Sunshine and a chill

The day after Willie died was a day like today as far as weather is concerned.

I remember so clearly that morning after; looking at the cloudless blue sky and the bright sun coming up and my only thought was “how can the sun still be rising like everything is the same as yesterday when it’s not?” It felt so surreal to have the day so beautiful and gorgeous and indicative of what we all want in a winter day – sunshine and a bit of warmth. This on a day that I woke up feeling like I hadn’t woken up at all. A feeling in my stomach like there was no way in the world that what I remembered from yesterday had really happened. That followed by the reality that it did happen and that this feeling I was having was real.

Driving that day to the morgue in the sunshine…having to put down the windows in the car because the heat was so much from the sun shining in as we drove. I remember Ben, Willie’s brother, making a comment about how weird it was to have weather like this on a day like it was. It was such a complete opposite from how we were all feeling inside. Sitting in the car at a stop light I remember closing my eyes for a minute and the heat and the sun on my face in the car made me want to just go to sleep. I had been tossing and turning all night and was both exhausted and strangely wired awake at the same time.

The air had a chill to it but the sun was so bright that without the wind, it warmed you quickly. That briskness to the chill followed by spreading heat when the wind dies down for a minute. Like a hug that sends away the shivers.

I hated the heat and how good it felt after so many days of cold and rain that week. Hated it because it only made the emptiness inside me worse. That was the first thing that I realized was gone because of Willie’s death. The way the heat from the sun normally made me feel was tainted. I couldn’t sit and enjoy it because of how cold I was inside. Willie would never feel this again and that was something that I heard inside my own head all that day.

It was sunny all the next week. Everyday a repeat of that one. Sunshine and clear skies and the chill slightly off the air.

The weather broke the day of his service. One week after his death we awoke to a day of absolute gray skies and a downpour that kept steady all day. Pouring rain and a biting chill in the air that made you wish you had 3 more layers on. Weather that perfectly captured the loss and the feelings of that day.

On days like today, I walk in the sunshine and smell the chills in the air and remember that first day after and how I felt. And today I close my eyes and feel the sun on my face and the heat and I can smile again a little. Not as much as I used to, but a little bit.

Not Just Another Day

Today, instead of celebrating my son’s 18th birthday, I’m grieving the loss of him no longer being here. Willie was 16 on Feb 1st 2012 when he took his own life and ended his struggle with mental illness in a horribly permanent way.

Willie wasn’t bullied, either in person or via the numerous cyber-bullying means which are so widely talked about and acknowledged now. He was one of the thousands of “others”. The youth who suffer from a myriad of disorders of the mind ranging from anxiety to depression to early-psychosis and so many more; too many to list. Mental illnesses that are quiet and internal – a veritable bullying from the inside for these youth. Depression and anxiety and the small early warning signs of psychosis that mimic other disorders don’t have someone to blame and point a collective finger at to demand help and intervention. There is no single antagonist, no group even to direct admonishments towards and strive to enact laws and consequences for behaviour that hurts and destroys like bullying does.

To often, for these youth, they suffer alone and many times purposely hide their symptoms and fears. I know my son did. Until it became too much for him and, in a moment of clarity, he reached out to me and asked for help from what was scaring him and destroying his own mind.

What followed was a journey that was short and so chaotic as to be unbelievable, even now, looking back in retrospect. A journey that highlighted, for our family, that there are glaring issues in the mental health system that need to be addressed and changed. I have come to see that the problems I encountered were not, and are not, isolated issues – but rather, an ongoing and well known lacking that is seemingly impossible to correct.

From our family doctor who ignored the first concerns when he was 13 as “normal teenage behaviour”; then brushing off my son’s note stating his desire to be dead as a “bluff”.

From the Adolescent Psychiatric Unit medical personnel who refused to see journals that outlined a dark and worsening mental illness. That choice resulting in treatment and a diagnosis that was akin to being treated for the flu when you have cancer.

From government agencies and contracted private counsellors who gave conflicting information of avenues of assistance upon his release from the hospital we heard the doors of help slamming shut on our son. Promises (made in writing) of who would provide follow-up psychiatric care ending with my phone calls and visits and questions in circles. Psychiatric care that never did come.

We were faced with “help” that was not designed to actually do anything other than move the youth out as fast as possible to ensure that the beds were available for the next one to come along who was in worse condition. A system that is tragically under-funded and has a demand on it that it has no way of satisfying in its current state. Staff and medical personnel that have their hearts in the right place but know that they are just putting bandages on wounds that need far more.

When my son gave me a handwritten note telling me that he thought he needed medical help; that he wanted to be dead and that he didn’t know what to do, I promised him we would find help and that it would be alright. I promised him that there were doctors and places for help for what he was going through. I convinced him to try and to hold on to that hope. He did – until he felt, from what he saw, that there was no hope.
I’m not certain how the changes need to be enacted but I do know that not one more person should ever get to the point that my son did of losing hope in a system that’s main reason of being is to provide that.

Reactions from the gut

It still stuns me how some things will hit me like a ton of bricks from out of left field. I’ve been thrown for a loop the last few days and have not been able to figure out why. It’s been a tough couple of weeks overall – another dip in the rollercoaster of grief – and I’ve been managing but these last 3 days have been a struggle again to even get through the days. Today being the cap off of all day in bed almost and more crying than I care to think about (and the ensuing headache as well).

I got into my car a few days ago and noticed that my drivers side mirror was gone. It either fell off or got knocked off and someone had placed it on my hood. An annoyance and an expense that is not welcome but really, not a big deal in the scope of things. More an inconvenience than anything else – but it’s so much more.

You see, 2 years ago in late November 2011, when Willie was in the hospital my side view mirror in the drivers side was also broken. Willie had just been admitted to the Adolescent Psychiatric Unit in Surrey Memorial and and the Port Mann Bridge was under construction. Anyone who lives in the lower mainland area will be able to appreciate the issue with trying to merge in and out of major traffic on a bridge under construction…freeway exits…dealing with the emotions of everything at the same time…to say it was stressful is an understatement.

The feeling in my gut when I went to check my side view mirror the other day as I was pulling out and saw that blank space where it should have been was like a punch. It knocked the wind out of me and made my head spin. Flashbacks, dizziness, sweating, seeing black and splotchy in my vision….all from one seemingly tiny thing. I went from managing my emotions and functional to a disaster and barely able to see straight in about 30 seconds flat. I have done more driving in the last few days than I normally do and that feeling hits everytime I look over and instinctively look for the mirror as I check to merge or change lanes. It’s lessening, but still there.

Skyping with my youngest son last night and he’s going on and on about Thanksgiving Dinner with his Dad and I’m sad but doing ok. Sad that another “tradition” is lost; turkey dinners and everyone sitting around enjoying it is gone. For 22 years I cooked a turkey dinner on Thanksgiving and Christmas. Last year that all changed. Now, I remember and miss it.

So the conversation with my son is going along and we’re chit chatting and everything is “normal”. He mentions the pumpkin pie he had for dessert (and breakfast) and suddenly, out of nothing, the tears come up. Like a sneeze – uncontrollable and unstoppable – the tears fall and I gasp to stop myself from sobbing. We’re on video with each other and the light is low enough that he can’t see me trying to get myself under control. Something so little as a mention of a pie and the flashbacks and pain rears up. And why? A little thing… Willie loved pumpkin pie. It was, hands down, the main reason he enjoyed Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. He could care less about turkey and all the sides… it was the pumpkin pie or tarts – with the whipped cream – that he loved. It’s not something I thought of or was swelling on… it was in the memories though and that one comment drove it forward in an instant.

That, my friends who don’t understand grieving and especially ptsd, is how it happens. It not a conscious thought; it’s not a directed “I’m going to think of this and be sad”; it’s a guttural and instinctive and subconscious response – out of my control or direction. What I can control is my reaction to these triggers… and I’m working on it. But understand that I have no way of predicting what or when these things “hit me”. I can’t “not react” to that initial slam. It’s like telling someone who’s been sucker punched that they shouldn’t have gotten knocked down. You can get back up again and shake it off and tend your wounds – that’s the best you can do. That’s what I’m doing.

Numbers

I have always had a “thing” for numbers. I used to work for the visa centre for Royal Bank and I could easily memorize and recall merchant numbers, prefixes, codes etc easily. The numbers just stuck. I didn’t try, they just did. I could recite specific card numbers back if needed for re-entry at times. Just the way it was. Some numbers have always recurred in my life. 3:21pm for instance. This was what time I got out of junior high every day for three years. I still remember that every time I look at a clock at 3:21pm. I don’t try to recall that, it’s just there.

Birthdays, anniversaries…. all sorts of dates for people I hold close and some I can barely remember… but the numbers stick. I have phone numbers and addresses for the last 20 years still bouncing around inside of my head, able to be called forward at whim. Birthdays of relatives long gone still flicker on the dates as they come every year.

A quirk that has helped me and fascinated me but just the way I am.

4:14am, 9:56am, 12:15pm, 9:49pm… Birth times of my children.

Whenever I glance at a clock and see one of those times I immediately am taken back to those times. It’s automatic. I see 9:49pm on the clock and the first thought in my head is “Son 4’s birth time”. Subconscious almost.

Feb 1st… The day Willie died. Time… not sure for certain. He was alone when he left this life and only he knows the when; and the why… 12:50pm… the time that it was when I looked at the clock at work that date and almost called him. But I didn’t. 2:30pm… what time I did call him and there was no answer. Times that stick in my mind now.

The first of every month comes and I struggles to make it through. It’s not a conscious intended memorization and recognition… it just happens.

Oct 14th. Willie’s original due date for his birth. I can’t stop my mind from remembering these numbers. Oct 21st. What would have been Willie’s 18th birthday.

3, the number of my children I have who I can still tell that I love and miss them and have them here to hear me.

1, the number of my children no longer alive but that I love and miss every day.

Pineapple, grapes and rice crackers

Pineapple, grapes and rice crackers… that was Thanksgiving Dinner this evening. Now, don’t think I was alone because I have no one. I was invited to 2 different dinners by friends. Both I initially said yes to and both I then quickly changed my mind. Why?
Because today is a not good day for me. Why? I don’t know. It’s that simple. Yesterday was allright. Helping friends refinish and build some furniture. Lots of laughter and companionship. A good day. A small blip of “up” from the massive ptsd moments that hit the day before (another story…coming soon when I can form that experience into words). A day that did end with me leaving and going home feeling exhausted and mentally drained. I’m not used to happy emotions and while the day was good, it was draining.
I barely slept last night and awoke this morning tired and full of tears. Willing myself to be excited to meet a friend for breakfast before another day of furniture work with friends I headed out. Had an honestly enjoyable breakfast and good conversation. Conversation that was all at once good but also taxing. I walked away feeling like I had run a marathon. Not that I had put on a face and faked it so much as that it had taken every last bit of reserves that I had to carry myself through it.
The rest of the day spent trying to keep my emotions in check and be able to function. A blanket of sadness sitting on me as I went throughout the days activities… Finally cancelling out on the first set of dinner plans and just going home.
Reaching out to another friend after a couple hours at home. The solitude and aloneness too much. Another invite to a dinner and I accept spontaneously only to then withdraw within a few minutes as the prospect of a room full of various friends and conversation and interaction just overwhelms me. The mere thought of that too much for me as I feel like all I would do is be in the way and have nothing to offer in the way of company or ambience.
This is not a case of “poor me” or ” they’re all going to have more fun without me” pity party – it’s the reality that being like “this” in a room full of people who aren’t makes me feel even more alone. The clipped replies I get now when I cancel out of “ok, take care” then nothing does make me feel like the invite was cursory and like my presence won’t be missed anyways so why bother? It feels like it has become a case of “ok, we’ll invite you but if you need some convincing, we’re not doing it anymore – you said no but meant ‘yes please help draw me out’ but we’re all done with that”!
I’m not always able to say that I want to come but feel like I’m a social pariah now. I have a very hard time reaching out and feeling now like no one is even willing to meet me half way when I do is crushing. I really don’t need another “tough love” text or email or conversation. Trust me, I AM trying… evenings spent alone knowing that this isolation is self-imposed are not made better by getting a text saying that I was invited and chose to stay home so don’t complain that you feel lonely.
Thanksgiving… I could recite all the wonderful things in my life to be thankful for – and I have many – I know that. But the truth is that tonight I feel far from thankful.

Bullying, from the inside

October 10th was World Mental Health Day. For the first time in a long time I did not go on Facebook for the entire day. It was on purpose as I knew there was going to be tons of posts and updates about a variety of observances and memorials. The majority of them revolving around cyber-bullying and teen suicide. Where my head is right now I just can’t quite face the barrage of it all. Even now, a couple of days later, the feed is filled with it and I skip past them instead of clicking and reading articles and watching videos. The pain of immersing myself in it, even to acknowledge it, is just too much. Not to mention that there is a side of frustration, and yes, some anger, that the focus seems to be almost entirely on teens that have committed suicide due to bullying. While this is a major issue, we also need to remember that there are thousands of youth that suffer quietly from depression, early psychosis, anxiety and a myriad of other mental illnesses. These are the kids that slip through the cracks of a faulty mental health care system and too many of them just simply give up and decide the only way to end their pain is to end their lives.
These kids are “bullied” by their own minds and their own thoughts. Who do you fight against as a mother when you see that it’s what’s inside your son that is causing him the trauma and the pain? What do you do when you see the system fail to help and see the hope fading from your son’s eyes with every avenue of “help” that is blocked or impossible to navigate? I had to outright lie to my son to keep his hope up at times. I lied to him that the Dr gave me info when in fact he had brushed it off and I had left with no help at all. Did I want Willie to know that the doctor who had cared for him since he was 4 years old tossed his letter written explaining his desire to kill himself like it was garbage? Instead, lecturing me on my parenting and my divorce. No, I hid that from him and told him I was contacting someone else.
So, yes, bullying needs attention, it needs awareness and it needs help. But don’t forget about the kids who have only themselves and their own minds that drive them to suicide. Depression and other quiet mental illnesses are not as marketable and commercially magnetic but they are every bit as deadly.

Anger and Fear

Tonight I’m angry. Actually, angry may not be a strong enough word to convey the emotions I’m feeling but it’s as close as I can get I think.

Angry that the day started with trying to make it to work through a fog of tears… willing myself to take one more step after each one feeling heavy and slow. Angry at the way that I walk in the door at work and turn on the fake smile and cheerful attitude that hides what’s inside. Angry that I do this so well that barely anyone at work knows what I struggle with every day.

Angry that I see myself as too damaged and broken to have anything to offer another person; so I isolate and cut off new possibilities before they have a chance to falter from my inability to connect the way I wish I could.

Angry that it is another day of feeling like I am barely holding on. Angry that this is supposed to be “progress”. Angry that when I do reach out for help the response that I get now is “you’ll be fine”, dismissively and curtly. Angry that I am angry at that. I have pushed people away firmly in my pain so why am I hurt now that they give polite and distant support rather than trying to be close…

I’m angry that this pain and despair taints each day and colours every experience with grey. I’m angry that I can’t just “get over it” or decide to be “better”. Angry enough to feel like not wanting to try to explain to one more person that I AM trying. Anger doesn’t begin to capture THAT feeling.

I’m angry at how much I hate myself for being the way that I am. Angry at grieving. Angry at my emotions and at my feelings. Angry at how my reactions to situations are altered…. temper flaring unwarranted at times and a complete vacuum of feeling at all at other times. Angry that rage fills the spaces that joy should reside. Angry that apathy is the best that I hope for every day.

Angry that there have been good moments and even a few hours here and there of good; but that this fog keeps rolling back in, clouding any of the good.

I’m angry at Willie. Angry that he believed that what he did was the best option. Angry at the mental illness that destroyed him from the inside out, leaving an angry, self-destructive shell.

No, not just anger. Rage, fury and exhaustion. And scared. Scared that I will be as alone as I feel I’m becoming because of this grief and anger.

One step forward, 2 steps back ?

I feel so confused and drawn in different direction. I feel there is that strength in me again…small and not well steeped, but it’s there. I can feel it again. A baby step towards reclaiming my Self that has been lost since Willie’s death. Yet, like a flame, it flickers and sometimes blows out completely – leaving me crushed and sobbing and feeling like I’ve made no progress at all towards healing. Every time it goes out, I wonder if it was really there at all…whether it will light again… and whether this is my path for the rest of my life. To live with the confusion, the hurt, the yearning and the faltering missteps of a life lived mired in grief.

I see my longer-known friends slowly distancing. As words of encouragement are spoken the contact becomes less and less. Instead of almost daily texts or emails it now is down to simply when I reach out to touch base. I have had a couple of friends honest enough to explain that they simply feel helpless – that there’s nothing they feel they can do to help so they will just “be here waiting” for me when I “return”. The others who have just merely quietly slipped out of my life in any significant way have left hints of the same sentiment. Instead of the usual cajoling to get me to come out if I said I was feeling down I now get “you do what you need to , take care” then no contact for days until I text or email. Essentially telling me that pretty much everyone is done with me being out and about but not being able to be “normal”. A very nicely worded and phrased version of “stay away until you’re better because we can’t help you so you make us uncomfortable…. but soooo looking forward to seeing you when you can be fun and talkative like you used to be”.

I have helpful friends who try to point out that I push people away, that friends get frustrated when I won’t take their advice and help myself to try to get better. Yes, I do push at times…grief and depression may be hard to be around but take my word on this – it’s fucking hell to live with it inside of you. It makes me behave in ways that aren’t “me”. It makes me push people away because I hate myself so much like this I can’t stand the idea of someone I care for seeing me at my lowest. The truth is that I am trying, very hard… and to the best of my abilities. It may appear like I’m not or like I’m just content to stay where I am emotionally but I am trying harder than anyone can imagine to pull my life together and be able to move forward. The scars on my arms from cutting are a testament to that fact. Signs that I chose a non-permanent outlet for the pain when it gets too much rather than what my grief filled mind tells me is the only way to end the pain. I’m not proud of those scars but I am damn proud that I’m still here to hate them.

What doesn’t help is when I have a down day and reach out… to be given the tough love “somebody needs to tell you to put on your big girl panties” speech. Trust me… I’ve recited it enough to myself to know it by heart. I can’t choose to let go of the PTSD flashbacks and emotions that accompany them anymore than I can decide I’m going to have brown eyes tomorrow instead of my blue ones I was born with.

There have also been wonderful surprise connections lately with newer friends who have met me as I am now, and still want to forge ahead with building a friendship. I am very grateful for these friends and for the hope for myself that I see in my beginning friendships.

I am not my grief, yet it is inside of me and it shapes me in a new direction that I can’t quite see yet. I have learned and accepted that it will never go away… I will always have days that I am knocked on my ass and am consumed by the loss of Willie. Those days are part of “me” and whoever is in my life has to accept that as well.

I’ve also accepted that life is still there for me to live and enjoy and experience; something I intend to do fully…something I am trying to do – some days more successfully than others right now. Celebrating the small victories and the little windows of joy that are there. Not beating myself up for a day when I can’t get out of bed and also remembering to acknowledge the days and give myself a pat on the back for when I do what I had to.

Rollercoaster

I’ve had my therapists explain to me that grieving is like riding a rollercoaster. That sometimes the bottom just drops out from underneath of you. That is entails a lot of ups and downs and varying speeds and degrees. A pretty good analogy I think.

This ride for me has been one with very few “ups”. Yes, there are parts of days that are not bad and I am a master at being “fine” at work. So great at it, in fact, that it’s now become a real issue… how to be not “ok” when I just simply can’t be anymore… like today.

Blind-sided by emotions today at work. Pressures on me to put together and finalize the year end budget and the proposed operating budget for next year has me spinning. On the third draft now and every time I send it off for review it gets returned within minutes with notations and more needed … supporting tables and calculations needed…. demands for more detail or justification for expenses… projected revenue for proposed new contract staff… it just keeps going on and on. Not normally things that would stump me. But right now…. yes. Far beyond what I am capable of delivering. I sent it off yesterday knowing it wasn’t my best and knowing that it lacked but also knowing that it was the best I could put together. Which I noted. Today’s review resulted in hours more work that’s needed and calculations and tables that are just very simply, overwhelming.

The tears that sprang up after I had closed by office door and was alone were surprising. I do not break down at work. I have cultivated such a facade of being cheerful and normal and level tempered that for me to be anything but that is unimaginable. A few of my staff know what I’m dealing with but none know the depth of it or how it really affects me. I have heard a couple of them have conversations regarding the depression that another staff member is dealing with and the opinion has been voiced that you either “pull yourself together” or just stay away if you can’t be ok at work. That the work environment doesn’t need to be “polluted” by a bad mood. I had interjected at that time that depression is not a “bad mood” that you can just decide to make better but that’s the consensus of some of my staff. Little wonder that I put on the happy face and am always “fine”.

Except for today when I wasn’t. Even then I didn’t let on. I composed myself as best I could, gathered my belongs and made a quick exit after mumbling that I was going out for a walk. Once out, sending emails to advise that I would be working from home for the rest of the day.

So now I sit at home… trying to make my mind grasp numbers and details when all it’s doing is replaying the last time I saw my son…remembering the absolute pit in my soul when the police officer asked me if I had a family member named William as he stood in my driveway… remembering driving to tell his brothers that he was dead… work feels a million miles away.

I know I have to finalize these work issues before end of day tomorrow… logic and ration tell me that. The spiral of grief though is like a concrete wall that I’ve hit.

Rollercoaster my ass, this is a wrecking ball that hits you every time you start to get your footing.