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.