Monica Bielanko
That's What She Said
Just A Junk Drawer Dream
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Uncomfortably Numb

At 5 she is old enough to articulate the fact that she wishes Dad were sleeping at home at night.

At 5 she isn't old enough to comprehend the complex logistics of the two adults she loves most in the world deciding to separate and so, for now, she thinks he goes off to write or "work" as we often call this crazy-ass thing we do on the Internets.

Dad's going to work. Really it's no different from dads who leave the home every day for 8 or 10 hours to work. But it is different.

He still drives them to or from pre-school, stopping at the park on the way home, is often at the house to fix breakfast after they wake up or make their dinner in the evenings before reading a couple stories or watching some cartoons. Either way, her blunt questions and our evasive responses are heartbreaking.

Mostly I feel numb, though. Long stretches of numb interspersed with grenades of pain. I watch my life unfold in much the same way I observe tragic news stories about strangers. That's so sad, I think and then I move on.

Onward and upward. Or sideways. Just so long as I'm moving. Gotta keep moving. The baby is crying, the kids are watching me.

I think about the sadness but I can't stay there. He's always been better about acknowledging emotions. I can't bring myself to let the sadness infiltrate insides that I have under lock and key and booby trap and anything else that will help keep my emotions in check so I can hold this whole thing together. It can be and often is confused with being unemotional. But last week a therapist told me I'm a very emotional person I just hide it well. I think that's what she said. I can't be sure because I was busy nodding indifferently while avoiding her hawk eyes.

During the worst of the labor with Charlie I envisioned myself swimming underwater in the ocean. Aqua everywhere, the surface - a kaleidoscope of blurry shapes and colors - flickering far above me, schools of crazy looking fish darting past; silvers, blues, yellows and greens flashing in the sunlight filtering weakly down from above, seaweed dancing erotically, and my heavy, exhausted body floating along feeling so fine, so free. I was aware of the pain but it was almost like it was happening to another person, I could hear Serge and the midwife talking but they sounded far away, like listening to neighbors' muffled voices through a shared wall.

I feel that way a lot now but it isn't the peaceful escape it was during labor, it's a heavy numbness that comes on quick; a morphine injection to the upper arm. When I can't think another thought, when my chest cavity feels like it's imploding around my fractured heart I feel myself sinking underwater. Everything is muted except for my thoughts which are loud, so loud.

There is no way around these things I'm experiencing. No shortcut, no avoiding. I've spent a long time avoiding so many emotions that they're clogging my insides and now I'm choking on them as I puke it all out.

But at night, as the wind howls around my windows, my newborn son makes his clicking insect sounds and the dogs snore, I stare at the ceiling and acknowledge that mingling with all the pain is relief.

We are two angry people whose jagged edges have rubbed each other so raw we're hemorrhaging.

"Stop interrupting me," I hiss at him when he steps on my sentences, anxious to make his own point without listening to mine.

"You're a mean person," he shouts at my back when I turn away from a conversation I can't continue to have, the same conversation we've been having for months.

"Would we have even gotten married if we really got to know each other?"

"That doesn't matter now. We've been married for ten years."

"It shouldn't be this hard."

"Marriage is hard. Life is hard. Deal with it."

"But it shouldn't be this hard, should it?"

"Stop talking so loud, the kids will hear you!"

"I can't have this conversation anymore. I just can't."

"I just need space, I don't even know who I am anymore when I'm not reacting to you. My personality has become one big reaction to you."

"I don't even know how to answer that..."

Reader Comments (33)

I can relate so much to this post. Marriage IS hard,,,but so is divorce. Hell, LIFE is hard. Having been where you are, my best advice to you is take it one day at a time. Live in the present and concentrate on being the best mother you can be.

A friend told me this once when I was going through my divorce, "As hard as this is...just remember you're strong...and this? This is just a difficult chapter in your life...not the end."

Hang in there. It does get better.

April 7, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterThat Girl

Long time reader here. Don't have a ton to say other than I, too, married a musician I met while he was on tour after a month-long courtship. I, too, wondered if we would have married had we known each other better. After four years (no kids) we finalized the divorce last week, and now that it's formally over I look back on it as a beautiful time in both of our lives — wrought with major problems, yes, but beautiful nonetheless, because it was two people listening to their hearts. I know there is a lot more at stake here but I guess I just feel like whatever happens, however much it hurts, the worst thing would be to perpetuate the status quo when it's not working. That frame of mind helped me. That's all.

April 7, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRachel

You're such a strong person, Monica…it's all incredibly hard, but at the end there will be a huge weight lifted off your shoulders. I hope that no matter what happens in the upcoming months, you and Serge will both be happier. If you can get through it all and still be civil/friendly for the sake of your kids and the life you've shared, that would be awesome. Sending lots of positive thoughts for you all...

April 7, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterHanni

This post is so raw and beautiful. I've read you for years and my favorite posts are always the ones where you put it all out there. Wishing you strength and happiness, Monica.

April 7, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterk

I am so sad to hear of your struggles of late. I'm a long time reader and remember past struggles that you two have had, and that somehow, you managed to find ways to get through them and seemed at least at one time, all the better for it. I certainly don't know all the details of your recent separation, nor do I have any right to say that you can work it out, because only you can decide that. But here are my thoughts based on past observations: I remember a time after the fire, when Serge left, you went to counseling and eventually your posts were upbeat and full of life. You acquired that office space and it was so great to see you shine as you made it your own. Do you still have it? That seemed to be a great move for the relationship. Around the same time, you got involved in yoga, Buddhist teachings, and seemed to be becoming self-aware. Are you still doing any of those practices? I think they could help bring some clarity.

As one who's been married for 28 years, (didn't marry until I was 34--had known my husband less than a year) had two natural children and one adopted, I know how stressful a marriage can get. I won't lie--there have been times when I questioned *why* did I marry him and *how* can I possibly live with this or that habit forever? And yes, he interrupts too, and that pisses the hell out of me but along the way I have learned how to address it without it becoming a battle. In relationships, I think we could all step back and *listen* a little more, react less. We are much better at it now, but years 7-10 were hell for us! The stress piles on with pregnancies and childbirth, raising kids, moving, switching jobs, deaths in the family, buying a house or other large purchase, and on and on. Through it all, we've loved one another and honored our commitment but also had to find ways to navigate those difficult challenges or they would have broken us. Now we're stronger and more connected than ever. (It helps that a couple of the kids are grown, too! lol)

No one can tell you what to do, but if I may just give one piece of advice...please, let the pregnancy hormones settle down a bit before making any major decision about your marriage. And if you can see your way to it, I hope you'll try some of those practices that seemed so helpful before. I'm sure you're aware of the great benefits--better outlook, attitude and mood, more joy in your life overall, whether you stay married or not. I'm old enough to be your mama, so I speak from a little bit of experience here. It's freakin' HARD!! But I wish you the very best in whatever you do, and as long as you're writing, I'll still be here reading. Hugs.

April 7, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSue

From the vantage point of 67 years of age, 38 years of marriage, 3 kids all of your general generation:

I couldn't agree more with the commenter who said "the stress piles up...but [we] had to find ways to navigate those difficult challenges." I've read your blog for a long time - Violet was barely a toddler when i started reading. I've admired your honesty but found myself frustrated at times when you described the tough times you and Serge seemed to have. It would be patronizing of me to give you advice, so I'll only ask a question: Do you share the same values? I.e., do you have similar views on your place in the world, in your community, in your children's lives? If yes, you can overcome almost anything. If not, then you've probably made the right decision. But the rest of us will be the poorer for it.

i don't think many marriages haven't been questioned. mine is no different. we were asking the same questions you have mentioned in this blog post since we were *dating*.

the difference is, we were too lazy to try the separation....we muddled through, depressed and separate in the house.

now? i couldn't be happier with what we have. it's not perfect by any means...but i wouldn't have it any other way.

April 7, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterrach

Hi Monica have you ever attended a Marriage Encounter Weekend with Serge? One coming up in State College on April 25....-

Just a thought. Every marriage is worth a special weekend ...right?

Just thinking of you guys. :) Hoping for the best. Take it easy and rest up. Everything is going to be alright. You are both sensitive loving people. You are not mean...just triggered by certain habits. We all have our triggers. Love you guys.

April 8, 2014 | Unregistered Commentergina

Remember to breathe; always put on your own oxygen mask first. What you're doing is what's best for everyone; just know that. Remember your relationship with Serge isn't ending it's just changing. You will be in each other's lives for a very long time. Work on transitioning that relationship so it will be what you want it to be five years down the road.

I remember many times suffering through anxiety attacks and terrible guilt that what I was doing was selfish and I was ruining everything for my children. When the truth was I was creating a better me, a better life for my children. What I was doing was hard, but I always moved forward; knowing that what I was doing was the right thing to do.

Sorry, I just turned into a mother for a moment. You know where you're going and what you're doing. Just pause before each action and think about all the goodness waiting around the corner.
One more thing; you're absolutely right, relationships don't have to be hard.

April 8, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJust Jill

This post was perfectly articulated and raw. I admire your ability to put your emotions into words, and those words out there for everyone to read. Wishing you the peace your heart and home desires.

April 8, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSarah

So glad you decided to this space again. Whatever you write, good or bad always feels real to me. I appreciate your voice and can often relate to the ups and downs of life/marriage.

Look forward to peeking at your journey as you find the best path for your family.

April 8, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDanielle

I can only imagine how hard this all is for you especially with a newborn. I also can't imagine working with my husband - that would put us over the edge! I've been married 18 years and have a 12 year old and 10 year old. Our marriage has many rough patches. We've been in counseling twice. My husband is a good person, a good father and an OK husband. I've considered leaving. But when it comes down to it I have asked myself, would my kids be better off without their dad daily? Probably not. Would I be better off? Maybe, maybe not.

We have 20 years of history and amazing memories. What I try to focus on is the good things about him (although it is easier to focus on the bad).

Last fall I read in another blog the following - it really resonated with me and I've tried to put this to use in my life:

There are three different levels of Looking at and Thinking About Other People.
Level One is the way a child sees other people. Innocent and purely. Children, before they hit a certain level of age/experience don’t see faults in others. All is good.
Level Two is when we grow up a little and “wisen up.” Think teenagers. Now we can see the faults of others clearly. And so we think it’s our job to prove how smart we have become by pointing those faults out. When we are operating at Level Two- we assume that anyone who is NOT pointing out other people’s faults is naïve- or just not smart enough to see the faults. We need to educate everybody about everybody else. Many people operate this way their whole lives.
But just because people aren’t pointing out each others faults doesn’t mean they can’t see them. Most of us CAN see each other’s faults and gifts pretty clearly. But when people are operating on Level Three – they have wisened up even more. Yes- of course they see the strengths and the weaknesses in the people around them pretty clearly- just as clearly as the Level Two-ers. But they know that usually- it’s wiser and more gentle and more helpful to point out strengths and leave the weaknesses be. And they’d rather be wise, helpful and gentle than “smart.”
Level Three-ers take other people in like they take in a child’s orchestra concert. Kids concerts don’t sound all that good. They are a train wreck, really, when you break them down into their parts. Their parts are mostly missed notes and flats and sharps and kids crying and snotty noses and uncomfortable plastic chairs and maybe a splitting headache or two. But when we refuse to break a kids’ concert down into its imperfect parts and take it in as a whole – we realize that right there- in the midst of the mess – somehow - some really beautiful and holy music is being made. We get the chills for how lovely all the imperfect parts are together. To folks with Level Three eyes- people are like kids’ concerts. They don’t sound perfect. They are a big old collection of faults sometimes. But taken as a whole, they can give you the chills, they’re so holy.

Hang in there!

April 8, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterjane

I'm so sorry this is so painful, Monica. I'm rooting for peace and happiness.

April 8, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterKristin

"I just need space, I don't even know who I am anymore when I'm not reacting to you. My personality has become one big reaction to you."
- these are the words i needed to hear, funny how we are never alone in what we are going through. there are those that will always have it worse and those that will always have it better, but i have found a nice reflective moment in someone who has it similar to me at the moment.

April 8, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterjust me

good for you monica for being strong enough to not only take this difficult step but also getting therapy to help keep you sane and work through it. There is also counseling at the CCWRC locally at no cost. Maybe it would help you understand that emotional numbing as a survival response to things that you maybe aren't yet aware just yet which is common. Hang in there...

April 8, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterdingbat

I'm sorry. I think that for those of us who went through an end of a marriage, we all sounded just like that, had that same exact fight over and over again. So...I am helpless, and so sorry.

April 8, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDontBlameTheKids

I am a relatively new reader, so if I don't know what I am talking about, then it's because I really don't know what I am talking about. I am married with one child. Like pretty much everyone, sometimes I think my husband must be the biggest dickhead on earth. But then I remind myself, that there is no one out there I could have possibly married who wouldn't enrage me from time to time. I understand for you, your problems have not been incidental, and the problems have been somewhat long term. Because you are both very articulate, very intelligent, and very capable of expressing yourselves... maybe you've let that get the best of you? Like almost as if your shared ability to understand each other so well has allowed the both of you to pick each other apart? And the last part of your post was all about reacting. It's hard as hell, but having the discipline to practice restraint and tolerance makes me feel like a stronger person than just about anything else. It's much easier for me to be honest and inflammatory than it is to just keep it to myself, sometimes. I think some people confuse this with inauthenticity, but I see it as empowering myself to have a happier marriage. This advice is probably super annoying because, what do I know? But I am only offering it in hopes that you two can find happiness with each other rather than without each other.

April 8, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterLauren

I know you are under no obligation whatsoever to share any more than you feel like but speaking for the long time readers I think many of us wonder what changed between the time when you seemed so much happier after you moved back into your house post-fire and now. And also what happened to the office space which seemed to promise you time apart...

April 8, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterE.

Just to add to the list of suggestions...Have you ever heard of Byron Katie's The Work? It has really made a difference in my life, as well as the friends who recommended it to me.

April 9, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPD

Sue said a lot of brilliant things.

I started reading after your fire because we had just gone through that very same experience (although our kids were older - ages 7 & 9). It took us 18 months to get back in our house. For 17 of those months I resented my DH for all sorts of things and plotted constantly about how to leave the marriage. Around 6 months after we got back in our house I was calm enough to evaluate things more rationally. What finally sold me on staying in the marriage was the realization that he and I were both trying so hard to get through the whole fire experience in the "best" way that we forgot to consider what the other person might think was "best." I knew that all of the infuriating things that he did during those 18 months were a result of him trying really hard and also of him responding to stressful situations based on his own personal shit.

You and Serge bring a lot of things to your marriage, and many of them are really bad. You both come from broken families and that has got to account for an entire boatload of pathological responses to marital stress. You've both written about this extensively. Frankly, I don't know if it's possible for you two to get over these issues in a constructive way, together. Doing it as a divorced couple might be the absolutely best plan ever. Only you can know. But I do think it's important to realize that your reactions to Serge were written into your brain when you were a wee child, and the same is true for his reactions to you. None of what he's doing, or very little of it anyway, is really about YOU. Little of what you do or say to him is about HIM. To me they are likely all basic responses you are programmed to perform when stressed.

Being married with small children is really stressful. Being self employed is really stressful. Going through a fire is really stressful. It is not surprising to hear that you are having marital problems. Post partum hormones are insane, too. There is no rush to get through this. Violet will do fine as long as you both love her and comfort her and demonstrate you are being respectful to each other.

Thanks for sharing openly what you are going through. I hope these comments are helpful to you. I'm sorry you are experiencing this and hope you will find peace. I'm glad to hear you are in counseling.

April 9, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterKaren

Wanted to thank Jane for what she wrote--never heard that particular metaphor of the kids' concert before in terms of how to approach dealing with other human beings (and it seems to me a truism whether you're dealing with a marriage or any other dynamic), powerful and valuable words, thank you.

April 9, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterE.

Monica, I have little to add to what others have said -- it's all been expressed so well. Although I live in another country and have never met you (and most likely never will) I have come to look on you as my friend, after years of reading your life journey in all its honesty. As with any friend I admire, feel for and want the best for, I wish you everything you most want for yourself. Hang in there. We're all with you -- and Serge too. No blame, no shame. I also wish you a comforting and enlightening time with your visiting parents, in spite of any inevitable stresses.

April 9, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterCathlene

Monica, I love the way you express yourself. I just have this feeling that you and Serge simply need some time apart. It is so easy to fall into the bickering brother/sister vibe when you live and work together. You are always in each other's faces and space constantly. Add children to the mix and you can easily become irritated, short-tempered and snotty very easily. You both need to miss each other a little. Pretend Serge is on the road. Just air out the relationship. I guarantee you will both go crazy missing each other before too long.

April 9, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMyTwoCents

So sorry. Take it from me, you can rebuild it better than ever. Spend some time a part. Start fresh. Both of you have to get there mentally. Use this time to find yourselves again, find joy, find the reasons you like being together. Get a babysitter and in a few weeks go on a date. Laugh. Be kind. Above all else, don't do anything that either of you will regret.

April 10, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterCassandra

Statistics prove that after 2 years apart, most couples were better off together.

April 10, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterBev

great post and great comments.....that gd reaction comment, around here I make someone walk on eggshells I say tough shit

April 10, 2014 | Unregistered Commenternatalie

for some people, sadness is a driver towards a better state. for a subset of those, writing is the best therapist. thought translations of crowded feelings find a way to harmoniously rearrange themselves within a seemingly overwhelmed mind which, in turn, enables an abundance of coherent words to build a universe that takes away the pain around the broken heart that started it all.
be well...
you are on the right path, whichever way that is... it is your own - individual and unique - right path...

April 11, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterfahrenheit

Always intriguing to read your posts.....this time surprising. Try not to make too big decisions the first year after a baby is born.....the hormones and stress really blur everything. I hope all three kids get to remember their parents together, cause they are quite entertaining (and again...intriguing). Divorce is only refreshing for a little while... Thank you for your honesty. I think most married couples with children, can relate to your words.

April 11, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterKristin B

It's sad. There's no loyalty anymore. I know people get divorced for many different reasons that none of us can truly understand but honestly, I've been an avid reader for a very long time and I'm not going to be like all these sheep and tell you want to hear. Fucking get over yourself. It's so annoying how self centered you are, I guess it runs in the family. Appreciate what you have and work on the rest. Ugh. I know you're gonna be self-righteous and ignore this comment and conclude that I'm some Mormon from Utah. It's like, you need to fucking hear this, GET OVER YOURSELF! You're so in your own head, it's annoying.

April 12, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterKybabe

I'm a long time, on-again-off-again reader (mostly when grad school consumes my life and I have no time for blogs) but I think the advice people are giving here is sound. As someone who also came from a really, really dysfunctional household, I've learned that it's really hard not to repeat patterns that we learned as children. Therapy (and medication if you need it, or he needs it) is honestly the only way through, although I think folks can find that through a lot of ways. Do things for you, make time for yourself, not just for the kids. Find ways to be honest without being cruel - both to yourself and to others. You can rebuild if you want to. It's never too late to start over. (And it's never wrong to go your own way if that's genuinely what's best for you.)

I guess from my on-again-off-again reading, you guys have built up a relationship over the years that doesn't have many healthy coping mechanisms, and you're spending so much time together that it's all but impossible to avoid tripping over the same old land mines. But I guess what I'm trying to say is that there's no reason on the planet that two people couldn't relearn, redo, restart. And if not? That's okay, too.

April 12, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterM.

Is it possible that you're suffering from depersonalization disorder? Your descriptions of being on autopilot, numb, and unable to feel emotions readily make me think you may have be dissociating. Something to ask your therapist about, anyway.

April 22, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

Marriage is hard work. Period. I've been married for 38 years and I can't even tell you how many times I wanted OUT. Too many times to count for sure. I came from dysfunction and promised myself that my kids wouldn't live the life I did. Constant fighting, control issues, drinking issues, money issues, on and on. My life is certainly more stable but you learn what you live so its been a difficult haul for us. Its so easy to blame and find fault with our spouses. Too easy.

DH is the stable one I admit it. Carefree and easy going. I'm the nut. I don't or didn't know what I wanted for a long time and I always blamed HIM. Then I got cancer. A bad bad cancer. Almost died. Guess who stuck with me through thick and thin? Yep, DH. The stable one. The one I blame for everything. Long story short I thew my self into therapy BY MY SELF and worked on just me. Why was I always so goddamn dissatisfied? What is in me that makes me nitpick and bicker all the goddamn time. Its what I knew and what i grew up with. Old habits die hard.

Fast forward about 15 years. I'm almost 60 now. I don't feel or look that old but still, almost 60 is almost 60. With a lot of therapy I was able to let go of some deep rooted crap and let go of ego. I finally like myself and who I've become. With that came less bitching and complaining and the need to be in control all the time. My marriage isn't perfect but its damn good these days. I married a good man. Not a perfect man, but a good man. A man who loved me and still loves me no matter what.

Figure out YOU.....and let those hormones simmer down a bit. Its really not about Serge probably as much as you'd like it to be. Spend some time apart. Work on YOU and what you want and need before working on the marriage.

Would I get married again? Probably not. Do I believe in marriage? Not really. But I also know the grass isn't always greener on the other side. Raising three kids alone is an enormous amount of work. I raised three kids with help and it was an enormous undertaking.

Be honest with Violet. You don't have to tell her everything but what she is thinking in her head is probably far worse than the truth. She knows, she might not know the whole gravity of the situation but she knows there is something wrong.

Good luck. I hope you and Serge can figure this marriage stuff out. More importantly I hope you find your own happiness. When that happens the rest will follow more easily.

April 28, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDona

Monica, I am so sorry to hear this for your family. I have been reading your blog since Reading Katie Graju's loss of Henry. In the beginning I felt so many similarities between my marriage and yours and Serge's marriage. So many times I started to email you for some advice or more just to share the similar feelings and talk about with someone else. I never did because I didn't want you to think that was wierd. I always thought we would be friends if we were closer, I only have few really close friends but your thoughts and expressions remind me a lot of how I feel. I thought that too sounded stalkerish. The last 9 months my husband and I have been separated and it has been really hard, I haven't seen your blog much but saw updates on Facebook here and there. I just saw that you are Serge are separated and here I sit crying. Crying for myself and my marriage but also crying for yours. We have three kids as well and they are hurting too. My littlest is four and he asks me everyday why can't we live at daddy's house anymore. It is tough really really tough. I know you are strong and you both love your children more than anything you will find your way, even if that is apart. Just love those kids and try to keep you chin up even on the darkest of days. All my Best!

June 5, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterTiffany

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