Five years ago today, I published a little book called Empath. It was my third published novel, a quick side-trip into my psyche in the middle of writing the Razia series. The cover featured a dragon drawn by my very talented cousin Cassondra, a wee babe at the time. I sold it at conventions, but it never did very much online, but I also didn’t give it much effort. Standalones, you know? Plus it was so personal, I wasn’t really sure how to square that circle other than to hand-press it into people’s hands.
I published it on this day, May 12th, because in 2013, that was The Break-Up. The day the world ended. When I cried myself to sleep on the bathroom floor, completely alone. The book depicts how it happened exactly, from the words we spoke to getting sick to falling asleep on the floor. It was devastating not just because the relationship that I’d hoped would last forever was ending, but it also revealed a hard truth. I had given myself entirely not just to this man, but also to an unfulfilling career, because I thought it was my only shot at the white picket fence and 2.5 kids sort of life I’d been coveting. And clearly, the hard truth was that I was not enough.
Once I dusted myself off, got some therapy, and listened to the little voice in my mind, I realized that I was actually just fine, the life I wanted was bullshit, the man was garbage, and I could build myself a better life that brought me so much more happiness without asking for a single sacrifice.
Looking back on Facebook posts through the years, clearly DC was in the place I needed to be, even when I was “happy.” From about March onward, most of my comments are counting down the days until my biannual pilgrimage home to Florida, and then again in the winter, how much longer until Christmas? While I was home, I was brimming with joy. And I can’t believe it took me so long to recognize that I could be that way all the time.
Happiness is, of course, in the eye of the beholder. My happiness now is informed by the misery I experienced in DC, just like my gratitude and appreciation toward my new husband is bolstered by knowing how unfulfilling love could be. And perhaps on some level, I’m grateful to that pain for giving me the knowledge to appreciate fully what I have now.
I’m also grateful to this little anxiety dragon book for so many things. Most importantly, providing me an outlet to explore my feelings and my mental health in the safety of an allegory. But also giving me a chance to download my heart, inspect it, and realize why I’m feeling the way I do – especially when it comes to the things that scare me.
Although I thought it cosmic irony that Empath’s 5th anniversary was so close to my wedding day, it turns out that this little book was resurfacing because I needed it. I just didn’t know it at the time.
Empath and The #Coronuptials
As I wrote in the newsletter this month, I’ve been in a bit of a low mood these past few weeks, what with the wedding, pandemic, and everything else throwing my life into disarray. But not recognizing the sadness for what it was, brain chemicals, I began to panic. I wasn’t overjoyed about my wedding – what did that say about the marriage itself? Was this that sign that everyone said they ignored when they married the person they eventually divorced? Was I missing some giant red flag that I would kick myself for later? Was I making the same mistake again?
But in true Lauren fashion, I refused to even entertain the thought, even refused to admit it in my mind. I spent days staring in the mirror, barking at myself to pull it together and just be happy. After all, I had very little to complain about in the grand scheme of the world. So I wasn’t getting the dream wedding I’d planned and dreamed about since I was a little girl, nor was I getting to share the day with 200 of my closes friends and family, but I was getting a wonderful man. That should’ve been enough to make me smile. Why wasn’t I smiling?
Was it him? Was I making a mistake? No, of course I wasn’t, I told myself. He’s the perfect man, he’s generous, he’s funny, he makes me so happy. So why wasn’t I happy? Just be happy. Nobody else will be happy unless you’re happy. Just do it. Stop moping.
The days drew closer and I continued to spiral downward until it was the wedding day. And as I struggled to gin up even the most basic “I love you” letter to my now-husband, the little voice continued to ask if I was doing the right thing. This was the happiest day of my life and I could barely muster a flicker of life. I was annoyed by little things that shouldn’t have annoyed me, and annoyed at myself for being annoyed by them. I floated through the ceremony, completely shut down, and the next day cried for two hours and struggled to pinpoint why – even for weeks later.
But when I sat down to write this month’s newsletter, I finally managed to peel back enough layers to reveal the truth. I had built this day in my head where I would be the best version of myself no matter what happened – flawless, graceful, unbothered by anything that would go wrong. Instead, I was a pandemic bride, acne-ridden from wearing masks everywhere, bloated, agitated by the stupidest stuff, and, most importantly, depressed. I wasn’t making a mistake by marrying my husband (quite the opposite, in fact). I was really just upset with myself for not being a better person in the face of all this adversity. The more I criticized myself for not being a “Teflon Bride,” the worse I became until I was too far down to climb out.
So when I was writing the newsletter, I typed “I forgive myself” and I began to cry – a sign that I had come to the end of this twisty forest and arrived at what I needed. And like tyllwllwch in the darkness (read the book), my heart settled and all the good feelings returned.
Reminding Myself of Things I Know
In the days since, it’s dawned on me that while it was a bit of cosmic irony that Empath’s fifth anniversary, it wasn’t because I had come to the “happily ever after.” I needed this book to resurface to help remind me how to Slay My Fears. Up until now, I haven’t had a need to pick through difficult emotions or understand the underlying reasons for why I act the way I do. But something about this book makes me get introspective, and I’m so grateful it does. By going deep, saying things I was afraid of, and being honest with myself, I have been able to slay this particular anxiety dragon and it felt damn good to do it.
My low mood is hanging around a little bit here and there, but it’s mostly disappeared. In its wake are all those butterfly feelings that a newlywed wife should feel toward her husband. Every day with him is an absolute joy, and there’s nothing better than sitting around and talking about nothing in particular. I’ve also been a lot more open about how I’m feeling and I’m so grateful for his patience with my proclivities. I really hit the jackpot with him, and I’m grateful I didn’t screw it up.
I like to think that every hard time has a lesson somewhere in it, and I think this was a reminder that even my own mental capacity has limits. There’s a freaking pandemic happening out there, and every time I leave the house, I carry a little anxiety with me. I can and should forgive myself for not being at my best, and I shouldn’t expect myself to be more than I can give.
After all, who I am right now is enough for my husband – and for me, too.