The simple, and yet hard-earned, explanation of it all

My last post, more than two months ago, wasn’t optimistic. The feelings of worthlessness, futility, the experience of having jobs and careers slither from your hands, the certainty that nothing sticks and nothing ever will. The addictive behaviours–binge eating being the worst of them. The moodiness and extreme reactions. The depression and chronic anxiety. The frequent accidents and the near-accidents caused by inattention and daydreaming. The fact that I lose stuff, break stuff, can’t seem to finish a task even if it’s as simple as hanging the washing. The house that’s a mess, and the insomnia, the chronic fatigue, the mental haze of just existing in a barely functional state.

Apparently, it all has a simple–and very obvious–answer. My friends were right: ADHD. A clear-cut case–a belter, actually. Never diagnosed in childhood because, apparently, I was a gifted kid who just glided through twelve school years without putting too much effort into it. Never mind that I always drew or fidgeted during lessons. Never mind that I could never sit still or kept talking and interrupting people. Who cared? I got good grades without even trying. Nothing to see here, folks.

And after school? Well, it got worse. Until, two years ago, I got burnout.

I’ve been trying to find out what’s wrong since then, and I finally have my diagnosis.

But who knew anything about adult ADHD in the late 90s in Greece? Who could have imagined? Nobody, and nobody did.

“You only achieved so much,” the psychiatrist said, “because you’re highly gifted. With that level of ADHD, it’s impressive that you managed to get a PhD and to have a functional family.” What’s no wonder at all is that I never could keep a job. And I couldn’t write scientific papers without being guided by a strong supervisor. Quite understandable, in hindsight.

It’s also no wonder that I can write a full novel when I’m focused. It’s the phenomenon of hyperfocus: you don’t do anything else for a couple months, you obsessively live and breathe your task. That’s why I still can’t bring myself to sit and write my next book right now. My family needs me.

So, what now? Medication. Therapy. Better care of my health–I’ve had some health issues that won’t go away that easily, I’m afraid.

I told the psychiatrist I didn’t want to look for a job right now. Damn right, she said. With that level of ADHD, we need to get the medication straight first.

The best part of all of this? The guilt is melting away. The guilt of not being disciplined, not having my ducks in a row, not being able to stick to a job, not managing to continue learning a language, or clean my house, or earn money to contribute to the family finances, or be organized and tidy, calm and not moody.

“It’s not your fault,” the psychiatrist said. “None of this.” Not the addictive behaviours, not the way you confuse people by constantly changing the subject, none of it.

“You’re highly gifted. You’re not living up to your potential,” she said. “But we can change that.”

Yes, please!

Another damned anniversary

Two years ago, my heart started breaking. It was a long and painful process. Many things happened before that night, many things happened after, and many things keep happening. I’ve been breaking for decades now.

Most of all, on that evening, I realized I hadn’t ever achieved my–then–lifelong goal of fitting in. I still don’t fit in. The moment when I fit in will never come. Goal trashed–new goals sought!

But it doesn’t matter, my therapist said. It really, truly, doesn’t matter at all.

And how about feeling rejected all the damned time? That was a thing I realized on that night two years ago, too. I always was and would always be rejected. Don’t ask me why, because I wouldn’t be able to tell you. I’m obviously biased in that I have no objective sense of the world–if such a thing even exists.

The question I’m increasingly faced with these days is, what now?

So you tried to fit in, for decades. It didn’t work. Anything and everything you touched crumbled to bits, too. You might have some as yet undiagnosed disorder–friends keep insisting on ADHD, commonly mistaken for or coexistent with BPD, depression, ASD, anxiety, and, my all-time favorite-slash-what describes-me-perfectly, Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria. My one and only point of success is: I have a husband and a family. I’m rockin’ it, eighteenth-century-style.

Okay, okay. So, there’s the rejection part, and there’s the self-worth part. Oh boy, the self-worth part is below basement level right now. I can honestly find no purpose in my existence. And, newsflash, there’s not much joy either if you don’t have a little bit of money to enjoy life with. Yes, yes, money doesn’t bring happiness, but being in a state of debilitating insecurity about present and future isn’t fun. Money does bring some measure of happiness when it takes away a mountain of stress–when it makes you feel a little safe in your present and the thought of the future doesn’t cause you overwhelming anxiety. But I’m a dumpster fire in the jobs department. Absolutely useless.

So, no point in existing. And lying down and dying isn’t an option either. What the fuck do I do?

In a sense, there’s been progress. Let’s start with the Rejection Sensitivity part. That friend from my town who’d been a constant, if somewhat rare, presence for years, and who’s been ghosting me for over a year now? Something like that would have absolutely broken me two years ago. But today? I cried about it once. This is, after all, how life is. She can do whatever she wants; she might have her own problems to deal with. Maybe it doesn’t reflect on me. Or I might be too much for her–heaven knows I’m a whole lot for people to handle. So, I only felt rejected for a little while. Didn’t fall apart. Yay, me.

That guy I sacrificed nearly two years of mental health for? In essence (but not technically!) I was the one who broke that off by, I don’t know, being scary, I guess. I wasn’t willing to give a person the lukewarm, talk-to-you-quarterly friendship he seemed to want, after us being thick as thieves for half a year. Friendships, for me, are not a matter of simple spatial proximity.

People rejecting me and leaving me in many imaginative ways happens all the time. But, these days, I’m learning to protect my time and energy, too. My friends (there are a precious and special handful of those, happily) keep telling me I’m often taken advantage of, sometimes by manipulators, conscious and unconscious, sometimes by self-centered bullies who don’t care about my well-being. There is some truth to this, which I’m reluctantly beginning to accept. It’s a process. I’m not there yet, but doing better is all you can do as a human.

As for self-worth? I don’t think we should discuss this right now. It’s abysmal. I know what I can do, what my talents are. What’s more, I know what I can’t do, what I haven’t achieved, and how every single person on the planet is doing better than me in advertising their value and getting something for it.

The question, what now, hasn’t been answered yet. Honestly, I have no idea what now. I know I want to publish books, but good as my books are, I’m an idiot in advertising and selling them. And it doesn’t help that many of the people who tell me we’re in the same boat, and they are idiots in advertising too, sell dozens to hundreds of their books. How worthless are you if people who feel worthless are way above you?

Okay, time to wrap up this anniversary post. Two years ago, someone started breaking my heart. Two years on, that job has been taken over by the most efficient heart-breaker–myself. Maybe I can convince me to give me a break.

Wanted: a win, easy or hard. Not being picky.

The past three years have been hard.

That’s not accurate. The past three decades have been hard.

But let’s not think in terms of decades right now. Let’s pick up one of the themes of the last blog post again. Namely: what do you do when you’re singularly unsuccessful in everything you do?

Okay, I can’t claim I’m singularly unsuccessful in everything. I think I’m a decent mom. Not the best, mind you, but it’s a wonder I’m any good, given all the mental health issues. And I cook well. And I organize everything for my family. Oh, the joy! To be a glorified servant to mostly ungrateful people.

But, as I said last time, I’m jobless, careerless, and pretty much prospectless and likely to die in poverty because I’ll get no pension if I keep going on like this. For a person who grew up with the ooohs and aaahs of teachers, with the how-smart-you-are and the subsequent, continuing to this day, exclamations, “Oh! Astrophysics!” it’s kind of a bitter pill to swallow to not be able to get your ducks in a row.

And, boy, are my ducks all over the place.

Last time I tried to look for an industry job, I was unceremoniously dismissed for being “too unstable.” In this case, “unstable” means: PhD in Astrophysics, half a post-doc in Astrophysics, which I quit (HELLO, depression!), then baby, ruined health, ruined body, getting back in sort-of shape, a stint in web development, then climate science. That last bit went horribly wrong, and I mean badly, horribly, you’ll-never-work-in-this-field-again wrong.

And here I am, an unemployed mom of two, with several large gaps in her resume, wondering what the hell I’m going to do with my life, and agonizing over petty cash. Watching everyone pass me by. To be forty, and highly educated, and to watch all your dreams shatter in slow motion, your erstwhile peers becoming financially comfortable and settling into careers, and you slipping into a different socioeconomic class than everyone you know and just not being able to belong anywhere anymore. To have lost twenty years to mental health problems and the inertia of a neurodiverse partner who always stayed at home–so you didn’t do anything in your youth, and now your youth is gone and you still can’t do anything, but for different reasons. You and your big brain are largely useless to the world, and to yourself.

So, I need a win. Any win, as long as it’s for me.

I don’t mind working for it. I don’t mind training for it. I don’t mind spending a lot of time and effort to make it happen. I don’t mind if it’s as small as earning a hundred bucks a month–even that is a dream, right now–or even smaller, as small as selling a couple books per month. Or getting a couple reviews on a book. Or getting editing jobs. Or getting fitter. Or being able to hike uphill. Or sleeping well three days in a row. Anything, anything will do.

I don’t know if any of this is ever going to happen. I don’t believe it will, to be honest. Things don’t usually work out for me. But what else is there to do? Sitting and waiting for death is just dumb. I’ll keep trying to make things work, although in my heart of hearts I know it’s kind of futile.

Bleak, I know. If you ask my husband, he’ll tell you that’s just my pessimism, of course things can work out.

— (What the hell does he know? Things work out sweetly for white men with full resumes. They get relentless women who break themselves to make dudes’ lives work, so that people look at them and say–oooh! A hands-on dad! How awesome!)–

But I, being strictly logical and a scientist, look at past evidence: everything I touched crumbled and burned. It’s not the jobs, it’s me. I’m unable to bring things to fruition. I know many people want to see themselves as victims, want to believe what happens to them isn’t their fault. Thing is, this is as much true for the good things as it is for the bad things – but people never credit the good things to chance, do they? They credit their ability, hard work, and challenge.

I won’t do that. If the good things are part talent and work and part luck, the bad things have to be partly blamed on me, too.

As I said, it’s been a bad three years. Burnout, a huge emotional disappointment – a betrayal, if you want, by someone I thought was my friend – my daughter’s debilitating anxiety, the near-disintegration of our family, which took dozens of hours of counseling and a large change in school to save, the discovery husband’s high-functioning autism; all those things have left us reeling. I’m reeling. And my own inability to do anything with my life, earn money, be productive in any way…

But then again, maybe I’m too harsh on myself.

My daughter’s five-year-long anxiety, which culminated in her not sleeping and not being able to go to school, was resolved only last fall. We’re still recovering from that.

My husband was finally able to get evaluated by a professional re: autism. After lots of family therapy – he can’t go to therapy on his own; he literally doesn’t know what to say, so he ends up not resolving anything – he exhibits great progress with the regulation of his emotions and temper. He’s more open, calmer – and people notice. Our house isn’t the arena of daily shouting matches anymore. Our daughter sleeps at night. She goes to school. She does homework, on her own, for the first time in her life.

But this all doesn’t count, does it? Because that’s not how success is measured. It’s all unseen, unappreciated, unpaid work. And so, the danger remains that if I don’t manage to find or create a job for myself, I’ll keep not being able to follow my friends to outings and trips. And from there, greater dangers – like old age without pension – loom ahead.

Five months and five days, or: it never goes away

Sometimes, I’m convinced I don’t count.

I could tell you exactly for what and to whom, but I suppose the important thing is: the answer must be, to me. Because, let’s face it, I’m not in anyone else’s head, and I can’t know if I count to them at all. I only have their words and reactions to judge from, and I attach myself to people whose words and reactions don’t match. And I don’t know how society in general sees me, victim as I am – as we all are – to confirmation bias and other fallacies of the brain. And my brain has never been kind to the rest of me.

But, yeah. All that’s irrelevant, because it’s how I feel, and if there’s one thing I learned in the past two struggling years, it’s this: you have to at least try to accept that your feelings matter.

As with everything, this is an uphill battle. Some days are good, and I can put my foot down and say, “No! This is what I feel, and you won’t gaslight me!” Now, granted, this happens mostly with my husband, who’s already doing his best – jury’s out on whether his best is best enough – but, anyway. Small victories.

So, back to our subject: I quit the SSRI a few weeks back. It’s been fine. No particular anxiety – except the usual, like, “I’m the only one in my neighborhood, circle of friends, town, or maybe the universe who is highly educated but has no job, no career, no prospects, and will have no pension and die in poverty, nevermind those few trips I dreamed of taking and things I wanted to experience in my already slipping-through-my-fingers life.” Or, “I got fat again.” (I did. I have learned to accept my body, but my body can’t take me places anymore. I used to do ballet and hike uphill, although with difficulty. Now, I’m really overweight – because the last months, years, decades, have been hard and I’m very consciously allowing myself to binge-eat a little – and feel bad about it, because my knees hurt and I can’t even do the ballet trainings right.) Or, um, other things of sensitive nature. The not being a woman, for example. I struggle with that, too. As I always did, as I always will. And other stuff, too personal to mention. Yes, more personal than being in love with a guy that used to be my best friend, and publishing a book about all the pathetic details of it, and him abandoning me in every possible way you can abandon a person, and me being a freaking mess on-and-off ever since.

The latest “off” phase lasted five months and five days.

I hadn’t cried about it, or him, or whatever it is I keep crying about, since September. I know the exact date, because I wrote it down, as I write too many things that happen down. September 13 is where I closed my memoir, thinking, that’s over. I’m healing. I have friends, I am loved, I have my children. There’s a sort of life to be lived here, unimpressive as it is.

And then, last week I made the mistake of looking at the book’s reviews. There was a new one, by a woman who wrote, I must admit, I wanted to march to Munich and shake Ioanna quite a few times. Her patience is inspiring, she must be a truly great friend to have and know.”

Yeah. Great friend, inspiring, patient, whatever. I still don’t count.

Right after I read the review – and quite a bit dazed by the fact that a stranger, number one: wanted to shake me back to my senses as she read about how I lost myself to a person who according to most of my friends didn’t deserve a tiny bit of me, and, number two: came to the conclusion that I’m a great friend while I’ve been agonizing for months about whether I’m the one being unfair to him, I reached into my nightstand, where I keep proof copies of all my books, and took Until We Meet in Denver out.

That was a mistake. Because, as you’ve already figured out, I’m not over that story yet. I was over it, for five months and five days. And then I wasn’t.

Does it ever go away?

I’ve been talking with one of my most loyal readers, Phil, since the book came out. His answer to my question was, no. If you’ve been hurt deeply, it doesn’t really go away. You learn to live with it. You kind of get over it. You even forget about it and have a nice time, and are grateful for family and kids and those friends who didn’t abandon you, and maybe also for the coffee you can afford this week (because you’re moneyless, careerless, jobless, and prospectless, and generally fat and useless – whoops, RSD brain got out of control there for a while), and you think it went away.

It doesn’t go away.

I’m still confused, and hurt, and I haven’t really had closure – although I’ve accepted that I probably never will, because he won’t give it to me, since this has grown larger and more horribly painful than what either he or I ever imagined it could be. And, although I thought the crying part was over, because it’d been, let’s not forget, five months and five days, on that day I took the book out, I started reading the epilogue, and again, I cried.

It’s not only the lady who wrote the review, or Phil, or my friend Dimitra, or Sasha, or James, or everyone who’s ever said to me, “he’s an asshole, forget about him.” Every woman and most men who’ve read the book shrug and say the same thing. It’s almost embarrassing how often the “shake Ioanna back to her senses” thing is mentioned. And, for some of the more hotheaded ones, “if he ever crosses my path…” They are quite emphatic about all of it. In my mind, I wrote a book about how I loved a wonderful person, how I tried to understand him, and how I got very, very hurt through a combination of circumstances, mental health disorders, and life. But what all those people, friends, acquaintances, readers, got out of it, was: this dude is just an asshole.

And you, Ioanna, you are naive.

The thing I don’t tell my friends, readers, reviewers is: I don’t care what any (or, more precisely, pretty much all) of them say. He is not an asshole. I know this person. He is my friend. Was my friend?

So, the point is – and thank you for reading up to here, because I’m just venting and ranting, aren’t I – I don’t count. I don’t count as a woman, never did. I don’t count as a professional, or as much of anything. And, last but not least, I don’t count to him. He will keep going on his trips and his excursions, have his diverse experiences, which is (was) all he cares (cared) about, and I’ll keep being here, fat, careerless, jobless, prospectless, and crying over the pages of a paperback once in a while.


Are you a woman if…

This is a longer version of an Instagram post that discusses gender – and specifically womanhood.

Are you a woman if…

…if you never could wear off-the-rack because your waist is exactly as wide as your hips, and there are no trousers in the world that fit that—any size? Not even leggings–and they’re supposed to fit everyone…

…if you never understand what your woman-friends are talking about, so you nod and pretend to belong?

…if you’ve never been catcalled or harassed…(nod)

…if no man ever asked for your phone number…(nod?)

…if you can post half-naked photos on the internet and nothing happens, while a female profile is (allegedly) enough for any other woman to be deluged with propositions — and worse…(nod?)

…if you don’t feel the waning attention as you grow older—because attention was always exactly zero (what are they talking about? Do people look at a woman when she enters a room? Do men look?)…um…nod?

…if you have a ton of male friends, no complications, because none of them was ever or could ever be attracted to you–the only complication being, of course, you falling in love with a man, in which case you’re not woman enough to actually receive reciprocation?

…if only one man–one person, unit–ever wanted you back. And it took sixteen years for him to finally show it, but you never left because you can’t risk losing the one man who isn’t averse to touching you, even if he chronically ignores you and makes your life misery?

…if you don’t know how make-up works and don’t understand its purpose…

…if you have all the right bits, but they are wrong, too—so your pregnancies were a nightmare, and you couldn’t give birth, and breast pumps never worked for you…

Are you a woman?

What is a woman?

Do I need to be one?

Do I not have enough sense of self to not have to define myself by society-defined words and concepts?

I am Ioanna. I am what you see. I am what you read. I am my books, and my art, and my bone-breakingly logical thinking. I’m my “too-sensitive” kids, the cooking and baking I love. The languages and the words. The dance and the solitude. The men I fell in love with, who could have had it all and chose not to. My degrees, my failed careers, my brashness and lack of tact. The love and caring I gift my friends. The solitude I need. The introversion.

I am not any one thing, and most certainly not what you understand as “woman.” This doesn’t describe me.

I am just…me.

…past the ice cream place at Kirchplatz

We sat here, you big, bumbling idiot.

I passed by that artisanal ice cream place at Kirchplatz today. You know, the one in Starnberg. Where we had ice cream on a tonka waffle, on the day of my mental breakdown back in 2020–although that happened later. You saw a lot of tears that year, but that you didn’t see. At least we were both spared the embarrassment.

And so, I found myself at Kirchplatz today. They’ve had no tables out for nearly two years, but now the world’s slowly starting to turn again, and the tables are out. So, there you go. We sat here. I know the exact table. I know my exact thoughts.

Something was missing, both for you and me—although, who the hell knows if you’ll ever admit it. As for me? I found the missing pieces, one by one, in all the places we sat after that; all the places where we had a beer, a burger, a slide down a muddy track during a rainy hike, an awkward selfie, an awkward scratch at the violin. I collected them painstakingly, put them together, edge to jagged edge. The picture that emerged was beautiful–not with the beauty of perfection, but with the beauty of scars and a life somehow lived.

You’d think I’m angry, but I’m not. You might think I’m sad, but that was over long ago. Hurt? Disillusioned? That all happened. It’s over.

What I am now is wiser. I learned so much, both thanks to you and because of you, and also despite you. But the most important thing I learned is this: the relentless energy that drives me to pursue stuff with an obsessive passion? I’d better use it on projects—not people.

Because the people who are good for me will find me in the end. I don’t need to expend all that energy on them. And if they don’t find me? Well, I’m good enough for me. And I found me in the end.

You keep ghosting me. That’s fine. I know you’re scared. You shouldn’t be. Whatever I could do to you, I already did. Whatever you could do to me, you already did.

I really, really hope you’re well.

Maladaptive and wonderful

Have I told you I accidentally wrote a novel once? I did. Totally true.

That, as many other things in my life, started with a mental health crisis. A well-known phenomenon, really, has a name and everything: maladaptive daydreaming.

Google it and get shocked. It’s when a person loses themselves so much in daydreaming and fantasies that their ability to function in the outside world is severely hampered.

In the summer of 2018, I thought I was losing my mind. The outside world held no particular charms. It was boring and bland, and it didn’t give me what I needed. What did I need, you’ll ask. Just wait, I’ll get there.

Lucky for me, I had a friend who had experienced hallucinations before. I asked her: What does one do when reality and fantasy get mixed up? She said, “Write it down.”

So I did.

To be absolutely honest – as if I could be anything else – a lot of it consisted of simple (or not so simple, wink wink) sexual fantasies, but that was, of course, not the whole story. Something was evidently missing from my life. Some vital mode of expression. The box that I’d tried to squeeze my humble self in wasn’t containing me. I was trying to be what others – Society? My husband’s family? – wanted me to be. I wasn’t who my inside pushed me to be. The result: dissonance. Catastrophic, disruptive dissonance. The inside pushed out until it broke through.

The result: A Natural.

First of all, I didn’t expect this to become a novel. I didn’t know there were stories in my head until I typed them out on the keyboard. Secondly, I had no idea I could write a 90k-word novel in just under five months. I hadn’t known the levels of obsession I would reach, writing day and night, before and after work, and neglecting literally everything else, including – I’m mortified to admit – my children, who spent those five months mostly in front of the TV.

Turns out, I’m an artist. Who would have thought? Maybe my grammar school teachers, who had me painting pictures to decorate the classroom, or my parents, who saw me read every free minute of the day for decades and knew about my teenage poem-writing. But my parents have a long history of not going out of their way to encourage their children’s interests, so, in a maladaptive (there’s that word again) attempt to prove to the world I’m smart, I studied physics. Who’s smarter than a theoretical astrophysicist, after all? “A brain like yours isn’t for studying literature!” my physics teacher said, and I took it as a compliment, instead of understanding it for the harmful bias that it is.

Alas, you can’t deny your true self forever.

The physics career failed. Not for a lack of brains, but for a lack of drive and talent. Some of my profs in Uni will tell you I actually had the talent, but for the life of me, I still can’t understand how people publish scientific papers, how they network, how they present their work. None of this worked for me. I was incompetent as a researcher, and I think the point is: it wasn’t my thing. At all. I do love science, and my brain is wired to think with bone-breaking logic. But research? Definitely not my world.

When I published A Natural with an indie publisher – the first one that appeared in my Google search – I had no idea what I was doing. My cover was whipped up using an iPhone and iPhotos editing. I didn’t know this book could sell, and I couldn’t even imagine there would be people who’d encourage me to write more. But somehow, everything – except marketing books efficiently, but that’s a whole different issue – came naturally: editing a book? Easy. GIving writing and editing advice? I had to start saying no to requests for help very early on. Encouraging, or even tear-bringing messages from readers? You bet. Networking with other writers, nurturing the relationships with the best of them? Piece of cake. All the things that were a mystery to me while my life was spent in scientific circles suddenly became not even simple, but nearly unavoidable. I couldn’t write a scientific paper to save my life, but now I found myself unable to not write a novel. The drive was so strong, it was impossible to resist. The stories were there. For some reason, probably because of my obsessive, decades-long reading, even the craft was there. And I just couldn’t stop writing.

As I said: you can’t deny your true self forever.

There’s no place where I feel more myself than my den, where I write, edit, proofread, create book covers. When I’m here, I’m truly, deeply, finally me. Nothing is missing, and life doesn’t need fantasies anymore to be interesting or fun or worth living in the moment.

The fact is: I. LOVE. THIS.

I love it. I’ll keep writing, editing, creating covers, and publishing until I fall dead. Even if nobody ever reads my books. Because that’s my thing. It’s do or die.

To be or not to be (yourself)

Today, I didn’t cry. I consider this a small but very real personal triumph.

I could have cried. It was a bad idea to have mulled wine at lunchtime and then show my friends photos of the 16-day-long round of Greece I did last year. With him.

Let’s give him a name: let’s call him Ryan. Actually, he helped me come up with it. It’s supposed to be a character’s name, for book 5 in my Natural series. I will write book 5 someday–soon, I think. Also, book 4. And I’ll finish book 3. Okay, I digress. Where were we?

Ryan. Today, as I showed my friends wonderful photos of magical Greece–Meteora, Santorini, spectacular, awe-inspiring places–I remembered all the crazy times with him. The fun. The lunches on boulders in the middle of dry riverbeds. The dinners watching the sunset in Santorini, with local beer and wine. Discovering half-hidden caves in cliff faces and hidden ponds fed by little waterfalls in the forest. Late nights with strong spirits and talk, talk, talk. Kind words shared and amplified.

And, maybe it was the mugful of Glühwein, or the fact that I stubbornly can’t dismiss the wonderfulness of the whole experience, but I found myself thinking of one of the last things he told me, long after the magical adventures: he wasn’t really himself around me.

I thought I’d gotten past this.

But how do you get past something like that? After half a year of unforgettable Sunday excursions to wonderful places (I do have a knack for planning excursions), music, outings, walks, hikes, spectacular sunsets, late nights with alcohol or burgers on lakeshores, deep discussions, and plans–you’ll visit me, I’ll visit you we’ll go hiking, there’s this place I wanna show you–to be told you’ve been friends with a fake version of him? After he’s slept in your mother’s bed, he’s stayed in your brother’s room at the summer house, he’s been offered food and cookies by both your aunts, he’s met your brother, seen your childhood bedroom, played with your children, been in your car dozens of times, as you drove thousands of miles to all those excursions, to be told that, all this time, on the Ferris wheel, in the turquoise water of the Ionian sea, basking in the glow of the Aegean sun with a glass of Santorinian wine in hand, in the fucking kitchen of the house I grew up in, he just wasn’t himself.

I’m really asking. Do you have the answer? Any advice? I’m begging you. How do I get past that?

How can I accept this level of deception? How can I come to terms with it? Any suggestions welcome.

And, why, I’d like to ask him. Why did you fucking stay, then?

Why did you make plans? Why did you promise stuff?

Why can’t you even talk to me?

Whatever the fuckity fuck is the matter with you?

My friends, to the last one, tell me I’ve been used. They think I’m naive. It’s simple why he stayed, they say–and rather obvious, Ioanna, really, are you that blind? You drove him thousands of miles to wonderful destinations. You took him on an amazing trip to your home country. You cooked and baked and roasted a 90-Euro turkey on Thanksgiving so that the American man, alone in a strange land, wouldn’t have to feel so lonely in the middle of the pandemic. You listened to him and his woes. You were there. You cared. You were good enough–as long as he didn’t have anyone else. A stopgap measure.

It doesn’t end there. There’s worse to this story, but I’ve bored you enough. And if I keep writing, the three tear-free months I spent will come to an inglorious end.

I won’t cry. I won’t fucking cry. It’s enough.

This lack of basic decency, though, by someone who claimed you were important to them. Who promised he’d be there for you. It’s so fucking hard to take.

There are always setbacks, they say, in the process of healing. I’ve come a long way. I cried for fourteen months straight, but now it’s been three months since the last time, and I can take a deep breath and say: well, maybe not today either.

Because today, I realized Ryan’s not “being himself” doesn’t reflect on me. It’s not in any way my fault. I’ve made tons of mistakes in my life, some of them in the past year and a half, and in that particular relationship. I’ve apologized for them. And one thing I can say with certainty: I was always honest. This is my one consolation: as flawed as I am, as uncomfortable as I might make people feel, as weird, as brash, as annoyingly single-minded at times, I won’t deceive, I won’t hide, and I won’t manipulate.

Maybe that’s worth something.

Wading out

Like so many other things, mental health sneaks up on you.

In June, you can’t breathe. You wonder if this torment that calls itself life is ever going to end.

In July, through sheer effort and lots of time to yourself, you can begin to exist within yourself again.

In August, hope is on the horizon, although the pain is still very much present.

In September, the tears are starting to melt down the pain.

In October, you face the facts.

In November, you decide to care for yourself.

And December? In December, your energy comes back.

As my faculties return, I marvel: is this the level of mental energy humans have at their disposal when they’re not overwhelmed and obsessed and running two parallel processes on the single processor that’s in our heads? How can I describe this transition from the absolute brain dullness–too long my companion–to the lucid state of my mind now? It feels like wading out of the sea. First, the water is up to your neck, and it’s such an effort to take a single step. You think you’ll never make it. Then the water is up to your chest, and you have to keep your arms raised to reduce resistance, and it’s slow going, and you’re panting, but your determination carries you on. By the time you’re knee-deep, it’s child’s play. It can’t get easier, can it?

But then you hit the shore and you run like the wind. This is easy!

Was life ever so easy?

In the past weeks, I’ve even started entertaining thoughts of going back to work. I have no clue what kind of job I can do or will be able to get, and it’s not going to happen soon anyway since my family needs me to care for them right now. But, oh–my–God, is this possible? The mere thought of it doesn’t exhaust or terrify me anymore. I occasionally clean the house. I keep my family fed and clothed in clean clothes. I kind of sleep. I sleep. I can cope with everyday things.

And why did all this happen? Because I gave myself license to feel.

Feelings tucked inside eat you up from the inside. I say, let them out. Okay, maybe you don’t want to write a 65-thousand-word memoir about them and share them with everyone in the English-speaking world–I am, after all, an extreme case, the eternal over-sharer. But don’t let feelings fester. They can become malignant.

Oh, man, it’s so good to be able to run on dry ground.

A love, regrettable but not regretted

I have a confession to make.

For eighteen months now, I’ve been lying to you. Okay, not really lying, just not telling you the whole truth. You’ve been reading about my mental health struggles, my family, my husband’s recently discovered autism, the difficulty handling everyday tasks, the stress and the chronic anxiety and the antidepressants.

But there was this one big thing that made life so much harder than it needed to be. I’ve hinted at it before, naming it The Boulder. Such an apt name, don’t you think? A rock you lug. Or can’t move. Or need to blast away in order to move forward. An obstacle. Something whose sheer volume can’t be overlooked. Something heavy. The parallels to the burden in my psyche are endless.

But I’ve reached the point where I can talk about this. Finally!

And I think you can relate with this one. You’ve been in love, right?

Yeah, it’s that unoriginal.

So, here goes: there’s this man I love. He’s not my husband.

(Yes, my husband reads this blog. Yes, he knows about that man. No, he doesn’t mind. Really, I promise you, he doesn’t. He’s weird that way. We both are. Yes, I love my husband. I’m still here, aren’t I?)

Where was I? Ah, that man. You might have noticed the present tense. I can’t put him in the past. I can’t say “I loved” him, although he’s very far away from me in every possible sense, not really present in my life anymore, and not really willing to be. But still: no past tense. Love doesn’t evaporate just because you haven’t seen someone in nearly a year. Love doesn’t care if said person causes you so much pain you want to physically vomit. Love doesn’t care about any contradiction, apparent or real.

In short, love is a huge asshole.

And it doesn’t like being neatly defined. So here I am, unable to put my love into a neatly tagged box. Sure, I loved that man. (How did that past tense slip in? I might as well leave it.) Was I in love with him?

(YES, my therapist will tell you. Don’t kid yourself, Frau Arka. You were head over heels in love. You were heartbroken when he left. We spent half a year talking about him in every single therapy session. You wanted to roll into a ball and disappear. You’re still talking about it, aren’t you?)

(Yes, my husband knows about all of this. We kinda live together. He wouldn’t miss me crying for weeks at a time, now would he? I told you. We’re weird.)

So, the answer, I regret to admit, is yes. Yes, I was in love. And he was my best friend for a while. And a bit of a teacher, in more ways than one might think. And a bit of a student. And partner in crime. All of this and more.

Was I any of these things to him? I have no clue.

The point is: today I can talk about this. Today, I am not ashamed. I had feelings. I have feelings. My feelings are valid.

This man didn’t want to be loved by me. At all. My feelings – which, let us savor it, I am not ashamed of anymore, not one tiny bit! – were a thorn in his side. A burden. He’d rather have the fun memories (we did have a lot of fun together, a good amount of burgers, a saturation of nearly-unreal sunsets, and a lot of music). But we don’t always get what we want in life, and boy, did he get a whole lot more than he bargained for. He got complications. He got the ultimate complication: me.

I am, indeed, a lot more than people bargain for. Take this any way you want. Ask my husband. I assure you, I am. I’m also a shy person’s nightmare: if you’re in my life, I’ll probably put you in a book, and you’ll surely appear in a blog post.

Why am I writing all of this?

The short answer is: because I can. And the fact that I can is glorious in itself. Two years ago, I’d have thought, “Who are you to dare have feelings for a younger, attractive man? You’re hideous and fat, and so beneath his league. Everyone is going to laugh at you. Everyone would ridicule you if they knew what you dared desire! You’re not worthy of having feelings!” But writing about this helps me realize this is only my self-deprecating internal monologue. Talking to my friends about it and receiving their reactions shatters the self-hatred. And putting it out into the world makes it real.

I’m here. I don’t loathe myself anymore. I can talk about this.

You, my dear reader, are my license to feel.

And I can only smile at how far I’ve come. The latest person I fell in love with is my not so humble self.