Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Therapists vs Grief Counselors - a PSA

On my Google Newsfeed this morning, this gem appeared. You can go read it if you like, but fear not: I'm gonna hit the high points for you.

Y'all, grief counseling is a unique skill, and even the best therapists (for mental health issues) may not be effective at helping those of us in grief. Case in point: the woman who wrote that piece, because OH MY GOD.

Let's start with what she got right:
  • There is no incorrect way to respond to loss. Don't judge yourself.
  • Grief is a healthy and necessary process.
  • Allowing your feelings to wash over you and sitting with them for a while in this accepting and nonjudgmental manner is a profound healing method.
That's all good stuff. But now, let's look at what she got wrong, because what she got wrong, she got REALLY wrong (her words in black text; my thoughts in red):
  • You build resiliency by honoring and replacing what you’ve lost. Sure, honoring and repl-- wait, WHAT? I'll build resiliency by honoring and REPLACING what I've LOST? My husband was irreplaceable; so was my Mom; so was my brother; so were the other family members and friends I've lost over the years. 
  • Replacing your loss doesn’t mean forgetting the person who has died; it means finding a new person or persons to fill the role of friend, lover, or mentor. Oh, thanks SO MUCH for clearing that up. Let me run RIGHT out and find a new husband; THAT'LL fix everything. 🙄 Seriously, did she run this by ANYONE who's actually knowledgeable about the grieving process?
  • Getting out of yourself and focusing on someone else’s needs instead of your own is a time-tested way to heal—volunteer to tutor students online or adopt a dog or cat that needs care and a loving home. Oh, honey... nobody in the throes of heavy grief is in a position to help ANYBODY. WE CAN BARELY TAKE CARE OF OURSELVES.
  • Through loss, you learn to value life. Oh, HELL NO; she did NOT just say that. Somebody hold my earrings, because OH MY GOD. 🤦‍♀️ Lady, it may make you feel better to think that losing a loved one holds some cosmic lesson, but that doesn't make it so. PLENTY of us already valued life. PLENTY of us already took not a moment for granted. PLENTY of us DIDN'T NEED A FUCKING LESSON. You can fuck ALL the way off with this bullshit.
  • It’s often the fire of this type of experience that burns away what is false and not serving you, and in rising from the ashes, you can become your most authentic, best self. ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME RIGHT NOW? Many of us were already our authentic selves; many of us were already our best selves precisely BECAUSE of the person who died. HOLY SHIT, this woman may be a phenomenal marriage and family counselor, but she should never, NEVER, NEVER write on grief again without getting some serious education on the subject first. 
If y'all are wondering why I'm so angry about this, it's because these messages are false, and harmful, and can make a grieving person (who hasn't learned about the subject from someone who GENUINELY understands it) feel even worse because they CANNOT just "replace" what was lost, or because they don't feel that the experience has somehow enriched their life. 

If you need professional assistance with grief, I beg you: find a grief counselor. Don't assume that any PhD or PsyD or MSW who hangs out a shingle can help you just because they're a credentialed therapist or mental health counselor. I see both a therapist and a grief counselor, because each has a very different skill set; sure, there's some overlap, but this is NOT one of those Venn diagrams that's a circle.

And now I'm gonna go turn on my Oculus and beat up the virtual heavy bag for a while, because I need it after reading that steaming pile of bullshit.

Monday, August 3, 2020

Lost Day, the sequel

I've already written, at great length, about the Lost Day that was Saturday. so I'm not going to make you suffer through that again.

But it turns out the whole damn weekend was Lost Days. I woke up at 7:00 yesterday morning, to a crisp, cool morning. An early Fall kind of morning. A stay-in-bed-and-snuggle kind of morning. Except that I couldn't stay in bed and snuggle, because my snuggle partner is dead. So I dragged my ass out of bed, took Kellogg out, fed the animals, and then proceeded to space out and doze intermittently until 4:30, at which point I got up, ate, took a shower, walked the dog again and fed the animals, and got ready for the script read.

That script read was the only social or recreational or remotely productive thing I did the entire weekend.  Full disclosure: I did NOT want to do it. I mean, I wanted to do it when I agreed to do it, and I wanted to do it when we rehearsed last weekend. Last night, though? I just wanted to stay curled up in my bed until work this morning. But I was not about to put a bunch of other people in a lurch, so I put my my big-girl panties and made myself do it. And I'm glad, because it was a lovely experience; I'm privileged to get to perform with some incredibly talented people. 

I have many more thoughts on the weekend, but none of them is good. All I can say is that my go-to when asked how I am is, "still alive; still mad about it." 

On the bright side, my work day was good, so I'm definitely getting back some of my mojo there. Not as much as I'd like, and not as fast as I'd like, but at least I'm starting to feel as though I'm earning my salary. 

But despite doing literally nothing all weekend (seriously, it's as though I was catatonic for two solid days), I'm absolutely exhausted. So tonight's going to be an early "dinner" (YES, I'm going to have a peanut butter and grape jam sandwich, with potato chips and a Coke, because it's what I'm in the mood for), and an early bedtime. With any luck, I'll get up early enough to work out tomorrow. WHY I'm going to bother to try and do that, I don't know. But I'm gonna keep going through the motions, because apparently that's just what I'm supposed to do. 🤷‍♀️

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Kathleen plans and the gods laugh

Right now, I am SUPPOSED to be on a zoom call with my friend Suzi. I'm supposed to be drinking some high-end Bourbon (which better be good, given what it cost) and eating some yummy takeout (well, delivery). I'm supposed to be wearing a fancy dress, with full hair and makeup. I'm supposed to be laughing and having a good time.

But I'm not doing any of those things, because grief makes the decisions now, and grief decided that today would be a Lost Day. What's a Lost Day? I'm so glad you asked. A Lost Day is a day in which I'm not even a shadow of my former self; it's a day in which I have, for all intents and purposes, ceased to exist. It's a day with no accomplishments, no distractions, and no relief.

It went wrong pretty much as soon as I got up this morning: I pulled out my Oculus, and decided I'd try out my space exploration app while drinking my coffee. The good news about the Oculus is that I do not get motion sickness when I use it for gaming. The bad news about the Oculus is that I DO get motion sickness when I use it for anything where I'm staying still, but my avatar is flying around. I was less than three minutes into my tour of the Solar System, and had to turn it off and sit still for 20 minutes, with my eyes closed, breathing deeply just to get the nausea under control.

Once I felt better, I decided to do the Tai Chi app, but the nausea came right back - I don't think the app is the problem; I just think the VR ship has sailed for today.

That set the tone for the day: I tried to read the next two chapters of Just Mercy for my book club, but couldn't focus. Tried to watch a documentary on Netflix; couldn't focus on that, either. Tried to slog through a bit of the Java class I'm taking, but I really should have known better. Even taking a nap proved impossible. Yesterday I was legit excited about and looking forward to playing dress-up (I'm finally, at the age of 55, getting close to managing a passable winged eyeliner), eating some delicious food, and spending time with my friend. Today, I look in the mirror and think, "Why would you even bother, you ratchet old crone? You can dress up all you want, and do flawless makeup, and you're still going to be you, and you still won't have a life, and how pathetic that this is your idea of fun now." And I can't even argue with any of that, because it's all true. Today, I can't think of a single food worth eating. Today, talking to anyone is more work than I'm capable of. It's 6:00 PM, and I cannot tell you what I've done all day, because I've done nothing. I've sat here and stared off into space and done nothing. I haven't watched anything, I haven't read anything, I haven't listened to anything, I haven't gone anywhere. I've written this post. I've fed the animals breakfast and dinner. I took the dog out when he needed it. That's it. It's a Lost Day, and this is what Lost Days look like.

I have far too many Lost Days. 

When a Lost Day happens during the work week, I have no choice but to push myself to power through it. But it shows, I'm sure: I'm less able to focus, less productive, certainly less helpful to my colleagues, more emotional, prone to take innocuous statements the wrong way, and prone to lose my temper. Those are the days when I feel like I need to go to sleep the minute I'm done working, even though I never do.

But when a Lost Day happens on the weekend? I'm effectively paralyzed. There is no powering through it, and there's no ignoring it. There's only surviving it, and I STILL wish I could come up with even ONE good reason why surviving it is supposed to be a good thing.

This is part of the reason why I don't generally make plans with people: I never know when grief is going to decide that I need to bail. And since I already feel as though everyone's tired of dealing with this new version of me (because I sure am tired of me), the last thing I want to do is a last-minute cancellation to piss people off even more. So most of the time, I just don't bother.

I miss my friends. I miss sitting down in a restaurant and ordering a meal that someone else has to prepare and someone else has to clean up. I miss going to movies. I miss karaoke. I miss seeing shows. I miss doing shows. I miss my husband. I miss myself. Maybe, someday, I won't have to miss those first six things anymore. The last two, though... I'm going to miss them forever. And I really wish forever would just wrap up already, because I'm tired of ALL of this.

Friday, July 31, 2020

Finding ways to pass the time

It's the end of another work week. I'm not unhappy about that, but it's not like I'm looking forward to it, exactly. I will say that I genuinely need the two days: my brain is working really hard to get me fully functional at Ye Olde Workplace; I'm still nowhere close to where I used to be or where I want to be, but I'm definitely doing better there. But all those brain cells working overtime? By the end of the week, I am absolutely, totally, and completely wrung out.

How wrung out? After I wrapped up work today, I napped for 90 minutes before heating up dinner. And I could go to bed right this minute if not for the fact that I want to digest my food first. I'm TIRED.

I had several hours at work this week when I felt somewhat like myself: sharp, together, able to analyze a situation and recognize a problem that even two weeks ago probably would have gone over my head. You'd think this would be encouraging, but given my new status as a perpetual Eeyore, I just see it as evidence that I'm becoming someone whose entire life is my work because I have nothing else. That's not someone I want to be, but the universe doesn't seem too concerned with what I want these days.

After last weekend's foolhardy overindulging in activities, I'm not making that mistake again: I'm taking tomorrow entirely off - I'll sleep in (assuming my body lets me), play with my Oculus, read, nap, relax, and then I have a zoom dinner date with my friend Suzi: we're gonna get all dolled up, drink high-end adult beverages (Widow Jane Bourbon for me - c'mon, with that name, I HAD to try it - and Scotch for her). It's the first meeting of what I've decided to name the Old Drunk Widows Club. Who knows? if we get sufficiently plastered, maybe we'll go on Facebook Live and entertain you all with our drunken shenanigans. Sunday, I'll do some housework, but I'm definitely not going to try and boil the ocean here: what gets done will get done, and everything else will wait.

An aside: yes, I had Bourbon and a cigar with my friend Mike earlier this week; and I had two beers while talking to my sister on Wednesday, and one during our very last grief group last night; and I'll be drinking tomorrow. Fear not - I'm not going to make a steady habit of drinking this much or this often, but it's nice to get a little enjoyment out of adult beverages again. All things in moderation, right? Including moderation.

Sunday evening, I'm participating in an online play reading - I'm just reading the stage directions, but it's a lovely group of lovely people, and it'll be fun. I do have an upcoming Facebook Live script reading that I'm genuinely excited about next month, but since nothing's been announced publicly, I'm keeping my lips zipped on that for now.

I also booked a couple of weeks at a cabin in the Blue Ridge Mountains this Autumn. The diminutive direwolf Kellogg will accompany me - as the cabins allow dogs - but Lady Marmalade and Houdini-Beanie will remain at home in the care of a house sitter - as the cabins do not allow cats. (FYI, in case you weren't paying attention: there will be a house sitter, and I don't have anything worth stealing in my house anyway, so don't get any ideas.) I'm not going to take two weeks off from work; for one thing, I'm going to have the same limitations there that I have here in terms of trying to stay away from people, so it's not like I can indulge of lots of recreation. But I'll probably take off Fridays and Mondays at least one of those weeks. And I'm looking forward to that trip, too. It'll be cool enough to go hiking, and the rules of these cabins require outdoor lights to be turned off at 10:00 PM, which means it should be terrific for star-gazing. And the cabin I'm renting has a wood-burning fireplace 

I know y'all must have mental whiplash from trying to understand how it is that I can have fun things I'm looking forward to and yet still say that my life isn't really worth living, and I get it: it's a difficult concept to wrap your head around. Hell, it's a difficult concept for me to wrap MY head around, and I'm LIVING it. But here's the thing: yes, I can laugh at things that are funny without feeling guilty; yes, I can now enjoy a good meal; yes, there are now activities that I can enjoy, and people I enjoy spending time with (virtually, of course). But the emptiness of my life without Doug is always there; the longing to be held, and kissed, and that need to be fully seen and understood - those never go away. And whatever fun or enjoyment I can have is dimmer and smaller because of that. I'm doing things, and I'm enjoying them, sure: but my life as a whole is just about finding ways to pass the time until I can be with Doug again, because that's all I really want. Fun doesn't necessarily equal happiness, and I'm way too old to be satisfied with a life that's fun but not happy.

Circling back to the grief group wrapping up, we're going to keep getting together every two weeks on Wednesdays, because the group managed to bond nicely over the eight weeks we had together (yep, trauma bonding really is a thing). Someday, maybe we'll even be able to meet in person. Someday. Maybe. Not gonna bother looking at the Magic 8 Ball on that one, because it's all about the 'rona and when it'll be safe to be among people again.

And just writing that makes me realize that I'm becoming far too accustomed to being completely alone all the time. If faced with real-life socializing again, my reaction is likely to be this:

My verdict on this week: on balance, it could've been worse. I know it's good that I'm able to do things I couldn't do a few weeks ago. I just wish I could bring myself to feel as though it all means anything.

But if all I can do is pass the time, I'm going to try and pass it with whatever small bits of enjoyment I can cobble together. It's not enough, but it's all I can do.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

No good day goes unpunished

I did SO WELL for most of the weekend. And as "good" as Saturday and most of Sunday were, that's how bad yesterday was.

Oh, I managed to sleep in our bed (that's twice in a row; three times if you count last night - quick, set off the celebratory fireworks 🙄), and slept for seven hours. But work was a nightmare; I was trying to teach someone how to execute a process that I came up with, and I couldn't remember ANYTHING; for two hours, instead of actually putting together documentation about the process like we were supposed to do, the poor woman watched me flail about trying to get it working (and at the end of those two hours, it still wasn't).

By the end of my workday, I was totally demoralized and drained. I did manage to make myself eat breakfast (although, not until early afternoon), and I did indeed cook my black bean and sweet potato burgers and zucchini fries for dinner. But it wasn't as tasty as I remember it being, so that was a disappointment, too.

But, y'all... I just don't know how to make anyone understand. It doesn't matter how much I adjust to this or get used to it - I am not going to be happy on my own. And what's the point of living when you know you'll never really be happy? What is the point of trying, when I know it's futile? Getting through the day isn't the same as living. And no amount of people getting excited over meaningless little accomplishments is going to convince me otherwise. 

And please, I know: every widow goes through this, and most of them end up just fine. Well, for one thing, I would question that "most," because the truth is that most widows are probably lying through their teeth because they know that nobody wants to hear the truth. But even if it's true, that means that some are not just fine - and even if they were, WHO WANTS A JUST FINE LIFE? I've already done the single thing, and I've done it for most of my life; I cannot be happy doing it again. What sane person wants a life that they know will never be happy?

That was my evening last night: trying to understand why I'm even bothering. What difference does it make if I eat? Or if I sleep? If happiness is out of reach, why not eat all the chocolate and all the red meat and all the ice cream and all the potato chips? Why not just become physically one with my couch? Why not drink until I pass out every night? Why bother to take a shower, or polish my nails, or even just brush my hair?

I have yet to come up with a satisfactory answer to any of those questions.

Monday, July 27, 2020

A successful(ish) weekend

There's danger in finally feeling the slightest bit rested after more than five months of not really getting any rest at all. That danger is that one will interpret that slight amount of newfound energy as one's old energy level, and one will then overdo it, thereby crashing and burning. I did the former - all weekend - and last night I paid the price for it and did the latter.

For the first time in months, I had a little energy to do things, and do things I did: 
  • I washed, dried, folded, and put away four loads of laundry. 
  • I changed the sheets on the bed, because I decided I was going to sleep in our bed last night (mission... accomplished-ish). 
  • I washed and dried the sheets and the blanket, because the pets decided it was their bed during my extended absence, and I'd rather not sleep with a blanket that smells like dog.
  • I baked the sweet potato and cooked the rice for the black bean burgers I'm making for dinner tonight, so I wouldn't be rushed later after work. 
  • I swept the living room, removing approxmately 2.5 Kelloggs of fur (yes, a Kellogg is now my default unit of measure for dog fur). 
  • I loaded and ran the dishwasher each night, and emptied it each morning. 
  • I did a few hours of Java training (yes, I'm trying to learn Java for work), and a few hours of training on the data governance software we use (since I'll be training other users, I need to really know it). 
  • I made a batch of DIY cold brew for the week. 
  • I cleaned out the fridge to make room for the groceries that were delivered.
  • I put away all the groceries.
  • I cooked dinner Saturday night.
  • I got the leftover salmon labeled and into the freezer.
  • I highlighted my script for the stage directions I'll be reading for a friend's streaming theatre experience next weekend, and attended a rehearsal for that. 
  • I read the next two chapters of Just Mercy in advance of Tuesday's book club meeting. 
  • I wrote. 
  • I got in 30 minutes of VR boxing each day.
By 8:00 last night - in the middle of my zoom rehearsal - I hit the wall. I powered through, because I'm a pro (no, I don't get paid for acting - or, in this case, reading stage directions - but I pride myself on professionalism). Then, I talked to a friend for a few minutes.

And then, everything crashed down on me. Yes, I had a productive weekend. So the fuck what? I'm getting excited about cooking and eating a MEAL? Y'all, this is all nothing but busy work. None of what I did this weekend changes the fundamental truth of my existence, which is that it's just that: existence.

At group on Thursday this past week, we talked about the roles that our late spouses played in our lives, and how we now have to take on those roles ourselves. For me, there's little in terms of practicality that Doug did and I can't do; yes, we split household labor, but it's not as though he was responsible for, say, balancing the checkbook and I had no idea how to do that. I've been single for most of my adult life; we were both independent.

But when it comes to the emotional side of things? That's a very different story: Doug was my biggest cheerleader, able to encourage me even when I was at my lowest. And he was my most honest critic, willing to tell me the things about myself that I didn't always want to hear. No one is self-aware enough to do those jobs themselves. Most important, though - and I've said this before - Doug was HOME; without him, I'm homeless. 

We also talked about the possibility of dating at some point, and... here's where I struggle: I loved (and still love) Doug with a depth and intensity I didn't think I had in me; I like to think he felt the same about me. I LOVED being married to him (and the year-and-a-half when we lived together before our wedding). I was GOOD at it. I was a much better ME with him. We barely got to have a marriage.

And I want that. I want to get to have that full experience of years and years together. But that opportunity died with Doug. and I just don't see lightning striking twice.

Knowing that the only future I want can't ever happen, why am I getting excited about getting laundry done, or sleeping in our bed, or having an empty sink at the end of each day? Is THIS what my life is going to be for the rest of it? Triumphing in accomplishing meaningless tasks, because that's all I have in my life?

Sunday, July 26, 2020

An open letter to my friend Coward

Dear Coward,

It's been nearly two months since you wrote the comment in which you said horrible things to me and about me, and it's time to break it down and explain to you exactly the damage you've done. Don't worry: there'll be no cursing or screaming; I'll exhibit as much "grace" as I can.

First of all, the reason why so many people jumped all over you when I posted about it on Facebook is this: you violated the rules enumerated in the Ring Theory. Perhaps you actually thought you occupied the center circle of the ring; perhaps you simply didn't care that you don't. 

But the thing is, you're not in the center circle: I am. And that doesn't mean that I love Doug more than you do, or that he loved me more than he loved you; it simply means that I am the person most impacted by his death, and there can be no disputing that. Whatever his relationship with you, of however many years, I was his wife. I was his partner for the last four years and change. He and I chose to live out our lives as loving partners. If it had come to it, I would have changed his diapers and he would've changed mine - and even if it had come to that, I still would've thought he was the handsomest, sexiest man in the world. So, yeah: I'm in the center circle, just as Doug would have been in the center circle if I'd been the one who died.

And in accordance with the Ring Theory, you dump/vent OUT and comfort IN. You didn't do that. Now, you could say that my "get a grip!" friend didn't do that either, but here's the difference: "Get a grip" was shouted in a heated moment in a telephone call, when both I and the person in question were in a full-on panic because I was reliving Doug's last half-hour but imagining my son there instead. But you? You didn't have to write that comment. If you felt I was somehow neglecting you, you could have reached out to me, calmly, to talk about how you felt. But instead, you took the time to sit down, and think about it, and publicly and anonymously say horrible things to me under the guise of worrying about me. Worry, dear Coward, does not lend itself to that sort of cruelty. At any point, you could have thought, "you know, maybe this isn't the best way to handle this situation." But you didn't.

Now, on the off chance that you actually were worried about me - which, again, I doubt, as evidence indicates otherwise - did you really think that you had cause to be that worried? I mean, if you were so panic-stricken with concern, is a comment on a blog post really the best way to act on that worry? I don't write about anything here that I don't also discuss at great length with both my therapist and my grief counselor (both of whom are licensed and trained professionals, which I'm guessing that you, Coward, are not). Neither of them has expressed any concern about my openly-stated desire to die, so clearly neither of them thinks I'm actually a danger to myself or anyone else. Or was it that you just didn't want to hear about it anymore? Because if that's the case, that's easy: stop reading what I write.

Let's talk about what you did to me: for several weeks, I didn't really talk to anyone except for my grief counselor and therapist; because I didn't know who you were, I didn't trust anyone to listen without judgement. So I grieved almost totally alone in every sense. And my anger boiled out of control, where it remained until I finally found a way to deal with it constructively just a few short days ago. 

Even after those first few weeks, I remained withdrawn. I still barely talk to most of my friends about what's going on with my internal life, because I feel like I'm burdening them if I do. I feel more alone than ever. I'm going to let you in on a little secret, Coward, that only my therapist, grief counselor, and sister know: the closest I've come to hurting myself since Doug died? It was when I read your comment: I had to physically fight the urge to go into the kitchen, grab my chef's knife, and slit my wrists. And I know the right way to do it to bleed out, so we're not talking about making a dramatic gesture here. So, congratulations - you actually managed to temporarily make me genuinely suicidal. Thank goodness I have my therapist's cell phone number.

I've still been hesitant to express my feelings fully, even almost two months out. I'm getting better at it, especially now that I've found an outlet for my anger. And I'm done holding back. You see, I'm not writing this blog for you, Coward. Nor am I writing it for my family and friends (although they're welcome to read it and comment on it here and on Facebook, and I'm thrilled that they do). No, I'm writing this blog for exactly two audiences:
  • I'm writing it for myself, so that I have a record of what this time has been like. Assuming I get to a point where I'm able to and want to really live again, I'll have this to look at the next time a disaster rocks me on my heels, to prove that I can come back from anything.
  • Mostly, though, I'm writing it for other widows and widowers who may find it down the road: I've heard from some folks in this awful club who've gotten joy back into their lives, and I cannot believe that they were ever as destroyed as I am, because it seems absolutely impossible to recover from this. By keeping all this emotional vomit for posterity, I have date-stamped evidence that I can show to a new widow/er to say, "See? I was exactly where you are, and I made it." (Of course, this is assuming that I will "make it," which is definitely not guaranteed.)
In closing, Coward, you nearly silenced me for two months, but no more. My writing is good for me; it may someday be good for other people as well. So I'm done giving you free rent in my mind. For what it's worth, I do have a sneaking suspicion as to your identity - I've narrowed it down to a very small group of possibilities. I hope you'll be enough of an adult to come forward and own what you've done. Sadly, I don't expect that you will, which says much about you - and none of what it says is good.

At any rate, this is most likely the last time I'll address you, Coward. I don't hate you anymore - you're not worth that much effort.  I wish you the peace that you've denied me since June 7; beyond that, I hope not to think about you at all.