Moving On

There could be a long explanation about no new posts for nearly 2 years.  Eh.  Life happens.

Or doesn’t.  I’m writing now to reflect on this turn of events over the last day.  And years.

I’ve been feeling incredibly stuck over the past 6 months to a year, but I hadn’t really allowed myself to fully acknowledge it.  All I know is that things were getting worse as the fall came and bled into the holidays.  Since Barb and Grama died, I have not really enjoyed the holidays, and in fact, I’ve dreaded them.  The first ones were because it felt uncomfortable to be around family and not talk about the elephant in the room:  Here we sit, in Barb’s living room, the scene of the crime, but none of us are really talking about it.  Just catching up, laughing, being around new people, silently missing the old.  This year was different because my cousin sold the house.   Her house.  Where I’ve spent every Christmas of my entire life.  Without telling us.  I still haven’t talked to him.  He still never told me.  So for the first time ever I think, we didn’t spend Christmas with Barb’s family.  It was super weird.  A relief in a way because it was so casual, it was like nothing.  But definitely not special.

I made it through the holidays but things weren’t really a big relief like they usually are.  I’ve found myself over the past year having the best times in recent past (great self-care, excitement about creating my future), but then also really icky lows (hermitting and binge watching/eating/drinking).  This has been on a rapid cycle as of late, and my friendships started to suffer.

There’s a number of reasons that my therapist brain can point to:  the death of my father last year and experiencing mourning in mild, drawn out waves; the death of another family pet; friends moving on in partnerships and family planning; being 39, still single, still never having had a strong need to have my own children, but acutely aware that time’s almost up and I likely won’t have that experience, and the knowledge that Grama’s line and my dad’s line won’t pass through me; the abstract loss of my sister as he came out as trans; the absence of a clear, sure goal in the near future; settling into just… life… and wanting to make it something else, expanding life outside of work/school/caregiving, yet being terrified that nothing will ever change.  I’ve identified in my brain these things that have kept me on a weird, tired loop of leaps forward and plummets back, never really gaining any momentum into creating this next phase of my life.

I’m self-reflective, I write.  I do EMDR on myself and identified and worked through some negative beliefs.  I was almost ready to return to therapy myself (still considering it) when I remembered that a recent client told me that acupuncture worked in amazing ways with their anxiety.   Last year, I had my first experience with acupuncture in the form of a cosmetic facial treatment series.  It was interesting but I never knew what I was supposed to be looking for.  Toward the end of those treatments I asked my acupuncturist to explain what my client experienced with acupuncture.  I was impressed and interested to hear more about treating the body as a whole and that certain points on the body connect with certain emotions and organs.  I told her I would probably try that treatment next.  I looked a little bit into research and testimonials so I kind of knew what to expect.

A couple of months later, yesterday, I scheduled an appointment and went back in.  I told my acupuncturist that I’d been feeling some depression and anxiety lately, lingering grief, explained briefly about the cycling moods and behaviors.  I told her I knew all of the pieces that were contributing to this, but couldn’t figure it out.  I just felt like something was stuck in my spirit, in my energy.  She told me she understood, and that Chinese medicine is perfect for these kinds of things.  She took some pulses, looked at my tongue, asked about my digestion, and started sticking me.  She warned me that I might experience a wave of emotion.  I got comfortable for the 40 minute rest.  I cried a little bit early on related to grief.  I had thoughts of Barb and Grama and acknowledged that I was afraid to let go.  My next thought was that it was ok to let go because they were still with me.  I continued to lay there, thinking sometimes and not thinking other times.  Tears on and off.  I was more aware of physical sensations in my body.  Then it was time to get up.  She told me to drink a lot of water and don’t do anything strenuous, and reminded me that waves of emotional release was normal.  She told me to come back once per week for a couple of weeks and then we’ll re-evaluate.

I left the clinic feeling exhausted.  And my left arm felt super heavy and sore.  I was dazed as I drove myself home.  I got a little weepy about my dad.  I made a snack and got back into bed for a couple of hours to rest.  I got up later and decided to run some errands.  I got a horrible sinking urge to go into unhealthy mode again and was terrified that nothing was going to change.  But I got to where I was going, my mind shifted, and it turned into a productive day.  I grocery shopped.  I picked up a big storage container.  I was exhausted again when I got home, and got into bed again.

I woke up at what I assume was way too early of an hour and just laid in bed and paid attention to my body and my breathing.  I noticed that depending on who or what I was thinking about, parts of my body lit up with sounds, tingles, or emotions.  I’ve historically been terrible about living from inside my body.  My brain is a mile a minute, so physical and emotional mindfulness is not something that is natural for me, but I’ve been working on it.  It was an interesting experience, and gradually I drifted back to sleep.  I dreamed of a family reunion with my second family, an artsy bus, and skating.  Just before I woke up, I dreamed of leaning over to my friend with the epiphany that we needed to buy a roller rink together.

My body felt slow and heavy and tired, but my brain wanted to get up.  I had coffee and started laundry and set some intentions for my day while reflecting on the experience from yesterday.  I did some budgeting and paid bills, putzed around a little bit, made breakfast, then got exhausted again and went back to bed to rest.

After finishing a movie, I knew I wanted to take on the overdue task of taking down the Christmas tree.  I barely got the thing up before Christmas.  Frankly, I plugged it in and haven’t unplugged it since.  It’s had the same design for a few years – it’s a raggedy old Charlie Brown looking tree from my grandfather’s basement, with red ribbons and tinsel left over from years ago, disco ball ornaments, and some handmade ornaments from 2011.  That year I gave all my friends and family personalized ornaments with pictures of them.  I used old family pictures for family members and made some for myself. As I removed them this morning, it struck me that pretty much everyone on my ornaments is dead.  Sugar, my dad, Grama, Barb and Rick, Grampa.  It didn’t make me sad, it just struck me.  Parts of my apartment and my life are just a shrine to people who are gone now.  They died and what I understand now that I have more experience with death and a shifted spiritual perspective is that everyone dies, it’s natural, and it’s sad, but it is what it is.  The problem is that I hadn’t moved on.  It’s time to move on.

IMAG1447

Louie watches as his world turns upside down.  

After I got the tree packed up in the big storage bin I picked up yesterday, I looked around at my plants.  They were in pretty bad shape, so I decided to do some pruning that I’ve been meaning to do for a long time.  They were so overgrown in some places, rotting in others.  As I cut the long tendrils for clipping to start new ones, it reminded me of cutting hair.  I got a significant haircut this year as well.  Looking at the plants, I kept thinking that I don’t know why I let them get this overgrown when I could’ve started fresh, but I was avoiding cutting the length.  I now have much healthier looking plants that aren’t so tangled and bound together (they can breathe!) and I may have a healthy new crop on the way via clippings.

IMAG1448

Old pizza box doubles as a dead vine recepticle. I’m all about multipurposing. It’s all going to the trash anyway.

I still had the energy so I kept with my momentum.  Another project that’s been calling my name was starting to sew.  I’ve had Barb’s machine but never officially used it in the last 3 years.  It’s a nice looking table!  But I also meant to bring together all the Nigerian clothes that have been made for or given to me.  For the ones I have never worn – some are outfits my dad sent me before we ever met – make them into something I actually want or use them as practice material.  I pulled them out from closets and storage, hung the ones that didn’t need altering on the hangers I bought a couple of months ago, and sorted the rest into my old Christmas bin.  I thought about how long I’ve avoided doing anything with these clothes because they were made for me and I thought it would be bad to alter them.  But were they any better, hanging out in storage not getting used?  The fabric is ready when I’m ready to begin.

In a final use of my energy, I transferred all my CDs and very old tapes from a cardboard box my cats had been scratching at for several months into another bin.  And I packed some of the Christmas stuff I’m giving away into the cardboard box.  I now have 3 tidy containers waiting to go into storage or given away, rather than a ransacked wasteland of unfinished projects.

Is it the acupuncture that unblocked some energy and got my Qi moving around again?  Is it positive expectation and a real desire to move forward in my life?  Is it an incredibly cold Minnesota weekend that kept me cooped up and coincidentally productive?  Who knows.  I’m just grateful I haven’t wasted another day on the couch binge watching some crappy show.  (I take it back, Nurse Jackie is a really good and important show, I’m not sorry for that time spent!)

I keep having this vision of Grama waving and waving to me.  “Bye bye!  Bye bye!”  But it’s not sad.

Long Island Medium (I’m so embarrassed – or am I?)

So just a short time after my aunt and grama passed, my mom got me into the show, “Long Island Medium.” So good.  If anyone is legit, I swear it’s her.  I just discovered that seasons 1 and 2 are on Netflix and I’m enjoying watching them.  I choose to think that stories similar to mine have a message for me, too.  It feels nice to imagine the afterlife the way she describes it.  It makes me think that it’s bigger, more complex, and beyond the idea I have been taught in terms of what happens after we die.  Bigger, more expansive.  More comforting.  I like it right now.

Thanksgivingish

Thanksgiving was dreaded, but turned out better than expected.  I think that’s my new normal on holidays.  

It’s been about month since I was laid off.  I immediately sprung into action.  Within a week and a half I had 2 new job offers.  I ended up accepting one, and am slowly training and building a client load.  But losing your job is a loss.  One that triggers those other losses as the merciful numbing of shock and action wear off.

Again this year, the blessing of being a(n unemployed) therapist is that we attend to our feelings and acknowledge the grief and walk each other through our shit.  An angel came in the form of a fellow laid off coworker, and we spent hours on the phone processing and acknowledging the dirty shit and laughing, sometimes bitterly, sometimes with evil joy.  We talked until we began to perceive a vague outline of the shape of what had just happened, the grief and the trauma, the ugliness.  We talked for a week and a half until I knew what I would say when the call came to join the new agency rising from the ashes of the old agency.  “At this time, I have to say no.  Maybe we’ll work together again in the future.  Good luck.”  As it turned out, only 1 of the 5 original therapists agreed to join the new agency.  To me, that said a lot.  It was validating in the extremely difficult decision I made not to return to the agency that made me, to the job that was so much more than a job.  I chose the unknown instead.  

It looks like it’s working out.  The new job I chose to accept has big opportunities for growth and leadership, sooner rather than later.  I will be getting a really good range of experience to complement the training I’ve had so far.  I’m getting unemployment as I build my caseload so though the building is slow, I’m not rushed or panicked financially.  That’s a blessing.  Thanks.  

From the outside it looks like things are in order, and from the inside I know that in a couple of months I may be settled into a new routine.  But there’s a hollowness that caught up with me around last weekend.  It’s hard.  I’m not good at connecting and reaching out when things are darkest, I prefer to stew and wait it out alone, telling my survival tale when I’m on the way back up.  

So I think I’m on the way back up.  

Talking to a friend tonight, I’m pinpointing this feeling of a loss of professional identity.  Yes I will still work in mental health, yes I will be back to therapy in a short time.  But I lost something, a big piece of myself.  I don’t have a boyfriend or kids, so I overemphasize my professional life.  That’s where I gain meaning, power, self-esteem.  And it feels like that was snatched away.  And I’m nervous about how the identity will be rebuilt as I return to work.  It will be a different version, because who I was as a Therapist at The Agency was very specific, it was something I had never had before on a number of levels – culturally, professionally, as a leader.  I felt comfortably embedded with Place, Role, Respect.  I was a very specific person with specific worth.  And that was lost.  

And damned if it doesn’t feel eerily similar to surviving the death of my loved ones last year.  

I lost some things.  And aside from the concreteness of Auntie Barb, of Grama, of my job… its a loss of pieces of myself, of my identity.  What will I look like when I put me back together in a new place, a new life, without them?

The cosmic timing.  The first inkling of my job loss was on the anniversary of Grama’s death.  Then quicker than I could imagine, we were back into the holiday season.  I felt dread settling back in as we approached Thanksgiving, randomly bursting into tears again, only this time without the distraction of work and clients.  Healthy planning of my free time slowly broke apart into willfully unstructured days filled with daytime talk shows (I recognized rather quickly which stars were on media blitzes), or long stretches of Scrubs in bed with my laptop (which was actually fantastic, no apologies, no shame for that, I fucking love Scrubs!).  Alas, everything gets old in excess.  

By the time Thanksgiving Day rolled around, I was pretty deep into a downward spiral with no interest in the holiday.  I forced myself out of bed and onto the couch.  Trying to find something to fill the 8am hour before something dependable was on, I accidentally hit channel 2 (public television, which I rarely watch, but my aunt used to rave about) and it was all this program on hospice care, death and dying, and end of life choices.  I was easily mesmerized in the best possible way.  I swear to you, it was the only thing that pulled me up out of the depths that morning.  It was like someone was speaking my language.  Yes some of it was very sad, yes I cried like a baby at parts of it, but it was exactly what I needed.  I’m not sure how to explain other than that it was validating.  Just like coming here to read grief blogs last year, I needed to know that grief and loss were on other people’s minds during the most wonderful time of the year.  With that programming in the background, I got up and baked bread.  I could do this.  

The day was uneventful, just our little family gathering at my mom’s house.  No friends, no extras, no replacements this year.  My cousin and his fiance came over for a while on their drive-by.  We laughed and had a good time.  We watched “The Outsiders,” which I loved.  It was my first favorite book as a kid.  The way it is bookended really touched me as a kid, and inspired me as a writer.  So that was nice.  

I feel like there should be something nice, some way to wrap this up in a bow.  But I’ve still got Christmas to get through and like I said, I’m building a caseload slowly with a lot of free time on my hands.  But.  I’m also coming up out of the hole, and working to take responsibility for my time, structure, thoughts, and feelings.  I’ve done a little EMDR on myself the past 2 mornings and that is helping.  We’ll all get through it.  

What Happened

So Wednesday, October 30, was the 1 year anniversary of my grama’s death.  I was already a little on edge but planning to be as gentle as possible with myself and honor whatever came up for me (proper tribute to come).  I went into work, planning to start my group first thing as scheduled.  When I walked into the group room there were no clients, but the leadership team was waiting.  They told me all clients were canceled and we were having a staff meeting instead.  I knew it couldn’t be good.  

A little bit of a back story.  This has been a terrible year for the agency.  In January we were pulled into our first traumatic meeting.  They weren’t going to be able to make a full payroll and so our checks would be slashed by 30%.  There were many other traumatic meetings about payroll days away that wouldn’t be met… a 10% mandatory paycut for all employees effective immediately for a period of 3 months… no 6 months… no indefinitely – hopefully we’ll get them restored when we merge with a non-profit monster… no they’re gonna keep you at this salary, this is the new normal… watching my coworkers quit… watching a pack of coworkers get laid off several months ago.  It’s been really rough.  And despite our regular advice, objections, and modeling as therapists about handling these traumatic announcements in a healthier way, they kept coming.  Just last week a surprise policy change via email:  “Use your PTO or lose it, it will not be paid out to you even if you give proper notice.  Effective immediately.”  No problem, I’m not going anywhere.  

I stayed because I believed in the agency’s mission, because I loved my clients, because I deeply loved and respected my coworkers, my team.  I stayed for the unusual opportunity to practice therapy while still unlicensed, for the ownership and leadership I took in the agency, for the extraordinary opportunity.  I kept staying as I depleted my savings on the hopes that this would end one day soon and our salaries would be restored.

So on that Wednesday morning, we were told that the agency wouldn’t survive and would need to dissolve.  In making a decision to pay bills or pay employees, they chose the staff and they said that we would continue to be paid, that we would become employees of the meganonprofit and someday in the future, a new culturally specific agency would be created.  We would be a phoenix rising from the ashes.  It was a sad conversation, we fought so hard to keep our autonomy, but the agency was over.  We were told that we would probably not practice in this building again (not a surprise) and that we should finish up our paperwork and begin packing offices.  

Thursday morning I got a text saying my office needed to be packed up by we needed to be out by the end of the day.  In a daze I went in and packed up my cozy place of healing in kind of a daze.  Late Thursday night I texted my supervisor to make sure we didn’t have a Friday meeting since we were just transferring to the new agency.  I was told yes, we did, and come to the office at 10am.  

It still never dawned on me what was about to happen.  The Director kept it short and sweet.  “This is the day I’ve been talking about.  The time has come.  I have your separation letters and I have applications for the meganonprofit.”  It took several minutes for it all to sink in for all of us.  I broke it down bit by bit and asked him to verify that’s what he had said.  “We are being laid off.  I’m unemployed.  And I need to apply for my job at another agency.”  

“Yes.”  

Another employee asked, “But basically you’re saying that our jobs are waiting for us at the other agency?”  

“No.  No that’s not what I’m saying.  I’m no longer in charge and I can’t make any promises.”  

We all filled out our applications in a daze.  I went and found the director to hand mine in.  He looked at me for a good 30 seconds with some kind of expectancy or question, I couldn’t figure it out.  Did he want a hug?  What?  “Alright,” he said.  “See you on the other side.”

And with that, I was unemployed.  Totally dumbfounded and unemployed.   

Marking the Day

What I can say about a year is that looking back, it seems like a lifetime ago, and like yesterday. 

Over the past couple of weeks I have come to a new place in grief where I can find the peace in holding the past and the present simultaneously.  I can go back into memories of last year at this time, and feel it and cry, and yet know this new safety and control that grounds me in the present.  It happened.  Auntie Barb died last year (still so bizarre sometimes) and I had to experience it.  I experienced that horror and panic of, Where the fuck is Barb?  She was just here, where did she go??  I experienced the terrifying lack of her physical presence, and the hole where caretaking was.  I can feel all of that again like it was yesterday, and then I can make the shift in my mind that is the comfort of knowing that I don’t live there anymore.  An entire year has passed and life is so completely different.  And I am fully invested in my present.  I have a life.  I lived.  I’m here now.  And my life is pretty good, with the intention of getting even better.  I’m here now.  Not back there anymore.  I can visit but I don’t live there.  What a relief.  I’m grateful. 

Yesterday morning I went to grief group.  I had skipped a couple of weeks – once because I just didn’t feel like it and once because I was in an amazing training (post to come).  But out of a sense of duty I went yesterday.  It was… nothing.  The format is they have a speaker and then you break into groups according to your loss.  I wanted to ditch after the speaker but I made myself stay because I thought I should.  I’ll still never understand why there’s always one if not four people who have a significant mental illness in these groups, people who need a higher level of support than grief group can give.  Still.  I did my best to stay with it, but I just didn’t need it.  I could comfort others.  But frankly, I do that for a living and wasn’t feeling it on my free time.  Plus, I’m just not in the overwhelming sadness anymore.  So listening to other people in the depths of it, yes it tugs at heartstrings somewhat, but I’m not in that place. 

Where am I?  Maybe this is acceptance.  I still cry sometimes, it sneaks up on me.  But I love her, and I think back on things she said and her support and love.  And I know that my leaving her behind in a sense… it’s good for me.  I leave her behind and I take her with me.  She is always with me.  I wear her watch everyday.  I put on her other jewelry.  I think of her words of encouragement and support.  I think of her long list of complaints about work and people and life.  And I make choices to enjoy mine more.  I love her very much and I am blessed to have had her for the time I did.  She decided not to fight cancer the second time around and die on her own terms.  And in her own sentiment, she expressed that this was a good way to die. 

I don’t know where she is.  I assume she’s with everyone she ever loved that passed away before.  I’m not so angry about religion and spirituality and afterlife anymore.  And I’m not trying to decide what it is or isn’t.  Sometimes I think I feel her and then I try to rationalize it or quantify it, and then I let it go and smile let it be whatever it is. 

Here is her favorite picture of herself.

Hawaii

Hawaii

 

And something else I think about a lot lately is that she left me her laptop with her iTunes library.  I merged our music and discarded some things.  But my iPod has saved the history.  I’m somewhat repetitive about what I listen to, and I’ve been working with my same library since about 2007.  Still, today, the 25 Most Played are a mixture of Arcade Fire and Danger Mouse (hers).  She was nothing if not obsessive!  She would always tell me about how beautiful she though those albums were. 

I miss my beautiful, wonderful aunt. She’s here and she’s a million miles away.

The end of August means…

… that tomorrow will be September and the year is imminent.  My aunt died on September 22, 2012.  Five weeks later, my Grama died, too.  It’s getting rough again.  I’m feeling exhausted all the time, distracted, my concentration is shot.  Sometimes.  I’m still productive for the most part.  But then there are the flashbacks.  I keep thinking of little things I haven’t thought of since last year.  The seasons, the heat, the end of summer events… all are triggers that shoot memories to the surface of the sad dreading, the unknown, the watching and waiting. 

I remember rubbing my aunt’s feet and legs, swollen so full and tight that it looked like they could crack open from the bloating.  I remember medications, so many medications to organize and provide.  I remember waiting while her swirly, medicated mind tried to make sense, tried to manage, tried to order these endless medications.  She was smart and stubborn and determined not to overmedicate, but her mind wasn’t clear.  So patience was required. 

I remember her alarm.  It’s that alarm on the iPhone that sounds like a 4 alarm fire disaster, I don’t know how else to describe it.  Every once in a while I hear a neighbor in my building with it, and I’m brought right back into bolting up out of unrestful sleep in my cousin’s room… time for meds

It was a year ago this weekend that I moved in part time with my aunt.  To take care of her presumably until she died at home like she wanted.  It only lasted for 2 weeks, til she couldn’t take it anymore, til she got too weak and shuffly like an old woman, til she asked to go to inpatient hospice.  For peace. 

grief group

The week before last, I arrived at work expecting a supervision meeting.  Instead I was asked to handle a crisis intervention.  Reluctantly I took it (not that I really had a choice) and it ended up being a woman whose father had been found dead the night before.  She got the news at 2am and arrived at my office at 9 at the urging of her boyfriend. 

!$#%(@&#^^^(*!

So I find myself sitting across from a woman in the horrible shock, terror, and disbelief of fresh,  unexpected death.  And I knew from my experiences that there was absolutely nothing I could do.  So I listened.  And I told her about 8 times about how little sense anything was going to make and how ridiculous the experiences and requests and decisions were going to be in these next few weeks. 

After she left, my supervisors sat me down to process.  I told them that I understood that I was the only therapist available at that time, but that my deaths were still rather fresh so it was hard.  They made me talk a little more about what it felt like to be in the room with that client.  And I was honest about flashbacks of last days and bodies and shock and horror.  My one supervisor said, “Well, I don’t think you’re going to like this, but I think you are still in mourning and I recommend you find a grief group.” 

I told her that wasn’t a punishment for me.  I told her about engaging pretty obsessively with my grief through reading and writing blogs, in order to be able to connect whenever I needed to with people who were going through the same phase as me.  She challenged me that it wasn’t necessarily a bad thing to be at different places in the grief process as others, and that making a human, in-person connection was very important. 

Sounded good to me.  I searched and was able to rather easily find a weekly group close to my house.  I’ve been twice now.  There’s a format of a speaker or presentation, then breaking off into small groups according to your loss.  The first week was amazing – a speaker telling his personal story and then having to tell mine in the small group.  Everyone was very supportive.  The one I went to yesterday was good, too, but a little strange.  The presentation was awesome, but the small group was off due to an obviously mentally ill man who was kind of disruptive to the process.  But I resisted my urge to bolt and stayed through it.  I talked to a nice Buddhist girl afterward.  I’ll keep coming for a while. 

In my experience so far, it feels a little darker, closer – the loss.  I have been able to set them aside and pursue building my life up again.  The best part of yesterday’s presentation talked about the process of grief really being a process of figuring out who you are going to be now.  There is part of you that died with your loved one.  We have also lost who we were, our identity in relationship to them.  That hit me in the gut because that is what’s real to me right now.  There are parts of my identity (perfect, good girl caretaker) that I angrily cast off immediately.  But the follow-up question is, Who am I if not her?  What is my family role now?  And because the way you learned to fit in with your family informs so much of your subsequent life, how does this affect this life that I’m building back up?  I’m building from scratch, but am I?  I didn’t realize how much of the grief process was about the identities of the survivors. 

Recently I have been dancing around the living room and come face to face with pictures of Grama on the wall, and my face changes and melts into the adoring granddaughter, eyes shining, in awe of her pretty little face.  And only with the time that has passed do I realize that this face, this expression is particular to my relationship with her. 

Yesterday was our family birthday celebration and my mom showed the movie I made of them again.  Last time we saw it I smiled.  This time I cried.  I miss them.  I can’t say I truly miss myself, because I like the more genuine person I am becoming as I continue to peel this onion.  But I am aware of the parts of me that have been left behind.  Grief is so much more expansive than I thought. 

creepy dream

I don’t dream about my aunt or Grama very much but last night I did.  We were at a restaurant finishing up and it was time to go.  Grama kept pushing herself up like she was trying to stand, to leave.  I ran to grab her wheelchair to bring over to her so she could transfer into it.  I was asking my sister to help her, but Grama fell down before I could get the wheelchair to her.  She kept trying to get back up and then falling down again.  I was mad at my sister for not helping her, protecting her… she kept falling and getting weaker and smaller.  I was horrified and felt helpless.  The last time she fell, it was like she fell straight backwards, flat, with a thud.  I just knew she was broken beyond repair.  I went to cradle her while someone got help.  Maybe an ambulance was coming.  She was almost like a little gingerbread man at this point, that small and flat.  The next part I remember is what felt like a little while later and I was holding a baby.  It was a baby of course, but it was also some version of Grama having survived the fall.  I cradled this baby and kind of showed her off to other people and I was thankful that she had survived.  She looked small and thin and kind of weak and weary, but I was happy that she could track people’s faces so I knew the baby was going to be ok. 

created instability: epilogue

epiloge – i love it.

so yesterday, i finally finished. and it feels so weird! i hadn’t planned to finish this months long cleaning and organizing process. i woke up too early (as per usual lately) and laid on the couch watching some tv and then just felt like i might be able to be productive with a small project. and it went on from there! about 3 hours in, i knew i was going to finish this today and it started to feel emotional. it’s this familiar feeling that i don’t know how to put into words. some kind of mixture of pride, gratitude, and disbelief. a little bit of fear.

it’s about cleaning the house but it’s about so much more than cleaning the house. with all i’ve been thinking through and working on lately… it’s about my willingness to move on. only in the last hours of cleaning the house did i realize how long it has been this way. it was clean last summer when my dad was here, though not necessarily organized the way i wanted. it was after they died that everything went into super disarray. stuff coming off the walls, piles piling up, the getting worse before it gets better. so committing to putting things where they belong, wiping off shelves, purging, deciding that some things don’t need to be perfect today in order to be clean and organized and therefore putting them away for later… this is about committing to where i am now, settling in, and giving myself the peace to let my energies go outward.

click here for the before pictures.

and here are the same spots, after.

i can eat here.  with 3-5 other people if i want.

i can eat here. with 3-5 other people if i want.

future site of game nights, movies with optional cuddling, laughter, and heart-to-hearts.

future site of game nights, movies with optional cuddling, laughter, and heart-to-hearts.

it feels peaceful. and i think it feels like the courage to move forward.

starting over

did you watch that show, starting over? i loved that show, i was obsessed. only 3 seasons long, it was like my light in a dark tunnel time of life. free therapy on tv. network tv. awesome!

this post is not about the tv show. but when the title came to me, i had to relate it back. who knew, during those dark times in my life, my first real severe and persistent depression, working as a server at a bar and drinking all night, sleeping all day, do it again… i used to watch life coaching and transformation in the form of starting over religiously. if i woke up around 1, i could see a little bit of passions, but i was for sure up by 2 for my show. i would never have fathomed then that i would pick myself up and put in the work it took to get where i am today. now i’m the therapist and i help others transform their lives. (and sometimes it really, really works!)

i’ve been taking a hard look at where i am today. i feel like i’m waking up. i’ve been in this focused terrain of various tasks/projects/obsessions/addictions for quite a long time. i’ve been looking at my busy-ness for a while now, wanting to understand the purpose. specifically i’ve been looking at the last 3 years. 3 years ago, i was enrolled in grad school, knew someplace inside me that drinking was not working anymore, and feeling kind of dissatisfied in my friendships. at least my day-to-day friendships. i felt like i was along for the ride, stuck, compulsive, powerless.

time passed. i wrestled with drinking and social life. after a long, drawn out, dragged out fight, i let go of alcohol. i immersed myself in my studies. friends fell away. some friends were surgically removed. some friends transitioned with me, doing new things and seeing me less frequently. i still have my best friends. i’m so proud of my good friendships! i feel incredibly fortunate. but they’re not generally part of my day-to-day, hanging out life. i generally hang out by myself. which was working for a long time. i’m content and unaffected alone. but it’s not what i want anymore.

grad school took over my life and my attention and my energy for a little over 2 years. as i was finishing, my aunt got a terminal cancer diagnosis. shortly after we enrolled her in hospice, my grama’s nursing home made the recommendation that she be enrolled in hospice as well. i remember that day. my aunt and cousin came down to the nursing home to meet me and sign papers. barb was in a wheelchair, which was so strange. she was weak. but her mind was still alert. so we sat at this sterile table in this sterile lounge area and talked about hospice. that was the first time i noticed my new tic. i felt myself rhythmically tapping my leg with my fingers, compulsively, subconsciously at first. i still find myself doing it when i accidentally get deep into a disturbing memory of these times.

so the end of school was the beginning of caretaking. caretaking and waiting and wondering and terror was another darkness. but i was the strong one who took care of business and made them feel comfortable, and in my aunt’s case, empowered. i suppose the role is what kept me above water and able to move forward. there’s this sense of unreality that made me able to keep moving. shock was a protective factor even then. sure i cried, and i premourned. barb and i had lots of talks about what was coming. she cried about how sorry she was that she was leaving us. i comforted her. i sat with grama. i went through the motions and tried really hard to feel it all, and i did my best.

and caretaking led into the horrific shock of death. they died. and with all the preparation and saying what needed to be said, and in the end praying for the end of their suffering, there is no greater shock and void than when they are suddenly gone.

so i mourned. and mourning is the most incredibly lonely thing in the world. you can have loved ones around you. they remember her, too. they are feeling their own pain. but in grief it is very hard to connect, to match up your timing with someone else. to feel the same specific brand of grief at the same time as the others. so blogs became very important to me. i dealt with grief in an obsessive way. i went to work and did my job and came home and read grief blogs. and cried. and wrote grief blogs. and cried. and got angry. and went numb. and read some more. and kept crying. and was alone.

grief is never over. i believe that in my experience, connecting with it willingly, actively, assertively… helped. i allowed it. and i still allow it when it comes. sometimes i say, “not now,” and i come back to it later. i am not afraid of it. i know it will not overtake me. my will to keep living, keep growing and moving forward is strong. they gave me that.

something else was this tyler perry movie. it was a filmed stage play, set in a nursing home. my mom had it and made me take it home and watch it a few weeks ago. there was a storyline with a young woman who compulsively visited her alzheimers-stricken mother for 9-10 hours a day. madea has a little teaching moment with her at the end when they wrap all the storylines up. she tells this young girl that she is overemphasizing one part of her mother’s life. that the end is just a small part. you can remember the good times and try to let go. i’m not capturing the loveliness of it, but it helped me a lot. focusing so hard on the end of life. so i’m trying to focus more on the good times, of which there were many! and when the bad times and the end come up, that’s ok, too. but i’m trying harder to hold the good times longer.

so i find myself here, today. i’ve been thinking a lot recently about dating, getting into a relationship, having kids someday. i’ve been doing a lot of personal work on clearing out old emotional relationship baggage, and getting very clear on what i’m looking for. i had a friend in town who is thinking about this, too, and we talked about how we can be more pro-active, but also how we want to expand our social circles. i’ve been writing about that over the past couple of days, and it feels good!

for most of my life, i have been kind of pessimistic, a yes, but… kind of person. i feel like in doing these clearing exercise, in thinking about the people i love and the life i want, i finally have turned a corner on some of my self-protective focus into a more connection-oriented outlook. sometimes it’s so wonderful to be a therapist. i talk to people about their lives, and their thoughts, and their social issues and beliefs. the person that i am cannot talk to people about these things all day and not take it to heart, not self-reflect. i get to see patterns of self-protection and why people do that, and i also get to know and advise, therefore saying it out loud, affirming it: there are more kinds of people in the world than the ones you grew up with and repeated. i finally believe that to an extent that affects change.

i’m developing a vision of the kind of life i want, which includes dating and relationships, but also friends, social circles, specific kinds of people with like mindsets, communities, events, where i want to be, what kinds of things will make up my day-to-day life. i want the fullness. it’s becoming more clear in a way that makes the steps to that life light up in front of me. it’s not just going out, it’s being social, connecting and learning and making decisions. which is not necessarily an epiphany, but i’ve been closed down for a long time. in particular, the last 3 years.

so 3 years ago, i had a best day-to-day friendship with a girl who was also prone to negative focus, harsh judgments, and unhappiness. we brought out the worst in each other. we drank heavily. our social life was sometimes fun, she was impulsive and up for anything. so i also got myself into some situations i didn’t want to be in. she was boisterous, loud, engaging, demanding, charming to some, overwhelming to others. and i lived in her shadow. we understood and accepted each other in the darkest times, and at the time, to me, that meant a real friend.

3 years ago, i went with whoever invited me. weirdos glommed onto me and i wasn’t assertive enough to choose wisely who i wanted close to me. i worked in a deeply shitty job, hung out with people i didn’t really care for, and drank myself stupid on a regular basis. it felt like life was happening to me and i had no control.

3 years ago, i dated a few times a year. the year before i had broken up with my last boyfriend for boring me to tears. i wasn’t too incredibly picky because i had never really examined what i wanted. or for that matter who i was. so i’ve had dating spurts, but knew without a doubt that i would rather be alone than be with someone with whom i had to compromise what i liked about myself and my lifestyle.

3 years is a long time to learn and reflect and change. i don’t think i’ve ever been more clear, proud, in-tuned, and accepting of myself. i’m ready. and i’m grateful! i’m coming out of a point of view that saw myself as weird and problematic, defective that i could spend this much time alone and not have a lot of people in my life. but today i’m thankful. because now it’s time to rebuild from a place of clarity. i’m not 36 and stuck with a relationship and social circle that i fell into without thought and intention. i am far from powerless about the type of relationships that will color my life from this point forward. i am here, today, knowing and accepting myself, thoughtful and clear about what kind of life i want, and able to begin to rebuild from here.

i’m starting over.