He was wearing this blue sweater and we were in our bedroom in 2015, and I just remember losing it. I have no memory of what we were arguing about, but I grabbed my car keys and drove off, thinking, “I guess it’s over. My relationship is over, and there’s nothing left to repair because I managed to end it. I killed it.”
I was steaming and my mind was racing, and I remember thinking, “How did I just allow that to happen? Where did that come from? How could I speak like that to somebody that I love so much? Someone that I want to share my life with, be in a relationship with, and consider my partner – how could I ever speak to someone like that?” I was in shock that even I could behave that way.
It was insulting to my own intelligence, and I was disgusted by myself. I drove around for at least an hour, so appalled by my own behavior. I thought, “l can’t behave like this if I ever want to have a relationship, or if I ever want to function in this world as a professional and have any respect. How could anyone respect me like this? I can’t even respect myself.”
That was it. That was the moment that I realized I couldn’t behave like this anymore.
I’m not one to respect boundaries - to me, boundaries are like moving targets. Whether it’s with my own personality or individuality, I’m always pushing the boundaries. Pushing the rules. But in this case, there was a line, and Alan [Waldman, of Waldman Horses] made it very clear that if we wanted to have a relationship, I couldn’t cross that line. And I think that was the last time that I did.
Communication has been a barometer for my mental health over the years. I don’t typically regret what I’ve said in a situation, because the actual words are usually true to my opinion or point of view. What I do regret, at times, is the delivery - the way I express that point of view. It’s something I continue to work on with myself, especially after I lost it with Alan. I have learned that I lose control in the expression of what I’m trying to get across, and it comes from pure frustration and not feeling heard or understood. I can go from a nice, happy tone to screaming and yelling, with my mind absolutely racing - and it happens quickly.
A few years ago I got into an argument on my jump field, and there were a lot of people around – for some reason I always manage to explode in front of a lot of people. I get to a point where I’m no longer yelling at the person, I’m yelling it to the world. Making a scene in front of other people didn’t make the other person look bad – it just made me look bad. The humiliation is only on me, and after these instances I’m left dealing with the shame of losing control. I would try to get people to understand the words that I was saying, but I would yell so loudly, how could they possibly listen? In my head the words were so nice and clear, and I would think, “Look how clearly I am laying this out for you, why aren’t you understanding me? Why are you reacting like I am saying totally different words?” It never matched, and that was so frustrating to me.
Even though these humiliating moments of losing my temper with people I loved and appreciated left me feeling frustrated, lost, and disconnected, it wasn’t quite the tipping point that made me truly turn inward and learn about myself.
The real impetus for learning more about how my brain worked came from my overwhelming inability to incorporate Alan’s two children into my life. My tipping point was having to come to terms with the idea that while motherhood wasn’t something that I had ever desired for myself, I would need to understand how to make space in my life for his daughters – the space that they deserved.
To me, having children meant giving up control of my life as well as my autonomy. It meant having to put their needs above my own, and that just wasn’t something that I was ready for.
I was really struggling. It was affecting everything in my life, and I was crying on a daily basis.
I just couldn’t get it together. I couldn’t figure out how to navigate my relationship with Alan, my professional relationship with colleagues, or my relationship with Alan’s two girls. While his kids were always great with me, and we have a good relationship, I needed to understand what it was about having kids in my life that was bothering me. I wanted to get a handle on what it was about my personality that made me not want kids, and to truly understand that piece of myself.
It was like a whole new part of me that I didn’t know how to deal with. It was a pressure that I had never felt, and I had no coping mechanisms.
I had been seeing my current therapist for more than a decade, but his suggestion to seek out personality testing really connected the dots that I didn’t realize I so desperately needed to understand.
The testing consisted of hours and hours of questionnaires and mind puzzles, and the result was essentially that I can be off putting to a lot of people because I’m tough, I’m not empathetic toward things, and I’m a bit macho. In my mind, I was like ‘This is great – this is exactly who I am!’ But then I would see people’s reactions to me - they wouldn’t want to work with me, they wouldn’t want to help me, they wouldn’t want to do business with me. Another thing that came out of the testing was the idea to take medication, and it helped tremendously. Medication in and of itself changes a lot - it changes the chemistry in your brain, and that affects a lot of your life, from how you see the world to how you function within it. Taking medication helped me to stabilize my actions and reduce my near-constant ruminations.
In Europe, taking medication is highly stigmatized – it’s just not something that people talk about. There is a real lack of education in the European system regarding the responsible use of medication, and an immediate negative connotation associated with being medicated. While I have been on the same medication for years, I have still had trouble getting it from my doctor at home in the Netherlands.
However, when medication is prescribed correctly, it is invaluable for rebalancing brain chemistry, and that’s what I saw happening with me. In conjunction with talk therapy, being put on medication changed everything in my life in a positive way, without any negative side effects.
In therapy, I started working on how to adjust my language, and how to get my point across so that I didn’t just explode if people weren’t understanding me. I started thinking of things in terms of, “I’m not getting the reaction that I want, I need to adjust” versus expecting everyone around me to adjust.
This was a pivotal realization for me, and I started to see and feel change.
I was beginning to navigate conversations with colleagues more calmly. I was starting to find more success in the sport. I was gaining respect from people whose respect I had lost, or whose respect I’d never had. There were also a lot of reparative conversations with people that I’d had trouble with in the past, during which I apologized for past behavior, owned up to mistakes I had made, and communicated that I was trying to do it differently. A lot of those conversations happened.
And, if I’m really honest, Alan also aided in many of those conversations, as he was better colleagues with many of these people. I was also going to horse shows by myself, and started to communicate again with people. It was a slow process.
Around the same time, I started to change my hair and play with my identity as to who I wanted to present to the world as a professional. That was the beginning of the colored hair, the feathers, everything – and while we continue to adapt and change over time, that solidified my identity. It felt good that my outside matched my inside - another way that I could communicate effectively to the world around me.
I’ve learned that you can’t be abrasive - or you can, but you end up isolating yourself, which is exactly what happened. I was abrasive, and I was gruff, and I was not a polished adult – I was an angsty young adult, and there was no worldliness to that.
I may not remember what Alan and I were fighting about all those years ago, but I remember how it made me feel, and I remember that it was my catalyst for change. That argument pushed me to learn more about myself, and to better control my impulses. I learned to look at situations from a calmer place, and from there, I’ve been able to create more success in all aspects of my life.
I’m still changing. It’s a daily thing I work on. This was not a short, quick fix. This was hours and hours of therapy and understanding. Hours of personality testing. Lots of having bad conversations and going home and thinking about them.
Change takes practice. It takes forethought. And it takes patience.
As told to Maressa Taylor-Levy
Illustration by Shayla Bond