I’m totally amazed and touched by the outpouring I’ve received from my last post Back With a Vengeance. In addition to the comments posted on this blog, and new followers, I’ve had many posts of support on Facebook, phone calls, private messenger messages, text messages and the list goes on. What amazes me most is the sharing of personal stories – grief, depression, some of detailed and sad experiences – past and present.
Friends text me to see how I am. Some call and ask if I will walk, come over, “How are you?” “What can I do?”
When you’re depressed you feel alone. You think, “I don’t want to burden anyone. I don’t want people to think I’m complaining. My life looks good and I shouldn’t complain…” and lots of other things go through your mind. It might not seem rational to other people who look inside from the outside, but we all feel alone, when we are alone in our heads.
Thanks to all of you who have reached out. You have given me moments of clarity, something I realize now I haven’t felt for a while. You have reminded me that I’m not really alone and I’m strong when I need to be and, most important, that will get through this. So I had to tell you that your messages have meant so much to me and sharing your personal stories has been uplifting and humbling.
We are all human. We all feel happiness and pain. Life is a journey and often a roller coaster. It can be difficult to navigate. Thank you for reminding me that we all feel this together.
I’ve been working hard to live my life one day at a time since Bob died, because the one real lesson I learned is that we really don’t know when our last tomorrow will be. Thank you for reminding me of this. And thank you for your stories and outpouring of love and caring. It means a lot to me.
I haven’t been sure what’s been happening to me. I wake up sad. I cry a lot. I sleep a lot. I don’t eat so much. I can’t write. This has been going on for a while, but we can never see when we’re “in the weeds” as my sister always reminds me. Is it depression again?
I’ve had a lot of personal upheaval in my life this past year (2018) and it seems to have escalated this past month. When I’m alone I wake up talking to myself but what I’m saying isn’t good. It’s the negative words again telling me I’m bad and useless. I’m not worthy of love and that I will always be alone.
I practice gratitude. I am fearful of saying things out loud because of spiritual lessons – “Be careful what you wish for” and “If you say it out loud it may come true.”
My state is mainly confusion. My drive to do anything is non-existent.
When I was first diagnosed with depression it took a while. My GP at that time wasn’t nice to me. The nurses couldn’t understand and gently urged me to seek help elsewhere when I went to her office crying and she told me to buck up and get myself together.
I’m not sure how I found the strength but, finally, I went to a new doctor. I was sobbing when she came into the exam room and I said “I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”
“You’re depressed,” she said.
“I can’t be,” I told her. “I can’t sleep or eat and am losing weight. People who are depressed sleep all the time, eat a lot and gain weight.”
“Not always, she told me. It can be the opposite.” It was my first diagnosis.
Many therapy visits with many doctors and psychologists later, I finally agreed to go on anti-depressants. I didn’t really believe that there was a problem with my brain, but I was exhausted from walking the floors every night and crying all the time. By then I had a different doctor (my current GP, as the one who diagnosed me had moved away) and she oversaw my medication and renewed my prescriptions. I managed day-to-day life but, in truth, I was still dragging and lagging, just getting through my days but sleeping again, with the aid of low-dose medication.
When Bob died I stopped sleeping and started crying again. I was grieving the loss of my husband and life mate of 30 years so it was understandable. But then it was more. Lines became blurred between grief and depression. This continued and culminated in a threat to kill myself and now my memories of yelling at people who came into my house to help followed by acquiescence when I was gently persuaded to get into an ambulance and eventually admitted to hospital. I wrote about that previously. The diagnosis was that the anti-depressants were no longer working resulting in depression. How crazy is that? New medication prescribed, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy programs, practising meditation and mindfulness and I began to feel more normal than at any other time in my life, until recently.
Despite thinking about water and a warm holiday approaching, I’m back to crying yet again, and the negative self talk. No matter how hard I try to shake it, back it comes, confusing and finally enveloping me. And here I am again, realizing that the recent anxiety, loneliness with myself and planning how to clean my house and divest of excessive ‘stuff’ is actually preparation for – Lord help me – my demise.
Now it’s the holidays and the New Year is upon us. I’m going to get through the last of this, but I need to tell myself that I will, and set up yet another visit to the doctor to convince her this medication isn’t working. Or maybe this is just my reality. It’s been a life-long battle and, to be honest, it’s wearing me down.
Sometimes on our journey we meet people who are also grieving. They inadvertently hurt us with their grief.
I know I am stronger because I don’t blame myself, but it hurts. I can’t help you if you don’t want to be helped and you can’t blame me for how you feel. We are at an impasse.
I no longer feel pain. I can’t cry because I’ve built a wall around myself. It’s my protection. I can’t feel empathy and that scares me.
It all changed when he died and I was propelled on this path. I don’t recognize myself anymore. I hope I will be able to let this wall down so I can feel again, but I can’t trust right now. Where did I go? I miss me.
I’ve been writing blogs about my journey for a website called Headspace. Right now I have blogs two posted: Till Death Do Us Part: Living the Vows of Marriage andLife After Death: Death, Grief, Mindfulness and Meditation. Two more are slated for publication in November and December, and I’ve been commissioned to write another two. They’re all based on this journey from grief to ‘new normal,’ and in between. The amazing thing is that I’ve come to a point where I can write about the sadness but the ending is uplifting. That’s a huge leap from then to now.
In my last post here I wrote about the beginning of a relationship. It was an amazing journey. I learned I could have feelings for someone else and not feel survivor’s guilt. I learned that I could enjoy life and feel passion. But I also had to learn other lessons that weren’t always uplifting. In the end we parted, and my lesson since then has been that I can live my life as a single person and be a whole person on my own. It’s another chapter in this ‘new normal’ life.
I don’t see myself being alone for the rest of my life. I will never forget Bob and he will always be my husband. Those of you who have gone through this understand. But many of us also feel the need to connect with someone to move into a new chapter even, or especially, after such a profound loss. .
One of the most influential things in my metamorphosis from sad and bereft has to do with opening my home to strangers. I became an Airbnb host in October 2015 and, to date, have hosted more than 40 guests in my home, from as close as my own city. to as far away as New Zealand and China. With each guest I became more confident and comfortable sharing my home. I offer my guests a place of respite and sanctuary from busy schedules in their everyday lives or if their visit brings them here to study or work. In return, they’ve given me gifts and notes of thanks and written glowing reviews on my Airbnb site. I must admit I’m a bit jealous because my cats – Joey and Cassie (get better reviews than I do! And for my efforts I’ve become an Airbnb Superhost, which is really just a status but it’s nice to be recognized for being a kind, caring host.
This week I begin what I think will be the final phase of my mental health healing. I’m taking a Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) program for depression, to help with depression relapse. I’ve felt strong enough to handle the sad moments myself these past few months, but having tools to combat it when it reappears can only be a good thing. Depression is like any disease. It doesn’t just disappear. It’s ongoing and must be treated. I use mediation, exercise, work, positive affirmations, gratitude and have good friends surrounding me with love. I am thinking positive thoughts. It feels like another lifetime when I was holding on to dear life. That’s a good thing. I’m stronger now.
I’m even strong enough to work again and actually can focus (no more ‘widow brain’). This year has brought me new clients and a positive attitude about my abilities, capabilities and talents as a writer. I have a more focused perspective about what I want to do and the clients I want to work with. I am manifesting my desires and they appear.
We all lose loved ones and I am close to losing someone very special in my life again. It’s the natural ebb and flow of life. But if I have learned one thing from loss, it’s that someone new comes into our life at just the right time when we need them. And if we are lucky they stay with us, at least for as long as we need them. This keeps the flow coming in. Life and death are not mutually exclusive. They are what we must experience in our time here. And with loss comes more understanding about ourselves. I have learned a lot from loss, and I am sure I still have more to learn.
I’ve been writing about metamorphosis lately and that’s where I believe I am now. I had a meeting with one of the case workers at the hospital who ran the CBT program and I had to tell her What I Learned and How I’ve Changed. So, being me, a writer, I wrote about it. I’ll break this down into a few posts over the week because it’s lengthy. I will start here with the background to fill in some of the blanks.
June 23, 2015
The past two years has been a tumultuous journey for me. It has also been a time of many epiphanies. To say ‘it hasn’t been easy,’ is an understatement.
I believe I have always suffered from depression since I was teenager. I was diagnosed when I was 40. I was put on medication (Prozac). I weaned off (with my Doctor’s permission) hoping that I would be able to manage without it, but found myself in that dark abyss of depression again, so agreed to go back on the medication. I was on it for almost 20 years.
Despite the medication I have always suffered some symptoms of depression and low self-esteem and extreme anxiety. After Bob died (June 8, 2013) I started a slow decent, fueled by intense grief and (I learned later) the medication no longer working. Instead it was making me more depressed and I became suicidal. My anxiety was out of control. The slightest little issue sent me into a frenzy. I couldn’t think straight. I felt immobilized by fright.
I was hospitalized in October 2014 after an attempted suicide. Doctors quickly diagnosed the biggest issue, the medication no longer working and, ironically, this meant it was making me even more depressed. I was admitted to the psychiatric ward and my medication changed under the care of a psychiatrist. I attended classes and through the learning was able to label my anxiety issues. My low self-esteem was also at an all-time high (no pun intended).
I was released from hospital approximately a week later and began an outpatient group therapy– Track to Wellness. This program gave me tools to deal with my depression and anxiety and an overview of other group therapies available at the hospital. I requested and was accepted into CBT for Depression.
After a four-week three-hour activation sessions, followed by eight week, three-hour CBT group therapy sessions, including homework every night detailing everything from how I felt on a scale of 1 to 10 about every single thing I was doing to noting what made me laugh, positive events and many other details, I emerged in a very different place than when I started.
Looking back, I do wonder if part of this is be due to the two-year mark after Bob died. Maybe the worst of my grief passed by calendar days. But it’s more likely a combination of many things, the biggest lesson being to “live in the moment” and exactly what that means. I leave that for my next post.
If you feel upset reading this feel free to stop. It is my journey, not yours…
Saturday October 18 2014
I had tried it all – psychotherapy, grief therapy, grief groups, alternative therapies…the list goes on and on ad nausium. I knew I was in trouble. I needed help. I saw my therapist that day. I probably didn’t articulate what I thought because my mind was muddled. She drew me pictures of life as we would like it to be: line from bottom to right going gradually up. Then reality: twists turns and circles as you climb up, sometimes a dip down along the way. I’d seen it before. I knew this. But I knew something wasn’t clicking. What I didn’t realize then is that somewhere inside the twists and turns I had been spiraling rapidly downward – down the rabbit hole.
I analyzed; looked for triggers. Knowing the pain of grief would come unexpectedly, expecting it to abate eventually. Sometimes I think I am ok. Other times I know I’m not. I had been spiraling downward into the vortex of what I believed to be grief, but it was so much more than that.
That night the pain was unbearable. I couldn’t see the light. I could end the pain but if I was gone who would look after the cats? Sounds crazy, I know. I have family and friends but this kind of pain takes away all rational thought. You just want it to end. But the cats were with me, looking at me. I haven’t had them for long. We had just started to bond. In fact, in less than a year everything that lived and breathed in my house was gone. I couldn’t think of getting more living creatures. The story began March 1, 2013. That was the day we had to put one of our cats down.
***** I was trying everything I could do to keep him alive. I knew he was suffering. We can put animals out of their suffering. We do everything in our power to prolong the suffering of people. The irony isn’t lost on me. But cat number one was very, very sick. And though I try to ease his pain and hide his rapid decline, Bob saw what was happening and said that it was time. He was right. I was beside myself with loss already.
We took him to the vet. He was a beautiful cat, so loving, and so happy until he became so sick. I held him in my arms; wrapped in one of my daughter’s old but still soft baby blankets. They asked if I was ready. Who is ever ready for this? I swallowed hard and nodded, buried my face into his fur and whispered in his ear “I am here. I love you. You will be oknow. You won’t suffer anymore.” He took a deep sigh as the injection went into his veins and he was gone.
I cried long and hard. This is not my first loss, but it the first in less than 12 months of three great losses. That same month Bob got sick – March 11, 2013. Our journey is chronicled here in my blog. On June 8, 2013 he was in critical care where he died – gone, forever.
Cat number two couldn’t seem to cope. His world that has been rocked beyond anything familiar. On February 14, 2014, Valentine’s Day (the irony isn’t lost on me), I must do it again. A friend comes with me. I go through the exact same thing like the first cat, except for the most important thing, Bob isn’t with me. I wrap the little guy in the blanket and whisper that I love him in his ear, then he is gone.
I feel alright after my friend and I part. I go home, then break down, laying on the ground kicking and screaming and crying, “What did I do that made me so bad that nothing that breathed the same air that I did was no longer with me? Why? Why? Why? But no answers come. I pick myself up and think I’ll go on with life, but life isn’t what I want it to be.
Down the Rabbit hole
Someone has to take care of the cats. I posted it on Facebook. I was counting pills. I knew others would be sad but my muddled mind said “They will get through it. They will go on with their lives. God knows I’ve tried but I can’t keep doing this. It’s been 16 months and I hate being alone, lonely.” The wine heightens my depression. I have hit the bottom of the rabbit hole.
My post, intending to find someone to look after the cats, becomes a cry for help. From Montreal to Winnipeg to to my hometown, people call each other, then call me. I try to ignore it but eventually a good friend calls and I answer. I am crying and incoherent. I scream for people to leave me alone. She hangs up and calls someone closer to where I live. He comes over and calls another friend who arrives. Each time someone walks in I tell them I’m o.k. and scream “please go!” But they tell me they can’t; that they care too much. Texting, phone calls, social media goes into action. Friends leave as family arrives.
Then my daughter walks in the door after driving from out of town. Tears in her eyes, she hugs me and I cry. More family arrives. I am told they won’t leave me, that they are here to help me. My daughter leads me up the stairs and helps me pack a bag, speaking gently. An ambulance arrives. I am more coherent. I answer their questions but keep saying “Please don’t make me go.”
What I don’t realize is that help has come. What I needed is there. And if I just reach out my hands I will get what I need; what I have been looking for as I spiral down the rabbit hole. A new chapter in my journey has begun…
I haven’t written a blog since May: After He Was Gone: Darkest Days. It was just under a year, the long weekend in May, when I had a breakdown, actually one of two, leading up to the one-year anniversary since Bob died, June 8, 2013.
I found myself sitting with my doctor in her office, another blog in my hand: After he was gone – 11 months, I am. I’d been crying for two days. I felt like I was going through the first days of loss all over again. It was like being violently thrown back in time and crashing against the grief wall, living the first days of loss over and over and over again.
She read my blog, raised her eyebrows ever so slightly, then said “O.K….” We talked at length, actually, she talked. I cried, in between getting out a few straggling thoughts of depression and hopelessness. After what seemed like an hour, and having assessed my state of mind enough to feel she could trust me not to do anything rash, she asked me to increase my antidepressants and made a follow-up appointment.
It takes a while for the medication to kick in, but when it did I finally realized it wasn’t a place I wanted to be either. I was numb. I couldn’t cry. I didn’t care about anything. There was no sadness, but there was no joy either. I was existing in a fog of daily to-do chores. I could work because I could focus again, but my creativity was nil. I went back and told her I needed to decrease the medication. She agreed, but continues to monitor me. I am on the lower dose now and started to feel emotions again. It actually felt like relief when I cried again. But I wonder why I’m doing this balancing act with antidepressants.
For me, there is a hairline difference between existing and living. It’s called antidepressants. Given the right dose I feel ‘normal.’ When I go off them I find myself in a deep, dark cavern. It’s been going on for years. I have not found the antidepressant antidote that works for me. I must stay on them, even just a low dose. I’m not crazy, but they make me feel, well, ‘normal.’
So what is normal, or abnormal? Our Western society, dictates that we must smile and be happy. No matter how far we fall, we need to get up, brush ourselves off and move ahead. We need to “get over” anything that happened in the past and focus on the future.
Things get more complicated when you set out on a grief journey. It changes life in a way you can’t imagine. I try to learn as much about it as I can, and about ways to get through this, because I know that I will never will get over it. One of my lessons has become a new buzz phrase in Western society: “being in the moment.” It’s done through conscious effort but has been used in meditation for decades. It’s a place where you don’t think about the past or future. If your mind wanders back or forward, you need to pull it into the present.
It’s often a fight to get the busy (sometimes referred to as ‘monkey’) mind to settle down. Even those who have been meditating for years still find their minds wander. But the entire act of control over your mind and where you focus is achieved with repetition. The idea is to bring the practice into your present life. Don’t think too far ahead. Don’t focus on what happened before. Live each moment as it comes, every day.
In grief this is the biggest challenge. When we lose a loved one, we are thrown into a frenzy of making arrangements for their burial, or whatever our tradition requires. We are surrounded by family and friends who hold us up. We console others on their loss of our loved one. Then, suddenly, we are left on our own. Life goes on for everyone else. The grief-stricken don’t have a life as they knew it. Being in the moment means pain.
As time moves on we move further away from the intense grief but there are times when the loneliness of our new reality makes us apprehensive, fearful and sometimes depressed. For me it’s long weekends. I am alone, not by choice. So I post on Social Media, hoping to connect with someone out there:
“I don’t like weekends. I especially dislike long weekends. Why? Because I feel like everyone is with family hanging out or getting away, especially in the nice summer weather. Not that my preconceived idealist notion is true, but it feels like it to me. I don’t have my guy, or cats…or anyone to be with, consistently, throughout the weekend. I used to, but not now. Yes, I do try to make plans but sometimes it seems like a lot of work. I never had to do this before. [This is] Another part of my new reality.”
I am greeted with support. Some say they feel this way too. Others say this is a revelation to them. Over a year ago it would have been a revelation to me. But not now. And so I continue on my journey, after a year has passed since he was gone. I will be on pills that make me try to feel normal. I will smile and some days I will feel happiness, but nothing is the same, or will ever be the same. There is a huge gaping hole in my heart, but I’m the only one who can feel it. I didn’t sign up for this, but this is my new reality.
As I write this it’s the last day of a long weekend. I have seen some friends. I have spent time alone. It feels like it’s been a week, but I made it.