Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Poetry Passing Time

Seeing the Alliterative Psychiatrist

A cedar ceiling and
Color of walnut shell walls
Secrets, hallucinations, horrors are
Told within these neutral nodes
As pitiful people tap their
Fingers, feet flutter
A fox betrays a bull pin
On a box betraying brevity.
Currently, guns gargantuan
Too soon or not soon enough
To talk tactics
Anxiety, like aromatic bread,
Warm raisin, rises.
Some stare, cramped neck at
a smaller box, cartoon caricatures
fake feelings real faces
can't contract.
Dignify my designation so
I can take my turn.
Tell my tale
Land Latuda
Verify Viibryd.
Manage monthly.
Fucking fuck.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Grieving When You Have Older Children Watching

My husband is home on a two week visit, and even though I have often said I just want him to hold me while cry, I still cry on my own. In theory, I don't really hide it. I usually cannot control the first few tears before I lock the door to the bathroom and sob in the shower or announce I'm going to lay in the bed and "get some of these tears out."  He seems to understand that although I don't want to grieve alone, the outward show of grief is somehow embarrassing for me, and when there are others around, I cannot be true to the grief in all its ugliness.  I need to be able to make noises as I run out of breath, and I need to make those contorted faces that come with the waves that make your stomach actually hurt like a contraction.  The fetal position in a bed isn't pretty, but it is the helpless infant we revert back to.

My husband and my daughter left to go to the store, and I could not join them.  I'm too randomly weepy.

The youngest child is not here, but the oldest is.  My bedroom door was closed, and he knocked.  "Mom."

"What?"  I gargled this word because I had just experienced a breathless contraction in my stomach.

"Can I come in?"

"No, the door is locked."  What I didn't say:  I can't get out of the bed to unlock it.  I don't want you to see my face splotchy, shiny, and wet.  He knows though.

He asked what he wanted to ask through the door, and he got the answer he wanted.  He moved on.

What am I teaching him?  That thought came next.  If I am embarrassed to be seen experiencing this pain, what was I taught growing up?  Or did I not learn this at all and it is more just a personal preference? I think maybe a combination of both, but I also know I need to have a conversation with him and the other kids.  Even if my actions do not match my words, I have to let them know that it is not a rule that one must hide in a room to cry.  There should be nothing shameful in loving others so much that when those others are gone, our face contorts, we can't breathe, and the tears just flow.  I don't know how to bridge that gap of processing this with them and actually showing by example, but I know they are watching. Perhaps the first step is telling, then building up to showing.  Maybe it is tagging them when I share this on Facebook.

I love Chad tremendously and the loss of him hurts me so deeply.  The loss of him brings up earlier losses as well, my mom, my grandpa, my godmother.  I do not want my kids believing that loving someone and losing them means secrecy and isolation.  I welcome suggestions and personal stories of how grief is expressed in your own family. 

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Sacred Tears, Holes, and Jokes

“There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love.”
–Washington Irving

“Where you used to be, there is a hole in the world, which I find myself constantly walking around in the daytime, and falling in at night. I miss you like hell.”
— Edna St. Vincent Millay

I wanted to call him today to tell him that in the shower this morning I randomly remembered a horribly corny joke that our step-grandfather told us when we were kids. 

You are trapped in the jungle with a gun with only bullet.  A camel, snake, and lion are all coming at you.  What do you do?

You smoke the camel, erase the lion, and shoot the snake.

(The joke rests on the teller having an accent when pronouncing "lion.")

I originally did not get the joke; I was too young, but our step-grandfather repeated it for years and one day, I got it.

So today I fell in the hole and the power is flowing from my eyes, which is not to say I have been immensely better.  I just have not been in a hole. 

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Out of the Darkness

This morning was the Out of the Darkness walk for the awareness and prevention of suicide.  I had actually forgotten about it until about 2:00 am this morning.  I was sleeping well but awoke with a start and remembered the walk.  I thought there was no way I would make it; the emotion of it was too great, and I went back to sleep.  At 7:00, Trent and I woke up, and I still waffled about going.  As I sipped coffee, I remembered my friends and family who donated money on the premise that I would walk.  I was positive none of them would fault me for staying home and crying, but I couldn't rest with that thought, and I felt certain I should go.

As I drove to the coliseum, the tears flowed and I experienced an unusual (for me) sense of social anxiety at the thought of walking into a crowd of people by myself.  I was wearing the t-shirt with the above picture and Chad's name with the years of his birth and death.  I felt exposed and raw, as though I was carrying a great ball of pain and holding it out for all the world to see.  I regretted my decision to go alone, and I wished for a hand to hold. 

I was forcibly calm as I walked into the crowds of people, registered, got my t-shirt prize from the money raised, and walked among the tents with brochures about suicide in the elderly, the military, and in the LGBTQ community.   I collected as much information as my purse would hold.  Suicide prevention is now a professional interest for me.

As the ceremonies began, different metaphors and stories brought me back to tears:  the pebble in a pond, the minimum of 100 people affected by each suicide, the memory of a service member who presented her life as perfect, even as she was suicidal.   A young woman in a rainbow shirt held a sign that said "It is okay not to be okay" on one side and "You are not alone" on the other side.  I wanted to hug her and tell her she was wise beyond her years.  Everywhere, people had pictures of lost loved ones, smiling in their frozen moment of time, just as Chad smiles above.  Yet, there was a joyful quality to the crowd, which confused me.


 As the walk began, I was delighted to see we were walking on the beach sidewalk.  At that same beach, I had once spent a day with my siblings.  I was 11 or 12 and Chad was 16 or 17.  I wondered if we had touched the spot I was looking at, if I had begged Chad to wait for me as he went further into the gulf.  Were we both blistering in the sun?  Had we helped our younger siblings make a sand castle?  Had we collected seashells with hermit crabs?  The tears flowed again.


 As I walked, I heard conversations around me.  Many were not about suicide, pain, or lost loved ones.  I felt a bit angry but then noticed their t-shirts gave death dates from years ago.  I was reminded that my loss is still fresh, and that in time, I will be able to walk and think of Chad but not feel so adrift and swallowed by pain.  I will be able to have a conversation about something else.


The turn around point for the walk was near this lighthouse.  Perhaps the metaphor is too heavy-handed, but there was beauty in that.  If we are taking people out of the darkness, we need a lighthouse to guide them back.  The sky was beautiful and the light breeze helped dry my tears.  Each of us can be a lighthouse for our loved ones.

After the walk, I talked with a new friend and couldn't control my tears.  We hugged and she validated that my loss is still so new.  Although I have always thought suicide awareness was a worthy cause, it had never been one of my causes.  Now it is.  I sometimes wonder how many causes I can hold dear, but the heart is elastic.

Another new friend asked if I would be interested in starting a support group on the eastern side of the coast.  I immediately balked at the idea as excuses flooded forth:  I've just started a new job; the kids have all their extracurricular activities; I need a babysitter; on and on.  Then I thought:  A principle in the social work code of ethics is service. When I got home, I read it:

Social workers’ primary goal is to help people in need and to address social problems.
Social workers elevate service to others above self-interest. Social workers draw on their knowledge, values, and skills to help people in need and to address social problems. Social workers are encouraged to volunteer some portion of their professional skills with no expectation of significant financial return (pro bono service).


As a professor once said, "This is where the rubber meets the road."

Next year, I will not walk alone.  I hope to have my siblings, my children, my husband, my father, my aunts and uncles, Chad's children, and many friends.

Monday, August 28, 2017

October 2013 and now

Back in 2013, I wrote a blog post about song lyrics that meant something to me.  I quoted The Fray's "How to Safe a Life", particularly the lyric:

Where did I go wrong?
I lost a friend
Somewhere along in the bitterness 


I spoke about all the friends I have lost over time, often because when a person gets too close, I tend to pull away.  Back in 2013, I was already somewhat stable but still struggling to keep friends.  After that, some new friendships were formed but also faded away.  Or rather, I pulled away or I self-sabotaged or the friendship simply ended for a reason that had nothing to do with me.  Either way, the losses hurt over and over again, and I reinforced the negative behaviors of pulling away as people pull close.  I told myself to stop needing people, and I idolized Estelle from Great Expectations, ignoring the happy ending of the story and only caring about her superb, controlled, and supreme coldness.

Then I started grad school and there were new friends, and as I learned what I learned, I let two people in further than before.  They nurtured me, and I tried my best to nurture them.  However, since Chad's death, the problem has returned.  Even with those two very special friends from school, I feel myself pulling away even as I need their friendship so badly.  It has happened with others as well; they get too close; I need too much; I become frightened of more pain, and I close the door.  I lose people in the bitterness.

My social worker told me today that it is similar to having a phobia of emotions instead of spiders and snakes.  She hit the nail on the head:  I am afraid of emotions because emotions can become too overwhelming, and it is easier to have no emotions than uncontrollable ones.  

I have been repeating to myself "This is what his suicide left behind" because I'm reminding myself that pain after a loss is normal, trying to avoid the pain is also normal, and engaging in negative coping mechanisms is normal, albeit not healthy.     

In a way, I'm back to the 16 year old girl who lost her mom and had no coping skills, didn't know how to ask for help, didn't know how to talk about any of it, and acted impulsively as a result.  Fortunately, I have therapy, education, and honesty this time.  

Ending these posts is always hard for me; I want to end on a positive note so everyone is left with a sense of closure, but honestly, there is no positive way to end this.  It is what it is.                

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Thematic Seasons

I have a theory that our lives pass in seasons, and those seasons typically have themes.  Before my current season of loss, graduate school was a season of improvement.  I improved my mind, my discipline, my writing, and my skills as an empathetic and reflective listener.  There were other, less prevalent themes of friendship, love, and advocacy, but the umbrella was always improvement.  Other seasons of my life have overflowed with themes such as love, motherhood, lust, and dysfunction.  There were seasons that seemed to have no theme, although I now question if the theme was not simply stagnation.

This theory melds well with something my social worker and I explored during a therapy session not long ago.  I was weeping for the loss of a season that was filled contentment, with smaller threads of love, happiness, and stability.  I asked why;  WHY does life, when we are so happy, rain down horror and sadness on our heads?  WHY are we punished for being so happy?  Specifically, what did I do to deserve such punishment?  My social worker challenged me to think of life as sadness and horror and of happiness as the reward.  Instead of being punished, I was being rewarded.  The happiness was fleeting because rewards are fleeting, while sadness tends to be prevalent because it is the matter of which life is made.

At the time, that answer gave me little solace.  I rebelled against the ideas that life is composed of sadness, that happiness is fleeting, and that we are rewarded with happiness.  I thought, shouldn't happiness be the default?  However, maybe my social worker is correct.  Seasons of happiness are our rewards, but seasons of loss and sadness are more frequent, or at the very least, feel more frequent.

I am currently in a season of loss and sadness, but it is not only Chad that I have lost.  During this season, there have been losses of friends, identities, mental stability, dreams, seasons that were better, and healthier ways of coping.   I am grieving so many things at one time, I am unable to tease apart the knot of yarn. 

Today, I told my social worker that I do not know how much longer I can survive this season.  I am so raw, and the pain is so overwhelming.  Every loss, no matter the size, now compounds the loss of Chad and magnifies the pain.  Next Thursday, I will experience another loss, and I will have to wall in the pain and find a way to numb it while I work through it.  I do not see an end to this season or the forthcoming reward, but that is the way the theory works:  the season we are in is the only season we can see.  We may be able to remember past seasons, but we are unable to predict future ones. 

Monday, July 31, 2017

What Suicide Left Behind and Friends

I had another episode today.  There were variables that led to it, but I will leave those be as there is nothing good that comes from telling it. 

What suicide left behind is grief confused by cognitive distortions, which is a $5,000 term for wrong beliefs.  Of course, I learned a great deal about cognitive distortions in grad school.  I know how to recognize them and challenge them, but knowing both of those things also means I know how to talk myself right back into thinking those faulty beliefs.  A person without my education, when their cognitive distortions are challenged, may say, "Oh wow, I've never thought about that!"  For me, I have thought of it, and I've also thought of 10 more reasons the challenge could be challenged. 

So today, this happened:

I felt guilty.  I read my brother's poetry years ago and saw the suicidal themes, but when I saw him, he was smiling and telling jokes so I let the language in the poems go.  I was once asked by a family member, "Aren't you in school for this?" and that is what repeated itself today: Wasn't I in school for this?  How on earth did I miss the signs? (Rereading his poetry is like a huge neon sign.) And I am paranoid other people are thinking it as well:  How does someone with mental health training and education miss the suicide waiting to happen in her own family?  And how does that bode for the future practitioner in me? 

As I regurgitated these and other cognitive distortions to the amazing Megan, she text back the following:


It is unwarranted guilt and a major distortion. Also, the lack of guilt from others compared to you possibly stems from the fact that you are your family's confidant, you know each of your siblings on a very deep level, and feeling like you missed it makes you feel like you failed them. Also, you nailed it on the head with those last texts. You feel inadequate as a mental health provider that you couldn't prevent this from happening. Holly, they are not going to blame you, but you have to find a way to accept what happened, because chances are, with the population you want to work with you will lose a patient to suicide, even though you did EVERYTHING you could, EVERYTHING right, you may still lose someone. You have to remind yourself 1) you are human you may not catch everything, especially if someone didn't want you to see that. 2) recognize the steps you did take, and given the
history there wasn't a risk, he was going to bed. 3) it's okay to hurt, it's okay to feel a little guilty, but it CANNOT consume you--grieve yes, but don't let guilt get in your head, that doubt, that voice saying you could have done something--fact is, Chad had that same voice I am sure, he did have a choice in this, and he made his decision and it has destroyed you, but my question to you is do you want that guilt to have that much power over you?
 
I don't know exactly why I'm sharing this.  I have been keeping a private journal for much of this mess that I will likely not share with anyone, but there is something in this, perhaps Megan's words, that need to be published for all to see.  Because even if you, my reader, aren't grieving a suicide, you are probably grieving something.  You are experiencing cognitive distortions about yourself and your family members.  Just know that there is hope, and if you can find "your Megan" in a friendship, or a therapist that is half as good as Megan, reach out and be honest, even if it is the hardest thing you to today.