Alright, you guys called it. He broke up with me.
It was a laundry list of reasons: his priorities, our selfishness, the long-distance, we were too young and maybe he just wasn’t compatible with me to begin with. But enough about him. It’s about me now. It always should have been and from now on, it always will be.
I wish someone could have prepped me for the immense pain that comes with losing first love. I couldn’t get out of bed for weeks because my entire body was weighed down by depression. I stopped eating (and I’m a food writer) and didn’t care if I was a sobbing mess stumbling through the airport with my hair in disarray, clutching onto my phone desperately in hopes that he’d text me. At one point, I had gotten so drunk that I ended up in the hospital.
“Clarissa, you’ve officially lost all shred of dignity,” my friends said.
That’s not even the entire story. I actually flew back 3,000 miles to Los Angeles from New York on a school weekend to try to win him back. He said he’d give me an hour. I ended up squeezing out three. And it just got worse from there.
“I think it’s better for us to move on,” he told me a month later after we broke up. I grabbed onto him, begging for another try. I swear I saw his jaws harden and eyes glaze over. He wouldn’t have it because I wasn’t worth it anymore.
“I’m going to be more selfish than I’ve ever been before,” he said. And then he got up, looked at me one last time and walked away.
I was left alone crying in the food court of the mall while a blur of strangers stared. Classy.
The depression ran deep. I tried the “Eat, Pray, Love” route and flew to Asia for a vacation but ended up cutting the trip short. Alone time wasn’t going to do me any good because I was a victim to my own thoughts -- a repetitive loop of self-hatred and blame that coursed through my head until I physically and mentally exhausted myself.
There were nights I woke up screaming and days where I wished that the plane would crash, that I would die in my sleep, that I would get in a terrible car accident.
Then came the self-help books. “Dating Your Ex,” “The Break-Up Principle” “Mr. Unavailable and the Fallback Girl” “Getting Past Your Breakup” “It’s Called A Breakup Because It’s Broken.” They pushed me in the right mental direction, but I still couldn’t climb out of the pit.
Excuse the clichés, but they’re there for a reason. Depression really is like living under a rock. Everything is dark. There is no light at the end of the tunnel and it really is a crippling sensation. Sleep is perhaps the only relief, but even that’s temporary.
But the cliché that really did it for me was this: Focus on yourself.
I got tired of being depressed. I got tired of feeling sorry for myself and even though I didn’t accept the reality, I wanted something to change. Anything. I didn’t know it at the time, but focusing on me meant forcing myself to get out of my personal comfort zone. Quite frankly, during times of depression, the comfort zone is…well... depression.
So I started signing up for activities that had originally made me happy during my single life. Dating myself, if you will. On the list were cooking classes, hiking sessions and running clubs. It took an hour to plan it all out: I sat on my bed, pulled out a calendar and started plugging in events. I joined Meetup.com and RSVPed for random group dinners during the weekend. Group events. Nothing romantic. I wasn’t ready for that.
Be warned that getting out of the door will be the hardest part. But whatever you do, don’t cancel. It takes effort to meet complete strangers and more often than not, it’s more comfortable sitting in pajamas crying over the ex.
Every new meet-up will feel like the first day of college. There’s a random array of people with different interests, professions and age-ranges. Some end up being great friends, others turn into love interests and a good majority end up fading into oblivion.
Mind you, it’s not that I have a shortage of friends. They’re great, have been with me through it all and I love them. But they’re nestled in my comfort zone and have lived through my relationship, breakup, know my ex and can’t offer me anything different besides a much-needed shoulder to cry on.
A new context and new people offered me a chance to be someone other than the depressed girl who just got broken up with. It gave me a clean slate to act happy and eventually, be happy.
At some point during the storm of the breakup, I had scribbled the following phrase on my mirror with black eyeliner: “I’m not going to let you hurt me anymore.” At that time, the “you” referred to my ex. Today, the “you” refers to me.
I will not let myself hurt me anymore. Sitting at home and letting the suicidal thoughts consume me was the worst thing I ever put up with.
Here’s the secret: Once you put yourself as a priority, an amazing thing happens. You end up with so much more because you have no one to disappoint but yourself. Because you put in such a large effort to do something 100% for yourself, you end up putting 100% in getting the most out of the experience.
So yes, I’ve moved on. I’ve made a handful of new friends and even got a date or two out of the experience. My happiness has shifted from being dependent on my relationship to being dependent on myself.
Time may heal the wounds and fade the memories, but someone needs to put the bandage on. Once I took that initiative, I was able to truly embrace the best cliché of them all: It gets better.