After My Breakup, I Realized I Didn’t Miss My Ex — I Missed Who I’d Been When I Was with Her

When I was 20, I got dumped for the first time. I also began having severe anxiety attacks. I was in denial about both.

Before she left my apartment for the last time, my ex pulled me into her arms and I cried. It felt like everything was breaking and I tried to memorize that moment where we were two girls standing in a too-white apartment with tears in our eyes and no idea what was going to happen next. We’d become twisted into each other to what was probably an unhealthy degree. Our separation felt like severing what couldn’t be cut. But it could be, and it was. We didn’t see each other again in any real capacity ever again.

But I couldn’t get over her. Despite the lack of her in my world, I became obsessive about the time we’d spent together. I skipped classes in favor of sitting close-eyed with heavy breathing and attempting to sear every memory into the deep part of my soul I imagined existed just for moments like this, for people like her. The denial burned my heart and my throat and I stopped paying attention to myself and all that was happening on the level right below my heartbreak. I was falling apart. And it wasn’t just because of her.

It took me months to get over that first breakup, not because it was my first time being dumped, or because it was my first time dating another girl, though both of those definitely played an undeniable role. After all, it’s hard to get over anyone who dumps you, but it’s harder to get over someone who becomes central to your identity. What was tearing me apart was my desire to be who I’d been when I was with her. Pre-breakup, I was “normal.” Post-breakup, I felt like nothing short of disaster.

What I’d truly become obsessed with despite my own denial was the version of myself I’d been before we broke up: someone younger and someone softer, but also someone who had yet to express the intense anxiety disorder I developed by 21. I didn’t just have to get over my ex, I had to get over former myself.

But I didn’t know how. I became the type of girl who hooks up with strangers in bars and treats sweet-hearted girls like shit. I became a being moving without thought or intention. I became someone who flirted recklessly with anything to avoid catching a glimpse of her own self-destruction. It felt romantic. It felt important. It was nothing but lies I fed to myself to avoid facing my biggest problem: me.

And I never made the decision to look inside of myself and find what was broken. I couldn’t. I wasn’t strong enough, I convinced myself, to be both queer and “crazy.” I thought I could push all the bad happening inside of my mind aside and find the normal me again. I wasn’t brave enough to make the decision to slow down and figure out what was so wrong.

My body made it for me. At 21, I had my first panic attack. I walked through my kitchen feeling like I was in a haze or finally collapsing or turning into something else and I felt my vision blurring, my heart practically throbbing, my blood feeling too cold and too hot at the same time. There it was, my breakdown, what I’d been spurring along with every random hook up and every beer I swore I’d never have. With her, I’d given up a part of myself and without her, I was all too willing to leave that half of myself empty. It had never just been about her. It had been about me, who I was, and whether or not in a time of hugely intense emotional pain, I’d take care of myself. And I’d failed.

I don’t think I’ll ever look back on that relationship and laugh. I don’t think I’ll ever look back on that relationship and smile. I don’t think I can, knowing what I gave up, and knowing the ways I lost myself in the process. It’s all too hard to recognize that it had nothing at all to do with that relationship, or that person, but instead is, simply, a matter of timing. Admitting that feels like giving up the resentment and blame and recognizing that my anxiety disorder was just a thing that happened because I got older. A useless, purposeless thing that happened at random. That makes me feel smallest of all.