My season of sadness and fear.

The last three months have been the hardest of my life. Harder than caring for a baby who screamed nonstop; harder than divorce; harder than anything. It’s difficult to explain, but some of you have asked, so I’m going to try.

I’ve been very open about the fact that I am diagnosed with and suffer from generalized anxiety disorder and panic disorder. I’ve navigated this most of my adult life, but it’s also been pretty manageable with therapy, distraction, and sometimes meds. In early March I had a panic attack of epic proportion and it sent my brain to a very dark place. Three days later, my dear friend Melissa took me to Parkview so I could admit myself to their inpatient behavioral health facility. The team there encouraged me not to do so, and to this day, I’m not sure if I made the right choice. I went home that day, but the struggle has continued. (P.S. I met a really sweet boy around this time, and had to cancel one of our first dates because I was checking myself into a mental health facility. He was incredibly gracious and gentle with me — just a note to surround yourself with good people). Anyway…

For months now, I’ve been dealing with near constant anxiety. I’ve been at war with my brain daily, and it’s absolutely exhausting. I’ve pulled out all the stops — tried two new meds, changed therapists, attended a support group, hired a yoga instructor to give me private classes in my home specific to managing anxiety, spent $300 to have my genetics tested to determine what meds would work best for me; downloaded and used a unwinding anxiety app, meditation, books about mindfulness, etc., etc. I’m so tired.

On top of the anxiety, depression has set it big time. And honestly, depression almost feels worse. Let me be clear, I am not suicidal. I think that’s one of the reasons they wouldn’t admit me at Parkview. But I will say this, these last three months have really helped me to understand why people take their lives. I was talking with a friend recently who did struggle with suicidal thoughts last year before receiving treatment, and he said, “honestly, I just wanted to destroy my brain.” That made perfect sense to me. The brain is powerful, and when it’s misfiring, it’s scary.

I guess I’m sharing this for a few reasons.

1. If you feel distant from me or let down by me recently, I’m sorry. I’m in the gutter. I’m fighting my way out, but I am not myself. And even when I’m with people, I don’t feel fully present, which is beyond frustrating.

2. If you’re struggling, I’m sorry. I understand. I know how hard this is. Please hold on, and please seek help. And maybe I’m not in the best position to help someone else, but maybe I am. Call me.

3. If you have friends or family who suffer mental health issues, please be gentle with them. Even if you don’t understand it.

4. Life seems like business as usual for me on social media. That’s the danger of living so much of our lives online. What people are suffering on the other side of the screen may not be apparent. Spend time with your people — face to face. It’s so much important.

As for me, I have an appointment with a psychiatrist on July 5. My therapist thought I should see someone who specializes in medication since I’ve had so much trouble with the recent meds I’ve been on. I’m hopeful that I’ll find something that will bring me relief. I’m also beginning to examine the role alcohol plays in my anxiety and depression, which I think may lead to some lifestyle changes — mostly not self medicating. I’m enjoying the yoga and even starting to be able to meditate without wanting to claw my face off. So I’m trying to remain optimistic that this is just a season. I love my life so much and I’m eager to get back to enjoying it fully. Thanks to all of you who have been near and patient. I love you.


My scarlet letter “D.” Why I continue to talk about divorce.

When I got divorced four years ago, I didn’t have anyone in my life to discuss shared experiences with. Very few of my friends had been divorced, and those who had seemed to find love and move into new relationships or marriages rather quickly. I had an amazing therapist who helped guide me and dozens of beautiful friends who held my hand through the process, but no one who could really relate to what I was going through. It was lonely. I felt lost at sea.

I started writing about my experience, first in ridiculously long Facebook posts, and later in this blog. An acquaintance who had unfriended me on Facebook later told me he couldn’t stand reading my blogs. He had been divorced too, and he said I just needed to keep quiet and move on. Other friends worried I was divulging too much personal information; and that people might perceive me as weak or self involved. I kept writing.

I kept writing because it was the purge I needed, but also because people started reaching out to me in private messages to say they were going through something similar, or that they wondered if they should leave their spouse, or they were feeling the frustrations and loneliness of single parenting. Slowly, I began to form relationships with new and old friends who had shared experiences: a former co-worker; a high school friend; a friend of a friend of a friend. It was nothing short of magic. And to this day, those people hold enormous real estate in my heart — because we helped and continue to help each other.

Divorce has become my identifier. I know this. A few months ago I was interviewed by a local publication for a story about successful co-parenting. The first line of the article was, “Courtney Heiser is a divorcee.” I cringed, and laughed, and felt enormous pride at once. While the demise of my marriage doesn’t define me, it is a big part of who I am, and I’m not ashamed of that. In fact, I’m 100% certain I wouldn’t be the person I am today — a person I quite like, by the way — had I not gone through the pain of separating my life from the human I loved most in this world.

So it’s been almost 4 years. Why keep talking about it? What’s left to say, really? I can only imagine people rolling their eyes every time a post includes this subject matter. That’s okay. I get it. I roll my eyes at myself sometimes too. But here’s the thing. Healing is not linear. And while I feel so good about where and who I am today, and all the growth and progress I’ve made, I will always have moments when I miss my first love. I will always have have moments when I feel the deep rooted pain of passing my son back and forth between two houses. I will always have moments when I feel shame and regret for the ways in which I failed my marriage. Those things never go away entirely. They are real, and they are worthy of acknowledgement.

My divorce changed me in profound ways. It brought a host of beautiful new friends into my life; it enabled me to strengthen existing friendships; it broke me first, then made me stronger; it taught me about the value of transparency, and healthy conflict, and brutally honest communication; it made me less selfish and more compassionate; it led me to myself. I’m still learning. And yes, I’m still healing. You can’t put a time stamp on that. And why would you want to? So much of the good stuff is discovered on the journey. ❤️

On why I’m no longer using the word “broken” to describe people.

A few weeks ago I was having a very serious conversation with my sister about some personal family pain and I referred to our family as “broken.” This was on the heels of a particularly challenging family vacation, during which, I think it became clear to all of us that vacationing under one roof isn’t really working anymore. The word had barely left my lips when my sister interjected with, “what do you mean broken? We’re just people.” I kind of shrugged it off at the time, but it’s been heavy on my chest ever since.

I understand why we say people are broken. It sounds much nicer than saying we’re all kinds of fucked up. But really, it’s not. It’s a word that gets tossed around a lot. Someone is healing from a divorce. They’re broken. Someone is battling mental illness. Broken. Someone is fighting their way through grief associated with loss of any kind. Broken. Broken. Broken. But here’s the thing — even at my lowest point, even in the depths of my mourning, I was never broken. I was a whole person, who was experiencing a little, or rather big slice of suffering, and maybe making some poor choices as a result.

To say a person is broken is to imply that there is something fundamentally wrong with them — that in some way, they need to be fixed. I didn’t need fixing. I needed growing. I needed perspective. I needed healing. I needed hope for something better on the other side of that suffering. And yeah, I had to do the work to actually achieve those things. I had to rely on the support of my closest to be able to clearly recognize the light coming in. I had to find strength within myself to know I was, and am worthy of good things. But I sure as hell didn’t need fixing.

Maybe it’s semantics. Maybe I’m overthinking it. But for whatever reason, the idea that we’re just people experiencing the pain and beauty of life and doing the best we can to lift our heads each day and keep going, well, it resonated. So I’m not using the word broken anymore — unless I break a bone, or drop a glass, or my furnace stops running. But that’s just me.

Thanks for always shedding new light, sister. And keep powering through this messy, beautiful life, friends. XO.

The art of being alone(ish)

My name is Courtney and I am a raging extrovert. “Hi, Courtney.”

Growing up the youngest of three kids, and having shared a room with my older sister until I was 16 when she left for college, I rarely had time to myself. That was okay for me since I was born the kind of child who seldom took a breath. I love people, and I fear aloneness. When my sister moved to Chicago to go to school, I remember feeling scared — scared to be in my room alone; scared that I wouldn’t have someone to quietly talk to at night until my eyes and my brain felt quiet enough to sleep.

I filled those last three years of high school with commitments to theatre, a devotion to the church, time spent with friends. My memories are hazy, but they are also busy. Sitting in stillness doesn’t register among them.

After high school I moved to Fort Wayne to attend college, and my social life continued to thrive. I was never the most popular gal on the block, nor was I the coolest, by far, but I was always surrounded by, at the very least, a small tribe of friends. My senior year, after having reconciled that I no longer identified with evangelical Christianity, my college roommate, and close friend, decided we lived on different enough plains that she didn’t care to spend time with me under our shared roof or otherwise. In 1999, during a harrowing January blizzard, when I was snowed in in our little apartment on Home Avenue with she and her then fiancé, I knocked on her bedroom door looking for a friend or some company, and she gave me a little hand held video game to play to keep me occupied. It was the loneliest I had felt, until 2014.

My marriage fell apart in 2014, and thus began my first real adult battle with loneliness. After college I went through a slew of roommates who were all wonderful in their own rite, until I met the man I would marry in 2001, and took up residence with him. Together, our tribe of friends would multiply, and because we were so ridiculously lucky and loved, being alone was an anomaly. I literally had NO idea how to be. Just be. This is, by the way, a critical life skill I hope to model for my son, who is an only child at my house and constantly seeking other children with which to engage. I get it. And maybe I even perpetuate it.

Though I felt hopelessly alone during the last year of my marriage, the first time I ever lived alone was 2015, the year I got divorced. It was terrifying; and it has remained an enormous challenge for me. It’s not that I can’t take care of myself. I’m actually in a better place financially than I have ever been. And I have a massive support group; people willing to build me a deck, mow my lawn, bring me soup when I’m sick. In terms of survival, I’m doing just fine. The problem for me is sitting in that quiet; appreciating stillness; disconnecting from others and learning to just listen to my own voice. It’s an art, and one I haven’t been conditioned to develop or appreciate. But I’m working on it.

Recently, my therapist recommended meditation. Always a skeptic of this practice for me, not others, I told her I can’t meditate. It’s not my thing. “Well maybe that’s exactly why you need it then,” she countered. I’ve started a practice, and it’s hard. I set the timer on my phone and 5 or 10 minutes of silence feels like a goddamn lifetime. But I’m doing it anyway.

It’s interesting. I spent the better part of two years post divorce longing for a partner. Even though I wasn’t actively dating on a regular basis, there was always someone lingering — a possibility. Over the last 6 months, although there have been moments of yearning and a handful of dates, I’m learning the beautiful and challenging art of being alone(ish). I qualify this because I’m still rarely alone. My social calendar is about as over-stuffed as they come. But on a rare Friday night, when I find myself alone, with no plans (which in full disclosure isn’t for lack of reaching out to friends), I am firmly reminded of the need to understand and really feel what it’s like to be quiet. There’s something for me to learn here. I’m not even sure what it is yet; maybe just that my company is enough all on its own; that there is this fascinating and strong human who lives inside this shell of a 41 year old, slightly beat down body, who is actually my best ally, and biggest cheerleader.

I am a work in progress. Aren’t we all? And sincerely, the most fascinating part of all of it, is recognizing my own ability to listen to me; to wrestle with my own conditioning in order to continue on the path to my most healthy self. Or is it healthiest self? Ah, who cares?

XO, friends.

What if I never feel this way again?

A few weeks ago on a rare warm(ish) Sunday, I was walking my dog after dark, listening to some tear inducing tunes on my headphones. I found myself on the corner of the street where my ex-husband lives (it’s just a few blocks from my house, so this isn’t as stalkerish as it sounds). I glanced in the direction of his home that he shares with his partner, their daughter, and our child (50% of the time). I could see the flicker of TV lights in the big picture window, and in that moment, something struck me. What if I never feel the way I felt with him with anyone again?

Let me qualify this by saying there isn’t a single part of me that still longs for my former husband or wants him back in any way. I recognize that while the 23 year old versions of us were a perfect fit, the 41 year old versions most definitely are not. I found a great deal of freedom in learning and accepting that people can share a season, and that seasons change — for better or worse. Sometimes people have to grow in different directions. I say this with the absolute most sincerity, I want him to be happy, and healthy, and fulfilled in all aspects of his life, including his romantic relationship. What’s good for him is good for our child.

However, unlike many people who divorce, I am able to now look back at our time together with total gratitude and warm nostalgia. Not the last few years of course, but the first 12 or so, those were really great years, and I wonder if I’ll ever feel that kind of connection with a partner again. Despite having dated and spent time with some really wonderful men over the last three years, I have yet to experience that, and so I choose to remain on my own.

Friends have pointed out that when I met my ex-husband, we were so young — and things look very different without the stresses of mortgages, and careers, and children, and losing loved ones to illness. It was easy to fall in love at 23, and to just dive in without reservation. I don’t know that I have that luxury anymore. But beyond that, I wonder if there is another soul in this world who will get me the way he did; or someone who will burst with excitement at the opportunity to share music with me; someone who will so seamlessly mesh with my weirdly wonderful family and friends.

This photo came up in my Facebook memories yesterday. Opening day of TinCaps season, which was a tradition we shared each year. Having lived in West Central, we were in walking distance from the stadium, and we championed the project from the get go, attending city council meetings to voice our support. I felt a little sad when I looked at the picture. I was transported to that moment, and the connection we felt with each other, feeding off the energy of the crowd and our shared enthusiasm for the rebirth of our downtown. I thought about the light from the TV in his home and remembered laying across his lap watching Anthony Bourdain, and talking about traveling to far away places together someday. And I felt sad for my part in killing that dream.

Seems like a strange benchmark for a single gal to have — I want to feel the way with you that I felt with my ex-husband. But it also feels like something to dig into. What is it about the connection we shared or the way he made me feel that is critical to finding love again? And if I never get there, am I content to keep on this journey alone? Seems to be the only recourse so far. And the journey, by the way, has been a wonderful one, so there’s something to be said for that.

Tonight is the TinCaps opener, and my ex is taking our kid. I’m happy the tradition continues with some part of me — actually, the biggest part of my heart. There’s something wildly poetic about that, and I can’t wait to hear all about it.

Go TinCaps!

Say sorry. Don’t be an asshole. Or one of my biggest lessons of the last few years.

I was chatting with a friend last night, talking about our respective divorces, and we asked each other biggest lessons learned. For me, learning to communicate in a healthy and open way has been my most important takeaway. Believe it or not, I wasn’t always so open with my heart. When tension would arise in my marriage, I would push it down until eventually it would explode in a hideous way, or create an atmosphere of ongoing resentment. I didn’t do myself any favors.

As a result of my divorce, and now three years of intensive therapy, I’ve learned how to address problems and pain in a more direct and healthy manner. Having these uncomfortable conversations can be, well, uncomfortable, but ultimately fosters trust and support. Ladies and gents, this is where I remind you that it is never okay to break up with someone via text. And by the way, guilty as charged. But it also leads me to another very important point: you don’t get to decide when you’ve hurt someone.

People are built differently. Some of us are more sensitive, some of us are teflon. Regardless, we all have a breaking point, and I challenge you to name one person who hasn’t, at some point, had their feelings hurt by another human. When that happens; when you’ve hurt someone, you don’t get to decide if it’s valid. Spoiler alert: it’s valid if they say it’s so. So what to do?

Apologize. Even if you think their reasons for being hurt are silly or unwarranted, apologize. Saying your sorry that you made someone feel like crap doesn’t make you a lesser person. It doesn’t even mean you’re in the wrong. It means you are compassionate and sensitive to the fact that your words or actions wounded someone in some way. And by acknowledging this, you open the door to healthy discussion about how you can do better and how you can prevent this sort of thing from happening again.

Pride is an evil little monster, and can seriously annihilate productive relationships. Put it to bed. It takes some getting used to, but I swear, the more you can look at any situation from the other person’s perspective and try to understand the source of their pain, the better you’ll be as a romantic partner, friend, parent, daughter/son, sibling, colleague, etc.

This is a little truth talk from someone who recently had her feelings hurt and is still waiting for acknowledgement of that — which I also recognize I may never receive. It’s also truth talk from someone who has hurt others and likely made them wait an unreasonable amount of time for an apology.

It’s a beautiful thing to validate someone’s pain, and if you’re the source of it, no matter how silly it may seem to you, say you are sorry for whatever made that person feel betrayed, less than, whatever. You can’t know how important that acknowledgment of pain can be.

Take care of one another. We’re all we’ve got. XOXO.

The long and winding road…to Huntington, Indiana.

One of the things intense anxiety has robbed me of is my enjoyment of road trips. Man, I used to love to drive.

When I was a college student at Taylor University, Fort Wayne (an important distinction), my friends and I used to get in a car and drive Highway 69 to any random rest area and get shitty cappuccino just for the sake of driving, caffeinating, and listening to our favorite music. Sometimes we’d smoke cigarettes too, even though it was expressly against the life together covenant we signed that said we agreed not to drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes or drugs, fornicate, or dance. Yeah, I signed that contract. That’s neither here nor there. The point is, I loved getting in the car and driving aimlessly.

I spent years making the long road trip from IN to PA, sometimes beginning the journey in the middle of the night, by myself, with a pack of smokes, a few cans of Coca-Cola, and a package of NoDoz. I’d drive through the night, music blasting, singing along to my favorite tunes, and just embracing every last second of “good god, the open road and its majesty.”

One of the biggest struggles I’ve faced with anxiety is a fear of driving. I don’t even know why, except that several people I know and grew up with in my small Pennsylvania town have died in car accidents. For whatever reason, anxiety has instilled in me some fear of being behind the wheel, and silly as it sounds, I miss the freedom that comes with driving — anywhere/no where for no reason at all. I miss the windows rolled half way down, music at full volume, the front seat of my car transforming into a veritable karaoke stage. It was magic.

These days, when I have to drive to a doctor’s appointment on DuPont Road, the north side of Fort Wayne, I labor over the stress of it all for days. Not kidding. So many times, I think about what it would be like to jump in the car and just go — drive to Chicago or Detroit, or hell, to Pennsylvania, and not think about meeting an early demise along the way. The fear that comes as a result of anticipating a trip like that is crippling.

So tonight, when my best friend’s car broke down in Huntington, Indiana, 35 minutes from my home, and she called and asked if I could pick her up, I was scared. But if there is one thing that has always taken priority over self and fear, it’s helping and supporting the people I love. “Yes, I’m on my way.”

I drove to Huntington to pick her up. I listened to music I loved on the way. I sang. Loudly. It felt amazing! And it was a small milestone, but one that holds great significance. She got it too. And it was the smallest, but best little taste of freedom and empowerment I’ve had in some time. I can do this. I need to do this. Today, Huntington. Tomorrow, the world — or at least the parts of the world to which I can drive.

On Pity, and the things that scare me the most.

My therapist recently asked me to think about the things I fear most. I suffer anxiety which manifests in the form of fear of death — not afterlife, just death. I’ve been digging deep to get to the root of that fear. And in a session a few weeks ago, I had the revelation that my fear isn’t about suffering, but partially about pity. Bear with me here.

I told her that I’m not afraid of cancer, or some extended illness taking my life. I’m afraid of instantaneous perishing. But why? I’m not the kind of person who hides her feelings. Hello, heart on sleeve. So I don’t have loose ends. I tell my people love them. I act upon what I know to do. I take risks and I live my life fully. I’m not saying it’s all neat and tidy and the bucket list has been completed, but I don’t feel like I have unfinished business. So what gives?

Pity. Right after college I dated a guy who, let’s just say, wasn’t in a position to be a good and faithful partner to me at the time. The betrayal I experienced in that relationship was damaging, but what I feared the most at the time was the possibility of others feeling pity for me. I’ve carried that fear with me into middle age, and I’m not going to lie, it owns me sometimes. When I got divorced, I started blogging, putting out messages of strength and empowerment, so hopefully no one would feel sorry for me, but rather marvel at my resilience.

I’ve had a string of not so successful relationships(ish) over the last few years, the last of which left me pretty broken, and more than a little sad. And each time it doesn’t work out, I worry that you or you or you will look at me from afar and think, “poor girl.” God, the thought of it makes my skin hurt.

I don’t want to die without being able to assure my people that I’m okay. I’m not a person to be pitied. My life is really quite fantastic. I don’t want to die, and have a group of friends sharing whiskey in one of our haunts taking about how the last few years were hard and if only she could have experienced XYZ before she bit it. This terrifies me.

It helps to make a list of all the incredible things and people in my life. The list is so, so long. But who am I making the list for? Why am I jotting down what I already know to be true? Courtney has a hell of a life — cool friends, supportive family, a great job, a cozy home, and really, the best partner for the journey, my little man. I have far more than I could have ever imagined, and maybe I even more than I deserve. No pity here. You probably already know this. And you’ve probably never pitied me at all. The trick is allowing myself to believe that you know it. Or better yet, to not care one little bit if you do or not.

I’m curious. What scares you the most?

Crack your heart wide open. Why not?

A guy wrote me this poem once. A guy I met when I was a young girl working at church camp in Pennsylvania. I would fall in love with this same man three times in my life, but the relationship would never come to fruition for many reasons: first distance, then an unexpected pregnancy (not mine), and finally, because marriage vows said to another meant more than anything we could imagine creating together. But I have pages and pages of his words. I haven’t talked to him in ages, rightfully so, and I probably never will. I was thinking about him yesterday though, and decided to dig out some old poems. It got me thinking…

Relationships are complex. I used to believe in black and white; wrong and right, but the heart is an intricate little beast, and it must sometimes be tamed, I suppose.

I have put my heart on the line more times than once, and it hasn’t turned out the way I hoped it would. After all, I’m still here, writing these words. But it hasn’t been for naught. I’ve learned, through each heartbreak; through each failed relationship; through each death — there is life after, and good god, if you seek it, so shall it be. You can relish the moments, the poems, the adventures, and know that it all starts over again with you — in a better place, stronger and able to give more this time than the last. You can know, that love has a way of rearing its head and finding you when you least expect it to. How cool is that? That you are able to fall in love more than once, and keep giving. And how cool is it when you finally slow down on the giving enough to say, “I’m ready to accept too.” And know that the universe is not so cruel as to keep your heart from breaking open with, and for another human again.

Fall in love, a million times over. And write about it. You won’t be sorry you did. How can we ever say, “I wish I hadn’t loved that person so completely.”? Hemingway, thank you for the reminder. And friends — love, write, love, write, love, write. All of it matters, I swear it. XOXO.

On acceptance and listening. 

I’ve had several friends reach out recently and ask if I’ve been writing. Blog posts become fewer and farther between as I continue to evolve. There’s a common thread I think, that all my favorite writers share, and that’s heartache. It’s universal, and no matter the kind of loss or pain you’ve experienced, knowing that you’re not alone is paramount to healing. Or at least it has been for me. 

For the past several weeks, I’ve typed and deleted, and typed and deleted again. I want to write, but a.) I’ve got no news to share, and b.) I keep finding myself drawing on the strength of others rather than telling my own tale. If I’m being honest, I’m wading right now. 

I’ve spent the last 6 months in pretty intensive therapy building some serious tools to draw on in darker times. It’s been incredible, and I only feel stronger for it. I’ll keep pushing. I just will. But I have to give it to you straight, because I’m nothing if not 100% honest. Right now, I’m struggling with many of those old demons that have haunted me for years. I’m lonely. I’m not enough. I’m anxious. I’m sad. 

The difference now, is that I know that the narrative I have in my head about being less than just isn’t true. And the feelings I’m navigating as a result of that false narrative are fleeting. They are valid, but they aren’t forever. I must lean into them, acknowledge them, honor them, and work like hell to overcome them. 

I’m nursing a broken heart. I’m accepting that many things — relationships and projects — things I’ve poured my soul into, they aren’t going to materialize in the way I hoped they might. I’m quietly trying to find silver linings and a better path forward. I’m counting my damn blessings (gross), because there are so very many. 

That’s all I’ve got, friends. But thank you, thank you to those of you who have asked for more. I’m not finished. Who among us is, really? But I’m just listening right now. It’s exactly where I need to be.