Archives for category: grief

I remind myself that “we don’t grow from comfortable situations”, but it feels hollow. Tears well up, and I grit my teeth and stifle them, frustrated, angry. With myself, mostly. With the circumstances, definitely. There’s too much good fortune in my experience right now for this bullshit, I tell myself, echoing something my partner said to me moments ago, from his own pissed off, frustrated perspective. The feeling of futility I am presently mired in is a painful challenge to overcome. It’s all too human. It’s also baggage, and bullshit, and probably almost entirely self-imposed, if I could get to a clear-headed place to examine it with less visceral emotional involvement.

…Breathe…Exhale…Relax…

My writing stalls. My coffee just sits. There’s no eagerness to embrace the moment. No acceptance from with which to step forward, walk on, and begin again. I exist, presently, as a moment of pain. A living, breathing, emotional wound… but I’m not quite sure what this hurt is truly about, and so don’t know how to comfort myself or heal me. I think about my partner, doing his own best in another room. Cross words exchanged before we could even enjoy our coffee. I’m disappointed with myself for losing control; I know how much damage emotional volatility can do in a single moment. That delicate balance that is feeling the feelings while also holding oneself to a standard of appropriate behavior suitable for all circumstances, that lives my values moment to moment, in spite of whatever emotional storm is blowing in… is hard. It’s a feat that requires steady practice, and it has to matter… and, and this is the hardest bit, the win nearly always comes in spite of someone else’s volatility, turmoil, or provocation. It’s not enough to be steady, calm, and to listen deeply alone in a silent room. It’s about a practice that makes that possible in the face of someone else’s storm of emotion. My results definitely vary. This morning I failed utterly. I’d barely woken up. I honestly don’t even understand how or why everything went sideways so suddenly… nor do I think there is much value in troubleshooting that. It would be a distraction.

…From…? I don’t even know, right now. This headache is complicating my ability to think clearly and reason well.

…Breathe…Exhale…Relax…

I’m annoyed with myself. That’s not helping. I said some ridiculous (and vile) things, and it’s not okay, and at some point, how much does an apology really help? I take a deep breath. The breath “timer” pulses on my desktop out of the corner of my eye. I don’t know how much it really helps. I’m so frustrated with some of the challenges I face each day… I keep expecting at some point any part of this will feel properly routine and effortless, but any amount of study makes it immediately clear that my results may “always” vary – for any practical definition of “always” – and some damage is lasting. Frustrating. (Incremental change over time is a real thing…but some increments are too small to see individually.)

…Breathe…Exhale…Relax…

I’m struggling to be positive. I look back on my own words – recent, and less so – and there is so much positivity reflected there. So much will. This morning, right now, I just feel… bleak and defeated. I struggle to find meaning. I find myself reliably “missing the point”. The promising morning ahead that I was facing so eagerly has morphed into something less enticing. I’m eager to see darkness return, to go back to bed, to start over tomorrow… on a work day. That saddens me, further, and I feel my hopefulness sort of just trickling away.

…Breathe…Exhale…Relax…

It’s all very dramatic, is it not? Fucking hell. My head aches (partly from crying). “You’re creating this experience,” I remind myself. “Let it go,” I suggest, more helpfully than not (I hope). I feel a bit like a mechanic facing an easily repairable problem… without tools or parts to work with, and too stupid to look behind me to see that the tools are neatly laid out on my bench, with the parts ready to go. I suspect my partner feels a bit more like a parent in a grocery store trying to discreetly deal with a toddler having a screaming tantrum over something they can’t have; their love for their child is undiminished, but fucking hell – right now? Seriously? What a shitty experience all around. I could choose differently… couldn’t I?

…Breathe…Exhale…Relax…

Damn, I fucking failed hard this morning. My brain reaches for The Four Agreements, because… yeah… this could have gone a lot better, even if the only thing I’d done differently was these four things. For real. Not fancy.

Where this really started, back in 2010, and a moment of gratitude for the love of the man who shared it with me, then, and remains with me, still.

11 years is a long time to work on something without seeing lasting permanent verifiable results that have positive impact. If that were legitimately where I were standing this morning, feeling this despair become futility would make a lot of sense. That’s some real shit. BUT, and this is important (for me to observe and acknowledge, for myself), that’s not where I am standing this morning, at all. I take another deep breath and let it out as a loud sigh. Life is very different now than it was 11 years ago, this morning’s drama doesn’t even show on the same scale. Yes, I’ve still got challenges. Yes, the brain damage creates some headaches (literal and metaphorical) that continue to trouble me (and complicate my relationships). Yes, the PTSD complicates things rather a lot, and I utterly rely on every good health and emotional wellness practice I can master to maintain my balance day-to-day – and my results do still vary. I’m just saying, if you are mired in despair right now, feeling a profound sense of futility and hopelessness… I hope you take away from this reading the following things:

1. You are creating a large part of that experience, yourself, and you can choose to change it.

2. It won’t feel easy or comfortable to make changes, possibly ever.

3. What you practice you do become.

4. When you fail, however horribly, you can begin again.

Yeah, okay, I’ll be honest on that last one – there are no guarantees regarding the outcomes of new beginnings. I can begin again a million times, and likely will – it does not provide me any assurance that my relationships will be unaffected by my chaos and damage, or that every traveler on my path will choose to continue to travel with me. I’ve lost friends. Some I chose to let go, others turned away from me. Relationships come and go. People are human and it’s not fair or reasonable to expect they will endure our bullshit indefinitely, ever. So… the value in practicing the practices that allow me to become the woman I most want to be is in becoming the woman I most want to be. Period. End of goal-setting. Be a better human being, generally. Would I like to live that experience in the company of my current partner? Definitely. Do I have any guarantees? Nope. Not ever. Gotta just let that one go, too. There is a ton of work involved in lasting sustained love, and no guarantee of success. Definitely makes sense to treat each other well along the journey.

I take another breath. I sip my cold coffee. I think about The Four Agreements. When I am “impeccable with my word” I refrain from saying vile upsetting shit when I’m angry, because I’m committed to truth and working to keep my raw emotions separate from the words I say about my experience. That would have been an improvement this morning. When I avoid taking things personally, I am less likely to escalate emotionally when my partner is frustrated with me, or when I am frustrated with him. That would have been super useful this morning. I could certainly use more practice there. When I avoid making assumptions, it opens to door to listening more deeply, and requires me to ask clarifying questions, and leaves room in my awareness to appreciate my partner’s affection for me, in spite of his emotional experience in the moment. It would have been very helpful this morning to have refrained from making assumptions about my partner’s thinking, and to have given him a chance to share it in words. I suppose all these things are true for both of us, really. Good practices often work that way. I’d love to insist I was doing my best, this morning…that is, after all, the fourth agreement referenced in The Four Agreements… but… was I really? Pre-coffee? Less than an hour after waking? I give that a “maybe”, and a very frank admission that it’s quite likely I could have done better by being more willful, more present, and by taking my own bullshit less fucking personally, myself. So… Yeah. I could have done nothing more/better/differently than to have practiced the 4 simple practices outlined in The Four Agreements, and the morning would likely have gone very very differently. Maybe it wouldn’t have… but… did I really give it a chance? I see room for improvement.

…Breathe… Exhale… Relax…

I’m not in this relationship alone. That’s true. We’re in this together – and we’re each also having our own experience. We’ve each got our own personal demons. Our own chaos and damage. Our own trauma to heal. Our own baggage to lug around. Our own intolerable bullshit that we’re both each working individually to resolve or to master. It’s very human. It’s not about fault or blame, though, and it’s not about who is guilty or wrong, or who said what to whom… there’s little value in that. I can’t really work on anyone’s issues but my own, though, so I sit down and reflect on what I can do, what I can change, and how I can be the best version of this particular human being that I happen to be. Love asks us to unpack our own baggage.

…Breathe…Exhale…Relax…

…Begin again.

I’m sipping my Sunday morning coffee in solitude. Best that I do so. I’m in a lot of pain after a long walk on a windy winter beach, yesterday, which, while it provided wonderful time to reflect and listen to my own thoughts, was also physically taxing. I’m definitely glad I wore base layers, too; it was chilly!!

Windy, rainy, cold, and the tide coming in. There’s no stopping the tide.

Things went seriously sideways Friday night, and Saturday’s walk on the beach was moody and bleak. It felt wholly necessary, but there was little joy in the moment. This saddens me, even now. It is, at this point, just something I’m adding to the recollection. I breathe, exhale, and let that go.

…I got some great pictures…

Friday might not have turned into the emotional shitstorm it did if I had been paying more attention… or… if I were altogether someone else, I suppose. My Traveling Partner woke in pain Friday morning, and was in an absolutely foul mood as a result (not unlike where I find myself this morning). He made a point of saying so, and was very kind and careful in our interactions all day, although he was cross and irritable. I finally ended my work day and … the whole delicate considerate assembled-with-care framework crumbled. I’m still sipping my first coffee, right now, this morning, and my brain is not yet entirely “on line”; I struggle to recall specifically what went wrong. Something I said, or my reaction to something he said, and suddenly we were lobbing raw emotions at each other in the form of angry words. I wept. We took turns shouting. We both ended up triggered – and triggering each other – and just fucking mired in our individual pain and heartache. To call it “unpleasant” seems insufficient. To make more of it than that seems simultaneously disrespectful of any underlying legitimate concerns that ought be addressed with love and consideration – but also seems likely to elevate those painful hours to something more important than what they were. Chaos fueled by emotions. Emotions that had less to do with the moments we found ourselves in than other moments, in other relationships, that left us scarred. Both unpleasant and unfair. How is it “unfair”? Isn’t it always unfair to ask love to sweep up the mess left behind by circumstances that had little, if any, actual love in them?

Friday morning became a painting, instead of an argument. 8″ x 10″ acrylic on canvas, untitled.

Yesterday was strained and awkward. This morning I woke up in pain, and found myself saying so, much in the same manner that he had on Friday morning. A cold chill rolls up my spine, and my mouth goes dry, and my anxiety spikes over fear that today will be another Friday, and end poorly. I breathe. Exhale. Relax. I do it again. Then another breath. Followed by another. I keep at the breathing until the hinted-at-future-but-not-now feelings of anxiety recede. I definitely don’t need to invite or cultivate that shit.

I sit with my coffee this morning, thinking about my walk, my work, my relationships… I consider how my TBI affects the way I communicate, not just the part where I talk (a lot), or interrupt (too much), but also the part that is the step beyond listening; my ability to make sense of what I am hearing, and to correctly reply to what has actually been said. I do pretty well, generally, but… when I am tired, or in pain, or distracted, I’m not just “less good at that”, I’m pretty horrible – and when I look at that, and also consider the “performance pressure” I tend to feel that pushes me to answer any question very quickly, I see how easily this can go very wrong, leaving someone trying to have a conversation with me feeling perhaps I am not listening at all. It’s rough. It can go a bit like this:

“Did you hear from your friend about that painting?” someone asks.

“No.” I say, “Well, they texted me. I didn’t feel up to talking right then, so I said I would call back today after work,” I add, followed by “They did say they really like the painting, in their message to me.”

(no shit, a real conversation I had)

So… yeah. What the hell?? When I see it written down, I totally get why that would be not just incredibly frustrating to wade through to get a simple “Yes, they liked it.” It also tends to seem potentially … dishonest? Misleading? Manipulative? Crafty? Vague? Withholding? Dissembling? A whole bunch of adjectives could apply. It’s not actually about any of that, though. I started answering the question I was asked before I actually understood the question at all. Along the way, my brain mixed up “hear from” with “speak to” – similar but quite different – and entirely missed the point of the fucking question until I’d provided a bunch of utterly unsolicited other information. So… slow down? Fuck yes. Easy, right? Well… maybe? It’ll take practice. I’ll say very bluntly that I’ve had “reply immediately” literally beaten into me (first marriage was a domestic violence nightmare I’m lucky to have survived). It’s hard to change behaviors that were heavily reinforced with violence or trauma. It takes more work and practice and commitment and awareness and encouragement and kindness and support than I can describe. It can be done. My results vary, though, and every failure is heart-breaking for at least a moment of pure distilled disappointment with myself.

…This isn’t “all about me” though. This particular challenge is very specifically the sort that commonly affects the people interacting with me, most. I’m kind, honest, open, and well-intentioned, but I’ve also got PTSD… and I’ve got brain damage. That’s going to present a combinations of characteristics some people just aren’t going to be willing to deal with long-term. So far my Traveling Partner still chooses to share this complicated journey with me. I’m very fortunate, and very grateful. I know it isn’t easy.

Caution.

So, yesterday, I walked on the beach alone, reflecting on my challenges, my abilities, love, and life, and work, and gave some thought to life’s curriculum on the topics of boundaries, and of communication. I was missing my partner long before I noticed my knees were aching, and headed home when the rain began to fall heavily.

I find myself, now, bringing my thinking “back to basics”: breathing, listening deeply, my “Big 5” relationship values (Respect, Reciprocity, Consideration, Compassion, Openness), and the book my own beloved recommended to me, early in our relationship…

It’s hard to go wrong with good basics…

Yep. I am re-reading The Four Agreements, again. Sometimes beginning again is simply a step forward, with new thinking. Sometimes beginning again means a new commitment to something that is proven to work well, when applied consistently. Now there is a day ahead of me… I see sunshine through the window shade. The aquarium needs maintenance. There is housework to be done. In spite of aching knees, I’d enjoy a walk in the forest, now that the storm damage from the recent ice storm is cleared away. All of that, and Love to nurture besides… looks like a busy day ahead.

…I guess it’s time to begin again…

It’s afternoon. Near the end of the work day. I decide to take my break here, writing and reflecting. It’s been a busy few days since my last bit of writing. Busy with winter weather, and winter power outages. Busy with a bit of leisure, a long weekend that most definitely turned out quite differently than planned (see “winter weather” and “power outages” in the previous sentence). It was still a very enjoyable weekend…

Winter view of an icy dawn through the kitchen window.

…There was this one thing, though…

“Are you breathing?” It’s not an unusual question for my Traveling Partner to ask me, with varying levels of aggravation, frustration, or concern. I get frustrated by it, myself – although most of my frustration has had to do with interrupted flow, interrupted reading, interrupted thoughts, interrupted concentration, all interrupted by what felt like a fairly silly question. “Am I breathing? Well… for fucks’ sake, how am I not??” I would think it to myself, before “checking in with myself” to determine whether, for some reason, I might actually be “holding my breath”. I mean, seriously though, why would I be holding my breath?? BUT… and it’s legit… my Traveling Partner cares about me, loves me, and wants me to thrive, so… why would he be making shit up and just randomly interrupting my every leisure moment with such a silly sounding question?

…Tl;dr? He wouldn’t.

…Frustrating for both of us…

Monday I found myself crying over this well-intended, concerned, loving question. “Are you breathing?” I’d fucking had it with that question. Why does it keep coming up?? I cried and cried, all of my frustration with this one question spilling over as tears, and – possibly for the first time – I let myself actually think about the question. I got angry with it. I fought it in my head. I denied it with reasonable arguments, alone in the twilight of a quiet dimly lit room (I was at that point on the edge of a stress-migraine), but I was actually fully considering the question, and what could be driving it.

…I caught myself “holding my breath” while I sat there thinking and crying, too, more than once… Well… shit… so… this is thing?

My partner checked on me a couple times, offering hugs and sympathy, and assurances of his love and abiding affection. He maintained a non-judgmental approach, and gave me room to have my experience without taking it personally. He “let me cry” – and I needed that. See… this “breathing thing” sources with some very old trauma. Very very old. Ancient pain. Unresolved heartache and chaos and damage, from a lifetime ago. Well, damn… I guess, as my partner pointed out to me encouragingly later on, I may just be, finally and at long last, in a place in life where I can actually tackle some things that were too big for me at any earlier point. Squelched and squashed down for so long… erupting unexpectedly in a fury of tears and sadness, like a timer going off.

Later he shares an interesting article with me that seems potentially relevant, about some people experiencing “email apnea“. Reading it gave me a framework to understand the physical behavior of “not breathing” and how that may be affecting my experience moment-to-moment if it is any sort of common concern. A way to understand the observed phenomenon without mistreating myself, and giving me a way to put it into the context of my TBI, or my PTSD, or both. Well… I like science, and I like empirical evidence much more than opinion… so… I took advantage of the technology at hand to begin taking a measurement of my blood oxygen if my partner expressed concern that I wasn’t breathing… I’ll admit, hoping very much to “prove this wrong”. It only took a few such measurements to have to acknowledge that he is noticing something that could be a legitimate concern. I can’t take “real” personally. Instead, I put practices in place to get better at noticing if I am holding my breath (without requiring someone else to point it out), and also to breath more fully without having to actually stop every-damned-thing and actually meditate.

I know to expect incremental change over time to be slow. I know my results may vary. I know I need practice. That’s okay, too; new need? New practice. Hilariously… kinda the same old practice in a fairly basic way. Breathe. Seriously? (I hear myself laugh out loud. Okay… at least I’m still laughing.)

…By the end of the day, we’d had a lovely day together, one of the most pleasant days I can recall in a while… just… really comfortable, connected, pleasant, romantic, tender, wholesome, and just… fun. Good bit of positive reinforcement there. I smile thinking about the day. Today I keep practicing, and find myself recalling scenes from Demon Slayer (season 1), in which the hero, Tanjiro, is learning “Total Concentration Breathing”. I smile and feel considerably less insecure, or sad, or diminished, or frustrated, or put out, or inconvenienced, or… yeah, I’m not feeling anything but love, and gratitude; I have a partner who cares – literally – that I am able to breathe. That’s pretty amazing.

I smile. I check my blood oxygen monitor. 99%. Nice. I pause for a moment to breathe mindfully… and begin again.

Snow is falling. I don’t mind that; it’s pretty, and I’m comfortable at home. What I do mind are these tears. Oh, and the headache. The tinnitus. The crossness and fatigue that come of sleeping poorly. I mind all those things. “I’m doing my best.” It’s not “enough”.

I’ve lost my sense of enthusiasm even for something as innocent and delightful as a snowy winter afternoon.

I’ve lost my balance, and my way, and I’m as a hapless motorist in a blinding snow storm – drifting, then… stuck.

I’ve lost my perspective.

I’ve lost my sense of humor about all the maddening bullshit that has to do with caring for this meat suit until it finally rots around me.

…I’m just tired…

My Traveling Partner is annoyed with me. I’m not communicating well. I’m terse without realizing it. Apparently. I’m making a completely fucked up mess of the day in all but one respect; work. I’ve got this work in front of me. For now it keeps me anchored and aware that in some future moment maybe things won’t feel so utterly completely shit… I mean… “this too shall pass”… ? Right? I just need to stay focused on this spreadsheet for another couple hours…

…It’s surprisingly difficult to hold on to non-attachment when I need it most…

I’m angry with myself and disappointed. I don’t tell myself I’ve set the bar too high; I’ll myself that I’m fraud and a failure and a clown because I am not right now 100% of every inch of the woman I most want to be… in spite of this headache, and this fatigue, and this absolutely entirely fallible mortal and very human experience. It’s a moment. It’s not a great moment. It’s not a delightful moment. It’s not a moment I’m going to want to carry with me for a life time of recollection… but it’s part of my experience of being this particular human being. It has to be enough – and it has to be just another moment, one more step, one mile on a much longer journey. If I let it swamp me and become “everything”… yeah, then I definitely lose my way. 😦 Been there, too.

I take a breath. I let the tears fall. I watch the snow flakes coming down. I let the minutes pass without requiring anything more of them – or me.

The snow continues to fall. It’s beautiful. It’s cold out there. I stare past my monitor to the window and into the sky. That sky isn’t so blue right now. Weather versus climate. The pain in my neck is distracting in an unpleasant way…but it reminds me to turn my attention back to the work in front of me. Whatever. It’s something.

…Sometimes “something” has to be enough to hold onto. That’s okay. There will be a chance to begin again.

Well… the news on January 6th was… newsworthy. I guess that’s something. (Just Google it, Future Reader, cuz I just can’t even begin to go down that path.) Honestly, I guess I was mired in whatever work challenge the day presented… I barely looked up when my astonished and appalled Traveling Partner stuck his head into my studio to tell me of the news, in an appropriately alarmed tone, and I’m sure he was purposeful and complete with his summary. I recall hearing something like, “…storming the capitol…”, I looked up, nodded vaguely, “…you already know about it?” I may have answered in the affirmative – I definitely was not aware of the specifics he was attempting to share, and what I thought he was talking about would certainly have been less… significant.

…Damn there’s been a lot of history in these 57+ years…

Funny (not funny, not really) how we “know a historical moment” when we see it… if it’s something going terribly wrong. I have the impression we tend, as creatures, to be less correct about the good stuff… like… a lot. It’s pretty inconvenient.

Here we all are, now. More than typically aware of how fragile a foundation our assumptions rest on, perhaps, and perhaps more aware of the alarming potential for violence each human being actually has. Strange that we ever lose sight of that… there’s so much violence in the world, and so much of it feels “unexpected”, however commonplace it may have been, or be, or seems to be becoming. We’re fairly dangerous primates, only partially domesticated, and our big brains allow us to build and make some amazing tools… with which to kill each other. Fucking hell. Will we ever discontinue this terrible terrible practice? Will we ever choose differently? 😦

I breathe. Exhale. Relax. Let that go. The sunshine breaks through the gray of a rainy winter afternoon, and I think about trails I’d like to hike…

Choose wisely. Stay on the path.

It’s already time to begin again.