Standing Still

I touched down in Perth almost two months ago. To be honest there is not a lot I remember about the 5 months preceding the 31st of December 2016. I have some crystal clear memories – frantically handing over my caseload to a fresh new Speech and Language Therapist, trying not to cry; power walking down the road in Seven Sisters to pick up some sleeping pills for my flight; staring up at the ceiling from the floor of my friend’s apartment on Christmas Eve; a vet tapping my dog’s eyeball to check if he is dead. The rest of it is hazy – nights wrapped up watching Now TV in my new room, staying on ‘my’ side despite there no longer being a claim on the other side of the bed. My friends’ loving and concerned faces on the opposite sides of pub tables…more nights spent on their couches or in their spare rooms, politely asking for permission to do simple things like boil the kettle or charge my phone, wishes that are of course granted but nonetheless would have warranted no such enquiry in my own nonexistent home. There are other memories too – the faces of the clients I took on in those months, the parents I met working as a nanny, the date I went on and the nice way I turned him down. The moments I could have been nasty but instead handed roses to a man while he lit me on fire. The warm faces of the family I lived with between my separation and my departure from London, making a gingerbread house with their 3 year old and watching their 1 year old son start to walk. Lying on their couch at midnight screaming into an empty house after being turned away from the couch I had previously owned; walking aimlessly around Brixton for I don’t know how many hours wearing a giant faux fur coat, holding a cardboard box with some soap and half a bottle of red wine and my dead dog’s collar and a ball he chewed before he died, crying and wishing that somebody, anybody would see me and ask me what’s wrong. Wondering why the crazy people aren’t trying to talk to me and realising that tonight, I am the crazy person, the invisible one, the one you shouldn’t make eye contact with. Someone comes up to look inside my box and walks away. It’s finally happened – I’m not going to be OK. Calling my parents at 4.50am and not forming words, crying, wailing like I have never wailed before, so much that my Mum who never cries starts crying. I take a strong sleeping pill on my flight and chase it down with a whiskey, waking up with an alarming pain in my leg and on the other side of the world.

Now I am standing still. There are no longer three jobs to do across three counties. There are no pets to look after. There is no relationship to tend, no baby to keep trying for. No house savings to add to. There are friends and family who keep me alive. And there is me, slowly coming out of survival mode and wondering where to put all of this adrenalin, these memories and this anger.

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Your name is Jill. You have just been dumped.

Sometimes being dumped doesn’t seem like a dumping at first, it seems a bit mutual. At some points it even seems like you should do the dumping, because sometimes people who want to break up try to convince their partners to break up with them first so they don’t have to. This is generally called Being a Coward. Doing this can make the person who was convinced they wanted the breakup to feel like they have made The Right Decision. This is mostly about protecting their own pride and trying not to be hurt.

After a couple of weeks, you might decide that despite your pride, you do not want to break up. You do not want to Not Touch, Stop Trying, Give Up Your Dreams, Not Speak To Him, Lose Your Best Friend, Move House, Not Be A Team, Give Up Your Dog, Force Yourself Not To Worry About Him, Live Separate Lives, Not Follow Each Other’s Dreams, Not Know Him Anymore, Have Sex With Other People, Become Past Tense. It is OK to not want these things. These things are very sad.

When the person who was supposed to be convinced realises they don’t want to break up anymore, it forces the person who wants to break up to give lots of Reasons. These Reasons can be categorised into Environmental Reasons (geography, employment, support network, crazy dog). They can also be Communication Reasons (avoiding talking about problems, being too bossy, being too passive, not saying the right words in the right tone of voice, using hints instead of direct communication). These Reasons are all Fixable. Once people start talking about them openly, they can be addressed. Sometimes people want to address them, sometimes people don’t. When people say they don’t want to address them and you do, it can make you feel confused and frustrated and ask ‘Why?!’ a lot.

The person who wants to break up will sometimes tell you about their Life Reasons (confused about life, what they want from life, what they think you want from life, think you are probably a Bad Thing in their life causing lots of trouble, think they are ruining your life, want a totally different life). Life Reasons seem a lot harder to Fix, but you say you are ready to live a better, less boring life too, with them! They don’t want you to. Sometimes people want to Let You Down Gently (this can also be called Being Confused depending on who you ask and what mood you are in), and when you ask if they still love you, they say yes. When you ask if they are still in love with you, they say yes. This is confusing in the context of them not wanting you to run away with them. People don’t always tell the truth. Not telling the truth is what humans do a lot of the time, so it is normal and Expected.

To the person who wants to break up, all of the above Reasons and related discussions would seem Enough. Sometimes the person who has wanted to break up has been thinking about it and getting ready for it inside their head for a long time. This means they start seeming OK sooner, and not wanting to talk anymore. They can be a bit relieved and start acting friendly. This is normal and happens to a lot of people – you have done this thing before when you have been the person who wanted to break up. It can be hard to understand that this is very hurtful.

Usually the person who wants to break up is the one who Leaves. But, in this situation, you are the one who has to Leave. This takes time to arrange, and this means that you have to share the house for a while. This is not a Usual Breakup Thing. The person who wants to break up thinks you should be friendly and be able to be around them in the same house without crying too much or talking too much or asking ‘If you still love me, why?!’ too much. You have to keep Doing Things like working, closing down your business, looking for somewhere to live, packing up all your things, realising you don’t have a job anymore after September (because you quit it to Follow Him Around). At first you want to seem like A Rational Person and show that you still love him and that he could change his mind if he wanted to. This makes the person who wants to break up feel comfortable and pleased by your acceptance. But eventually, having to do things that make you very scared about your life makes you feel upset and angry and ask ‘Why?!’ more. It makes you ask them to get out of the house and sleep on sofas. This can make the person who wants to break up feel frustrated and fed up with you.

Sometimes the person who wants to break up doesn’t understand your feelings anymore, or understands but doesn’t care as much. Sometimes they can’t understand why you’re so upset and why you can’t accept it’s over. This is normal. This means things happen like when you’re standing in the kitchen with them and they’re looking at you with cold eyes and a face they have never looked at you with before and they’re saying “I DON’T WANT TO BE IN A RELATIONSHIP WITH YOU” and “I’M NOT IN LOVE WITH YOU ANYMORE.” These things can make you feel like you have been punched in the chest. These things can make you realise this was always The Real Reason. The person who wants to break up can feel angry you made them say The Real Reason. Some people can infer The Real Reason themselves. You are not one of those people. You don’t pick up on hints easily and need people to spell things out for you (this was even a Communication Reason). Now it has been spelt out, you know.

Sometimes people stop loving each other. That’s OK, that’s normal. That happens a lot. In history, even your own personal history, this is not A Bad Breakup. Bad Breakups involve other people and smashing cars. Bad Breakups involve people’s life partners suddenly disappearing forever. Some people never get given any Reasons. If this was a movie you were watching, you might even be rooting for the person who wants to break up. You would find whimsical, life-affirming meaning in their Rumspringa (or Midlife Crisis, however you want to look at it). You might wish it were you who was strong enough to want to start their life again. But it isn’t a movie. In movies people sometimes come back, but this is real life and you know he will never come back. Even if he ended up thinking he was wrong, he would never, ever tell you. If he ever felt regret he would just cherish the pining, long stares, wounded eyes and heavy sighs it would elicit.

So now there is nothing you can do and you are Very Sad. Your eyes always seem heavy and you feel like a hollowed out shell-person. You’re not very hungry anymore. That’s normal – don’t panic. Some of your friends might say “He just needs some time alone and I’m sure it’s not over.” Some of your friends might say “You’ll look back on this and realise he did you a favour.” Some of your friends will say “You weren’t happy anyway, move on.”  Some friends will say “He didn’t mean what he said in the kitchen.” Most friends will say that what he said in the kitchen was final and unambiguous. You might never know which of these is true, and that’s OK. Some things you don’t need to know or can infer later. You should try not to think about this.

You will feel sad when you see pictures of him accidentally, or if you think of a nice memory. That’s normal. You might feel sad when other people have all the things you two had planned to have together. You should try not to for their sake. If you feel sad, you can make a funny joke, or remember you don’t want those things with someone who says they’re not in love with you anymore anyway.

Sometimes when people get dumped they think something is wrong with them. They might think they always do The Wrong Thing in relationships, or that they are Quite Ugly or Innately Unloveable. Or, they might think they don’t know how to pick people who are good for them, and they will always choose people who end up saying “I’m not in love with you anymore.” Some people say “You should be alone now” – this is probably true, even though it makes you feel angry because you did not expect to be alone all of a sudden. You’re not sure if you’re meant to change everything you do next time, or if there will be someone who you don’t have to change for or work very hard to be with, or if there are any men out there who have gone through the growing up bit already and could just love you. These are all normal things to think and feel and wonder about.

If you feel very bad, there are things you can do that are Good Ideas. These include: calling your family, calling a friend, hanging out with kids, doing some exercise, drawing a picture, writing something, going to an exhibition, going to see live music.

Things that are Bad Ideas are: drinking too much, asking him ‘why’ again, looking at pictures, asking your friends about what he’s doing, thinking about what his next girlfriend will be like (willshebeyoungerprettiersmartermoreleftwingskinnier?), thinking about what his next house will look like, letting yourself worry a lot about how he’s doing, going on dating apps (because men are all horrible).

Things that are Undecided Ideas are: coming back to the house sometimes to see your dog, trying to be friends one day, taking up smoking again, thinking about how much happier he will be from an objective point of view, having sex with strangers. These will probably become clearer with time, but for now it is best to file Undecided Ideas as a subcategory of Bad Ideas.

This weekend you will move out and that will be The End.