To Balance or Not to Balance

Balance. I’m not sure I believe in it. People try to say you need to have balance in your life, but how are you supposed to balance your mental and physical health along with home life, work life, church life, being a wife and being a mother when you literally don’t have enough time?

I’ve been feeling my identity slipping away again. I don’t have time to be me anymore. I don’t have the confidence. It seems like in order to have “balance” you have to give something up. And then you’re not balanced anymore.

How does everyone do it? How do you do everything you have to do and still make sure your mental health is good? How do you maintain your sense of self, who you are, with everything else? I’ve been the victim of identity theft—real identity theft–my first time suffering through severe postpartum depression. I lost it again in a bad marriage. When I found myself after my divorce it was the most glorious thing in the world! I was so happy again. I had confidence again. And now I feel empty again. How is it done? How?

Coming Back to Hope

There are so many thoughts racing through my brain right now. I hope I can get it all out in at least a semi-coherent way.

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I spent the evening looking for new cars. I came home to an empty house (my kids are with their dad), and I hate the feeling of being here all alone all evening and night, so I went to a movie. It was almost midnight by the time the movie got over, but I just couldn’t bring myself to go home. Instead, I drove around the streets of my home town with the windows down and the music cranked. Alice in Chains, Stone Temple Pilots, Soundgarden are some of the bands that came on the radio. Music from my youth. It was so nice just cruising around, belting out my tunes. The only thing that would have made it better would have been to have someone there with me. I tried not to dwell on that, knowing the loneliness that would ensue could overtake me, and I didn’t want that. Dating/relationships are hard. I think it’s harder now than the last time I was doing it, before I got married. Add mental illness on top of that, and it adds even more stress to the equation. Maybe I’ll talk about that later. It’s one of the things I’ve been wanting to write about, but right now, before my tired mind unravels (like the sweater in that song by Weezer—yeah that came on, too!) I’d like to focus on the idea of hope—again.

Last night I was talking to a friend, who has also been divorced. I told him it had been a year now. I’ve been divorced/a single parent for a year. He told me the first year is always the hardest. “That’s good to know,” I said. “That means I can make it.”

I have hit some of the lowest points of my life this last year, but I have also had some incredible highs. Overall, I think I’ve grown more this last year than I ever have before in my whole life. I was thinking about a saying—the one where you pick yourself up and dust yourself off. I do believe in picking yourself up and continuing on. Sometimes I’ve had to lay in the mud and the muck for awhile before I could do it, and even when I did get up, I had to trudge through with pain, like dirt, still clinging to my clothes. I’ve dealt with some anxiety and OCD again recently, but for the most part I’m still doing really well. I don’t know what the future holds. Right now I can’t try to look too far into it or I’ll go mad. I’m having to live each day as it comes, but I’m doing my best to keep each of these days good.

I guess what I want everyone to know is that you can keep going. Even through the most bitter of trials, the most painful of experiences you can learn and grow and find peace. You can even find happiness. It’s never completely gone. It’s never completely out of reach. Despite my often-times love/hate relationship I have with hope, I always come back to it. I can never completely let go of it. And I’m glad of that right now.

Taking a Closer Look

The first time I heard the song Come a Little Closer by Cage the Elephant (LOVE them!) it spoke to me—mostly because it reminded me of an experience I had many years ago. It was an incredibly painful experience, but one that also taught me an incredibly valuable lesson.

The chorus of the song speaks of how things aren’t always what they seem to be when you take a closer look. Snowflakes are a perfect example of this.

From a distance, it’s just a uniform sheet of white, but when you put one under a microscope you see its true intricate beauty. Life is the same way. From a distance it may seem to be one way, but upon closer inspection, you may find something completely different.

I had a friend in college. Yes, that’s saying something! I will be the first to admit that I was a really hard person to get along with back then, and I’ve often wondered if most of the people who called themselves my friends were just saying it. If I could go back in time and meet my past self, I probably wouldn’t be able to stand myself! There were, however, a couple of people who saw past the cocky, loudly opinionated person that I was and somehow liked me anyway.

This one particular friend and I stayed in touch even after college, and our friendship grew despite our lives going in different directions. I got married, had a baby and became a stay-at-home mom while she continued her education and had a career. It seemed as though she was always off on some grand adventure while I had my own mini-adventures close to home. The differences didn’t matter to me. She was my friend, someone I cared about and was happy for, someone I knew cared about me. So imagine my shock when one day she told me that she could no longer be my friend because seeing me with my perfect life as a wife and mother, with the perfect husband made her too jealous because it was the life she had always wanted and dreamed of since she was a young girl. And that was it. That was the end. She wouldn’t talk to me again.

Part of the reason this hurt me so much was because my life was so far from that perfect world she had so falsely dreamed up. My marriage was in shambles. It was so bad I knew I had three options—get a divorce, get some serious help to save my marriage or take my own life. Yes, that’s how bad it was. It was the worst hell I’d been through up to that point in my life. All I could see was darkness, and there were times I didn’t know if I could make it through. The ironic part is that I had actually been thinking of telling my friend about what was going on. I felt like I could trust her because I knew she cared about me and would be there for me no matter what—because that’s what friends do, right?

Besides my shattering marriage, I had also gone through severe postpartum depression after having my daughter and it never really went away. While I loved being a mom and was grateful I could be one, I had quickly learned that motherhood doesn’t equal a state of constant happiness and bliss like she apparently thought it did.

It hurt. I hurt. I thought about telling her what was going on, but I knew it wouldn’t get through. She was too closed off to anything other than what she wanted to believe, and I didn’t want to make her feel bad—because I valued her as a person and someone who had been one of my closest friends. Despite the hurt, as I looked at and analyzed what had happened, I learned a very important lesson which I’m still grateful for. It taught me never to make assumptions. It’s so easy to look at someone else and think they have it made, think they have the perfect spouse, the perfect kids, the perfect house, the perfect job. The perfect life. But it’s not true! Everyone has problems, everyone struggles, and when you make an assumption like that it takes away opportunities for you to serve. If you can just take the time to truly get to know someone and get a glimpse into their life, you often find that you’re more alike that you think and that perhaps you can help or strengthen them in their times of difficulty.

Now, it would have been nice if I had learned this lesson without the painful experience to go along with it. But pain and hurt are a part of life, and one of the greatest things I’ve found is the ability to look back and see what you have learned and can learn from those times—just like I did with this experience.

*As a side note, this experience was several years ago. My ex-husband and I did get help that did save our marriage. But life goes on, things change, people change, and we did end up divorced anyway. The fact that we didn’t go through a completely bitter and hate-filled divorce, the fact that we remain friends and still care about each other doesn’t mean it was some picture-perfect divorce. It was an incredibly difficult experience for both of us and the most alone I have ever felt in my life. I am grateful for the friends I had, who stuck with me through it and allowed me to cry and vent and shared in my pain with me. I’m also grateful for the friends and neighbors I have now who have shown so much love and support to both me and my ex-husband.

Stigmas, Stigmas Everywhere

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Mental illness isn’t the only thing with a stigma. Stigmas can be found all over the place. I think divorce is one of those things that can have one attached to it, particularly within my religion. Marriage is considered sacred in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, especially when the marriage has been performed in one of our temples. Throughout my life I’ve noticed there is this stigma that if a couple who was married in the temple gets divorced it is because at least one of the two had an affair, has some sort of addiction or was physically or sexually abusive. I’ll admit, when I was younger and only knew how to see things from my own limited point of view, I thought those were the only reasons a couple should ever get divorced. Now, having been through a divorce myself, I see that there is more to a marriage than that. A truly good marriage is more than just being faithful, not having an addiction and not being physically or sexually abusive. Neither I, nor my ex-husband, had a problem with any of those things. Neither of us cheated, neither of us had an addiction, and neither of us were physically or sexually abusive. It’s hard not to wonder if people look at me and judge me because of my divorce, especially when they hear that it didn’t happen because of any of the aforementioned reasons. If marriage is so sacred, then I must be a pretty horrible person to end it otherwise, right? It might be a nice sentiment, but actually comes from an incredibly limited perspective, lacking understanding and any sense of compassion.

It has been six months to the day since my divorce was final. Perhaps that is why I wanted to write about this now, though it is a subject that has been on my mind for quite awhile. Another stigma, or perhaps I should say stereotype, that I have seen attached to divorce is that divorced couples hate each other and fight all the time. Stereotypes do come about for a reason, and, sadly, I have seen or heard about this sort of scenario a lot in the last six months. I will admit, my ex and I got into a couple of shouting matches while going through the divorce process and we continue to have disagreements now and then, but for the most part we were, and have been, pretty civil to each other. That’s because we are two mature adults who love and care about our children more than we care about ourselves. We’ve done everything we can to ensure their happiness through all of this.

Some states, including mine, make you take a divorce education class if you have children under the age of eighteen. I grumbled about it, because I tend to rebel against anything that is forced upon me, but it ended up being a really great class taught by a man who had been divorced himself, with two sons in the middle of it. He shared sad stories of couples who put themselves before their kids, but he also told us that you can make things work. He admitted there were times he wanted to say something bad about his ex-wife or put the kids in the middle, but then he’d think about what was best for them and would make the right decision. He also told us that they would all still go do things together sometimes. One of his sons played hockey so he and his ex-wife would sit next to each other at their son’s games, then they would both take him out to dinner after. What an incredible example of parents who put their kids first. I feel as though my ex and I have done the same thing.

Now, do I still believe marriage is sacred? Of course I do. We had our reasons for getting divorced, but, frankly, that’s no one’s business but our own. Instead of judging or wondering or perpetuating the stigma and stereotype perhaps it would be better to simply accept, encourage and love.

Still Hoping

There are so many things I want to write about, so many ideas crowding my head just waiting to be set free. I just haven’t gotten to them yet.

I’ve been plagued by memories recently. Memories of happier times, simpler times. Not that right now isn’t good. I’m still feeling better than I usually do at this time of year, and I recognize and acknowledge the many blessings I have to be grateful for. I know this, but sometimes it’s just hard to feel it.

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It’s my first Christmas as a single mom, and I will admit that I’m feeling incredibly lonely right now. I know I have friends, family, neighbors who are there for me, who care about me, but I still feel lonely and sad, especially when images of good times in my marriage surface in my memories. I still haven’t found a way to look at those times and just be happy about them, grateful for what they were. It’s like there’s this big, black slash through them now, marring the happiness that should line the memory. Maybe one day I’ll get there. For now, I look at my life, reflect on the memories and wonder how this is where I am right now—so far from where I thought I would be, nowhere close to where I wish I was.

I have plans, and yes, even goals, for my future, but they’re still vague and general at this point. Maybe because I think I’ll fail once I set that goal for myself. It seems as though I’ve failed at so many things in my life, that I’m never quite good enough, and I don’t want to fail again. I know there are people out there who want to see me fail, who can’t wait to shove it in my face, and I’m so tired of that. Yet, despite it all, I still see this glimmer of light in my life, in my future. Hope. There are times when I don’t want to hope anymore because I’m afraid of being let down, afraid that my whole life is nothing but smoke and mirrors, and when you take them away there’s nothing real left. Somehow, I can’t let go of it—of hope. It trails me, bursts in front of me, and I can’t help but cling to it.

It’s Okay to Fail

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As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I think we often put a lot of pressure on ourselves to be perfect. We have this religion we believe in, and we want to be good, we want to do the things we know we’re supposed to, so we give ourselves unrealistic expectations. The truth is, we aren’t perfect. We make mistakes. We fail. We fall. And that’s okay. It only means we have somewhere to go. I wrote a single line in a poem about it.

Wanderlust to Roam

My wanderlust to roam
like the cravings of an addict to nicotine,
living high on wind and earth and sky,
free of anchor or root to chain me down,
free to soar and fall and soar again.
My wanderlust to roam.

The poem is twofold. Obviously the main idea is about my desire to wander and explore. But the line free to soar and fall and soar again was about failing. It means that it’s okay to fail because we can succeed again. Falling isn’t the end. We fall, we get up. It reminds me of Imagine Dragon’s On Top of the World. There’s a line toward the end of the song that’s about how hard it is to fall and get up, but get up, anyway.

I can’t even count how many times I’ve fallen or failed in my life—too many to even remember. Depression is something that beats you down, anyway, makes you feel like a failure most of the time. In high school, I beat myself up anytime I didn’t get a 4.0. I felt worthless never finishing college with a Bachelor’s degree. I think women in the LDS church especially feel pressure to be perfect—to have these perfect little (or big) families with perfect children and perfect spouses, and of course we have to be perfect too. And we’re scared to show the world otherwise. Well, through this blog, I’m showing everyone how I’ve fallen, and I’m saying it’s okay.

I think going through a divorce is what has truly taught me what it means to get back up. It is the hardest thing I’ve ever been through, the worst hell I’ve ever experienced. I feel as though divorce is still somewhat of a taboo in my religion. But it happened. I got divorced. The worst panic attacks I’ve ever had were shortly before it was final, as I thought about how my life had come to this, how much it hurt. A couple of times I ended up on my bathroom floor, crying and shaking so hard I literally couldn’t breathe and thought I was about to pass out, thought I might end up in the hospital. Those first couple of weeks after my divorce was final were extremely hard too. I felt like the most epic failure ever, felt so incredibly worthless. Suddenly becoming a single mom was so hard. Yet, I did it. As my routine fell into place I realized how strong I had become—because of the fire I had been through. I failed, and I fell, but I got back up and was stronger and more refined than I’d ever been in my life. After that, I realized I was happier than I had been in years.

Life certainly isn’t perfect. I’m still a divorced woman and a single mom. I still deal with mental illness on a daily basis, yet I’ve learned to get back up when life gets me down because I know it’s okay to get pushed down. It’s okay to make mistakes. It’s okay to fail. It’s okay to fall. Falling isn’t the end. Sometimes it is a beginning—one that leads to knowledge, strength, resolve and refinement. One that can lead us closer to our Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ.