Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Unraveling

When someone suffers a tragedy, if it’s something we experienced, we sometimes re-suffer it with them. This is especially true if you are an emotional empath as I am. When my dear friend lost her dad, I relived the experience with her. My dad died five years ago, but around the anniversary—February 28th—I tend to think about him more, ponder his life, remember the good times and the bad, the patches of my life’s quilt I stitched with him.

I do a lot of stitching because my life periodically unravels. Once when I was 16, and my brother died of a drug overdose. Again at 24, when another brother took his own life. Most recently, three weeks after my 38th birthday, when my dad peacefully sauntered into eternal life, with no illness to blame. He simply said he was, “old and tired.” At 94, that was acceptable.

And for four months after, I told myself that it was acceptable. He was old. He was tired. He died very peacefully. No suffering. No sickness. He was ready. My mom was dealing with it. My brothers seemed to be doing fine. My sister seemed okay. It was just how I’d prayed he would go: quietly and peacefully. Everything was fine.

Except I didn’t really feel fine. I spent a half hour sobbing in the shower every morning. I was unable to smile. I felt unraveled.

For the first month, being sad was acceptable. People still called to check on me. My husband didn’t ask why I was crying every night, he simply pulled me close to him.

The second month was a little harder. No one called anymore. I didn’t get any cards in the mail. And my kids wondered why I was crying when we said prayers at night.

The third month I relegated my sobbing to 15 minutes in the shower, and then I tried to smile and take an interest in life again.

The fourth month, I gave up on everything I tried to do in the third month and sought a quick fix. A pharmaceutical intervention.

I never go to the doctor so to go to the doctor solely for some feel-better medication was a stretch. I have mild bi-polar tendencies, which I realized that the assessment would reveal if I answered honestly. But, my manic episodes focus mostly on cleaning and home improvement rather than reckless sex or spending, so I kind of welcome them. The depressive episodes usually last only a day and are bearable.

This particular malaise seemed to really drag on though.

After assuring the doctor that I was not suicidal, but normally a happily functioning person really wanting to function as a normally and happily again, the doctor prescribed a mood-stabilizing anti-depressant to help get me “over the hump.” That was her description of my malaise—the hump.

After a few weeks on the medicine, I felt…even. I was no longer sad, mad or depressed. I also wasn’t happy, excited, or passionate. I gained 20 pounds and didn’t care. In fact, I didn’t really care about anything. Not in a hopeless way …  just in a blissfully apathetic way.

It was in the midst of this blissful apathy that I ran across an article in Prevention that talked about depression being a God-given emotion to help us deal with times of sadness. Since we don’t feel like doing anything during a depression, we can often work through our pain, feelings of loss, or whatever is causing our sadness. Obviously this isn’t true for people whose depression is cued by chemical imbalances rather than sad events, but it was true for me.

I decided, after reading this article that I did not need a quick fix. What I did need was to stop telling myself that everything was okay and just be sad and miss my dad for awhile.

So, I did. And it got pretty dark. My husband, who had gotten used to and rather liked the easygoing-if-numb version of medicated me, didn’t think it was a good idea for me to stop. He thought it was an even worse idea when I started to cry all the time. But in a few months, after I walked through the depths of my sadness and out the other side, he agreed that it had been the right choice.

Years ago in graduate school, I took a group therapy class. Once, when I was reluctant to talk about something, the facilitator questioned my fear: “What do you think will happen if you talk about it?”

“I’ll cry.”

“And?”

“I don’t know. Maybe I’ll never stop crying?”

“And…you will get dehydrated from all the crying and shrivel up like a raisin or what?”

It’s irrational to think you’ll never stop crying, but before that day, I’d never taken a moment to be present in my own fear. I’d never asked, “What am I really afraid of?” I’d spent so much time telling myself all the reasons I had to be happy—and there are so many—that I hadn’t allowed myself to be sad. It’s okay to be sad. Losing someone you love is heartbreaking.


Sometimes, it takes medication. Sometimes, it takes meditation. Sometimes all it takes is a margarita or mojito or Moscow Mule—I’m here all week, friends. But whatever your solution, a good step in the right direction is listening to what your feelings want to tell you. It’s okay to be sad. It’s okay to cry. The only way we can ever fully heal is to feel.  

7 comments:

  1. I loved this. Not what you've been through, but your honest retelling of it. I've had medication that gave me the feelings of a block of cheese. I remember it being a relief but it doesn't fix anything. I love the thought that depression is given provides us with the space to deal with the pain. I found you through the synchroblog ( I'm over there too) and I am finding it so good to read through the stories of faith in the dark. We all spend so much time in the dark, and we need to let each other know that that is ok. Thank you for this.

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    2. Thank you so much for your kind words. I read your post, and was so drawn in, I wanted to sit down and devour every post. Your honesty and transparency are refreshing. I want to high five and then hug you because even if we haven't been through the same experiences, we've all wandered around in the dark. I can't wait to read more. Thank you for reaching out.

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  2. "What I did need was to stop telling myself everything was going to be okay and just be sad." Yes. Yes. Yes. Mourning cannot be rushed, and sitting in that darkness does worlds more than supernaturally plowing through it.

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    1. SO okay to be sad. Loved this, and loved the truth that sometimes depression can be a gift to help us work through loss. Beautiful. Thanks so much for linking up, Mary!

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    2. Thank you so much. I absolutely loved When We Were on Fire and am so excited to read Night Driving. Your writing is so beautiful and transparent.

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