I’ve always been kind of a loner. While I’m silly and funny and irreverent with one or two people, I clam up in social settings and in groups. I think this is why I’m a good interviewer: I focus very intently and intensely on one person. More specifically, I need a lot of time in my own head to think. The two activities that I love the most — writing and reading — both require being alone. As with anything, I’m sure I came to be like this with some combination of nurture and nature. I am the youngest of five kids, so I learned as a child to be in the physical presence of other people but still do my own thing. But my parents were pretty preoccupied with stuff going on in my brother’s life from the time that I was 14 years old onward, so I also learned how to be independent. This has served me well in life. I went off to college at 17 and didn’t feel a lick of homesickness. When I studied abroad in Prague, I purposely went to a country where I didn’t speak the language and had to learn how to get by. While in Europe, I traveled alone by myself in Italy for 10 days — and I will forever be grateful that I was able to have that experience. I can walk up to absolute strangers at parties and strike up a conversation; my journalism skills have well-prepared me for getting people I don’t know to talk and open up. Overall, in my life and in my career, I’ve made it through the sometimes-lonely periods without my system being shocked.
But there have been periods of isolation as well. “Isolation” is the first word I think of when I try to describe what depression feels like. It’s not feeling sadness or loneliness all the time, although those feelings are present. Depression really is a profound feeling of isolation, of feeling disconnected from and unsupported by others, of flapping around in the breeze like a flag with one tie undone.
The periods I have been isolated, both physically and emotionally, have been many. Physically, I found it difficult to connect with my friends and family back home after September 11 happened during my second week at NYU. I had no close friends in Prague and felt that loneliness profoundly. My senior year I lived in a crappy neighborhood in Brooklyn called Bushwick, which is now gentrified as all get out, but at the time was just a crash pad in a bad neighborhood. And when I moved back in with my parents after college to work at a local newspaper, I struggled to find people my own age to hang out with.
Emotional isolation is less easily remedied and, at least to me, always seems harder to overcome. The times that I struggled with serious bouts of depression and anxiety — the end of sophomore year of college, the entirety of senior year of college, and about eight months from 2007 to 2008 when I was living in NYC and working at The Huffington Post — were all times when I was literally surrounded by hundreds of people every day of my life and friendly with dozens of them. I thought I had deep, supportive connections, but I didn’t realize at the time that even my “best friends” were people I was not super-close to and could not depend on. I was also figuring out, quite painfully, that a lot of people only pretended to be genuinely interested in me when really they wanted to hear gossip about Arianna Huffington or the inside scoop on what was going on at HuffPost. There are a number of people who literally did not respond to an email, a text message, or a phone call from me after I stopped working there. My sisters at the time all had newborn children or young toddlers and no phone call with them got very far without an interruption by crying or screaming in the background.
After my third bout of depression, the therapist I saw told me that my long-term homework was to nurture friendships with a few females in my life. She said that it sounded as if I had no support system. And you know what? She was right. I nurtured my friendship with my best friend from high school, Christiane, and the two of us are sisters by another mother now. I became close to her friend, Sara, and my friend Alana from my book club. I’ve gradually been getting closer to these three awesome women for years.
Then I met Mr. Jessica almost two years ago. We caught each other’s eye at a mutual acquaintance’s birthday party and our connection was instant and intense. After three weeks, he turned to me and said, “We’re going to get married,” and that same night, told me he loved me. We moved in together after three months of dating and living together was just the greatest. The 21 months we dated were, hands down, the happiest of my life. I grew enormously as a person and have even more passions, interests and life experiences than I used to, because of him.
The one hard thing? We moved out of New York City, which had never been in my long-term plans. I did it, however, because up until last week I saw a long-term future with him and I figured I could make a short-term sacrifice. Mr. Jessica was — is — getting a technology start-up off the ground that involves a lot of financial sacrifices. His salary is low — significantly lower than mine — and he needed to live someplace super-cheap. So he and I moved together into a spare bedroom in an apartment in a city in New Jersey that’s about 45 minutes from NYC. He had a car and there was a subway station about a 20-minute drive away, so it did not feel that bad. The city was pretty boring: lots of Italian restaurants, a Polish bakery, and a coffee shop with a huge picture of Pope Ratzinger on the wall. Most distressingly, there was only one Starbucks in the town, but it was just a booth inside a Stop & Shop — not even a real Starbucks.
Living there was a mixed blessing. Of course, we were so happy in our new home. I ate some damn-near-orgasmic meals that he cooked and some nights we stayed up into the wee hours of the morning talking. Each of us only paid $300 in rent (!) and we lived across the street from the most delicious pizza imaginable. But, well, I felt sort of trapped. None of us had friends there and we had to drive 15 minutes to find concentrated groups of people our own age; there were no museums, art galleries, or music clubs and the nearest movie theaters were pretty sucky, in my opinion. Only three girl friends came to visit the apartment the entire time I lived there and one, I’m pretty sure, just came because there was an airport nearby and she needed to pick someone up. Mr. Jessica worked long hours, particularly socializing after work for business-related engagements, and often came home after midnight. Sometimes I stayed out late in the city, too, and we came home together, but other times I just went home and lived my life: reading, writing, watching movies. When he traveled for business — which he also did a lot — I went back home for a few days to visit my parents. I often wished we would spend more time together, but the time we did spend together was happy and fulfilling to me, so I dealt with this.
After Mr. Jessica and I had been dating about six months, my best friend Christiane moved to Germany, where she is originally from. Christiane and I had become so tight we chatted on IM every day and usually talked on the phone every other day. Naturally, I felt panicked. OK, now I live in this crap town in New Jersey and my BFF is moving to Europe. GREAT. Mr. Jessica, though, had an excellent suggestion on how to remedy this: say yes to invitations and make some invitations yourself. Before, I used to decline invitations to about 90 percent of parties because I figured I’d have more fun staying at home reading; now, I said yes and made a good faith effort to go. And I made a lot of invitations, too: I invited my other girl friends and my Frisky co-workers out to anything I thought was cool and when I met knew people whom I liked, I made it a point to see them again soon. I also forced myself to overcome my shyness in big groups. It sounds obvious. But for a loner, it was a new experience for me.
Last week, Mr. Jessica dumped me out of the blue. We spent Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Eve together; my mother was knitting him a winter hat that she sized just for him. I have a pair of $600 Louboutin heels that he gave me for Christmas just a few weeks ago; next Saturday night, we had dinner and hotel reservations that he made for us to have a “stay-cation” in the city together. The explanations he has offered for this sudden breakup were confusing and contradictory. Frankly, they are private. But suffice it to say I was deeply in love with this person and shocked that he did not feel the same way, despite two years of showing me and verbally telling me otherwise. Everyone I told about the breakup was as shocked as I.
The days preceding and following the breakup were some of the longest of my life; I just took things hour by hour and tried to make it until 3 a.m., which is the earliest I could fall asleep most nights. It was hard, but not as hard as it could have been: during this time, I’ve been getting the most incredible wellspring of support. After he broke up with me, over the phone on a Tuesday night, I text messaged about seven people. Then I walked into my parents’ bedroom and woke them up. It was midnight, but they both sat with me in the living room while I cried. My good friend Lilit called me immediately and talked to me for hours. All my friends texted back by the next morning. My mom took me to a movie; my sister took me to dinner; and Christiane’s mom called me from her office. Amelia and Lilit (again) talked to me throughout the week in after-midnight phone calls. Joanne, Kate, Annika, Julie, and Wendy all sent me emails or called. All my sisters and my brother emailed or called.
When my single status on “Facebook” became official, I heard from old friends who told me they were thinking of me. I’ve talked with my parents often and almost every night, my father and I hunker down on the couch and watch a movie together. My friend Becky insisted on sending me flowers. Rev. Debra Haffner, who first became a professional acquaintance through HuffPost but now I’m pleased to say is becoming a friend in real life, has been there offering counsel every step of the way. And Christiane over in Germany, God bless her, has been sending me funny emails constantly and has called me at least three times via Skype. It’s hard to believe she’s an entire ocean apart from me because she has been so present.
The support from family, friends and colleagues has been more than I ever could have asked for. But the kind words from absolute strangers has me flat-out shocked. On Friday, I wrote an essay — a very raw, vulnerable post written with tears wet on my cheeks — about the initial shock of the breakup. Throughout the weekend, I have gotten a number of emails and Twitter/Facebook messages from strangers, everyone from Frisky readers to friends of my sister’s whom I’ve never met to journalists whose work I admire. All of them just want to tell me they, too, had their heart broken and they made it out OK. A number of them have invited me out to drinks or coffee just to cheer me up. Being heartbroken is a universal experience and it seems to be one that people are willing to connect over. The last time I checked, the essay had 211 comments on it; all but a very few of them were immensely kind and loving. (The other comments suggested that I and my Evil Man-hating Feminism stop obliquely referring to my ex-boyfriend as “Mr. Jessica” because what was I trying to do? Steal his identity? Chop his testicles off?) Honestly, the number of people who were taking the time to write me a kind word almost started to embarrass me.
On Friday, I wrote that if I don’t have him, but I have all these other amazing people in my life, I might just be OK. When I wrote that, I didn’t realize just how true it was or how even more true I was going to get. I saw Mr. Jessica yesterday morning as we exchanged some stuff and although it was solemn to see him, I was not upset or crying or even that sad, really. He offered me a hug and I shrugged it off: I honestly didn’t need it and I certainly did not need it from him.
Thank you, everyone, for everything you’ve done for me. It really is getting quite embarrassing. One commenter wrote something like, “Come on, it isn’t like someone died!” I feel that way, too. I mean, a relationship died. But especially considering current events, it’s important to keep things in perspective. My life, I can assure you, is quite rich and prosperous. And though a relationship died last week — one that was very, very meaningful and dear to me — the person who is writing this is very much alive and kicking and sustained by those around her. I couldn’t feel less isolated right now. And for that I am grateful for you all.
I have cried a lot in these past two weeks. I’ve sobbed in bed, curled up in the sheets alone, and I’ve sobbed on my living room couch, while my mom sat with me and looked despairing. I’ve cried in front of my sister’s computer, reading emails from Mr.
Chopped Testicles Jessica, and I even teared up in a yoga class. When I go look at the comments on that post and read the kindness that Frisky readers have offered me, I cannot help but start crying again. This time, though, I am crying in gratitude.
Image via iStockphoto