In this special 3-part series of “Breaking the Stigma”, Rob graciously shares how therapy helped him through the most challenging, and unbelievable, years of his life.
This is Part 2 of Rob’s Journey.
Rob, Nicki Kirlin, Jenna Fortinski
Jenna Fortinski 00:01
Okay, so tell us a little bit about Jen.
Yeah, it’s funny story. So through my, my, my car problem or addiction, if you want to call it that I ironically met her through the Car Club indirectly. Her at the time partner had bought a BMW that of the same kind that I have. And we ended up becoming friends as a result. And I started a platonic relationship with the family, which was her her common law partner, and two lovely little girls. And, yeah, so I went over to the house a number of times to help him with the car, and got to know the family. And as time evolved, these two little girls who were using me as a human jungle gym every time I came over service, which was for me really awesome, because I love kids. So anyway, as time went on, and there was a strange incident that happened, where at four in the morning, she called me and she was frantic and upset. And I didn’t understand what’s going on first, because I was half asleep. And then it turned out that her partner had attacked her physically, and had threatened to kill her. And luckily, the neighbor’s kids were able to help her get to safety, and the police were called, and it was a very, very crazy experience. For me, especially at four in the morning when you’re half asleep.
Anyway, very scary. My first concern and biggest concern was for those two beautiful little girls. And I told her to take one of my cars and get packed up and get to safety, which was with her mother in Kelowna. And I would, when she was safely there, they would the girls would, this is getting pretty retro. We get on MSN Messenger.
Yes, I think.
And we would do a little video chats, and I’d see how they were doing and they would, we would laugh and tell stories about our days and stuff. And over time, a relationship started to evolve between me and Jen. Through that, and long story short, they the girls and Jen moved back to Calgary and we all moved into my house together and just started a family. And yeah, we were we were the most annoying family on the block, because we were always laughing and having fun and smiling, just kind of the envy of everybody just sort of the the family unit that people would aspire to have. fence Yes, yeah. Yeah. It was, it was nice.
Nicki Kirlin 03:06
Oh, that’s wonderful. Okay, so in the last episode, we were talking a little bit about Jen’s behavior changes just around corys suicide. So what was that like for you to kind of see her go through those changes. And if you maybe want to just remind our listeners to of what you were kind of noticing about her what was changing?
Yeah. So after she found out about her mother’s suicide in the way in which she committed suicide, or completed suicide. She just became completely introverted, withdrawn from the entire family, just doing what needed to be done. When I wasn’t home, and then when I was home, she just shut off from everybody. It was hard. It was very difficult for the kids, because their mother was more engaged before we would do stuff as a family we would sit around and laugh at videos or shows. My youngest stepdaughter would dance to football the send a video so on YouTube is very cute. She was big into ballet and stuff. And then that all went away. is very sad. I basically took on full parenting duties when I got home, which was okay, but you could always see the kids looking at their mom kind of wondering why she wasn’t with us. Whether we’re so used to that before. It was so it was difficult, because I was trying to keep them happy and are honestly distracted from what hurt their mother was going through, while also trying to contend with my own struggles with the whole situation as well.
Nicki Kirlin 05:02
And so I think he might have mentioned this in our last episode, or maybe it was perhaps before we started recording, we were talking about how you had encouraged her to potentially seek out counseling for herself. So how did that conversation go? And what did that look like when you when you had that conversation with her?
Well, initially, after her mother committed suicide, I told her how I was going to counseling and the immense value that I saw in it and how they were helping me Give me some tools and some coping strategies and coping skills to work through it. And she was literally defiant. She just absolutely flat out refuse to go. And one time, she made the comment about how she didn’t want them digging into her past. And because that’s what they always do was her comment. So she was adamant about not going. And then there came a day, about four months later, where I came home from work, and just wanted to get changed into my casual companies like we all do. And I, there was a very strange smell in my closet, and I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. And I ended up finding a bag, a small bag with a shirt that was doused in some sort of perfume or cologne, along with a love letter. That was from some guy to her. At the time, she’s out of the house, when I found this. And as you can imagine, I was in like immense shock, of course, and disbelief, because I felt like I had such a, you know, in quotes, perfect life, the white picket fence, as you put it, yeah. And it seemed to be, you know, cracked, jaded shattering at that moment. So I confronted her when she got home. And she was very upset and claimed she didn’t understand why this guy was doing this don’t know what’s going on, as somebody that she’d known for a while. And anyway, it was at that point that she conceded that she should go to therapy that she agreed that she would start. And so, you know, I’ll be at a very negative experience, it was positive in that it made her turn that corner and yeah, and realize that maybe she should get some help
Jenna Fortinski 07:40
shifted her perspective. Yeah. So how did she find a therapist? Or do you know how she found one? Did you guys talk about it,
um, by good fortune, the benefits I have through my company were amazing. And they not only covered me, but also my family. And so we contacted them, and they were quick to get her in with a therapist. And so she started, I don’t remember when, but it was probably within a week or most two, but I think was it within a week that she was seen by the therapist, and it seemed that they were a good fit, too. So it was that seem positive.
Nicki Kirlin 08:21
Okay, awesome. Yeah. And so where were you at at this point? So you had found the shirt that had maybe sort of shifted things for the two of you. So where where were you at in your own sort of counseling journey?
Yeah, I prior to this shirt, I was going through the motions and the the healing and the therapy of dealing with Corrie suicide, her mother’s suicide. And I was doing well, if I say so myself. And but I was to the point where my therapist was elongating the duration between sessions, she she was contented, encouraged that I was embracing the tools that she was giving me and that I was doing well, I could do a lot more of this homework on my own. But then, when the shirt was found, and the whole question of the stability of my marriage and relationship came into question, that threw me for a loop, right, to say the least. So that prompted me to increase the frequency of my therapy sessions and for a tandem purpose now, like there was still the residual work that I was trying to do in coping with Korea suicide and helping my family and myself, but now I had to layer on this big question mark of what was going on?
Jenna Fortinski 09:50
Yeah, definitely. And so going back to Jen’s counseling, did you notice any changes in her when she had started going to counseling. Did you guys talk about how it was going?
Yeah. When she would, she actually went twice a week. And it was, every time that she came home, she looked exhausted. And she immediately needed to have a glass of wine or two. because she’d never been to therapy before in her life. And it was some pretty heavy lifting, dealing with your mother’s suicide, I can appreciate that. So she Yeah, and so after about, probably a couple of months, there was one night in particular, she came home. And she looked incredibly, I don’t know what the Word says shell shocked. Just like she’d seen a ghost, and traumatized may even be a way to look at it. And she came in, she didn’t want to talk, she immediately opened a bottle of wine and quite literally, almost killed the whole bottle in about 20 minutes. She was just very, she was shaking. And then she calmed a bit. And I just asked a kept encouraging, I’m like, Are you okay, like, I wasn’t trying to get her to talk about is making sure that she was alright. And then she started to volunteer. What happened. And what happened was that her therapist had wanted to go back into her childhood to see if there was any, anything there that would have aggravated, or I don’t know, this is your department on mine. But I guess, as some counselors would, they want to understand who you are as a person from when you’re young to understand you better today. And, and I didn’t know any of this at all. But it turned out that she had a very, not great childhood. Her mother had dated different men and these men were abusive to her mother. She had witnessed her mother getting beaten in front of her. She had her mother dated men that were sexually physically abusive to her to Jen. And then the worst part of it is that her she had wanted to get reconnected with her biological father, her biological father and Cory had never been, we’re never together as a other than either boyfriend girlfriend, or as I’m not sure quite what the relationship was, but she is still in touch with him and generally pined to be to have a relationship with Him. And so Cory did actually get back together with him. And as it turns out, when Cory Cory worked as a flagging girl on the coca haula, when it was getting built, and she was nighttime, flagging girl, woman, and unfortunately, as it turned out, the father was the one that looked after her to the chapter, Jen at night. And apparently, the father and his friend or friends would molest or I know, she told me that they touched her, but I don’t know if that evolved into more. Either way, she and she was only 12. Anyway, so Jen told me all of this stuff in a flurry of alcohol induced openness, I guess, if you want to call it that, and which was just shocking to me. And I just said, You know what, Thank God you’re going. Because that’s a that’s a lot of stuff to deal with. So, so I, at that point in time, I was I was proud of her for, for going and I told her that and said, you know, good for you. Like, this isn’t easy at all. But you’re, you’re doing the right thing.
Nicki Kirlin 14:13
So what happened next? So she’s going to counseling, you’re doing your counseling, then what happens?
Jenna Fortinski 14:21
She has this big breakthrough.
the I’ll give you the, the crystal ball hindsight is 2020 version of that. So as it turned out, after Jen had that session, she was so I think the word would be scared to go back that she didn’t go back to counseling, she would make up that she was going she would drop off the kids with my mom or drop them off with their godparents and create the rules. She was going twice a week, still. But as it turned out, and she admitted this to me, it’s not something that I guess that admitted to me later. That Yeah, she just would go to town and kill the appropriate amount of time and then come back at the right time. But so the problem was that, in my opinion, at the most crucial point of her therapy journey, she stopped. So what happened next? This was in January, that that shirt was found. And then come July of that same year, she consummated the affair physically. And she had rented a apartment, downtown Calgary. And this guy who lived in Italy, or lives in Italy, was in Calgary, at for some University of Calgary thing for a month. I don’t know what that was about. But anyway, she basically took off to go to this thing. Or to see him making up the ruse that was on her birthday. And my boys and I had made her a cake and everything. But she had said that she wanted to go off and have some quiet time, she claimed that she drove to golden to have some time to herself to reflect on her mom not being around for her birthday and stuff where in fact she was downtown with this person. So So yeah, so that was the end of our relationship. We cohabitated until December of that year, and then, and it was awful. Honestly. don’t recommend doing that. And then, come January, she moved out. And my stepdaughters moved out with her and my sons basically stayed with me in the house, she became extremely narcissistic. She was a person that I had no pictures of her at all. Honestly, with the kids or anything. She hated being photographed, never wore makeup. Very non materialistic. And after this, she was getting hair extensions, eyelash extensions. She was getting injections in her face. She was getting injections in her lips, she was tanning. She was she started after she started smoking a lot. That more started after her mother committed suicide, but it was really bad after January. And she drank a lot. So didn’t eat while she had also issues like it was quite a bit.
Nicki Kirlin 18:00
During that time, you were still seeing the therapist. Right?
Yes. I saw my therapist every week.
Nicki Kirlin 18:08
Yeah. And what kind of what what what were your conversations looking like at that time?
Well, I was blessed that I had the same therapist from when Corey committed suicide up until this point. So the positive thing with that is that she knew my story. Right, right. At least the negative part. Yeah. And she was, I guess, with me on this in quotes, journey, the hallway. So she was very intimate with all the details, naturally of what I had in experience. And she there’s one session in particular that stood out where she cautioned me, she’s like, I want you to take this advice very seriously. She’s a and she said that based on everything you’re telling me. I would diagnose her as being manic depressive, if not borderline PTSD, and probably bipolar, based on all the issues because she was also very promiscuous after we were separated too. But her big word of caution was that it’s not a matter of if it’s when there will come a point where she’s going to implode, as you said, I can’t I can’t tell you how that will manifest itself. It can be in a number of ways. But she said, I just want you to be prepared that it could be as bad as what her mother did. And to put some context to that, like when her mother committed suicide. The one thing that Jen said was that How could she do this to me? How could she do this to her grandkids like and I had her words that will resonate with me forever or that I could never, ever do this to my kids or my family. so yeah
Jenna Fortinski 20:04
so you had been given this knowledge that you know potentially there was something big coming your way based on gems behaviors and you know what you were seeing happening so what happened next so you i assume you were taking a lot of care for the children that you had assumed a lot of control over that and and we’re helping them through this so what happened next
yeah so after she moved out the boys basically stayed with me the whole time and i would leave them with her during the day while i was at work and then i would just pick up pick them up and then pick up us you know basically like a single parent in essence and we would just do our nighttime routine and and morning routine and then the weekends they were with me pretty much all the time yeah so we just and that was the original plan was for them to the boys to be in quotes get comfortable with the situation and then look at doing sleep overs at their moms jen moved three times in the span of about six months before she kind of settled in a place where she i guess felt comfortable and good so but that whole time the boys just wanted to stay with me and for the evenings and in the weekends
Jenna Fortinski 21:38
and during this time did you did you have conversations with her about you know considering going back to counseling or trying to encourage her to get back to getting some support what was your viewpoint on it while you were in it
to be honest no okay the person that was before me was somebody i just i absolutely did not know she was so far down a rabbit hole of social media and narcissism that i any conversation we had was just around the kids or money and that that was honestly it so i maybe it sounds callous but just didn’t see the point like she just she was not she was somebody i didn’t know so i didn’t really quite know how to talk to her
Jenna Fortinski 22:37
yeah and i think like you know being the outsider i would view that as you being in crisis mode and you trying to protect what you could which would be your kids right so you putting a lot of time and effort into making sure that the kids had you know some sense of stability in their lives and caring for them and really you know putting your best foot forward for that right and and now this suppose that stranger had entered your life and learning how to manage the strangers behaviors and interactions because she basically had transformed into somebody completely different
absolutely yeah i crisis mode would be an excellent way to put it it was it was focusing on trying to create some form of normalcy for my for my sons i didn’t have unfortunately much i didn’t have any real control or say over my step daughters they they both have biological fathers that were alive so it was it was tough i mean i endeavored to try and keep a bit of relationship with them but it was it was tough yeah
Nicki Kirlin 23:49
and so what was life like for you then while you’re living through all of that that crisis of jen forming into this other person that you didn’t know and trying to shift your priorities in your own life what like what did that look like for you what was your life like at that point
it was really hard where do you go from having this what you view is like a perfect world and where you come home from work and the kids come home running up in to say hi and give hugs everybody’s happy and we’re having dinner as a family and playing games and laughing to being i can only like a single parent and now i mean i did some of the cooking before but now i’m doing all the cooking which is fine bedtime routine my little guy was only two so he was very young so dealing with that but the biggest issue was my eldest son started having really bad nightmares Yeah, after his mother moved out, after Jen moved out, terrified that I would leave and never come back. Because that’s what she did when she had the physical affair. She left for a week, and just said, I don’t know what I’m coming home. So it was, it was tough, like, but at the end of the day, like, failure wasn’t an option. Like I, I had two little dudes who looked up to me, and were relying on me, so I had to try and keep my stuff together work and keep my job and maintain the household and all that, like it was, it was a paradigm shift, per se, like it was, it was crazy.
Jenna Fortinski 25:44
And I think like, the, the crisis piece is so important, right? Because not only are we talking about grieving, you know, the, the passing of your mother in law, Cory right. Now, you’re also grieving the relationship that you had with your wife, right? grieving the the person that you thought your wife was, or the person that your wife was prior to everything happening, and then grieving that relationship with her. And now picking up the pieces of, like we said, creating some sort of stability for your sons. So that’s a lot to take on in a very short period of time, for one human being right. So, you know, like, kudos to you. No kidding, right? for, for taking that on. And, you know, like, It’s really incredible, what, you know, the human brain is capable of, in terms of being able to cope through something so incredibly difficult, and still be able to navigate it and to care for, you know, to other human beings. And, you know, ensuring their safety and their stability. So, you know, like, again, kudos to you. It’s, it’s truly incredible. You know, that you were going through this, and, you know, everything that you took on in this state of crisis. Constant crisis.
Thank you. Yeah, it was, it was surreal is the only word I can put to it. It was, I honestly felt like I was in a dream. Or like, I was living some TV series, or you know what I mean? Like, I was watching some soap opera. But then I looked in the mirror, and it was me. It wasn’t a TV. Yeah. So it was.
Jenna Fortinski 27:29
And you would almost have to, like, you’d have to put up some sort of barrier to be able to navigate, you know, and, and to, you know, find some sort of safety for yourself in terms of protecting yourself and your own vulnerabilities and your own emotional stability. And yeah, like that. I can’t imagine, you know, even every morning waking up and looking in that mirror and saying, like, my God, this is my life. Right?
Yeah. And, and you’re right, and but with that was the epic uncertainty of well, what is tomorrow gonna bring? And what’s the day after that? Because we’re separated now. So what’s that going to look like? And what’s what’s separation and divorce gonna look like what’s child care and child raising? And, like, there are so many things. But the one thing that my therapist was amazing with was just was grounding me. And getting me to focus and saying, you’ve got to get your head out of the hole, what if world and focus on now, and focus on your health, and physical and mental and focus on what matters most which was my boys, and my job? So, and that was good. And she was very good reminding me of that. And she allowed me the latitude to vent and blow my what ifs and, and the omgs and all that stuff. And that was great. And that’s what I needed. And she would say, Okay, that’s good. Glad you got it out. Now, let’s, let’s get focused. And let’s give you some tools. Let’s review some of the skills and ideas that I’ve given you and are they working? Do we need to amend them? That kind of thing? So it was, she was amazing. In and keeping me grounded and focused, which, honestly, that is, that was absolutely the hardest thing to do. In that situation. You just you’re, you’re spinning like a top. Yeah. And she grabbed my hand and, and kept me straight, which thank God for her. Yeah. Yeah.
Nicki Kirlin 29:52
So you’re in a place of thinking about what ifs and what was what was to come. So what what came what What’s next?
Well, for everybody listening if you thought it couldn’t get any worse, in August of 2018, my boys and I had this, I started this reoccurring trip that we did each year, where since 2016, we would pack up the truck, and we drive down to silver wood and all across Washington State. And we’d hit up water slide parks, water parks, and we do like a camping trip. We do lots of tenting and water slides. It was awesome. So that became an annual endeavor for us. It was super fun. We always did it right before school started. So I kind of a last hurrah before school, right. So it was awesome. And yeah, so I was in BC, literally crossing the border into Washington State. And the father of my eldest stepdaughter was trying to call me. Of course, I couldn’t answer the phone cuz I was at the border. And so after I get across, he’s like, he calls. I call him back. And he’s like, do you know where Jen is? And I’m like, Well, no, I’m in Washington State. I have no idea. I assume she’s home or something. And he’s like, well, we can’t get ahold of her. And my eldest stepdaughter was supposed to go back home to her mom that night, on the bus, and so I said, No, I’m sorry, I don’t know. Maybe there’s somebody in town, you could go check on her, like, see if she’s home or, and so had a friend of a friend, friend of a friend of hers of Jen’s go to the house party. And there was a weird note on the door that said, the dog’s name is Kai, the door code is blocked. I don’t even know what it was. And we seem to odd right in the code, you put your door code on the outside, but the first thought that was weird, and they punched in the code and just cracked the door and said, Hello, Is anybody there? The dog was barking, but nobody’s answering. So from That’s weird. And so he called me back. He’s like, yeah, nobody’s answering. I’m like, I don’t know. Like, any better car was there. So that was weird, as well. But you could have been out on a date or, you know, sorry. So he’s like, well, we could you know, her Sorry, my stepdaughters friend’s. parents had said that they would pick her up from the bus depot, they want to set her home. And he’s like, Yeah, I just don’t feel good about this. I’m like, yeah, it seems weird. Because usually Jen was very good about being around. So I said, Well, I don’t know. Maybe you should call the RCMP and get a welfare check. And the police the RCMP went there and Jenna committed suicide. So I was at How’s that? Costco and Bellingham seems Costco theme. And thankfully, I was with my I call it my surrogate father, who was with me, thank goodness. And we were in inside Costco when I got the call that she had committed suicide, completed suicide. And he saw my face and he took the boys out for a walk and are through the store. And yeah, I found out that she had committed suicide and that it wasn’t that day, it seemed. I later got a call from the constable that his ticket been a couple of days since until they found her. So it was it was brutal, because we’re in the middle of our fun trip. And not that that’s the sad part. It’s just the hard part was that now, I was armed with this information, where I had to put on a smiley face and keep up appearances with my kids and make like nothing was wrong. Um, I was going to stay with a friend down there, and I didn’t tell them until the morning. But I had to wrestle with that. Naturally. I didn’t sleep at all that night trying to process the fact that oh my gosh, like my mother in law is committed suicide and now my estranged wife is now committed suicide two. It was it was unbelievable.
Nicki Kirlin 34:55
That’s an understatement. I think so Presumably then, after that unfortunate event, you were seeking counseling once again.
Well, yeah, it You see, once again, I never actually stopped. So, and I was grateful that I still had my same therapist. And are no sorry, pardon me, I did not have the same therapist to get a different cuz she was promoted and rightfully so. And but the new therapist I have is great. And she was excellent in comforting me was the biggest part honestly, that’s what I needed the most because it, it was one thing to contend with the fact that she had committed suicide. But going back a minute, like the hardest part was the looming moments that I knew was coming that I couldn’t avoid. Where I had to tell my sons, which was absolutely the worst day of my life. But it had to be done. They needed to know.
Jenna Fortinski 36:35
so the kids piece we will tackle in the next episode.
Yeah, that’s a whole other story is.
Jenna Fortinski 36:45
So we’re gonna wrap up this part of the story right now. And talk about the shockwaves in the next episode. So if we look at where you were, at that point in your mental health journey, if you could offer one piece of advice to our listeners, at that time, about mental health, what would you say?
Probably opposite of most people in that situation. I mean, my situations probably a little bit unique. I was already seeing a therapist, which was 100% needed. The big thing though, was that my mental health was being looked after. But my physical was not right. I was an avid gym goer, lifting weights. And I had stopped and my body suffered. The stress of the breakdown of my family caused me to lose 40 pounds in four days. Like when they say stress and anxiety is a killer. It’s not without warning. The one thing I found was that by going to the gym, it was a release of all the stress and anxiety that I had in my body. And it gave me a physiological release and break from all the hell I was going through. And I can’t stress enough how important it is to not only balance your physical health, but with your mental. A lot of us this day and age, everything that’s pumped into your head is all about going to the gym, eating well, which is absolutely important. But your brain is a muscle, I think. And it absolutely needs the due care and attention that the rest of your body does. And when you’re going through even a fraction of what I’ve had to go through at this point, you need that full complement of everything for your own health. And truthfully, if I didn’t have that physical component, it would have been a lot harder to go through all the mental therapy that I was doing. So I can’t stress enough how important it is to balance all aspects of your health and it’s the physical is important, without doubt, and eating well and all that stuff. But also balancing your mental health too. And with that, one thing I want to do stress immensely is that I ceased taking in any alcohol. While I was I don’t smoke but I did I stopped taking all alcohol because that is such a detriment to your mental health. Mental recovery had honestly your physical too. So your body is a temple. And but it’s not only just a physical temple, it’s a mental one too. And it’s I think, I just want to stress how important for me it was anyway, that I needed to have the balance of both both elements, not just one they need, they need to they work in tandem. And it wasn’t until I started going to the gym and conduct in conjunction with my, my counseling that I really started to do better. A lot better.
Nicki Kirlin 40:38
Excellent. Yes, that’s fantastic advice. And just before we wrap up this episode, I think it would just be important to say thank you, to you, Rob, for sharing with us, up until this point, your journey and the struggles and challenges that you faced and we appreciate your openness and honesty and vulnerability. It’s
my absolute pleasure.
Jenna Fortinski 41:05
Yes, thank you. So the story continues. Part Three, welcome