Disclaimer: This story contains mentions of suicidal thoughts which may be upsetting to some.
“This all started from an Instagram post I made about identity. How losing parts of your identity, even when it is for the better, makes you feel lost. I wrote the post mostly about leaving my job, but I lost more than just my job in 2021. This past year has been an incredibly hard year for me. Probably the hardest year yet. I lost so much, but through the loss, I have begun to uncover an even better version of myself.
It was sometime in the spring of 2019 when I realized maybe something was wrong, like beyond my control wrong. I had just accepted my dream job as the Wildlife Coordinator at my dream organization with a great friend as my supervisor and another friend as my mentor. Then, I met a man I truly, deeply loved. My life seemed perfect; all of my dreams were coming true. But in those moments, glimpses of darkness flashed before my eyes. My self-doubt was at an all-time high because I knew there was staff waiting for me to fail because they didn’t get the job, my job. I was spending more money in the bliss of a new relationship, but the student debt, car issues, and health problems piled up. Death seemed like an easy way out.
My work started slipping; I felt like everyone was expecting me to fail. I was ready to quit. My partner and I would have these conversations about money that would leave us both in tears. He would wonder if he could handle being the breadwinner in the relationship. One night, as we lay in bed, I was crying, full of self-doubt about our relationship. Could he love me? Would he continue to love me? As the tears rained down from my face and I struggled to breathe, he asked me to get help. To talk to someone, to help ease my anxious mind. It was his push that helped me finally ask for help.
I started taking a low dose of anti-depressants after talking to my doctor in January of 2020. It worked well at first. I was so excited and happy! I had energy again, winter felt brighter, my job was enjoyable again, my partner and I talked about marriage and got a dog together. But there was a pandemic happening. I had my hours cut to half time. He was on the front lines. Things continued to seem okay, though. I had more time, we went on trips, we had a garden, updated our landscaping, did house projects, and we were happy.
However, by the summer I was struggling, I didn’t feel valued in my job. A supervisor told me, ‘Well anyone can feed the animals,’ when we were talking about possible layoffs. Decisions were being made without consulting those of us it impacted. My meds weren’t cutting it, so I started therapy.
I’ll never forget my first therapy appointment. My partner and I sat down for lunch shortly before my appointment, and I was telling my partner how I was excited, but also apprehensive to meet this new therapist. I grew up with a mom who was a therapist but had never gone to therapy myself. In the midst of this conversation, he suddenly tells me, ‘We should see a couple’s therapist.’ I was shocked and instantly started crying. What did he mean? He never brought up things that bothered him, so I assumed things were fine between us. I went into my first session feeling bewildered and hurt by his comment. During the first session, I kind of skimmed over things about him and focused on work. It was incredible to feel validated in my emotions. After the session, I pushed his comment about therapy to the back. We didn’t need help; he just needed to communicate his needs with me.
As time passed, he continued to never bring things up. I continued to focus on work things during my therapy sessions and started to feel excited about work and life again. That was until one night, right before we were off to meet friends for a night of trivia and to plan out our upcoming trip out west, he spilled everything. He wondered if we should rehome the puppy and if he wanted to marry me after all. Then he left.
He went out of town with friends and we continued to fight that weekend. I happened to have a therapy appointment with my therapist and I broke down, both to her and then later on to my mom. When he finally came home, we talked and things seemed to be okay. I went into fix-it mode. I upped my meds. I hired a dog trainer to work with the two of us and the two dogs. I started being more aware of how I was spending my time. I tried to be cleaner. I cooked more, worked out more, and tried to spend as much time with him as possible. That fall continued on as sort of a blur, both with moments of love and uncertainty.
As winter approached, it was his idea to send out Christmas cards, so I of course clung to it and got them ready to go. I continued to sense something was wrong and I asked if he was sure about it. Should we be sending out cards together? Was he sure about this? About us? He told me yes. He always told me he was sure. So many times, he told me he was sure and I felt crazy. I felt so uncertain, but he kept telling me everything was fine. We sent out the Christmas cards. We spent the holidays together. We had plans for the year ahead of us. We sent messages of love to each other up until the day it happened.
It is vivid in my mind. The day it happened. January 3, 2021. We played a morning game of Catan with two friends who stayed over the night before. I took a photo of myself that morning to send to him later because I was feeling confident in myself for the first time in months. We laid on the couch and ‘snuggled’ until he had to get ready for work. Then, I asked him. What was wrong. I sensed something was bothering him. That’s when he told me he didn’t think he wanted to marry me.
I said fine. I got up, walked away as tears streamed down my face. I said I was done, then. I wasn’t going to do this anymore. I knew I couldn’t stay with someone who wasn’t sure about me, even though I was sure about him. I grabbed my phone and texted my two best friends, telling them my dog Fox and I needed a place to stay immediately. I couldn’t be in the house anymore. He asked if I wanted to talk about it as I stormed around, packing things up and sobbing. He had to go to work. He gave me a hug and left.
I stayed away that night, but the next morning I went home and woke him up. I begged him to work on it with me; we could figure it out. I could be better, I believed in us. He said it was over. I sobbed and texted my friend who drove over with her truck and we started packing up my things. He left with the puppy; it was his dog and I told him I couldn’t take them both since I didn’t have anywhere to go. My biggest regret in it all was not fighting harder to keep the dog.
Fox and I moved in with my friend, her husband, and their two dogs. They kept me going. I was barely eating, but we made dinners together. When I broke down, she drove me to Target where we would wander around. The time with them saved my life. However, I wasn’t doing well. My mental health tanked. I saw no reason to continue on. I would never be able to feel happy again.
I knew how I was going to do it; I decided one night when the friends I was living with had gone out to dinner, I canceled on my friend who was supposed to come over. I had access. I had done the math. I could do it, I just needed to decide where. I knew I didn’t want my friends to find me. Did I park in front of my old house? Rent a hotel room? Sit on the side of an empty road? He could have my dog. She loves him. It would still be a few days before I could do it since I had to make all the arrangements. As I planned, a moment of anger flashed. He had taken so much from me, he didn’t think I could make it on my own. I had to prove him wrong. Being a spiteful person probably helped save my life in this moment. I emailed my therapist, begging for an appointment ASAP and texted my friend and told her I needed her to come over. That night, I chose to stay.
Something beautiful happened as time passed. I slowly became a better version of myself. I found a new version of myself. I am lucky to have a part-time job that provides its employees with free therapy. For the first half of the year, I was seeing my therapist every other week. It was with her I learned how to identify the emotion at the moment. She would have me pinpoint the emotion and where it lives in my body. So, when I break down now, I try to focus only on that sole emotion and not let it spiral out. This allows me to honor the emotion, acknowledge it, feel it, but not live in it. Meditation has also helped immensely with this. It has taught me to be more present.
I fell deeply in love with poetry and artwork. I found a few artists in particular who have helped me feel seen in my grief. Because grief is lonely. It is all-consuming. Even in moments of joy, there is a loneliness that lingers. People get tired of hearing about it, when in reality it is all you can focus on. Friends tell you to move on, get over it, ‘Go work out.’ When something disrupts your feelings of safety, your body takes time to recover. The grief has allowed me to understand myself better, and instead of focusing on making my work or my relationships better, I have instead been able to focus on healing myself.
I have done a lot of things for myself over the last year. I found an ugly little apartment and made it into a beautiful, cozy home. I took an EMT class, passed the test on the first try, and have started volunteering as an EMT in my small town. I also have started taking classes to satisfy my pre-requisites for a Master’s of Science in Nursing. My ex and I built a relationship of respect after the separation which allowed us to support each other when the dogs needed something, and for a time, kept both dogs a part of my life. And as of January 1st, I will no longer be employed in my dream job. Leaving the job is what inspired the post about identity on my Instagram in the first place.
There are so many things I love about the job, and it is a career path that has defined me for the last 7+ years. To leave it has me feeling a bit lost. However, there are things about the environment that didn’t serve me. I wasn’t feeling supported in the ways I needed to be, and the job was no longer rewarding nor could I sustain myself on the income. I am looking forward to spending a few months working jobs that require less outside of work for me emotionally while I finish up some classes and apply for a full-time program.
I also met someone. He is incredible. He was the new guy at work, and I was casually dating a few other people. He was nice and had a cute dog, so I invited him out to get drinks with us and we started biking together after work. I didn’t even think about dating him at first. I met him at a time where my heart was still raw and hurting, but he stayed, and I continued to spend time with him. I was visiting a friend in Oregon when we finally started to give the relationship a go. We spent that week talking on the phone every day after work, and have spent almost every day together since.
The greatest gift he has given me has been the space to allow me to process my grief and my loss while also falling deeply in love with him. We started our relationship on the foundation of talking about things. Working through both of our pasts as we plan out our futures. He has supported my goals of becoming an EMT and eventually a nurse by picking up the extra slack around the house when I am knee-deep in homework or studying. He understands I am both trying to redefine myself, and he recognizes when my reaction to something is because I’ve been triggered by my past. He has shown me what it is like to feel safe and secure in a relationship.
Looking back now, things felt on the verge of falling apart for a lot more of my past relationship than just at the end. I was always trying to be just right for him. Going back to school for a job that made more money for him. All under the belief it was for us. I was fine with trying to be what he wanted me to be because I loved him. I loved our house, and our dogs, our garden, our bike rides, our trips, his family and friends. I was so willing to try to be what he needed, while also desperately trying to cling to who I was. So desperately wanting to be enough. I never would take any of it back, though. He helped me prioritize my mental health, and we made so many beautiful memories together. Even in the loss of the relationship, I have gotten to discover a better version of myself and have been able to experience the gift of loving someone again. How lucky am I to have more than one great love in my life?
As I sit here on the couch eating homemade pot pie with my boyfriend and my best friend, it is easy to forget the demons I’ve been fighting for the last few years. However, something happens and it brings me back. There is a lifetime of feeling rejected or not good enough that continues to drive a wedge into my heart and my relationships. Waiting for people to prove to me I am not worth the effort. I am starting to work with my therapist on a more targeted therapy to help deal with past traumas of feeling inadequate.
My journey of redefining myself is not over, but as I enter the new year, I am looking forward to leaning into the parts of me that have become more sensitive and in tune with my body. My biggest goal is to learn how to listen to my body, love myself, and nurture relationships that don’t leave me feeling insecure. My identity is not solely defined by who I am in love with, what I do for my job, or what my current mental health status is. The things other people have seen as my flaws, I am learning to love. In 2022, I hope to become more sensitive, intuitive, loyal, and passionate, because those are the things which define me.
Loss and grief are lonely. A breakup is a betrayal of the relationship you built. Susan Piver writes in her book The Wisdom of a Broken Heart, ‘…When you are betrayed, you have been blindsided, and your vulnerability is confirmed. You lose a misplaced innocence that you can never regain again.’ She goes on to write, ‘Betrayal shakes your agenda loose from your grip and creates space for magic and wisdom greater than your own to take over the reins. If all spiritual traditions point to the ability to inhabit the present moment as the only source of joy and wisdom, then betrayal has the unique and fearsome power to usher you through the door.’ If you find yourself in the throes of betrayal, lean into that magic space. It is a beautiful place to fall in love with yourself in ways you never thought possible. But most importantly, you are not alone.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Molly Kelly from Minnesota. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
Read more touching stories like this here:
‘Something happened,’ I sobbed. ‘We had a fight and she called the police. I’m going to the hospital.’ I was convinced my boyfriend would break up with me on the spot.’: Woman with Bipolar Disorder details eye-opening journey to acceptance
‘Your son cut class today.’ I got the phone call no parent expects. ‘Excuse me?!?!’ I was LIVID.’: Mom comforts teen son battling depression, ‘we should treat mental illness the same as physical ailments’
Do you know someone who could benefit from reading this? SHARE this story on Facebook with family and friends.