Stare the unbearable in the face

I found this article shared by a Facebook friend, titled: There Is No After. This quote jumped off the page at me:

In the place of a shared sense of reality or collective expression of mourning, I see a torrent of advice on how a person who managed to survive can feel more self-actualized once they return to the shuffle between the office and after-work drinks. To me, this looks like denial, the first tentative step towards what I’m told are seven distinct stages of grief.

Molly Osberg, Jezebel

This. THIS. I haven’t been able to put my finger on it, but this feeling I’ve had of being “left behind” as things open up and friends gather and vacations are planned…..all as I am still at home, watching the case numbers rise. AGAIN. And this article defined it for me – maybe it’s not that they aren’t affected, but perhaps it’s the opposite, that the masses are so desperate/traumatized that they are willing to deny that this isn’t over – to claim that there is an “over” – to avoid feeling the tidal wave of overwhelming grief and loss. Loss- of life, of safety, of community, of normalcy. I feel alone in my grief.

It’s unbearable, and I’ve always been the type to stare the unbearable in the face. Look at this! Look at how terrible things are! Let’s dissect and marvel and wallow and grieve this terribleness! Who’s with me?!

To be clear, I feel the urge to deny as well, because one can’t bear the unbearable for too long, uninterrupted.

When I was little, I remember having this recurring nightmare. Do you remember that wolf with the glowing eyes from The Neverending Story? It represented The Nothing – fear, destruction, depression. It terrified me. In my nightmare, it would hide in the darkness, under my little brother’s crib. All I could see was its eyes, glowing and staring right into mine. I could hear it growling, threatening me. I was terrified and frozen. I wanted to run but was physically unable. My only option was to stay and stare it down. I mirrored it. I was down on all fours and growled back, even though the first few tries wouldn’t produce any sound.

And that’s it. That’s the whole dream. I still have it, sometimes, even now. That’s what I do, even in my dreams.

Wrinkle Cream and Lounge Wear

What a year this has been. Holy freaking cow.

I like to blog and take stock of my life on my birthdays, but this year I don’t even know where to start.

I usually get a massage on my birthday, but that didn’t happen. (There is a part of me that just wants to say fuck it and go do whatever I wanna do, but the rule follower part of me won’t allow that fantasy to become a reality.) Even though holy crap I could really use one because I can literally feel the weight of junk that’s been collecting and that I’ve been dragging around with me. After said massage, I usually go and sit in a Starbucks where I drink coffee without kids and I blog and read. As I type this, I’m sitting in my car in the parking lot of a park overlooking a river. I have my Starbucks and I just inhaled a birthday donut. At least it’s quiet and there are zero kids in the vicinity.

Usually, my birthday evokes feelings around my long-ago cancer diagnosis. This year, I have some (because how can I not), but mostly I’m struck by how covid/the pandemic/quarantining has shoved my cancer history to the back burner. Comparatively, it’s made my cancer feel more like a distant memory than ever before. Not sure how I feel about that.

It’s been exactly a year since I’ve had a date night out with my husband. I haven’t seen my parents in 15 months. I haven’t seen my brother for even longer. I can’t count how many face masks I own now. It’s good to acknowledge loss and take time to grieve, and I do that from time to time, but….how do I keep doing that when the trauma isn’t over? And this is me, who’s specifically trained to help heal trauma.

I often wonder how time and perspective will shape how I feel about this experience, this season in my life. How will I remember it? What stories will I tell? How and when will this all end? How will this shape how I live the rest of my life?

I’ve realized that it doesn’t take much to make me happy. Or content, at least. In a time when I’ve been stuck at home and can’t have nice things, it’s been the little things that have gotten me through. Kickball with my kids. Watching disaster movies with my husband. Reading really good books late into the night.

At the same time, I feel like it also doesn’t take much to trigger my anxiety. I anticipate having to retrain myself what safety feels like once this is “over” and we decide we can be social again. (Notice I didn’t say “normal,” because life won’t go back to the way it was before. In many ways, we’re forever changed.) About 3 years ago I went back to therapy for severe postpartum anxiety and in many ways I feel like the progress I made then has been shredded by covid. Covid is my anxiety’s best friend. Fuck you both.

I’m getting to the point where I am craving human contact and mentally crumbling under the cumulative weight of this crisis. Two of my peers lost their fathers recently, one to covid and one not, but both can’t grieve the way they want. I still don’t know anybody personally who’s died from covid but it’s getting closer and closer to home. It’s unsettling and I don’t like it.

I’m getting so sick of my family. I love them, but we’re always together. I have no opportunity to miss them. It’s a blessing and a curse because I wouldn’t have it any other way, but sweet baby jesus I’m ready to travel and go to the movies and hug my friends and have more personal space. I have never wanted a shot in the arm so badly in my entire life. I still have hope, of course, but what I need is some relief.

I know that many can identify with me that this year of deprivation has lit a fire under my desire to get my adult life started as soon as this is over. Life is short, and I want to go back to work. I want to see the world. I want my kids to build lives of their own, apart from me. I realize this will all happen in good time, but right here, right now, we can’t do it and I’m getting tired of waiting.

This morning, instead of a massage, I bought wrinkle cream and lounge wear on the internet.

So. I’m weary, I’m anxious, I’m hopeful, and now, I’m 38.

Sit with the ache in your heart

This Thanksgiving marks the one year mark since I have seen my parents in person.

This is the longest I have ever – EVER – been away from them and it sucks.

Last year was the first year my husband and I decided to host Thanksgiving. In years past, we traveled to California from Oregon to spend Thanksgiving with both our families (my husband and I are from the same hometown, so going home means we get to see everyone in one trip) and we made it a point to stay as long as we could. Travel is expensive, and since having one and then two kids, it’s a huuuuge pain in the ass. If we were gonna go anywhere, we were gonna stay and make the trip super worthwhile.

We opted to host last year because my son had started kindergarten and we couldn’t take the 2 week trip without him missing school. We invited a bunch of family, knowing we were deviating from the norm and that most would probably have other plans already. My parents were the ones who chose to fly up and join us. We had a fun visit and a pretty chill Thanksgiving meal. My mom helped out by making her amazingly cheesy shredded potato casserole. I struggled to take a selfie of everyone sitting around the table, but somehow I managed. We had no idea it would be the last holiday we’d spend together for a very long time.

My parents had another visit planned around…I wanna say…April? We all mutually decided to cancel; it wasn’t worth the risk of anyone getting sick. My mom has a preexisting condition and so her health is at a higher risk than most. Also, both of them are over 65.

Ever since, we’ve been FaceTiming but y’all know that’s not the same. My son is able to write real letters now, and we do that from time to time too. My daughter would contribute her spirited artwork. There’s just no way to write enough or color enough to fit yourself into an envelope and mail all of you to where you need to be.

For me, this Thanksgiving will be one to grieve a benchmark of time spent apart. We’ll be grieving the loss of safety, normalcy, etc. I’ll also be giving thanks that, although apart, my family is all in good health. Our sacrifice, and the sacrifice of everyone around us, is for good reason. It’s so that we can all be together again in the future to celebrate and share our lives and swap germs and not take that closeness for granted ever again.

I know this lockdown is hard, probably one of the hardest things we’ll do as a global community in our generation, but resist the temptation to let down your guard and get too close to those not in your household this holiday season. Think about the long-term consequences. Think about how you’d feel if a social gathering landed a person you love in the hospital. The risk is not worth it. I encourage you to sit with the loss. Sit with the ache in your heart. I feel it too. The good news is that it won’t last forever.

This Thanksgiving, I’ll be thinking about my parents and making plans for the future. Because if everyone does their part, then we’ll all have a future to celebrate together.


Day 24

Invisibility Cloak

It’s been really hard trying to adjust to life in Oregon.

People have been telling me that it’ll take time.  Like, 2 or 3 years.  You know, to find friends and get used to the rain.

Well, it’s been 3.75 years and I’m still waiting.  Waiting to feel…adjusted.

I’ve moved before and it hasn’t felt like this.  So I’ve been wracking my brain to figure out what is different about this time and this place.

Many things are different: this move is permanent, with no end date in sight.  I didn’t move here for a reason of my own, meaning that we moved here because of my husband’s job and not because of work or school for me.  We don’t have any family close, not anywhere in state.  I moved here 8 weeks pregnant and have been largely housebound raising kids ever since.  The weather suuuuuucks.

But all this I’d been over in my mind, again and again, and nothing felt heavy enough to be such a roadblock.  Perhaps all of them put together is what is blocking my road?

Of course, there’s more.  My life is pretty unrecognizable from what it was 4 years ago.  I was working full time, not yet married, not yet a mom (of two).  I had friends and family.  Hobbies.  A brain.  A life.

Now I feel like I am getting somewhere – that along with grieving the loss of my homeland (via the move), I am grieving the loss of my identity.  Before, I was a therapist.  A partner.  Active, creative, thoughtful.  Productive.  Energetic.  Mobile.  Free.

I look at the clothes hanging in my closet, and I don’t recognize the woman who wore those clothes.  She’s not me, but I kind of remember her, the way one remembers a grandmother who died when you were a child.  I deeply miss her.

I feel like becoming a capitol M-O-M has wiped out any identity I had that doesn’t pertain to my relationship with my kids.  People no longer ask about me, they ask about the kids.  Or they ask about how I am in relation to the kids, as a mom, and not as a person.  (Because moms aren’t people, you guys.)

Edit: To be fair, my momfriends very much DO genuinely ask how I am doing.  It’s just that most often, I’m unable to answer honestly or with much gory detail because of the circumstances (read: kids running around trying to kill themselves).

Make no mistake, I’ve definitely been making an effort to integrate myself into my new life.  This introvert and homebody has forced herself to join a moms club, get to library story times, and go to various playgroups.  I’ve made friends and enjoyed some of what Oregon has to offer.

What finally hit me was something my good friend said to me recently.  I was bitching about how being a mom gets in the way of making good quality friendships because even when my momfriends and I can get together we’re still always chasing after our kids and can’t have a decent conversation.  I can’t remember how the conversation went, but I think I said that my momfriends and I mostly talk about our kids because that’s what we have in common, but we don’t share who we are as people.  And she pointed out that none of the people I am meeting and trying to forge relationships with in Oregon knew me before I had kids.  I just read back what I typed, and I can see how that may not sound so earth-shattering, but it definitely felt that way to me.  Besides my husband and this particular friend, zero people in Oregon knew who I was before children.  There’s been essentially no carryover from my old life to the new one, in every way possible.  Ugh.

As I take this thought and play the tape through in my mind, I’m seeing another layer of difficulty in trying to make new friends: not only do we lack the logistical opportunities as moms, but I am working blind.  I don’t even know who this new me is yet, and no one here knew the old me, and in that sense I feel completely invisible – swallowed up by my children (and then pooped out for me to clean up).

Lucy

She was the runt of the litter, and she was the only one who actually let me hold them.  That’s when I knew – she was mine.  We were going to bring her home and love her.

She was kinda like me, actually.  Nervous, cautious, quiet, but also an observant wallflower, kind, playful, and very sweet.  And weird, because she really loved to lick human hair if we let her express her need for social grooming rituals.

We rescued her from the local animal shelter and she was in a cage with her two brothers Calvin and Hobbes.  She was a tuxedo cat: black, with a white chest, tummy, and feet.  Every other toe was alternately black and pink.  Her shelter name was Susy, but I renamed her Lucy on the car ride home.  That was 1998 and I was 15.

This past weekend, my family had to help her die because she had come to the end of her life and my mom could tell she didn’t feel well.  I’m so sad to have lost one of my very best friends.

We grew up together, Lucy and I.  She listened to my secrets and napped with me and kitty-massaged my calves and licked my hair.  We chased her in this game that always went the same way where she’d  lead us to her rug where she’d stop and fall over so we could rub her belly and brush her.  I clipped her nails, gave her treats, cleaned up her vomit.

1998

2011

 

We (everyone but my dad) fought for a while to get a pet.  I joked that we slowly worked our way up the food chain.  First we had three goldfish who, one by one, committed suicide by jumping out of the bowl.  I can only guess that the first one was depressed, and then the other two were overcome with grief.  Years later, we got a female rat.  She was really sweet, but didn’t live long.  Next, we tried two sister rats.  They lived a bit longer and were fairly fun, but cleaning the cage was a huge chore.  Finally getting Lucy was wonderful because she gave us a moderate amount of love (she was a cat, after all) with only a moderate level of cleanup and care.  My dad eventually warmed up to her, too, which was an added bonus.  I think she made it pretty easy to love her.

Lucy was the oddest, most well-behaved kitty I have ever met.  She didn’t like people food.  Seriously, we tried.  The only food she’d eat was ice cream, and even then we had to dab it onto her nose so she’d lick it off.  She had her claws and never destroyed anything.  She never bit or clawed – quite the opposite, actually – she’d allow herself to be manhandled by my brother and never fought back.  She was the most docile creature.

She came to us with a bunch of health issues.  Yes, she was the runt and was underweight, but apparently this stray from Oakland also had fleas and mites and had had a tough time.  My mom’s friend commented on how little Lucy was so lucky,  “She won the lottery, because now she has all of you to love her.”  She was right, but the feeling is mutual.

I won the lottery that day, too.

I want you to know, Lucy, that I really wish I could have been there for you during those last few days.  I desperately wanted to be there to comfort you, to hold you, to whisper my secrets to you again.  I am very thankful that the rest of my family was able to be there for you, and that my mom held you in her lap when the vet helped you die.  I just want you to know, that I wanted it to be me.  If I could’ve, I would’ve been the one to hold you.  I held you on that first day when you picked me and I wanted to hold you on the last day, too.

I love you and miss you, baby girl.  I’m so glad you’re not hurting anymore and I hope you’re licking ice cream off your nose right now.