I’m being deposed tomorrow. That sounds unpleasant, doesn’t it? I expect it will be. An unfriendly lawyer asking you as many questions as she wants can’t be too fun, especially when your ex-husband is the one who is paying her.
This all started a few months ago when my ex-husband, Thomas, sued me two days before Thanksgiving. My husband and I then gathered up the gazillion dollars it requires to hire a lawyer and sue him back . . . all over—no big surprise—money. The state of Texas said Thomas’s child support payments should go up and he disagreed. Who am I to argue with the state of Texas? (Convenient, right?) And so here we are.
When the lawyer called me a few days ago to tell me about tomorrow’s deposition, my stomach knotted up instantly. Not so remarkable. What is remarkable is that this is the first knot sighting this particular legal go-round. The last time Thomas and I were fighting over money (among other, more substantial things like custody of our child), things were a bit different. Four years ago, we were divorcing, and I was a wreck. That’s not so remarkable either, come to think of it. But the reason I bring this up is that back then, in the middle of all that misery, I was forced to come up with a coping mechanism to carry me through the conflict. I guess you could call it a home-grown version of meditation.
The coping mechanism was born in the second, well technically third mediation, in my divorce. (I just realized that a lone “t” is all that separates mediation from meditation—what a difference a letter makes!) The first mediation was the mediation that wasn’t; Thomas was a no-show because he rammed his hand through his living room window after he accidentally locked himself out of his house that morning. What?!? Divorce brings out the crazy in everyone.
Then came the second (first actual) mediation. One word: fiasco. The memory of this day has provided me countless episodes of self-directed laughter in the years since. First problem: the lawyers scheduled a half-day mediation; at that point I don’t think a half day would have cut it even if the only topic on the table had been how to split up our socks. Second problem: I was three months pregnant, overrun with hormones, and the opposite of rational. (Three months pregnant, did I say? Yes, and not with some hold-over baby from my long-dead marriage. The pea-sized babe in my belly would become Lily, my second child, and first with my now husband, Bobby. And just when you were beginning to fall asleep!) I basically sobbed my way through three hours of negotiations. Thomas was in another room, so I don’t know anything about his demeanor, but considering he recently stuck his hand through glass when no better options came to mind, I’m guessing he was not the picture of calm either. Later the mediator would say that we were the craziest couple he ever worked with; I really didn’t know what to say.
By the time my third and final mediation rolled around, I was in my second trimester. (Hello, Sanity! How have you been? I missed you so!) For this and many other reasons, this mediation proved more fruitful (it resulted in our getting divorced, for one thing). But before it all began, my lawyer stuck me alone in a windowless closet of a room and left, saying she was going to go talk to Thomas’s lawyer for a bit. A bit turned out to be an hour. I’m sure they were working diligently to figure out a compromise in both our best interests (read: chatting about the latest TMZ gossip and about how crazy their clients are), but meanwhile, Thomas and I were in separate rooms, sweating it out.
To say I had a knot in my stomach that morning would be . . . what is the opposite of hyperbole? In a moment like that, with so much at stake (Thomas had been threatening to fight for primary custody of our son), it is impossible to distract your mind, to focus on anything else. So all that is left then is to think about the matter at hand. But there was nothing more to think about, examine, consider. I had already thought the whole thing through from front to back and back again, from every angle you could conceive, taken into account the advice/suggestions/considerations put forth by every person in my life who loved me and even a few who didn’t. I was an emotional, pregnant equivalent of a prize-fighter boxer (OK, lightweight), sitting in her corner of the ring, waiting for the bell to sound.
In the absence of anything constructive to do, my agitated mind could only spiral higher and higher, flitting from one worst case scenario to another, pausing only for the occasional imagined dramatic reenactment. The anxiety manifested itself physically in my body as well. What felt like nervous butterflies on PCP had infiltrated my stomach and were pressing upward, toward my throat. After about 10 minutes of this escalating fever, I decided I needed a Plan B. (In all my planning, I had never considered strategies for waiting.) Completely at a loss, it suddenly occurred to me that I could meditate.
My dad is a big proponent of meditation. Over the years, he has studied this ancient practice from numerous approaches, from Zen Buddhism to Christianity’s centering prayer, even delving into the realms of neuroscience and biofeedback. When it comes to information, he is constantly in intake mode. And whatever he’s taking in, we’re hearing about. So it’s no surprise that in my time of need, I could spontaneously produce a method of meditation for me to try. (Even though later I learned that my impromptu “method” was actually a mismatch of several different meditation techniques.)
I remembered my dad saying that when you’re feeling anxious, you need to start there. When you breathe in, he said, breathe the anxiety into your heart, and hold it there while you are holding your breath. Then release it as you breathe out. The point is not to try to push the anxiety out of you, he said, but instead the opposite: to fully accept the anxiety, pull it into your heart, and treat it with compassion. My anxiety that morning had my gut in a vise, but even the simple act of focusing on my breath started to pry it open just a bit. As the minutes ticked by on the wall clock in my box of a room (sounds of the lawyer cackling down the hall breaking the silence), I sat still in my chair, trying this simple practice of pulling the anxiety up and into my heart, then letting it go, relaxing as I exhaled.
After a while, I noticed that the anxiety had lessened its grip on me somewhat. The gale-force winds in my mind had quieted, and the bowling ball pit of sick in my stomach had reduced to a more nebulous, lumpy pile of nerves—not gone, but manageable. Another tidbit of wisdom bubbled up from my memory: allow your heart to transform the anxiety into pure, unconditional love—first for yourself, and then when you are ready, send it off to someone else. And so I continued, just breathing in and out, feeling my heart expand more and more with every breath. I began to feel a sort of loving sympathy for myself, as if some other, calmer, wiser version of myself was an old friend to my more nervous, pitiful self, and the wiser self was offering her moral support during my difficult time.
Then the oddest thing happened. A sudden thought of my soon-to-be ex-husband, sitting in another windowless room down the hall, popped into my head. This thought was so clear, and so distinct from my former reverie that it was as if everything else stopped and there was just this image in my brain. How anxious he must be, I thought. I could almost picture him, sitting still unless you looked closely, contained but with his parts in constant movement—his leg vibrating under the table, his hand twitching ever so slightly, his eyes darting about. I felt, not sympathy exactly (I am, after all, at war with him at this point), but a detached awareness of the toll all this was taking on him.
Thinking of anything from Thomas’s perspective was something I hadn’t done in a long time. I’d spent the past year trying to anticipate his next move as my arch nemesis in the divorce face off, and the year before that playing the alternating roles of Wailing Ball of Tears and Cheating Husband Private Eye. None of this really provided me too much objective thought. But suddenly it was as if all that changed, if only for that day. My self-absorbed force field had been breached.
My lawyer finally returned to gather me for the mediation, which took all day but did result in an agreement that would eventually become our divorce decree. I was as unlike the version of myself that sobbed her way through the previous mediation as I could have thought possible. I never cried, I didn’t react in anger, and a calm sense of detachment followed me throughout the day. Who was this mystery woman? And why doesn’t she shine around more often?
The funny thing, of course, is that I guess she’s me, just a me that’s buried under all this other stuff. And as to why she doesn’t show her face more often, well, I only have myself to blame for that. It’s clear that the anxious me is mucking things up for the rest of me. But without some sort of crisis life event, how do I snap myself out of it to allow the calm and wise one within to step out?
Well, I’m getting deposed tomorrow. Maybe I’ll get another chance to find out.