We all deal differently

We all deal with things differently. Going through the death of my son has shown me that in so many ways.

I was at a conference recently where I saw and reconnected with people who I haven’t seen in a long time. Some of them were colleagues that I haven’t seen in a year or two; not since I moved away in summer 2012.

After the death of my son, I never really went back to my job. I did briefly but it was a disaster. People not sure what to say to me or how to act around me. On my part, I was trying to be “ok” and not at all pulling that off. After a couple of miserable attempts at getting back to “normal” I made the decision to not return. So the end result was that I basically fell off the grid to most of the people who I had known for the last 20 years or so.

Coming face to face with a few of them last year at another conference was hard. It was 2013 and it was my first time back since I had moved. I spent that conference ducking most people. The first hour I was on site I ran into a couple of people. With one, I burst into tears as soon as I saw him and had a hell of a time regrouping myself; the other turned and almost tripped over herself trying to take off in the other direction and pretend we hadn’t made eye contact.
Needless to say, I spent the rest of that weekend with my head down, going from session to session as isolated as I could and getting off site as fast as possible at the end. Not exactly a great experience.

This year, very different, and interestingly so. A lot of healing and change has happened in the past year in me. Also, I was open to just let it come as it would this year.

I spent the first couple of hours this year very similar to last. I saw a number of colleagues and past friends in the first hour or so…and avoided them. Quickly changing direction to move to a different hallway… shifting my glance and making like I hadn’t seen them when I saw them turn towards me. For the most part, it worked. They were all ok with not coming in contact with me as well. Then the unavoidable happened. I walked almost face into one of my previous staff. No avoiding this and we both stared and said hello. Awkward chatter ensued and he seemed relieved when I said I was going a different way and would see him later. But the seal had been cut. I had done it. I had spoken to someone and I was ok.

It got easier after that…and a funny thing happened. I found that I started seeing that everyone deals differently indeed. Some people who I had known very well, who I would consider very close, were surprisingly distant and vague with me. Lots of chit-chat and “how are you” but very superficial and almost cold. It was apparent that it was a “please don’t tell me how you really have been… I don’t want to/can’t handle hearing the real honest answer”. So they got the standard reply of “doing good” and that’s that. Some mindless talk about catching up with who’s still working where etc and we would hug and say how great it was to see each other again and move on. This went on again and again with lots of people throughout the weekend.
On encounter in particular thought made me notice how different people are though… and how you can’t tell how someone is going to be.

A colleague who I hadn’t worked with in years but who I had known for a long time before that saw me across the entry area. I thought this would be a quick hello and great to see you and I’d be on my way. Her and I had been friends and work companions for almost 10 years at one point but we were never really close. I was stunned when she hugged me and asked, very plainly, how I was doing… saying in the same breath “I’ve been worried about you, losing Willie must have been horrible. I don’t know how you got through it”. Bang, right out there. No tiptoeing about or sad faces while she did the “how are you?”. Just a straight forward acknowledgement that life had dealt a shitty blow and there’s no point putting it any other way. It took me by surprise but also was a breath of fresh air. And a funny thing occurred. I answered her, openly and honestly. I teared up and wiped them away and kept talking through it… and it was all ok. We wound up walking and talking for almost half an hour until the next session. She was someone I ended up spending a few breaks and a lunch with that weekend, with other people too, but also alone and catching up.

She gave me the gift of seeing that the grief and the pain and what happened is just simply there. Not to hide from other people or to pretend it never happened. It’s just there. And it’s ok if it’s uncomfortable or if it hurts. Life’s like that. She talked about her son’s struggle with depression and how he’s doing ok now. Just simple, open conversation. Refreshing. And needed.

I needed to see that some people will run, some will mask it and pretend everything is how it was, and some will face me head on and openly. It’s all ok, not one is good or bad, no right or wrong, just unique.

No one can tell me how to grieve… and no one can tell anyone else how to react to someone grieving. We all deal, differently

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Want or need?

We all have needs and wants and we’ve all had it drilled into us that wants are different from needs. That we don’t “need” all the things that we think we do; that, in fact, most of the things we think we can’t live without are just materialistic wants.

But what about when the line between what is a need and what is a want becomes blurred?

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking this week on this and how it affects my life and more importantly, my quality of life.

The truth is that we only need a few simple things to exist. Food, shelter.. really not much to live. Our society has become so stuck on wants that are perceived as needs that there is almost a disgusting sense of greed that so many think they need to have a life.

When I moved a year and a half ago, it was a long distance move from one city to another and I decided to make this the time to purge my “things” and start over. I held onto the most important items but very much cleansed my life of most of my material objects. What happened is that I have found myself living with the sense of “I have what I need, I don’t need more than this”.. true in one sense but the reality that has become obvious to me lately is that sometimes something that you think is just a want is really a need… when you look at living versus existing.

I can live anywhere… yet I moved to Victoria – and specifically to the area of Victoria that I did – because of a need to have a certain lifestyle to have a quality of life that’s not just a want anymore, but a need – a need to be happy. Being able to walk to work instead of drive in gridlock commuting… being close enough to the ocean and beautiful beaches to walk to on a whim and sit and stare and smell the air…having an apartment with character instead of a cookie cutter look… these are all, on the surface, extraneous wants yet to me, they have become needs for me to have a life that is fulfilling. Going back to the morning rushing and exhausting end of day from commuting hell is not something that is permissible now to me. This lifestyle is a need for me. Non-negotiable to my happiness; and my happiness is finally on my radar.

Just like we need food to fuel our bodies and enable us to live, our souls need nourishment too. You can argue that having love and companionship isn’t necessary and in some sense that’s true. I have spent the last long while living the truth that while friends are nice and feel good, anything beyond that isn’t a need for me. That I’m all good alone and that I don’t need anyone in my life to make me complete… and that is a truth… I can exist alone. Yet having recently started to let people into my life and my heart, it has shown me that what I have always perceived as a want may in fact be a need. Not in the way that I can’t live without love and companionship, but with an awareness that for my life to be the quality that I need, then having people who I love and hold close to me is fundamental to that happiness. Living openly in relationships that fulfill who I am and how I love is a need to me now in my relationships, no longer just a want.

We always hear “life is too short to live without….” and the simple truth is that it’s not the quantity of life, it’s the quality of the life we choose to live with that’s important. Sometimes the wants become needs and we don’t realize it.

Walls

Pushing people away… or keeping them at a distance that is safe. Safe from what though? This is something that I have been trying to understand. I have had a real issue with this since Willie died .

I didn’t realize until just recently that I was doing it – or to what extent I have been. It’s become noticeable to me now only because I am finally starting to desire to have people close to me again… and I’m finding that there’s a wall that was never there before; and that I built that wall.

A wall that went up very quickly after Willie’s death. Looking back now I see that it started right away. The day after Willie died, I pushed away offers of help and continued that way for a very long time; something that I still struggle with today. I pulled away from my friends, barely seeing them. When I did spend time with them, there was a distance and a barrier between us that was palpable and uncomfortable. It began with avoiding people in public and when I would drop my son off at school. I wouldn’t get out of the car… it was too hard to run the gauntlet of people offering condolences or asking if there was anything they could do to help. At the grocery store I would go to check outs with clerks that I didn’t know personally – a hard feat in a small community that I had been in for so many years. Ducking out of aisles in stores when I saw someone I knew, before they saw me. I got my ex-husband to take my son to soccer games so that I wouldn’t have to see anyone and face talking – or worse, the polite avoidance because no one knows what to say.

So the wall started to be built and it stayed, and it grew to what it is now. An obstacle that I have put there and that I have to work to remove. At its core is the fear of being hurt by loss. It’s impossible to explain the loss of a child… losing someone who was inside of me and a part of me from his first being. He was separate from me, but, like all my children, also a part of me and inseparable from my being in a way. To lose him hurts more than I could have ever imagined. That wall exists in a manner of keeping anyone from coming close again so that I don’t have to experience that pain again if I lose them.

The wall went up so quickly and unconsciously that it’s going to take some time to take it apart. Slowly and painstakingly, little by little. Sometimes shoring back up the bricks I’ve just taken down as the fear storms in… fear born out of feelings that feel foreign and scary to me. Coming down consciously now though.

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.

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.

Similarities, “Dexter” and Depression

I recently started watching the series “Dexter”. I find lately that I can’t make it through a 2 hour movie with any focus so I have been watching tv series. Without the commercials I can usually make it through an episode without more than 3 or 4 pauses to pace or wander the house or scroll facebook for a mental break. Depression is great for messing with mental focus and attention span.
I am only a few episodes into the first season but I have noticed a disturbing yet not surprising connection between how I feel every day and how Dexter describes himself and his inner “feelings” I use that term in quotations because he accurately and succinctly describes his utter lack of feelings as what makes him the way he is. He is a sociopath and a serial killer. There are actually a lot of similarities…
Depression has made me into someone that I don’t recognize. I have character traits and behaviour patterns that aren’t “me”. I force myself to go and out very rarely actually want to socialize or be part of an event or get together. I make myself go and I make myself make plans with people because I should and because my therapists and my friends and common sense all tell me it’s good for me. I can’t just sit at home and isolate myself; that’s not healthy. So, I go out with friends and I attend parties and social events and I try my best to be “normal”. I smile when I’m supposed to, laugh at jokes when it’s appropriate, nod and “hmmmm” when it’s the right time in the conversation. All the while my conscious mind is calculating and analyzing and finding my “feelings” lacking. They just aren’t there. It’s like I am dead inside and there is nothing there where it all used to be. I look around and feel the enormity of detachment between myself and everyone else around me. I feel the loss of the connections that I used to feel and that I know I should… but it’s all cold now.
I know that by writing this I run the risk of a large number of my friends saying “fuck it” and walking away from me for good. I am quickly getting a reputation as someone who doesn’t follow through or who cancels plans last minute and I completely understand why. I keep trying to force myself to be “normal” and my ability to keep dates with friends is tenuous at best. When I do make it out, I find now that in groups I am quieter and less involved. My desires to engage in activity are almost non-existent so I hang back and just observe. I am constantly encouraged by people to just keep coming out, that my company and my energy is welcome and missed and that I am wanted but I feel like I am not adding anything of value to any get together, so why bother?
I find at times that I’m lonely. Yet I also don’t want company. I can’t face the energy it takes to even just be in the same room with someone. I have wonderful friends who I know want nothing of me other than for us to spend time together but the truth is that it take so much out of me to try to be even remotely “normal” that it’s exhausting…and I feel like I am a fake and that’s not fair to my friendships. I have few close connections with people and they are sporadic based on my ability to connect – which is not very consistent or reliable. For me to be truly “me” right now around someone is not well accepted most times. People want to make me happy or at least make me less sad … and while I appreciate that, it places huge pressure on me to BE less sad or to be happy around them so that they are validated that they did want they set out to do. I hate letting other people down and I hate making other people uncomfortable so when I know someone who I’m out for coffee with or a walk just wants to know that they have left me better than when they found me that day… I feel like I have to oblige. The option is, be honest, tell them that while I may have enjoyed our time together, that no, sorry, I’m not feeling better… I’m not able to see the light at the end of the tunnel now…that leads to me turning down future attempts to meet up or get together because I just can’t face the pressure of what they need from me.
Now this may sound like I never have an enjoyable time with friends or that I never have fun when I go out but that’s not true. I do…but it is rare and fleeting. I may have a blink of a moment of a sincere laugh at a joke or a 5 minute conversation that clicks and I connect with a friend and I feel good. I may have a walk at lunch with a new friend who doesn’t have that pressure aimed at me – who just is with me and me with her as we talk and walk and I DO feel better at the end of the walk… I do sometimes look forward to a coffee date or a movie … It does happen, but those moments are the exceptions. I keep hearing that eventually those exceptions will become more and the cold, detached times will become less and the balance will tip and I will “feel” again.
It’s hard to see that most days though. But I try… I try so hard to keep dates and go to get togethers and not feel worse after because of not feeling anything at all.
To my friends, those newer and those who have been with me longer… to each of you read this… Those of you who know me, really know me, know that I am not cold and detached and emotionless – I am far from that … I’m making my way back… I just need time and space to get there. Hugs.