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Rock Solid (Part IV)

For the entirety of my hellacious first year of teaching, Sean had been there for me.

Strained beyond my breaking point, he had listened to me process my overwhelm, held me when I collapsed into tears out of sheer frustration, and gotten me out of bed and out the door when I did not think I could make it.

He had been my rock.

On the other side, I was still in recuperation mode, but I had more bandwidth to provide support instead of solely receiving it. I felt grateful to him for his solidity through my ordeal and I was attempting to bring order back to our lives by focusing on the domestic front-cooking, gardening and keeping the house picked up. But it was like a bomb had gone off and a little vacuuming here and there was not going to cut it.

In reality, the stress generated by my first year of teaching had simply been layered on top of what was already a tenuous situation. It's not like the pressures of medical school had stopped mounting while I had been in free fall. No, they were still squarely there, imperceptibly raising the temperature of the waters we were swimming in.

Sean had somehow found enough strength to keep going while also acting as my primary support, but once I was back on my feet, stabilized and more or less back to myself, it was his turn to flounder.

The nature of Sean's meltdown was very different from mine.

Where I had managed my overwhelm by processing it out loud, now he was managing his with stoicism. I was trying to do all of the things that I knew to do to bolster him, but no matter, as he was becoming harder to reach, less communicative and more withdrawn. A dark cloud of depression seemed to set in directly above our house and things felt grim.

It was a sad time for us. It hadn't been so long ago that we had felt such promise about our life together, and yet here we were, spirits crushed. We were taking in the reality of our situation and of what we had done. We had both voluntarily signed on to be part of were all too happy to eat you alive as if you were lunch.

We were naive about just how much stress one relationship could transmute into gold and we did not yet have the wisdom to realize that, if you wanted your relationship to thrive, it was critical to make life decisions in a way that first and foremost prioritized and protected the relationship.

In retrospect, we realized that it had been a terrible idea for me to try to do a challenging credential path while he was slogging it out in medical school no matter how much money we saved. It was just too much.

Despite the blue hues coloring our reality, we were still engaged to be married and there was no conscious consideration of ending our relationship. That would have been unthinkable. If anything, we were more fused than ever after the bout of acute stress.

That's why when Sean came to me and said he'd come to the conclusion that he needed some space to get on top of his mental health I did not blink an eye. It actually made sense to me. I could see that he was burrowing into himself in an unhealthy way and that unlike me, he was not going to emote his way out of this one.

He needed to clear the space so he could think straight again. I had been feeling helpless anyway. And I was so tired of the oppressive energy that had infiltrated our life. I had the sense that the creation of space might actually help, especially because he was initiating it, so I signed off on the idea.

It wasn't a separation or anything in the ballpark of splitting up. It was just an informal break. That's how we talked about it between us and that's how it felt. Not a big deal. Just something all individuals need from time to time. Just space to clear the decks. A blank canvas for a new, brighter picture to emerge.

He had to stay in the area because of school, so I decided to do some traveling. I took off on a solo trip.

We stayed in touch a bit, enough to keep our life going, but mostly I could sense that he was working hard at something and I did not want to disturb that process. It seemed important that I let him do what he needed to do. If space was what was going to facilitate him getting back on top, I was going to give it to him with all my heart.

After about a month or so, he got in contact with me to tell me that he felt so much better and was so relieved to have been able to sort some things out for himself. Specifically, he felt that he now had a handle on where the depressive feelings were coming from, which felt liberating.

He sounded good, lighter. Happily, he was ready for me to come back home.


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