Published on June 19th, 2013 | by Becky Castle Miller
The Time I Didn’t Fall Apart
Before I can tell you about the time I fell apart, I have to tell you about the time I didn’t: my wedding day.
The getaway car was full of blue and white balloons. After surviving a gauntlet of confetti and bubbles, I wedged myself into the car amongst the balloons and burst into tears.
My brand new husband was horrified. So was I. Matthew wondered, wasn’t I happy about marrying him? Wasn’t I excited about our upcoming adventures together?
I had no answers for him or for myself. All I could identify was a vague sense of tragedy, which made no sense in this happy ending. “The wedding wasn’t perfect,” I tried to explain to both of us. “I didn’t get to say goodbye to everyone.” But those details couldn’t explain my hyperventilating sobs.
Matthew questioned me, panicked. Had he done something wrong?
Realizing I was coming across as rejecting him, so very unintentionally, I wrenched the spigots shut on my tears. I swallowed the lump in my throat till it joined the knotted unease in my gut, and I swore I was fine. Just tired and overwrought.
I told him I was okay, and I tried hard to believe it myself. I had no idea what was wrong with me, what kind of ungrateful person I was for crying on this day that people said should be my happiest.
I chose the easy path, though I didn’t realize that at the time. Instead of self-examination and health, I chose to ignore myself, and it was the death of my heart. I stopped crying in that moment, and I didn’t cry again for years.
We drove toward our future, away from my home, away from my family, away from my church and my community. I drove away from an unresolved past relationship, from my friends, from my sense of belonging, and I saw none of this in the rearview mirror. I only looked ahead, ignoring all the baggage behind me.
Six years later, in 2009, I journeyed back to my hometown for a family reunion. I had lived the in-between years in a flurry of advancements and accumulation, adding jobs and skills to my resume and furniture and children to our home. I never stopped to think and reflect; I just knew that every time I saw my wedding album, I felt sad, and that never made sense. So I ignored it again.
I knew I had to go home for this reunion. I had moved twenty-plus times as a military kid, so “home” was a nebulous concept, but this little town in Missouri was the before-and-after of all the wandering: the place I had come as a newborn and the place I left after high school.
My parents, who had recently moved their nest to another state, were returning to see my grandmother and called back their three baby birds. One of my brothers had just completed a military deployment, the other was newly engaged, and I was halfway across the country with the first grand-and-great-grandchildren.
I knew I had to go home, but I dreaded it. I both guessed and feared that the tangled reasons behind those wedding-day tears waited to be unraveled. And I had to face it all alone, because my husband wasn’t able to go with me due to work.
So I went, with a panic attack on the way to the airport and wordless prayers by my hotel room bed after I arrived.
I’ve never had a broken bone, but I’ve heard that if a bone breaks and isn’t set, it can heal crooked. The only solution is to re-break it so it can then heal straight.
I never acknowledged—even to myself—how much of a broken heart I had, and I think a broken heart must be like a femur or a tibia. I had ignored the break when it happened, hadn’t treated it, and it had healed crooked. I had been living with an emotional limp.
On the night of the reunion, all those things I had left behind six years before converged in one place: my family, my home, my friends, my community, unanswered questions from a painful relationship, and the belonging I’d been unknowingly homesick for.
In that desperate moment, the losses struck me again, a blow right to the crooked part of my heart, splitting it wide open. I (literally) ran away from the party, away from the people, away from the pain. And for the first time in years, I cried. Head in my hands, tears and snot everywhere.
This time I didn’t stop. Not that night, or the next day, or the following week. I cried, nearly every day, for three months.
The tears weren’t the end of the pain, but they were the beginning of the healing.
When I couldn’t stop crying after months and months, I started seeing a counselor. She gave me a name for that moment of falling apart, the inciting incident in my story about healing: an emotional breakdown. And she helped diagnose my ongoing struggle: clinical depression.
I still don’t know if postpartum / postnatal depression lead to my breakdown, or if the breakdown lead to depression. But I do know that during the long, difficult slog through depression’s darkness, I dug back into every broken place in my heart, and they began to heal, properly this time.
I finally discovered the answer to those wedding-day questions. Why was I crying? It was grief, and a natural reaction to grief is tears.
I had never allowed myself those tears and that grief. So when it all came rushing back, it hit me with an impact like it had just happened. Worse, even, because pain has a way of intensifying when it’s denied and delayed.
The number one step I took toward climbing up again was actually breaking down. Allowing myself to fall apart, to feel what I was feeling, to cry, and to grieve was the healthiest thing I could have done.
If you can’t give yourself permission to cry, I hope you’ll allow me to give it to you. May your fall be the start of your own healing.
To comment on this article and read more on the topic, see Becky’s blog post Handling Homesickness and Grief When You Move
Photo by Tsu Nimh via Stock.Xchng