Monday, January 8, 2018

Requiem for 2017

I am late to the party of year end roundups.  My excuses are holidays, single momhood and a contagion that will not leave me alone.  But another part of the reason is that I needed to ruminate a little, see where I am at the end of another year.  I make a list of goals every year that I want to accomplish.  This year, like many other years, I didn't get most of them accomplished.  I tend to beat myself up about these things, feeling like a failure for not doing or being all the things I planned.  I realize now in looking back at them that it wasn't a failure on my part.  Not this year.  The goals themselves were the failure.  Most of them were things that weren't right for me or not important in the grand scheme of things. 

I also picked a word for 2017 and that was "brave".  I think I was this year.  Not in some grandiose way, but in my own quiet way.  I became a producer of burlesque shows, pushing myself way beyond any limits I had ever imagined.  I let people see the real me a little more, trying to reach beyond myself and make genuine connections.  I still struggle with this, but I am working on it.  I took a large trip solo with my daughter in 2017, navigating taxis, airplanes and lodging as well as activities all on my own.  I have become more politically active in a way I never have been before and I hope that this continues to grow in my life.  I filled my year with theater, art, concerts and books because they fill me with joy.  If I have to go alone, I am not scared to do so any more.  I don't want to miss out just because I have no one to go with me.  I also did something that was so hard to do, something I put off for too long this year.  I went on medication for depression and anxiety and I am feeling better than I have in a long time.

My 2018 word is "change".  I have a lot of goals I would love to accomplish.  They are pretty lofty and require a lot of change - in myself, in my physical environment, in my career, in my romantic life.  I am very hard on myself and always have been.  But these lookbacks at the past year help me see that I have accomplished more than I thought I had.  Maybe this year I will find someone that wants to be a part of my life, a partner who sees me for all that I am and isn't daunted by what that entails.  Perhaps I will spend another year single.  Maybe this year I will move into another home, selling the house that is too big for the two of us alone.  Perhaps I will find another solution.  Maybe this year I will finally find another career, one that challenges me in a completely new way.  Perhaps that may still be down the road a ways.  Whatever 2018 brings, I am ready for the change.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Sex and the Single Girl at 44

Dating in 2017.  What words are conjured up in your head when you read that statement?  For me, I think the following: frustration, terror, abject fear, comedic, deficient, critical, weird, unwanted.  I know, I know.  Don't be so negative, just put yourself out there, dating should be fun etc.  Not for me, never for me.  You see, I don't date.  I never, ever have.  I truly don't know how.  My high school boyfriend and I dated for 2-3 years, went into a dry spell for 5 or so years after that with a date or two thrown in and then I went on my first date with the man I ended up marrying.  We were together 16 years until we separated and then divorced.  I found myself single again at 41 years old with absolutely no idea of how dating works now.  Fast forward to 44 years old and I still have no clue.  I have been single for three years and had exactly 2 dates.  Yes, I needed to heal, work through my baggage (which I am still working on, by the way) and take care of myself and my daughter.  But the real reasons I haven't put myself fully back out there are a lot more personal than that.

One of the reasons I haven't thrown myself headlong into the dating scene is that I feel really self conscious about my lack of experience.  Not only do I have very little dating experience, but you can extrapolate that that applies to the bedroom as well.  I am not embarrassed of it.  I am who I am.  But I feel like others will see me lacking in some way, damaged goods somehow.  When you reach the age I have, where your body is MUCH different than it was the last time you were single, this adds another wrinkle into an already fear inducing situation.  There are classes for everything else under the sun.  Where is the Dating and Sex 101 class for those of us out of the game for so long?  I can't imagine I am the only one in the world.

Another reason is that I honestly have no idea what I want out of dating.  Not at all.  I don't know if I can do the strictly casual thing, but I really don't know if I want a full fledged relationship either.  Relationships are a ton of work and I just don't know if I have the bandwidth for that right now.  I know I worry too much about things, but it is just the way I work. Relaxing and letting things flow is a foreign concept to me.  

I also have realized during this whole process of rapid evolution that who I am looking for has changed in a pretty fundamental way.  I am just looking for a person that gets me, with all my many quirks and foibles.  I am not sure how to label that or if I even can, given that I have only dated the male species up to now.  It is just something I am coming to know about myself.  It is damn hard to find people that get me and who I feel comfortable sharing myself with.  Why would I limit myself to one gender at this point in my life?

So there it is.  My messy thought process related to dating.  I tend to figure things out best by writing them out.  Not sure that I did that with this one, but boy, does it feel good to get some of that off my chest.  Anyone else out there like me?  Reach out and we can be confused and weird together.  Anyone know a sex ed/dating teacher for adults?  Send them my way.  I could really use one.  :)  Happy dating to all of us singletons!

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Try a Little Tenderness

I had a panic attack tonight.  I was at a birthday party with lots of people, people I care about, and I just locked up.  I couldn't breathe, my heart started racing and I had to run for my car before I dissolved into tears and collapsed on the floor.  It took me over 30 minutes to pull myself back together, sitting in my freezing car, sobbing and hyperventilating.  It took every ounce of strength I had to go back to the party, to face my embarassment and shame.

Why am I talking about this monumentally painful episode?  Because this is par for the course when you live with anxiety, especially social anxiety.  I don't remember a time in my life that I didn't have a soundtrack running in my head, telling me that no one likes me, no one will love me, you are an idiot, ugly, horrible, etc.  That has been my day to day life since I was a child.  It has gotten worse lately and gets progressively worse the more tired, burnt out and drained I get. Living with anxiety is exhausting and gutwrenching.  The more people tell you just to get over it, the worse you feel.  If there was a way for me to stop the constant negative self talk and worry I have immediately, I would do it in a heartbeat. I am trying not to believe I am weak, but that usually turns into another chance for the voice in my head to go to town on me.

It is hard to maintain friendships and relationships when you live like this. You believe that if anyone truly knew the real you, they would run away in horror.  Your anxiety builds walls around you to keep you "safe".  You have no idea how to talk to people, always seeing yourself as less than, not good enough.  When you speak to someone and say something you perceive as awkward or dumb, you replay it over and over in your brain for days afterwards.

People that love and care about those of us that suffer from this were not given an easy task. Some may not be able to handle it.  It requires patience, compassion, empathy, understanding and love.  I don't need anyone to coddle me or treat me like a child. But I do need more reassurance than most, that I am good enough, that it is ok to be me.  I need sleep and time for self care and a friendly shoulder to cry on sometimes.

The only way I know to take the poison out of my body - the hurt, the sadness, the anger - is to write it down.  So that is what I did with this blog post.  I am doing the best I can and I am trying to be a good human.  I know I am a really tough person to get to know and even people that know me well are not able to deal with me.  It is too much work, not worth the effort.  But I know I am not alone, that this disease eats away at others as well.  We have each other tonight.

How to care for people with anxiety:

Friday, December 30, 2016

Requiem for 2016

In so many ways, 2016 was a dumpster fire of a year.  I feel like half of my childhood died this year and don't get me started on the election and the ramifications of electing a dangerous and ignorant man who may or may not sell us to the Russians.  It seems like so many people are hurting, struggling, in pain for so many different reasons.  My personality is such that I absorb all the negative emotions and add them to my own plentiful supply.  It has been a hard year for that, particularly the last 6 weeks.

But there have been so many happy moments as well.  Moments when I surprised myself with what I was able to do.  I took a burlesque class and performed in front of people.  I took Madeline on several trips, just the two of us. We did a pinup shoot and a tintype one as well.   I saw a bunch of Broadway shows and concerts that made my heart happy.  We have new people in our life that care about us.  Madeline loves her new school.  I got to tour Paisley Park and walk where Prince walked.  I went on my first date in 17 years.  I did a solo trip around Colorado.  I dyed my hair red.  I went into therapy again to work on becoming the me I'm meant to be.

I look at that list and know I should give myself credit for doing all that.  But I know I could have done more, been more.  But I am paralyzed by fear.  Fear of what people think, being laughed at, feeling the fool.  So instead of doing something I want to do, I do nothing.  Frozen by fear.  Sometimes the sheer number of choices possible to me is overwhelming.  When you are used to being defined by your connection to other people, trying to redefine and know who you are is a skill one has to relearn.

I have not achieved all of what I was hoping I would in 2016.  I feel like I stalled on personal growth and am disappointed.  I know beating up on myself serves no purpose, but there has been a fair amount of that this year.  Feeling I should be more, over more, healed more.  I can objectively see progress, but I feel it isn't enough.  I'm impatient, wanting my new life now.  I am working with my therapist on a bunch of garbage that is painful, sad and hurtful.  And it has been so hard and made my emotions boomerang all over the place.  But Aurora, my therapist, tells me this all means I'm on the right track.  That the sludge has to be gotten through in order for the dam to burst.  There is no time table and it will happen in good time.  I am ready for my life to burst open.

I have no idea what to expect from 2017.  It is all so up in the air right now. Madeline and I are headed to NYC over spring break and I would really like to do another big trip in the summer or fall.  Travelling as much as I can is one of my goals for 2017.  I have goals for 2017, but no resolutions.  I do have a word for 2017, one that I am concentrating on.  It is "brave".  So many things in my life that I am not doing comes down to me finding the bravery within.  I have to defeat the fear.  It has run the show for far too long.

To 2017 - my year of living bravely.

Monday, September 26, 2016

We are Family

Family is a word that encompasses so much, yet doesn’t begin to capture the complexities of the relationships within.  When you go through a divorce, you can’t help thinking about family, what it used to look like, what it looks like now, what it will look like in the future.  The communicating, the navigating of feelings, the new people brought in or not brought in, new names, new definitions.  It can be overwhelming and seem completely impossible.  And yet, if no one gives up, if you continue fighting, a breakthrough starts, so slowly at first it seems like one is imagining it.  And then you arrive at a new normal, still working through issues as they appear, but more settled.

I am lucky in a sense that this is even an option for me.  I realize that for many divorced couples, the best that can be accomplished is a polite and cordial relationship.  And even that may be beyond what can be achieved.  I am not saying that this was easy to come by, far from it.  I had to get over a mountain of pain, hurt and anger to get here.  And Brian had his own demons to wrestle with. 

But we are still a family, a family of three.  We may add other people to this mix as time goes on, it may change shape or it may disappear altogether.  I’ve stopped assuming what the future holds.  A major life event can do that to you.  But I love Brian and always will.  He has been my best friend for the better part of two decades and I cannot bring myself to throw that huge a part of my life away.  Our relationship will never be what it was before and that is how it should be, though I still get sad about that from time to time.  But we are creating together what this new iteration of Melissa and Brian’s story is.  I know that I am seen as a fool or idiot by some and that we are confusing or too much to deal with for others.  But my daughter is the beneficiary of her parents not just being cordial or being solely co-parents, though we are that, but true friends and family.  And I am a beneficiary as well.  I keep my best friend, my family for so long, as part of my present.  I may lose potential romantic partners because of this and that is fine.  When your life gets blown up, you get to choose what the rebuilt version looks like.  Our family unit, different, but still intact, is too important for me to sacrifice.

When you divorce, the extended families are affected as well, thrown into confusion and forced to pick sides, especially when one or both of the former spouses get into a new relationship.  There is no side to pick, there never was.  The only side is Madeline’s.  Was there bad stuff that went down?  Yes, there was.  Was it forgiven by the parties involved?  Yes, it was.  My personal hope is that anyone that enters Brian’s life will become a friend, to me and to Madeline and vice versa.  But that is each person’s decision.  I hope that someday the whole family will be healed.  But I can’t force that as much as I would want to. 

We are an unconventional family, a unique one to say the least.  But one of the things that I am most proud of in my 43 years is what we have rebuilt from the ashes.  It will stand as one of the biggest accomplishments of my life.  It will continue to be hard from time to time, contentious, frustrating and painful.  But it will also continue to be imperfectly beautiful, loving and as weird as we all are.  The Ball family has been battered and bruised, but we’re still standing.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

One is not the Loneliest Number

I am approaching my one year anniversary of being divorced.  It is not something to celebrate in the truest sense and yet, it is.  I think about where I was one year ago and I can see how I have evolved and grown.  The work is not done by far and the roller coaster ride continues, but it is better than it was.  I tend to get wrapped up in the day to day and I don’t realize the tiniest of baby steps taken on a daily basis have started to accumulate.  It’s hard to look back a year, even two years ago and believe I made it through.  But I did.  And I continue to.

A big priority for me personally these days is being ok with being alone.  For a lot of people, when you end a marriage or relationship, the overwhelming urge is to replace the person you lost with someone else right away.  I’ve seen it happen time and again.  I felt the urge myself - to immediately run out and find someone who would make me feel worthwhile, beautiful, interesting and important again.  I got on all the dating sites, tried to find someone, got depressed with what was out there and despaired that I would never feel worthwhile again.  I tried Meetup groups, trying to find friends, men, anything that would help the loneliness, the loss.  But ever so slowly, in such small ways that it was barely noticeable, I started to back off, to not feel the panic, the urgency, to fill the space in my life.  I was content to sit with myself, to spend time alone, to enjoy my own company.  I go to movies alone, I read alone, I watch TV alone, I sit in coffeehouses alone, I even travel alone.  I just did my first solo trip and have planned another one, longer this time, for September.  I am not a hermit and spend lots of time with my daughter, my book club ladies and some people at work.  I even had my first date in over 17 years a few weeks ago.  The man was very nice and wanted to see me again.  But I wasn’t feeling it.  Instead of grabbing on to a man to make me feel good about myself, even if I wasn’t interested, I let him down politely and easily.  I’ve realized that I want people in my life that add something to it, not people that fill holes I have in myself.  I am ever so slowly coming to accept that I am ok, just as I am.  I don’t need other people to tell me that or make me feel it.  I have to love and accept myself in order to have healthy relationships going forward.  The longer I am alone, the more at peace I am with being that way.  Someone is going to have to be pretty amazing to have me add them to my life and I am ok if that never happens for me again.  I have a life to lead that is more than just a romantic relationship.  There is so much more for me to do, to see, to be. 

I am far from perfect at this and it is all very much a work in progress.  I am still terrified of doing certain things and try to talk myself out of doing them.  I am a coward just as many days as I am brave.  But I am fighting, every day, to make a new life, a better one.  There is a quote from Carl Jung that explains this journey perfectly: “The most terrifying thing is to accept oneself completely.”  I am perpetually terrified, but still in the arena, fighting this fight, to be me and to be proud of who that woman is.

Friday, May 1, 2015


I have thought a lot about how we as humans have a tendency to sleepwalk through our lives.  Given the events of the past several months, I have been jarred from life as it was into a brand new reality.  I think for most people, life is like the movie, Groundhog Day.  We get up, go to work, deal with our kids, dinner on the table, speak a few words at our spouse, usually about the house, errands or the kids and then fall into bed, exhausted.  The next day, we get up and do it all over again.  Our lives settle into dull routine, punctuated once in a while by some one off event or vacation or catastrophe.

After having my life upended the way it has, I have realized that perhaps it was a blessing in disguise.  It has taken me a while to get to this point, but here I am.  I am 41 years old, soon to be 42, and I am not living a life even remotely close to the one I want to lead.  I have felt dissatisfied with my profession for a long time and long to put some business ideas into something tangible.  I want to travel more, experience more.  I want to write more, create a blog that allows me an outlet for my writings.  In other words, I have dreams, large and small.  And life has sped by, until I find myself here, at this moment.  I am at a crossroads, for lack of a better analogy.  I have felt stuck for so long, complaining about how unhappy I am, but doing nothing.  Fear, frustration and potential failure has kept me inert, terrified to do what needs to be done to move forward.  One benefit of having the rug of your life pulled out from underneath you is realizing that nothing is guaranteed.  What you once feared has happened and you are still standing.  If that is the case, why fear failure?

I now control the narrative of my story.  There is no necessity any more of worrying about making someone else happy, compromising my dreams away.  My daughter's health and happiness always comes first, but as my therapist tells me, our kids do as we do, not what we say.  If I want her to be her own woman, to forge her own path, I have to show her a woman doing just that.  Having the future wide open to you is a scary thing.  But terribly exciting at the same time.  I wish the separation didn't have to happen for me to realize all this, but it is what it is.  I have to stop being afraid of failure and embrace the possibilities.  Life is too damn short and I have too much to do, see and be.