Completely Mental Part IV: Kintsugi

Beware: Falling Serifs

I split part three into two posts, because it was too long.

This is part four of an ongoing series I'm calling I've Been Sad. It will likely receive some further enhancements for clarity or continuity, much like the previous installments have. This is iterative writing, and if you need previous versions, it's all available in the git repository in the footer of each page.

Mercifully Shattered

Finally, I was calm, and at peace. I had been shattered. Shattered into a million pieces; and it was the most terrible thing that ever happened to me, but it was also the best thing that ever happened to me.

It would be what allowed me to someday soon be reassembled into the best I’ve ever been. I had built a dense, impenetrable shell around me that couldn’t be removed, and the only way to escape from it was to smash it all to pieces so that it could be rebuilt and fused together with gold. 1

Kintsugi

Rose Gold

Having finally arrived at acceptance, I was going to leave Philadelphia freshly shattered, somewhat serene, and at peace with the knowledge that I may not ever fall in love again — and that everything was still going to be alright. I was really grateful that everything went as perfectly as it could have that weekend and I felt safe and secure for the first time in, well, decades.

I was right on time. And more importantly, I was right on time to cross paths with someone that would pour some of the gold that binds my pottery back together again. It’s kismet. Destiny. She’d start at my heart and work her way outward from there, and she would do it without my direction, and with precision and ease. Those things I decided that I must never wish for again. Things that I felt like it must be wrong for me to want and even worse if I needed? They are the exact same things that come so easily to her. She is generous with me, and she is radiant, and her hair is unfair. Her name is Tracey. She effortlessly readily loves me in a way that is All I Ever Wanted.

More beautiful for having been broken. © emory lundberg, 2018

Getting Better

My therapy is making inroads. I have some real breakthrough moments that I’ve never experienced before. I am becoming more self-lead, as my therapist says. Like she predicted, my writing improves and more importantly, my photography improves. When I ask Mari about this at one point she tells me that she can see a change also, and she explains it is my best work, because it is much less self-aware and less technical. That I’m shooting from my gut. Finally. Finally! You might take tens of thousands of pictures, but sometimes you make a photograph.2

This was one of the things that I was able to admit to myself before I could allow myself to think I was making improvements. It was evident to me in my work, and I saw it. I still needed a trusted observer to fill in the gaps for me, but I felt vindicated. I felt like I was improving. I felt like for the first time in twenty years, I was getting better.

A month later in our couple therapist’s office I would say that I felt like I couldn’t let myself accept happiness. I’d say that I was afraid that my happiness was a symptom, an artificial echo of happiness that my brain constructed for me to further deceive me, right before it tightened a noose around my neck and lowered me further into new darkness.

I had some manic-ish episodes before that lifted my mood for a few days only to crash even harder, but Liz shook her head before I could finish the sentence and she would tell me she has seen what I was talking about, but that this wasn’t it. In fact, she would say that she’s never seen me this happy and content, not since we met. I’m awash with relief and gratitude.

Then I tell Liz that I would not have been brave enough to ever end our marriage, and that I was grateful she was able to start this process. And then I saw the relief and gratitude pour out from her. We were both finally settling into our new relationship, and we were both trusting each other again.

Momentum

Our house sold in a day. It sold while I was in Philadelphia and engaged in my fantastic voyage and was en route to being shattered. Eric helps me out a little bit through the Docusign process in my, say, limber condition, and we accepted an offer, so while finally under contract, begin looking for places of our own. We hadn’t yet talked to our children about our divorce, but Calvin wasn’t even two years old until July, so he’s pretty much rolling with life and doesn’t exactly have a well-constructed reality yet anyway. He is the same age I was when my parents divorced, and I had a lot of anxiety and concerns about this.

We talked to Prudence about our divorce at dinner one night, and I was so afraid of making her sad or being anxious about this, but she was remarkably resilient. The things she found interesting were that she’d have two bedrooms, and two houses, and that she and her brother would spend time living in both of them. This was a little strange for her to wrap her head around, but she didn’t seem too concerned about the part where her parents weren’t going to be married. Our circumstances were different than some, so there was no weird conversation about the nature of love because Liz and I still love each other. It is a decidedly different love than it was, say, three years ago, but we love our children and each other and our family is going to change in a lot of ways but it’s going to be the same in others.

Ultimately it will become clear to me that it is going to be better, because Liz and I will rapidly begin to be more than we were as a couple. This is the part that is easy to ignore, because someone may tell you that children are better off with two married parents. My response to that is going to be: maybe. I can think of a few examples in my own family where the children have absolutely been better off without one of their parents. In our case, I think our children are getting a tremendous benefit from our divorce because my children are getting a dramatically more engaged and capable father, and their mother isn’t enduring a life between my depression and anxieties, and resenting me every day for it. 3

The Details

We decided our attorneys are expensive enough and that we can bang out most of our settlement and parenting plan with a mediator, who is also a therapist and is exceptionally adept at facilitating this for the two of us. It’s easy deciding how we are going to raise our children.

We have property spreadsheets where we make decisions on who-gets-what. I’m read books on co-parenting and I don’t find it so obnoxious anymore because it’s exactly what we are doing. I’m optimistic and ready to embrace this transition.

Early in this process my friend Mari told me something I’ll never forget about her own divorce: she told me that she’s as proud of her divorce as she was her marriage. She tells me that she’s a better parent because of it, and in hindsight I can tell you that I feel exactly the same way. It was one of those things I found so unlikely when I first heard it, but she knew that I could get to the other side of this and that something really great was waiting for me on the other end. I had to have faith in that, and that’s the sort of thing that never comes easily for me, especially when there are saboteurs that have taken up residency in my brain for twenty years telling me that things will only get worse and that I don’t deserve anything better than what I had.

I write vows for our divorce into our parenting plan. They read:

  • We will treat each other with love and respect, and have a relationship as co-parents that we are proud of.
  • We will speak of each other in a way that conveys trust and esteem for one another when talking to our children, and our communities.
  • We will honor the relationships our children have with each of us. We will honor and respect each other as parents, and as integral members of our family.
  • We will trust each other as collaborators, and we will work together for the benefit of our family.
  • We will prepare our children for the transitions between households and work together to make these transitions as smooth as possible.

Our optimism isn’t unfounded. We know there will be hiccups and conflicts from time to time, but we have seen them happen already and we have seen that we can get through them together. It’s very strange to step back and look at this whole situation, because this is the most engaged we have been with each other in a long time. The nature of our marriage necessitated that we be really good at communicating really intense and difficult things with each other, and it’s a hugely valuable asset that we rely on to this day, and likely for the rest of our lives.

At the end of May, 2017, our buyers close on our house, so we scramble to figure out where we will each be living. I hold off a bit to see where Liz ends up, because our therapist recommends avoiding big disparities and we don’t want to end up with really inconvenient driving routines.

After Liz’s offer is accepted, and then obnoxiously rescinded on one house, she locks a different one down. I am kind of crunched for time and afraid I’ll be unable to find something I want to own until I come across a house that is ready to roll and I know it can be quickly closed. The whole deal takes less than 23 days. At the end of May our children go spend a week with my parents, and Liz and I leave the house we bought together a year before. We are soon settling into our own separate households and I’m driving to Target three times a day for things like new towels.

We started our proposed shared custody arrangement, and our children originally saw both of us every day except on weekends. Currently we are using what is colloquially known as “a 2/2/3 schedule”. We occasionally do something together, all four of us, and they’ve always gone smoothly and are pretty fun. So far there has been only one or two instances where Prudence expressed some concern or anxiety about our divorce and separation, and it was something Liz was able to address easily and to our daughter’s satisfaction. We don’t discourage our children from talking about the other parent or anything, and we both respect each other so there isn’t a lot of tension and there certainly isn’t any weirdly inappropriate manipulation of our children going on.

Calvin likes that there’s a picture of his big sister at the top of the stairs where she’s being held by his Mama. Prudence has pictures of her family everywhere she looks. Our extended families are respectful and realize how important it is to Liz and I that our new relationship be successful not only for our children, but for us as co-parents from here on out.

Miraculously, we are pulling this off. Since the beginning of 2017 I feel like I’ve lived ten lifetimes. I have been utterly defeated and wrecked by a significant relationship ending all around me, suffered what can only be described as a complete and categorical rejection, and somehow I am nearing the other side of this and I feel great. When Liz first uttered the phrase “collaborative divorce”, I thought she was out of her goddamned mind, but here we are.

Our children are happy, even thriving, and Liz and I are doing the same. I felt like the jump to Kindergarten would be tough on Prue, and it was, but not because of our divorce. Liz and I wound up getting houses within a half-mile of each other, and we’re also both 0.25 miles from our Kindergartener’s elementary school. We are close, but not too close. We have been doing this now for nearly a year.

So this is the Aftermath

We are divorced, and it was final on the 13th anniversary of our wedding. Neither of us was in a hurry other than to separate, but we were both in agreement that this was the right thing to do from like April of 2017 until the present. When I told my family it was final, my step-mother said something very kind to me that I immediately put into my journal for safe-keeping.

It is very nice to realize that our hearts are not irrevocably damaged by this after all, but that’s only partially my story to tell. We’re better than we were for breaking, and while I once thought that would mean we would rebuild our marriage, I now know that it had to be an act of freeing ourselves from the thing that could no longer enable us to live the lives we want to have. It’s felt like a real shame that it had to end from time to time, but it has so many obvious upsides for both of us, and our family.

“So What?”

This entire series of events would have me chained to a goddamned hospital bed before January, 2017. Were it not for my actual team, of therapists, the partial hospital program, my med manager, my BFFs: Eric and Mari, Albert Hoffman, Tracey, Liz, and some crucial musical selections, I’d probably be dead.

I’m not even kidding.

It was a very chaotic few months, and I am now moving onward and making another run at the next cluster of those problematic parts of me in therapy. I’ve had some complications along the way, and I’m always a little worried that I’ll start to backslide.

My therapist is exceptionally good at me now, and she recognizes where I am emotionally with everything I bring into her office. Some days I roll in there and just talk non-stop about everything that’s happening without much need for assistance because I’m figuring it out pretty well on my own and being sufficiently self-led. Sometimes I need help though, and I’m fortunate to have the right structure in place to support me. As you may have figured out by now, I don’t do easy. I have a lot of opportunities to do something wrong or fall back on old habits, and so much of this involves what amounts to really tricky navigation.

Having said that

In spite of those moments, I have been so grateful to have a victory or three for a change! After having so much of my life be a series of emergencies that I retreat from, finally seeing myself improve in measurable ways has been worth celebrating. I am not naive enough to think I’m done by a long shot. My next victories involve building bird cages versus building bird houses.

Also, my new house has bats. I really don’t like bats in my house at all.

Approach with curiosity, as my therapist says.

Sometimes that’s easy and sometimes it’s really fucking hard.


Carl

It was in early September of 2017 that I lose yet another friend to depression. This time, it was a complete blind-side to all of us: myself, my colleagues, and our families. Every day that I walked past his empty office in the morning, I still couldn’t believe he’s gone.

I’m sometimes angry. At him! I’m angry that he knew exactly what I’ve been through since that January afternoon, and he kept it to himself and anyone he knew would have done anything to help him and he never gave us a chance.

I’m still trying to get some closure on this, but it hasn’t made me stumble.

I am never going back.


In Part 5, I’m not sure where I’ll pick up, but it’ll probably be about family or imposter syndrome.

Part Four

This is part four of an ongoing series I'm calling I've Been Sad.

  1. Wikipedia: Kintsugi (金継ぎ, きんつぎ, “golden joinery”), also known as Kintsukuroi (金繕い, きんつくろい, “golden repair”), is the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with lacquer dusted or mixed with powdered gold, silver, or platinum, a method similar to the maki-e technique. As a philosophy, it treats breakage and repair as part of the history of an object, rather than something to disguise. 

  2. It’s easier for some than others! 

  3. Okay she may still resent me sometimes. At least she’s off the hook for my emotional state, and that would make anyone feel better and more like themselves again. 

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