Down the Rabbit Hole: Finding my way out

My first message to friends and family from the hospital

October 28, 2014

I have thought about writing but honestly haven’t had time and I’m not sure I can put this into words. I just want to give you a small window into what happened and what is going on.

This has nothing to do with anyone but me. Technology played a huge part in helping me. I reached out in that way not because no one was calling me but because I suffer from depression complicated by grief and choosing a combination of healthy and, in desperate times, unhealthy coping skills to deal with what I’ve been going through just wasn’t working – especially the unhealthy part. I thought about calling people; a crisis line because I was in crisis.  But the mind doesn’t work clearly when it is in a state of desperation.

Every day I have an epiphany and I’m sure this isn’t the whole story, but I spent the last 16 months researching grief and trying to get help. I knew I was making some positive progress but in the last few weeks I hit a brick wall. I reached out for help through grief therapy, my GP, counselling therapy…the list is endless.  I was in a state of panic but kept trying to hold it together. In times of crisis the mind doesn’t think rationally. We don’t understand what is going on. We just hurt and try to drive away the pain. This wasn’t the first time this happened in the past few months. I’ve been monitored by my doctor but if I don’t know what is going on how can I articulate it?

To complicate things, like many of you, I am a high functioning person but in my case it’s a high functioning depressed person. I have been on meds that helped me cope but I lost my anchor, the man who knew me best and who could calm me down when I felt overwhelmed.

When I came here, to the hospital emergency, a doctor came in and assessed my situation immediately. “First, I don’t think the medication you’re on is working anymore. This is complicated by grief and all that you’ve been through since then. I’d like to suggest we change your meds and, if you can hold on, we will get a bed for you and have an entire team working with you.”

I am confused by exhaustion and depression but didn’t miss the last part of that statement. A team? But I turned to my daughter and asked her “what do you think?” I needed to be sure I was making the right decision, though who really knows what the “right decision” is. She is sympathetic and analytic. “Mom, you’ve been looking for help. I think you should do this.” I agree. I spend two nights and almost two days in emergency, first in quarantined confinement, then am moved out of the high-risk area.

I am tired and starving – I can’t eat the food they give me and, as a result, my brain becomes strained and doesn’t function as it should. Finally, on Monday, I am told a bed is ready for me. I am admitted to the mental health ward. I am not scared, but confused. I do feel safe but I don’t know what’s going on. Add anxiety to my list of issues. It was on high alert.

After a few days I fall into the routine. A nurse in the morning, a new one on night shift. I meet with my psychiatrist. He is amazing. He agrees with the doctor in emergency.  “We need to change your meds. They worked for you before but they aren’t helping now.” Having been diagnosed with depression over two decades ago it’s not hard to believe that the original medications have stopped doing the work they used to. It happens. “Y

I don’t know what will happen tomorrow but I do know that I need to change my cognitive beliefs  and between medication and one on one therapy and people who are trained to help me do this I am cautiously optimistic. Do I know what my purpose is in life yet? No. Will I start to live with hope and positive beliefs? I’m trying to learn how. Many will say “You have to want to and you need to start thinking positively” but it’s not that black and white.

I feel like I’m in a safe place where people get it. We are all here to fight our demons and we want to get better. The care is exemplary. I have given my medical team cart blanche to allow and restrict me where they  see fit but I also see that, as a high functioning person who has always been adept at hiding feelings, my medical team is giving me more liberal treatment. I have day passes now but I must promise every day that I will be sure to be safe. So I need to be cognizant of my feelings and keep asking myself “do I feel safe?” And right now I do.

I now realize in this,  one of my most rational moments over the last 16 months, that my actions could cause pain to others and that they will not ‘get over it’ and won’t be ‘better off without me.’ My biggest wake-up call came when I saw my daughter walk into my house that night with tears in her eyes. I knew I had to try and figure this out. So I will work hard. I will falter. I will pray for strength.

Please know I thank  you all for your caring and love. I don’t check email regularly right now so I apologize for not replying earlier and I won’t be checking often for a while.  Please just know that I appreciate my PWAC family helping me and continuing to support me. If I can ask one thing, please send me strength and clarity.

After he was gone: confusion and grief consuming

TorahThis week I went to Jewish Yom Kippur services. This is the part of the Jewish High Holidays celebration and this particular day is called the Day of Atonement, where we atone for our sins throughout the year and ask ‘God’ for forgiveness for our everyday transgressions – large or small – and promise/vow to do better in the coming year.

An integral part of the day included a lengthy Yizkor service honouring the memory of our dead loved ones.  We read poems and Jewish death liturgy. It was an intense service where the words spoke to me again and again. I was enveloped in mourning those who passed before me. I believe this was the beginning of my week spiraling down into another deep grief depression.

This week I met with a friend – an editor – who agreed to talk about a submission I wanted to write for a book anthology on death, and to bounce around some ideas with her for an outline. As we talked, the memories flooded back again. Tears welled up. I was living the last moments of his life, questioning the rationale for what happened – Why did he die? Did I do all I could? Why couldn’t I save him this time? Could we have done something differently?

writingAfter my friend left, I tried to start writing my piece, but it didn’t seem genuine. The words and thoughts were stilted. It didn’t capture what I felt. It wasn’t conveying my feelings. I began wondering whether I really wanted someone to judge my personal writing and possibly reject it because it didn’t meet their standards. When you pour you soul out and others dismiss it as substandard would it be too difficult to bear?

Even after an evening with my weekly meditation group didn’t relax me. The act of meditating became a futile attempt to calm a wandering mind focusing on finding words for the anthology story and coming up with empty platitudes, stale remarks and boring analogies.

The fact that our Canadian Thanksgiving is this weekend probably added to my muddled mind. Another holiday without Bob. The enveloping sadness that was taking over and then there was October 11th. It would have been our 29th wedding anniversary.

That night I couldn’t stop thinking. The yearning of my loss morphed into a need to be held, but there was no one there to hold me and tell me it would be alright. I was, again, back in the time of feeling bereft.

Today, I am wrung out from crying, wailing and flailing my fists at unfairness, aloneness, desperation. Can someone please bring him back, reverse time, make this as if it never happened?

Grief is a never-ending cycle. Slowly, through time, the positives in life begin to outweigh the negatives. We are more present, living in the moment rather than living in the past. The bad days don’t go away but we begin to see the triggers and rationale. But  that doesn’t negate the grief. It slowly heals, then we fall back and, like a Band-Aid® being ripped off quickly and without care for the pain it inflects, the wounds, partially healed, are revealed and the anguish and heartache return.

It’s been 16 months since he was gone. I have fewer people to turn to. Who wants a call in the middle of the night from a woman who can’t stop crying? Shouldn’t I be over it? Is that what others think? And yet the grief continues. It doesn’t take a holiday. It is part of my life and comes up unexpectedly again, and again, and again.

I know I did all I could to try and save him, but it was his time. And now I must live without him. I still don’t know how to do that. I haven’t figured out what my purpose is. After a day and night like I just went through I just feel wrung out. It’s easier to crawl into bed and never come out.

A belated farewell to Robin Williams – sometimes it feels like it’s about me

Robin William’s death was beyond tragic. If I could have been with him I would have told him how I struggled with this myself. I wrote a few blogs about a recent bout I went through. One was a suicide note: After he was gone: Darkest Days.

A friend  wrote me an imploring e-mail reaching out to me. I changed the wording after I had settled down… a bit After he was gone: Darkest Days 2.

I obviously have a strong affinity for those who are left behind after the death of a loved one. When Williams’ wife posted about allowing them privacy during their “profound grief,” I was struck again by my own personal journey. I have used that exact phrase in my own blog. Ironically (not in a funny way), I recently posted a blog about my grief journey and my own battle with depression: My new reality.

Sometimes I wonder if anyone even reads my blog (save for a few good friends). A few people post on Facebook and other social media, and some tell me they read it. Some say they don’t read it. Fair enough. But without the tangible feedback those in the world of their own depression feel alone.

Reaching out is scary. No one touching you when you reach out is worse.

The other night I had a friend over. I read my bog post My new reality to her and she cried. I realized that it’s too painful for people to read. So if they find it too painful to read about other people’s struggles then it’s no surprise that we keep our demons to ourselves.

Rest in peace Mr. Williams. Your demons are purged. You are missed profoundly by those who loved you most. but you aren’t in pain anymore.

After He Was Gone: My new reality & my old demon – depression

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.

Image courtesy of FrameAngel / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of FrameAngel / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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.

Image courtesy of Arvind Balaraman / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Arvind Balaraman / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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.

After he was gone – 11 months, I am…

touch fingersIt’s been 11 months since I touched his hair, smelled the cologne on his shirt, traced his fingers with mine.

I haven’t marked every month through writing, but I instinctively know the day. It smacks me in the face unabated. No warning. A song plays and tears streak my cheeks. For me the pain is good. It keeps his memory alive.

I remember someone telling me that it’s o.k. to keep telling your story because every time you tell it, it’s different. I’m now keenly aware that each time I share our story it’s becoming more of an abbreviated version: “On March 11th, 2013 my husband called me from work to say he had to go to the hospital. On June 8, 2013 he died.”

Sometimes I invite the listener to check out my blog, if they want to know more, but really, I write about my journey for me. It is catharsis. Like tears, writing purges my anguish. It’s a temporary liberation from sorrow. Re-reading the words brings him back to me, for a moment.

In addition to going to a grief group, I started seeing a therapist. I was desperate the first time I walked into her office in the midst of another bad week that came out of nowhere. “One more time telling his story…our story,” I thought. I’m so tired of telling it over and over again.

TearsI start to talk and words tumble out on top of each other. The tears are embedded in the narrative. “I don’t understand why this keeps happening,” I say, about these days that side swipe me out of nowhere. She explains the ebb and flow of grief and that it’s natural to feel all these emotions weeks, months, years later. “Years? Really?” But I realize my desperation to keep his memory alive. Feeling pain is my tribute. Forgetting him isn’t an option.

This week she gave me homework: “Exploring sense of self by completing the phrase ‘I am…’ (or related phrases).” So I mark 11 months since he was gone by looking at who I am now.

  • I am…no longer someone’s wife. And this starts the tears again. I lost that definition the day he died. I hate the title “widow.” I’m not that…but I am.
  • I am…not who I was. I was me, but I was also Bob’s wife. I planned my days around “us.”
  • I am…not as bereft as I was months ago but still missing him terribly.
  • I am…lonely but getting used to being on my own. But I am still lonely. Everyone went back to their lives. Mine is shattered and unrecognizable.
  • I am…reinventing myself. Without being a wife and losing half of me when he died I’m an emerging as new person. My acts and actions aren’t always predictable.
  • I am…unpredictable.
  • I am…stronger than I was 11 months ago. I’ve learned to do the jobs he did – get propane for the barbeque, putting up curtain rods, painting, reaching that top shelf (he was 6 foot 2 and I’m 5 foot 2)…but that doesn’t mean I like doing these things on my own.
  • I am…trying to be a good mother, but I am not the same mother I was. You must try to hide your feelings from your children (sorry if they’re reading this). My journey isn’t theirs.
  • I am…truly happy that I chose to move from “our home” to “my home.” I feel safe here. I brought pieces of Bob with me to create a new place for us. I don’t live with his ghost, in a physical sense – seeing him in a spot in the house where he used to be. But he is here with me in a positive way.
  • I am…living a dream. I would like to believe that this chapter in my life isn’t real. I am watching it from outside. I will wake up and he will be next to me. But it doesn’t happen.
  • I am…not over it. I never will be. Slowly the pain will fade, but the loss will always be there.
  • I am…grieving, and this is what it feels like.

After he was gone: Right between the eyes

fist

Some days you think everything is o.k. Then it hits you right between the eyes. Bam!

My inner voice asks, What was that? I thought I was fine. I start to cry. I pull out my phone to see if it’s the date. The eighth of every month is an anniversary that my mind never forgets. But that’s not today. Maybe it’s a reminder that it’s coming s00n. Maybe it’s just me having a bad day.

Then I think of the times when I felt all alone, desperate and forlorn. I don’t always feel that way now. I am better, or am I? I’m always second guessing myself.

And the roller coaster ride continues. Up, Up, Up, then, out of nowhere, the enormity of everything that happened comes flooding back, playing over and over and over in my head. I pass by the hospital he died in and I turn away. Everything is a reminder. How come no one else feels this? Down, Down, Down.

Clown SmilingIt’s not a good day to teach. I have to put on my Happy Face. I can’t paint it on like Ronald McDonald. And, anyway, his is a clown’s face and it’s just plain scary. Mine is a sad face that I cover up with a fake smile.

I talk but my words are jumbled. I try to put an idea forward and get confused; another lapse into widow brain. I’m hot and embarrassed. I want time to fast forward and it does, only slowly not fast, but at least it’s moving forward. I get through it. They don’t know. It’s just me.

Everything feels tainted today. When it happens I know I have to ride it out. This is how grief works. You try to get around it but it grabs you and throws you against the wall, or hits you between the eyes. Bam!

I can’t forget him. I don’t want to. And though I wish I could get off, these roller coaster days aren’t over yet. This wasn’t supposed to happen. Now I am…who am I? I am trying to find out, one day at a time.

After He Was Gone: Who will I share my stories with now?

Today was a good day but (the BUT) I want to post something about what I’m feeling. It is more of an information piece to get you thinking about who you share things with in your life.

I had a great day teaching my first class for a new course. I would normally share that with Bob. That, in itself is frustrating because I can’t. But something happened that only he and I would understand and I kept thinking “I want to tell him” then, “Oh, I can’t.” I started thinking “Who can I tell?” But then I knew no one else would Really ‘Get It.’ He knew the people who’ve been in and out of my life for over 30 years. He knew me better than anyone. I wouldn’t have to explain it, just say “Did you know?” and a brief sentence and he’d say “Wow! That’s interesting!” And maybe we would strike up a “remember when” conversation. But this isn’t going to happen.

It’s really frustrating when that happens. It’s like wanting to punch a wall but it keeps disappearing. Argh! Another milestone, so to speak. But (the (BUT again), anyway, it was a good day.

Not a New Year’s Resolution

Exercise

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions and I rarely set goals. I know those who succeed in life at many things do set goals, I just always end up disappointing myself by not following through. But this past year, as difficult as it was, taught me an important lesson – go with your gut. So I decided that I want to par down my weight and get into better shape. That’s not a resolution, it’s a personal goal, but not one I feel I have to keep, though…now that I’ve put it out there for others to read…

Anyway, after belonging to a gym for 15+ years, and using the pool often and rarely doing much else, I decided to meet with a fitness trainer and I have to say I got the perfect match. He’s also a physiotherapist. Why’s that important? Well, let’s just say I was armed with several reports from X-Rays and CT scans. But the point is, he can provide me with a workout that won’t compromise my physical issues (bad back and a host of small things) and maybe even make them better, while helping me to meet my weight loss target.

I had my first session (gratis  trial) tonight and decided to continue with it. So, diet and exercise, though totally cliché in January of any year, are part of my routine now. I figure if nothing else it may increase the positive endorphins which, I understand, may actually give me a feeling of euphoria, or at least a more positive outlook during the bleak, cold days of winter. And so yet another lame cliché: Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Are you doing something new this year?

I Am With You

Someone told me that when a loved one passes away you should look for messages from them. I’m more of a pragmatic type gal. If I can’t see it I generally don’t believe it. I’ll admit I have been looking though, but no messages from Bob until just before Christmas. Then it started.

Someone sent me a text message giving me information about something they said they would get me. They told me the guy “who waited on me was named Bob – go figure.” I didn’t think much of it.

On Christmas Day I was programming a new land line phone and reading the directions. It said: “You can name your phones. For example, call one Bob and one Upstairs.” Yep, really.

On Christmas day I was at my brother and sister inlaw’s. One of Bob’s (our) nephews and his wife came in. She is expecting their second child. Someone asked, “When is the baby due?” She said “June 8th.” That’s the day Bob died. By now I’m shaking my head. Could this really be happening? And then it happened again…

Today I went to the dollar store and bought a package of toothbrush covers, along with a few other items. I was taking them out of my basket for the cashier to ring in and I looked at the toothbrush cover package. It said: “Dr. Bob OraCare.”

And I believe this was his message. “Don’t overreact (he always said that if I got upset about anything). Things will start getting better.” Maybe he was even saying he’d work to make things happen. But whatever the message was, things changed for the better starting on Christmas day and it’s been going that way ever since then.

Do our loved ones really come back or just stay with us to take care of us? I never thought so, but now I do believe.

Saying Farewell to Facebook Posts on Grief

It was six months on December 8th since Bob Donaldson died. Half a year. It’s hard to believe. And with this anniversary I want to tell you that I won’t be posting about my grief on Facebook anymore. This decision wasn’t done lightly, but I realize that those I love most are on their own grief journey that doesn’t parallel mine. If there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that we need to respect each person’s grief journey, not to judge it. I don’t want to cause pain. That wasn’t my intention. But how could I not cause pain when I reveal raw grief? I realize that now.

This has been an amazing experience. Writing has always been my outlet. I found some magical things happening when I posted. It began as my need to reach out and get support. It’s actually ironic and sad that my best writing is done through pain, and without Bob I have no one to talk to or confide in. You were my support system.

A true gift came when I began to learn that my posts helped others. What kept me going were those personal messages, or being tapped on the shoulder by someone on the street telling me how their experiences paralleled mine, or how they respected me so much for what I wrote. I also learned that my posts educated others. Many cultures bring together learning of life and death. North Americans try to avoid death, and the topic, so when it hits home for them, the devastation is raw and unparalleled by anything ever experienced before. I see it over and over and over again; the newly grieving who can’t stop crying. That was me and sometimes still is, but less often now.

Thank you to all who have called me, sent cards and gifts, who have come by to be with me, shared your private stories with me and posted words of wisdom here. Your interactions have helped me so much. I am forever grateful for your love and kindness.

I will post my messages on my blog now and put the links here so you can choose whether or not to read them.

Bless you and thank you for your sharing and caring.