“If only…” (again)

After a great luncheon workshop the other day, I got the chance to take a break and hang out with some women at a local beach bar for the afternoon.  That was really a treat as usually I spend my days with my 2 dogs and as I work from home, don’t see too many people, especially other women.  I really relish the opportunity to just let my hair down, which is a bit of a trick since my hair is very short, and relax and remember what it’s like to just “be” female.

And it was a great afternoon.  I did have this one little moment however… I really hate it when those little “moments” have to happen.  They always seem to have to creep in, just when you’re having the perfect time.  I’m lucky though that at this point I know how to handle such “moments” and can sail through them pretty well, kind of put them aside in a little holding pattern to be sorted through at a later time if necessary.

So anyway, what happened was that I was chatting with a couple of women about some events that had taken place in the last year or so and they were going back and forth about who was where when these different events occurred.  I might have chimed in once or twice.   One woman was talking about how she was on some exotic island somewhere both times this annual event took place and then this last time something happened, she was on a road trip somewhere else…

The gist of all of this is that as I’m looking at her and how successful she obviously is, the success that has allowed her and her husband to go on all of these trips,  my thoughts start wandering into that forbidden territory of “if only”. That’s “the moment” – the one that I sat there saying to myself, “oh no, this is not good.  I don’t want to go down this road”

But…there it was. “If only” that hadn’t happened and that hadn’t happened and that… I would be where she is today.  Or at least I wouldn’t be where I am.  I wouldn’t have had to reinvent myself and start over (and over).  I wouldn’t have to struggle with the constant reminders that life is unfair and painful and hard work.  I wouldn’t have cried enough tears to fill an ocean and wonder what I did to deserve this.  I would still have my career and my health would be better and we’d have some money in the bank.

Now I know this is all irrational thinking.  There are never any promises in this life.  When “the moment” passes and I get back to it later, I am able to remember all of the truth of this.  Would I rather some of these things had not happened- obviously. But they did. Why?  Who knows.

I never really thought about what to expect from life. I know this sounds odd to say, but it was quite shocking to me to experience the deaths that I did, particularly losing my dad when I young, and having a baby die- that still feels like something from a dream.

As I have wound my way down this path, I find more and more that it really is about living in “this moment”.  Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s not.  Some days the past will creep in and hurt, most days we worry about what’s going to happen next.  The best thing is to try really hard to just think about right now and this day and what I am doing to make this one good.

I know that I am not protected from more pain happening to me and that worrying about it will not change that.  I also know that it has a lot to do with me and how I look at things.  And believe me, I know that some days things can look pretty crappy and that’s ok.  But another lesson I have learned on this road is that when the crappy day comes, just like “the moment” or the “if only”, I have to just let it happen.  It will pass.  It will work itself through, get itself out and I will survive it.  Whatever is in me that has brought me this far will bubble up again and push me forward again as it has all along.  Trust me, it has been a nightmare at times, but I am here and I have survived and I am determined now that I will thrive.

You can too. I swear.

“Don’t be so sensitive…”

I have found that life is full of ups and downs, tosses and turns. I have always been a person of “deep feelings”. “Don’t be so sensitive” they would say.  But being sensitive is what would make me be able to be good at my job I would say.  After all, I was working with people. People who needed to be listened to, people who were facing difficult circumstances, people who were searching for answers – pretty much like everyone at some point or other in their lives.

What’s wrong with being sensitive? Feeling things?  It can be such a roller coaster ride I know but even after all of these years, I have to believe it makes you a better person.  I have fought so hard against becoming one of those people who just turns off and gives up; becomes hardened to the disappointments and struggles of life.  I’ve seen the damage that can come from having the rug pulled out from under you or having expectations for a certain kind of life and not having it come to fruition.

And I’ve worked with many of the stereotypical callous public service worker, long removed emotionally from their job. While assisting a young woman desperately needing some help for her 3 young children, I sat across the desk from a man in a city welfare office feeling his venomous barbs spewing from his road weary soul after years of people just like her coming and going from his office. It’s hard not to give in and stay true to hope and good thoughts and feeling positive and “sensitive”.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said “I just can’t do this anymore, I just don’t have it in me anymore”.  I just want to give up and say I’m done.  But then, there’s something in me that remembers those people I’ve seen, and those people I meet who seem so unhappy, so, well, dead inside, and I think, no- I don’t want to be like that.  I swore I would never be like that.  No matter what happens.

I can look around me and see beautiful things – I live in a beautiful place.  I force myself to look beyond the things in my house that need fixing and look at the green of the trees and feel the breeze on my face.  And I can stop and look at the faces of my 2 beautiful boys (not kids now really) and remember how incredibly lucky I am to have them and I can remind myself how the most important thing to me is that I am here for them as I know what it’s like to not have that.

I am reminded of the television show Monk, one of the few shows that we ever watched regularly.  He was a detective who had a severe problem with an Obsessive/Compulsive Disorder which also made him incredibly great at solving crimes.  His favorite response to people when they commented on his “issue” was that it was a “blessing and a curse”.  Sometimes, I feel that way.  I think being “sensitive” and feeling things so much can make me able to empathize with people really well and understand what they need.  At the same time, it can be so very exhausting to feel so much to the point of driving myself to the edge and back.

The one thing I know for sure is that I never want to become one of those people who just gives up and gives in, hardening myself; someone who stops “feeling”. Or even worse, only feels the bad things. I know I will and have changed.  I’m still adjusting to that…but for today I will keep on keeping on, soaking in all the feeling I can, emphasis on the good ones, and I hope you will too.

“Never give up, Never Surrender”    from the movie Galaxy Quest

Back and forth…

I have been “in absentia” for a while as I have been thinking a lot about where I want to go with this “blog” thing.  I started writing partly to see what would come out but also because of a desire to offer some kind of support to others who might be going through what I have already experienced.  Kind of make lemonade out of lemons, you know.

As I’ve tried to sort out what I’m to do with myself since I left my old life (aka career) behind, I kept coming back to this idea that I could or should do something with all of this grief and loss experience.  If I combine that with my “professional” experience, well, I might really be able to do something.  I really want to.

I really want to see people suffer less from this terrible grief thing and be able to find an understanding shoulder to lean on.  I want to see people start talking about death and loss like it’s a reality that we all really know about and stop acting like if we ignore it, it will go away. Maybe then when it happens to someone we know, we can reach out a hand and feel comfortable being there- not just for a month or two, but for the years it may take for a neighbor or an aunt or the lady in the office to get back on her feet again.  I want to not see anymore people be shattered and fall apart  because someone they love so dearly dies and they can’t reach out for help because they’re supposed to just be strong and get on with it.  I really want to do something to change all of this.

But as I have worked to put together a plan of how to do this in a more formal way, I keep feeling this resistance nagging at me from inside. Rationally, I know that I have learned so much emotionally, spiritually, intellectually, even physically as I’ve worked my way through my own years of grief.  I know I have a lot to share.  How can I let all of this “experience” go to waste?  Isn’t that what you’re supposed to do?  A lot of people do. But then, that’s the other side of this coin.

Now, I’m not one to back away from a challenge but… I have spent pretty much all of my adult life working through grief and loss, starting when I had just turned 20 and I lost the most important man in my life.  As years went on, every time it seemed that the ground might have gotten a bit more solid, another quake came along, one loss after another.

Recently, a whole new dimension has been added to my dilemma – a good one though.

I started Acupuncture treatments as an alternative approach to deal with some physical and emotional stress issues.  I have been amazed by the results, especially since I had no preconceived ideas as to how I would feel.

The biggest thing that pertains to what I’m writing about here today, is that I have for the first time, had these brief glimpses of a possible future without grief and depression and sadness.  Please don’t think that I walk around every day hanging my head like Eeyore.  I do smile and laugh and have fun and enjoy my life.

What I mean is that I can envision moving on in that way where that deep core of sadness, that persists for so long with heavy grief, will let me breathe again and I can choose to “do” something with myself that is fun and happy. Thus, the problem with doing grief work as some kind of  formal job.

I think there are ways for me to still offer support and caring to people- like writing here, and on my Facebook page, offering the Remembrance Jewelry that I make, and who knows what else.

But I think for now, something is telling me that it is my time to be free for a while- to fly a bit and just enjoy the breeze…

To better days

Doubly Sad

 

Reading today about Mary Kennedy’s funeral reminds me about the doubled sadness of those who must deal with the grief of losing someone who takes his or her own life. So many questions and so much guilt heaped on top of an already excruciating pain. Maybe also still experiencing the stigma that our society puts on suicide- it’s selfish, cowardly, such a waste of life…

I believe that someone leaves this world on purpose for reasons that none of us can know and it helps no one to speculate or judge. I have felt pain that has brought me close enough to that place that I can know what that can feel like; despair so deep and dark that you feel like you can’t breathe.   A person who comes to that decision doesn’t do it callously or on a whim.

Who can know what happens in those final moments, when maybe she or he can’t turn back this time. The pain is too great, the hope of recovery is extinct, the perception of the burden she or he is on others is overwhelming, or maybe there is an organic physical or chemical reaction going on in the body so he or she doesn’t even know what they’re doing.

We like to think that things are simple, black and white, cut and dry. We want things to fit in neat boxes, to be easily explained and understood. Quick fixes, simple answers to problems, one nation all believing the same thing under God– easy. But it doesn’t work like that does it? Life is very complex. It’s not just one or two things that happen that cause someone to take his or her own life. It’s never that simple.

I feel great compassion for those whose grief comes from this kind of loss.  I also know how hard it is to feel like you just can’t “do it” anymore.  I wish I could tell them not to feel responsible, that it wasn’t their fault, that they did the best they could and their loved ones also did the best they could.  But they have to come to that in their own time, in their own way.We just need to make sure they still feel supported and not blamed for what happened.

I do hope that we can all be aware of how important it is to understand stress and depression and what they do to people.  People still tend to poo-poo these things or talk about them matter-of-factly but they are very serious.  With our overly busy, overly stimulating lives, depression is more common than ever. We overtax not only our bodies but our emotions and very souls.  Maybe if we are all watching a little more closely we will see when someone needs help before it gets too bad – it could just be the hope they need.

 

Information on Depression

Signs of Depression

Humbled once again…

Yes, once again I have been forced to face my own smallness and lack of real control in this life but it has not been a bad thing I have found.  It has made me slow down and view each day, each moment, each choice and really consider what matters to me and what I’ve been fretting about these past many months.

It has been very frustrating and depressing also but as things go in life (a lesson I have learned very well by now) you do have to just go with it and get from it what you can.  I say that now, in this moment, when I am feeling a little better, in a mood of reflection and can’t say that I have felt that right along.

Just to clarify, nothing major has happened. It’s just that I have been sick for the last 3 1/2 weeks with whatever viruses have been going around and it has been a big-time drag.  It is still not done with me and it has really put a serious crimp in my ability to accomplish anything.  It’s that kind of sick where you don’t even want to read a book or get dressed or anything.  You end up feeling like you are not even part of this planet anymore.

One of the things that seemed to happen a lot in the past as I have struggled  to wend my way through grief and create a new life for myself is that as soon as I would start something up and feel good about it, start getting some confidence like I was finally on my way to the “right thing”, something negative would happen like an illness or family problem or money crisis.  I would then feel shaken and take it as some sign that I had made the wrong decision or at least my newfound confidence would wane.

Although I have been reminded, again, that life is about ebb and flow and dealing with each day as it comes, I realize that I don’t feel that “why is this happening  to me” or “what am I doing wrong” feeling. I know now that response is just one of the natural outcomes that can occur with severe grief and trauma; that shaking of your faith in yourself and your trust in your own ability to make the right decisions.

I suspect that loss of self-confidence has a lot to do with the huge shock of fear of realizing how not in control we are of what happens in our lives- at least the important things anyway.  Nothing makes that more real than losing someone you love or some kind of painful major life change.

Coming to peace with that and figuring out how to live in that new reality is a trip for which few of us are prepared.  They don’t teach that subject in school and although prayer and religious faith can be comforting for some, it doesn’t usually give you the play-by-play to get through each difficult day. That is something that comes to each of us in our own way, through our own strength and by allowing those around us to help and support us in whatever ways we feel comfortable with.

It is not easy.  It is very much not easy. How long does it take? Well, I think anyone who’s been there will tell you that it takes a lifetime… but it does get easier.  Looking back now, that is the one thing that I would tell someone who is “new” on this path.

In the midst of all the haze and swirling thoughts and feelings that come and go, you have to start counting all of the small gains that you make and don’t set your sight on an “end game”, you know the “getting over it”.  That is never the goal because it doesn’t happen.  You can live again, smile again, laugh again, love again- it’s all just different than before. How can it not be?

It’s definitely taken me a long time to get to where I am and finally accept that I’m just not going to be the person I used to be, and it’s not just because I’m getting older!  So I will keep stepping forward each day, try not to be too hard on myself, and keep building that new life, with its new twists and turns.  I hope that you can find your strength, reach out for help if you can and will keep moving too.

Hope- not just a girl’s name

When you are in the throes of early grief, you can feel like all the joy and zest for life has been sucked out of you.  You may even wonder why you should want to continue living at times.  Most of us luckily do have something in us that tells us to keep going, that it is worth it to keep moving.

I think this can come from many different places. For some it is their deep faith, for others it is from the strong love and support of family and friends.  It may rise up from reserves of a well grounded personal strength or sense of duty and being driven by knowing that we have responsibilities to others that we must see to.

I would go a bit deeper than this and say it is something more innate – a basic human tendency to have hope.  I think we are all born with it.  I think it is what keeps us going in all kinds of situations, large and small.  It inspires us to try new things, to want to be involved with other people and stay involved even when things go astray, to work to change things that need changing.

When you look at a baby or toddler, you can see the light of hope shining from them.  People love to be around babies because they are so happy and innocent reminding us of all of that potential and maybe offering some renewal of our own hope.

Hope – verb– to believe, desire, or trust

We have all seen people who have lost hope.  They no longer believe that things will get better for them.  They go through each day rotely doing what they must at work or home with never a smile or encouraging word. Sadly, some can’t even do that and they wander aimlessly or just sit staring at the tv.

Others have given up all desire for anything new or better in their lives.  They never think about trying a new activity or changing anything about how they go about their lives.  They may think they don’t deserve it, it’s too hard or uncomfortable or unattainable.  They become complacent.

And then there are those who don’t trust anyone or anything.  They know life will never get better because it’s always been that way.  There’s no point in expecting anything different.  You can only count on yourself.

People become hopeless for all kinds of reasons.  Usually, it’s not just one thing but a culmination of experiences since childhood that bring them to that point.  The more lost they are, the harder it can be to face difficult or tragic situations that arise.

When you lose someone like a spouse or child or anyone you love deeply, it truly can feel like there is no reason to believe that you will ever smile or laugh again or feel good again.  The only desire you may feel for a long time is to have that person back or to know why this had to happen to you.  And trust– well you may be gun-shy for a long time, not wanting to invest your feelings too much in anything or anyone again as you don’t want to take a chance on losing something or someone and going through this pain all over again.

You may not realize when the glimmer of hope starts to show itself again or in which way but it will if given a chance.  Every time you take a step forward from the day before, it is there urging you on.  We so often look for the huge leaps of change to show that we are “making progress”.  In grief, I have learned that it is these day-to-day small steps, forward, and backward too, that get us to where we want to go and hope leads the way.

5 in 1

I’ve been under the weather for a few days which brought on kind of a yucky mood which in turn made me revisit an “issue” that I ruminate over regarding my work choices.  It’s also why I haven’t posted for a bit.

After I struggled through that for a few hours and then moved on, it occurred to me that I had just experienced pretty much all of the “5 Stages of Grief” in one sitting. I won’t get into the specific issue I was dealing with but the process went something like this:

  1. Denial- I can’t believe this is happening again; I can’t believe I am going through this and questioning myself again and feeling bad all over again; this can’t be happening
  2. Anger– I am sooo sick of this; I feel like throwing my teacup against the wall and screaming at the top of my lungs, I am so frustrated with this; will there never be an end to this; why does this keep happening; I don’t deserve all of this
  3. Bargaining- I am a good person; I promise if you just show me the way that I will do it, whatever it takes; this is not just about me, it’s for my family too; think of all of the other people who will be impacted too
  4. Depression– I just can’t take this anymore; I keep trying and trying and getting nowhere; I’m just going to give up- there are just no answers; why bother; all I want to do is lay in my bed with the covers over my head and hope no one notices that I’m not there; what difference does it make anyway
  5. Acceptance- Ok, take a breath- it is what it is; you have been through this before and you have figured out how to get it together and move forward; you just have to put one foot in front of the other and regroup and remember what your original goals were and why you are doing this; this is not the end of the world, it just feels bad right now for some reason but it is just for this moment; it is really all right and you just need to take that first step, any step; find something positive to focus on

The “Stages” are real emotions or reactions that can occur in response to stressful situations.  They are ways that our body helps us to work through something painful and overwhelming when  the everyday more typical ways just won’t cut it.  The critical thing to remember is that they are not really stages in that they don’t happen in a neat little prescribed  sequence, one after the other, in a specific time frame never to be seen again once you’ve passed through them.

As my tiny example shows, you can experience these emotions all in 1 specific situation, working through 1 issue.  Obviously, this was not the same as a prolonged grief process. I have felt through my own grief experiences, and surely will feel again, all of these intense emotions as life brings on more major challenges.

My point is that when you hear about the “5 Stages of Grief”, don’t just accept that this is the exact way that grief occurs. There are a lot of people who refer to this model or theory when they talk about grief.  You even see it poked fun at on shows like “Family Guy” or “South Park” on tv.

Grief  is a very fluid process, moving in and out of varying intensities of different emotions.    The “Stages” Model provides some good basic information and understanding about what can happen when your are grieving but everyone’s path is different. You have a right to make your own.

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