Where we left off . . .
In my last chapter, I shared my lowest life point with you! This is not a story that I have shared with a lot of people, but considering that I was able to come through that experience stronger than ever, I strongly feel like my story should be shared! Mental illness is lonely, and it can be frightening. Sometimes, understanding that someone else has battled something similar (no 2 experiences are the exact same) and has come out on the other side may be immensely comforting.
When I wrapped up chapter 3, I described how I started to take some time to recover from my second episode of depression. I was back at home with my parents, my relationship with Band Guy was history at last, and my grades were in repair. Each month became easier than the last, and other than a brief 2 week fling, I remained single for 10 months, which was a milestone for me. By the time spring arrived, I felt like myself again, only this time, I was not as reckless. I still liked to drink on the weekends and go clubbing with friends, but I was not placing myself in harm's way just to get a thrill. I made all sorts of new friends from my new fast food job. I was working regular part-time hours; now that I was apartment-free, I didn't have to spread myself thin between work and school. As my mental health improved, so did my work performance. Despite being a relatively new addition to the restaurant's team, I was working like a pro! I initiated my own training from front counter to drive thru, which meant that I was working in the drive thru by month 3 (at least half of the normal time it takes). I felt like a rock star at my job. I may have been no manager, but I knew how to hustle. Working in the busiest location, I was forced to push myself to meet a challenging pace, but I loved the challenge!
I wrapped up my second year of university with less damage to my grades than I expected. Thanks to my depression, I was sitting at a B, but when I thought about what I had been through over the winter, a B did not seem so bad. For once, I was not being too hard on myself; next year would be a fresh start, and I still had 2 more years to bring my grades back up. To celebrate the completion of second year, I visited the GTA again. I made multiple trips through the summer break, forming an even closer relationship with my grandparents, aunt, uncle, and cousin. When I was on these trips, I felt so at peace and so happy. I woke up in the morning to golden sunshine filtering through lace curtains. When I realized where I was, my heart would leap with joy. I bound out of bed and shared breakfast with my Nana and Papa. We talked over a relaxed breakfast of coffee, bacon, and eggs. My Nana and I would usually talk from the morning until noon. We never ran out of things to talk about! I learned more about my Nana than anyone else knew; these trips were just so valuable! This time was so precious.
The rest of the day continued at a relaxed pace. Nana constantly surprised me with new ways to spoil me, including impromptu ice cream runs, iced coffee on the back deck, and trips to my favourite restaurants. We both shared a love for food, which meant that I usually returned home with a few extra pounds . . . or ten. At least we would take the dogs for a walk by the bluffs overlooking Lake Ontario, talking the whole time. In the evenings, I played mystery games with my Nana on the computer where we teamed up to solve all sorts of scenarios together. Finally, we finished up each night with milk and cookies before bed. When I wasn't with Nana and Papa, I was with my aunt and uncle, enjoying my time just as much! Amanda and I went to some parties together and some late-night adventures. These trips were the perfect blend of relaxing, thrilling, and joyful. I can say with confidence that I was at my happiest when I was on these trips.
When it was finally time to go home, I would usually rearrange my plans so that I could stay longer, sometimes staying at my Nana's for as long as 2 weeks. I never wanted to leave, but when it was time to catch my train, I was usually planning my next trip already. Coming off the train, I was able to return to my life feeling refreshed and at peace.
That summer, I turned 20, which felt like a milestone even more than 19 did. Even though nothing changed for me at 20, I realized that I was definitely no longer a teenager. I decided that it was time to act like an adult. I still partied like a teen, but I was single, I felt mature, and I was depression-free! It was hard to believe that just months prior, I was struggling to keep my life together. I couldn't see any way through my darkness at that time, but here I was!
I started my third year of university with enthusiasm. Nothing was going to distract me this year! Nothing!
. . .except for a new boy
Just as I was feeling really comfortable with being single, I started to develop feelings for a guy that I worked with. Let's call this guy "Bill." Bill was everything that Band Guy was not. While Band Guy had long hair, Bill was practically bald with a receding hairline. Band Guy had a brooding, bad guy demeanor, but Bill looked a little nerdy with his glasses and awkward laugh. Still, I found that his "dorkiness" was kind of cute. At first, I never gave Bill a second thought. He would flirt with me at work, and I would tune him out. While I was probably one of the most ambitious employees in my store with a drive to climb up the fast food ranks, Bill was a total clown at work. He put almost no effort into his job at all, and he spent most of his time cracking lame jokes. To be honest, I was annoyed by Bill. Until one day, Bill winked at me, and I felt something that was not there before. These feelings confused me, but I figured that Bill was safer than Band Guy. Why not let myself have these feelings?
I didn't think that anything would come of my feelings for Bill, but to my surprise, Bill asked me out on a date. We set our date for the day that I returned from downtown Toronto with my friends. After a weekend of partying and site-seeing, I was exhausted. I almost wanted to call off my date, but the fatigue prevented me from feeling too nervous, so I used my fatigue to my advantage. My first date with Bill felt like the best date that I had ever been on at that point. He pulled all the traditional stops, including paying for my meal at my favourite restaurant (which he knew thanks to Erica), walking me to my door, and giving me a good-night kiss.
In class the next day, Erica wanted to hear all of the details. I was so excited to have romance in my life again. I became dangerously blind to Bill's flaws. His dorky laugh and messing around at work did not phase me. He seemed kind and safe. He would never treat me the way that Band Guy treated me, so I gave myself permission to fall for Bill.
Our relationship took off quickly and smoothly, leading into a serious relationship that surprised most of my co-workers. When my school friends met Bill downtown one night, they thought he was a 40-year-old man because of his hairline and glasses. The dark mustache didn't help either. Still, I was not ashamed! I liked Bill a lot, and he quickly became the distraction that I wanted to avoid. I started skipping class to hang out with him, even missing my readings and entering exams with nearly no studying. Any hope of salvaging my grades this semester were shot because I did not know how to balance my school life with my personal life. I was just so excited to have a sweet boyfriend. I felt like I had come a long way from Band Guy. I believed that I was developing a mature, healthy relationship that would be everything that my previous relationship was not. Nothing could get in the way of this beautiful turn of luck.
Nothing at all . . . except for one thing . . .
Bill and I decided that we had been dating long enough to meet each other's parents. Although I expected my parents to like Bill, I could tell that they were not all that keen on him. Still, they were kind and welcoming to Bill, which was all that I could ask for after what I put them through with Band Guy.
However, when it came time to meet Bill's parents, I was not prepared for what I was about to face! Being a straight-A student and an ambition-driven woman, I have never had a hard time getting along with my boyfriends' parents. That is until I met Bill's parents. Bill's mom was cold and rigid with pursed lips and icy eyes. I could tell from the moment that I met her that Bill's mom hated me. She didn't just dislike me, she hated me! I knew that I was in for trouble when Bill asked me to take my nose ring out next time that I visited. What kind of woman was I dealing with here? She seemed like the traditional, up-tight, middle-aged white woman of my nightmares. I self-consciously touched the stud in my nose, wondering why Bill would not have warned me ahead of time about his mother's rigid values.
The first meeting rubbed me the wrong way, but maybe I just needed to get to know her better. However, each visit was worse than the last. She engaged with me as little as she needed to, and when she did talk to me, she was usually scanning me with cold judgment. Even when I removed my nose ring, she continued to hate me. The kicker was Christmas eve that year. Bill invited me over for a quick visit with his family. I got myself dressed up properly, but out of spite, I made sure that I was wearing the most sparkly studs in my nose, upper cartilage, and tragus. I arrived at Bill's home, shaky with nerves. I made sure that I was allowed to be there, but he insisted that I was invited over by his mom. When I entered the kitchen, I warmly greeted Bill's family with my friendly smile. In return, I was greeted with . . . nothing. Silence. Not one person in Bill's family could acknowledge that I entered the room. I said hello one more time just in case they didn't hear me, but no one responded. I felt my heart thudding in my chest. My old friend, social anxiety was back for a little visit that night. Finally I took in a deep breath, I pulled up a chair across the table from Bill's mom, glared her in the eyes and said hello for the third time. Bill's mom was in the middle of cackling at something that her nephew said. She had an actual smile on her face, but when she turned to see me, her face fell. She made a weak smile, but the rest of Bill's family stepped in. They broke the ice by shaking my hand and asking about me. Just as we were getting into a nice conversation, Bill's mom called the attention back to her.
"Let's play spoons."
With that comment, Bill's mom dealt cards to everyone at the table except for me. Bill's uncle noticed that I was being left out and asked if I wanted to play. I admitted that I didn't know how the game worked, but I would love to try. The game was simple enough and ended with a giant battle for a stack of spoons at the centre of the table. There was one less spoon than the number of people at the table so that one person would always fail to grab a spoon. Whoever failed to grab a spoon was out of the game until a winner was left standing. I looked at Bill's mom who clearly did not want me to play. She looked at me with stern eyes that seemed to be daring me to try. I smirked at her.
Bill's mom looked annoyed that I was going to play the game, but there wasn't much that she could do about it. Just like there wasn't much that she could do about me dating her son. The game was fun and brought out a lot of laughter. However, Bill's mom refused to laugh or even smile. She looked angry, but I could not fully understand why she would feel angry. As players became eliminated from the game, Bill's mom and I were still going strong. In one of the swoops for the spoons, I just happened to reach out for the same spoon that Bill's mom reached for. It happened so fast that I didn't know how to react. I was holding one end of the spoon, and she was holding the other. We looked into each other's eyes with defiance. I wanted her to know that I would not be backing down. We kept daring one another to let go of the spoon, but neither of us would let go. She tried to give the spoon a tug, but I tugged back harder. To my surprise, she let go of the spoon and let me have it. From that point onward, Bill's mom kept folding her arms around her chest and pouting almost like a child. Her sister kept trying to comfort her, but she would not explain why she was upset. I knew. I could not believe that this kind of thing was happening with a grown woman! I had never encountered someone quite like Bill's mom.
Finally, the game of spoons was done. As a proper hostess would, Bill's mom offered me some freshly baked cherry bread. I love cherries, so I took her up on the offer. I heard Bill's aunt say something about there not being cherries in the bread, but I just assumed that some other fruit was in there. I have never been a picky eater. When Bill's mom gave me some of this "cherry bread," I could sense that everyone was watching me. What was so fascinating about a 20-year-old girl eating some cherry bread?! Once I took the first bite, I understood everything. I fought the urge to spit out the bread. At that moment, Bill's mom decided to inform me that it was actually jalapeno bread. I love jalapenos, but when your mouth is expecting cherries and you get jalapenos, let's just say that the experience is unpleasant. I swallowed my first bite and went for another. Bill's mom kept telling me that I didn't need to eat it if I didn't want to, almost like she was daring me to offend whichever family member baked it. I was not backing down that easily! If my dad taught me one thing, it was to never offend someone who has cooked you something. Bad-tasting food does not kill. Mind you, he never mentioned what to do when that person tricked you into eating something that you were not expecting.
I finished the bread, and I was just about ready to sneak out of the house when Bill's mom made her final attack. She presented me with a present. I didn't bring anything because I wasn't even invited to the house until an hour before I arrived. I felt embarrassed that I didn't have a gift ready, but at the same time, I had only been invited for a "quick drop-by visit." Bill's mom basically threw my gift at me and then left the room with the rest of the family. I was left in the kitchen by myself to open my gift. Even Bill was in the next room. I awkwardly looked around, not sure that I even wanted to open such an insincere gift. Still, I opened my gift by myself. Bill's mom got me a really nice pair of mittens. I wanted to thank her, but when I went into the room to thank her, everyone was looking up at me like I interrupted their gathering. The abuse was too much. I kept the gift to avoid offending Bill's mom more than I already had, and I left the house. I didn't say good-bye to Bill. I was hurt, and I felt defeated.
The next time that I finally saw Bill again, I told him about how hurt I was. Not to mention that Bill was no ally to me in this situation. He apologized to me and explained why his mom hated me so much. The plot certainly thickened that day. Long story short, Bill's father had some beef with my father. There was a personal event that happened 7 years prior that neither me nor Bill knew about. For whatever reason, Bill's parents were still holding a grudge, and as a result, I was being punished. Despite being invited to Bill's home many more times, I never returned. I had no patience for Bill's mother. I would not be shamed like that again.
Still, Bill and I decided to keep our relationship going. After about 3 months, the excitement started to die down, and I began to question whether or not I wanted to stay in the relationship. It wasn't that Bill did anything wrong, but I just did not feel attracted to him. Not to mention that his mom was making it a living hell to be together; she wouldn't let him leave the house to see me, and on the rare occasion that I could see Bill, his mom would call him at 10 o'clock yelling because he was "past curfew."
Come late spring, I was really wondering about my relationship. I went to the GTA again to be with my Nana and Papa. I talked to Amanda about Bill, and from our conversations, I was able to decide that I would break things off with Bill once I got home. Still, when I arrived in my city, I just couldn't bring myself to break up with him. I decided to give the relationship one more try for whatever reason. I tried to force feelings that were lacking, which caused me a lot of stress.
And then the real problems began
Sweet Bill was becoming less sweet and more manipulative. He was patronizing and condescending to me. He talked down to me on a regular basis, even mocking me sometimes. While I was at my Nana's, he created a whole scenario that tricked me into thinking that he was in the hospital from a really bad car accident. This happened just after I extended my trip for another week because he didn't want me gone for that long. I remember being beside myself with tears that night, but my Nana held me while I cried. We both laughed that she was basically holding me like she did when I was a toddler, but I was 20 now! Still, my Nana always knew how to comfort me.
Things continued to get more manipulative, but I was numb to it. I continued to follow Bill's lead. For the first time in my life, I put on a lot of weight. I celebrated my 21st birthday with a pool party, but I was ashamed of my body. The weight kept piling on, and I no longer recognized myself in the mirror. My parents were worried for my health, but I couldn't fully understand why my body was changing this way. I wasn't eating that differently than before. Now that I felt fat, I definitely didn't want to leave Bill. I was in the palm of his hands, and he loved it!
I started my fourth year of university feeling like I didn't know myself anymore. I just followed Bill's lead. He started to push me to do things outside of my comfort zone, and I was beginning to panic. He was extremely pushy until he got his way or as close to his way as I would let him. I felt weak and feeble. I didn't love Bill at all anymore, but I stayed in the relationship because I was scared of being alone. Life continued this way until I was shook awake.
On November 11 of that year, I got in my first car accident
It is so strange how life intervenes when you aren't getting a certain lesson. I feel like the universe wanted to wake me up, and there was only one way to do so effectively. Bill spent the night because my parents were out of town, so I drove Bill back home in the morning. I then headed toward work, thinking the whole time how I wished that something would get me out of my day of double shifting. And then my prayers were answered just like that. My light went green, so I entered the intersection. Off the corner of my eye, I could see a car approaching the intersection, but it seemed like he was going to stop, so I hardly flinched. But then he didn't stop. By the time I realized that the car was blazing into the intersection, I was already trapped in its path. I tried to think of a way out, but he was coming at me too fast. I think I must have stopped my car and admitted defeat. I remember holding my arms up and waving them to get his attention, begging him to stop. In reality, this probably all happened in a matter of seconds, but it felt like everything had been slowed down for me. It felt like that car was approaching me for ten minutes before I finally felt the impact. I slammed my head against the driver's side window. The impact was jarring, and I remember a moment of intense pain followed by no sensation at all, followed by my spinning car, and then finally followed by my car coming to a full stop. When I realized what happened, I started crying because all I could think about was the damage that was probably done to my car! This car was my Christmas present when I was 17, and it was the most reliable old car you can imagine! What was going to happen to it now? When I got out of the car, the other driver asked me if I was okay. That was when I realized that I had been so worried about my car getting damaged that I never stopped to think about whether or not I was hurt. I didn't feel pain, but my hands were shaking in a way that I have never seen them shake. I could hardly call work because my fingers were hovering over the screen in an uncontrolled frenzy. I told my manager that I would not be coming in because I was in a car accident. I had been T-boned on my side of the car, and I still wasn't sure if I was hurt or not.
Long story short, I was okay. I had a minor concussion and whiplash. I woke up the next day with body pain from head to toe, including a welt on the side of my head that hit the window. I wanted Bill to visit me, but his mom wouldn't "allow" him to.
Something changed on that day besides the obvious. It was almost like the accident literally shook me awake. I realized that I didn't want to live my life in Bill's shadow anymore. I also realized that I had been feeling depressed for a few months, but tried to pass it off as just feeling low. So here I was again: depressed and feeling trapped in an unhealthy relationship. I knew what I needed to do. I broke off things with Bill on our one-year anniversary. I didn't plan things to go that way, but we ended up getting in a fight, and he said things that pushed me over the edge. I knew that it was going to be hard to rebuild my sense of self-esteem now that Bill was gone, but I knew that I needed to try. I let him control me for far too long!
My depression peaked shortly after this break-up. I was dealing with non-stop calls with my insurance company who offered me little help at first. I was struggling just to get the agent to answer her phone! I felt empty inside. I had been feeling empty inside for months now, but this time, I had no where to hide. No boyfriend, no distractions, and a mess of a car accident to sort out. One day, I felt overwhelmed with grief. I was sitting in my living room just after another unproductive phone call with my insurance agent. My parents were at work, so I was home alone. I started crying uncontrollably. I cried until I threw up. Then the darkness hit. I realized that I was home alone and could self-harm. Maybe I would feel better? I have never done it before, but I really wanted to. I even walked up to the kitchen drawer, ready to take action when the sun suddenly broke through the clouds. I am not exaggerating! It was a grey, gloomy day with no sun in sight, but at that moment, the sun broke through the clouds and pierced into the kitchen. I had instant goosebumps, and I decided to take it as a comforting sign. I sat back down in the living room and breathed. That day, instead of deciding to self-harm, I picked up my phone and scheduled my first ever appointment with a counsellor.
I was ready for things to get better again. I may have relapsed, but at least this third episode of depression was not nearly as low as the previous episode. Still, as much as I was making the right choices, I made some wrong ones as well. In a moment of weakness, I decided to get back together with Bill. There must have been something that I needed to get out of my system. It was almost like I needed to be 100% sure that Bill was not the guy for me before I committed to a break-up. Also, I had a lot on my plate with the car accident, and a break-up was too much grief to bear.
Things worked out beautifully with the car accident! It took some time before things started to move forward, but once they did, I was thrilled with the arrangement. With my insurance money, I was able to buy myself a new used car (my old one was toast). With the car accident behind me, I was ready to start enjoying my time with Bill again.
. . . only I wasn't enjoying myself at all. Bill was becoming increasingly controlling, manipulative, and pushy. He was belittling me more than ever, and I realized that I was never going to make a third recovery as long as I was tied to Bill. Finally, I came to my senses and ended things with Bill for good. He did not take it well, and he managed to make me feel like a monster for breaking up with him just 3 weeks after getting back together. I still tried to keep things as friendly as possible, but of course, Bill took things too far. In one final act of manipulation, Bill tried to trick me into think that he was suicidal. As someone who has actually been suicidal, I had no stomach for this lie. It was almost like he was trivializing my experience. When that didn't work, he took one last lash at me. Black mail. Back in the summer when Bill was pressuring me to do things outside of my comfort zones, he managed to convince me to give him perfect blackmail material. My heart sunk, and I had a lump in my chest. I freaked out! If Bill followed through, my relationship with our co-workers would be compromised. I couldn't mentally prepare for the embarrassment that was lying before me.
Thankfully, I was able to smooth over the tension between us so that Bill would delete what he had on me. When it was all said and done, Bill still wanted to be friends, but I could not offer him friendship. I could not offer him anything. Even when we worked together, I had nothing to say to him anymore.
It was time to put this relationship behind me. It was time to make a third recovery from depression. It took about 2 years before I was able to make peace with Bill, but I did manage to forgive him. He left work just before getting fired, and I didn't have to see him anymore. Now, I am grateful for the lessons that Bill offered me. It was through this relationship that I learned about my fear of being alone. I clearly settled for someone who was never going to make me happy because I thought that being alone was so much worse. It turns out that being alone actually felt better than any moment of my relationship with Bill. I started 2013 single, and it did not take long for me to thrive again. My grades were back up in the A-range at last. I had extended my university plan to include a fifth year so that I could complete a thesis. I was dedicated to my schooling and enjoying my classes at the same time.
I was ready to commit to myself and to my life with no more distractions.
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The story continues with chapter 5! This next chapter will be up next week. Join my mailing list if you want to be notified as soon as chapter 5 is ready for reading! Next week, I will share how I experienced my heaviest heartbreaks (one romantic, one not) and how I overcame the pain.
Til next week,
Lots of love!