Imagine a box.
It’s sturdy and strong, just like it should be.
Imagine that your relationship was like that box.
Sturdy and strong, and bright with hope.
You’re both giving 100% of yourselves, working in sync to make it great.
For a while, you’re really, really happy.
Nothing can go wrong.
Till it does.
It starts small.
A little thing here, another little thing there.
You realize that something isn’t quite right, and you try to solve it by ramping up your 100% to 150%.
But the problem starts growing bigger.
Till it fills that box.
And somehow, you find yourself pushed all the way out.
You try to get back in, but there’s no space for you in the box while the problem exists.
And that’s how I found myself, on the outside looking in.
But that’s exactly what you realize you have to do, because when you push on to 200%, you’re just left deflating on the floor.
So slowly.. painfully.. you face the reality of it.
The reality where plans which once held so much happiness and joy are gone.
The reality where someone you hoped would walk side by side with you into the unknown is no longer there.
Loss can do certain things to the soul.
The worst times are at night, when you’re alone with your thoughts.
It starts with numbness, followed by disbelief.
Then comes the crushing pain.
Red hot, it curls around your entire being till it settles right around your heart, tight and heavy at the same time.
It’s a strange feeling when it hurts to even breathe.
Morning finds you waking up to a very scary and lonely world, and you wish you could hide away forever with your little ball of pain.
But life stubbornly decides to still move on.
It’s funny how everyone goes through breakups and knows exactly how painful they were, but yet can be surprisingly dismissive when it came to someone else’s.
“It’s not about meeting anyone!” I wanted to yell back.
What I really needed at that time was for friends to just listen, and not try to fix me.
Most of all, I needed them to not say “let me know if you need anything”, even though I knew it was well intended.
I did need anything and everything, I really did.
But when making it through each day takes up every bit of energy you have, sometimes even dialling a number becomes too much.
And because I was feeling so vulnerable, I couldn’t stand the guilt of being a burden to anyone, so reaching out for help was just.. hard.
I guess that’s how I ended up listening to a lot of sad songs alone, including an embarrassing amount of Adele and Taylor Swift.
If I could give any advice to my past broken-hearted self now, it would be to do away with the sad songs.
They kinda make you go from this:
After one particular devastating breakup with an ex I shall call Ben, I was doing a lot of crying myself raw, missing meals and torturing myself with replays of memories long gone.
There came a point where I realized I had to get some sort of a grip.
It was either that or slowly starve to death on my bed, and I really didn’t want “Heartbroken Sad Sod” engraved on my tombstone.
So I forced myself to squash my little ball of pain down and opened the door to get some takeout.
However, going outside seemed to also have its challenges.
It feels like you’ve completely made no progress at all when you pass by something that remotely reminds you of your ex.
It hits you like a tidal wave, and you’re suddenly overloaded with so many feelings that you just need to stop for a second and breathe.
It was an unassuming spot by a pond that triggered my memory-induced sad spell.
During a bad storm some months ago, Ben had lovingly sheltered me with his umbrella right there. I remembered how cold everything was, the warmth of his arms and how safe I felt, and it really really hurt that he would no longer be there to do it anymore.
I was struggling to reel all my emotions back in when I noticed an older gentleman sitting nearby. He was dressed casually and was taking pellets from a packet to feed to some fish in the pond.
Every time he tossed food into the water, he would smile.
Seeing him there, quietly getting joy from such a simple act, made me realise that he would be associating this place with happiness, not pain.
Here was someone who was just sitting there, with no clue how others felt about the place, giving out all these happy, contented vibes.
Suddenly I didn’t feel so bad anymore. Suddenly all my emotions kind of just gave way to a sense of curious awareness.
Because, when you put it into perspective, a place is just a place really.
What it means to people is entirely within their heads.
Which is a good thing, because at that time that meant that I could also change the memories to something that wouldn’t make me so sad anymore.
By making new ones.
After that realization, it became startlingly clear to me that I needed to go do something for myself.
Something to make me feel more in control, more ready to face life head on.
I really liked to scuba dive, and was certified for the sport a few years ago. I thought it was a good opportunity to take the Advanced course, and see some aquatic wildlife again.
So I booked a trip to Bali and two weeks later found myself on a very rocky boat headed to a little island off the coast, idly wondering how many times I’d bumped my head in the last 10 minutes.
My little ball of pain still lingered like a dull ache in my chest, but for the first time since the breakup, I was genuinely excited.
Jumping into the ocean felt completely surreal, even more so when, quite unexpectedly, I spotted my first turtle.
It was just sitting there, as chill as fuck and so stupidly pleased with everything.
That turtle made me giggle, which, considering that I was 100 feet underwater, was a bit of a feat, but I achieved it nonetheless.
It was at this point where it hit me.
I wasn’t thinking of Ben.
I wasn’t in pain.
I was just laughing at a turtle whose personality I had totally made up in my head.
That was it. This moment.
This moment was completely mine. And from this moment, I could make more moments mine and be completely in control of them.
The “Eureka!“ effect was overwhelming.
Excitedly, I tried to communicate this to the turtle, but somehow the message didn’t get across, and after a while I noticed that my diving instructors and the other students were looking at me strangely.
It was a rather awkward ride back to shore, but so incredibly worth it.
I hadn’t exactly realized it at that time, but what I was experiencing were the effects of self-love. Because I had done something for myself, and truly enjoyed doing it, I had given myself the rare gift of well, me.
I picture self-love as having a plushie version of yourself around.
A little worn, a little creepy, but definitely huggable.
The more you take care of it, the more lovable you make it.
Sooner or later, you will discover, in astonishment, that your heart has gotten a lot lighter, and the coils of pain that once gripped it have long fallen away.
And just like the turtle, you find yourself being free again.
So for right now, it’s fine if you’re not where you want to be just yet.
Heck, with my latest heartbreak so fresh in my mind, I’M not where I want to be just yet either.
But as long as you keep loving the heck out of that plush doll, as cheesy as it sounds, there is going to be hope.
And with that self-awareness, kinda like climbing out of an apocalyptic sea war with your turtle companions, you will be able to find the courage to look determinedly into the future and say to yourself:
“I’m not OK right now, but I will be.”