Content note: death of family member.
My only post last year was a new year’s post. A friend that is one of the handful of people that subscribes to my blog asked recently when I’d start writing again.
I wanted the answer to be right now. I will write right now. I am writing right now!
The truth is that life got really hard for me last year. It still feels pretty hard, but I am on the mend. I have been struggling with depression and higher levels of anxiety than I have experienced in years. Yesterday, I couldn’t find my keys and it felt like the world was going to end and I was a failure at life. This is not a healthy* response.
For added fun, one of my go-to coping mechanisms for stress is to focus on my “faults,” namely this body and the dismissal of my valid grief and it’s grab-bag of symptoms as me “just being crazy.” It is important to remember that not all coping skills are functional or healthy…some serve as a mere distraction from things that feel less controllable. It’s much easier to focus mental energy on counting calories (a well-practiced endeavor) than it is to process grief (something I don’t know shit about).
While I have always had a difficult time dealing with stress, I have spent the last several years learning healthier coping skills. I thought I was doing alright at life for a while, and perhaps I was. Perhaps I still am…but I haven’t felt this level of emotional discombobulation in so long that it feels messy and scary.
I know what triggered this relapse into deregulated emotion. After a year and a half of being incarcerated and 3 months after suffering a bilateral stroke, my dad died on November 18, 2015. I won’t go into the whole story, as it is too long to summarize here. Anyone who really wants to know can watch me sob through the tale in this 11 minute video. It has been watched by over 300 people, which is more than the views of my other 3 videos combined. Usually, that would leave me feeling exposed and vulnerable. But, I want people to see this. I want people to know this story. His story. My story. It is a window into the collateral damage of the war on drugs, the realities of poverty, the injustice of our legal and “corrections” system, and the long-term implications of untreated mental illness and addiction.
Death and grief can offer a crystal clarity that is difficult to attain when life is going swimmingly. Cliches abound, yet it is true that life is short and we have no guarantees of tomorrow. Not for ourselves or for those we love. Rather than succumbing to the anxiety-inducing realization that anyone could die at any moment and everyone will die at some point (as my poor, 6-year-old self did), I am focusing on what I want to get out of whatever life I have remaining.
If I was bold and foolish enough, I’d make some drastic, no-turning-back changes in my life today to get closer to my dreams. However, what might have remained of my impulsive former self got buried in the back yard of the cute little house my husband and I just bought. It’s just too risky and there is too much to lose. I have little choice but to be a responsible adult right now, no matter the kicking and screaming of my internal rebellious teenager.
So what is a dissatisfied mortal to do?
My initial inclination is to say “I don’t know,” but that is merely a convenient place to hide so I can avoid making decisions. The truth is that I do know, but it is so scary right now that I feel frozen. It is time to make some changes, yes. But they must be small, incremental changes, slowly developing into broad shifts in my scheme at a later, currently undetermined date. I must have patience with myself and accept the things I don’t yet know. For example, I am still unsure what my ultimate career goal is. I have ideas and I know what I am excited and passionate about, but the path and destination are still unclear. As anyone that struggles with anxiety can tell you, not knowing can be brutal.
For now, my plan is simple: Focus on health. I will remember to breathe, allow myself to grieve, continue with professional therapeutic support, and increase social interaction even though I think I’d rather retreat. I will eat colorful, fresh things that I enjoy, get quality sleep, move my body, and continue with professional medical support. I will take care of myself in a way that no one else can.
In his last moments, I promised my dad that I would only keep the best parts of him: his wit, humor, easy laughter, and creativity. This is the glue that holds me together. I’m making a conscious effort to dispose of the depression, rage, and distrust that plagued him.
My wish for all of us is that we find so much self-love and compassion that we can’t contain it and have to give it to others.
*I initially used the word normal instead of healthy. It seems worth mentioning because this is evidence of an internalized stigma that there is something ‘not normal’ about me because I have struggled with depression. Stigmatizing something that one can not control is not helpful and can increase feelings of shame around a thing that happens to people. It happens. It’s okay. I’m okay, you’re okay.
Related post: On Depression and Suicide