How to bounce back


This is what I thought yesterday: I thought, today is the day I'm going to start going to the gym again. I am certain that no one recovers from sadness until they go back to the gym: Endorphins, routine, self-control, these are all the pieces of getting back to normal.

I have said, every day for the past week, that today is the day I will go to the gym. But this is the day when my ex-husband sleeps over. It’s the day I am supposed to be at the farm. I am supposed to wake up with the farmer's arms around me, roosters crowing in my ears.

Instead, I wake up freezing, because the ex keeps my house much colder than I do. I wake up with the kids voices in the air downstairs, clamoring for breakfast. They sound so sweet and fun but I promised my ex I would hide in my bedroom until they kids go to school. It's his time with them, and if I stop hiding, we would have to parent together, and if we could do that then we'd still be married.

So I am sitting my bedroom, I am hungry. Not hugely hungry because, in a stunning example of the unfairness of life, I lose my appetite when I have been dumped, so I am very thin with no one there to see it.

It'll be another 45 minutes before I can go downstairs. I am hungry enough that I eat one of the chocolates the farmer gave me as a parting birthday gift. That's right. He gave me presents while he was dumping me. I have to bite into seven before I find one I like, and I lay in bed in between bites in case I have to cry, and then I bite four more to find a second one of the kind I like, and then there are broken chocolates strewn across my bed.

I am not crying, though. I think I am past that. I am looking for solutions.

I tried reading but I realized that the book I'm reading, In Other Rooms, Other Wonders, is not actually about Pakistan, but about how men choose land over women over and over again. How could I be in the middle of this book the week the farmer dumps me? The world aligns itself in shockingly horrible ways.

When the kids are gone, I traipse downstairs and take four showers. I think this might be an Asperger Syndrome thing (a sensory integration thing). I take scalding hot showers in order to organize my thinking.

A good consequence of not being with the farmer: I could never get the water hot enough at his house.

I put on clothes that are sort of clean. I use a baby wipe to clean off places on my jeans that might reveal that I have not washed them since Thanksgiving. I drive into work because this is what one does to resume a high-functioning life.

People at work do not say anything to me like, “Sorry you got dumped and seemed to have stopped working.”

I spend the day thinking of things that are totally inappropriate to write and then putting them in my Brazen Careerist group, because it’s small enough that it feels like my living room.

Ryan Paugh, our community manager, calls me to say that he thinks I need to start having someone look at what I post in the group before I post it. Later he says, “I think you need to stop posting stuff in your group for today.”

I go to the coffee shop where I usually cannot stop eating bagels, and I am excited that I have lost my appetite. I play a game with myself. I stand in front of the bagels and ask myself if I want one. I don't. It's fun. I order a bagel and sniff it. Usually that's enough to send me over the edge. Today it makes me nauseous. I bring the bagel to my table and tell myself that suffering is interesting.

I tell myself I need to make a plan to go to the gym. I look at my to do list and nothing looks pressing except that I am supposed to be redesigning my blog.

There is an email asking if I want to have a forum for people to talk about Asperger Syndrome. I reply that I want a forum for people to talk about how I am going to marry a farmer and move to a farm. Can you use a blog as a dating site?

Oh. Wait. That's how I got in this mess.

I answer another email. About a business idea. I tell the person that the problem with most business ideas is not that they are bad, but that they are not big enough to be funded. You have to be able either to fund your own business, or to show that you can have $100 million in revenue in five years.

I send this email ten times a week. I tell myself that I need to write a detailed, clear email about this and copy and paste it every time someone asks me about getting funding.

I need a copy-and-paste speech to run through my head every time I think I'm going to the gym and then I tell myself maybe I'm not going to the gym.

I tell myself maybe one more day.

That feels bad. Like I'll say that forever.

I tell myself in an hour.

But I've told myself that ten times.

I tell myself the gym will only work when it's part of my new routine.

But I know that I will not get a new routine til I know I can get to the gym.

Everything is chicken and egg. And then I have to tell myself not to think about how the farmer helped me and the kids incubate chicks last summer. The farmer is so fun.

I go back to the office. There is a shower in our building. I consider stopping there and scalding myself before I go back to my cube. But then I'd have to reapply makeup.

At my cube I try to think of what I could do that would be sort of work but would not be too taxing. I remember that my favorite positive psychology Ph.D., who wants to remain anonymous on this blog, said I could call anytime.

I call her to ask what I should say to the kids.

I call her from the hallway of the office. I have to do this because there are five offices with doors in our company, and I don't have one of them. I am hoping that people think I'm going to the hallway to make a highly sensitive call about the funding for the company or something. But I'm pretty sure everyone knows that I'm making some sort of personal call.

My favorite positive psychologist tells me that I have to frame it for the kids that I make the decision. She explains that people who are optimistic in life perceive that the locus of control is with them. “Show your kids that you decide. That you are deciding what's best for you and the kids.”

I do not go to the gym. I know myself well enough to know that eventually, I'll get myself back to the gym. I have been going to the gym since I was fifteen. That's just who I am.

Then I pick up my seven-year-old at school. I give him a donut so he will associate taking control of your life with sweetness. And I tell him that I have decided we will not be moving to the farm any time soon. We can still see the farmer. We can still visit the farm. But we need to decide what's best for us. And what's best for us is to continue our fun family life in our house.

He says okay. He has frosting on his lips.

I feel like I am believing what I'm saying and I start to say it again. Reinforcement.

He says, “I know, Mom. Did you bring me milk?”

89 replies
Newer Comments »
  1. CTannStarr
    CTannStarr says:

    Gym therapy is excellent. I have a thing for Tai Chi myself. When I’m really pissed off I go to boxing class and try to keep up with the boxing grannies. Those chicks are tough (LOL). BTW, the donut move is priceless… Enjoy your day, sweetie. May you find many things to smile about with your kids. ;-)

    • D
      D says:

      Amazing how different everyone’s take is. I think of your doughnut technique as associating EATING (junk food) with bad news which I wd never want for my kids since I am constantly worried that they’ll use eating as a substitute for feeling and then they’ll get fat and then they’ll have a bad self-image and then..well, you get the idea. I am projecting, obviously. But it is so interesting and so hard to remember that there is always another way to see something…
      I also have to say that I have had moments like yours, dreading having to tell the kids something, and when I finally do, I realize that I got all worked up unnecessarily.

  2. Ryan Shell
    Ryan Shell says:

    Getting dumped sucks – no doubt about it. It’s also important to understand that you have a “feel bad for yourself” grace period.

    But, there does come a point where you have to pick yourself up and, well, fake it if you must. Set a routine. Go on a date. Eventually you end up faking it a little less…


    PS – I have a friend that only dates doctors, lawyers and actors. She is miserable 95% of the time and I frequently tell her to quit limiting herself. The concept that your perfect man fits a certain mold is insane.

  3. JB
    JB says:

    Follow your own advice. Go to the gym. Find a personal trainer–if you pay for it, you’ll go. Schedule it in like it’s an important meeting.

    • Tina
      Tina says:

      Yes, I think that’s a great idea. It would work for me if I could afford it.

      But since I can’t afford it, I do things like take walks (there’s lots of stairs on my apartment grounds), and even carpet skating.

      Maybe get a dog? They give unconditional love, and have been proven to facilitate more exercise via walking, and weight loss.

      (Not sure how to link this info on here.)

      If nothing else, do something you enjoy. Listen to music, get a massage. Watch a funny movie– or an inspiring one.

      Talking with someone supportive always helps me, but that’s me.

      These just some suggestions. Maybe you’ll think of something.

      My thoughts are with you.

      “So deep is the creative spirit that you will discover its limits, even if you search every trail.”
      ~ Heraclitus

  4. Vanna
    Vanna says:

    I also need to go to the gym to have some semblance of a routine. If I don’t, and don’t get those endorphins, then my whole schedule is off, and I get nothing accomplished, not to mention I am a miserable grouch!
    Work out your anger on the machines or whatever it is that you do, and it will help clear your haead. Excercise and being focused on something else is the best therapy, that and time, which I’ve heard, heals all wounds!
    Good luck!

  5. Irina I
    Irina I says:


    If you tell yourself that you’ll only walk 10 minutes on the treadmill and that’s okay, you’ll probably actually get to the gym.

    Otherwise, remember that it indeed WAS you who were in control and made this decision.

    The grief is still here, but it will not last forever.

  6. Todd Dorsey
    Todd Dorsey says:

    Dear P-Diddy:
    I just found your blog today, December 11th, 2009 at about one o’clock. For what it’s worth, you sound like an amazing person.
    I am sorry you are having a rough time. My heart goes out to you. I cry sometimes at work. I am a happy person, but this life is real.
    Not here to give you advice, or platitudes, but to let you know I am here…. and am not a crazy person:)
    Love, Todd Patrick Dorsey

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      This comment is from Andrew. My co-worker. He went out to lunch with me on my birthday. He didn’t know it was my birthday because I can’t figure out how to tell people. It feels too awkward.

      I am weird at work. And somehow, Andrew seems to overcome this. I think that people think that people who are quiet and keep to themselves at work want to be left alone. But I like so much that Andrew does not leave me alone. I love when he talks to me. When he asks me to go to lunch.

      I feel like if I tell you about Andrew then maybe you will be like Andrew at work. Ask the person to lunch who looks like they’d never want to go. i think they want to go. They just don’t know how to show it.

      Thanks, Andrew.


      • Jacqueline
        Jacqueline says:

        “He didn’t know it was my birthday because I can’t figure out how to tell people. It feels too awkward.”

        Put it in your Facebook profile and then friend everyone you know in real life on Facebook. They’ll figure it out — Facebook reminds you a few days in advance.

        Or, get the most social, party-oriented person in the office to collect a list of birthdays and post it and make sure that there is always a cake.

  7. LPC
    LPC says:

    That’s the thing. You have always brought them the milk. You are still going to bring them the milk. And your son will tell you later, when he understands his own feelings, what this meant to him. Just try not to be surprised when he tells you this was very sad for him. Boys are very funny creatures, in my experience. Almost like they engage in parallel play with their own emotions.

  8. linz
    linz says:

    I think that it’s great that you haven’t gone to the gym yet. Exercise is a good way to escape pain, and there’s nothing wrong with escaping pain sometimes. But I think of difficult situations like a break-up as producing a certain amount of pain that you just have to experience to get through. If you took it in all at once, it would be too much to handle and you’d be crushed, so thank god you have things like exercise to distract you once in a while. But also, you can feel satisfied with yourself that you’re getting through a big chunk of the pain quota right now by not running away from it at the gym. Good luck.

  9. Cindy Stephenson
    Cindy Stephenson says:

    I really admire the openness and honesty you bring to your blog. I subscribe to many blogs through Google Reader, but to be honest, when I am going through my feeds I end up just skimming over many of them. I never do with yours though. It is so compelling and you are able to take what is going on in your own life and apply it to a wider audience.

    I wish you well with you current situation. Personally I found that opportunities come along when you least expect them, and usually when you are not even looking for them. But you have to be in the right frame of mind (relaxed) to pick up on them.

  10. Bethany
    Bethany says:

    What if you just start with your push-ups? Going to the gym takes thought and planning, push-ups and crunches you can just do right where you are.

    Good luck. A good friend told me after a rough breakup (I realized he wasn’t at all who I thought and I dumped the guy, but was still sad about it) that the hardest part is forming your new routine. I took the time I would have spent talking with him and started volunteering and made a weekly date with my roommate at a wine shop. I found my passion (helping animals) and current boyfriend (we didn’t start dating until several months later) that way. Something good will come out of this, I’m sure of it. Best of luck in the meantime while it still hurts.

    And maybe keep some granola bars in your room for the next time it’s your ex-husband’s morning with the kids.

  11. Renee
    Renee says:

    You might want to consider working yoga in to your gym/exercise routine… all that quiet stretching allows one to take a break (from thinking and from daily life) and breathe, relax, stretch and just be. Plus you can do it on your own in your bedroom or in a class with others. I can feel the difference when I skip days!

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I’m a huge yoga fan. I’ve been doing Ashtanga for ten years. I could write a whole blog about it. Just writing this comment about it makes me happy.

      When I’m sitting in a chair, thinking about not going to the gym. I run my arm over my shoulder and think: Those are strong shoulders from all those chatarungas. Soon I’ll go back to the gym, and they’ll still be there. They’ll still be strong for me.

      It’s just that I’m not going now…


  12. alicyn
    alicyn says:

    I think what really works with getting into a good mood and working out, is trying something new or committing to a new gym routine. Example: I just started doing abs on a stability ball rather than on the floor. My goal to do abs was always shot down because every time I get on the floor, it kills my back and my neck. But now I have a new routine that I can actually do without hurting myself, and I can work towards my goal of getting stronger abs.

    I hope you bounce back as fast as you can and find someone new who is truly deserving of your attention and affection.

  13. Margaret
    Margaret says:

    I think you should come down to Mexico. You don’t just need a vacation; you deserve one. I manage a small hotel and won’t bother you. I’ll just be happy to know you’re out back healing. And yes, there’s wi-fi, though I’m not sure I’d give you the password.

  14. Alexis Martin Neely
    Alexis Martin Neely says:

    This message is for the farmer, just in case you are reading. If you love Penelope, you can make this work. I understand it is hard to go against your family. It is possible to be with Penelope and resolve matters with them even though you may not be able to say hi. Of course, I say this knowing nothing other than what Penelope has written here. But, I do know that anything is possible if you really want it. It sure sounds like Penelope wants it. If you do too, it’s possible that it can work. And if you want to explore that possibility contact me, I can help. I don’t have a PhD in this and I don’t do it for my work; it’s more of a life purpose thing. Resolving conflicts. And helping people find a way.

    Penelope, it’s okay for your kids to know that you are so sad and that maybe you made some mistakes. These are learning and growing experiences for you and for them, but only if you don’t hide how you feel and of course find the blessing/lesson for yourself. While you aren’t going to the gym, try to refocus your thoughts on what you’ve learned about yourself from this experience with the farmer and how you can grow from it. This is hard to do, but worth it. And will almost certainly be easier if you write about it, even just privately. Like going to the gym for your mind.

    With love, Alexis

    • Tina
      Tina says:

      Hi Alexis.

      You and I sure do see this relationship(and how to cope with the grief of it) differently!

      But we share a common wish for the best for Penelope, the most happiness and love for her.

      I know that when I fee really badly, especially about a relationship, what helps me most is to actually focus on the pain (!), preferably with an extremely supportive and understanding person.

      But, hey– maybe that’s just me.

      • Alexis Martin Neely
        Alexis Martin Neely says:

        Tina, yep, I agree that’s a great strategy too. Bring the pain into your body, magnify it and really feel the burn of it.

        Get present to the pain when that serves you. And when it gets to the point that it no longer serves begin to look at the learning experience.

        Thanks for the expanded awareness Tina.


  15. Ellen
    Ellen says:

    I thought you were writing about me and my company before I saw that you write the funding email ten times a week.

    I meant to write a follow up email but I will tell you here: I got funded.

    Sometimes funding isn’t about getting enough funding to make 100 million dollars in five years. Sometimes it is smaller. I call it Middle Way funding.

  16. Philip
    Philip says:

    I think you’re handling it very well. Don’t worry TOO much about the kids, as they’re pretty resilient. I kind of like the idea that one of the previous replies offered, the one of you buying a farm. You can always hire someone to help you run it. *hugs*

  17. Laura
    Laura says:

    I’m still absorbing the message from your earlier post, “There’s no magic pill for being lost.” So, this one is a humdinger.

    Going to the gym will not make you feel better. Frankly, nothing will make you feel better right now. This really is no time to be making promises to yourself, like, “From now on, I’m going to go to the gym.” Because the lenses of your life are cracked and cloudy from the feelings of anger and loss you are experiencing. You can’t see clearly right now, and, frankly, that’s how it should be.

    What might make you feel better is simply saying to people that you feel like crap, you don’t know when you won’t feel like crap, feeling like crap is part of being human, and everyone will know it when you’re done feeling like crap. In other words, don’t try to “act as if,” or put on a brave face, or anything else like that. Just feel like crap until one day you don’t anymore and then everyone will know you’re better.

    I once flew 1,800 miles to meet a farmer I’d had an online relationship with. He professed his love by phone, but told me after driving me two and a half hours from the airport across frozen North Dakota tundra to his farm that I was too fat. Go figure. It took me months to recover, during which time I adopted a rescue dog. No amount of platitudes could help me.

    Just do things you want to do. Don’t think about going the gym, because you really don’t want to and if you say you should but don’t, it will just make you feel worse. And you don’t need that.

    • Tina
      Tina says:

      I really like what you’re saying! It sounds very wise and fits my experience. I hope Penelope likes it!

      Except that talking about my feelings with supportive, wise people and understanding myself better has always helped when I’m upset.

      It takes the edge off & helps build emotional strength & courage muscles!

      That’s how it works with me.

  18. Laurel
    Laurel says:

    Dear Penelope,
    I love your blog. I appreciate the way you write through everything that happens to you in life. This is my philosophy of writing also. Here’s my small bit to help:

    “Land,” by Palestinian poet Suheir Hammad:

    his approach
    to love he said
    was that of a farmer

    most love like
    hunters and like
    hunters most kill
    what they desire

    he tills
    soil through toes
    nose in the wet
    earth he waits
    prays to the gods
    and slowly harvests

    Best wishes,

  19. Sarah
    Sarah says:

    Cheer up! I got the same – a man who had no problems to sneak in my bed just to be hugged and the day after told me in the eyes he doesn’t love me anyway. A man with who every time we are together it seems like on a honeymoon and then speaks with me about future like I’m completely outside his plans. Let the time go, focus on yourself, focus on tiny daily happy details, focus on seasonal cheerful atmosphere. If the thing has to be, it will happen not because you’ve been obsessively pushing it forward, but because it was meant to be. This is my plan from yesterday – I already included the gym, I just have to find a new one :D

  20. Kristen
    Kristen says:

    I got dumped 2 years ago. I also lost my appetite, which was so strange to me at the time because normally I drown my sorrows in chocolate. I remember looking at food and it would make me nauseous. I could only eat vegetables and broth.

    I couldn’t sleep, either. I think I tried to go to the gym, but every song on my ipod was about being dumped.

    It’s a loss. It’s like a death. You have to grieve. And that takes time.

  21. Nancy
    Nancy says:

    It amazes me how our kids just always love us first. No matter what. They’re on our side.

    If men choose their land over the women they love, then women choose their children over the men they love.

    And kids pay that back over donuts.

    They sound like nice kids.

  22. Jay
    Jay says:

    Hey Pen! Do get to the gym. Endorphins don’t cure everything, but they do remind you you’re taking good care of yourself, and by extension, those two babies.

    Love, Jay

  23. Kat Wilder
    Kat Wilder says:

    First, Happy Birthday; sorry I missed that.

    Yes, the gym or taking long walks – anything to kick in the endorphins – is essential. Plus, we need to look good to help us recover; we gain weight when we’re in love (Does this relationship make me look fat?)

    PT, you know from your divorce that your kids will adjust to your breakup (and probably much sooner than you); I think what’s truly hard is that it’s soon after you and their dad split. It’s scary to think that the message they might be learning is that love is so transitory, and no amount of donuts is going to sweeten that.

    In time, it will feel better. It always does even when we can’t imagine that it will. Be kind to yourself.

  24. Lynn
    Lynn says:

    Reading your blog in the back of the van on the way to Disney. I’ve been there so many times, I feel for you. Including the irony of being skinny when no one is around to see it. I don’t believe in “meant to be”. I believe you find someone you are attracted to, with whom you can have a life that is manageable, and then you make it work. It really sounds like with the farmer, and especially with his family, there will always be a lot of drama. You and your kids deserve better. As for the gym, I LOVE IT, but it’s hard to get back in the habit when you lose it. What works for me is to go to group classes. It’s cheaper than personal training, but you have to go at a specific time so it’s harder to procrastinate. My gym (YMCA) has a class that involves weights, cardio, music, keeping your heart rate up the entire class. It rocks, and is so hard it can take your mind off anything. Take care of yourself. We’re all behind you.

  25. Tony
    Tony says:

    As a fellow Asperger’s sufferer and person of passion, I would like to alert you to a rarely seen film that TCM is broadcasting tonight (Sunday, 13) at 8. OUR VINES HAVE TENDER GRAPES focuses on a farm in small-town Wisconsin. This backdrop is enhanced by even more salient “coincidences” with your life, such as the frequently divisive juxtaposition between urban and rural life, and how love and the prospect of marriage can try to mend the gap … and fall short. I haven’t watched the film in many years, but I distinctly recall its simple yet profound message of discovering and then following one’s personal truth. Some of your post-Thanksgiving posts have broken my heart under the unwieldy weight of my empathy for you, your children, the farmer, and your situation. I think you will find something compassionate and enlightening in this lovely film from 1945.

  26. brooklynchick
    brooklynchick says:

    Eh, you’ll go back eventually. Why flog yourself in the meantime? I personally am bad at this, but wise people often tell me to be as sweet and forgiving to myself as I am to other people I love. Maybe you could learn to be good at that and I will follow you. :)

    Great great post.

    I consider showering, dressing and going to work BIG accomplishments during heartbreak.

  27. Makenzie Kelly
    Makenzie Kelly says:

    Yeah….you start companies….some succeed, some fail. You have great relationships…some succeed, some fail. And you live your life with these highs and lows, not because you want to, it just happens that way.

    But you get to this point where you think that you have figured out how to quell the emotional roller coaster that goes along with this type of life that you’ve chosen. “Yeah, cause I’m female, and I’m a business owner, and I’m in charge – I have to be strong. Besides, it hasn’t killed me yet…and life/work/family HAS to go on.”

    If you’re like me, you’ve done a million hours of self help or paid thousands for therapists, but it’s still YOUR problem not theirs. (Can’t I pay them to take my problems?)

    You understand what they say….but none of what they say will take away the pain. So then you end up with this weird internal dialogue that continues until you get it all figured out and time passes.

    It’s just going to take time, I’ve been there. You’re doing great. :-)


    PS–And kids are so resilient…especially boys!

  28. Safe
    Safe says:

    It takes determination to go, even when you don’t want to. If you even go for 10 minutes and leave, you’re ahead of the game by proving to yourself that you can accomplish your goals. Stay strong, stay Safe!

  29. zed
    zed says:

    don’t flog yourself about it. when you’re ready, you’ll know.
    in the meantime, i wanted to thank you for a post you once wrote about getting yourself back into the routine and self discipline of going to the gym and other things, about starting small…where you started with push-ups at home regularly. i replaced with crunches but the overall effect was the same. THANKS. sorry things are rough for you right now.

  30. Jacqueline
    Jacqueline says:

    “I take scalding hot showers in order to organize my thinking.”

    Actually, hot showers increase blood flow to the brain. It’s not a sensory integration thing, it’s perfectly normal.

  31. Lauren
    Lauren says:

    I am going through a breakup myself, so I found this article to be of particular interest. It’s definitely hard to get back into a routine when life is completely different than it was only a few days ago. I, too, have aspirations of going back to the gym someday and I have also found myself with no appetite. I think the biggest thing is keeping busy and surrounding yourself with people who care about you. Your kids and your work are great places to start. Wishing you the best of luck! Love your writing.

  32. Tiffany Monhollon
    Tiffany Monhollon says:

    I’m just catching up, but since you’re running your life through the comments section right now, here’s what I think:

    Instead of reading In Other Rooms, Other Wonders about women and men and land, read The Help instead, because it’s all about how women telling the stories of their lives even though it’s dangerous helps them become what they need to be. It sort of reminds me of you.

Newer Comments »

Comments are closed.