Divorce and the Mental Fog

A side-effect of long-term emotional turmoil.

I should start off by saying a few things.

Even though my husband cheated on me, lied to me, asked for a divorce on my birthday, locked me out of my home and hangar, and, with his mommy/girlfriend has subjected me to all kinds of harassment since I discovered his infidelity in August, I still love him.

How could I not still love him? We were together for 29 years. That’s more than half of our lives. You can’t suddenly stop loving someone you’ve invested your whole emotional being into.

At least I can’t.

He apparently can.

And that’s one of the things that I’m having so much trouble with. I can’t understand how a man who spent half of his life with me, a man who built four separate homes with me over the years, a man who cried in my arms when his father died, a man who traveled and laughed and learned and experienced so much with me — I can’t imagine how that man can simply flick a switch and begin hating me as he so obviously does. How else could a man subject his life partner to the things he’s put me through since May, when he first began looking for my replacement on an online dating site?

How?

The First Two Months

It’s been nearly eleven months since he asked for a divorce at the end of June, ruining my birthday forever with a phone call when I honestly half-expected a surprise visit. After all, he had been coming to see me at my summer job site on my birthday — even when it seriously inconvenienced me — almost every one of the previous four years. We’d been talking only a few weeks before about him coming to spend the summer with me. We’d been talking about which car he’d bring when he drove up with our dog. And where he’d work. I’d even begun making room in my closets and dresser for his things. And had bought new pillows to replace the wimpy ones I had.

At first, I didn’t believe he really wanted a divorce. I figured that something had happened, something had pushed him to say something to shock me — as I tried so many times to shock him out of the malaise that had overwhelmed him for nearly a year, turning him into a moody stranger. I knew even that day that the divorce wasn’t entirely his idea. I knew that he wasn’t willing to face life on his own, that he wouldn’t cut ties with me after a 29-year relationship unless there was a Plan B.

I asked him whether there was another woman and he said no. It was a lie, but I believed him. I’d never lie to him; I couldn’t imagine him lying to me.

I asked him to come see me, to talk to me in person. I offered to pay his airfare. He arranged a trip two weeks later. Obviously, there was no urgency on his part. That should have tipped me off, too.

When we met, he lied to me again. To my face. Multiple times. He watched me cry. He held me while I cried. He cried, too. Yet he seemed resolute. He wanted a divorce. Even when I showed him a wonderful piece of property where I thought we could make a summer home together, he didn’t seem interested in a future with me.

I asked to settle when I got home in September or October. I never told him not to file — as his lawyer suggested in court just a few weeks ago. I never dreamed he would go after the fruits of my labor — the things I had worked my entire life to accumulate and achieve: my investments, my business assets and savings, my personal assets. I thought he understood the meaning of the word “fair.” I thought he was ethical. I thought he had moral standards.

In other words, I thought he was the man I’d fallen in love with, a good man who knew the difference between right and wrong.

Understand that I still didn’t know he was lying to me. I didn’t know that the good man I’d fallen in love with was dead, shoved over a cliff by a desperate old woman who’d stolen his heart with promises and lies and old lingerie photos, eager to capture a new man so she wouldn’t have to grow old alone.

Throughout the first two months, I still had some measure of hope that our relationship could be mended. He didn’t want to be alone. We’d been though so much together. Surely this could be fixed up when I got home.

This idea was reinforced by a good friend of mine where I was living in Washington. He kept telling me that marriages are hard work, that I could make things work when I got home.

I didn’t know at the time that my husband had called him in July and had told him that he still loved me. My friend misunderstood the message and gave me all kinds of false hope.

The fact that my husband still hadn’t filed for divorce simply reinforced that hope. Not filing convinced me that he wasn’t serious — at least not yet. There was still hope that we’d resolve our problems.

At least that’s what I thought at the time.

Emotional Turmoil

Still, my mind was in turmoil. I was trapped in Washington for my summer work, unable to do anything about fixing the problem at home. I missed a deadline on the book I was working on because I was so caught up in my marital problems. And although I’d asked my husband not to contact me about the divorce or settlement for a while, he emailed, asking if I’d given it any thought. I replied that I thought we were going to wait.

That made the situation worse. I couldn’t understand what his hurry was. He’d told me there wasn’t anyone else. Why was he so eager to settle?

It didn’t make sense. He hadn’t filed for divorce yet. How could he possible expect me to settle? What the hell was going on?

The mental turmoil got even worse when he stopped returning my email messages and phone calls and texts. He was actively ignoring me.

It was in mid-August that I discovered that he’d hired a lawyer. I called him to ask him about it. I had to ring the phone at least five times before he picked up. He was rude and angry. He denied hiring a lawyer.

And that’s when I started crying. That’s when I realized that he was lying to me and had been lying all along. If he’d lied about that, what else was he lying about?

A little more fishing later that evening and I found out about the woman he’d been seeing since at least June — before he asked for a divorce.

Yes, he was too cowardly to leave me without having a Plan B. A 64-year-old desperate and vindictive bitch he met online was his Plan B. He was throwing away a 29-year relationship and financial security for a woman 8 years older than him who had some sort of decorating business advertised on the Web and was deeply underwater in a home that had two mortgages on it. A woman who was likely attracted to him because he owned three homes, a plane, and a Mercedes — and his wife owned a helicopter.

My mental turmoil went into full-swing when I made these discoveries — although I didn’t know her age and realize that their relationship was a baby/mommy thing until much later. It suddenly became clear that he hadn’t filed for divorce because he knew I made 90% of my income over the summer and was depositing money in my business bank accounts quite steadily. The more I deposited, the more they’d be able to get their hands on. Every time he forwarded me a check, his mommy/girlfriend probably thought cha-ching! I went into a panic. I was 1,200 miles away and I needed to file for divorce before I put any more of my hard-earned money at risk.

I clearly remember sitting at an outdoor cafe in Wenatchee early on a Monday morning, making phone calls to lawyers in Phoenix. My hands were shaking as I dialed one number after another. I finally got someone interested in talking to me. I hired him and got the wheels turning.

Four days later, at 7:30 AM, the process server turned up at my husband’s mommy/girlfriend’s house to serve him with papers. She slammed the door in his face, claiming my husband didn’t live there.

But he was there. I know he was. Yet another lie.

The emotional roller coaster I was on was still climbing the first really big hill.

A Different Person

It was around this time that my friends began noticing a very dramatic change in me. During the first two months — before I knew about the lies and the girlfriend, back when I thought there was still hope — I was sad but mellow about my divorce. I didn’t talk much about it because there really wasn’t much to talk about. I didn’t get very emotional. I just went on with my life, struggling in private to stay focused on the book I needed to finish, but otherwise keeping my marital woes to myself. I stayed on my diet, hoping the new, slim me would help energize the physical part of our relationship, the part that had grown cold in our final months together.

But when I discovered his lies and infidelity and their obvious plans to take as much from me as they could, I became unbearably weepy. I couldn’t understand how he could do this to us. (And I still can’t.) I needed to talk things out and there were very few people who would listen. I became a different person — not the strong, upbeat person they knew but a weak, tearful basket case who cried randomly throughout the day. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t go a few hours without breaking down into tears. Many of my local friends simply couldn’t deal with it. This made matters worse for me because I needed a shoulder to cry on and the shoulders I thought were available didn’t want to get wet with my tears.

It was the utter betrayal that was killing me inside. Knowing that the man I loved could lie to me, steal from me, and be so completely heartless after 29 years of life together.

It was around then that I started blogging vaguely about my situation. I’m glad I did. I managed to record most of my thoughts and feelings about what I was going through as I was going through it. The sadness, the anger, the confusion. Without those blog posts, I wouldn’t have a clear memory of how I felt.

Although I didn’t realize it, I had entered a mental fog.

The Mental Fog

Last month I was chatting with a friend about how I was feeling. After months of shocking developments and harassment that had trapped me on an emotional roller coaster, I had become somewhat dulled to the situation I was in. Yes, I was still in pain and I still cried a lot more often than what I think is healthy. But I had become able to talk about specific things that had happened without getting all worked up.

For example, yes, I’d found the locks in my Wickenburg house changed when I got home in September. Even though he was living with his mommy/girlfriend in Scottsdale and had a condo in Phoenix, he had tried to lock me out of my only home. It took me many, many months to even think about the cruelty of that one deed without crying. But now I could think and even tell people about it without shedding a tear. It was as if my mind had build a mental scab around that particular wound.

My friend told me that when she got divorced years ago, she’d entered a “mental fog.” Although she couldn’t really describe it, I immediately knew what she meant. And I knew that in certain times of my life — times when I wasn’t focused on something important to me like flying or driving or writing or having a good conversation with a friend — I was in a mental fog.

I thought about it one day and jotted down the symptoms I’ve experienced:

  • Feeling numb after months of riding an emotional roller coaster. There have been many ups and downs over the past eleven months. They’ve filled me with devastating sadness or euphoric joy — and all kinds of emotions in between. After a while, however, a sort of numbness sets in. Sometimes I’m not even sure what I’m feeling.
  • Acting on autopilot. In other words, I was doing things without thinking about them. Things like preparing meals, cleaning the house, and traveling to visit friends and family members.
  • Not fully aware of my surroundings. I don’t go here very often, but when I’m in a serious emotional state of mind — especially when I haven’t slept much — the fog completely surrounds me and I tune out the details of where I am. This often happens when I’m working with my lawyer and I get a flash from the past that reminds me of how good things used to be. It certainly happened in court on May 7 when I broke down in tears from the pain of seeing him sitting on the other side of the court, my enemy after 29 years of a loving relationship.

The mental fog is what makes it difficult to remember so many of the things I did or thought during this difficult time. I think it’s a defense mechanism that the mind automatically puts in place to defend itself. I think of it as surrounding myself in a cocoon of soft pillows before being bounced off of hard walls. The mental fog deadens the pain.

No Flying in the Fog

I should mention here that there is no mental fog at all when I can focus on something that has nothing to do with my situation. I’m talking about reading and writing, having conversations with friends, performing difficult tasks that require my concentration.

Wahweap Hoodoos
Flying over the Wahweap Hoodoos on a solo cross-country flight from Seattle, WA to Page, AZ in September 2010.

Of all the things I do to keep my mind off my divorce woes, flying is the best. When I fly, I focus on every detail of the flight, using my senses to accumulate information about the situation and using my mind to evaluate input and make decisions.

Looking at the aircraft during preflight, monitoring the instruments, seeing where I’m flying.

Listening to the sound of the engine on startup and warmup and in flight, hearing the odd sound of a strong wind in the mast and cowling while idling on the ground, hearing the blades slap at 80 knots.

Smelling engine exhaust when warming up on the ramp with the door open and a slight tailwind, smelling the heat on the rare instances when I use it.

Touching various components I can’t see on preflight, feeling for unseen leaks, feeling the controls in my hand and the way the helicopter responds to my inputs, feeling the force of the wind when picking up into a hover, feeling the shudder of the aircraft when going through a wind shear, feeling the motion of the aircraft when riding turbulence.

If there was something to taste, I’d taste it, too.

The experience of being at the controls of my helicopter is a joyful release from whatever else is going on. When I’m flying, there is no betrayal by a man I love, no ruined relationship, no desperate old woman sleeping beside my husband while itching to get into the home I made with the man I love. There’s only the amazing machine and sky around me, the ever-changing terrain below, and a feeling a freedom that can’t be beat.

I wish I could fly more often.

Other Emotions

Beyond the mental fog, I am feeling emotions I can clearly identify.

One of them is a weariness that periodically drags me down. Specifically:

  • I’m tired of having to explain myself to people who should understand. This is mostly the “get over it” crowd who have been through a similar situation and have worked through their own emotions, yet don’t have the patience to watch me work through mine. I’m also tired of having to explain why I’m fighting in court — that the simple fact is if I gave him what he’s been demanding since September, I would be financially ruined and unable to face myself in the mirror. Yes, I know the only ones who win are the lawyers. I thought my husband knew that, too. But apparently his mommy/girlfriend, who has been controlling his side of the divorce since November, doesn’t understand this. I sometimes wonder if it’s his money or hers that she’s pissing away on legal fees.
  • I’m tired of dealing with lies and misrepresentations. This is coming from their side of the divorce. After eleven months, they’re still lying and misrepresenting the events of the case. This came to a head recently with what I call “The Garage Fiasco,” where they lied and attempted to bully their way into the garage of our home to get their hands on some papers. (Blog post to come.) When will the lies end? How has dishonesty become a way of life for this man? Is that what she taught him?

But there are also positive emotions, most of which I’ve been experiencing recently:

  • Relief that the end is in sight. They managed to delay the court date until April by claiming that they needed more information to evaluate my business but then they failed to do any sort of information-gathering. This proves to me that it was all a ploy to delay things. I think he believed he could wear me down and I’d give in. (I’m not sure where he got that idea; he should know me better. Perhaps his mommy/girlfriend convinced him that I’d give up and go away. What the hell does she know about me?) But with half the trial done and the last court date less than 2 weeks away, I can clearly see an end to this ordeal. And that makes me feel good.
  • Hope that the justice system can be fair. I can’t say much more about this — at least not now. But case law gives me hope that the judge can do what’s right and fair for this situation.
  • My New View
    Having a view like this out the window of my home is something I can really look forward to.

    Positive feelings about my future. Remember that piece of land I mentioned earlier in this blog post? Well, it’s still there and it’s still waiting for me. It’s a 10-acre parcel high on a hillside, overlooking the Columbia River and Wenatchee Valley. It’s private and quiet but only a 15-minute drive into a great little city with everything a person could want or need. Seattle is 30 minutes away by airline or 2-1/2 hours by car. I’ve already drawn up plans for a hangar home that will house my helicopter, RV, and vehicles — for the first time since 1997, every one of my possessions will be under one roof. I’m looking forward to being able to fly from my home, have a garden, and keep bees for honey and wax. Maybe even have chickens and horses again. Best of all: I don’t have to deal with sour looks when I do something my “life partner” doesn’t like but lacks the communication skills to verbally object to. In other words: life without someone holding me back because he’s too fearful to move forward or really enjoy life.

  • Hope that what comes around, goes around. Yes, I’m talking about karma. I don’t believe in karma, but everyone tells me that it exists and is real. They all assure me that the lying, cheating bastard the man I love became will get his in the end. Frankly, I’m hoping that it comes in the form of his mommy/girlfriend having a stroke and him having to change her diapers every day. That’ll serve him right. I can say with certainly that just living with an evil, vindictive woman who lies and does cruel things to others to get what she wants should be enough punishment for any man. (It’s still so difficult to believe he’d wind up with someone like that, but beggars can’t be choosers, I guess. Their mutual desperation is likely what brought them together.)

The mental fog is lifting and what I see ahead of me is so much better than what I left behind.

8 thoughts on “Divorce and the Mental Fog

  1. Maria,

    Like so many people, I’ve been through a horrible break-up. So I have some idea of what you’re going through. So many of us have been there.

    It’s never easy. And you are still suffering. But I think you are doing great, and you will get through it, and *will* be totally happy again.

    But it takes time. It’s only been about a year now. I’m guessing you feel a lot better now than you did a few months ago. And a few months from now you will feel better yet.

    It’s not easy. There will still be hard times ahead, and times when you will want to cry and *will* cry.

    Some day though, you will wake up and realize that whatever it was that kept you in the “fog” is gone. You will no longer care about what he’s doing now. Or why he’s doing it. And why he did what he did. Sometime soon you will see that it doesn’t really matter.

    It might take awhile, but knowing the kind of person you are (based on reading your blog for (I think it’s been two years now) it is something that you will recover from, and be happy again. I know you will.

    That day is coming, and it’s coming soon.

    • I so agree with Christian. I know it’s true myself having been through a gut-wrenching, incredibly hurtful divorce myself. As I’ve discussed with you privately and elsewhere online, I have had such a rich, great, life since my divorce.

      Ending such a longterm relationship is full of millions of emotions, and it’s so painful and challenging, as I know so well myself. That mental fog is something I remember and know so well, and I do feel it’s a protective measure to help us cope and get through an overwhelmingly painful ordeal. The sunlight will continue to melt it away.

      Another great article, Maria.

      • Thanks, Shirley. It’s funny about the mental fog. I didn’t really think much about it until my friend used that phrase. She really pinpointed what I was feeling and going through. When she mentioned it I said to myself, “Oh that’s what’s going on.” It all made sense.

        The blog post was my effort to not only document this feeling and the reasons for it, but to enlighten others who may be going through similar ordeals. I really do think it’s the mind’s defensive mechanism. I think it works, at least to a certain extent. My problem is that I was fighting it, trying so hard to keep things clear. But once I realized that the fog is my friend, I let it do its job. The numbness really helps get me through each difficult day.

  2. I asked you earlier why you never confronted the ex’s room mate as to why he had such a dislike for you. You never responded (no assumptions taken). I am now asking why you never took the sour looks and seething unhappiness of the previous year from your ex more personally? It’s always easier for others to see our patterns, myself included.

    • I tried very hard to communicate with my future ex-husband when it was so obvious that he was unhappy. But, in my defense, I mistakenly thought the main source of his unhappiness was his dead-end job. Communication completely broke down between us, and it became impossible to discuss such things. It’s quite apparent now that he had several problems with me: he was jealous of my success and freedom, he was afraid to confront me with things I did that made him unhappy, and he wanted something from our relationship that he was unable to communicate. Communication and my husband’s ever-growing weakness is what ultimately killed our relationship. He found another woman — a strong woman who was willing to hold his hand and prop him up as he continued through life. My mistake was that I didn’t want to hold his hand and treat him like a child; I wanted to treat him like the strong man he’d been when we met so many years ago.

  3. Seems odd that that you would describe yourself as being “seriously inconvenienced” when your husband came to visit you on your birthday. Maybe more to this story…

    • There’s a lot more to this story. Many of the blog posts tagged “divorce” touch upon it.

      When my husband came to see me in Washington, he didn’t come as my husband. He came as a high-maintenance house guest who expected my undivided attention for the length of his stay. He never asked when it would be best for him to come; he just usually showed up around my birthday, making his visit my birthday present. Trouble is, I often worked on books over the summer — books with very tight deadlines. He’d show up expecting me to do things for him when I really needed to be sitting in front of my computer, churning out pages. Even his last birthday visit was difficult. I managed to finish the book while he was there, but the first time we went on a day trip, I was called by a panicking editor and had to rush home to my RV office to make a fix. Then, by the time I was ready to do things with him, it was time for him to go.

      Do you really think that’s a good time to visit? Or a good birthday present? The stress was very bad. Yet all he had to do was wait a few weeks to visit me. I didn’t NEED to see him on my birthday. I WANTED to see him when I could spend time with him and enjoy his visit — and help him to enjoy it, too.

      It’s this failure to understand the reality of a situation — this insistence that he was doing me a favor by coming for that particular day even when I was so busy doing other things — that really annoyed the hell out of me. Looking back on it now, I realize that the man was in his own little world, oblivious to the REAL needs of others. Instead of being a communicative, understanding mate, he listened with half an ear and did whatever he thought might be right.

      Yes, there’s more to the story. Lots more.

What do you think?