35 | The Full Helping

Those of you who have been reading for a while know that I usually post some reflections on my birthday; it’s become an annual tradition that allows me to reflect a little on the terrain of the past twelve months.

I guess it’s no surprise that this year’s birthday post is permeated by heartache. My feelings about the breakup are less raw than they were when I first mentioned it a couple months ago, but I’ve been surprised by how non-linear the healing process is. A wise friend described this to me as “emotional weather,” and I can’t think of a better way of summing up how I’ve been feeling. There have been breaks in the clouds–moments of clarity and insight, moments of strength, glimpses of an open horizon in front of me–but there are still a lot of stormy days and weeks. It’s hard to predict how long they’ll last or how turbulent they’ll be.

One upside of this–and with having weathered depression last spring–is that I’ve developed a capacity to flow with ups and downs. A year ago at this time, I truly couldn’t predict when anxiety or dark moods were going to swoop in and take me out of commission for a couple days. I learned how not to panic when it happened and how to stand back up when the spell had passed. This took practice. Coming back to life after a tough bout meant resisting my own tendency to write a story about how things would never get better. It meant having faith that, if I could stop tensing up against the sadness, I’d find myself in a different place sooner or later.

I draw upon that faith all the time these days, in a different context. I have faith that I won’t always feel bereft in the way I do right now; that at some point I’ll start to be able to visualize the future again–and maybe it will be a more flexible and accommodating vision than some of the ones I’ve concocted in the past. I’m all too prone to clinging to expectations about how my life will shape up, in spite of the fact that experience invites me time and time again to loosen the grip.

That’s been one of the hardest parts of this breakup: admitting to myself how much I’d come to count on the relationship and its place in my future. I’ve always prided myself on independence and autonomy, always thought of myself as someone who would know how to guard against becoming too reliant on someone else. What a surprise it is to realize how badly I wanted to merge. I’m still so angry at the relationship for having made me aware of this longing for companionship that I didn’t even know I had. Cracks in the foundation must have been very deep for things to have ended the way they did, but I didn’t see it coming, at least not until the very end, and that’s partly because I didn’t want to.

I know that the wound will heal and that time will help me to better understand the loss. I hope that this relationship and its rupture will ready me for a different and more fulfilling experience of partnership one day. I’m not there yet. I’m still grieving, still working to understand, still cycling in and out of regret and self-admonishment. I tell myself that the regret is pointless, but that doesn’t stop it from showing up. It does allow me to not be engulfed by it, and that’s something.

And of course, there have been shifts. There always are. In the last month especially I’ve found myself getting physically stronger. Back in March and April the mourning process seemed to have lodged in my body; I felt so weighted down and heavy with inertia (a feeling I recognize well from depression). I’m moving quicker these days, more purposefully. Sleep is still unpredictable, but I have more energy. This sensation of my body springing back to life reminds me a lot of anorexia recovery, when I regained physical strength before my spirit had healed. It gives me hope; it tells me that the process is underway.

Three years ago on my birthday, I wrote about switching directions after I didn’t get into medical school. It was a very different experience and type of loss, but back then, just as now, I found myself adapting to things not turning out the way I’d planned. I left that experience deeply humbled. I’d entered the post-bacc with a lot of confidence in my own intellect and work ethic and drive, only to realize that I was chasing a dream to which my ego was very well suited, but my mind and spirit were not.

I’m feeling humbled in a different way today–not intellectually, but in my heart. In the last year I’ve come to realize how deep is my craving for connection. I’ve been able to admit that what I called “commitment-phobia” in the past was in fact a form of guarding against my own hunger for intimacy. I’ve had to rely on loved ones in a way I couldn’t imagine doing only a few years ago–asking for support without any pretense of being able to tough it out on my own. I’m thirty-five years old today, and I still have a lot to learn about relationships and love. But the learning process is happening all the time.

It’s still hard for me to open up about this breakup in person, even to friends. Many of the things people have said to me in a spirit of consolation have inadvertently hurt my feelings or made me feel worse, which is nobody’s fault. I’m hypersensitive right now, and anyway, what’s the “right” thing to say about the loss of love? We all know how painful it is and that time tends to be the best healer. For now, being able to write about the experience has been a tremendous source of relief, so I’m more grateful than ever for this space.

If this year has taught me anything, it’s how not to things for granted. I say “thank you”–to myself, out loud, in prayer, in writing–every day, often many times over, for things big and small. I’m thankful for everyday sensations, like cool breeze on my body when I step outside in the morning, sun on my face as the weather warms up, or stretching my limbs in bed when I wake up. I’m thankful for the pleasure and nourishment of food, such an anchor in my life. I’m thankful for the goodness of people around me, for the generosity of strangers, for the patience of family and friends. I’m thankful for laughter, music, and words. I’m thankful to live in this body of mine. I could go on and on, but you get the idea.

That’s 35. It’s not the post I thought I’d be writing this year, but then, these posts never really are. And I’m finally coming to understand that there’s nothing wrong with that.

With love and thanks,


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Categories: Food and Healing

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  1. Really a heart touching blog that I have read in a while. Made me tearful after reading this. Be brave and I am hoping to see many much more blogs, articles from your side

  2. Happy birthday to you! Thanks for sharing all this with us, I love your honesty and insights…in all your posts! I’m turning 35 in January, can’t believe it. Even though I haven’t gone through a break-up, I still find many similarities in your words. Sending hugs! Wishing you the most wonderful year ahead.

  3. Thank you for sharing this. I also saw the end of a relationship earlier this year that I thought would last forever, and have been shell-shocked. I get better every day, but I also get caught in small, momentary pinpricks of pain every day. What you have written here… it all feels very similar.

  4. Sending a big virtual hug and belated happy birthday your way. I appreciate you being able and willing to share your experience of learning and growing here; you are helping so many and so much of what you’ve been sharing in the last few months, though different than my own situation, resonates so much.

  5. I happen to find this post when I am in a very similar situation myself. Interesting how that works.

    I can say that I feel your pain (literally). Gena, one thing I have learned is that time will heal the ailments of life. This message is just as much for me as it is for you. Simply be patient while the pain heals and appreciate the simple and good things in life. You will become a stronger person with valuable experience that will help you for the rest of your life.

  6. Oh my gosh, Gena. First and foremost, happy birthday to you! Next: This post is so honest and profound, and comes at at time particularly relevant for me, as I’m in the process of recovering from a divorce. I relate to many of the points you’ve touched on, since, like you, the space where my marriage used to be is still raw and tender. I do love your reflection in flexibility and resilience as compared to last year, and that you don’t hesitate to acknowledge the ways your body, mind, and soul are becoming stronger despite this turbulence. That, I think, is a measure of progress and growth, and a sign of your potential to heal and thrive. I’m sending you lots of good vibes and best wishes for a wonderful 35th year!

  7. Happy Birthday Gena, I hope you had a lovely day and I’m sorry to hear the news. I’m sending you nice thoughts and I hope you have a lovely week ahead.

  8. Happy- or rather, content? Peaceful? Accepting?- birthday, Gena. Like so many others here, I am grateful for the time and insight you’ve put into this blog over the years, regarding food, as well as your development as a human (I recognize myself in your posts sometimes) and the world we all inhabit. <3

  9. Happy birthday!
    Your writing has echoes of Murakami for me. So simply written, but beautifully woven. I truly hope that you turn your hand to fiction some day.

    • I’ll co-sign on this comment – I would LOVE to read a formal novel from you (fiction or non, no preference), Gena!!

  10. thank you so much for being just who you are and not being afraid to put yourself out there
    I hear you
    take good care of yourself and wishing you a happy birthday [all the way from israel]

  11. Thank you so much for sharing these beautifully poignant, intimate pieces. I can’t tell you how many time over the years I’ve been moved and inspired by your writing, and how comforting it is to read something I can relate so well to–in so many different ways. Best of luck in this journey, and happiest of birthdays to you!

  12. Happy Birthday, Gena. This is a beautiful & honest reflection & something that resonates with me so deeply, as I’ve been struggling with an intense heartbreak myself. As you mentioned, it is not a linear process. It comes & goes in waves. It takes time, courage, & hope. Healing will come, eventually. Wishing you a beautiful year ahead & sending you so much love. xx

  13. Happy Birthday! I hope you make yourself a delicious vegan cake. One of the most difficult things I have ever endured (aside from quitting smoking) was to move out of a five year relationship (as in yes, we lived together) and back into my parents home (!) around the age of 30. That was 20 years ago and I still tell myself it was the best thing I ever did. I have a wonderful life with a wonderful husband that is truly compatible and rewarding. Make that wish!

  14. I’m always so moved by your posts, Gena, and this one is no exception. Thank you, as always, for your courage and for putting this blog out there. I’m hoping for better days for you. Wishing you a Happy Birthday.

  15. I’m thankful for your blog and your honesty. I hope you had a very happy birthday and I wish you all the best in the year ahead!

  16. Happy Birthday Gena! You most definitely will move on from this breakup heart ache and will find an amazing relationship that will bring you the support and fulfillment you deserve. As you (and all of us) are getting older and wiser, it may be time to shift the thinking and ask yourself – what do I need, rather than what do I want. This clarity will deliver just you wait and see! … Some sage advice from an older and wiser lady who has been broken hearted in her day. Sending lots of love!

  17. Beautiful post, Gena. An honor to read, so eloquent and honest.. Happy Birthday, Dear Heart. It’s my honor to call you my friend. xoxo

  18. Happy birthday you amazing, insightful, beautiful human being. I’ve never met you, but I feel like I have by how honestly you write. Two years ago, my first love broke up with me out of the blue after almost two years of dating. I was devastated and I honestly wasn’t able to think of him without wincing until a few months ago. I woke up, saw some random social media notification from him and laughed…and realized that I had actually moved on. That doesn’t mean I still don’t reminisce on moments we had together and miss them…but I have healed. It’s possible and it takes waaaaay more time than you’d want. But, one day, it’ll happen out of the blue <3

  19. Wishing you a beautiful birthday! 35 was a hard one for me too (it seems to be universally the case for most people), but I can absolutely tell you that things get better and better on the other side of 35. Thank you for your wonderful words and heartfelt honesty.

  20. I’m on a break as a read this, one that was hard to take because I didn’t accomplish what I wanted in my last work period but I did it anyway. In part, because it was time for a snack. But mostly, because one of the most valuable things you taught me was to take breaks even when I don’t feel like I need them. To conserve and nurture my energy. To go with the ebbs and flows.

    I am a changed & better person because of having known you, both digitally and IRL. More compassionate and understanding of my limitations (and others’), less judgmental & more open around food (this snack = a mini meal, another thing you taught me), and more trusting that it is all working out. So often I quote to myself things you’ve said to me, little quips and reminders I’m not even sure you meant as such.

    The happiest of birthdays m’dear. Thank you for being your fabulous, complex, vulnerable, open, kick-ass, business-savvy, rule-breaking self. I know I’m not the only one who’s better because of it.


  21. I’ve rarely commented on posts but I wanted to thank you for sharing in such a real and honest way. And for highlighting the things you feel grateful for in this hard time. Keep focusing on that strength that is coming back. You are such a wonderful example to women and anyone who has ever faced a challenge.

  22. Gena, have you read _When Things Fall Apart_ by Pema Chödrön (contemporary Buddhist text)? I’m reading it right now, and your beautiful post echoes so many of its themes… letting go of attachments to ideas of who we are or where we’re going, getting comfortable with the wash and sway of big emotions and surprising life events, taking an honest look at your own full self and just… seeing. My heart hurts for you in this difficult time, but I’m also so inspired to see the approach you are taking to it. Thank you for sharing. xx

  23. “Coming back to life after a tough bout meant resisting my own tendency to write a story about how things would never get better. It meant having faith that, if I could stop tensing up against the sadness, I’d find myself in a different place sooner or later.”

    I have a draft email saved in my gmail folder that says something very similar to this, precisely because re-reading it periodically is so incredibly helpful. Downs and disappointments will happen, whether due to some outside event or due to my own internal “emotional weather.” It really helped to recognize how often I prolong difficult periods by getting invested in the story I’ve created around them. Conversely, I’m learning that letting the mood be, while continuing to take care of myself in little ways, allows me to heal faster, and to find good moments even in difficult times.

    Happy birthday, and thank you for all the honest reflections you’ve shared here over the years.

  24. Happy Birthday, Dear Gena! Sending lots of love to you today! May you be blessed 🙂

  25. Gena, happy birthday beautiful soul, and one of the most amazing, smart, funny, lovable and genuine people I have ever met. I wish you a million happy wishes on your birthday. Thank you for always finding a way to write what is in your heart, with such purity. Thank you for being such an amazing friend the past year to me, I hope you know how much I appreciate you. Birthdays can feel so bittersweet, I think I have either cried so hard ans/or laughed so hard on all of mine in my thirties so far.

    This was a beautiful reflection post Gena, thank you for sharing it. I hope you have the most beautiful day. Love you.

  26. Happy Birthday, Gena. You are the most beautiful writer, in addition to that, you are one of the strongest, bravest people I know. I’m sure it’s not easy to share these emotions, and I truly hope this next year gives you everything you are seeking. xo

  27. Your post made me teary-eyed! You have such a beautiful way with words, Gena. There is really nothing anyone can say to make your heartache go away, but know that I’m sending so much love your way. Wishing you a much-deserved happy birthday. XO

  28. “I’d entered the post-bacc with a lot of confidence in my own intellect and work ethic and drive, only to realize that I was chasing a dream to which my ego was very well suited, but my mind and spirit were not.”

    In re this: does it ever stop being shocking how long it takes to even start to understand yourself? (That’s the editorial “you,” not you, Gena.) I’ve had a tendency to shed my skin a little every few years—totally abandon one hobby for another (usually), switch long-term jobs and boyfriends (just that one time so far). And I used to tell people I didn’t trust any opinion I didn’t form in the last five minutes. I inherited an appallingly spotty memory from my mother, and I think that’s made me more comfortable with saying goodbye to chapter after chapter of my life. Looking forward is literally easier than looking back for me. But as I settle into my mid-30s and begin to learn things about myself that go beyond which hobby to choose, I’m coming to believe that part of that skin-shedding was borne out of fear of admitting that I didn’t even know what I wanted for most of my life, being unable to take the time to tune into myself. A number of things have worked to change this, but man. Knowing that the uncertainty of life can run to our cores can bring freedom and fear of the biggest sorts.

    In re the rest: <333. All the best. And happy birthday.

  29. Very brave Gena! Things will come good with time, they have a reason for happening although its hard to decipher at the time. 35 was also a very different birthday than expected for me; I quit my full time job (and career) the week before, and had no idea what was coming next.. much more of a difficult birthday than 30 (and I had expected it to be the difficult one)… take care of yourself, x

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