Grief Lives Here

Grief lives here.

So does loss and pain and hurt.

So does joy and happiness and love so deep it’s bottomless.

As deep as the grief that fills me at times…like it is today.

Days when the months and years that have passed feel too short to have healed anything.

Days when it feels like time has not softened the edges of loss at all.

Days when the sadness and the heaviness weighs more than I think I can bear…again.

Days when the tears that are usually now further away are so close.

Moments when the only thoughts that fills my mind are the incredulous realities of loss.

Hours that are filled with memories I don’t want to see in my mind because of the hurt.

Nights when tears come hard and feel like they’ll never end…again.

The grief sometimes demands and takes center stage.

A life of its own and unable to be held in check or tempered when it comes.

It takes over, consuming and depleting me as it does. I tread water, holding my breath as the waves slam me. Trusting that I’ll rise up and that this will pass…again.

The truth is that now, unlike even a year ago, grief is not the dominant emotion for me anymore. Even though some days, like today, it feels like it is – I know that it has changed.

Yes, grief lives here, but so does so much more – again. Being able to see that truth is proof that I am more than the hurt and the pain … no matter how much I question that at times like today.

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Happy ——- Holidays

The holidays are here again and I’m not sure how to describe it other than; this sucks.

The music, the lights, the decorations and the constant ambience is creating a dilemma for me.

I always loved the holidays and part of me still, even now, has a giddy happy dance at the whole affair. That is tempered and edged with such a sharp pain of loss and hurt, with memories from that last Christmas that my boys and I were all together, that I’m not sure how to deal with it.

I’ve been advised that life changes, that kids grow up and move on and that the lives we live are always on flux… that even if Willie hadn’t gotten sick and suicide hadn’t taken him… that there would have been a time that I would have had to face “the holidays” not being what they were. I couldn’t agree more. Yet the issue I am dealing with is that life did not progress like that, and it hurts. I’m not dealing with empty nest issues; I’m bouncing between hurt and sincerely wanting to be able to just love this time of year again…

Instead of thinking of what is a time of family and time together and food and sharing and just being able to slow life down and be, I am plagued by memories of that last Christmas. How surreal and wrong it felt. How it was merely going through the motions. We were all reeling from weeks of hospitalization and counselling and the chaos of dealing with a not-really-managed mental illness. The joy of that holiday time was gone. Killed by exhaustion and fear.

It’s not a case of me not being able to just focus on the good and on what’s still here. It’s being hit by the memories, by the loss.

The anger and frustration that I have for myself for NOT just being able to pick up and smile and decorate and be thankful for what is now and not be mourning what isn’t… that anger and frustration gets worse each year. Even writing this I feel the self-hatred for how pathetic that sounds. I want to shake myself and scream and tell myself to stop whining and just suck it up and put it behind me and move on. And I can’t. I hear the well-meaning friends voices in my head that say that I’m making a choice to keep dwelling, to not move forward… and that it’s not that I “can’t” move on, I can if I “want to”. I feel like no one gets it. Then I wonder if it’s me that’s the one who doesn’t get it. The anger and frustration and self-hatred spins around and around…
Happy fucking holidays.

Uncertain

After a blog entry last week that was written about how it was three years ago that day that I had taken a note my son wrote about wanting to die to our doctor, I received a private message. This message was, I’m sure, well intentioned and meant to help me but it has, instead, caused quite a bit of conflicted thoughts.

The sentiment of the message is one that has been voiced to me before in the 2 and a half years since my son’s death. It’s a message that states that I need to let go; I need to stop dwelling on the loss and the hurt and that I need to move on and put this behind me. that, of course, it’s ok to grieve and to remember (and even to write about mental health issues) but that, by bringing up the past and reliving and “celebrating” and “honouring” the dates that are associated with painful memories I am simply self-inflicting torment on myself. That I, and my actions, are the cause of me continuing to be having a hard time with grief.

Good point, and one that gives me pause to wonder. I have seen parents lose children and turn that loss into an all-consuming life path to the exclusion of anything else in their life it seems. I was at a mental health symposium last year and met a couple of mothers who had given up careers and everything to make the crusade for their child’s death “mean something” a focal point in their lives. Conversations were only on their children and their deaths. There was nothing else in their lives seemingly.

I guess, if someone only read my blog here, they may assume that my life is like that. That all I ever write about or talk about is loss and missing Willie and how hard it is “after”. The truth is though that while that is in my life, my life is about so much more. My other blog, lolabits , is one of all-encompassing “life to the fullest”. Silliness and heavy topics abound in equal parts over there. Those who are friends with me on Facebook know that the vast majority of my posts are the here and now and that my life is very much with an awareness that joy is a part of that. So is the grief though and sometimes that is shared too. But not as much as the person who messaged me seems to think.

There is a balance that is walked in loss. A balance between being told not to bottle things up, that it’s healthy to express grief and to talk about it and to heal however you need to… and the flip side of being told to put it behind you and not “dwell” (oh how I love that suggestion).. to not make every day about missing him (when the reality is that every day it is simply there, that he is gone)… You need to let it out and feel it… you need to just not think about it… you need to remember… you need to forget…

I have lost friends who I just cannot have in my life anymore because I know that they don’t agree with how I grieve. I have had friends who have told me that “for my own good” I need to be told to stop the “pity party” and be made aware that this blog is just me indulging my grief and contributing to depression. These friends are no longer in my life like they were.

Which, after the message last week, makes me question if I should continue with this blog. I question what the purpose of it is. Is any good coming of it? Is it doing anything to promote understanding or acceptance and education about mental health issues? Probably not. IS it merely a vessel for me to indulge a pit party of grief? I don’t see that but then again, would I, if it was that?

I have been told that I need to accept that my life will go on with grief and hurt as a part of it. Plain and simple. That it won’t go away. That I will learn to live with it and not have it be the biggest part. I already know that. The grief and the hurt are there but, and this is a big one for me, but my life has joy and promise even so.

I’m not sure about the future of this blog right now. If the purpose it is serving is to help me process then it’s becoming apparent that more than a few in my life may be feeling like the person who wrote the message and telling me it’s time to shut it down and just do it privately because everyone is tired of hearing it.

No, not kitten scratches

Kitten scratches? That’s how my therapist/colleague addressed the scars on my arms today. I had to change into a gown at work today to have some work done on my neck and the gown had short sleeves, exposing my arms.

I’ve been pretty open on this blog that cutting has been something that I have done over the past couple of years. This, https://truthfreedomjoy.wordpress.com/2014/03/04/a-story-in-scars/ has some explanation, but to summarize; I have cut. Cut enough that there are scars and the scars are very visible.

I was alone in the room with the Physiotherapist and the concept that the scars on my arms had been caused by kitten scratches was ridiculous and I knew he knew that. So I was honest and I said they were caused by self-cutting. And every bit of fortitude that I had went out the window. As his manager, I am in a position of being seen as competent and strong and in control. Cutting doesn’t exactly exude those qualities and I found myself feeling like crawling under the bed instead of the usual sense of strength that I have at work as I tried to give him an understanding of the issue. He was understanding and we had a brief conversation but I could sense that he was somewhat uncomfortable so the discussion was short. It isn’t any different from it ever has been; discussions surrounding mental illness makes people not all that comfy.

I was brought face to face with the fact that there is no way to explain or describe the “why” of cutting without sounding like it, and you, are pretty much “crazy”. No matter how much I know that it is a safer outlet for dealing with the emotional pain of loss, grief and depression…safer than a more permanent option to get away from the pain…when you try to offhandedly explain it to someone you are suddenly very aware of just how not “normal” it appears.

My psychiatrist worked very hard with me about not feeling shame or embarrassment about the cutting. He took so much time to explain that sane, healthy, “normal” and rational people cut. That cutting is a coping and processing mechanism. That yes, how I described the need to transform the emotional pain to a palpable, tangible form of pain to process is valid and is not “crazy”. That’s all well and good but the truth is that society and our culture and the vast majority of people I will ever run across will look at the scars and hear my attempt to explain and they will see it for what it is perceived; a physical representation of weakness, instability, unreliability and mental illness. The truth is that mental illness is still equated with all those attributes and that doesn’t bode well for those of us who know that we aren’t any of those things.

Yes, I live with mental health issues. The majority of people do at some point or another in life. Does that make me unstable or weak? No. Do the scars scream that to people. Yes, sadly. What’s even worse though is that, regardless of my journey and my education in these matters and my work within myself, there are times that I see them for that. And I feel the embarrassment and the shame. I feel the weakness that they proclaim to everyone else. I feel that deeply and intimately, and it hurts. Today is one of those days.

How far we’ve come? I think not.

I’ve had this blog bouncing about in my head for the last week or so and have been so emotional and upset that It’s been “stuck”. Let’s see if I can shake it loose… settle in, this is a long read …

Mental health and how we handle it in the workplace is something that I have lived with for a while now. Personally, it started back when Willie became ill and I found that I had no idea what to say when people asked how things were going. So I didn’t say anything. I went through months of hell while we struggled privately as a family to try to get Willie help and later, to try to keep him here and stop him from the suicidal thoughts that plagued him.

No one knew except for my very close colleagues who were also my friends. I shuffled my schedule around and had the blessings to have understanding people who supported me and helped me to be where I needed to be. They accepted that there were days that I was in the bathroom crying more than I was at the desk… and I am grateful for them.

When Willie died, it was many weeks before I went back to work. When I did, it was beyond what I could face. The silence and the looks. The hesitancy of anyone to even acknowledge because no one knew what to say. I finally elected to leave my job that I loved. I felt unable to explain what happened if someone did ask.

Flip to a year later and I am in a new city with a new job that I love and I find myself spiralling down quickly. Grief has turned into a depression that had me barely able to make it to work every day before getting home to fall onto the couch and not move until the next morning. Day after day of struggling to not make the same choice that Willie did. The pain more than I wanted to feel. The cutting started to try to stem the thoughts that I was having to do worse and more final things to myself. Eating and sleeping were almost non-existent. I finally went to my doctor and shared how I was feeling and what I was doing. I was terrified and ashamed and the only reason I did that was because of how scared I was of what I might do to myself. There was still a part of me that was not wanting to be gone.
I was lucky, my doctor saw the crisis and before I got home that day I had an appointment made with an urgent intervention center.

What followed was a year of counselling and eventually medication for a short-term to help with severe depression. Throughout it all, I functioned at my job. Barely. Looking back, I don’t know how really. My psychiatrist suggested and strongly encouraged me to take time off, that he felt I needed to for my own safety and to be able to focus on getting well. But I didn’t. I couldn’t. I would explain again and again that, as the manager at my office, I would be jeopardizing my job to go in and explain and admit that I wasn’t “ok”. Why? Because the admittance that I’m not well – mentally and emotionally – still carries a very real and large potential to threaten job security. I’m not stupid, I know that we have laws now that say you can’t be fired for that reason. I’m also not stupid and know that companies have ways around labour laws. A drop in job performance, an unacceptable increase in sick days… there are many ways that depression and mental illness can affect you that you can be fired for. My psychiatrist finally convinced me to talk to my supervisor and explain that I was under care for depression and that I was getting help. His reasoning was that if there was a record that I had been open about it, then it was better than trying to hide it and ending up being fired for performance issues and then trying to save my job by divulging the depression.
My company was understanding and supportive but certainly not overly so. I was told that I had holiday days and could use them as needed for days when I wasn’t well enough to come in. And that was that. I regretted immediately saying anything as the “feel” was different from the words of support.
Time went on and I slogged through. Months have passed now and I function. I still have bad days and days that I just can’t make it in. Days that I have a “migraine” or am “just under the weather”. Wonderful euphemisms.

Which brings me to where I am now with a work situation.

A practitioner at work has been slipping in performance for many months now. Without going into details, it has been apparent that job duties have been lacking and it has seriously affected her performance to the point that it was impacting other practitioners and something had to be done. Repeated meetings and deadline for improvement were met with seeming disregard and a lack of respect. Deadline after deadline passed and finally I set up a meeting to discuss termination. It was at that meeting that she finally told me, in sobs so hard I couldn’t understand her even, that she was struggling with a depression so bad she was seeing medical help and had been advised to take a leave of absence. She explained that this had happened years before and she had pushed through and ended up being hospitalized for her own safety and that this time, she was trying to avoid that. She was apologetic… she was exhausted and she couldn’t hide it anymore. I assured her that her job was safe, she could take a medical leave of absence and when ready to return, we would work that out. Her relief was amazing and I left that meeting drained and emotional, feeling both glad that she finally came to me and told me but also sad that she held it in for so long out of fear of not wanting to admit that she “wasn’t strong enough to be ok” (her words).

So here’s where the issues come up. I have been stunned and shocked by the reactions and responses to this situation at work. I had really thought that we, as a society and as compassionate people, had come farther… but apparently not.

One staff member in particular who is privy to the fact that it is a medical leave due to mental health issues shared this info with just about everyone in the office. I had explained it as a “personal medical leave of absence” but office gossip travels faster than wildfire and by the time I talked to the last person I had to, they already had heard.

Here are some of the reactions;
“You know what her problem is, she’s single. Too much time to think. She needs a social life then she’d be fine”
“What she really needs to do is just hunker down and focus and stop dwelling on being sad. What does she have to be sad about anyways?”
“It’s not like there’s anything actually wrong with her. She’s not sick, she’s depressed. Nothing a walk around the block and some change in attitude won’t fix”

These are well-educated people who work in the paramedical field. People who are nice and caring and considerate people. Yet the prevailing sense is that with mental health, it’s not a “real” medical issue. It is, quite simply, all in her head and she should be able to get over it.

The matter worsened for me when I went to advise my supervisor of the development. What I thought would be a simple act of me reporting and letting her know that the other practitioners would cover her hours and that it was all taken care of turned into a nightmare meeting.
I was advised to terminate her contract. Immediately and to replace her. When I explained that wasn’t appropriate I was given clear direction that she had given us just cause by not fulfilling her job duties (she’s a contractor, not an employee) and that we could, at any time, for no cause even, chose to terminate her contract. Again, I reiterated that letting her go because she is taking a leave for mental health issues is morally and ethically wrong.
I was advised that she was a liability now. That she has shown herself to be unreliable and that we can’t be sure this won’t happen again.
I argued that if she had come to us and said that she needed a leave of absence for a physical medical reason like cancer that we wouldn’t even be having this conversation. The response was that was true, but mental illness affects her ability to perform her job in a way that a physical ailment wouldn’t. That we can’t risk someone who is “unstable”.

I am mad and I am more sad than anything else in some ways because the truth is that we, as a society, haven’t come anywhere near as far as we celebrate. Even myself today, working from home because I couldn’t bounce back from the night of tears and depression last night… I didn’t feel that I could say I was having an emotional day and needed self-care. Why? For all the reasons already shown to me. It would make me appear unstable and unreliable and a liability. That my ability to do my job would be questioned. All because it’s mental health and not a physical ailment that afflicts.

So let’s stop patting our collective selves on the back for all the gains and see things for how they really are.
As a note, the practitioner still has her contract and is not being replaced. I am, after all, the manager and I’m sticking to the fact that it hasn’t to start somewhere if we’re going to change this. She’s taking time off to heal and will be welcome when she is ready to return.

Always reliving

Sitting on the beach last night and wondering when it’s not going to hurt so much on the first of every month. Add in that the first this time fell on a Wednesday, just how it was the day that Willie died, and it’s a double hit.

There are some first days of the months lately that I go along and am aware but not acutely so…but then there are days like yesterday. Days that, no matter how busy I am, the time is with me all day. This was what time he got up that day, this is when he did this, or that, this was when he was found… this was what time it was when I crested the hill coming home and my heart stopped when I saw the police cruiser in my driveway… this was when I was driving to tell my other boys that their brother was dead… this was when I was on the phone with the coroner, asking repeated and stupid questions as my mind tried to grasp what I was being told… this is when..

It went on all day. I found myself sitting on the beach last night ripped apart with remembering. Not because I was bringing them up or wallowing as I have been accused of doing… they come, they just don’t stop, can’t be stopped, sometimes. I relive that day every moment and feel it again, just as painful as that day it seems some times.

Then I wake up on the second and the same feeling that I had on that other second of the month hits me… that it wasn’t a nightmare… that it’s real and nothing can change it.

Letting him leave

A funny thing happened lately. Not funny ha ha, but funny odd. I let someone I love, leave.

That’s odd because I didn’t even know I was holding onto what it was that I let go of.

These past two and a half years have brought me to the place where I found myself a couple of weeks ago. Seeing that a corner was there to turn. I thought, and felt, that the guilt, the sadness and the “what-if’s” were needing to be released. As I stood and screamed and pulled against the hurt inside of my heart what I found was a drawing in instead. A drawing close, to hold, then let go.

My son, Willie made his choice on that morning two and a half years ago. He stood strong in his convictions of what he felt was the right choice for him. I have struggled with not feeling anger at him, not even able to understand how I could be angry at him for that… he was mentally ill, it wasn’t him, it was his illness, it was out of his control. Even though I know from his writings that he knew what he planned, he knew the finality of it, he knew, and he wanted it.

Then feeling that anger, eventually. I felt it consume me and overwhelm me and fill me with guilt. Guilt added to the already heavy load built on how I failed to keep him safe, to help him see it could be ok, to make him “better”. Then I let it go. I forgave him and I understood. My own path through grief and pain finding me in that same place and finally seeing and feeling how badly it hurts to not hurt at all, to not care, to just be so tired as to want it all to be gone away. That path giving me the gift to be able to let go of that anger towards him.
Replaced, again, with the heaviness, the sadness, the pain of him being gone.

All of that stays with me, and will always be with me. Just as he is always with me, and always will be.

That is the clarity. It’s him that needs to be released, not the memories, not my love for him. Not to let him go, because I never can, but to let him leave. To honour his wish and to say goodbye to him. He wrote his goodbye to me, but I never got to say goodbye to him. Never got to say that I understand and accept his choice. That was impossible at his memorial – too raw and filled with shock. It was surreal.

I sat on that hill then, a couple of weeks ago, and said my goodbye.. Him held in my heart for a moment, feeling him as I needed to, one last time. Feeling him in my arms as I have always needed to one more time. I held him close, memories of how he felt and smelled and looked filling my mind. Seeing his smile and remembering his moments of joy. He was with me as I said goodbye, told him it was ok, that I understood…then I let him leave.

Drawn in, held close.. and released.