Total eclipse of the heart-Wise Project 2017 #tenacioustuesday 

We are all guilty of telling ourselves the same tired stories from our childhood and we so often dismiss how important the dialogue we share with ourselves and others is to our lives and our well-being.

There is a common theme we use surrounding suffering and struggle. We uses words like ‘cope’ and ‘survive’ and phrases such as ‘get by’

As well intentioned as we may be I believe that this dialogue has been exhausted and it doesn’t feel relevant to my rapidly changing situation.

In June I lost my husband, my best friend and the father of my children to a long battle with mental illness. Surviving and coping with his illness was an every day burden for him.  The very first day in the world without him was one of the hardest things I will ever have to face, along with the realization that our family, our children and myself will need to face all of the days to come. Loss makes you realize how precious life is and for me I now believe we should direct our energy into leading the best lives possible. To thriving.

Grief has more ups and downs then the my elementary school teeter totter during recess, but it sure makes you appreciate the value of moments.

On the weekend I was dizzy with grief, feeling one minute like I was floating on a calm ocean at sunset and the next a Tsunami hit. It was overwhelming but not unexpected and I have embraced tear stained as my new make-up trend.

I found myself in a fleeting moment of hope and anticipation and began to contemplate some of the things that my children and I have on the go in the foreseeable future and I realized that those worn out words and phrases do not have to continue to be a part of our story.

A word popped into my head that I was so excited about. I even convinced myself that I had made up the word until google confirmed that another wise person had beat me to it. The word and the concept is THRIVIVAL! The idea that instead of merely existing in the face of adversity that we can instead learn to live vigorously, cherishing each moment of our lives. Instead of just surviving, we can thrive.

Should our goals be set on coping, on surviving this relentless emotional storm, or should we focus on the strength in the inevitable change and commit to living our lives with purpose and intent, choosing a life rooted in love and doing well and being well?

I think the answer is clear. I believe our route is thrivival and though we may stumble occasionally on this hilly path the journey will be worth it.

Kirk would not be content to see us just get by. Nothing short of a life well lived would be sufficient; and with him as our guide we will navigate this new world with intensity.

If you are reading this I hope you will join us; take a look at your own life and make the choice to not only do what you love, be a person you love and put that love out into the world and make it a better place. You are the univere. Brace for THRIVIVAL

xo Michelle

 

Blown Wide Open

 

“Tomorrow we die, today we love.

We are living in some precarious times, I can barely turn on the news as the anguish and ambiguity of it all serves only to compound my grief and fear. I am trying desperately to navigate my way around what feels like a whole new world, a world without the love of my life and somehow that feels like enough right now. My world, along with the rest of the world seems to be blown wide open.

Back in May I attended a Workshop at Wellness on Whyte and one of the facilitators; Dr. Geha used a quote that had a profound affect on me, and though I have mentioned it here before it certainly strikes a much more familiar chord with me now. She said “Tomorrow we die, today we love.” She later told me that to her it sums up our human purpose in one broad stroke.

We are here to love.

I read that quote earlier today and I was thinking about that workshop and what a powerful experience it was for me. I had been struggling with my teenage daughter for quite awhile, as she unknowingly struggled with the affects of untreated ADHD and I had been fighting with the demons of my husbands depression for several years all the while trying to accept that I was enough and that I was worthy of all the love and care that I was giving to everyone else, that I deserved saving too. In January of 2016 I finally decided that my health and wellness was important; if I was going to continue to be strong for my family when they needed me. You never know what lies ahead of you, the best we can do is learn from the things that are behind us. When we have moved through and processed the pain, we need to let go and keep the lesson.

I have been trying to very hard not to spend a lot of time on “what if” but it is an impossible place not to visit periodically when you lose someone so tragically to suicide. I know that something drew me to that quote this morning, and I contemplated long and hard. People do not understand illnesses of the brain, and people that suffer them do a great deal of their suffering in silence. Lost in pain, sometimes those left behind sift through the wreckage eager to lay blame or find a reason.

I did know that my husband suffered, I did however not know that he was suffering that day and I certainly do not know how much he was keeping from me in the months leading up to that day, to avoid drawing me into his pain. These are things that I will never know. I do know this with certainty, I am not to blame. I loved him with all of my heart and when he was in pain and acting out of fear I loved him even more. I spent a great deal of time slaying demons and chasing away ghosts, just like you do when your children are small and terrified of things that lurk in the darkness.

The problem with Mental Illness though is that the ghosts that lay down with you at night also wake up with you in the morning, they are with you throughout the day and they shout at you internally. They are inside of you and it gets really tiring trying to remember that they are not really a part of you. Silencing them is a constant task. My husband tried excessive work, booze and even drugs to chase them away when their voices were loudest. Unfortunately the medicine he chose to shut them out eventually helped them to grow stronger.

Lost in disbelief, the survivors look for reasons and some, in moments of weakness and distress look for people to blame

My husband was not a large man physically, but he was a huge man in every other sense. He was a huge presence, he had a gigantic personality and he loved big. Sadly, these illnesses that we judge are so often misunderstood and are very complex, deteriorating the minds and the lives of our loved ones almost invisibly. Lost in disbelief the survivors look for reasons and some, in moments of weakness and distress look for people to blame. Kirk and I talked about the illness a lot but during the worst of times his initial defense was to try to shut me out. He didn’t necessarily want to suffer alone but it broke his heart to have me suffer along with him. That weighed very heavily on him. I thought I understood the illness quite well, but I could only understand from my level of perception, the illness didn’t inhabit my body and mind and scream at me from the inside out.

Love is really all that I am qualified to give

This week I have been offered some amazing and unexpected kindnesses, and every time someone reaches out to me and embraces me in love and understanding it gives me a moment of lightness. The other thing that I have been offered which has been a blessing wrapped in a helpless ache is many glimpses into the minds of people that suffer deep depression. It has been a blessing because people are willing to open up and share their experiences and help separate myth from reality and tell their stories about how the illness feels from the inside out. They do this out of a want to end the stigma and to ease my heart and stop that endless train that powers through my head asking me if I could have done more.  I say helpless ache because there is little I can offer to ease their pain, I can offer gratitude that they want to help me by sharing their authentic stories of deep pain and suffering, and love because I do love them and love is really all I am qualified to give.

Kirk didn’t rebuff his life or all of the great things in it; he didn’t choose to leave behind his children, his wife or his family and friends. Depression stole his joy and in desperate times it withered all of those great things he had and made them smaller than the sickness. He died from an illness. Some people have expressed anger and tried to assign blame to people, places or things. That has not been a part of my journey so far, I have felt anger but not anger towards him. When my Dad died of a heart attack, I wasn’t mad at my father. I was mad at the illness that took him so young.

He really implored me to not be so judgmental, I was guilty of seeing people and situations through a small crack in the blinds and he inspired me to open the blinds, throw back the curtains and look for the big picture, offering love before judgement

Kirk was an amazing husband, father, son, brother and friend. He was a strong and conscientious worker and he was unbelievably smart and caring. He had wonderful things in his present and great things on the horizon. He would often tell me that I taught him and showed him so many things about love and friendship and respect but he did the same things for me. He lifted me up when I was down and took my hand and led me into adventures and taught me how to be spontaneous and to have a good time. He really implored me to not be so judgmental, I was guilty of seeing people and situations through a small crack in the blinds and he inspired me to open the blinds, throw back the curtains and look for the big picture, offering love before judgement.

He was loved and he loved, but his health was compromised. The disease became larger than him. He didn’t die because he was selfish or weak or hardhearted. He was sick and he died of an illness.

Nobody can tell a person how to grieve or how they should feel or give them a step by step manual and tell them what stage of grief they should be at. Grief is a personal journey. There are several things that I am relying on to guide me through this time of deep sadness.

  1. Hope

Hope is a huge. Hope is optimistic. Hope is the light at the end of a long dark tunnel. Hope is a trust in the process and the belief that better days are on the horizon. A glimpse of hope during difficult times is the promise that there is a light that resides on the other side of darkness.

2.

 Acceptance

The willingness to lean into uncertainty and accept what is. To reasonably accept that you do not know what is coming next. To recognize that it is OK not to be OK all of the time and to put your faith in the Journey. To accept challenges as they come and rise to meet them and be open to the changes and the development of character that comes with facing uncertainty and fear.

3.

Connection

As humans we are hard wired for connection but I have found that in the last several months the political climate in the world has divided us into smaller groups and created an us vs. them mentality. I have always been very led by energy so I try to limit my exposure to large groups of people and prefer a small friendly tribe. Sometimes a large part of my interactions are online but I try very hard to remind myself of the importance of human connection and of gathering the right people in my sphere of influence.

4.

Purpose

Why are we here on this earth and why does it matter? I have believed for quite some time now that our fundamental purpose is to love. Love is not a luxury, love is a necessity, not just personally, humanity requires love. I saw a video recently where a little boy talks about why humans are on the earth longer than dogs and the little boy explained that humans are put on the earth to learn to live a good life and love and be kind to people. He went on to say that dogs already know all of that so they do not need to stay as long. That really touched me, especially since most days I would like to replace a great deal of the humans in the world with dogs. That being said, it is unrealistic to think that we can or should love everyone but I think we need to start by loving ourselves, loving our lives and loving the earth. When everything we do is rooted in love I think our potential for growth is unparalleled.

Marrianne Williamson said something that really spoke to me. “One of the most tragic ironies of human existence is that we conspire in the belief, most often unexamined, that violence is more powerful than love. We spend hundreds of billions of dollars on ways to kill each other, but a tiny fraction of that amount on ways to help each other….as though it isn’t masses of desperate, hopeless people who are the main recruits to the collective pathologies that threaten us. This one awakening, harnessed and turned into political force, would completely change the direction of human history.”

I choose love as my purpose right now; I believe that it will successfully guide my children and I into the future. I could be jaded in the face of profound sorrow but I would not take back a second of the love Kirk and I shared to ease one second of my sadness. In the words of the late Henry David Thoreau:

“There is no remedy for love, but to love more”

 

Rise up-W.I.S.E. Project 2017 #tenacioustuesday

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Phoenix Rising

Phoebe House Dewling was born in Newfoundland in 1889 and her first daughter Melvina was born when she was 21 years old. I don’t know much about Phoebe’s young life. I don’t know whether she had dark or light hair, whether she was thin or curvy or if she liked reading or preferred to knit and sip tea. I don’t know if we had met today if we would have anything in common, whether we would embrace and share stories or sit unsettled in silence. I do know that in 1917 a widowed Phoebe, having lost her husband Richard; arrived by boat to Halifax with her young daughter Melvina. Phoebe raised Melvina on her own until she remarried George Tancock in May of 1926. George and Phoebe had two more children back to back; a son Theodore followed by a daughter Phoebe like her Mom. Two years of marriage and two children later George died at sea leaving to grieve his 37-year-old wife, 18-year-old step daughter Melvina, two-year-old Theodore; and he was sadly predeceased by his wife’s namesake Phoebe who died shortly after her birth.

So much loss and sorrow.

Phoebe was my late husband Kirk’s great great grandmother. A couple of years ago I became fascinated with her story and the sadness that embraced her young life. I scoured through passenger lists, following the young widows journey from Newfoundland to Halifax, searched census information and imagined her struggles as a young mother and as a newlywed and mother once again when she married her second husband George. I felt anguish when I found George’s death notice, leaving her widowed with a young child once again, having already lost a husband and then a daughter.

I recall sitting in the rec-room with my husband, totally beguiled to tears by the threadbare story of his great great grandmother that I had mostly woven together with Ancesry.ca documents and filled in with my own sadness and angst. I imagined that George had promised Phoebe that they would grow old together, just as my husband, her great great grandson had promised me. George lost a battle to the Sea when he was 42 years old and my husband Kirk lost his own battle with depression and mental illness at 43 years old.

I hadn’t thought about Phoebe for a long time but she popped in my head today and I felt some of her sadness and struggle that I had always imagined on a whole new level.

Yesterday I attended a Transformational Healing workshop and was in the company of the most phenomenal women, each with amazing stories and struggles. Some of the stories moved me and at times, even in the face of my own agony I wanted to steal the pain of another to lighten their burden.

A voice inside me told me to deal with my own pain first, to allow myself to feel whole again so I could extend my wisdom of rising from great pain to help others.

In that room full of women, in various stages of physical life and struggle I was reminded that we are Warriors. From the beginning of time women have faced enormous tragedies and carried on in the face of pain.  Women have always been leaders in their communities, feeding the poor and nursing the wounded and sick, and holding space for their families’ pain all the while dealing with their own. They offer love and forgiveness and hope and they share those lessons with their friends, family and neighbors. Women show up, even when it’s hard and even when they think that it may not make a difference they keep on every day. I know this, I have always known this, I watched my own mother; widowed at 32 years old with three teenagers, she kept being a mom, our wisdom and our leader; even as she moved through her own great pain.

Writing has been a solace and a struggle for me this past month, I have talked about grief, about mental illness, about suicide and being deprived the luxury of hope but the message that I want to share today is that of  embracing hope.

Yesterday I was curled up in the fetal position, bound by deep sadness and emotional pain but today I am feeling the gift of hope. I know that my husband cannot be with me physically but I know that he is leading and guiding me and I need to stop fighting against that. I was feeling like any step I make is a step away from him, but it is actually just a positive step forward. Our relationship is not over, it has just changed forms and if I allow him to he will guide me towards all of the things that are meant for me.

Kirk encouraged me in so many ways; I have always said that he believed that I was so much smarter and capable than I could ever dream of being. He truly saw things in me that I allowed fear to get in the way of. The things that he wanted for me were things I also wanted for myself but could never quite grasp that I was worthy or capable of them. Fear was my crutch and fear was my cage, as it was for him in much different ways.

I read a quote recently that said FEAR can mean two things, Forget everything and run or face everything and rise. The choice is clear.

I have mentioned in a prior post a conversation that my daughter and I were having with Mandy Trapp, the owner of Lifestyle meditation where we were talking about coping mechanisms and she said “hmmm, I don’t like that, how about thriving mechanisms?”

That really resonated with me and it is never very far from my thoughts. Even those days when I don’t want to leave the comfort of my bed and I am clinging to my Kirk pillow crying and feeling nothing but despair, there is a little voice that whispers “when you are ready…”

For years we have bought and paid for that message that we just need to cope. Coping is just getting by, managing, and handling, muddling through! Why are we being taught to cope and not shown that we can thrive. What a strange concept!

Losing my soulmate to his battle with the demons of depression has been crippling. I have a lot of feelings to feel and a lot of dismal days ahead but he is showing me that I need to start taking my trash out. The garbage is piling up inside of me and I can’t keep pushing it down and piling more on top. One day soon I need to start taking that trash out one bag at a time, put it at the curb and watch the garbage truck pick it up and cart it away.

Being a part of a transformational healing circle was one of the most powerful experiences I have ever had. What I got to see is women that desperately want to be well but have spent their entire life holding things in and pushing them down and now they are overwhelmingly sick and struggling, I see women that have felt the weight of the world, of depression, of addiction, of shame and hopelessness; and though they fallen down and lost their spark they rose as the whole damn fire. Their struggles are not gone but they continue to face them head on with grace and resilience. I saw in every single woman in that group something admirable and I learned from every single one of them about who I am, who I want to be and who I can be.

I know my struggle is new and fresh and I know that this good hour that I am having may fade to black in the blink of an eye but I see who and where I want to be and there is a great deal of hope in that. I see the person I want to be for myself and the person that I want to help lead my kids through this tragedy and to a place where we can rise up.

There are many people suffering the devastating effects of illness and disease that have been denied the luxury of hope, not the least of those being depression and mental illness. For those of us with the comfort of hope in our lives we need to embrace it, nurture it, love it and watch it grow.

Let’s rise up!

“and still, like air, I rise.”

~ Dr. Maya Angelou

The Luxury of Hope

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When high profile celebrities like Chester Bennington of Linkin Park and Chris Cornell of Audioslave, Soundgarden and Temple of the dog fame die by suicide, people take notice and discussions are had and opinions are shared. The contemplation’s we hear over and over is how they had everything and it must have been drugs and how selfish they were to leave their families behind.

People are talking, that is a good thing. People talking out their ass, not so much, but unfortunately we live in the digital age when anyone with a keyboard can share their opinion, most of them have no basis in fact or knowledge of the subject, certainly not compassion, but as mob mentality works, a bunch of people agree and what could have been a healthy discussion surrounding mental health, brain disorders, depression and anxiety has turned into a literal shit show and nobody’s mind has been changed and several people are hurt and pissed off.

There is a large stigma surrounding the topic of suicide and mental health and attempts to have real and intelligent conversations and to create change has never been more challenging. The truth is expansive and sometimes it is OK to sit a subject out and just listen, maybe learn something. Talking is healthy, offering your baseless opinion is not helpful and quite frankly it does not make you a leader or a “voice to be heard” it makes you an asshole.

Chester Bennington was vocal about suffering through child sexual abuse by an older male, he spoke of suicidal thoughts and using drugs and alcohol to numb the pain. He was vocal about the horrors that he encountered in his own head and described the space between his ears as a “bad neighborhood” and how keeping busy by being a husband, a father, a bandmate and a friend was the only was to stay out of that bad place. I watched an interview where he talked candidly about his pain and anguish and the radio DJ that he was talking to was a bit uneasy with Chester’s honest and forthright portrayal of fighting the beasts of depression that plagued him. Chester seemed intent on staying on track as he was discussing his life, his music, his lyrics and the expectations that are placed on celebrities to have these perfect lives. Chris Cornell was fairly vocal about his own struggles as well, perhaps in a quieter way but if you ever sat down and read any of the lyrics that they wrote their pain and struggles are framed in their music forever. I was so choked up after Chris Cornell’s passing and my husband and I read the lyrics to Like a Stone and were overcome with emotion. The music that soothed us for years was the story of someone else’s inner turmoil. Kirk got it on a much different level than me and I finally understand that. I remember one time remarking to Kirk about him having a “depressive episode” and he said, “I don’t think it is a series of episodes, it is just one big one, it is never far away”

In a 1994 Interview with Rolling Stone Chris  was asked if he perceived run-of-the-mill depression as a comfort zone, he replied, “The problem is, no one really knows what run-of-the-mill depression is. You’ll think somebody has run-of-the-mill depression, and then the next thing you know, they’re hanging from a rope. It’s hard to tell the difference. But I do feel that depression can be useful. Sometimes it’s just chemical. It doesn’t seem to come from anywhere. And whenever I’ve been in any kind of depression, I’ve over the years tried to not only imagine what it feels like to not be there, but try to remind myself that I could just wake up the next day and it could be gone because that happens, and not to worry about it. And at the same time, when I’m feeling great, I remember the depression and think about the differences in what I’m feeling and why I would feel that way, and not be reactionary one way or the other. You just have to realize that these are patterns of life and you just go through them.”

Cornell’s suicide made us question whether you can really outrun the beast. Chris had completely changed his life and his lifestyle, he went to rehab, he gave up drugs and alcohol, he fell in love and got remarried, yet as he told Men’s Health Magazine, “For me, I always had one foot in this very dark, lonely, isolated world.”

Is there an escape from that or do you just run and run and run until you get too tired and the demons catch you? They are stronger, faster prey and they are always waiting. In my disbelief and sadness over the death of an idol Kirk kept telling me that “he just got tired babe. He was too tired.” I know now that he knew that feeling all too well. We had talked plenty about going to bed with and waking up with the same ghosts and the impact that has on your body and mind. He too got tired.

These are high profile celebrities so we hear about their suicides. Unfortunately their circumstances are not unique and money and fame is not a cure all. Suicide is happening every single day and it is taking the lives of the people we love.

The brain is so important to every single thing we do in our lives and if something is not firing right in our brain it can  make our lives absolute hell, yet unlike Cancer where we commend those who suffer for their bravery and we applaud their fight as radiation rips through their weakened bodies in an attempt to fight the evil that lives inside of them, and then if they lose the battle we call them heroes, instead; for those that suffer the devastating effects of mental health disorders and lose their battle we call them selfish. Instead of seeing a person that that is brave and fought as long and hard as they could while facing the terrifying destruction of their own self from the inside out; we call them a coward. We call them weak.

Often suicide is not a choice, it is the result. Sometimes suicide is not a careful plan it is a saving grace, a release from the pain. As horrible and tragic as it is we need to stop blaming the victims of these horrible diseases. We need to end the stigma and stop inserting our fears and our bias and calling it truth. The truth is expansive, and the hard truth is that no two people have the exact same reality. Our personal world is constructed by our brains. Our interpretation of the signals we receive create our day to day reality as we interact with people and our environment. No two realities will be exactly the same. Because our brains are different our perceptions will be different. Some mental illnesses have been linked to an abnormal balance of chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters help nerve cells in the brain communicate with one another. I cannot stand in judgement of anyone and say for certain what goes on in their brain and I can certainly not begin to imagine what goes on in the brain of someone who suffers a debilitating illness that affects some of the most important organs, systems and functions in their body.

If you choose to sit back as a keyboard warrior, shouting your judgements and baseless accusations you are a SELFISH, WEAK COWARD.  I hope I did not stutter.

When I was in grade 6 I recall being a bit infatuated with Greek Mythology and there was a story about Pandora’s box. As the legend goes in ancient Greece there were two brothers named Epimetheus and Prometheus who upset the gods and upset Zeus who was said to be the most powerful of all gods. To punish the brothers Zeus constructed a woman of clay, having the goddess of Athene breathe life into her, Aphrodite made her beautiful and Hermes taught her to be both charming and deceitful. Zeus called her Pandora and sent her as a gift to Epimetheus.

Epimetheus had been warned about accepting gifts from the gods and though he knew better Pandora was so captivating and beautiful, he was taken by her and agreed to marry her. Zeus gave Pandora a beautiful box as a wedding gift with one stipulation, she was never to open it. Pandora was intrigued by the box but put the key on a high shelf and agreed not to open it. Several times Pandora faltered, her curiosity getting the best of her and she reached onto the high shelf for the key fitting it into the lock only to feel guilty and change her mind at the last second. One day Pandora gave in to her curiosity believing she would go mad if she didn’t open the box. She slid the key into the lock and opened the box slowly, anticipating fine silks, gowns, jewelry or coins. None of these were packed in the box. To her horror, Pandora found that Zeus had packed the box full of every terrible evil he could think of.  Out of the box poured all the evils of humanity; poverty, disease, plague, misery, sadness and death, all shaped like tiny moths stinging Pandora over and over and she slammed the lid shut. Pandora could hear a voice calling from the box, pleading to be let out. Epimetheus finally agreed that there could be no worse horror than had already been released, and he slowly opened the lid once more.

The only thing that remained in that beautiful box of horror was hope and it fluttered out of the box like a beautiful dragonfly, touching the wounds created by the evil creatures and healing them. Though Pandora had released pain and suffering to the world she had also released hope to follow them.

Every single day we encounter the horrors of disease, sickness, poverty, misery, sadness and death. Imagine for one second if you were denied the luxury of hope. That is what mental illness can do to your brain. It can take away your hope! Until you are in a place where you have no hope you cannot in good conscious stand in judgment of someone who has been denied something that you take for granted daily.

 

I have shared this excerpt from a speech by Theodore Roosevelt many times and I will continue to share it a million times if that is what it takes.

                                                          THE MAN IN THE ARENA
Excerpt from the speech “Citizenship In A Republic”
delivered at the Sorbonne, in Paris, France on 23 April, 1910
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

 

Seasons in the Sun-W.I.S.E. Project 2017 #tenacioustuesday

I have a thousand things that I want to do today but my mind is incapable of sifting through them and putting them in any sort of order. I got up today and showered, I put clothes on, I fed the dogs, I diffused some essential oils, put in a load of laundry, washed dishes, swept the family room, read one page of a book several times and listened to Brené Brown’s Rising Strong as a spiritual practice on audible, I also opened my computer. It is noon on Sunday. It may not seem like much and it is certainly not all that I had planned to do when I was driving home from work on Friday. For some reason in those moments when I was driving down the road I had a sense that I could spend the weekend doing all sorts of productive things that when I woke up on Saturday felt impossible. On Saturday, I felt immobilized in my grief. Being in the world without Kirk feels incredibly scary and even knowing that we can and will move on and that we will be ok, right now I am existing in fear and I feel powerless to leap over it. I feel like every day if I inch my toes forward just a tiny bit, I am making steps towards making steps. The steps feel scary, though they should feel like a step in the right direction they also feel like a step away from Kirk. I know that my daughters are feeling the same way, they catch themselves in a moment of lightness and they immediately feel sad because we sense Kirk all around us and we feel like the minute he thinks we are OK we won’t feel him anymore.

I have been struggling with a tweaked back all week. It is nothing major, it is from a tumble down my basement stairs and it re-occurs periodically during times of stress. My chiropractor is great and would fix me up in seconds but I have been reluctant to get rid of it, almost as if it is a comfort to feel pain physically, instead of just mentally. It lets me know that my pain is real and when my mind is struggling to overcome the mental pain I know that my body has stepped up to take on some of that burden. It then occurred to me how difficult it must be for people who suffer from depression and disorders of the brain and how that pain over time can manifest physically and make everything hard.

“Depression is such a cruel punishment. There are no fever, no rashes, no blood tests to send people scurrying in concern, just the slow erosion of self, as insidious as cancer and like cancer, it is essentially a solitary experience, a room in hell with only your name on the door.”

~ Martha Manning, Undercurrents

 

Kirk and I were together for 19 years, we struggled through those hard years when you don’t really know yourself so it is hard to truly know each other. I spent a great deal of my life learning to love myself so that I was able to love Kirk without crowding him out with my insecurities and worries. I had to process the importance of vulnerability in relationships and embrace the reality that to love another person fully you couldn’t protect your heart, you had to be all in, and love and life doesn’t come with any guarantees. The beauty of putting the hard work into loving and accepting yourself and embracing vulnerability over pride in your relationships is that you can love someone exactly as they are. You eliminate that overwhelming need to change your partner, because you realize that you are only responsible for changing yourself. When you love someone for who they truly are you get to see and be loved by the best version of them. When you love someone as they are they feel invested in, and a person that feels appreciated will always do more than expected. I always loved Kirk and I know that he always loved me, but it was really in the last several years that we learned to love each other well. We were still far from perfect; I don’t think a relationship exists that is perfect, relationships are just imperfect people that refuse to give up on each other even when things are tough.  We had many tough times but we also had many good times and through it all Kirk was more than just my husband; he was my lover and best friend.

Several days after Kirk left the world I was in our bedroom and a binder fell off the shelf and landed on my toe. I recall that some strange things had been happening and after yelling an obscenity I looked up, threw my hands in the air and yelled “what are you doing to me?” I knelt and picked up the binder and about six papers folded over, had fallen out of the binder and onto the floor. I started to shove them back in the binder but for some reason I opened them. A couple of months before Kirk and I were laying in bed and we each did this survey that asked us key questions about what we thought each others’ strengths and weaknesses were as well as our own and some questions about our relationship. There was a question that asked, “what would you change about your relationship?” Kirk had answered “nothing”. There was a question that asked what you liked best about your relationship and Kirk answered, “We don’t hate on each other anymore, we just love.” If that binder hadn’t fallen on my toe I am not sure when and if I would have ever come across those papers. It was such a powerful memory for me and the thought that it may have never been recovered, either physically or in my mind, was sad. I remember how grateful we were feeling that night because once again we felt like we had outwitted the demons of depression that tried to pull us a part. I can remember feeling so close to Kirk as I was curled up to him that night that I felt like I could crawl inside him. That may sound absurd but I am not sure how else to describe it. Depression robbed us of a lot of time and joy, so we loved really hard during what I called “the in be tweens”.  Knowing that depression for Kirk really never went away, if anything it just became more manageable or he got better at hiding it, of that I cannot be sure. I cannot say with certainty how he was feeling, but I can say that according to what he wrote and how he made me feel, he was in a good place at that time. Kirk also had high functioning anxiety and he counteracted feelings of shame and inadequacy by working as hard as a person could possibly work. He was a machine and although physically he was often spent, he did derive a great deal of satisfaction from the hard work he put in to every task he took on. It is impossible to say what goes on in another persons head but I recall him telling me one time what it felt like to have depression and anxiety, he said it felt like someone ripped your heart out of your chest, filled it with hornets and put it back in, it was one moment feeling absolutely nothing and the next feeling everything all at once, it was feeling alone and overwhelmingly lonely in a room full of people, it was 1000 thoughts running through your brain at 100 miles per hour, it was feeling like you are not good enough for the people you love no matter how hard you try and being exhausted but not able to sleep. Too me it sounded tremendously crushing and I honestly wonder, even now; how he was able to be so much to so many people and work so hard with that overpowering burden. He did though, because he was so much more than depression and anxiety and the demons that haunted him in dark times. He was a father, a son, a friend, a confidente, a co-worker and my partner. He was laughter and love and joy and fearlessness.

My favorite song growing up was Seasons in the sun, Kirk never liked it but he would play it for me periodically because he knew it reminded me of simpler times. He had a his own lyrical version of course that included the unforgettable line “fingers in our bums” and of course I would pretend it infuriated me when he sang it that way. Seasons in the sun always represented to me the easy carefree days of childhood but it popped in my head today and it is actually a song about dying which I guess I always knew but today the lyrics hit me harder than ever. Kirk and I often talked about how hard times really made us appreciate the good times. Would we really appreciate the sunny days the way we do if it wasn’t grey now and then. Lately the days seem to be dimmer and they just fade to black and start over again. Maybe grief is like a season, and sort of like a brutally cold winter where we bring out our mittens and wool socks; only in grief we unpack the memories of our good times and we wrap ourselves in them until the spring comes.

Goodbye Michelle my little one
You gave me love and helped me find the sun
And every time that I was down
You would always come around
And get my feet back on the ground
Goodbye Michelle it’s hard to die
When all the birds are singing in the sky
Now that the spring is in the air
With the flowers everywhere
I wish that we could both be there

~Terry Jacks, Seasons in the Sun