I am, parts of me

I had a therapy appointment yesterday that was like nothing I’ve ever had before. Hard and painful don’t come close to describing it but those words are a start. It was with a therapist who I hadn’t seen before. She approached my regular counsellor after my “case” was presented at their rounds review saying that she thought she could help and offer me some insight. She specializes in hypnotherapy and dream/nightmare issues.

I was given the option to have a session with her and I thought it couldn’t hurt so why not? I am having issues not only with insomnia but with nightmares as well when I actually do sleep. Some of the nightmares are “real” events lived over, some are my minds interpretation of events that I wasn’t actually at but can visualize and others are so bizarre and unrealistic they seem to make no sense until I dissect them from writings the next morning and deduce that they are actually quite symbolic.

On to the session though…

I discovered a number of things about myself yesterday in that session. I have always known that I’m strong and independent and resilient. That I can, and have always, handled anything that comes my way. I wasn’t ever really made to be consciously aware of just how many things I’ve been through and shouldered and that was an eye opener for me yesterday. When my life was dissected from young childhood to now, it is hard to imagine how I never saw just how unhealthy my way of dealing with emotions was. To see, really see, that I have lived my life with a belief that I am healthy emotionally only to realize that I’m not is a zinger. I have always had almost a pride that I loved my kids so much and have been a good mom…but I never realized that that was the only thing that I did that wasn’t dysfunctional. I have spent my life shelving my emotions and my reactions all for the sake of doing what needed to be done and being “strong”. It started young and the pattern grew.  Lacking appropriate role models and support in how to show and properly process emotions surrounding events, I grew up doing what worked for me. That was to acknowledge the emotions and push them aside. I didn’t know how to “be” sad or angry or grieving AND live my life and do all the things that needed to be done. So, I shelved the emotions. As I got older and had my kids and went through a bad marriage and a divorce I did it consciously. Telling myself that I would deal with the emotional end of things “later” … once the details of separating and moving and making sure the boys were ok was all taken care of. But the reality is that when life did settle…who the hell wants to open the cupboard of hidden emotions and deal with them. They’re fine in there…just fine…. Close the door, lock it and keep going. Then the next big thing would happen and the doors would be opened just enough to shove in more and slam it shut. And the “room” of my life stayed tidy and in control and all good. My façade of being in control and strong able to weather any storm was so well constructed that I believed it – to the point where I couldn’t NOT believe it.

I had friends throughout the years who saw my life and would ask me how I did it. My marriage ended and I had 3 little boys and was juggling a move and financial problems and then got double pneumonia… My answer was always the same “I just do, I don’t have a choice, so I just do it”. And I meant it. I did feel strong and “ok”. Sure, I had the odd day or so when I would cry and think that I didn’t know how I was going to get through it…but I woke up the next day, shrugged it off… slammed the cupboard door that was trying to open up… and went on with our lives. Worked great.

Then Willie became sick. The month before he went into the hospital I had a night when I snapped almost. It had been months of fighting and problems with Willie and things getting worse and not being able to figure out what was going on or how to fix it. I felt like I was struggling to keep my head above water and was failing. I could see it all starting to slip and fall apart and I didn’t know what to do. There was that one night that I lost it all. I screamed – not at any of the boys in particular – but at them… I ranted and I yelled about stupid things…laundry, dishes, helping out… I was sobbing and pacing and threw things. I was out of control and I knew it. So I did what I thought was best. I told my oldest son to watch the others and I went out. I needed to get away and try to get myself under control.  I made it about 2 blocks before I realized that I couldn’t drive the way I was so I pulled over. I texted a friend and said that I didn’t know what I was going to do – that I couldn’t keep it all together anymore but that I HAD to. It was a horrible feeling. I contemplated suicide that evening and the only thing that stopped me was my boys. As I sat in my car, shaking and crying and not knowing how I could get through things, my boys had called their Dads because they were so worried about me. When I went home my youngest was scared and worried and needed calming down so I held him and read him a bedtime story and told him I was ok. I apologized to the older boys and tried to explain that it’s hard keeping it all going…and sometimes the balls get dropped…but that I was ok. And the cupboard door that had popped open got slammed shut – hard. The following week was when Willie wrote me the note saying that he wanted to die. After that, the only thing that mattered was making him better.

So here I find myself…a year and a half after Willie’s death.

As the therapist pointed out, I spent the first 6 months essentially in control mode. Doing what needed to be done; moving to Victoria in that time, re-settling, finding a job and a place and getting relocated. Over the next months or so the truth of what had happened starting to crawl into my conscious mind.

She explained how we all have different parts of ourselves, how I have a “thinking/controlling” part that is strong and dominant and resilient and takes over whenever something emotionally challenging is being faced. This is the part of me that I so closely identify with. If I had to pick, this is who I would say is “me”. This is the “me” that I have been taking about wanting to get back to being. But she is only a part of me. A part that was created to keep “me” safe and ok. This part works very closely with another part that is responsible for stuffing those emotions. That part has the job of grabbing those emotions and the turmoil and the pain and slamming them closed up into that cupboard and locking it. She then passes the torch to the Thinker who runs with it, making sure that life keeps going…now those pesky emotions are taken care, it’s easy.  That emotional stuffing part is like a strong steel band that encompasses “me” binding and holding everything in…but also causing a weight and denseness with all of the pent up pain and hurt. Like anything pent up, eventually it bursts.

So I got settled here in Victoria. The “must take care of” items were done… I had an apartment; I was moved in and unpacked. My job was pretty much stable; I had friends and a social life that was growing. “Life” was moving on as it should. That was when the cupboard doors started to rattle. You see, that part that kept shutting away those emotions knows that they can’t stay there forever. When Thinking me had nothing that HAD to be dealt with…well… why not bring out some emotions and deal with them finally so they can be emptied out. The problem is though that once those doors opened, all hell broke loose.

Trying to come to the awareness that I need to feel, really feel, emotions is hard for me. They hurt. A lot. As my writing yesterday stated…it’s not like I cry and it gets better… these are emotions, some of them, that are going to take a long time to get easier to live with and to become less painful. Thinker part of me just wants to make them go away so that I can be “ok” and live my life, now. Not “eventually” or “someday” when the hurt might be better, but NOW.

Yesterday’s therapy session was a chance to shelve my conscious, thinking and controlling me and let the emotional guardian step forward. A chance to tell her that it’s ok; she doesn’t need to protect me anymore by hiding away the emotions. That yes, once that was good and helpful and needed. That I was young and I did need to be “ok” to get done what needed to get done. Now though… I’m older, I have resources and support and help to guide me through processing those hurts and those painful emotions. That her “services” are no longer needed. The emotions are out and can stay out. Burn the cupboard and throw away the useless lock and keys now. From this point on, the old hurts and memories will be dealt with and new ones will be faced, as they present themselves. The healthy way. Maybe not less painful, but healthier.

I finished the session with a headache, having cried and yelled and been in so much pain… but also aware. My body was dizzy and wet from the sweat. My muscles sore from clenching and shaking. The remainder of the day was spent with tears that came suddenly and randomly. An odd mixture of clarity and detachment.

I am still trying to process and make sense of yesterday. What I do know is that who I thought “I” was isn’t clear anymore. I am the parts of me but there is also “me” that is all at once more and all of who I am. As the Sanskrit saying is … Satnam, “I am”.

The Lie

The lie is so simple really. So simple that we believe it. We believe it because it feels true. It feels true because we WANT it to be true.

The lie is basic… you hurt, you cry, you feel better. A scraped knee, you cry, your mother kisses it and asks “all better now?” and you sniffle up your tears and say it is.

My son screamed rather than cried. He screamed with his voice and with his journals and with his actions. And I cried and told him it would be better. And neither one of us believed it. And it wasn’t. And he left. The finality of his action showing the real truth. That you can’t make something better just by saying or believing it should be.

Grief; I hurt, I cry… it doesn’t feel better. I cry more… I still don’t feel better and the hurt is still there. There is no scrape to stop from bleeding, no bandage that will cover the wound and protect it while it heals. No matter how many people tell you it will get better or how often they smile and ask “isn’t it even just a little bit better?” with that hope in their eyes – that hope that they need so that they can convince themselves that it DOES get better… because, after all, we WANT to believe the lie.

But the truth is… I hurt, I cry…it doesn’t feel better.

The truth is grief is like running a marathon where they keep moving the finish line. Add in depression and it’s like running that same marathon while juggling.  After a while you start to think there is no finish line. That may be the scariest truth of all.

Drifting vs. Rowing

Drifting vs. rowing… I liken life as a journey. On journeys, as in life, we have choices. I have always been a very directed and active person with regards to where my life is going and making it the way I want it to be. Very much a “rower”. Not content to sit back and drift and see where life’s current will take me…I’m NOT just along for the ride. The fact is that if you don’t direct where you want to go and want you want your life to be, you will end up where someone else decided you should be.

Needless to say, losing Willie has knocked me on my ass as far as being able to row, or even see the shore to reach. Grief settles a fog over every part of life and makes it so hard to navigate the waters. After a time, for me, depression moved in and it was like the rowboat sprung a leak and now I had to row, navigate AND try to bail the water that was ever rising threatening to sink me.

As some may know, I took myself off all medications for depression and insomnia about 2 and a half weeks ago.

The decision was an easy one really. Deciding to go ON medication in the first place was a huge struggle for me and one that I faced every time I took a pill.

I have dealt with depression at different times throughout my life and have always managed to get through it and deal with it with various manners of self-care… Yoga, meditation, running, writing… these have all been my “go-to” ways of coping and managing emotions. Being on anti-depressants felt like I had tossed the oars into the water and I was drifting… Placing my hopes on the whims of the current to carry me to the shore. Being off the pills is a lot like rowing against the current and sometimes feeling like I’m so unbalanced that I’m just spinning in circles but it also gives me the much needed empowerment of being the one in control of where I’m going. Not having that control and power was fueling the fires of weakness and futility that were stifling hope, for me.

I am starting to feel a shift in the current though this past week. Feeling like the water inside the boat isn’t rising so fast anymore and it’s manageable. The fog of grief is as thick as ever still and I know that’s not going to change for some time yet. But not having the feeling that I’m sinking is something at least. The depression is still there but not incapacitating like it has been. Not really hope yet but something close to it.

Starting to be able to discern what’s grief and what’s depression is a big step. They both might still be with me but at least I know what’s what – and that helps. Now I know when I need to take a day and put the oars away and bail… just get the water level down again so I can row forward…and when the water level is ok and I can try to get through the fog of grief.

The acceptance that grief will be a part of life… that I have to learn how to live with it and also figure out how to just “be” when the times of joy do happen… this is the journey… rowing again and not drifting now.

A Glimpse Inside

Scattered, chaotic thoughts rampage through my mind

My mind seems to jump and swing from one emotional arc to the next

A pendulum drawing erratic designs in the air of my mind

Swirls and figure eights, switchbacks and leap frogs of emotional paths careen across my senses

My responses along for the ride, beyond any semblance of control from my intention for stability

The landscape of thoughts changing from second to second at times

A single moment of sameness in feeling too much to ask for it seems

Knowledge that the architect of this hell is the same mind that screams to be free of it all

My mind and my thoughts turned in on itself in hatred and self-loathing through the struggle to

Be Free

More Questions than Answers

There are questions that I know will never be able to be answered…there are other questions however, that I know someone has to be accountable to.

This past week I met with a therapist from the office that provided some of Willie mental health care. During the time of Willie illness and care he was seen by the following:

  • 2 Therapists at with the Child and Youth Mental Health office (the CYMH – a government agency). This was our first stop after our family GP minimalized the suicide intent note and my visit to him asking for help.
  • A psychiatrist in the ER at Royal Columbian Hospital (RCH) for initial assessment
  • A different Psychiatrist at RCH during his week in the Pediatric Unit.
  • A team of therapists at the Adolescent Psychiatric Unit (the APU) at Surrey Memorial Hospital including case nurses, a Psychiatrist, a Social Worker and various counsellors.
  •  2 Therapists with a separate counselling office where he was referred after his release from the APU

 

I have requested records from all of the above parties and have met with varied results with my requests. Another time I may go into details about the ineffectiveness of the system and the inadequacies that are rampant, about how communication is near impossible in many areas and how that affects care and treatment – but this isn’t the time for that.

In my meeting with the rep from the CYMH this past week I had no expectations. My request for Willie’s records from them has already been denied and my request permanently closed but when they offered me an in-person meeting to discuss my son’s care I thought I may as well.

Going in with no expectations was a good idea as I have learned from past encounters, and I wasn’t disappointed. The therapist I met with is new to the office and knows of my son’s case my notes and emails only. He had with him a summary report of Willie’s file – not his actual file – and started by explaining that he could not give me copies of any records; including the summary he was holding. He also explained that he was not able to even let me see or read the summary he was holding.

I have so many unanswered questions regarding Willie’s care, a couple of these questions very specific to this office that part of me had hoped to get answers to. I left that meeting without answers and with a heaviness as I have to acknowledge that I have questions that simply will never be put to rest. Answers that this rep did his best to dissuade me from seeking further. We spoke, at length, about funding and avenues of information and resources (and the lack of) and how “the system” needs reform and changes. He also danced beautifully around any inference of any party possibly being at fault on any level. He answered most of my direct questions with “I don’t know” or “I don’t have an answer for that”. After an hour it was apparent I was going to leave with nothing more than I arrived with in terms of knowledge.

So the questions remain – as so many will I believe. The biggest question of all now is what do I do now? Do I simply accept that on many levels the ball was dropped, Willie was not treated with the care that he should have been and go on with my life? Do I let it go as I have been counselled to by so many? Do I try to enact change on some vague, pro-active level…being active in mental health reform possibilities but letting Willie’s personal care issues go to rest? Do I try to hold the specific agencies and Doctors accountable – what will be gained by that? Vengeance? Will they think and act differently next time they are presented with a suicidal youth? Will it help the next youth? Or is it just my anger that is driving me to push forward and ask for the records?

 

It would be easiest, many say, for me to just accept that what is, is… and let go and move on; but is that what’s right?

 

Sitting with more questions than ever now. And still no answers.

Another day

There’s that saying “it’s always darkest before the dawn” …along the lines of “it has to get worse before it gets better” My therapists have told me that as they try to explain to me why I am “worse” now. Why I have a harder time holding back the tears, why I am experiencing so much more rage and anxiety, why I am feeling the pendulum of desperate hopelessness and flickers of hope so much more intensely now than ever before in the last 18 months. PTSD sucks, to be put it mildly. This trip back to see the boys has been a struggle in composure for me. Every street I drive, every store I go into is an exercise in trying to control the over-whelming memories and swarms of physical attacks that accompany them. While I am honest with the boys about my feelings and how I am dealing with grief and depression I am also trying to not have them too acutely aware what I am going through right now. I know this is necessary and that eventually it will get easier. This trip in particular though is a really rough one.

Feeling jittery and angry this morning. Angry and impatient. I have never been a person blessed with patience and this is no surprise to me that I feel this way – and have for some time. I am not kind to myself when it comes to standards and expectations. I WANT to be better and to be able to move forward and I am exceedingly frustrated that I just am slammed back all the time by grief and depression. My anger at grief as it holds me is growing day by day it feels like. I have been counselled by therapists that I can’t struggle and resist it – that in order to heal and move through it I need to go into it and experience the pain and then process those feelings. I get that – but let’s face it… I have been “feeling” this shit for a while now and there has been (seemingly, to me) no “better”. Granted, maybe this is the “darkest before the dawn” time and I am just too immersed in it to see it and acknowledge it. I’ll concede that.

So I count the hours until I leave the mainland this morning. Partly anxious to be away from the places and visual reminders of pain…more so though hating to leave the boys and already missing them L. And seriously regretting not taking a sleeping pill last night; there’s nothing like a little extra sleep deprivation to put a spin of nerves and emotions on your morning…

Reminders

I am going over to mainland this week to visit with my kids. These visits are few and far between unfortunately due to finances and work schedules; thank goodness for technology. Skype, text, email and Facebook allow for communication at least, if not face to face contact.

These visits are a challenge though for me and they’re not getting easier. It’s been just over a year since I moved from the lower mainland to Victoria and while I did have a number of friends and family accuse me of moving in an effort to run away from memories and grief that was never my intention with the move. My move to Victoria had been something that I had been wanting to do for years; in fact it was something that was a discussion just prior to Willie becoming sick but was tabled until the boys were older.

Even though it wasn’t the reason why I moved, I do find that my trips back to the mainland are hard emotionally. We lived in Port Coquitlam for 12 years. The boys essentially grew up there.  Our lives were lived in a small neighbourhood. I may have commuted a lot for work all over the lower mainland but our “family” was pretty centralized to a few square kilometres. When I visit, it is a constant reminder of loss everywhere I look. Every street and shop and place holds memories of the boys in various stages of our lives. Some much more painful than others. We moved 6 times in 10 years within a 2km radius so just driving around to get groceries or go to a park or even out for a walk takes me past numerous “homes”. My heart breaks when I go past the last house we all lived in together. I can’t help myself though. I seek some of these places out. I sit and remember and try to feel the “family” and recall the good times and the happier memories. More often than not though it’s the pain that comes. The loss, the separation from what was. The grief for what’s gone forever. My mind relives the last few months there. The fights and the yelling; the hurtful words said by Willie out of frustration and pain. Words he apologized for and wished he could take back in his final goodbye to me.

I drive past the house where I was living when Willie died. My eyes glance to the driveway I was standing in when the police officer spoke the words that made my world stop. I drive by with tears in my eyes, my hands shaking and knuckles turning white trying to hold the steering wheel. The image of that night and that moment in my mind as if it was happening right then. My body feeling exactly as it did then. My heart racing, my mind goes numb and I pull over as I realize that I can barely see and the ringing in my ears is over-whelming.

The memories flood me as I drive around doing mundane tasks or heading to the mall or the movies with the boys now when I visit. I try so hard to maintain a “normalcy” to myself as my inner struggle with flashbacks and torment rages. The joy of seeing the boys tempering the hurt and giving me strength to not just stop and break down. The tears do come sometimes and the boys all understand and just let me be or try to comfort me.

I stay with my oldest boys when I come over. They live in the same suite that we lived in when they were first born and very young. The memories there are happy ones mainly. Images of them as babies and toddlers – a time when I was a mother to 3 young and incredibly busy boys. Times that I hold close to my heart. Connery now a part of new memories as I watch my 2 oldest, young men now and independent. Willie conspicuously not present physically but his presence everywhere I turn in this place. Seeing my 3 remaining sons and always feeling the empty place left by Willie’s death.

The visits always bittersweet as I try to balance being “here” for them but feeling lost in “then”. An edge of guilt that I should put behind me my grief so it doesn’t taint our short times together all the while knowing that I can’t. My hopes that they understand the comfort that I gain from being with them – even just sitting in the same room with them gives my spirit a softness and a sense of “rightness”. They are the reason I keep going right now.