When the Holidays Are Marred by Loss and Complex Grief

Written For The Mighty on 11/19/2020.

Holidays are usually seen as a happy time, when friends and family get together to celebrate. They are a time filled with the warm glow of decorations, delicious foods to fill our stomachs and wonderful memories in the making with the people we love. 

But sometimes everything is not that simple. When you lose someone you hold dear during the holidays, it creates a dark cloud that looms over the entire celebration, making it harder to enjoy it as you otherwise would.

Loss is hard any time of the year. But a loss during the holidays can be especially painful because everyone else expects you to be happy during the holidays. It is hard to celebrate anything when you don’t feel festive inside. It can feel near-impossible to smile when all you want to do is cry. It is hard to be around others who are happy and festive when you feel anything but, leaving you to wonder if it is just better to stay home and not ruin anyone else’s time.

Holidays are often rooted in nostalgia. Current celebrations bring back memories of other times, better times, when your loved ones were still there to celebrate with you. The sights, sounds, tastes and scents alone can make their absence even more glaring and jarring. What once were joyful recollections you shared together of other years become gut punches that leave you fighting back tears.

It can be doubly hard when you carry conflicting feelings about the person you lost. People often say that you should never speak ill of the dead, disregarding the fact that rarely in life is anything solely black or white, good or bad. The vast majority of relationships in our life exist somewhere within the realm of grays, where they are not one or the other but rather a complex combination of both. When your grief is complex, it makes mourning that much more difficult. 

My mother passed away 10 years ago Thanksgiving day. 

All my childhood holiday memories revolve primarily around my mother. She was the cook, the baker, the decorator, the present-wrapper. The holidays were largely constructed and orchestrated by her two hands. Almost every holiday tradition I’ve carried with me throughout my life originates with her. There is not a single major holiday I celebrate that does not have her fingerprints all over it.

She was my mother. She taught me to cook and bake, to sew, knit, embroider, darn and craft. She implanted in me my stubborn will to keep fighting and my love for the holidays as a whole. She is a big part of the person I am today.

She was also one of my primary abusers throughout my childhood, physically, verbally and mentally. She is one of the reasons I struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression. She is proof that very few things exist simply as black or white. 

She is my mother. I love her as every little girl loves her mother. And at the same time I hate her. I love her for all that she has taught and given me, and I hate her for all that she’s put me through. I miss her with every fiber of my being and at the same time I could never forgive her for the darkness she put over the holidays for me. 

To better help you understand our relationship, I feel it is important to divulge a little background. Growing up, my mother was very abusive. She was struggling with often untreated, always undertreated bipolar disorder with frequent bouts of rage and I was her primary target. Our entire house was a war zone where the only way to be heard was to yell louder than the next person, and the only way to shut someone up was to lash out with the meanest, cruelest thing you could think of. After over 20 years of combat, my father walked out on our family shortly before I turned 16. My mother retaliated by driving to his work and shooting him twice. She spent the next few years bouncing between jail and mental institutions until it was ultimately pleaded out. But the damage had already been done and my life had been changed forever.

Her actions that day made it very clear to me exactly what she was capable of doing during her bouts of rage. Yet she still refused to seek help, frequently breaking down into tears or exploding with anger with no prior warning at the drop of a dime. For years, I watched in fear for my own life and the lives of my children until I finally admitted to myself that I did not feel safe. My mother and I had been estranged for a couple years when she passed away.

My mother’s death was officially listed as an accidental overdose of prescription drugs. My mother suffered from a lot of maladies and had medicine for all of them. She took dozens of different medications over the course of the day. Presumably, she had taken her medication for the day, forgotten, taken them again, forgotten and repeated this pattern multiple times before succumbing to an overdose.

I do not believe it was an accident. My mother had always been meticulous with her medication, separating it into containers designating not only days of the week, but times of the day, as well, so that she never missed a dose. 

I believe she killed herself that Thanksgiving morning 10 years ago and that, in the process, she robbed my holidays from me. 

Every year now when the holidays roll around, I struggle to enjoy them. My entire holiday season is marred by her loss.

I love her. Everything I do during the holidays comes directly from her. Yet she also hurt me worse than any other person ever has and made me feel largely unsafe in this world. She wasn’t all bad. I miss her. I feel guilty for not being there when she died. There’s an emptiness in my heart that nothing seems to fill, yet I also carry so much anger towards her. From Thanksgiving through New Years, my emotions are continuously all over the place, repeatedly being pulled one way then the other. I want to be happy, be festive, to enjoy the holidays with my family, but it’s a constant struggle.

It’s become a matter of taking everything one day at a time, sometimes one minute at a time. Allowing myself to feel everything that I am feeling because all my feelings are valid. And accepting that sometimes I’m just not in the right mindset and I need to pull back, regroup and recharge. I have learned to be gentle with myself. I do what I can when I can, and forgive myself for the things I am just not able to do during the holidays. I do my best to live in the moment and embrace the joy, but I don’t pretend that the darkness isn’t still lurking in the shadows, as well. It isn’t easy, but it is better to acknowledge and face all of my feelings, good and bad, than to shove them down deep inside and pretend they aren’t there. I celebrate when I can and step away when I cannot.

After all, none of us has to be festive all of the time — especially when we are not feeling it.

Republished on MSN on 11/20/2020.

Republished on Zenith News on 11/19/2020.

Republished on The Mental Guide on 11/2020.

My Grief and Loss Is Intertwined With My Mentally Illness

I admittedly don’t know what loss and grief are like for most people. I have been battling my mental illnesses my entire life, so I don’t know what it is like to exist without them. Whenever I hear people offering their condolences and reassuring others that it gets easier over time, I can’t help but wonder if that’s actually the truth for some people because I know it is not a universal truth. Things most assuredly don’t ever feel like they get any better for me.

I have struggled with many types of loss throughout my life. Loss of innocence stolen too soon. Loss of safety and security. Loss of home, relationships, friends. Loss of babies who grew inside me but never got to take a first breath. Loss of both my parents a decade ago. And most recently, the loss of both of my emotional support animals. To say I am intimately familiar with the feelings of loss and grief is an understatement.

My depression often leaves me teetering between periods when I am raw and over-emotional, feeling everything too strongly, and periods where I shut down and am numb to the world, unable to process any emotion at all. Because of this, my grief often comes in waves. When there’s a lull in the storm of emotions, I often assume my heart has begun to mend, only to have it tear wide open again as another wave hits. My numbness deceives me into believing the worst is over for days at a time, only to awaken one day feeling raw and overwhelmed once again. And as is often the case with rough seas during a storm, multiple waves often crash seemingly at once, as older pain rides in on the heels of new.

My anxiety makes me question every loss I have experienced and meter out assumed personal accountability for ever heartache I have ever experienced. I over-analyze and criticize myself for things I have convinced myself after the fact that I could have, should have done differently. I find myself worried again and again that my actions or inaction will repeat the patterns of old losses and create new ones. Yet, instead of those fears promoting change, they often spark my fight or flight response, causing me to flee. Or worse yet, I become like a deer frozen in the headlights, terrified that any choice I make, to stay or to go, to act or not act, will ultimately be wrong.

My PTSD has caused me to relive some of the more traumatic losses of my life multiple times over the years. When those moments are triggered again in my memory, it is as if I am reliving those experiences again in real time. Having a flashback of old losses renews and resets the whole trauma for me.

It is not that I am dwelling on the pain and losses of my life. I try to focus on positivity as often as possible. I have a mental wellness toolbox full of techniques and exercises intended to help keep me grounded and centered. I spend time with family and friends, partake in hobbies and activities, and otherwise attempt to distract my mind from the pain I often feel. I thoroughly embrace and practice the art of self-care. I never sit home intentionally focused on those feelings of loss and grief. Yet somehow, those emotions seem to know about every crack in my armor, seem to always find a way back in.

I am not intentionally avoiding facing my grief and loss, either. I have spent many hours over the years talking about my feelings in therapy. I have further processed my emotions many times over by writing about them and the impact they have had on my life. I am not walling myself up, building an unfeeling facade that cracks under the pressure of pain. I have attempted numerous times to process my emotions, to rationalize with myself and heal. But the healing never comes.

I have allowed myself to feel both sorrow and rage. I have forgiven myself and others. I have accepted that I cannot change the past. I have done every single cliched suggestion thrown out there about moving on and letting go.

I want to heal. I don’t want to keep hurting over so much in life. But I honestly don’t know how to shut any of it off. Every time I think it is over, another wave hits or a different wave. It could be a few hours, a few days, sometimes as long as a week. But those waves of grief and loss always manage to find me, old waves and new, compounding on each other and seemingly ever-increasing as my heart develops new cracks.

And the moments are so seemingly random and sporadic that there’s no way to brace for them or adequately prepare.

My fiance and I were binge-watching old seasons of Hell’s Kitchen and came upon an episode where the contestants were preparing a dinner service for a young lady’s sweet sixteen. As quick and as simply as flipping a switch, my entire mood and demeanor shifted. One moment, we were laughing and joking, engrossed in the show. The next, my eyes were welling up with tears. I couldn’t stop thinking about how I never got my sweet sixteen, the sweet sixteen my mother had promised me for years. Three months before my sixteenth birthday, my father walked out on our family and cut all ties. I tried numerous times between that February and my birthday in April to get in touch with him but he always dodged my calls. I called up his work on the day of my birthday, sure that he wouldn’t deny me on that day, only to hear him in the background tell his co-worker “tell her I’m not here”. My sixteenth birthday was the first time I tried to kill myself.

Just like that, every emotion, every feeling of heartbreak and loss came rushing back.

My fiance lost his father to cancer shortly after we got together. The cancer, the hospice, everything triggered the loss of my father again and again. He’s still grieving the loss of both his parents and every time I attempt to comfort him and ease his pain, my own grief for the loss of my own parents renews.

For the last decade, I had two sugar gliders registered through my doctors as emotional support animals. I could take them everywhere with me, which helped immensely with both my depression and anxiety. One passed away roughly three months ago, the other last week. Losing them was like losing part of my heart. I cried inconsolably and went numb in waves, sobbing until my eyes ran dry and my voice went hoarse more than once. I watched the clock with pained precision, unsure what to do with myself each day when feeding time rolled around. I beat myself up horrendously for the fact that they passed at all, as if I could have spared them old age and death by sheer willpower alone. The truth is that they hadn’t been sick at all. They were just old and the time runs out for all of us eventually. Yet I still felt to blame for them not living longer, not living forever. I found myself taking in two sugar glider rescues last night, not because I was over the loss of my Lilo and Stitch or because I assumed they would fill the hole that loss left in my heart, but simply because I desperately needed that distraction. I needed new babies to keep me busy, new babies to love and to care for, a new purpose to keep going. Their adoption was bittersweet, though, because I am still raw from losing my other babies. But at least when feeding time rolls around again, I have something to focus on other than my grief.

An old friend from high school killed himself. The last time I spoke to him was less than a week before he died. Whenever I think of him, I wonder whether he would still be here today if I had said anything differently or called to check on him again. It doesn’t matter that we had grown somewhat apart over the years, living separate lives, and barely talked anymore. We used to be close so I feel responsible because I didn’t maintain that friendship better, didn’t reach out more, didn’t try harder. The rational part of my brain knows that line of thinking is irrational, but a larger part of my brain and my heart just won’t let go of those thoughts.

So many things can set off waves of grief, some large and obvious, others seemingly small and trivial. I’ve found myself sobbing uncontrollably over Hallmark commercials or sights and sounds, songs or movies that reignite memories. Empathizing with the pain of others reignites my own. As simple as that, in a flash, those feelings refresh and the grief is renewed. I can be fine one moment, laughing and joking, and be biting the inside of my cheeks the next in a futile effort to fight back tears.

I know mental illness is a liar and a master manipulator, capable of twisting truths and spinning lies. I know deep down that I am not responsible, directly or indirectly, for many of the losses in my life and that hindsight is 20/20. But my rational side knowing these things does not stop these emotions from flowing or my grief from being felt. And therein lies the problem. I can rationalize all I want but I cannot shut these feelings off.

Perhaps I’m just wired differently. Perhaps I’ve been broken too many times, been cracked to the core so often that I am incapable of fully healing. Perhaps some wounds just never heal. I honestly don’t know. I just feel like I’m in perpetual mourning, eternally haunted by every loss I’ve experienced in my life, whether one at a time or intertwined and flowing as one.

I honestly don’t know if those promises that things will get better is an old wives tale, something people just say when the silence becomes too heavy and they need some words, any words, to cut the tension and the pain in the room. I don’t know if for some people it does actually get better over time. I just know that for me, as someone struggling with mental illness, grief and loss never seem to fully go away.

Life Happens..

They say life happens, whether it happens while we’re making other plans or it happens so we must deal with it or one of many other overused cliches meant to help usher us into reality.  I’m not quite sure who “they” are but they definitely hit the nail on the head with this one.  Life happens without a doubt.

My writing has been put on a back burner for a couple months now.  Both my ongoing blogs and the books I have in the works have been delayed.  It is not that I have lost interest or my passion or that I have run out of topics to write about.  Far from it. My mental health and my journey towards mental wellness are still very much a priority and are nothing I would ever give up.  Life just happened.

On a high note – after almost a year battling my insurance company over covering my Deplin, I finally won my last external appeal.  CDPHP has yet to start paying for it, but it has been deemed medically necessary by outside sources with the ability to overrule their decision.  It is a huge victory and more than worthy of a large celebratory post, but again, life happened.

On a very low and tragic note, I have hit some painfully rough waters with the man I love.  There is no need for anyone to prepare themselves for the drama or heartache of a love grown sour for we are still very much together.  Our relationship is truly one of the best things in my life right now.  It was a different sort of heartache.

His father had been ill.  Terminally ill.  We understood he did not have much more time with us, but we had expected much more than what we had been given.  It went so quickly from an untimely fall to a trip to the emergency room to the intensive care unit to hospice.  No one was ready.  I know that no one is ever truly ready for such a loss but it all happened so quickly.  Too quickly.

I’ve spent the last year deconstructing and reconstructing myself piece by piece.  I’m by no means back together quite yet.  I am a work in progress in every way.  But everything going on with myself was cast aside on the back burner so that I could be there for the man I love.  There wasn’t even a question in my mind.  I had to be there.

The man I love is a good man.  Beyond good, in my opinion, but I’m far from impartial. He has been through a lot in his life – we are kindred spirits in that sense.  He has such a warm, loving and compassionate heart.  And life had torn it clear in two.  Nothing, not my writing nor even my own well-being, was as important to me as being there however I could for him.

This was his Dad.  He had already lost his mother a few years ago and was still recovering from that.  Losing both parents leaves a hole, an emptiness that nothing else can ever truly fill.  Life had rendered him an orphan.  I knew that feeling all too well and I could not leave him to face it alone.

Hospice itself was beyond agonizing.  Nothing in life can prepare you for watching someone who was once larger than life slowly fade away.  I’ve been there myself, as well. Hospice is where my father spent his final days as his cancer ate him alive.  Though every moment of the days in hospice with his father held me in a death grip, threatening to pull me back into the past with my father, there was nowhere else I could be but at his side while he spent his final days with his own.

Next came going through the motions of the final preparations and the flurry of condolences that come with a great loss.  Though the words are heartfelt and well-meaning, they cannot even begin to penetrate the numbness that comes with the realization that someone who has always been there is truly gone.  I understood completely how he felt and where he was mentally and emotionally because I have been there myself.  It is a feeling you never forget.

As they often say – “When it rains, it pours”.  Life was not satisfied with dealing that one large heart-wrenching blow.  The last couple months provided a steady barrage of ill-timed hardships to rival even the most depressing country or blues song.  His truck – the last vehicle his mother had driven – needed work to pass inspection and stay on the road. His boat – left to him by his father as a reminder of better days and a multitude of fishing trips together – wouldn’t start and needed repairs.  His cat – given to him by his parents to help him through rough times in his past – was injured and needed to go to the vet.  It was as if every aspect of his life that was tied to his parents was collapsing and crumbling under the weight of the tragedy of his father.

Add to the mix us scrambling to find a place together.  Neither of us could continue to stay where we have each been nor did we honestly want to live separately any longer. One of the only truths we have embraced during these very uncertain times is that we not only wanted but that we NEEDED to be together.  In the short time we’ve been a couple, we’ve become a rock for each other, that light we each cling to when trying to find our way out of the darkness. We understand each other in ways no one else ever has and find a comfort in one another that has been lacking from our lives.  We belong together.

We eventually found a place in his old stomping ground out in the country, literally next door to where he had lived a few years prior.  It is a small place and I’m honestly not sure how we will fit everything into it, but we will manage.  It is familiar territory for him and we are together.  It is home.

Since moving in, we honestly have not been as productive as we probably should have striven to be, but we both needed some downtime to catch our breath, recuperate and heal.  Life has been overwhelming and we both honestly needed a break.  Some avenues of our life have suffered a bit but we have been doing our best to keep going, take care of ourselves and each other.

Life happens.  I’m numb to it at this point.  I’m honestly not sure how I have managed to not crumble into a million tiny pieces by now but somehow I’m still going.  I have to keep going because he needs me there.  Like me, he is an orphan now.  I have to keep going because I need to take care of myself, as well.  We will be okay, though.  We HAVE to be okay because in each other we have finally found what we’ve both been missing in our lives.  We are both seriously overdue for our happily ever after.

We are going to get through this, get past it.  We are going to find some way to heal and to keep going.  We are going to be okay.  We will survive and we will be okay.

They say to fake it until you make it, to keep telling yourself things until you believe it and it becomes truth.  Again, I don’t know who “they” are, but they’ve been right about everything else so I’m hoping this pans out as well.  I shall embrace my hopes for future wellness as my mantra, repeating them in the hope that in time they become reality. Because life has definitely happened and we need more than anything to be okay again.

The Meds Crash..

What Happens When Your Insurance Company Won’t Cover the Medications Needed for Your Mental Health

In the last year, I have made so many positive strides in my ongoing fight to get in front of my mental illness and to be in a healthier place.  I not only have begun finally opening up, writing and talking about my struggles with depression, anxiety and p.t.s.d., I have begun therapy at a wonderful facility that uses a multi-pronged treatment plan to combat mental illness, involving not only traditional treatments such as therapy and medication management but also incorporating unconventional tools such as yoga, meditation and art into the mix to help people heal mind, body and soul.  Perhaps the greatest stride forward I have made, however, happened thanks to a genetic test my new doctors gave me that identified a genetic mutation I possessed that has been the linchpin blocking all previous attempts at medication and treatment.  Due to this genetic mutation, my liver is incapable of metabolizing folic acid, a simple b vitamin used by the brain to help transport the chemicals needed to help moderate my moods and depression.  It is a fairly simple fix because there is an already broken-down version of folic acid on the market, a synthetic version that can help my brain to function properly – something it has never been able to do on it’s own, due to my genetic mutation.  However, the simple yet life-changing fix has been completely derailed by my insurance company, CDPHP, that refuses to cover it.

My doctor had been providing me with samples of the broken-down folic acid, also known as l-methylfolate or by the prescription name Deplin, for the last seven months.  While it is in no way a panacea that would make my mental illness disappear, it made a world of a difference.  I had more clarity, was able to focus better and function more.  I was able to fight back tears and move forward, face fears and be productive in ways I previously never imagined possible.  I found myself able to genuinely smile and experience happiness.  Despite the fact that I was going through one of the rockiest times in my life, I had real hope.  It was the beginning of a new life, a new world for me.

Yet despite how much of a breakthrough I had achieved on many levels thanks to this medication, CDPHP continues to refuse to cover it, deeming it unnecessary.  My doctor had a drawer full of samples to keep me going while we began our fight for coverage.  I had been filing appeals, reaching out for help, fighting with every ounce of energy and courage that I could muster, completely due to the Deplin helping my antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications get where they were needed in my brain, something they could never do on their own because I had always been medication resistant due to my genetic mutation.

…And then the samples ran out.

…And my internal appeal for coverage by CDPHP was denied.

It has been a week since I have had any Deplin in my system.  Where I was previously up before seven in the morning every day, up for breakfast and ready to start my day, I can’t seem to pull myself up out of bed again.  Today, it was almost eleven before I even got out of bed.  Less than twenty minutes later, I was back in bed, wrapped in my blanket, wondering why I was even bothering.  Each day, it becomes increasingly harder to do anything at all.

Even the simplest conflicts feel unbearable again.  I find myself panicking and breaking down into tears over even the smallest bumps in the road.  Where previously I was convinced that I could somehow figure things out and find a way, I don’t feel like I can deal with anything right now.  I’m afraid to go out, to leave my room, because I have no control over my emotions or my tears anymore.  My mind is racing again, I cannot focus, I cannot sleep, I have no desire to eat, no desire to do anything.  I feel like I’m in a constant panic, one word away from breaking down into tears again.

It is like I had entered a Renaissance, a beautiful world full of progress and hope, only to be kicked back into the darkness of the stone age.

I have an external appeal yet to file with the state but I don’t know if I can do it.  I don’t know if I have the strength.  My mind keeps asking me why bother?  Everything feels hopeless.  The battle feels lost.  All I want to do is climb back in bed and cry.  That other world, that one where I was smiling, where I felt hopeful, feels like another world, another life, just a dream.  I’m terrified I’ll never find my way back to that person again.  Sitting out in public, typing this out, I cannot stop the tears from flowing, cannot find my way back to the person I was even a week ago when I believed that things were going to be okay, when I believed in hope.

This story began with Fighting for My Mental Health on 1/13/17.

mightylogoRepublished on The Mighty on 5/11/17.

The Downward Spiral of Depression

The hardest thing to cope with for anyone that suffers from depression is the downward spiral.  It could be triggered by something big and life-changing or a series of small things.  What begins the spiral is irrelevant.  It is the feelings associated with the spiraling down that makes it so devastating.

The feelings of hopelessness and despair become overwhelming.  Depression will strike out at all those weak spots, targeting them with a barrage of absolute negatives, reminding me that I have no one and that nothing will ever get better, nothing will ever work out.  My rational side that usually fights to keep those feelings at bay is cast aside, nowhere to be found.

Mentally, I feel like I’m flailing, free-falling, with nothing to grab onto, nothing to catch myself on or to break my fall.  The world feels like it is slipping through my fingers though I keep desperately reaching out, hoping to find something, someone to cling to so I am not alone in this darkness.  My head is spinning, dizzy from my spiraling fall down.

Again and again my brain will tell me of course this has happened and ask what else could I have expected?  My mind is flooded with all I’ve gone through, all that’s gone wrong in my life.  I try not to listen and to push all those feelings, thoughts and memories aside but I feel like a failure, a loser, a waste of space.  I feel guilty for burdening everyone with my problems and my mess of a life.  I beat myself up terribly as I spiral downward because I can see nothing of value, nothing worth loving in myself. I have trouble understanding how anyone could love me, like me or even want me around.  It is not a pity party.   I honestly hate who I am as I spiral down.

The tears flow and my body quakes.  I try desperately to hold it in, to not make a sound.  I don’t want to burden anyone else with my issues or my pain.  My leg is bouncing a mile a minute as I desperately try to stave off a panic attack induced by these endless waves of hopelessness.  I can’t even close my mouth because I’m shaking so badly that my teeth chatter when I do.  I clench my eyes closed tightly to push out the tears as they continue to pour.  When I open my eyes, I see the world through the blur of watery dots.

Again and again I blow my nose.  I have no idea how I make so much mucus.  I am slumped over, wracked with sobs, clinging tightly to my blanket, wishing it was somebody, anybody, that could hold me back, hold me tightly, make these feelings go away.  My entire body aches, not just from my sobbing but from how lost and alone I feel.  My chest is tight like a weight has been placed there.  I have trouble catching my breath in between sobs.  I feel raw and full of despair.

Times like this honestly frighten me more than anything else.  Though I am not currently suicidal, when I spiral down that ledge comes clearly into view.  It always seems to beckon me when I can see it, tempting me, promising me peace, a way out, a way for the pain to end.  I can feel its presence in the back of my head, that little kernel, calling to me, beckoning me, promising its own sickly sweet release from my torment.

I have walked that ledge before.  I have been tempted by its charms.  I have listened to its siren song and wanted to give up, give in, be free.  I can’t let it have me again, though.  I can’t give up.  I must stay strong.  As much as I am tired, so very tired, of feeling this way, I need to keep fighting.  I can never give in.

The hardest part of spiraling down is that desperate climb back up.  Climbing away from the promise of a peaceful end back up into the viper’s den, back into the torment that I call my life with depression.  Digging in my fingers and my heels and climbing back up, telling myself lies that things will get better, trying to convince myself that others need me and that I have to hold on and be strong.

I feel like such a liar telling myself things will be better because the struggle feels like it never ends.  Life is a series of numb days where I have trouble functioning and agonizing days where I spiral down and have to fight for my life to pull myself back up, peppered here and there with days that aren’t too bad but that I know are fleeting because I always end up back at one extreme or another.  I desperately want to remain hopeful and to believe in better days, better health, a better life but this has always been all that I’ve ever known.

I’d love to tell you that these agonizing, hopeless days are few and far in between, but I strive to tell the ugly truth about my struggles with mental illness, not spin beautiful fairy tales with happily ever afters.  The truth is that this is a regular occurrence when suffering from depression.  Sometimes these feelings last hours, other times days.  The spiral could appear once a week or again and again, for days on end.  I never know what will trigger it, how long it will last or when it will rear its head again.  Eventually, I cry all I can cry, the agonizing pain throughout my body begins to turn into a dull ache and I find myself numb again as my mind and body shut down to recuperate.

Those who have never experienced depression assume that we just feel sad sometimes, maybe cry a little more than average, that it’s something in our heads and we’re just not trying hard enough to be happy.  I wish more than anything they could understand that depression is so much more than some extra tears.  It is a constant fight with my own brain to not give up, not give in and continue living even though the world around me feels completely hopeless and not worth the effort.  When my depression begins to spiral down, it is an agonizing, terrifying ordeal.

mightylogoRepublished on The Mighty on 11/14/16.

Honoring the One that Got Away

Everyone has at least one person they remember fondly as “the one that got away”.  Looking back, I honestly think I have a few.  However, it is that very first one that got away that will forever stick with me and haunt me.

I knew him back in high school.  We met during my junior year when I was moved downstate to live with my sister.  When we met, we both were with other people, but we clicked instantly.  He was that larger than life, walks to the beat of his own drum type of guy that just seemed perfect in every way.  I admittedly had the biggest crush on him.  We seemed forever drawn together, walking that fine line of innocent flirtation while staying loyal to the people we were with at the time.  It was a puppy love level of infatuation for me, the likes of which teenage rom-coms are made from.

One fateful weekend, I had gotten in a fight with my then-boyfriend and he had ended the relationship.  Likewise, my crush had just split from his on-again, off-again girlfriend.  Our window had been opened, albeit very briefly.  Our group of friends hung out that weekend but we gravitated directly towards one another.  We found ourselves leaning on each other in our shared heartache.  We talked and talked and eventually we kissed.  That night felt like perfection to my teenage self.

Within a few days, we both ended up back with our respective exes.  Our window had closed and would never reopen for us again.  I cannot regret it because my high school sweetheart and I would have our daughter a couple years later.  Yet, part of me always held tightly to that night and pondered the what ifs.  If I had to only choose one person to hold the title of the one that got away, it would be him.

What lingered even moreso than the kiss were his words that night.  I had never had anyone be so sweetly kind, compassionate and encouraging towards me before.  He had gone on and on, telling me what a fool my ex was for ever letting me go.  He assured me I was smart, funny, beautiful, creative, wonderful in every way.  He told me I deserved so much better in life and that I should never settle, that I deserved to be happy and be with someone who cherished me and treated me right.  By the time he was done, I felt as if I was perched precariously on a pedestal I did not deserve.

He had said every single thing every woman longs to hear, yet at the time I could not believe any of it because I had already begun my spiral into depression and self-loathing.  I was convinced he had only said those things to be nice, out of some strange obligation to make me feel better.  Yet for years I clung tightly to those words, cherishing them as something I longed to be true, that one day I might be worthy of his words.

As years passed, we talked less and less and eventually lost touch.  I was trying my damnedest to escape my past and, regrettably, that meant losing anyone connected to it, as well.  The last time we spoke, we shared pictures of our children and stories about our lives.  We laughed and joked like no time had passed because that was always our way.  We never talked about our one night, not then, not ever.  He talked so passionately about teaching and fatherhood.  He seemed honestly happy.  My life was far from there but I painted on a smile and wore that mask to reassure him that I was doing peachy, as well.

We never had a chance to speak again.  A little over a year later, he killed himself.  Apparently, he was an expert at wearing a mask, as well.  He had been struggling with depression himself for years.  We were more alike than I had ever realized.

I didn’t even find out until almost two years after his death.  It tore me apart in so many ways.  I had an irrational guilt I could not shake because I kept feeling like I should have been there, been a better friend.  I got drunk for the first time ever because I needed so badly to escape myself and my feelings, even if just for a night.  I couldn’t stop crying.  I kept wondering why, when I had walked that edge myself so many times, he was the one dead while I was still alive.  It felt so unfair.

My mind kept going back to that one beautiful, fateful night and all those amazingly wonderful things he had said.  He saw so much in me even when I could not see it myself.  I had always cherished those words and prayed that one day I would be able to be that person, to find some truth in them.

There are no words or actions that could ever bring him back.  You cannot change the past.  I found myself longing to do something, anything, in remembrance of him, something that would honor his memory.  I will continue to write and to reach out to others struggling with depression, but that is a mission I began even before feeling the pain of his loss.  While he will forever be on my mind now whenever I talk anyone off that ledge, he deserves something more personal and meaningful than that.

Again, I find myself back at his words that night.  I have decided I shall embrace them fully, repeat them all daily as my mantra until they become my reality.  I will learn to love myself and to see myself as the woman he believed me to be all those years ago.  I will fight harder than I have ever fought to overcome my demons because he once saw a beautiful light in me and I refuse to snuff that light out.

I will embrace myself and love myself fully.  I will see the intelligence, beauty and worth in myself.  I will no longer settle nor will I let anyone ever again treat me like I am less than a person.  I will learn to treat myself with as much kindness and compassion as I have always shown others and I will learn to forgive myself for not being perfect.

I used to think I wanted more than anything for his words to be true.  Truthfully, what I want more than anything is to have him back and to make things right.  Unfortunately, I cannot unring that bell so I shall settle for making his words into reality so a little piece of him will forever live on in me.

To that place where beautiful dreams go to die, I send lovingly to Matt: A piece of my heart will always be yours and will always love you.  It is that piece that I shall use to love myself, as well, for you saw it all in me before I could ever see it in myself.

 yourtango

Republished on Your Tango on 12/1/16.

Irrational Survivors Guilt

I recently reconnected with a small handful of friends from my high school years.  Though they had been amazing friends in so many ways, I had distanced myself from them because they were loosely tied to a past I wanted so desperately to forget.  I naively believed that if I left all of it behind me, pushed it into a closet or under the bed and pretended it didn’t exist, it wouldn’t be able to hurt me anymore.

After everything happened with my mother shooting my father, I was sent downstate to live with my sister for a little over a year.  During that time, I was blessed to meet some of the most incredible friends someone lost in my personal turmoil could have ever hoped for in life.  We were an odd assortment of misfits that just clicked.  Some of my happiest memories of that time were spent with them on Saturday mornings, helping them pick music to put on the air for a weekend radio show, getting happy meal toys with our lunches and wearing silly props from the party store.

When I was bounced around back upstate, we all tried keeping in touch at first.  As my life got increasingly hard, I began pulling away from them, though.  In part, I was ashamed of how much of a mess I had become.  Because of events I had no control over, I had gone from being an honor student to living on the street.  But a bigger part of me was in full flight mode.  I hoped if I ran far enough, fast enough, away from my past, I could somehow escape it.  Though they were not a part of the trauma, our friendship became yet another casualty of it.

Here and there over the years, we’d connect briefly and exchange pleasantries, catch each other up on the here and now.  But our exchanges were always brief because I had never stopped running.  If I stopped to let anyone in, my past might catch up with me and I was too terrified to risk that happening.  Eventually, we lost touch completely.

Life in the past year has changed so drastically, though.  I have gone to the edge and somehow miraculously lived to tell the tale.  I have found my voice and begun to write, to talk about all I’ve been through and to face my demons.  As fate may have it, one of these amazing friends from my past stumbled onto me through my author page.  It was incredible to reconnect with one, then another.  I had finally stopped running and I longed to talk to them all, to reconnect, to apologize and to invite them back into my life with open arms.  I was healthier now.  I was no longer ashamed of my past.  I had gained so much perspective in life that I couldn’t wait to share with them all.

…and then the other shoe dropped.

I was informed that the third amigo of the trio of guys who had made that time in my life more bearable and kept me from collapsing when my entire life had imploded had killed himself a couple years ago.  I won’t go into the details that were shared because they are a deeply personal thing and have no place being thrown out there, but this news crushed me.  I know I hadn’t spoken to him in years, but it ate at me just the same.

I’ve struggled with depression myself.  I know that beast well.  I’ve walked that line of wanting to give up, wanting to give in, wanting more than anything for that pain to stop.  I know what it’s like walking through life wearing a mask, smiling to convince others you’re okay while you’re dying inside.  And I know what it feels like to have only two gears – either that soul-crushing agony that rips you apart inside or that complete numbness that makes you question why you’re even bothering to hold on anymore.  I’ve walked that path alongside him without ever knowing that he was there.

I will always remember him as this larger than life, creative and passionate guy that could always make everyone laugh.  I had such a crush on him years ago.  He had this flirtatious spirit, these eyes that pulled you in and this smartass smile that made all the girls swoon.  I’ll never forget that one day years ago when we found ourselves making out in the backseat of our friend’s car, sure in our teenage naivety that if we did it under a jacket, no one would notice.  I’ll always remember the last time we talked and how passionate he was about teaching and making a difference in the world.   He had such an amazing heart and such a kind soul.  The world truly needed him in it.

I find myself beating myself up even though I know I’m being irrational.  Realistically, there was no way I could have known.  Part of me keeps thinking, though, that I should have been there, should never have pulled away in the first place.  Maybe if I had been there, I would have seen something, been able to say something, made some sort of a difference.  That rational side of me also knows that I was in a different place a couple years ago, still drowning in my own depression.  I’m not sure I could have made a difference to anyone because I barely mattered to myself at that point.  But a huge part of me is caught in that “shoulda, woulda, coulda” loop of blame, feeling like I failed in some way because I didn’t know, wasn’t there.

I know I’m taking this personally because I’ve recently been so close to the edge myself, but I can’t stop thinking that this should not have happened.  There is no reason in this world why someone like him should have felt so lost, so alone, that he felt suicide was his only option.  I wish I could find a way to go back, say something, do something, change things.  Save him.  Let him know he wasn’t alone.  Let him know I’ve been there, too.  I understand.  Tell him that it would be okay.  Promise him that I’d be there, that he wouldn’t have to face life alone.

But I know how depression works.  It twists everything into absolute negatives.  It convinces you that NOBODY understands, NO ONE cares, NOTHING will ever get better.  It doesn’t matter if you’re surrounded by friends and family that love you.  Depression isolates you and makes you feel completely alone.

The truth is that what’s done is done.  All the “shoulda, woulda, couldas” in the world cannot change it.  No matter how much I wish I could change the past, I cannot unring that bell.  No matter how much I beat myself up for not being there, it’ll never bring him back.  The world has suffered a terrible loss.  It has lost a man that loved music and laughter and wanted to make a difference and change the world.

I’m truly sorry Matt that I was not there for you when you needed someone.  I’m so sorry you spent your last moments feeling alone and without hope.  You deserved better out of life.  You deserved a better friend in me.

Please know that every time I encourage someone to keep fighting, not not give up, not give in, that in my heart I will forever be speaking directly to you, wishing I could have saved you from that ledge, pulled you back in time.  The world has lost too much already.  It cannot afford to lose any more.

For all you once meant to me Matt and all I should have been there for you, I am truly sorry.  Words cannot even begin to express how sorry I truly am.  I love you sweetie.  I’m so truly sorry I wasn’t there.

 

mightylogoRepublished on The Mighty on 9/28/16.

Removing Toxins

Everything that is toxic can kill you.  Some work quickly, dropping their victims almost immediately.  However, not all toxins are fast-acting.  Some build up slowly over time.  But they are all poisons and, regardless of the speed in which they work, all will eventually kill you.

When most people think of toxins, they think of chemical compounds to avoid, which could make you seriously ill or even lead to death.  However, the world is full of people and things that can be toxic to us, that can slowly kill parts of us, our hearts, minds and souls.

So many people are toxic to us.  They are the ones who blow us off repeatedly or like to knock us down so they can raise themselves up in life.  They are the people that refuse to accept our diagnosis and accuse us of being drama queens when we try to talk about our feelings.  They are the manipulators, abusers and narcissists who twist their words and actions so that we internalize their bad behavior as somehow our fault.  They are the ones we call our “friends”, “family” and “lovers”, but never act the part.  They are the people we have invested our time and heart into loving, yet they only bring negativity back into our lives.  They are toxic.

There are thoughts and behaviors that are dangerously unhealthy.  When we take responsibility for and beat ourselves up over the actions of others believing ourselves to be at fault for things we had no say in or control over, we are slowly poisoning our soul.  When we accept the cruelness of others as truth, believing ourselves to be damaged, broken, unlovable and unwanted because others have told us so, we are slowly destroying our heart by believing we do not deserve to be loved.   Every time we give up control to our mental illnesses, surrendering to our demons, we are killing a part of who we are.  All those negative thoughts we allow to creep in and take over, pushing us to believe all hope is lost, are toxic.

We make choices all the time that are toxic to us.  When we rely on food, sex or substances for artificial highs or to make us forget reality, we are poisoning ourselves.  When we accept failure as the only possible outcome so we become too afraid to even try anything anymore, we have accepted defeat before we have even begun. When we choose to invite people back into our lives who have hurt us before, opening the door to allow them to hurt us again, we are inviting poison back into our lives, as well.  Whenever we make poor choices that we know will ultimately kill us, we are being toxic to ourselves.

People who want to live long, healthy lives do not go around drinking bleach or drain cleaner.  We know it will kill us.  We put warning labels on them and take great care when they’re around.  We warn our children not to touch them, never to drink them because poisons can kill.  Yet, when it comes to toxic people, behaviors and thoughts, we welcome them in with open arms, in turn teaching our children by example that they are all okay to have in our lives.

I know it hurts to remove those fixtures from our lives, even if they are not good for us.  We are nostalgic creatures at heart.  We try to rationalize holding onto people and things that are corrosive because we crave the familiar and the comfortable, even if it is not healthy for us.  We need to start weighing the good and the bad and acknowledge whenever the negatives outweigh the positives.  We need to look at how much time, effort, energy and love we put into relationships versus how much others are willing to give in return.  We need to be honest with ourselves when our thoughts and actions that are self-sabotaging, causing more pain than pleasure in our lives.

We need to work harder, not only for our own health but the health of our children, as well, to remove toxins from our lives.  We need to look at the people who constantly bring pain, drama and unhappiness into our lives and say “No more. You are not healthy for me. You need to go.”  We need to push aside our destructive thoughts and call them out for what they are – a product of our mental illness – liars who wish to break us from the inside out.  We need to catch ourselves when we make big decisions in life and question our own motives.  “Is this choice a healthy one?  Am I considering the ramifications of my actions? Am I likely to get hurt?”

We need to be more selective about who and what we welcome into our lives.  We need to be more proactive about removing anyone and anything that has been proven to be toxic.  We need to stop poisoning ourselves and stop allowing others to do it, as well.  We need to fight to become healthier.  More importantly, we need to teach our children how to be healthier.  Our first step is to begin removing everything and everyone that we’ve allowed to destroy and kill parts of us over the years.  After all, you cannot heal from a poison while it is still coursing through your veins or your life.

selfgrowth

Republished on SelfGrowth on 10/17/16.

Suicide Prevention Month Through the Eyes of Someone Who has been Suicidal

I feel I must begin by stating that I am not currently suicidal.  The constant bombardment of suicide chatter all month threatens to push me over the edge, though.

Please don’t get me wrong – I find it wonderful that the powers that be on social media have chosen a month to focus on suicide awareness.  There is so much stigma surrounding mental illness that anything that starts a dialogue is a blessing.  However, this month is extremely hard for me.  I have stood on that proverbial ledge and contemplated jumping.  This month is a steady reminder of how close I came to giving up.  Each new post or tweet renews those feelings, each time I speak up, I tear open old wounds.

When Suicide Awareness Month hits, I find myself confronted with the topic of suicide from all angles, inside and out.  Much like being surrounded by the sights and smells of delicious foods makes you hungry, the steady barrage of posts about suicide rubberbands my consciousness right back to that deep, dark place I struggle to avoid at all costs.  My mind is already inundated with thoughts of suicidal ideation, that little demon that tries to lure me in with abstract ideals.  That imp swears that death would be freeing, drifting away into peaceful nothingness away from all the pain.  I already struggle to push those thoughts away, choosing to continue my struggles rather than surrender to that beast.  Yet during September, I not only have to battle my own mind but external sources, as well.

I know I am in the unique situation to give an insight into suicide because I have attempted it myself.  I try to reach out and speak up when I am able because I understand how important it is to talk about, but it is draining beyond explanation.  Imagine taking your worst days, your biggest traumas, and rehashing them again and again for a month.  Imagine spending a month seeing those around you tweeting and retweeting about that pain, encouraging you to talk about it again and again.  My own mind already haunts me, tormenting me regularly with the traumas of my past.  On top of that, I am now bombarded with well-meaning people who want to discuss suicide. Many truly do not understand mental illness so they cannot comprehend how hard that conversation is for me to have once, let alone repeatedly over the course of the month.

I imagine things aren’t any easier for those who have lost someone to suicide.  Hearing the topic discussed for weeks must tear open the wounds and begin a month of steady mourning.  I see them, too, trying to speak up about their experiences and their loss.  Grieving is hard enough to do on your own terms without having to do it publicly again and again.  My heart always goes out to them.

I try to stay strong, to remain positive, to not let it eat at me, but that little demon already has ideation playing in my mind on a loop.  It doesn’t take much for suicidal thoughts themselves to start digging their way into my psyche, as well.  Each story shared by others is heart-wrenchingly relatable, each time I speak up, it’s beyond devastating.

As much as I want to get involved, to speak out and help others, I know my limits and cannot share as much as others may prefer or believe that I should.  I know the upcoming battles others face because I’ve fought them all before.  As much as I know this month is beneficial for so many, it is pure torture for me.  I spend the month feeling raw and glaringly alone.

Please be patient with the survivors of suicide, whether we kept living ourselves beyond our attempts or are people who have survived the loss of loved ones.  Talk to us and make sure we’re okay.  Keep us in your hearts, thoughts and prayers.  Speak up when we cannot.  This isn’t a battle just for the survivors of suicide.  It is important that everyone keeps living and keeps fighting so together we can make the world a better place.  Even one more life lost because someone feels worthless and alone is one life too many.

mightylogoRepublished on The Mighty on 9/11/16.

I’m Allowed to Say you Hurt Me..

I lost a friend recently and it tore my heart and soul in two.

 

I confess that after originally writing this blog, I deleted it.  I have since returned and gutted it, removing all details and leaving behind only vague sentiments because it kills me to think anything I’ve written about how I felt has hurt him.  I have since edited it multiple times, trying to find a balance between discussing my feelings and showing compassion towards someone who once meant a great deal to me.  The blog has, much like the friendship, been forever altered and lost along the way, a bare shell of what it once was.

I have bravely faced the traumas of my past, discussed rape and sexual abuse without flinching, written about the abuses I’ve endured through a wall of tears, all without backspacing or deleting a single word.  Yet somehow the thought of speaking a negative word about someone I once held so dear to my heart gave me pause and made me second guess myself and pull this blog from my site.

The truth of the matter was that, though I was hurting inside myself,  I feared hurting him and irreparably damaging our friendship more.  I’ve lost so much in life – I was terrified of losing him, too.  Despite how much his words and actions have hurt me, I still thought fondly of him and was overly protective, not wanting anyone to think poorly of him.  I still found myself wishing I could be there for him.  I wished things could be the way they used to be.  I missed having him in my life.

However the truth is that he hurt me terribly and damaged our friendship beyond repair.  I know I’ve done things that have hurt him, too, and for that I am truly sorry.  Unfortunately, though, some words once spoken cannot be taken back; Some actions cannot be undone.  I know it bothered him that I’ve written this about him, but I am allowed to say he hurt me.  I am allowed to say he has broken my heart.  And I am allowed to let go and walk away so that I can begin to heal and move on in life.

Please know that I wrote this not to hurt him but rather for my own healing because I can no longer hold my pain inside.  I wrote because my soul has been cracked and broken so thoroughly that holding this in would have shattered me.  I needed to let it out.   I also needed to pull away so I could process things and make sense of it all.  I need to heal.

Funny how I could live with my ex for eleven years, yet losing this friend left a bigger crater in my heart than my ex’s departure ever could.