Tag Archives: survival

The invisible agony*

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The invisible agony*

Hilarious beast, this depression. Like so many things in my life, I’d assumed it’s like the movies. You lay in bed, in the dark after some devastating loss. A partner dies, a divorce, a lost job. And your best friend comes in after some period of a time, a week, two weeks, and throws open the curtains and says, “That’s it! You’re getting up.” Followed by a montage of you reluctantly going for a walk in the park, thoughtfully sipping tea while wearing sunglasses and a head scarf, you toss a frisbee and laugh accidentally, eventually you play a board game with friends or travel to Italy, you write a meaningful song, or start a blog. There’s a crescendo you ride that steadily increases your mood until one day you are just–better, well.
But in real life there’s no steady path that leads you to better. There are good days relentlessly followed by terrible days. There is distinct pleasure pursued by devastating and unexpected pain. And that pain lives right next to the intense pleasure. Next door neighbors, like the kind of neighbor that you’d borrow sugar from. You’re enjoying that perfect day, the simple joy of the air temperature and the smell of flowers and the very next molecule that holds the very next thought contains a darkness so dire that you once again feel that deep ache, the deepest a heart can know without shattering into a million pieces from the weight of it. The spaces are all so fragile that they’d surely break from the lightest brush of a dandelion parachute. And you feel the black hole of depression opening up, ready to swallow you whole, but you access some hidden resource tucked away, you step forward and back into the light of the sun.
Depression doesn’t get to be the protagonist of that cinematic fairy tale, it’s messier, some days a lot more boring and,essentially, always present. Depression makes you tired, the kind of tired that napping doesn’t alleviate. You ache and not the type of ache that is removed with painkillers. You live with it, it’s a scar, it’s an unpaid debt, it’s taxes, it’s death. It follows you, it lives with you. Periodically it goes into hibernation, you medicate it, or meditate it, or get it drunk, but it comes back. It sits on your chest like an unkempt, uninvited Flemish Rabbit, it pursues you, it waits for you to be too tired to fight it off and hopes you will pull it over you like a dangerous and comfortable blanket.
Most of the time, you manage it. You go about your day. You throw frisbees and accidentally laugh, you sip tea and wear headscarves, you play Jenga, you vacation. Some days you pass so joyfully, you wonder if it’s just gone–taken up residence in some other vessel. Some days it moves in with such authority and violence that you are sure there is no more of you. You sleep lengthy naps in darkened rooms. You wonder what the point is, you cry and fret and ache. But just as the molecules of pleasure are bumped out of the way to make room for despair, the opposite is true as well.
The melody of life with depression is packed with crescendos and decrescendos, swells of beautiful music and discordant cacophonous noise, and hours and hours of background music. You struggle with it, you survive with it, you fight it and acquiesce to it. You treat it, you coddle it, you feed it and starve it, but you never get rid of it. Because you live with it. And that is ok. Or at least, that is.

The title is credited to David Foster Wallace

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Grief hidden in the fourth

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Grief hidden in the fourth

Oddly, the Fourth of July is the holiday that always seems to sneak up on me. Unlike the wedding anniversary, that did not always bring the required reverence and gratitude for having accomplished staying together another year. There was the year I bought an antique bookshelf as a gift. Antique bookshelf to me, wobbly problem to him. His birthday was often his least favorite day of the year. Christmases were too often littered with withdrawn sighs of disappointment over missed cues about gifts, or worse, having to work on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. I was never a fan of New Years or Valentine’s day, so these days never held the sadness of the other holidays. I’ve reconciled the anniversary of his death as an opportunity to rejoice over the idea that he is finally at peace. Or at least it doesn’t sneak up on me, it seems like an appropriate day to grieve. Father’s Day we celebrate with the things he would enjoy, namely, Mentos geysers. These holidays all seem to have found a groove that feels like it fits the pain, let’s the grief breathe, wears the discomfort less uncomfortably.
After nearly four years, most holidays seem more manageable. Meaning, I’ve figured out how to prepare, where to categorize them. It wasn’t until nearly two o’clock today, after thrashing around in the bed for hours, forcing myself up to make lunch, sweep the floor only to find myself back in bed. Groggy, I wondered what is wrong with me. Everyone is out at parties, BBQing, enjoying the beautiful day, and all I feel like doing is drawing the shades, pulling the covers over my head and going back to sleep. Why?
Because this was our good holiday. And we didn’t have many “good” holidays, if I’m being honest. And I forget that until I try to make a plan for the 4th or get out of bed before noon.
The first July 4th after Chris died, I found myself unable to make a choice about where we would go to watch the fireworks, because we had always watched them from our own living room. Chris enjoyed the Fourth of July and it was one of the rare occasions that we invited people over. The big house on the hill had a particularly amazing view of the fireworks, and air conditioning. Kids twirled sparklers in the yard, Chris grilled and laughed. I could recall that he had a sharp wit, and a way with cooking raw meat over an open flame. He liked fire, and especially explosions. We had good times throughout our marriage, but I never remember a bad Fourth of July.
The year M turned one, we drove to Gettysburg, where unbeknownst to us there was a annual reenactment of the civil war battle that took place there. There was a cannon blast that scared M so badly that she cried and her face turned all red, and we took pictures of her and laughed lovingly? at her.
Our first year in Roanoke, before we moved to the big house on the hill, we spent a very warm and humid night spread out on a towel near Victory Stadium. S slept and M covered her ears and hid under the blanket. We drank contraband beer and laughed lovingly? at M. One year when we opened up our grill to cook our Fourth of July fare, we discovered a mommy mouse nursing her babies. We laughed, and ate, and drank, and enjoyed the company of friends. Chris was better in the summer, when the days were longer and he got to see the sun more. And Chris loved the controlled chaos of a fireworks display, the excuse to relax, and the ability to be away from the stressors of work.
My time with Chris was frequently chaotic, sometimes difficult and almost always complex. But it was my life, for over a decade. And the times that were relaxed and happy were both rare and cherished. Mostly holidays intensified many of the things that made our relationship chaotic, difficult and complex. Holidays underscored the resources that were strained, namely time and emotional resources. But the fourth did not, it was a time that we could enjoy each other, enjoy the life that Chris’s hard work had provided us, enjoy the company of friends, and enjoy the view from our home. It was a nice holiday. And to honest, we didn’t have that many nice holidays.

This is my spring

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This is my spring

I survived the fall wedding anniversary
The November birthday
Thanksgiving
Christmas
New Years
There were no cards, only thoughts
The world seemed to be getting colder
And darker
I waited, with dread, for the late January anniversary
My heart clouded
My chest heavy

I survived each day
Shallow, breaths
Watched amazing fuchsia sunrises
Followed the path of waves
Peered into the fog
Studied the stars
Hid
Waited
Cried

I survived the most recent anniversary
The one that marks the day you left us
I was reminded of my daughters’ sorrow
I felt the love of my tribe
I cried

And today is my spring
I can feel the air fully filling my lungs
Once again
The weight of sorrow is lessened
I made it through the darkest days
It is accomplished once again

I know grief, like weather,
Is unpredictable
There can be snow in March
And April
But I know the trend is up
Each day holds more sunshine than the last
This is my spring

What I’ve avoided telling you for some time now: part 2

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What I’ve avoided telling you for some time now: part 2

When I opened the garage door, I saw the grey motorcycle jacket hanging there. The sleeves extended as though Chris’ arms were still inside them. I unzipped the front, laid my head inside the jacket and breathed in as deeply as was possible.

We had broccoli to eat that night and Greek chicken. While we were at lunch, Chris asked if we could have dinner together. There was that weird twinkle, that strange energy that betrayed a simple dinner invite for something more, but I ignored it. I was pleased that Chris seemed interested in spending more time with the girls. I took it as a good sign. Over the course of our separation, it was exceedingly difficult to get him to agree to any set schedule. So it was a relief to know when the girls could see him. I was more than happy to host dinner.
Of course, Chris never showed up for dinner that night. The details that followed still feel to raw to share. Three years is not enough. I made the toughest phone calls I’ve ever made later that night. There are no words that soften that news.
The hardest thing I have ever had to do was tell the girls the next morning.

By the break of day my little house was full of people and coffee and tissues and love. So much love. My village rallied around me the way villages do when one of their own is down. I have never known such love and support as I knew in those blurry days that followed that horrible Sunday night. If we wanted casserole, it appeared, toilet paper, hugs, candy, cookies. I can never express how amazing my friends, friends of friends, teachers, family and strangers were for my girls and I. People really are at their best when things are at their worst.
On Tuesday morning, the second day after Chris died, I woke up from a restless sleep thinking about two things. I had a clear image of a photograph of the two of us in Times Square. It was a selfie we took on our tenth anniversary trip. We were happy. I knew Chris had kept it in a desk drawer in the living room. I felt an intense drive to get that picture. When I opened the desk drawer, taped to the back of that picture was Chris’ last note to me. He had written it that Sunday night, before he died. It was short, written in Chris’ characteristically neat print.
The second thing I woke up thinking was I had to call Chris’ girlfriend and invite her to the funeral. As well as I knew, they had broken up several weeks beforehand, but I knew she must be devastated too. So I called her and told her she was welcome and that she should have some time at the viewing. She loved him too and whatever complicated feelings I had about her and Chris, none of that mattered anymore.
I don’t blame Chris for committing suicide. I don’t consider it a selfish act. Chris was sick. He didn’t choose to kill himself because he was a quitter, he was standing in a painful fire and he needed to be at peace.
The year that followed was a tough one. The toughest year I had, the girls often slept in the bed with me. Sometimes all three of them and the dog too. I drank a lot and smoked a lot and hid a lot. I kept a cloak of fog around me.
But this is not a story of despair, this is a story of triumph. It is a tragic story of triumph, but still a story of triumph. Losing Chris, losing my husband, losing the father of my children and the person I once planned a lifetime with was devastating. That’s part of the reality. But the other part is I discovered my strength, my independence, my resolve to survive. My love for my girls and my admiration for their strength is endless. They are my super heroes everyday. Our bond as a family of four is undeniable, unbreakable and unstoppable. We are who we are because we have suffered deeply, not in spite of our suffering. We still cry, but we also laugh-a lot-and we love each other deeply. That is the gift Chris left us.

Why I wear sweatpants somedays

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It’s hard to appreciate how much energy it takes to just grieve the loss of a person and how difficult soldiering on is. Grieving is exhausting.  Part of the process for me is trying to be supportive for my three daughters as well. Some nights it feels like I am a single parent of newborn triplets, except it’s a cry that will not be quieted by a bottle or diaper change. Much like most of us, my three girls push through the day using their energy to appear “normal”. Showing “negative” emotions is uncomfortable for other people. So they walk around with their brave faces on and that takes energy. By dinnertime the disguise is becoming weary and the grief starts demanding to be paid attention to, a hungry baby that must be fed. The girls do the best they can to function pushing through to the end of the day. Then they attempt to sleep.  They are exhausted, but the brain is ready to focus on what has been ignored all day.  Anxieties pop up, tears. If they are able to sleep they are haunted by bad dreams and fitful sleep. They wake up throughout the night with physical aches and pains, the manifestation of the hurt inside. I hear footsteps, my oldest daughter’s, at midnight and later. She’s trying to be brave, trying not to “bother” me. Sometimes she gives in too. My heart clenches every time I hear my door open and a tiny weary voice asks ” Mommy, can I sleep with you?” .  My response depends entirely on my mood. I’m angry and exhausted too many nights. So tired from keeping up the brave face, so tired from feeding the triplets the night before. At times it’s easier to give in and a relief to have them near. Sometimes I am comforted by their warm bodies next to me, the sweet smell of adolescent skin.  Each of them settles so easily once they are near me. And I am comforted that they are not suffering for a bit, not tormented by sleep itself. 

Each of them becomes a boxing gymnast in their sleep though. Long legs pushing into me, the occasional slap from a lifeless, flopping hand, knobby  knees pressing into the small of my back. Teeth grinding. It’s not as though I am good at sleeping myself. 
Sometimes I send them away, so they can learn to cope, learn to quiet the beast that keeps them awake. I lie in my bed and hear them crying. Sobbing, drowning in the overwhelming pain of loss. Occasionally the grief lets go and sleep overtakes them. Sometimes the sobbing gets louder and wakes everyone in the house. Three crying triplets, no one even knowing what will make the crying stop and it’s so late at night. So tired and we are all out of bottles.  Those are the worst nights. 
 
I have never known a tired like this.  I recall how tired I was when I was pregnant with my third child. I had a four and a two year old at the time. With pregnancy came this tiredness that at times wouldn’t release me until I slept. It would come over me like a heavy wave.  But this is different, a demanding tiredness, but more like walking pneumonia. I feel like I’m dragging through, like a zombie pretending to be a human. I cannot make simple decisions, or remember simple things and I can’t maintain relationships. 
I have good days.  I have days when everyone has slept and I’ve had a good cry, or beat the hell out of a pillow or had the energy to exercise. But I can hardly string enough of them together to be a good friend.  It’s not that I don’t want to have healthy friendships and relationships, it’s just feels unfathomable and extraordinarily difficult. 
This is my way of explaining why I don’t call as often as I should and why I’ve forgotten that its your birthday. It’s not that I’ve forgotten you, my brain is just busy with the business of healing and processing grief. Ill be back.  And I look forward to catching up.