“6...7...ooooh 8, 9, Skip, AND 10! Freaky streaky!! Start shuffling, Fell, we’re going again….”
As I place another tally mark under my name on our construction paper and magic marker scoreboard, I can’t help but marvel at the strange magic happening in our kitchen:
Skip-Bo just might be healing my relationship.
Our story is one of love and second chances. One that has similarly been told many times before, with an ever changing cast of characters, plot twists, awful and serendipitous timing. Our story is one that leads to the heart of truth, and grace.
At least, I hope it is, and does.
I think, maybe, it could be, but I only just came back to our apartment 2 months ago, and started my prescription a week before that. I am finding my footing a single day at a time, as is he. We are finding our friendship again each time we set aside our respective fears, and open the deck of Skip-Bo cards (and a bottle of wine) to simply play while listening to guilty-pleasure Pandora stations: Dashboard Confessional when he wins, Fleetwood Mac when I do.
You see, I went to Haiti in February on a volunteer trip that meant, and means, a great deal to me. It cracked my heart wide open in a way I never, ever wish for it to close. But, it also allowed for me to very clearly see that shit...up until now, something has not been quite right.
The morning after I came home I awoke to a weight on my chest of pure panic. My intuition told me B, my long time love and partner, was going to propose, something I had pined and hoped for with genuine heart and excitement for months. Instead of absolute joy, however, I was flooded with the realization of how deeply I was struggling with my mental health and had been for quite some time. It all suddenly bubbled to the surface -- “it” being a year and a half’s worth of anxiety so overwhelming it had been affecting my sleep, my work, my friendships and my family.
Spilling over in the form of tears and sobs and shaky hands, I turned to B in the comfort of our shared bed and told him I couldn't say yes right now, if that was his plan. I told him I wasn’t in a good space, and needed time to figure out what in the world was happening, and how I could be better.
I told him I didn't know what I wanted or if I could ever re-marry and be a mom, as 10+ years worth of fears and anxieties compounded into a fist that repeatedly punched me in the gut and the head. I was terrified to repeat my (many) mistakes from my first marriage, and thus picked apart every potential obstacle for us, allowing them to amass in a heap of irrational doubt. I once heard this phenomenon described as worries screaming so loudly inside the mind that it’s impossible to hear anything else – certainly not anything approaching logic. This feels cripplingly true for me.
Turns out it was his plan, to propose. Including a meticulously, and lovingly planned surprise trip just 3 weeks later.
After a few days of sullen bewilderment, though my spirit continued to whisper “be still”, we broke up as my words broke his heart. I can never deny this truth - I absolutely broke his heart while I shocked and confused my own. We briefly, in a haze, parted ways, and he quickly took action to move on. And, humbly? I get it. The need to feel whole while standing in the rubble of heartache is so painfully human. The desire to move forward with whatever scraps of confidence remain is a weirdly understandable trait of our fragile egos.
But the exchanging of our hurts and his ability to move on so quickly (even if only superficially) crushed me, and felt like the final severing of any remaining private, intimate connection between us. It sent me to my lowest point, yet.
Many doctor, therapist, psychiatric, coach visits ensued, along with medication and coming clean to my family and friends about the depths of my confusing hurt.
It was excruciating to be away from him in the following days and feel as though I had likely made a huge mistake based on so many old fears and a severe bout with my mental wellness. Whether or not I could be blamed for initiating this choice was irrelevant to my heart. It simply wanted to make it right. It wanted B and me, together. When I finally mustered the courage to admit this wholly, it didn’t feel like a weight lifting -- it felt like a sinking realization of the work to come, if he was even up for it.
To break it down with simplicity: the whole thing was a mixed bag of bad timing, a desperate need for deeper connection, truth and support...fear and anxiety walking hand in hand at the front of the line and….My gosh. The whole thing was just really fucking painful.
But B knows my heart, and I believe I know his. Despite the negative influence of a few folks in his life, he began to re-open up to me by agreeing we should try, and that I should return to our shared space in California.
This time in our relationship? It was, and sometimes still is, extremely hard. There are days when my needs sound irrational and insecure to him, and days where his behaviors seem intentionally spiteful or shady to me.
But, it is also far from hopeless. You cannot selectively numb emotions (you take the good, you take the bad, Facts of Life style), so the freedom to experience deeper, happier intimacy as a result of all this is not something we take lightly.
At the end of July B and I will hit the road for a two week trek up the Pacific Northwest, from SF to Vancouver. We plan to camp, cook, hike, drink good beers, listen to good music, see beautiful things, explore, be dirty, free, and just generally, wholly together in the most unplugged, earth-centered ways possible. I’ll document it every step of the way -- both in journaling, and in photography (B makes a pretty cute subject).
This road trip is something we have discussed planning since B first moved out west to live with me two and half years ago, but its significance has recently grown from a curious interest in exploring the wild to an important step in healing our relationship.
I’m hoping this trip helps me not to care so much about what any other person thinks of what happened, or what could happen next. I hope to find peace in the process of regaining his family’s trust and affections. I hope to forgive the unkind and borderline cruel words that slammed my character from his friend, that I unfortunately discovered during an insecure (yes, naughty, I know) peek into his phone. I hope to let go of the hurt I feel over his stigmatizing my health in repeatedly “warning” B that having children together would mean putting them at risk to also be so flawed (as if I’d give birth to a baby in a straight jacket, or something). I hope to fully embrace knowing this negativity says more about him than it does about me. But I’d take just caring less in general.
I hope to continue feeling my way through what I know to be just a part of who I am, but in no way a defining trait forever crippling my ability to feel joyful, grateful, alive and fulfilled. Not even a little. If I’m honest, I see so clearly now how my work as a life coach has only benefitted from all of this; that my ability to sense, to empathize, to support and offer has expanded along with my practice as a result. Helping B to understand has also stretched my skills as a teacher and a storyteller, in a sense. His courage to listen and learn and be curious about this -- and perhaps more so, his willingness to see how “normal” it actually can be -- means the world to me. His open discussions and supportive, kind words remind me what is possible with love, patience, and vulnerability in communication. He didn’t ask to become a pseudo-spokesperson for partnership with a person who has faced this challenge, but he continues to stand beside me at my tiny podium while I begin to share my journey.
I hope to show other people that any struggle with mental health isn’t worth stigmatizing; that it’s a conversation to be had, not a flaw to be shamed. That the beautiful things we are able to offer the world can be valuable, and valued, because of this, and not simply in spite of.
This is, in the end, the heart of why I sat down to write our story.
Most of all I’m hoping this trip allows us both to continue stepping into the truth of who we are together, and as individuals. To forgive and let go, to dig out the rot with our bare hands. To listen closely when spirit whispers be still in the midst of pain and confusion. To feel eternally grateful for my friends who have stood by me, and us. Who said “we are so sorry, we love and support you” when we parted ways, and who said “we are so happy, we love and support you” when we reunited. Because that is what real friendship looks like, and it is the most sustaining force I have in my life.
And after all of that hope, there are still more Skip-Bo games to be won. So we will shuffle and deal our way through California, Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia for two weeks; we will physically play the hands we are dealt, while leaning on truth and grace as our guides. It is strange magic, indeed, this little game of colorful numbers.
Then again, isn’t that also true about simply being alive?
Inhale Peace, Exhale Joy.
**special thanks to our dear Eric and Andy, for being our SkipBo pals and mentors, and the freaky streaky OG's!!
“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”
- Brene Brown