Archives for category: grief

However much we love the people we love, however good the hearts of those around us, especially in such trying times, it’s not a reasonable expectation to think it will always be easy, or that we will always “get it right”, just because we want to (perhaps even more than we usually do). Sometimes an otherwise comfortable moment may skid sideways, and suddenly become a challenge, or moment of conflict, hurt, or sorrow. So human.

…I could say “deal with it” or “happens to everyone”, and try to shrug it off irritably. I’m not really that person, though, and more often, I simply retreat to “sort myself out” and cry for a few minutes. Generally just some handful of tears of frustration and disappointment, sometimes tears of hurt, or tears of anger. It’s true, though; I cry over shit. I used to be very strict with myself over crying, working furiously to shut it down, stuff it into a dark corner of my consciousness, wrap it up quickly, hide it, wiping those errant tears away as quickly as I could, before anyone could see them, splash some water on my face and move on with things. It was not a helpful approach. Now? Now I just go ahead with it, generally, and cry. (I often seek out some privacy for that purpose, because I also don’t find someone else’s intervention, disapproval, need to “fix” things, or whatever like that at all helpful in those moments, either; sometimes I just need to cry.)

I only bring it up because I often feel some better after having – and experiencing – my emotional moment. It matters to be present with those feelings. To feel and acknowledge them, without shame, without guilt, can be incredibly freeing, and a big step toward restoring balance.

Things in the world are pretty scary right now. The media isn’t doing much to help with that, with the ceaseless 24/7 COVID-19 coverage painting every news story as somehow “about” that, and presenting a picture of the world that somehow suggests there is nothing else newsworthy going on, at all. It’s a weird lens through which to view the world. Eventually, it may “get to you”. Go ahead. Have that moment. It’s okay to cry over it, too. Give yourself a break if you do; it’s a very human thing, and honestly, not at all harmful. 🙂 You may even feel a bit better for a while, having giving yourself a chance to feel it.

…Then, begin again. Move on from that moment. Let it go. Grief is a real emotion. Feel it when you feel it. It does not have to own you, or make you over in a new image. You can choose to let it go, when you’re ready.

I am sipping my coffee in the studio. Starting my day. It’s another work day. Another Tuesday. Another day in the time of pandemic. My Traveling Partner wakes early. We’re both struggling with physical pain, this morning. Rainy day ahead? Maybe. I don’t give myself the time to over think it; it is what it is. Another sip of coffee, and I do what I can to let even the mundanity of physical pain “just go”. (It’s not that effective, right now, and my results definitely vary on this point.) I breathe, exhale, and relax. Just another work day in the “new normal”.

I glance at the clock; already time to begin the day in earnest. (I’ve been making an effort to keep to my usual schedule for a sense of normalcy.) Time, in fact, to begin again. 😉

I was sipping my morning coffee in the dim of dawn, sun not yet peaking over the horizon. I was thinking about a friend who often seems to default to negative self-talk, and assumptions about others that are built on suspicion, fear, and mistrust. I know enough about my friend’s personal history to have some limited understanding why they would hold such a bleak perspective on life, relationships, and yes, even on the person in the mirror. I hold my friend in very high regard, and our mutual affection and appreciation has lasted many years…but even I am not immune to being the recipient of my friend’s mistrust, suspicion, and doubt.

My thoughts this morning, after recently having coffee together, were less about how uncomfortable it can feel to be viewed as an adversary, unexpectedly, and absent any input on my part to justify or support that view, and more about how unpleasant it must be to go through life that way, living in the context of some implicit certainty that everyone, eventually, is an enemy. It saddens me, and I struggle to balance my understanding and compassion with my feelings of helplessness and frustration – and lack of being understood clearly. My own communication challenges don’t make it easier. My own emotional baggage and personal history with relationships with other human primates don’t make it easier, either. I sipped my coffee, breathing, exhaling, relaxing, and consider my perspective, and where I can, also the perspective my friend expressed, with as much depth, and understanding, as I am able to do.

Perspective changes what we understand of the world.

I think back to articles I’ve read about mindfulness, and the handful of those that point out that undertaking a mindfulness practice can throw emotional health and balance into chaos for some people. I even accept that this is one of the potential experiences people may have; when we have adapted to darkness, the brightness of being flooded with light is not necessarily and immediately helpful, comfortable, or pleasant experience. Some of the things we keep to ourselves over a lifetime, dismissing our concerns, diminishing our sense of self, or building our narrative on a ton of self-serving made-up shit to compensate, perhaps, for the bleakness of our sense of doubt and futility, end up being powerful (and possibly successful) coping mechanisms for the hardest shit we don’t want to face – and having coped with, we don’t have to. Then along comes some “healthy” mindfulness practice that sounds awesome, that our friends are into, and we hop right into it, eager and enthusiastic… then, we find ourselves face to face with the darkness being dissipated by a light so bright we can’t see what it hides from us, and… we run, terrified and damaged, fearful of change, resisting what so bright a moment of illumination might really show us. After all, we’d coped with all that bullshit. We’d found a way. Now, here we are, facing our self, unexpectedly. Not always a pretty picture, and we’re not all ready for that.

Changing our own perspective doesn’t always feel comfortable. Whether or not “mindfulness” can be said to “work” is more than a little bit dependent on what we expect it to do, and whether that is what we actually want – or are ready for.

My friend and I talked about my journey, and theirs. We spoke of expectations, and of “reality”. My friend had, at one time, been a huge advocate for me finding my way to a more positive perspective on life. At that time, they seemed so unbelievably positive to me that it was hard to understand the thinking behind those words – wasn’t it a matter of “character” or personality? Wasn’t my personal history “real”, and sufficient to justify my chaos and damage… and negativity? Wasn’t my cynicism perfectly “reasonable”? Here I was sitting over coffee, after far too long out of touch, and I was the positive one, the contented one, the one bouncing back. My friend seemed overly negative, and out of touch with their own emotional experience, lacking in a certain authenticity and “presence”, that felt strangely dishonest and uncomfortable to me. The conversation came around to meditation, and mindfulness practices, generally. “All that’s bullshit,” my friend said firmly. “I tried that stuff back in the day, and it only made me cry a lot, and made me doubt my relationships.” I sat quietly listening (which can be difficult for me), then replied “What did your therapist say about that experience?” My friend answered abruptly, “I quit therapy. It was expensive, and kept making me doubt my place in the world, and my relationship with my partner.” She gestured vaguely, something like waving off that topic with her hand. “I didn’t need all that, I’m unhappy enough without help. Self-reflection bullshit just made me rethink everything. Who needs it?”

I keep turning the conversation over in my head, in the time since. So much of what she had shared seemed unhappy, and infused with a sense of having failed herself in some mysterious way, punctuated by occasionally accusations of some other person setting her up for failure. If she is so deeply unhappy in life, in her relationships, wouldn’t she expect self-reflection to hold up that mirror, and show her precisely that? Doesn’t that open the door to the potential that change could be made – chosen – and offer the chance to walk a different path?

No answers, this morning, really. Just questions, and self-reflection, and the illumination offered by shining a bright light into my own dark corners. There’s always an opportunity to begin again. 🙂 I am my own cartographer; I choose my path.

I am sipping my morning coffee, considering the walk I am eager to want to take. I’m “not there yet”. lol My muscles ache from pushing myself, already. I’m not bitching about it, and I’m not unhappy over it. Sore muscles are muscles working a bit harder, doing more things that need done, and becoming more capable of more work. Consistency is a requirement for forward progress; if I skip the walk today over sore muscles, I don’t make as much progress toward my goals, nor as quickly, so… at some point? Walking. I’m not looking forward to the walking itself, although I’d like to. I am in pain. The walking helps the pain in my back and my neck (osteoarthritis), but is less helpful with the bad ankle that has to support the weight. Without walking, the weight remains an issue. With the walking, the ankle is an issue. I’m not saying it as though this is an unsolvable conundrum, either, just saying that these complications are part of my experience. 🙂 There’s a metaphor here…

It’s a journey with a lot of steps.

We become what we practice. Emotionally and physically. There’s not a lot of room to argue on this one. Are you hot tempered, easily frustrated, quick to react, and tending to fall back on negative feedback and criticism to communicate your needs? Well, that’s the person you become, over time, in a fixed and rather predictably unpleasant way. Are you tender-hearted, prone to tears in the face of negative feedback, (whether or not it is accurate or well-intended, or useful at all) particularly when it comes from someone whose opinion you value? Same slope; you become more of who you already are, and what you choose to do with the toxicity of the world around you, because it is what you practice. You may get called a bitch when you demand that your agency be respected, or when you insist on not being interrupted in a meeting, but that lack of boundary-setting? It’s a practice, too.

…Also? Don’t be a dick. Don’t be a bitch. Don’t call someone names, either; how about we start there? Speak gently. Be clear, and also honest. “Stay in your lane” in the sense that not every opinion you have actually needs to be shared (particularly with regard to your aesthetic, and someone else’s appearance). Check your assumptions – a lot of them are wrong (the science is in on that) – and practice deep listening, instead of waiting for your turn to talk.

Does it sound like I’m venting aimlessly, about commonplace bullshit we all seem to engage in, if not regularly, then once in a while? Well… then I’ve failed to communicate clearly. I’ll try again…

Your words matter. Use them with care. If you are communicating with someone you say you love, communicate with love – real love, using words and tone that make it very clear that the love is first and foremost in your mind, rather than some momentary frustration. Our bitterness, our hurt, our anger – once shared, it’s out there. Shared with emotional force, and absent the love that may be part of our experience, it causes real harms, real doubts about our affection, and can undermine that love we cherish so much.

Don’t let the sun set on a treasured relationship without saying something encouraging, supportive, authentically affectionate – the smallest moment of authentic appreciation and praise can change the color of an entire day. I am fairly certain most of us share negative feedback with cherished others almost every day… imagine the crushing weight of all that criticism, all that negativity, the constant pressure to raise oneself up from beneath the weight of it… Let’s not do that. Let’s handle our words with greater care, ensuring that we take more time for what is positive and uplifting that we do for things we see as problems needing correction.

I challenge you to practice even a 1 to 1 ratio of (authentic) compliments and (sincere) encouragement to criticism and requests for change. I hope you find that incredibly easy (and succeed) – because people need more love and encouragement than that, and as starting points go, it’s a bare minimum for success. I promise you that if you are only sharing negative feedback, that’s all that is being heard. That sounds like a pretty terrible experience to be on the receiving end of, just saying. Use your words as a force for good in your life, use them to lift others up, to encourage what is positive in everyone you meet.

A lot of people may grow up in environments in which very little positive feedback is shared, or the positive words are hollow superlatives about qualities they can’t control, and no attention given to the whole person. People coming from that place may not know how to give authentic positive feedback, and may genuinely not understand why it is necessary. They need to see it done, to feel it, before it will be something they can easily practice themselves. Is that someone part of your life? Be open to explicitly telling them what you need to hear – without excuses, or a need to justify yourself. It’s okay to need what you need, and it’s also quite okay to ask for it. 🙂 “I need you to say something nice to me right now.” may feel weird to say, but it is one place to start. 🙂

We’re all so human. There’s so much stress and hostility in the world right now. Our culture feels so toxic. Be someone who understands there is work to be done, and recognize you can do some of it. Be someone willing to do it. Be the change we need. Speak gently. Be encouraging and kind. Soften your tone. Be trustworthy. Be honest without being mean. Let small shit go. Don’t drink the poison offered to you. Don’t offer others poison.

Don’t like the world as it is? Be part of what changes it. We become what we practice. Practice being the person you truly most want to be. Every choice, every interaction, every day. Sometimes you will fail (I know I do); your results will vary. Practice more. 🙂 Be that better version of yourself, because you choose it, and it matters. Other people may not make these choices – don’t drink the poison they offer you, and walk your own path. 😉

It’s time to begin again.

I enjoy the thought that my Traveling Partner and I are sharing this journey, walking a shared path. Now and then I am reminded that it is, however pleasant, an illusion. We are each having our own experience. We walk our own path. Survive our own hard mile. We endure our own dark night of the soul. We, each, alone care for our innermost heart, and nurture our tenderest wounds. The reminder was powerful, and I am so grateful I was merely a bystander to two paths that suddenly diverged on a Saturday morning. I don’t know if this is a sad story or not, maybe it is, maybe it isn’t – certainly it is a story of change.

I was having coffee with a friend. We get together now and then, on a Saturday morning, and catch up on life and things. A couple, strangers, came in shortly after we sat down, and sat near us, sort of off to the side, definitely within our view, and close enough we could not avoid hearing their conversation, which I’ll share as accurately as memory permits…

He held her chair. This ordinary looking man of apparent middle-class means, allowed his companion to get seated, and they ordered. She thanked him for picking her up from the airport, and for taking her to breakfast. How thoughtful. She smiled. He shifted uncomfortably before speaking.

“So… welcome back..?” He laughed uneasily. His smile was fleeting, and somewhat nervous.

“Are you okay?” she asked, without looking up from her phone. This seemed somehow significant to her companion, and his posture straightened, and the look on his face became resolute, and more sure of himself.

“Yeah. So, about that. I’ve decided to end our relationship.” She laughed with a bit of disbelief, then looked into his eyes and her face sort of… froze. “I wasn’t sure how you’d take this, so… the least I could do was take you to breakfast…”

“You wanted to be in a public place so I couldn’t make a scene!” she hissed, leaning in close. Her face was tight with tears she was fighting. He… was still calm.

He inhaled deeply and sighed. “You’re right of course. I’m sorry. I needed to feel… safe. This is hard. Hard for me, too.”

“Why?” she demanded with a quivering voice, “someone else…?”

“No.” He sounded sad, and lost. “I just… there’s a lot I want to do for myself, to explore on my own. I just… I want to be myself, no compromise, no obstacles, no negotiation, and I haven’t felt able to. I’m sorry.”

They both sat quietly for some time, just drinking their coffee. My friend and I sat drinking ours. Occasionally looking at each other in a soft, sad, “what the fuck?” sort of way, each in our own thoughts, about our own partners, our own paths, our own lives.

Eventually, the man at the nearby table busy quietly breaking up with his partner spoke again. “So… I’ll need the keys to the apartment before I go. I … um… I had your stuff packed up and put in storage while you were out of town, and… um… yeah. I don’t want you to come back to my place, at all. I packed your clothes and things and they’re in your car… I’ll… I’ll just pay the check and take a car service home… is… what I planned.”

She sat looking astonished, helpless… I sensed that it might turn to frustrated fury at some point, and hoped that everyone would keep their heads, and find that calm center in their storms. “Is this happening?” she said quietly, in a child-like voice, as if disbelieving. “Five years, and then… this?”

“Yeah.” he said, “It’s happening. I’m going to go now. Please don’t call, I’d like this to just be… over.” He hands her an envelope, and her numb hands accept it.

“What is this?” she asked.

“It’s an inventory of your things. Please email me if I missed anything. Also… I, uh, paid off your car. I mean… I bought it, but, um… it’s yours.”

“You’re not taking it?” she accused, almost snarling the question.

“No. Why would I?” he asked patiently, “I don’t hate you. I’m just… done. Okay? I mean… I hope we’ve over this really fast, and we both move on with better… other things. …I’ve got to go.” He put his jacket on, and looked around as if he did not expect to see the place again, ever, and left.

The woman sat quietly, staring into her coffee. The other customers seemed also uneasy. Conversations seemed quiet, muted, as with a respectful silence. I know I was, myself, uneasy. I sat with my friend, each of us taking a turn at small talk, both of us thinking about two people – any two people – at any airport, seeing each other again, after some time apart, and suddenly, one path takes a sharp turn for a very different destination. Now and then I glanced her way, although I don’t know what I was trying to see.

My friend and I finished our coffee. We hug and agree to “do this again soon”. We both know we don’t really want it quite as it was, this time… I walk away feeling introspective, and a little bit blue. What if it had happened to me? What about you? What would that be like…? What would you do? I sigh, as I unlock the door of my car, ready – so ready – to return home to see my Traveling Partner, again…

…My “Traveling Partner”… nonetheless, we each walk our own path. We’re fortunate, any of us, to share the journey for a while, aren’t we? It’s not likely we’ll share the journey “forever” (that’s a child’s fantasy, I suspect). I spend the drive home contemplating love, thinking about what it takes to build, maintain, sustain, and nurture love. Thinking about what I’m good at love-wise, and what I still need so much work on. I think about all the things in the world I would like to see and do and be and experience along the way… and I think about sharing it with my Traveling Partner. I think about not sharing it with him. Would I love life any less if our paths diverged? I like to think not…but it would be so painful to find out. I put myself in her shoes, imagine myself sitting with my coffee, alone unexpectedly, no plan, no place,… I breathe, exhale, and relax, grateful that my path, for now, is different. No assumptions. No expectations. Aware that change is a thing that can happen unexpectedly, to anyone, at any time. Firmly, studiously, I am not taking love – this love – for granted. There are verbs involved. Choices. No map.

I took comfort in arriving home to welcoming arms, and a chance to begin again.

I’m feeling frustration and despair, this morning (yep, still morning, and not even 4 hours into my day). I’m struggling to pull myself out of the emotional muck, and find perspective. I’m working through the tedious effort involved “letting shit go” and “moving on”. I’m forcing myself through practices that both my intellect and my experience tell me definitely work, but I’m also having to fight a frustrating, pervasive feeling of resistance to the effort, and futility about the likely outcome. This moment right here is hard. Not what I had planned or expected for this first day of the new year. :-\ Fuck 2020. I mean, so far…

PTSD is an absolute motherfucker of a mental health condition. No need to exaggerate, or attempt to persuade; if you’ve been there, you know. If you love someone who has PTSD, you know. Flare ups, episodes, freak outs, flash backs, cognitive distortions, and the frustration, despair, depression, guilt, sorrow, grief, or anger that follow any of those, aren’t as predictable as they might seem they would be, and come at us unexpectedly – in spite of the fairly lasting certainty that we’ll experience them again. Trust me, it’s not a pleasant sort of “surprise”.

I’m having a rough New Year’s Day. Well. Sort of. Right now, I mean. Actually, only about an hour of it was unpleasant. Confusing, surreal, and scary – also good descriptions. Now I’m just… sorting myself out and trying to find my way.

Are you having a rough New Year’s Day, too? Have you handled your self-care skillfully? Are you in a (physically) safe place? Have you taken time to breathe, maybe even meditate? Can you convince yourself to take a step back from the problematic moment? Can you take that a step further and reflect on impermanence (“this too shall pass”), and non-attachment (letting it go)? Can you put your spun up consciousness on pause long enough to reflect on the small things for which you can feel grateful (yes, even right now)? (Anger and gratitude don’t easily exist side-by-side in the same moment.) Do you have a useful distraction at hand (a healthy one), like completing a task that requires some focus, or simply reading a book? (Or writing… see? Here I am, and it does work pretty well, for me, generally; your results may vary.)

…When “things blow over” (assuming you didn’t wreck someone’s property, or injure someone, or do or say something with lasting serious consequences), at a minimum, you’re probably going to have to deliver real apologies to people affected by your PTSD (yeah, I know, it fucking blows, because you already know you most likely won’t receive the same in return, however hurt you feel by the circumstances; it’s not a fully equitable, reciprocal world, and human primates can be dicks – you’ve got to let that go, too, in favor of simply being the person you, yourself, most want to be, because there is real healing in that). An apology is a relatively small thing, isn’t it? Just deal with it, graciously, compassionately, and accept that your “issues” really do affect other people, in some ways every bit as much as your PTSD affects you directly, only… their experience is the only one they can actually feel. Your experience of being disordered, broken, wounded…? They only understand any of that in the abstract, and yes, even if they also have their own PTSD issues to deal with. We have a limited capacity to truly understand each other, however commonplace our experiences may be. We are each having our own experience. For people hurt by a loved one’s PTSD, those sincerely intended, genuine, unreserved and unconditional apologies for the damage done really do matter. Say you’re sorry so you can move the fuck on.

“Stop catastrophizing” may be some of the least useful “advice” ever offered from one human being to another. Just saying – it’s a lot like suggesting that someone should calm down, when they are upset. Well-intended, often potentially correct, inasmuch as it would be helpful (and wise) to do so, but… who can hear the words and then act on them with fond appreciation for the concern? Like… no one, ever. LOL Not how that works. Still… if you can, it’s worth taking the steps needed to shift gears from catastrophe and despair to something, anything at all, less bleak. Small steps are fine. Incremental change over time may be all we can rely on in such moments. While you’re at it… breathe.

One of the nuisances of PTSD is how long it can take to “bounce back”, emotionally (the chemistry of emotion is tricky shit). I’ve been less than consistent with my meditation practice over the past year, and it shows; my resilience is less reliable, less deep, less durable, and I feel it today – it may take me hours (instead of minutes) to recover a positive sense of self, and move on with my day open to any outcome other than this bullshit right here, now. I feel sapped, and vulnerable. I take another drink of this water (self-care 101; if you’ve been crying, you need to drink more water), and remind myself that my “episodes” were once much more severe, lasted a great deal longer, did real damage, and the recovery period was measured in days and weeks, not hours, or minutes.

Progress made is not lost just because one moment goes sideways – it just feels that way. Expect that to be a thing, and be willing to give yourself a fucking break. This shit is hard.

Every word of this today is for me, now. I write, and read it back, paragraph by paragraph, as I go. I am reminding myself, practice by practice, of what it takes to maintain emotional wellness, and attempting to make good on that promise to myself. The feeling of internal resistance has dissipated, which is progress.

In the background, I hear my Traveling Partner slaying monsters of one variety or another; video games are another excellent “escape strategy” when a peaceful morning explodes in emotional chaos. He’s got his own hard mile to walk, and I don’t doubt being my partner makes that all much more complicated. I listen to the measured cadence of his game-play, and find it calming. I pause my writing long enough for a self-inventory of where I’m at right now. I still feel sort of muted and a bit blue, and may be prone to being easily hurt (emotionally) for some hours to come. I put that aside, reminding myself not to take shit personally. My head aches. The ringing in my ears almost deafens me if I turn my attention to it. I feel wrung out. Fatigued. Emotionally bruised. Having a bite of lunch helped. Drinking some water helped, too. The lingering feeling of personal failure and disappointment is a bummer, but, and this is true; it’ll pass.

Hell of a start to a brand new year. I expected better of the day – and of myself. It’s not “too late”, though. I can hit the reset button, any time I choose… right? I consider how best to make use of the moment; there is growth and momentum in mastering the chaos and healing the damage (more than any pleasant easy moment can offer). It’s definitely time to begin again… again.