Why Elizabeth Gilbert’s and Glennon Moyle Delton’s Divorces Freaked Me Out

Britt and Elizabeth GilbertI don’t go to church. My affiliation with religion has been in name only for several years now, but I still find inspiration and guidance in the words of great books – most of them found in the self help section and written by women. Elizabeth Gilbert–who I lovingly refer to as “my Oprah”–and Glennon Moyle Delton are two of the biggest names in personal development writing, and their recent decisions to end their messages rattled my faith.

When I read their divorce announcements on Facebook I experienced a surprisingly visceral response.

“What the hell?” I thought. “Why do all these women keep leaving their husbands? Is this the new ‘in’ thing – to be oh so enlightened and then get divorced?”

I was angry, far angrier than any stranger has a right to be about someone else’s love life. Ironically, it was one of these women I judged so quickly that helped me understand why I was responding at all.

“Sometimes, when people make decisions about marriage, it evokes strong feelings in others. If my news does that to you today, please look inside and get curious about whether those feelings have more to do with you and your life than they do about me and mine.”

Glennon Doyle Melton

So I asked myself, “why do I care?”

The answer was obvious.

I cared because I’m afraid I should have left.

Seven years ago, I asked my husband for a divorce. Instead, we went through marriage counseling and fought our way back to each other. Of course, that’s the short and tidy version. The whole story is a decade in the making and is as ugly as betrayal, neglect, and love can be. The whole story includes enough tears to drown a past and bridge building that would make a mason proud. We fought, we won, and now we’re supposed to be living happily ever after.

But these women have forced me to face the hard truth: my marriage is still hard.

My marriage is still haunted by depression, and all the guilt, resentment, and disconnection that comes from living within its darkness. My marriage is made up of two completely different styles of communication and two completely opposite sets of coping mechanisms. My marriage feels easy and light on some days, and grinding and heavy on others. My marriage is marked with stupid arguments about stupid shit and a collection of journals filled with angst as I try to figure out why we argue about such stupid shit.

I tell myself this is how it’s supposed to be, that marriage is supposed to be hard and you don’t get to golden anniversaries without a few battle scars.

But these women make me rethink the value of hard.

I know a lot of women who have found redemption in letting go. I have seen their newfound joy and celebrated their rediscovery of self. I’ve cheered on my friends as they’ve walked away from hard marriages and walked into the lightness of something better.

I want lightness. I want joy. I want the evolution that comes from casting off old shells and spreading new wings!

I think I was not made for marriage. I am a mostly selfish person whose default mode is autonomy. I do independence really, really well. I love people, I’m fascinated by people, but I also have too much going on in my own head to ever be fully devoted to anyone else. Being single and happy would be easy for me, I’m certain of it.

That’s one of the reasons I stay.

While I know I can be happy alone, I believe I am called to learn happiness as part of a larger whole. My marriage is often a litmus test to show me how I’m connecting with the world around me, and it encourages me to find balance between Self and The Great Everything of Which I’m a Part. In learning to love and be loved, I’m being transformed into someone a little less selfish, a little better at listening, a little better at making room for the light in others.

And of course, there’s the man to whom I’m married. He is good and kind and so intrinsically part of me I could never not have him in my life. I choose to raise my kids in partnership with him, and I imagine navigating the world with him long after our kids have moved on to their own lives. When I picture my life, I picture him in it. There is nothing he holds me back from and he works his butt off to give me freedom to lose and find myself over and over again.

I forget that sometimes when the marriage is hard. I forget about the support and the easy laughter and the soul-level knowing each other sometimes when everyone else looks happier and freer and surely more enlightened than me.

The lesson in all this is laughably simple:

The only marriage that matters is my own.

It’s not better or worse to go or stay. An easy marriage is not more worthy than a hard one, and a woman cannot be declared more or less enlightened by another woman. The enlightenment comes in knowing your own truth.

There is beauty in sharing our stories. It connects us and makes us feel not alone, and sometimes we can even find inspiration for our own journeys. But there is danger, too, in the personal narrative swapping: It’s easy to lose the line between inspiration and imitation. In our similarities we can forget our uniqueness. In our search for connection we can fall prey to comparison.

The only _______ that matters is my own.

Thank you, Elizabeth & Glennon, for the reminder.

Depression by the Numbers

life jacket

104: months since my depression diagnosis.

53: times that I’ve written about depression here on this blog, which is even older than my diagnosis.

4: months since I quit my last job.

6: concrete tools I have at my disposal to manage depression, all of which I’ve been throwing at it for months (years?) trying to be a fully functioning human being on more days than not.

25: percent of the time I feel like it’s working.

4: years I’ve lived in Pittsburgh without a local physician or therapist working to manage my depression.

3: primary care providers I’ve had appointments with who found no reason for my overwhelming lack of energy, excessive sleep, and rapid weight gain.

12: hours I slept last night, for no apparent reason.

1: jobs I told myself I had to, absolutely had to, complete today. No matter what, I promised myself I’d finally get an appointment with a local psychiatrist.

26: minutes spent on hold with the first attempt.

17: offices called after my first attempt failed, in search of psychiatrist accepting new patients without primary care provider referral.

8: days until my appointment.

The struggle is constant. The losses seem to mount higher than the triumphs. I told my sister this morning, I feel like I’m sitting on horse, smacking away with a riding crop and kicking my heels yelling, “giddy up! giddy up!” and my body is just looking at me with big, woeful eyes, munching grass, going nowhere.

It feels like the darkness is actively working against me, telling lies and making empty promises, whatever it has to do to convince me to just lay down, just stay put a little bit longer.

But I can’t give up. I have two kids who need me and one man who deserves to have me keep fighting.

And today I won the battle.


“Who lives in the same house their whole lives? It seems crazy to think of anyone doing that now,” my sister said.

She and I were laying in our grandparents’ bed, reminiscing about how long they must have had said bed and everything else in the little two-bedroom, one-bathroom house in which they’d raised two kids.

“It reminds you how much more content we could all be, doesn’t it? How we probably all do have enough?”


The little square house on the corner lot had always been enough for my grandma. She hadn’t actually lived in it her entire life–she’d grown up on a farm half a dozen miles away–but she’d been here our entire lives and all of our dad’s.

The one bathroom across the hall from her bedroom had been enough to share with two kids–even when they were one teenaged boy and one teenaged girl.

The tiny kitchen with no dishwasher had been enough for her family of four plus her own little sister to share hundreds of meals in.

The dining room table that was probably too big for the dining room had been enough to fit three generations around when spouses and grandkids were added to the mix.

And for decades the small living room was enough to host as many as four generations at Christmas. My sister and I marveled at the miracle of space and physics that allowed all those bodies and gifts to fit into that single room; another option was never even considered.

Last night that room seemed too small and without enough seating for a handful of us. The magic, I guess, left with her. Maybe it’s all the swearing; I’m pretty sure this house has heard more cuss words in the last week that I’ve been staying here than it did in the entire fifty plus previous years.

My Grammy and I couldn’t be more different. She was slender and tan and poised. I am… not. She was practical, level headed, and content. I am restless, idealistic, and probably a touch irresponsible if I’m being honest.

I often worried I wasn’t enough for Grammy.

Not Catholic enough. Not motherly enough. Not wifely or pious or selfless enough. It’s not that she told me I was lacking, but her example set a standard I could never seem to live up to.

Well, there was that one time she told me. Jared and I had separated and she emailed to tell me I needed to go back to church, among other things. I responded with a missive about all of the ways she’d let me down, thereby letting myself completely off the hook for having to take any of her advice. She sent back one more reply: she told me she loved me and was sorry if she hadn’t always made that clear.

That was nine years ago.

We never talked about that exchange. Jared and I got back together; I never found my way back to church; we went home for Christmases and summers and I stopped in to visit her when we were in town. I called her occasionally, but not near as often as I used to, and we didn’t talk for as long or in as much depth as we had back when we were both good Catholic women. I was a disappointment.

I hated that. It ate at me and I resented that she couldn’t appreciate how much happier I was having forged my own way as a woman on my own terms. I resented that she didn’t love me as much as her other grandchildren. I resented that I wasn’t enough for her.

When my Papa died two years ago, my grief was easy. Our relationship was uncomplicated and I was simply heartbroken. I knew then, though, that a messier grief was coming. I knew that someday soon Grammy would follow her husband of 63 years and I would have to face all the things we didn’t say to each other.

I knew for over two years. I did nothing to change it, except make a few more phone calls.

There was enough time to make things right; I just didn’t use it.

I’m struggling to cope with that. I’m looking for proof that I am – I was – wrong.

She said my name and gave me one last hug in hospice. She made an extraordinary effort to come have one last dinner with me last month, despite the physical discomfort the two-hour drive caused her. She told me over and over again how great it was that my kids called to thank her for birthday and Easter cards, which she always made sure arrived on time.

She came to my book signing a few years ago and told me she was proud of me. She bought so many copies, and I found out later she sent one to my little sister when she was going through horrible crap in her own personal life. (By the way, a self-help book your big sister wrote is not an awesome gift to receive when your world is falling apart.) When Lindsey told me that I felt some of my own regret lift a little – one because I was not the only one to get well-intentioned if not particularly helpful advice from our grandma, and two because… damn, she’d thought I’d written something worth sharing.

I found a ceramic baby shoe marked with my name, birthday, and birth weight on her desk. She’d sat and wrote bills and organized events with this reminder of me beside her.

In closets and cupboards, on walls and in albums, I’ve come across hundreds and hundreds of pictures of me. Baby pictures, school pictures, pictures of me doing absolutely nothing more interesting than sitting in a chair and watching the world around me. Just as many pictures of me as of my sister and brother and cousins. And I know it’s stupid and petty and childish to even think about these things now as proof – to even be looking for proof – but I have to. I need it to be enough.

A remarkable thing happens when someone is dying, if you’re lucky. Family gathers together, to be with you and each other, and they begin to tell stories. And as the hours and days pass, the stories go further back and deeper beneath the surface. Sitting beside my grandmother’s bed at the hospice house the last week before she died, I learned something new from these stories: she worried about being enough.

We, her children and grandchildren, were shocked. Shocked to learn she worried, shocked to learn she doubted herself, shocked to imagine she didn’t know with absolute certainty how much she’d meant and given to everyone around her.

“It’s OK,” we’d whisper as the days went by and her breathing labored on. “You’ve done enough.”

I hope she knows now.

I hope she knows now what I could never seem to tell her: that she gave me a sense of home and belonging and security in a childhood where those things were often lacking. That I tried desperately in my early years of parenting to be just like her. That she and Papa are the example that my husband and I aspire to. That it is her example I’m following every time I volunteer to join a committee or show up to a fundraiser.

That I’m sorry.

That I loved her, always.

I hope she knows now, and that it’s enough. It has to be.

2016-04-21 15.31.49


The Van Gogh Paradox

van gogh self portrait“He was like you, Honey!”

My heart sank. I’d already noticed the similarities and was trying to squash a rising anxiety when my husband glibly compared me to Vincent Van Gogh.

We were elbow-to-elbow in a line of strangers at the Art Institute of Chicago, sliding past a wall upon which hand sketches and black-and-white photographs illustrated the timeline of Van Gogh’s life. Each date on the wall denoted a change of address or career. On the surface, Van Gogh’s Bedrooms was about the painter’s three nearly identical paintings of his bedroom in a house in Arles, Frances, but the wall at the entrance made clear the real thesis of the Special Exhibition: this was a story about the endless wanderings of a lost man.

Van Gogh’s earliest moves were as a baby, completely unremarkable in any other life but fated to become part of a perpetual pattern as the child grew up and moved to boarding schools before becoming a man who moved in search of work. The work was consistently unsteady and unsatisfying. First an art dealer, then a minister, and later a teacher, Van Gogh finally settled on calling himself an artist when he was 27 and his brother offered–or maybe agreed–to support him financially.

“He was like you, Honey!”

I don’t remember all the homes I lived in as a child, but I know there were at least a dozen. I’ve moved my own children to and from four houses and one RV in the last five years.

And of course there are the jobs; the many, many jobs that I’ve started and loved and hated and quit. I’ve worked in radio and advertising and telemarketing and network marketing and recruiting sales and website making and travel writing and parent blogging. I’ve sold everything from dismemberment insurance to massage packages. I’ve worked full-time and part-time and freelance and contract.

At the end of March, on Van Gogh’s birthday actually, I ended my last job, in part so that I can focus on calling myself an artist. A writer, really. My husband offered–or maybe agreed–to support us all financially in the meantime. The guilt of that decision has been weighing on me since we began considering it a few months back.

At the same time my job satisfaction deteriorated, Jared’s career flourished. It seemed the more I complained, the more money he made. Or maybe his success intensified my restlessness, envy swelling as I watched his confidence grow. My financial irrelevance was obvious, and I struggled to find another handhold of validation.

For his part, Jared thought it was “dumb” that I would keep doing something that didn’t make me happy when I didn’t have to. “Seriously Britt, I’ll just work a Saturday,” he’d say in his efforts to reassure me that, as a family, we’d be fine. Of course this just drove home the point that what I was doing didn’t matter.

It also drove home how much we’d come to depend on Jared, and that scared the hell out of me. What if something happened to him? I found myself obsessing over his health and safety. I spent hours researching things like insurance and investments online. What if? What if? What if?

What if this one person I had become so dependent on somehow failed me?

I was furious for getting myself into this situation. I was ashamed to even be thinking about taking advantage of it, leaning into it, solidifying my own vulnerability and worthlessness.

My brothers and I have said hundreds of times that we were raised by a single mom. Ironically, my mother has been married to someone for all of my and most of her adult life. She has been many things, but single was rarely one of them. And yet so absolute was her self reliance that in our collective ethos she remains a single mother. The story of her scrubbing motel toilets on her knees when she was 9-months pregnant with my brother is not one of shame but rather of pride and honor.

Thirty years after that motel job, her daughter is becoming a stay-at-home mom with no stay-at-home kids. A kept woman. An artist with a patron.

I don’t know how to wrap my arms around this privilege without also embracing my guilt in having it.

My hope is that in accepting my privilege I can find a way to use it for more than my own good. I have no idea yet what that might look like, and that uncertainty threatens to drive me crazy at times.

I don’t use that word lightly. This is something else Mr. Van Gogh and I share: a fragile center.

His life was dotted with breakdowns and hospital stays, and it was ended by a self-inflicted gunshot wound. In recent decades there’s been speculation about whether he really shot himself or if perhaps there was some kind of accident, but all the historians can agree on the real cause of death.

“Van Gogh lost his life to mental illness in 1890,” the wall said.

He was 37.

I am 36.

“He was like you!” my husband said.

“Yeah, I know,” I hung my head.

“I didn’t mean it like that,” he said, instantly sensing his mistake and the heaviness of what he’d merely said aloud.

“No, you’re right, I was thinking the same thing. Moved all the time, can’t hold a job, a little crazy.”

“I didn’t mean it like that,” he said again.

An hour later we emerged from the Special Exhibition weary, awed, and slightly depressed. It was impossible not to look at Van Gogh’s artistic brilliance through the filter of his own lack of fulfillment. He found a patron, but he never found a home or a love. He died without knowing he’d found his purpose.

Van Gogh at once personifies my deepest fear and greatest hope. Hindsight reveals his positive impact on mankind, but his personal journey ended in disappointment. He left a legacy, but was unhappy.

My latest transition to unemployment is immediately fueled by my search for individual happiness, but one of my most closest held beliefs is that ultimate happiness is linked to our ability to positively affect others. Our pursuit of happiness is our path to purpose. This artist’s sad demise and posthumous accomplishments might suggest otherwise. But isn’t it the tracks left by his constant searching that has touched the lives of millions in the last century?

Poor Vincent couldn’t know that it was always going to be about the search, the struggle.

I’ve tried to let this be a comfort, a reminder that the journey is the reward and all that nonsense. Selfishly, I hope to achieve what Van Gogh could not: a glimmer of resolution before I go.

Just for fun… all the fun I’ve had

A long, long time ago, I can still remember when we used to get real nerdy on the Internet and do these things called memes – and back then they weren’t pictures with words on them.

Someone posted this on Facebook today and I was scrolling through and remembering fondly many of these adventures big and small, so I thought I’d meet my write every day quota and share it here. :-)

(X ) Shot a gun – surprisingly, yes! I hate guns. Hate. When I was a kid, I lived with a man who used to clean his gun in the living room and talk about how easily he could kill someone from far away “and no one would know who it was.” Hate. But when I was on my RV trip, I decided that I was done being afraid of guns. I had been having these nightmares where I was being chased and I found a gun but it wouldn’t fire; I had no idea what to do with it or how to save myself. I found a gun range, got a lesson, and ironically learned I’m naturally a pretty good shot.

britt shooting a gun

Despite how happy I look in this picture, I don’t intend to ever handle a gun again.

( ) Gone on a blind date – God willing, I won’t ever have a reason or opportunity to check this one off my list.

(X) Skipped school - AND got busted for it. Technically I was skipping band practice before school, but it was still a VERY big deal. I was in fourth or fifth grade, and I never skipped school again.

(X) Watched someone die - more than once. It’s an honor to be there with someone when they die; it is also horribly painful to watch someone you love leave.

(X) Visited Canada - but not since I was a kid! I want to take the kids to Toronto, Montreal, and Quebec before Devin graduates.

( ) Visited Hawaii – I want to do this SO BAD. Someday.

( ) Visited Alaska - this is horrible, but I don’t really care if I ever go or not.

( ) Visited Cuba – I would love to, maybe someday when the visas aren’t outrageously expensive.

(X ) Visited Europe – it has been a very long time, however. I want to go to Paris with Jared and take Emma to Greece. I don’t know where Devin and I would like to go together.

( ) Visited South America - not yet!

(X) Visited Las Vegas – is this really even worth being on a list? I’ve been to Vegas a lot of times and it’s fun, but nothing life changing.

(X) Visited Central America - twice! Both times to Costa Rica. In fact, I just got back from there yesterday. :-)

( ) Visited Asia - oh how I want to see Thailand!

( ) Visited Africa - I’d love to go on a safari someday with Emma.

(X) Visited Florida - and liked it so much we moved there!

(X ) Seen the Grand Canyon in person - Devin and I want to go back and hike to the bottom and back out.

grand canyon

(X ) Flown in a plane - big ones and little ones. I definitely prefer the big ones.

( ) Served on a jury - I haven’t even been asked.

(X) Been lost - like, in life? In town? In my comforter? Yes to all of them.

(X ) Traveled to the opposite side of the country - Opposite of what? I’ve been to both coasts, so I guess that’s a yes.

(X) Visited Washington, DC – on the 4th of July, no less! It was magical and wonderful and made me proud to be American.

dc on the 4th of july
(X) Swam in the Ocean – two of them, and I’m #teamAtlantic all the way.

() Played cops and robbers - not that I can recall…

() Played cowboys and Indians - also, no. Where’s the question about playing office and school?

() Recently colored with crayons - I prefer colored pencils if I’m going old school.

(X ) Sang karaoke – obviously.

() Sang a solo or duet in church - not that I remember, but we did sing this one song at our Christmas pageant every year that made my mom cry. Something about all of us kids looking forward to the day we die and go meet Jesus. DARK.

() Paid for a meal with coins only - not that I can remember, which surprises me.

(X) Made prank phone calls - my stepsisters spent many summer nights going through the phone book and calling teen lines, pretending to be someone’s boyfriend’s new girlfriend. I don’t know why we thought that was so fun.

(X) Laughed until some beverage came out of your nose - sure, but to be honest at this point in my life I’m more likely to laugh until I pee.

(X) Caught a snowflake on your tongue - sure.

(X) Had children - twice. Lucky me. For real. The first time was so, so hard and so, so scary. The second time was magical.

devin and emma

(X) Had a pet - hamsters, birds, fish, dogs, cats, and now a guinea pig.

(X ) Been skinny-dipping - senior year camping trip. Funny story: my husband was there, too, but not with me. ;-)

(X) Been fishing - I hope everyone has done this! I can’t imagine growing up and not going fishing. Fishing to me will always remind me of my Papa, just like it will always remind my kids of theirs.

(X) Been boating - for us, that was part of fishing!

(X) Been downhill skiing - and fallen on my butt doing it.

(X) Been water skiing - and got so much water up my nose learning!

(X ) Been camping in a trailer/RV – ha! You could say that.

(X) Camping in a tent - many, many times.

( ) Driven a motorcycle - no, but I’ve ridden on one!

( ) Been bungee jumping - I almost did it this last trip to Costa Rica, but I didn’t feel right doing it without my family there. I didn’t feel right about taking a physical risk like that without them knowing or being there.

(X ) Gone to a drive- in movie – heck yes! I don’t think I ever made out at one though…

(X) Done something that could have killed you - childbirth. (It’s true, they make you sign papers saying you know that can happen!) Drinking and driving. Riding with a drunk driver. It makes me sick to think of the chances I took when I was young and stupid.

(X) Rode an elephant – actually, yes – and there was a picture of it in the newspaper. I think my grandma or my dad has the picture somewhere.

( ) Rode a camel - no. And what’s the thinking on this now? Is it OK or animal cruelty?

(X) Eaten just cookies or cake for dinner or ice cream - pfft. Amateur stuff. Talk to me when you’ve eaten a pan of brownies for breakfast.

(X) Been on TV – mostly recently on the news for my work as coordinator of my local Chamber of Commerce.

( ) Stolen any traffic signs - no. But I know where a bunch of them were stashed in a small Iowa town back in the 90s…

() Donated blood - I’ve never been able to.

(X) Gotten a piercing - ears, tongue, and belly button.

(X) Gotten a Tattoo - shoulder and hip, but I’ve been craving another one for ages! I just don’t know WHERE.

(X) Gone off road 4 wheeling – yes. I grew up in Iowa.

(X) Ever owned your dream car – that white Beretta with the sunroof sure felt like my dream car when I was 16.

(X) Been Married - for almost 16 years!

britt and jared

( ) Been Divorced - oooh, but so close.

(X) Fell in love - I was two years old the first time. I”m a big fan of love.

( ) Paid for a stranger’s meal - I don’t think so. This would be neat to do someday.

() Driven over 100 mph - no. I am way too scared to do something like that.

(X) Been scuba diving/snorkeling - snorkeling, and I’m not really a big fan. Yes, the fish are cool, but I constantly worry about water getting in my mouth or nose and I hate the taste of salt water.

(X) Written a published book/story/poem/article - yes, no, yes, and yes. The first time was when I was a junior in high school and it was a poem about getting my heart broken. So original!

(X) Eaten snails - so good!

(X) Rode in a Hot Air Balloon - yes; but not, ironically, when I attended the International Hot Air Balloon Festival.

(X) Rode in a helicopter - to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. With Emma. It was pretty cool. ;-)

helicopter ride

(X) Met a celebrity - yes, but not once compares to the time Prince sweat on me.

I love seeing lists like this because they remind me of all the amazing things I’ve been able to do. But it freaks me out a little too: I’m only 36 years old, and I don’t want my best adventures to be behind me! I hope there are unexpected surprises and cool opportunities still in store. But no matter what, i can already say I’ve had a really, really great life.