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By Jen DeGregorio
This past summer, I think I had a mental breakdown. No one noticed.
To be fair, I bottled up all of my emotions and didn’t tell anyone how I was feeling. Not even my husband, who’s incredibly supportive and an excellent listener. We’ve been a couple for nearly a decade, but we’ve never lived together and have only lived in the same state for the first few years. My husband lives and works in New York City while I’m here in the small town of Dexter, raising my son from my first marriage.
That arrangement has worked out perfectly because, as many women know, there’s only so much of yourself you can give to your family all at the same time. When I was in NYC, I gave my husband all of my attention and while I was home, I gave it completely to my son. That worked out great for most of the last ten years. But then my son went away to camp for a week.
Having kept mostly to myself, I didn’t really have any close mom friends. I can be a bit of an introvert, and I’ve always felt like an outsider because of my unconventional lifestyle. The day Adam left for camp, I suddenly felt more alone than I’d ever felt in my entire life. I cried all morning, and couldn’t stop. I didn’t even know why I was so upset. I guess it’s because I realized my only child was growing up and needed me less and less.
That afternoon, I realized something that was missing from my life. I was yearning for an environment of close female friendships.
I went to the Dexter Beer Grotto and sat outside alone. I was writing a piece for the ChadTough Foundation on a family that had just learned their child had terminal brain cancer. Feeling miserable, I sipped my wine and started to look through my phone contacts to see what ladies I knew that might come up and join me. “Wow,” I thought to myself, “I have a lot of really cool, amazing female acquaintances. Why didn’t I ever spend time with them?”
So, I texted Kristin. Kristin and I used to work together at a previous job and cross paths often in our current jobs. “The Beer Grotto is on my way home. I’ll be right there,” she said. Okay, that wasn’t so hard.
Kristin and I spent a delightful two hours chatting, for the first time really, about our personal lives. By the time we left, I already felt better. I decided that every day that week, I would reach out to a different woman I’d like to spend some time with.
The next day, I met up with Laura. Laura’s daughter Emily is my son’s best friend. I’d always really liked Laura, but our interactions were limited to driveway drop-offs and casual school hallway hellos. I worried that she secretly judged me for leaving Adam two weekends a month to jet off to New York, during which she typically schlepps my son around to various activities. That Tuesday, I found out that was not the case at all. We ended up having way too much fun for a Tuesday, and my mood was entirely lifted.
On Wednesday, I met up with Sarah, my ex-husband’s fiancée. We’ve always gotten along great, enjoying weekly family dinners and even family trips, but we’d never really hung out alone, just the two of us. Sarah sipped ice tea and I learned more about her own family and her estranged brother’s struggle with drug abuse.
I bit the bullet on Thursday and decided to take my mom out for dinner. We’ve always had a bit of a tumultuous, albeit loving, relationship — but I usually can’t handle more than an hour together. That night, I decided to drop my guard and really listen to what she had to say. We were out for three hours; she got a little tipsy, and all in all we had a fantastic evening.
On Friday, Adam and his friends came home. Another mom acquaintance, Abby, had been a camp chaperone all week, so when I suggested we get drinks while the kids got ice cream, she was all in. The opposite to my introverted self, Abby has always been very friendly and outgoing. I’ve always enjoyed being around her, but again, we’d never hung out much without our kids. To say we had a good time that night would be a vast understatement.
That week was, for me, the start of deeper, more meaningful female friendships. I learned how important it is to surround yourself with a strong, supportive female network. In the months since, I’ve even learned how to ask them for help when I need it — something we as women are innately hesitant to do. I enjoy their unique perspectives on motherhood, community, politics, and everything in between, and in the months since then I’ve met with them at least once a week. My breakdown is officially over, I believe my son and husband are getting a better version of me now that I’m taking more care of myself.
In addition to serving The ChadTough Foundation as the Director of Communications, Jen DeGregorio manages PR/marketing and events for several non-profits across Washtenaw County. She began her career in newspapers in 1995 as a means to cover college expenses. After completing her degree at the University of Michigan-Dearborn in English, she continued to build a career in advertising with the Ann Arbor News.
She was one of the first hires at AnnArbor.com and became an integral part of the management team. In 2012, Jen decided to start her own businesses, with a focus on helping small businesses and non-profits.
She splits her time between her home in Dexter, Mi and an apartment in NYC where her husband has worked for almost a decade.