Recently I’ve been reminded that relationships take a lot of work. Sweating-bullets kind of work, where you could be working relentlessly for what seems like an eternity and still are getting nowhere. Most relationships aren’t like that, in fact, I’d even say, most relationships are the opposite of that. We ignore a lot of red flags with relationships where we aren’t fully committed, we’re willing to just ignore little things. But when it comes to relationships where we are all in, that’s where we can’t ignore anything and we suffer the most. That’s not to say that the rewards aren’t also a million times better, but make no mistake, suffering means suffering.
The last ten months have been very difficult on me emotionally. If I had to describe what it’s been like, I’d say it’s been like the darkness of a caged elephant that once knew freedom and the lightness of a wild and inquisitive whale. See, I am living my best life, despite being deeply unhappy about not being able to share my life constantly with my partner. And in the same breath, I’ve been living through the pains of the worst permanent emotional aches, despite really having anything and everything I never knew I wanted.
Part of my struggle is work and having to learn the ins and outs of who I want to be professionally, with that come a lot of growing pains. Part of my struggle is living in a new environment, still trying to settle and finding my sweet spot. But most of my aches come from emotional inconsistencies. In general I manage fine, because of my ability to find a constant to hold on to, it’s like when you’re on a boat going right through meter-high waves, as long as you have a three-point-contact, you will be fine (for the most part).
Since fall last year however, I’ve been operating on a one-point-contact, balancing on my left foot (it’s not my dominant one), desperately trying to get both my feet onto the ground, and whatever I have tried, it’s gotten even more difficult. Mostly this comes out when I am with A and I’m trying my best to enjoy our limited time together, but then inevitably we end up fighting about minute indifferences. And when I say, “we fight”, I mean, “I fight” and he is roped into it, because he is there. We both suffer through these episodes. I suffer because I really don’t want to fight, but I can’t seem to stop myself, and he suffers, because he is on damage control, trying to figure out what it is I am experiencing.
My caged elephant comes even more out when I’m exposed to people who have an all-or-nothing attitude about anything in life. My anger spikes in these instances, because no matter how I look at my own situation, I cannot have it all at the moment, it’s just not feasible. It makes me ridiculously angry, when people have a black-or-white attitude. And coincidentally, in these instances I get very black-or-white, which is where having disagreements just doesn’t work. I don’t like myself when I’m like this, how could I? But I just can’t seem to stop myself, like an elephant I just want to stomp everything to the ground and leave destruction in my path. I will rumble and tumble, making sure to leave my marks in whatever ways I can, because if you’re an elephant that knew freedom you will never go down without a fight.
Once the storm passes, I find myself in my old inquisitive whale-self and I try to process what has transpired and what warranted my reactions. Sometimes, I react like a bow-head whale (side bar: they turn about 200 years old and some of them must still remember the times when humans came and hunted down their peers, as a result they are elusive and very cautious of anything human), and avoid any of my triggers. In other instances, I am like an orca playing with my food, trying to figure out different ways of hunting, preying on things that are no match to my abilities. And in other instances, I will just let it be and migrate to other things.
The point is, this suffering is toxic for my own mental health, it’s not good for the ones closest to me, and it’s not a good thing, knowing that the next few years I will not be able to have everything I want in one place. I cannot just stand at the sidelines and watch what happens, because not doing anything would mean that I am giving up on myself and rather give into all my urges to fight and destroy and anger, when things are clearly not black or white. It also means that my happily ever after may not be that. Anything you have can very easily be taken away from you, you may be an inquisitive whale at that moment, but that doesn’t mean a caged elephant can’t deeply hurt you.
What I am saying is that working on yourself and subsequently on relationships is very hard. Awareness is exhausting, mindfulness may not always work, having an energetic outlet may not always be feasible, counting to ten may seem ridiculous, and whatever other tool you’d normally use may just not be available to you. In these cases you can very easily hurt your own happily ever after (whatever that may look like) and you can destroy things that you just didn’t mean to destroy. So, before you get there, take care of yourself. Take yourself away and reflect on who you are and what you want, it may not always give you the desired result – it may actually for the most part be really ugly, but at least you can own your reactions. Take responsibility of your actions and make sure that whatever may transpire, you won’t have regrets about how you reacted and who you are at that moment.
For me, I am trying very slowly to reintroduce my caged elephant to a safe-space sanctuary, where my elephant can roam freely, run up and down river streams, rumble and tumble as much or as little as only an elephant can. It takes time and it’s everything but easy, but in the end, I can rest assured that my caged elephant will be okay, while I’m enjoying life like only a free-roaming whale can.