Two Words that will Improve your Mental Health & Help You Survive a Break-Up

How to cope with a breakup and become friends with your ex.

When it comes to relationships, I’ve often pictured myself as a giantess stomping through a city, smashing buildings down like Godzilla or King Kong. Each building that I topple is the heart of an unsuspecting partner who didn’t know what they were getting into with me.

I’ve only ever had one mutual break-up and one break up that was not instigated by me, which I wrote about here. My most recent boyfriend, who I thought was the love of my life a few months ago, blindsided me by breaking up with me and getting a new girlfriend in what seemed like five minutes. I felt like I lost a limb when he left, and my inability to cope with the breakup highlighted something that has made all of my breakups more difficult than they needed to be.

Befriending Exes Too Soon

Despite the cavalier way I’ve handled relationships before this ex, breakups have historically been difficult for me. I am always the one to try to be friends in an attempt to ease this discomfort–even if it’s too soon or impossible to do so without feelings. If we use my giantess analogy, it’s like I tiptoe back into the city through the wreckage I’ve just caused, and ask the pile of rocks where the building used to be, “Want to be friends? I promise not to knock you down again.”

You can’t be friends with an ex when the rubble of the relationship is still fresh on the ground.

But I have tried to do this over and over and over.

In fact, I tried to be friends with the aforementioned former love of my life. The result was messy. He ended up blocking me on everything. And I mean everything. He even removed me from Pokemon Go before they introduced the ability to socialize on the app. I anticipated this happening, but I couldn’t stop myself from trying to re-enter his life when I knew I wasn’t ready. I’m not even ready to be his friend now. So why is it something I still want so badly?

It’s the finality, the thought of losing someone, especially him, forever that strikes me as unbearable. While I’ve been processing the breakup, I’ve often lamented to myself that it feels like he died. Because he’s blocked me on every possible avenue, I will never be able to contact him again. This person who I was ready to spend the rest of my life with is gone forever.

David D. Burns, the author of Feeling Good, would identify this kind of thinking as an “all-or-nothing” Cognitive Distortion. If you ever find yourself thinking the words, “never” and “forever,” you are likely performing all-or-nothing thinking. There are no shades of grey in this black and white view. Either he’s in my life, or he’s as good as dead. Feeling like someone has died because they’re not talking to you is pretty fucked up–and it’s made the breakup doubly devastating. No wonder I’ve been struggling to cope.

The Solution to All-Or-Nothing Thinking

My therapist has given me a fairly simple trick to combat this kind of distorted thinking. He suggested eliminating those nevers and forevers and adding in a “for now.” I have lost my ex for now. My ex won’t speak to me for now. My ex is out of my life for now.

Thinking of a breakup in the terms of “for now” will prevent you from having to grieve the end of the relationship on top of what feels like their death. Because they’re not gone forever as if they had died. They might just be gone for now. And that makes the loss feel infinitely more manageable.

Evidence that it works

I have actually managed to become good friends with one of the exes that I dated during my careless “smash all the relationships” phase (ie my whole dating life up until this most recent relationship), and when I reflect back on it, we were able to become friends after the relationship ended because we gave each other the space we needed to move forward. It was months before we spoke to each other again, but it wasn’t forever. I knew that he wouldn’t be out of my life forever during this period of space; I inherently knew that it was just for now. When we did eventually reconnect, we were able to rebuild our own relationship as friends in a healthy way because enough time had passed.

Of course, I didn’t think that my now-friend was the love of my life, so giving him space after the relationship wasn’t nearly as hard. But it was still a challenge, and “for now” allowed me to cope with giving him the time he needed to rebuild himself. If I hadn’t done that, I would have one less good friend in my life. This has proved to me that “for now” really does work.

Going Forward

I believe that I started thinking in all-or-nothing terms because I assigned my recent ex the label of the “love of my life” which raised the stakes incredibly high–so high that I lost touch with life’s infinite possibilities that could one day bring him back into my life. I couldn’t let him go when I should have, and I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to repair the damage that’s caused our relationship. But I don’t know for sure that I won’t ever get the chance to try again either.

In the meantime, I will continue to try my best to learn and cope without feeling like he’s dead. I will try to stop thinking in terms of “forever” and “never.” I think that that’s all I can ask of myself, you know, for now.

How to Survive Getting Dumped During a Pandemic

On getting dumped during a pandemic, recognizing the ugly face of codependency, and learning to cope.

“I low-key stalked him,” I told my boyfriend’s sister-in-law with a laugh over tea in the quirky coffee shop in the tourist town she lived in. It had been the first time that I’d met her. My boyfriend was working as a cave guide in the little mountain town about an hour and a half away from the city we lived in. I’d tagged along for the weekend, but as he’d taken his vehicle to get to the cave, his sister-in-law, who lived in the mountain town with his brother, was charged with entertaining me for the day while he worked.

I was trying my best to make a good impression, and I’d added the words “low-key” to my stalking comment to downplay the reality, to make this seem like a little quirk that simply showed the dizzying infatuation that comes with a new relationship. Up until now, I haven’t been able to take an honest look at this hideous wart on the face of my personality. I wasn’t “low-key” stalking him. I was obsessed.


My first date with him was in January, 2019. We saw each other for a month, and as things were ramping up between us, we had the relationship talk. I drove to his place, bursting with excitement at the thought of seeing him. He let me into his apartment and he blindsided me: he didn’t want to be in a relationship. I told him that I didn’t want to be friends with benefits. It ended.

Except it didn’t.

After a few weeks, still fixating on him, I asked him if he would like to go for a drink as friends. He responded that he didn’t think that would be a good idea as he thought there would still be feelings involved; he was right. I was intending to use this meeting as a way to manipulate my way back into his life in a romantic way because I wasn’t ready to give up.

Before the end, he’d told me that he went climbing on Wednesdays. I wasn’t a climber. I’d only been bouldering once years before and I didn’t like it, but armed with this knowledge, I spent hundreds of dollars on gear and signed up for a beginners climbing course at his gym. To my surprise, I actually found that I enjoyed climbing this time. Even so, I was always looking up the walls, searching for him.

It took about a month before we bumped into each other. The first time it was just a quick hello and we moved on. The second time was after I’d hurt myself. I’d just fallen from the top of the bouldering wall and I didn’t land properly. I passed him as I was limping out of the gym, on my way to drive myself to urgent care for an x-ray. When he saw me, I shifted my weight so it didn’t look like I was limping and gave him a smile. I stood there, trying to not put any pressure on what I was sure was a broken ankle, and flirted while trying not to wince.

Beginning, Middle, and End

A few weeks later, he invited me over to his place, and when I arrived, he told me that he’d just gotten out of a relationship, so he wanted to move forward cautiously. Confused, I asked if he meant the relationship he’d been in prior to us dating. He said no and told me that after he’d ended things with me, he’d promptly gotten into a relationship with another girl a week later. While I had been longing to be with him, he’d already lived out an entire relationship with someone else after telling me he didn’t want to be in a relationship. That shredded me to pieces. I should have ended it there.

“Should” is a dangerous word. My cognitive behavioural therapy work would tell me that instead, it’s best to phrase it like this: it would have been nice if I had ended it there. But I didn’t.

I shoved the hurt away and the obsession continued. It continued while he still was seeing other girls, humming and hawing about if he wanted to be with me. It continued after he decided to commit to being in a relationship with me and followed it up by ghosting me for three weeks. It continued when he stood me up on my birthday. It continued when I told him I loved him and he responded with a horrible joke. It continued even after he blindsided me again and broke up with me on the cusp of a pandemic. It continued even after he blocked my number and his sister-in-law told me that he now has a new girlfriend.

Understanding the Obsession

I’m writing this because I’ve finally been brave enough to look at my actions and identify what my obsession really was: a symptom of codependency.

I’ve used obsessions as a coping strategy since I was a child. I spent my days fixating on movies and books, daydreaming that I was a character in a fantasy world, while in reality, I’d been yanked out of my hometown and relocated to a new city where I spent most of my childhood as an outcast. Later in middle school, it went from dreaming about books and movies to fixating on tragic male rockstars while girls I’d once been friendly with openly mocked me. Obsessing was how I survived when things got tough.

When I met my ex, I was working two jobs, six days a week, commuting for more than two hours every day, and taking a class online. I felt hopeless that anything would ever change. There were many times at work when I would think to myself he is the only good thing in my life. I would be miserable without him. But that wasn’t actually the case.

“What’s with the thousand yard stare?” he’d asked me once while we were laying in bed. His question startled me because I’d just been thinking, I’m laying in bed with the love of my life. Why am I not happier? I smiled and told him it was nothing. But it wasn’t nothing. Because despite all of the red flags I had overlooked to make our relationship work, I wasn’t even happy when I was with him. I had just convinced myself that I was.

The day before I found myself in that mountain town with his sister-in-law, I’d had a melt down at work because I was so deeply unhappy. I hadn’t told anyone about it, not even my supposed soulmate.

“He always said that he’d never bring another girl around to meet us unless he was serious about her,” his sister-in-law told me.

“I don’t know if he’s serious about me or if he brought me this weekend out of convenience,” I said honestly.

“I don’t know either,” she said.

But I did know, even back then. Despite my infatuation with him, I’ve always known deep down that he never really liked me all that much. It was in the way he treated me or didn’t treat me, in the rules he set about how often we were to see each other, in the way he hung up on me and didn’t return my messages. It was in the way he so easily discarded and replaced me at the end of it all. But I’m at fault too. Because I recognized all of these behaviours, but I refused to acknowledge them for what they were. If I had done that, I would have had to face reality, and I would have had to end it.

Pandemic & Healthy Detachment

Before the pandemic hit, I was lucky enough to find a job I love and my quality of life has improved immensely–but there’s still a pandemic happening. And even though it wasn’t a good or healthy coping strategy, losing him right before getting plowed over by this historic event has been excruciating. I lost my life jacket right when a tsunami hit, and I’ve been drowning ever since.

I am trying my best to learn and grow, to be present in the moment, and to learn how to healthily detach. Without all of this bad, I would never have been forced to look at my own toxic behaviours in relationships in the harsh, unforgiving light. I never want to be codependant again; but I also know that I have years of unhealthy coping mechanisms to unlearn. There’s a lot of water above, but I’m starting to remember how to swim again.


Lessons Learned from Sue Grafton About Being a Sociopath

When I was in grade two, a woman who lived down the street insisted to my parents that I be put on suicide watch.

I was told as an adult that this neighbour was watching me walk home from elementary school every day and found it incredibly alarming that I wasn’t skipping or laughing. I picture her now as a plump cartoon character, peeking out of her blinds with binoculars, seeing my somber face and crying out in a voice oozing with self-righteousness, “My god, that child isn’t laughing! She’s obviously suicidal, and I must do something! ME to the rescue!” before dialling my parents’ number and consequently inflicting damage that would follow me for the rest of my life.

I have been emotionally cold for as long as I can remember. Growing up, my dad often called me Wednesday, the murderous little girl from The Addam’s Family. Back then, I was tickled that I was different. I liked my dad’s silly nickname for me until that neighbour butted into my life.

I didn’t know about the busy-body woman on our street. I didn’t even know what suicide was. All I knew was that suddenly every day when I got home from school, my parents were saying things like, “Why can’t you just smile? Everyone thinks you’re miserable,” and “It’s not that hard.” But it was hard. Governed by a rigidly analytical nature, it seemed illogical to be disingenuous and force a smile, and therefore, I couldn’t do it.

The frustrating thing was that I was actually my happiest when this lady was spying on me. I looked forward to my walk home because it let me drift into the world of the latest book I had read and make up my own stories. My love for daydreaming is why I became a writer. But I couldn’t do it anymore because I didn’t smile when I daydreamed. Because I was weird.

Wednesday, that name I had previously felt tickled by, morphed into a syringe, piercing deeply and sucking out my self-esteem. It asked, why can’t you just be like everyone else? Later in life, that question rephrased itself as romantic interests repeatedly described me as simply cold.

As I grew up, I’d see my likeness in the serial killers on Criminal Minds, in Patrick Bateman American Psycho, and it didn’t help that I love murder mysteries. I often have to check what I say about the stories I love, worried people are thinking the prospect of human death is what excites me, not of the thrill of solving a mystery. I worry that they think I’m just like Wednesday Addams in every way, not just in her severity. Eventually, I began to think of myself as a villain, inherently evil because I shared so many similarities with the ones I saw on TV.

That is until I came across a passage in W is for Wasted, the 23rd book in Sue Grafton’s alphabet mysteries series:

“Here’s how hard-hearted I am: I was irritated by Pearl’s wailing. It seemed pumped up, artificial, overdone. My response was to disconnect, as though I were pulling a plug out of a wall socket. I couldn’t react to the news of Felix’s death because her excess had shut me down. It was as though she’d pre-empted any honest feelings generated by his passing. At the same time, I wondered if Pearl was the normal one and I was too psychologically stunted to experience sorrow. This didn’t seem like the proper moment to sort out questions of such complexity, but the idea had occurred to me on previous occasions—this sense that I was somehow out of step with the rest of humankind.”

Like the narrator, Kinsey Millhone, I’ve spent my life thinking that it’s everyone else who is normal, and I’m the deformed freckle on the skin of society. It never mattered that I find joy in the other’s joy; I can’t show emotions, so there has always been an implication that I have none. I felt destined to only relate to characters like Patrick Bateman forever.

It wasn’t until I read W is for Wasted that I realized my resistance to showing emotion is something that isn’t singular to myself and the serial killers on Criminal Minds. Kinsey, the protagonist and narrator, isn’t the epitome of mental health, but she’s not a bad person; in fact, her whole career as a private investigator revolves around helping people. And she is emotionally cold just like me.

Sue Grafton, the creator of Kinsey Millhone, passed away on December 28 2017 before she could complete the Kinsey Millhone series. Her writing showed me that I’m not a monster. Hard-hearted, absolutely. But not evil. In my typical way, I don’t have the proper words to mourn her. But the feeling is there. It always has been. The world lost an excellent storyteller when she passed. RIP Sue Grafton.


Perseverance and Pickle Jars

On perseverance when battling pickle jars.

Something I’ve been confronted with since moving out on my own is that I’m not strong enough to open a jar of pickles. This is problematic as I’ve recently taken a liking to homemade pickle hummus.

The first time I bought pickles after moving out on my own and discovering my ineptitude,  I googled tricks to try to get the jar open. I tried running it under hot water then twisting again. Nothing.  I tried hitting the edge of the lid against the corner of the counter, but had to stop because I was worried I’d miss and shatter the jar. I really wanted hummus, but the lid wouldn’t budge. I kept twisting until my wrist was aching, but it just wouldn’t move.

All while doing this, I was remembering a woman I used to work with who was a single mother of two. She told me that they hadn’t had ketchup in months because she wasn’t able to open the bottle, and there was no one around to help her. That ketchup bottle represented what her life had become since leaving her husband: a task she couldn’t possibly complete because she didn’t have the resources, the strength. It was one of the saddest things I’ve ever heard.

I think of her every time I engage in battle with a pickle jar and wonder if that’s what my life is becoming, if the pickles represent all of the obstacles I can’t overcome: mental illness, getting out of retail, being terminally single etc.

Finally after all of my attempts, I tried the last option google suggested: I took a knife and stabbed the lid of the jar–which was easier than I expected. When I pulled the knife out, after the sound of scraping metal, I heard the sound of air moving. The pressure of the jar had changed, and this time when I twisted, the lid came off as if it had never put up a fight. I was the reigning champion of the pickle battle!

This has been my tactic ever since. After twisting until my wrist hurts, I get the knife out and feeling like a little bit of a failure because I can’t get it open the normal way and now I have to store the pickles with plastic wrap over the top,  I stab it. However, my feelings of failure are usually forgotten in the ecstasy of my delicious hummus.

Today when I played Lady Macbeth with the pickle jar, I didn’t hear the air moving after I stabbed the lid. There was no pressure change, and the lid was still stuck.

I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t run it under hot water because there was a hole in the top and water would dilute the juice which I needed for my recipe, and I still didn’t trust my aim enough to hit the lid against a corner. My wrist was already sore from crocheting the day before (of course it was a stereotypical feminine task that caused my injury) and it was the most I’ve ever felt like a weak woman. I was becoming the coworker who’d gone up against the ketchup bottle and lost. I had been defeated and the jar represented my fears: my independence was obviously a sham, my mental illness would win, I would die alone, and most importantly I’d probably never have homemade pickle hummus again. Devastating.

But you know what? I really wanted pickle hummus. So I did the only thing I could think of: I kept stabbing the lid. I carved through the metal and made a hole just big enough for me to poke the knife into and pull out a slice of pickle, and then another, and another, until I had enough for my hummus.

When I was done, I looked at that pickle jar with it’s fucked up lid and it still represented my life, but in a different way.

I’ve been though a lot in these last few years. More than once I haven’t been strong enough to get the lid off the jar. I am a mentally ill single woman. I dropped out of university when I had one semester left, and I might not go back and finish. I am stuck in retail and I live in a province I hate. But I’ve kept plugging along, creating little holes that I can reach into and pull happiness out of. I can’t get the pickles the way everyone else does, the way we’re all supposed to. It takes me a little bit longer, and it’s difficult to saw through metal with a kitchen knife. When I get my pickles, I have to check them for little bits of metal, but it doesn’t matter because. In the end, I still get the pickles. I persevere.

I persevere.

My hummus was delicious by the way.


A horror story.

I’m in purgatory.

Today I spent the first half of my shift working with a bunch of married men who are just five to ten years older than me who were referencing TV shows and websites that are just before my time. The shifts of the 30+ men ended midday when the college and university students started their shifts. I was doing a nine to five, working half of my time with both. The evening coworkers talked about turning eighteen, the memory of wounds still fresh from finishing high school, and being too afraid to get credit cards.

After work, I went to the creative writing club I’ve just joined. This time, I was the youngest person in the room. Instead of being thirty and up, the age group for the club is largely fifty and up. Despite it taking place in a college, no college students actually attend. I am one of the few members who doesn’t have white hair.  You would think that the shared purpose uniting us, writing, would enable me to connect with these people, but it doesn’t because I’m just so far out of their spheres of life experiences.

We were silently scribbling away, responding to writing prompts, when the music from the campus bar in the room next door started thumping. The college Halloween bash was in progress while I was sitting in a room with a bunch of people double my age. Half of me wished that I could join the party next door, but I knew that I would likely be the oldest person in that room. I wouldn’t belong there either.

I recently had to let a romantic interest go because despite ticking off many boxes that match my own situation, he’s at a point in his life where he wants to experiment with drugs. To use the terms I told him: drugs are a deal breaker. Why? Because I’m beyond the point in my life where I want a partner who’s doing activities like that. Even though I’m the right age in some respects, in the end I turned out to be just slightly wrong. Close, but no vape.

I feel like everywhere I go, I am either too young or too old, too accomplished or not enough, too mature or too immature. The void I’m stuck in seems to be enveloping this city like the vaporous fingers of mist. I keep bringing out my flashlight, thinking I’ve seen movement and found another survivor in the fog, but the shadows in the dark keep turning out to be trees or buildings. The truth is that I’m alone out here.