Category Archives: grief

So not self-helpful…

I think I may have PTSD when it comes to self-help books, books on migraines, or generally any written device intended to explain to me how to make my current state in life better.

I have been trying to unwrap why I loathe self-help lately and I have hit upon a theory. It’s a relatively new theory so bear with me but here we go.

Ours is a society of the quick fix. If we have a cold and can’t sleep we take NyQuil. If we have a cold and need to go to work we take DayQuil. What we don’t do is rest long enough for our bodies to battle the cold on their own.

Due to our quick fix mentality we have a tendency to offer solutions to the people in our lives who express problems. We rarely actually commiserate. It’s not because we don’t feel sympathy or even empathy for them, but our language of caring has morphed over time from listening and empathizing to offering solutions.

As a migraine sufferer I have had a lot of experience on the receiving end of solutions. It doesn’t bother me from friends or family but it’s the complete strangers that make me crazy. Usually when I meet someone and they find out I have migraines I get asked my entire medical history by someone without a medical degree because their fourth cousin once removed has migraines and maybe they can mention something my nationally recognized neurologist hasn’t thought of yet. It is exhausting and not a way I want to spend one of the rare times I actually leave my house to go out into the world.

I think this is why I hate self-help mechanisms. Rather than listening to each other, talking about our feelings, and creating deep, strong bonds of friendship we are offering other people’s takes on our interpretations of someone else’s problem.

Meet someone at a party going through a divorce? Offer them this book. Got a brother with MS? Here’s a book on how one person worked through their experience with it. Children being… children? Here’s a book on how to parent in a way the person who wrote the book likes most.

Now I am not saying seeking self-help is a bad thing. Personally, if you want to read books on parenting, relationships, investing, whatever medical diseases you may have, and that helps you handle life, go for it with my blessing! There is nothing wrong in my mind about seeking out information.

What upsets me is offering these unsolicited solutions to others in lieu of care.

I get it, caring is hard. It’s time consuming, it takes real listening and empathizing to truly succeed at it and none of us have the time or the energy.

Is that last part true though? Would we find consoling someone less tiring if we did it more often? Could it be we are out of practice and therefore it seems more tiring and time consuming then it truly is?

Here’s my truth: My best memories are from times when I opened up my mind and heart and joined someone in their hardships. Really joined them. Crawled down into the hole they were stuck in and sat with them for a while. I have been blessed enough to build truly amazing relationships with people because I was simply sitting with them and listening when they were having a hard day.

Sometimes the way to be the most helpful is to offer no help whatsoever.

Measuring life in hours…

It’s been a while since I posted about chronic pain primarily because I still feel like a whiner even on my own blog, somehow. I’m blaming German stick-to-it-ed-ness and the fact that my grandparents lived through the depression as farmers in the Dust Bowl and probably ate pickled tumbleweeds without complaint. They were the boss.

I have a new medication. It gives me about three hours of low pain twice a day. This is good news. I now have six hours a day where I can be productive in a way I haven’t been in a while. There are some side effects. I can’t concentrate very well and I get super tired. I forget things and get flustered and double book and am generally not the best friend in the world to anyone. However, I get six hours where I can crochet, or read, or do chores, or play with the kids. Six hours when I can see movies or friends.

I am not sure when I began measuring my life in hours. I suspect it started after Michigan when I first got medication that gave me some relief. All I do know is I now think of my days in terms of how many low pain hours I can get. Do I schedule a movie? A party? Dinner with a friend?

I am blessed to have these hours. I have far more hours now than I used to. I am also sad I don’t have more hours and envious of those who do. You healthy people with your bodies who don’t prevent you from being anything you dream of. You people who can be at parties all night, see any movie you want, go to a rock concert or night club. Your vibrant lives flash before me and make my previous self cry out in recognition and despair.

I miss you! She says. I used to be like you! I want to be like you again! 

You don’t measure your life in hours. You may not even measure it at all. I know I didn’t used to. I had the luxury of a limitless existence with nothing but my own ingenuity to stop me. Now I struggle to carve out a happy existence in a world increasingly defined by limitations.

I envy the freedom of your limitless hours even while I am happy you have them.



Grief and other socially unacceptable attitudes…

I have had a number of lovely discussions with a friend and mentor about grief.  “Of course we should grieve the things we have lost.” He says.

He says it so simply, as though it were a given.  Every time I hear it my brain erupts into hundreds of little voices, hungrily digesting or spitting out the simple truth behind his words.  The chaos this phrase causes inside of me seems ridiculous because of course we should grieve the things we have lost.

Why don’t we?

I learned, as a weird and often rejected child, not to show the sorrow and hurt I felt when a person or group dismissed me.  If I showed them their words stung, they won.  If I hid it inside and pretended not to care, saving my grief for the privacy of my diary or best friend, I won.  I soon learned to build my entire life on this simple principle.  Do not show people they have hurt you.  Do not share your grief with people you don’t implicitly trust.

I remember one day in high school when a friend gave me a great gift.  I was dating a boy in my choir, one who had asked me to keep our relationship secret at first and then threw a nasty public scene when I ended it.  I mean nasty, in front of everyone, calling me a whore, etc.  I bravely stood up and fought back and showed nothing but disdain for him and his sharpened steel tipped words as they ripped through my skin and bled me in front of my entire social group.  A friend stepped in and took me aside, saying “C.Mon, he’s not worth it.”  He walked me to his car and told me to hold on for a few more minutes.  Then we drove around the block behind a building and he said “Okay, now you can cry.”

This person had taken me to a safe place away from the prying eyes of everyone who would have taken pleasure in my pain and given me permission to grieve.  I grieved.  I cried like to world had ended, not because I had broken up with a boy, not because I had been so publicly renounced, but because I had someone in my life who had offered me protection for my feelings.

Over the years, each time a relationship ended and the friendships I made were divided, I grieved for the lost friends privately, showing nothing but understanding and acceptance for those who decided to toss me aside and stay connected with the other person.  I shared my grief in journals, with one or two people, or sometimes not at all.

My conversation with my mentor, his simple acceptance that we should all grieve what we have lost, opened up a maelstrom in me.  I have spent the last year trying to pretend I accept and understand the behavior of the people I called friends during the last ten years of my life.  People who chose to toss aside the relationships I built with them and never even bothered to ask me what happened.  People who cared so little about me that they just threw me away.

Of course I should grieve what I have lost.  I have lost the illusion that I mattered to these people.  I have lost the belief that they cared about me. I have lost the certainty that the time and effort I put into them, listening to their problems, helping them with solutions, loving them, would be returned.  It won’t.  When the shit hit the fan I was tossed aside in moments.  No questions asked.

Just as I mourned the loss of connection with the friends I had before my marriage, the friends I didn’t get to spend time with because I was busily putting energy into my husband’s group of friends,  I mourn the loss of connection I had with his friends.

However, I have another nugget of simple truth to get me through.  “Of course I grieve the things and people I have lost.  You have to.” He says over coffee. “But I also have to realize that there are other, sometimes better people and things in my life now. ”

The secret.  Grieve, and then let go.  You can’t let go if you don’t grieve.

So today I shed the tears my younger bullied self so bravely taught me to hide.  I shed them openly and honestly. I grieve here, in a public forum, no building to hide behind.

I grieve the loss of the easy banter I had with my husband’s friends.  I miss the group outings, the parties, the shared jokes and experiences. I miss feeling they were assholes for sending one person into a movie theater line to save the space for eleven of us and knowing every person behind us hated us as the rest showed up.  I miss arguing politics with them, celebrating holidays with them, sharing stories with them.  I miss every single one of them, but mostly I miss them all together.

And I am letting them go.

Thank you

Thank you to all the people who have shown me kindness, especially in the past two years.

The last two years were the darkest time in my life.  I made it out.  You helped.

If you made me smile, even once, you helped.

If you sent me a note telling me you loved me, you helped.

If you gave me a hug, you helped.

If you posted a note on Facebook or sent me a link to read, you helped.

If you came and sat with me, read with me, talked with me, you helped.

I am thankful for each and every moment of kindness you gave me.

I am thankful for your love.

It is doubtful I would have made it out of the darkness without all of you.

Happy Thanksgiving.

The tick-tick-ticking of the clock…

In two months it will have been a year since my hysterectomy.

I try so hard not to let January 6th, 2014 have any monumental significance.  I have read that it takes about a year to feel normal again, my doctor has told me it can take up to a year to heal.  When a year was seven, six, five months away it was a reassuring thing to tell myself.

You aren’t back to where you were, but it’s okay, they said it can take up to a year.

Now that a year is two months away I stare at my swelly belly and wonder;

What if I am not better after a year?

So much has happened this year that I haven’t had time to deal with my sense of grief, my anger, my loss.  I feel like the whole world has moved on and I am just now finally feeling it.

I am deeply sad.  I am ragingly angry.  Nothing about having a hysterectomy before I was ready to be done having children is ever going to be okay.  This will always be a pang I feel.  I feel as though so much of me was literally ripped out and tossed away and somehow I am supposed to go on as though I am normal.  Somehow I am supposed to reach a point where I have healed.

This was the hardest part of my life and it was overshadowed by marital strife and relationship drama.  It was the experience that cemented in my own mind that sometimes it doesn’t matter what you try to do about it, things will suck.  You can work as hard as you can, harder even, and the world will keep on moving while you fall apart.  I lost my home, my friend group, my intact family.  Those are the things people saw, commented on, dealt with.  But I lost so much more.  I lost my fertility.  I went to bed a 37 year old woman and woke up in menopause.  I can build a new home, I can make one with my family, I can work on my friendships.  I will never get that back.  It is gone forever.

Motherhood is the only thing that has ever come naturally to me.  It is the only thing I have ever felt truly amazing at.  I grow strong, intelligent, beautiful children and I am a wonderful mother.

Except now I can’t grow strong beautiful intelligent children.  And please don’t tell me I already have two so it’s okay.  It’s not. It never will be.  I can be a wonderful mother to the children I have, but that doesn’t take away the pain from not ever being able to even think of having more.

I have had my heart broken before.  I have had it torn out of me by death, divorce, anger, violence, and more.  It always healed.  Now I doubt it will.

The clock ticks away the minutes toward the end of my first year without a reproductive system.  It ticks away toward physical health.  It ticks away to a new period in my life, a time of health and happiness.  Each ticking second carries with it increasing expectations.  From my family, my friends, and from me.  Everyone, including me, is waiting for the healing to end.

The thing is, it won’t.  I am forever scarred by this, forever changed.  The year will roll around and my core muscles may be strong again, I may be able to run and box and chase my kids.  I may feel better than I have in years, but it won’t be me.  I have had to let go of the 37 year old woman who went into surgery on January 6, 2013.  For all intents and purposes, she died.  The person who emerged from that surgery has a lot of similarities to her, but she is not the same.

I don’t think I ever will be.

Moving through.

Today my Other Me is quiet.  She has been vanquished by a good nights sleep, a day of exercise, conversation with a good friend, and snuggles from small warm animals.

Today the crisp fall air seems full of possibility.  There are baked goods to be made, work to be done, children to pick up from school.

I know she will wake up again, but for now she is silent. It took me a really long time to be willing to talk about my feelings.  I have a very hard time letting people know things are not okay.  Even now that I am blogging about it, if you ask me in person I am likely to tell you things are fine, or that I am doing OK.  I’m not sure why I have such a “stiff upper lip” mentality, but I do.  (Why is having a stiff upper lip such a sign of strength anyway? What does that saying even mean?)

The truth is, I am trying to move through.  I am angry and deeply sad.  I miss my life.  My life before illness, my life before separation.  I miss struggling to fall asleep because my husband snored too loudly beside me.  I miss the way he would put away things I needed while I was cooking.  I miss having my kids around all the time.  I miss having endless amounts of energy and confidence.  I miss taking up space in my life.

I don’t want to move on.  I want to move through.  I want to feel everything I need to feel. I want to learn and grow.  I want to heal.

The problem with healing is that it takes a long time.  My hysterectomy was ten months ago and I still feel odd and have physical side effects from the surgery.  Sometimes it feels like it’s been forever and I should be over it now.  I hate being patient with myself, and because I hate being patient with myself I superimpose that impatience onto others.  How sick they all must be of hearing about it.

Healing takes a long time.  I have no idea how long.  Maybe I will be better next year, maybe the following. In certain ways, maybe never. I just have to remember I can’t wake up and expect myself to fix everything that was broken in a single day. I have to learn to take it a step at a time.

Job hunt today. Exercise today. Sleep well. Eat well.  Simple everyday instructions, simple everyday steps.  I hope they will build themselves into something complex and fantastic, a life full of optimism and opportunity.  For now, though, I just have to get through the steps.