This is actually a two-fer. I was engaged once before for one tumultuous, torturous, heartbreaking year, which, come to think of it, ended in August before the ’08 elections. Just over 4 years ago. It seems like longer. I was living with not a lot of hope, and I definitely needed a fuck-load of change. What followed the break-up of that engagement was the most listless series of days without end and deep sadness that left me soaking in the tub for hours every evening after work. I lost 15 pounds in two weeks and could only bring myself to eat brioche stuffed with Nutella. Oh, by the way, I’M A WOMAN AND NUTELLA IS HOW I GRIEVE. So anyway, I remember reading Wilkie Collins in the tub – the book was suffering a double wetness from the bathwater and also from my pathetic tears of grief and loss. I did this every night until I finished The Woman in White. It’s a long novel, and I read slow. It’s not surprising that I would be so stricken after losing a fiance ( who really I never should have been with ever), but what upset me so much in the end was how it ended- with a single, unfulfilling fight after months if not years of mounting resentment had built up. It ended with him moving to a different country to the one I had already moved to to be with him. It ended with him refusing to communicate with me at all – even having his mother handle our final financial settlement with a card (sunflowers) and not even a phone call. (Ewww). I was bereft of all the people I had come to love in England – all the people there that really mattered. So there I was living in the East End of London in a life that suddenly made no sense whatsoever. That was all demoralising, but that paled in comparison to my feelings of failure. After years of strident overachieving in school / the workplace, I failed at something big. I failed at something desirable women were supposed to be good at – I failed at loving myself and knowing deep down that everything would be alright. Because I was spiraling into the kind of depression that leaves you eating Nutella sandwiches and reading gothic novels in the bath and not having the will to be physically upright for any normal length of time. I could not sleep, but then I couldn’t wake up. Such was the “new normal”.
This is why when my peers in med school, who are 22 years old, express impatience over not finding the perfect guy I have to consciously keep myself from bursting out laughing in their baby-smooth faces. It took me decades to get to the point where I’d be a half-decent spouse. What does the average person really have to offer in their twenties? Crippling college loans and really good taste in indie bands? Please.
Back to the point I was previously making. What the horrendous breakup of an engagement taught me was surprisingly, not a horrible fear of marriage, but that if I was going to get married I was going to do it right. I was going to become so emotionally whole that life’s curve balls would no longer leave me convulsing with emptiness. How did I make a comeback? Thanks to talk therapy I was able to recover from that depression. It only took a few sessions for me to retake control of my emotional wellbeing. I learned that depressed brains have a bias towards depressive, negative thoughts. I found with practice that I didn’t have to indulge the downward spiral of negativity that I had been living with for so long. I started to think of myself as a doer rather than a thinker. I read a lot of studies that said people who had scientific or quantitative skill sets – where there are right answers – as opposed to artistic skill sets were happier. I learned from the Framingham study that people who are surrounded by lifelong friends life longer, happier lives. I decided that I could do more than just know this information – these were all things I could do – all things I could have in my life. In the end I never needed prescription drugs for depression. I was able to change my habits enough to start living a totally different life. I started listening to my feelings instead of denying them. I quit my job. I moved back to Philadelphia. I began studying science. I became unshakeably happy. I met my soon-to-be husband. Most of all I decided not to be afraid of what I couldn’t do and instead committed myself to seeking what I was capable of.