This morning while I was cleaning the kitchen, I was listening to On Being with Krista Tippett, an interview with Mary Karr that I keep going back to because it’s a reflection of me. I never had the type of abuse she suffered from her parents, but there are parallels in that we both ended up in the “Mental Marriott” in order to have our nervous breakdowns… although in her words, every mental breakdown is a mental breakthrough. There became a point, a clear one in my mind, where I realized that being hospitalized for PTSD was inevitable- two sentences from Argo that gave me the strength to come undone in hopes of rising from the ash, not taking my friends down with me. They were:
- Can’t you see the common denominator is you?
- Why do you expect everyone else to fix you?
I could see the former, but not the latter until she brought it to my attention. I was too far down in grief to be able to see that I had any power in the situation, and her words gave it to me. I knew that I needed a safety net, but not that I was beyond the type of help that my friends were able to give, because they were not trained in psychiatry or psychology. I thought I only needed someone to listen to my frustrations, when in reality, I wasn’t getting the responses I needed to really improve, because my problems were too big for the amateur eye.
That second sentence gave me back my power.
Scared out of my mind, I sent Argo a voice message by attaching a sound file to an e-mail that thanked her for kicking my ass in all the right ways, wishing I could also send her a picture that indicated I was where I said I was, the place I needed to be, so that she would know for certain that her words had the desired impact. The moment after I read that e-mail, I called my insurance company to get pre-authorization for treatment, and my dad drove me to the hospital so I wouldn’t have to pay for parking. Between my fear and the fact that they were about to take my phone, I’m sure that the voice mail sounded scary. I was talking a hundred words a minute, because I didn’t know how long I had before the nurses came to collect my things, even my clothes because there are special outfits you wear so that you don’t have the capability to hang yourself. I wasn’t in that place, but I was definitely on the cusp, because I couldn’t see the mental breakthrough I needed to realize “this, too, shall pass.” I made so many plans without carrying them out that I knew if I didn’t take care of myself, the next stop was a SpongeBob SquarePants headstone. I only wish I could say that I was just being dramatic. When I got to the ER, my pulse was over a hundred, and my reactions had been cut down to “wounded animal.”
I honestly didn’t think I would get any better, that being Bipolar II would always be a downward spiral, because my particular brand is very few ups and long, drawn-out downs. Whether it was wrong or right, I felt so worthless it took my breath away, because arriving at the hospital was the realization that it would be so much better if no one had to worry about me anymore. Of course my friends and family would be sad, but they would have moved on without this constant need to check on me and make sure I was stable. It wasn’t reality, but it was real to me. As my friend Phil says, and I’m paraphrasing, depression lies… and it always knows the very best lies to use against you. The biggest lie my depression ever whispered in my ear was that suicide wouldn’t be a permanent solution to a temporary problem, because my depression wasn’t temporary. It would be my, in the words of Dexter Morgan, dark passenger as long as I lived.
I wanted to be the person that carried light in both of my hands, the one capable of leading people toward peace and social justice, but how could I ever justify that goal when I couldn’t even keep my own life together? When I couldn’t take care of my friends? When I was so anxious that fight ran in circles around me while flight was still putting on its shoes?
In the same way that I wouldn’t talk about my emotional abuse as a kid because I thought I was powerless, this situation was no different. I cracked under the pressure of being emotionally abused and having those feelings spew out like Pandora’s Box because they’d been stuffed down for far too long, and then my wife and best friend in the world hit me harder than I’ve ever been hit. I owned that I escalated that situation far and above what it needed to be emotionally, but it was Dana that broke the physical barrier and I could not let her get away with it (even though I recognized later that she might have thought hitting me that hard would take the fight out of me and it would be over).
Even at a little over a hundred pounds lighter, I still couldn’t wrap my brain around not standing up to a bully. Dana’s weight had never been an issue to me in terms of the way she looked… until I realized how our fists could not possibly carry the same weight. Plus, Dana was the receiver at a liquor store, so not only was she heavier, her arm muscles carried far more power than mine ever would. The thought that I needed to kick her ass so she’d know I was not one to be messed with was strong, overpowering my need to deescalate the situation and run away. I rested in the idea that sometimes what bullies need is for someone to stand up to them, because it may be the only thing that gets them to back down. Fight or flight covered up any chance I had at grace and mercy, because cortisol and sin were racing through my body, rendering me unable to disconnect from my emotions and calmly plan out my next move.
The thing is, though, that it didn’t work. She knew she was bigger, she knew she was stronger, and if anything, I just made her more angry instead of being willing to back down. How in the hell I ever thought fighting back was a good idea is beyond me. I just didn’t want to cower in a corner, afraid to stand up for myself. It got so bad that she put her hands around my neck and started to squeeze down as I choked. When she realized what she was doing, I was so angry I decided to return the favor… and that’s when all the adrenaline ran out, because I truly realized how small I was. My hands wouldn’t even reach around her neck, and there was nothing I could do to, in my mind, hurt her the way she’d just hurt me. Her hands were just too powerful, my neck too thin. I crumpled on the floor, hoping that my neck wouldn’t have those semi-permanent marks around it. The whistle had been blown, the fight was over, the goalie had the ball…. or so I thought. I didn’t even see her fist coming as it slammed into my glasses, so there was no way to duck or put my hands in front of my face. Luckily, I was wearing a plastic pair, so the damage was less than if I’d been wearing wire-rimmed. If that’s not cold comfort, I don’t know what is.
The one thing I didn’t say that I should’ve is “get out or I will call the police.” Because I didn’t, Dana pulled the classic “I paid my rent. I am entitled to everything in this house,” so that I was the one that had to run away from her… because obviously, this was all my fault… I just ran into her fist. I couch surfed and went to the house to get my things while Dana was at work so I wouldn’t have to run into her… and in fact, I wouldn’t even have done that if I hadn’t left my psych and sleeping medications in my office. We tried to make up so that sharing a house was at least a possibility until either one of us found a new place, but I didn’t count on the emotional swings growing much larger. I was sitting on the floor of the hallway, doing nothing but chatting about my time in the hospital, because I thought that as my friend, she’d want to hear it. That turned into her asking me deep and probing questions, and I would start to answer them, and she would say “stop.” Then, she’d have another question and when I began to answer it, she’d say, “I told you to stop.” Then, she asked me another question and when I began to answer it, she told me that if I didn’t stop, she was going to call the police…. but she didn’t. She called my father and told him that I was having a psychotic break. How she jumped to that conclusion is beyond me. I had taken all my psych meds, so I was as chill as I’d been in months. I gave her her own space- she was sitting on her bed and I was sitting way out in the hallway, never raising my voice. Neither my dad nor the police, had they been there to witness what had actually happened, would have agreed with her assessment. My view is that it was hypocritical to ask me questions and emotionally kick me while I was down. I realized that she didn’t want to listen. She only wanted to talk at me instead of with me. This was no equal meeting of the minds, and I didn’t understand that then. I thought that by laying out my vulnerabilities and the new context I’d been given while working with my cohort in the hospital would give her some insight as to everything I’d been through.
But she didn’t.
She put every emotional gun she could think of on the table because while it was clear she wanted me to listen, she was hell-bent on not returning the favor. There were moments in time later that it got better, but they were isolated incidents and not an overarching peace.
I don’t think I would have been as quick to leave town if she hadn’t raised her hand to me and dealt with the aftermath in a way that said to me, “we’re not okay, but we might be one day.” And by that, I do not mean that I would’ve wanted romantic reconciliation. I mean that Dana and I had an incredible capacity to be friends, and it would have been worth sticking around to see if that kind of love came back over time.
Even in leaving town, I chose a place where our paths would be parallel so that it wouldn’t be impossible to patch things up to that degree. But there were several shady things that have happened in the meantime that make it impossible. For instance, she told my sister that she was coming to Virginia, and I don’t know why but I have a pretty good lead. My guess is that she wanted my sister to tell me, and she didn’t until months later. Then, one of my friends told me that she was flying in, and I was butt-hurt that she didn’t reach out until I realized e-mail went both ways and reached out to her. She didn’t even respond, just asked her sister to respond for her, which was basically “please don’t contact Dana again through any means.”
I reached my “fuck you” breaking point in that moment, because it was underhanded and weak. If Dana didn’t want any contact, she should have said so herself. To sic her attack cat on me was just unnecessary after she’d been talking to my sister and my parents for months via social media…. or talking at them, because they wouldn’t reply (at least to my knowledge). I can’t help but feel that since Dana thought our breakup was all my fault, my family would, too… I mean, why wouldn’t they want contact with her after the last time we were all in the same room together, I had a bruise under my eye? She thought she had it wired as the victim in this situation, and because we’re not friends, she can stick to that story as long as she wants. It is, in my own mind, delusional, but that recognition isn’t mine to make.
Shortly after that, my parents unfriended her on Facebook so that I didn’t have to see her love pour out for them while she made a point of excluding me. Every good feeling I had about that relationship went down the drain, slowly robbing me of any regret in the actions I took to get out of her life and stick to it.
The only moment we’ve had in the past few years that’s been positive is when I called to tell her my mother died. She was gracious and caring, and then we hung up… back to no contact, not even showing up for the funeral of her mother-in-law for seven years. Although, I have to say that I didn’t even think about it until it was brought to my attention. I sent her a text message saying that if she’d like to come, I didn’t want her to feel unwelcome. No reply whatsoever, and when I got my answer, I didn’t dwell on it. I focused on my own friends, my own family right up until her absence was noted as disrespectful. My mom and dad had been divorced for over a decade and my dad still made it… even with all the bandages on his face from cancer surgery. I wasn’t angry in the moment, but looking back in retrospect, it just stings. What, did she think I was going to try to make a play for her in front of my mother’s casket? This was not about us. If anything, it only reinforced how little my mother and me meant to her, and it was yet another sign that I’d made the right choice to start my life over in a major way…. that I was justified in grabbing onto Argo’s belief in me and ditching the person who literally told me to my face that I’d never amount to anything.
Although I didn’t grab onto Argo’s words in a way that was tangible. We’d each done a number on each other and neither of us were eager to repeat it. I grabbed on to the memory of those words, because if she could believe in me, eventually, I would, too. As my life in DC began to take shape, I realized just how much I believed Dana when she, in not so many words, called me a loser. I couldn’t decide whether she was projecting her own lack of self-worth onto me, if she was parroting all her parents’ negative thoughts about me, or if those words, to her, were Gospel truth. In the end, thinking about it isn’t even worth it anymore. I did not need that temperature in my life, but friends who would see the life I was trying to create and help me get there.
I am certainly not blameless in the ending of our marriage, but to claim yourself as the victim when you also have stuff to own is unacceptable. I am worth more than the shit sandwich she handed me, and I wish I could have seen it sooner. As I get further away, I get angrier and have to deal with it to get it resolved, because I didn’t let myself get angry then. I was too much of a fixer/pleaser to let that happen. It was a delayed reaction to realizing that I very much got the short end of the stick, because communication problems can be resolved with work and time. Thinking you have the right to start a physical fight with someone and claim they deserve it is something I will no longer tolerate from anyone ever again.
I wrote it down.