Me and my husband have been married almost two years and have been together much longer. But lately I haven’t felt “whole” in my life. We had a child almost a year ago and honestly that’s when things went downhill. It’s like all of a sudden I woke up and realised I don’t match this person that I’ve been. Like I’m living in a shell. I don’t feel like I’m living up to my true potential in life. I got married early (I’m only 22) and I feel like I haven’t accomplished much for ME. I love my life, don’t get me wrong, but I feel like there’s so much more I could be doing to make ME happy. I want to go to college, recently I’ve taken up going vegan and my spouse doesn’t support anything I want to do. He thinks it’s a joke. But I’m reaching for anything I can call my own.
I’m just trying to figure out who I’m supposed to be. I don’t know who I am yet and he doesn’t understand that. He’s amazing in all sorts of ways and I can’t imagine ever being with anyone else. But it’s like I never had the chance to explore who I really want to be. Now that I’ve packed up everything that I had and followed him across the country and had his child I don’t even know where to begin to make myself happy again.
Everything is so different. My body, my mind, my emotions. I was so secure in who I was when it was just me. When I didn’t have so many people depending on me to cook dinner, to wash their clothes, to tuck them in. I feel selfish, like I don’t know what I want at all and also feeling like I should be grateful for what I have.
I just want to be happy. I want to cherish my family and go to bed at night happy. Happy that my family is taken care of and loved. But who is supposed to take care of me? Is this my life now? Is there hope? Or is this just it for me? Will I always just be someone’s wife? Someone’s mother? Is it so wrong that I want more for myself? I don’t know how to get better or where to start. I feel like I’m drowning and I don’t have anyone to help me figure this out. – B
Walk to the centre of the room. Throw your hands above your head. Scream at the top of your lungs. Scream.
Do it. I’ll wait.
There is a fragility surrounding you. You’re doing anything you can to avoid making mistakes, to avoid disappointing people. And it’s killing you. You’ve got to break through this glass shell you’ve built between who you think you should be and your own inner, messy world.
My heart started racing as I read your message. I felt your loss of air, like you’re being suffocated by your own series of decisions. You’ve reacted to life, maybe because you felt you had no other choice, maybe because at the time it looked like what you wanted. I’ll be honest, you’re living what I consider to be the Great Modern American Nightmare: a woman trapped in domestic simplicity, unfulfilled, drained, her spirit fading, a crying baby echoing in the background, a complacent partner, physically reliant on her current circumstances, days blending together, unrecognisable to herself.
The beauty is, darling, there is a way out of this. And the journey you are about to embark on will be so juicy and amazing and revealing. And so as to not bury the lead… the person who is going to take care of you is YOU. But it’s going to require that you take bold and decisive action, something I have a feeling you are not used to doing.
First, look at yourself in the mirror for two full minutes. Put a timer on your phone, cue it to two minutes, and stare into your own eyes until it beeps. This is a trippy little exercise I’ve done throughout my whole life. After about a minute, you lose yourself in your own reflection. It’s almost as if there is a separate person standing in front of you. Like some deep part of yourself is standing there confronting you.
I want you to do this because for your life to change at all you need to really see yourself and recognise that there is a soul housed in your flesh and that it needs you. It needs to be fed and nourished like you are feeding and nourishing everyone else around you. But it needs to be fed and nourished first. Before your husband, and yes, before even your child. You need to see yourself as a person worthy and deserving of your own time and energy.
Do this everyday. Do this at the start of your day. Stare at yourself and feel that you are on a forever journey with no one but yourself. Commit to the person in the mirror.
Second, I want you to know the issues you’re presenting – I don’t feel whole, I don’t feel like I’m living to my true potential, what have I accomplished, who do I want to be, how do I make myself happy? – are really big, existential questions that almost everyone grapples with. These are very normal things to ponder and feel overwhelmed with because none of them have quick, easy answers. People spend their entire lives (and thousands of dollars in therapy) turning over those very concerns.
Thirdly, I want you feel emboldened by your decisions and circumstances, not victimised. You speak as if you’re a powerless little leaf being blown about without any agency or control over who you are and where you’ve ended up. I understand you’re not happy, but in order to begin to change things you have to own your life in its entirety. A reiki healer taught me this. I was in a relationship that I knew I shouldn’t have been in and I said to her, “I can’t leave now because x… y.. .z…” and she said, “No, take the power back into your own hands. Say… I can leave right now but I am choosing not to.”
Reframe your life as conscious decisions that you have control over instead of random circumstances that you are reacting to.
Because, fourth and final point here, you do know who you are. You have not arrived where you’ve arrived in a vacuum. Perhaps you feel you’ve lost touch with the person you used to be, but guess what? You’re NOT that person anymore. You’re constantly evolving. You are someone new, but this new person is just as interesting and worthy of time and attention. Your identity and desires aren’t some great mystery. They are evolving right now within the life you’ve currently built, and if you just look you will find them.
Write out a map of how you got to where you are. Yes, with a pen and paper. Draw a line and list fifteen people, decisions and accomplishments that have lead to your current moment in life. Fill all fifteen spots, consider even really small events if you have to. Go back and review the space between each dot on your map and explore what emotional realities moved you from place to place. What was going on internally that contributed to the various decisions you’ve made throughout your life. How did you move from moment to moment? Are there any patterns? Look back at the list and pull out the times when you were most fulfilled, most excited by life – what was going on at those times? Who were you around? What were you doing? The answers you’re looking for are inside you; start to pull them out.
You’ve also got to just start trying some things on for size if you want to bring fulfilment into your life. Get out of the house, start running, start writing, start reading, join a community group, join a mom’s-who-brunch group, take a course at a local college, get a part time job, start small. Don’t feel like you have to make the most perfect decisions all the time, you don’t. You might start something and lose interest in it, but that’s fine! Making yourself happy, Ms. Perfectionist, is not something there’s a rubric or curriculum for. And it’s certainly NOT selfish. It’s trial and error. Dirty exploration. It’s a series of “No, that’s not it” until you stumble upon an “Ahhh, yes! This feels right.”
No one is going to give you permission to start living your life. But if you feel like you need that sort of push, I’ll do you a service: You now have permission to do whatever you want.
You are not just a “mom” or a “wife” – you are a human being, you are Briana, you are that girl in the mirror standing there waiting to take accountability for her own happiness. No one is going to crack this riddle for you, no one else is going to take care of you, no one else is going to be able to build a great and fulfilling life around you except you. I can’t tell you what this life will look like, but I’ll bet you if you commit to it, it’ll be beautiful.
On a more pragmatic note, I do think you should invest in couples therapy with your husband. I think you owe it to your relationship to try to develop some tools for building a healthier, more satisfying relationship between the two of you. You should know my gut is saying leave this loser! If he doesn’t make you happy, f*ck him! But, I’m trying to do some growing myself and one of the things I’m learning is that in relationships you’ve got to give it a good ‘ol college try before throwing your hands up and walking away.
It doesn’t sound like all hope is lost with your husband. You speak amicably about him, it just seems like maybe he’s not supporting you in the ways you need. It may be because he doesn’t know quite how you feel or that he doesn’t have the tools he needs to support you in the right ways. Unfortunately, we often think our partners can tell exactly how we’re feeling without us actually having to say anything and, from experience, that is rarely the case.
I can tell you right now your husband doesn’t understand that when you say “I want to explore being vegan” what you really mean is “I feel a complete lack of personal identity and bottomless emptiness inside.”
Communicate with him. Explain how you’re feeling. Don’t expect him to do anything but listen. Go to some counseling and try to establish new tools for understanding and supporting each other. Additionally, renegotiate the housework if you’re doing it all. Even if your husband works, you shouldn’t feel that he is relying on you to “wash clothes” and “cook dinner,” if that’s not a responsibility you agreed to.
Give yourself a timeline to do this relationship work, but know that at the end of it the best decision may in fact be to walk away. No relationship, whether it be with your husband or your child’s father, is worth sacrificing your own happiness. And happily separated parents are better for a child than unhappy and resentful, married parents.
You’ve got a terrifying, thrilling journey of self-discovery ahead. All you’ve got to do is commit to that first, small, step.