in your next. Feel free to post here anytime, in your current thread, or start another on any topic.

    anita

    #363690
    Brandy
    Participant

    Hi Ry,

    You are welcome. I think I understand the situation better now. It’s tough, I know. Fully committing to her would have required you to overlook too much, yet losing her and her son’s presence in your life leaves you heartbroken and lonely. Hang in there, Ry.

    B

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