The Weight of Loss.

When you’re in pain, the doctors ask you to rate it on a scale of 1 to 10. Grief doesn’t go by that. There were days I was a 10, most I hovered around a 20, and currently, I sit between the two on any given day. It’s been over a year and the pain is still present.

There are no movies or books I’ve found that explain it; that there will be days—more often than not— that you forget and you pick up the phone to call them, only to be reminded of the reason you can’t. Nothing prepares you for the reality that others may not be able to process your sadness and will choose instead to avoid eye contact. People may offer condolences, but not support. All of it sucks. All of it hurts like hell. And when you get to that final step of acceptance, you’re no longer whole. You can’t be. There is still a piece of you missing.

I had experienced loss before; my grandfather, my grandmother, my uncle, my aunt. I knew that, after a period of uncertainty, I would find some semblance of a balance again. Every time I noticed their absence, I could share a funny story and revel in the time we had together.

Then I lost my other dad. I didn’t realize how unprepared I was to lose him or that missing him came immediately after. Time became a source of anger for me. How could it have slipped through my fingers like that? So quickly, too. One moment, I could tell him I love him and the next, I would have to remind myself that those calls would always be unanswered. All the experience I had with grief seemed absurd. Despite my best efforts, I couldn’t rewind to a moment when I was naive to loss.

At the time, it felt like everyone just expected me to get over it—to not be sad, to talk about him less. I think because I had all these great things happening, everyone just assumed I would no longer grieve. That’s not how that works. In fact, when you’re celebrating your engagement, who do you want to tell first? Your parents. I couldn’t tell all of mine. It hits you ten times harder in the moments of pure joy that the person who would be beaming at your news will never know that you were able to find happiness after you thought you lost it.

The thing about grief that I think we all learn eventually is that no one can fix it. No medication can eradicate the pain of loss. Time can lessen the wound, but it won’t ever permanently heal. That’s okay. It’s okay to give time to the loved ones you’ve lost. It’s okay to take time for yourself. It’s okay to miss someone. Now, I realize my underlying theme is “just talk about it” for every issue, but this was the biggest lesson for me. So, share your memories, remember the moments that made it so hard to lose them—make sure their story doesn’t end by keeping them in yours. 

 

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A cardinal is said to be a visit from loved ones we have lost.

 

Mental Health Awareness Month.

When I first relaunched this site a few months back, I promised to hold myself accountable and actively write. What did I do? I stopped writing completely for nearly 3 months. I did exactly what I said I wouldn’t do again. I beat myself up about it, yet, I could hardly muster the energy to write a single sentence about what that felt like.

It was frustrating. I felt defeated constantly. I was at war with my desire to create and my disinterest in everything. It was a cycle I knew well and, at the time, a battle my creative brain wasn’t prepared to win. There were no ideas that could express the panic, no details to explain the sadness.

And then yesterday (quite coincidentally) I had an Aha! moment: just bloody talk about it.

The month of May in the US is Mental Health Awareness month—an observation that has happened for 70 years. I can tell you in the 27 I’ve been here for, this was the first time I had truly heard of it. I knew there were days sprinkled here and there on the calendar; days that most people passed over because it didn’t apply to them. Now, I am very open when it comes to writing about my mental health. I experienced my first panic attack at 8 years old, not knowing what it was. I’ve battled anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and OCD. I speak to a therapist regularly. I have to work at it every single day. When it comes to talking about it though, suddenly I’m speechless.

Part of this stems from grief. I’ve seen how people withdraw when I bring up lost loved ones. If I can’t bring up happy memories of the departed, who will want to hear about the problems of the living? Therein lies the problem: we have to keep talking about it.

The common stigma with any kind of mental illness is that you are deemed weak. It certainly feels that way. Lethargic, apathetic—all the things that made a great emo song in the early 2000s. To be honest, it’s why I didn’t see a therapist for quite some time. It seemed daft. I didn’t need another stranger reminding me of the strength I lacked.

The thing is, I wasn’t weak. No one who silently suffers from a mental illness is weak. In fact, the ability to talk about it allows me to understand when it’s happening almost instantly. I have learned from others how to talk myself down from an emotional ledge by having the courage to speak up. In those moments when the cycle restarts, I have an arsenal of strength around me. It takes time, sure, but the stigma has lost its hold.

So let’s start there. Whatever it is you’re working through: you are not alone. Talk about it.

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An Evening with Dawes.

I’ve read stories about love my entire life. I even tried to apply the concept in my early days of writing, but it was something, until recently, I could not honestly comprehend. I never had a longing for someone as I went about my day, knowing I would see them in a few short hours. I never woke up next to someone, smiling. I never felt comfortable in anyone’s presence being less than perfect. I never knew what love was until I met my husband (well, soon-to-be husband).

This is not quite our origin story. Rather the story of our past becoming parallel to our present the other night. (Cue the heart eye and/or nauseated hieroglyphics)

My husband is a huge fan of Dawes, so when they announced they were playing the Ryman just before his birthday, we knew we had to see them. It was a Sunday night and my lack of energy throughout the day felt worrisome. Yet, the second I heard the opening of “Things Happen” there was an instant shift. By the third song, I was trying to wipe tears that were rushing down my cheeks before anyone could notice. It was hard to explain in as eloquent of words as the lyrics we were hearing managed. I just felt—grateful.

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This band has, unknowingly, been a big part of our relationship. The first time we kissed was after Jackson played the very album they were performing start to finish Sunday night. As we prolonged our goodbye, we sat on the floor of his living room listening to “A Little Bit of Everything” and I watched him digest every line of those lyrics. It would be a few more weeks before we would actually say the words, but I knew it then, sitting barefoot with our hands barely touching, that I was in love with him. There was a commitment to the permanence of forever and that moment signified a distinct divide: my life before him and my future with him. I finally understood all those stories I had read.

 A year later, we performed “Never Gonna Say Goodbye” together in front of loved ones and strangers. We shared a very similar vulnerability with it; struggling with the intricacies of displaying such a sentimental moment in public. And yet, it became one of the most meaningful moments to us. So much so that including the song in our wedding ceremony became the first discussion in our planning process.

 So, there I was, watching my husband’s favorite band and silently thanking them for of all the moments they had been there for. I thanked them with each tear of gratitude for the songs that scored our timeline. All the times they mirrored our honesty and pushed us further towards it. As I did, I could hear him singing along, shoes on and hands held tight this time, and I fell even more in love with him.

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Anxiety: The Background.

The first panic attack I ever experienced was when I was around 8 years old. I remember feeling my heart rattling in my chest, willing its way to break through the bones. I paced the room, then the hallway, finally settling on the couch next to my dad downstairs when it wouldn’t. I told him it was a bad dream; my intentions hopeful that by labeling it, it would cease to exist.

It didn’t and as I got older, it got worse.

During my sophomore year of college social gatherings seemed unbearable. Noise, light, temperature, people—everything triggered me. I had become accustomed to restricting my food so, soon, even eating in front of people was worthy of panicking. They can smell it on me, I thought. The can smell the worry, the incessant fear.

At the height of my anxiety, I would slip into depressive episodes. At nearly 21 years old I weighed 95 pounds. I became a recluse, barely slept, but I was, unfortunately, skilled at hiding it. If I don’t address the problem, there is no problem…right?

By 24 I was had severe control issues and regular breakdowns. I would ice my eyes nearly every morning to bring down the swelling from previous nights of crying. There was no hiding what was so easily scrawled across my face. It seemed endless and I feared that I would allow my anxiety to hinder everything I planned to do with my life.

I saw a therapist soon after and over the years I’ve learned to remind myself of these things regularly:

  • Talk about it and ignore the stigma. Admitting I had anxiety and depression made me aware that so many of my peers do, too. No one is alone in this.
  • Breathe. Often times panic attacks cause hyperventilation. Inhale and exhale mindfully.
  • Take a walk in the opposite direction of the crowd. Get some space, but stay moving. As I tend to pace, this keeps me from erratically moving through crowds.

There is not a one-size-fits-all treatment. However, with time and help, I managed to find coping mechanisms to regain control over my life.

And let me tell you…what a crazy and wonderful life this is.