This morning in our house, we’ve been having one hell of a dance party. While Lizzo and Taylor Swift were blasting in the kitchen, my husband Matt took out his phone to record us having a ball. My 1-year-old and 4-year-old shook their booties with me to the beat, we laughed and belted out lyrics we love, and Matt had a grin on his face the whole damn time.
It’s the respite we needed from the tidal wave that’s approaching our family tomorrow. Because tomorrow, Matt will fly across the country for a job he’ll be working at for six months. I’ll be back East with our children and solo-parenting for us, which is something I’m well versed in. Matt’s jobs have often been all-consuming and filled with long hours, much anxiety, and a whole lot of late nights. And this current opportunity is almost no exception to the rest – except for one heartbreaking difference.
My best friend, my life partner, and the father of my children will be leaving his family for half of the year.
I spent nearly a decade living in California and met Matt through on an online dating site after my first marriage ended painfully. In true hot mess fashion, I became an immediate stepmom to his daughter and pregnant with our first child in a few short months of being together. Within three years’ time, I birthed our daughter, Juniper, we got married in his parents’ backyard, and I became pregnant with our son, Everett. We’ve essentially been riding a life rollercoaster together ever since we found each other. I just never expected that the dips on the ride would take me to the darkest of places.
Juggling the new demands of early motherhood and stepmom life was hard as hell. I also found myself in a tough predicament of struggling to find work, being overwhelmed by the high cost of living in Los Angeles, and experiencing mental health symptoms unlike anything I ever had before. Just after June’s third birthday, I was diagnosed with complex PTSD from ongoing childhood trauma, and suddenly the daily bouts of somatic muscle spasms, extreme panic attacks, and chronic self-harm started to make sense. It also felt like the earth underneath my feet had given way as I tried to figure out how to move forward with such a defeating diagnosis. I was tired of being a burden to others and myself, so much so that last year, I tangibly conceived of ways to end my life.
I’m so fucking thankful that I didn’t.
We moved to the East Coast to be close to my husband’s family, save some money, and help me get the mental health treatment I so desperately needed. Matt had to leave a respected directing career behind to join us, and it’s never been lost on me how incredible that act of love was. We planned to stay in New Hampshire for a year and search for freelance work that could keep us home with our children. All was going fairly well until Matt ended a contract gig and couldn’t find work for two months. Suddenly, my reality included using an EBT card at the grocery store, walking into a food pantry so my kids could eat, and begging family for any financial support they could offer.
Then a bittersweet curveball happened. Matt received a windfall of career opportunities we never planned for, as West Coast animation studios started reaching out and asking if he was available for interviews. After a bunch of tearful late-night conversations, we both realized that our family was hurting for financial relief, and even if it meant breaking us up temporarily, these jobs could be the saving grace we were looking for. Within a week of those talks, Matt was hired for an awesome directing job, accepted a six-month contract, and began looking for places to live in California.
As you can imagine, it’s been a mixed bag of emotions in our house. My young son has no idea his grown-up BFF is about to leave his side. My daughter is processing her feelings about her dad as best as any toddler can. And I am doing my damn best to maintain a strong front for my family, while also royally freaking out inside about what this may mean for my mental health recovery.
Matt has been the steady rock in my life. He went through so much in the years before we met, and yet has come out of it all as a loving, fiercely dedicated, and empathetic human being and partner. He’s grown miles since we started our relationship and has more than proven himself to be a stable anchor during this tumultuous phase in my mental health journey. I honestly don’t know what I’m going to do without him. I’m trying to stay positive, think of solutions, and realize how incredibly far I’ve come from the recent days of wanting to completely disappear. But I’m also allowing myself to feel some brutal grief over the temporary loss of his presence in my world.
Our long-term goal is to move back to California as a family unit. It’s going to take a lot of patience, hard work, and slogging through the mud of parenting alone in order to make that happen. I have an amazing therapist and am on life-saving antidepressants that have helped me tremendously as I figure all this shit out. But some PTSD-related muscle spasms have also returned in the week leading up to his departure, which makes me wonder how the hell I’ll navigate all of this alone.
More than anything, parents going through a challenging time like this don’t need to be forced into feeling better. We need compassion, safe spaces to melt down, and ongoing support. We need to know it’s okay not to be okay. As much as I understand this to my core, it’s so damn hard to achieve when those around me don’t fully get what I’m going through. A huge part of the reason I have complex PTSD is because I lacked the encouragement, unconditional love, and stability that impressionable young minds and hearts require during childhood. I was taught from a very young age that my feelings overwhelmed others, that my needs were not as important as those of the adults in my world, and that if I took a risk or made a mistake, I’d face violent and neglectful consequences.
Outside of therapy and medication, my husband has been the biggest corrective experience in my adult life. I’m not looking for anyone to try to fill that role during this time, and I undoubtedly get that it’s up to me to reparent myself as necessary while he’s gone. But that doesn’t make the prospect of him leaving any easier on my weary soul. I will miss the shit out of the guy who laughs at all of my dorky mom jokes, leaves his arms wide open when I feel my world is crumbling, and tells me I’m impossibly beautiful no matter how I feel on any given day. I will miss his strong hands holding mine as we Netflix and chill after our kids go to sleep, watching him make me dinner after a long ass day of parenting, and giggling at the sight of our daughter and son climbing on his back as he lays on our living room floor.
I will miss my husband, and I will give myself space to do so.
My deepest hope is that this time next year, I will no longer be mourning what is soon to be gone. I imagine us waking up in our future California home, the kids jumping on our heels as we shuffle to the kitchen to make endless rounds of coffee. I envision sitting on a porch with my best friend, his arm wrapped around me as the Los Angeles sun sets on another day together. I see Disney movie marathons and pajama weekends and stealing kisses during the chaos of weekday mornings. I will keep these memories close to my heart on the days when I don’t think I can do this alone. I will hold these images tightly to me when the Facetime calls and phone conversations pale in comparison to the real thing. And I will snuggle up next to them at night when I go to reach for him and his side of the bed is so very empty.