The Thing About Grief Is…Day 34, The “Me Project”

Something weird is happening to me, like I’m feeling my memories deeply, having all these people and pains coming back vividly, in dreams and in wakes. Without my permission.

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It’s not depression. I can feel the difference. This isn’t a depression episode. I don’t feel heavy and dull, hopeless, or lost. No, I feel sharp, energetic, and deeply, deeply sad. Depression nags, pulls at me, making my skin and breath heavy. This isn’t that. This seems like something in front of me instead of leaded in my gut. This seems like something I need to look at, to face, instead of just ride out.

I’m superb at hiding from my shit. Even with the people I love and trust, even with therapy, I still parse out only what feels controllable and remote and keep my really bloody stuff where it belongs. Locked up on a shelf deep in the back of me.

I’m extremely empathetic to other people. I can feel your feels for you, unlock them, help you know them, but I keep myself back. It’s a diversion tactic and a safety measure. I don’t want to go down too deep in the pit with you or we both might get stuck, and also, turns out if you keep other people focused on themselves, they don’t ask too many questions about you. Convenient! It’s how I prevent myself from fully feeling my stuff.

I trained myself young to put feelings where I want them, up on shelves, away from where I’m living and needing to function. It’s how I was an effective caregiver to my family after my sister died, when I was thirteen. It’s how I was a superb social worker in a hospital where I had end-of-life talks with families every day, when I was twenty-three. It’s how I have worked in a hospital for fifteen years and not drowned in the anguish.

I am very evasive about my own feelings, with an actual physical hard stop inside me when I start to think about certain griefs of my own. I’ve so effectively built a defense against the pain that my head jerks ‘no’ involuntarily when I start to go there. I maintain the callouses, make the jokes, divert and grasp for distractions, which are always readily available, all to avoid the shelf where the feelings are kept.

So, I’m wondering a few things. One- is some of my depression and anxiety rooted in the fact that I don’t deal with my shit well? And two- …..wait, I forgot. What’s two? Oh! Two- was alcohol even more of a crutch than I realized? (There are some studies about poor memory as an adult and loss/trauma as a kid. Robb and I joke constantly about my piss-poor memory, but maybe it’s my brain’s way of protecting me? It was sad when I was in middle school so now I can never remember my neighbor’s first name? Is it Linda??)

My sister died when she was ten and I was thirteen, and my other sister was seven, and my parents were a few years younger than I am now. It was a very long time ago, but I think I still have some work to do on it. In this sadness that is not depression, and that I am not running from, I keep feeling it. I also had two miscarriages, one pretty traumatic and one pretty kick-in-the-nuts. I’m not sure if it’s because I went on to have successful pregnancies afterwards, or if it’s because I experienced those losses after I started writing, but I feel better healed about those losses than I do about my sister. I do think writing helped me process. Thank you, if you’ve been reading all along. I probably owe you tens of thousands in therapy bills.

I’m hoping if I write about these more ancient pains, I’ll know them better, too. I’ve always had this sensation that grief for my sister is not something that belongs to me, that it had to go back furthest on the painful memory shelf where I couldn’t even reach it if I wanted to…but now I need to get it down and see what it’s all about. It is mine, and I think it’s effecting who I am, even with it put away out of reach. So I better get to know it.

I finished watching the “Modern Love” series on Amazon Prime last night and was completely gutted by the Anne Hathaway episode. Like I kept turning it off because I just couldn’t deal, it made me so uncomfortable. Her character is bipolar and when she slips into her ‘low times,’ she can’t person at all anymore. And she’s afraid to share who she is because who the fuck would want to deal with any of that, so she lives in isolation and chaos….until she makes a friend who tells her she’s worth knowing, even the lowest parts of her, and it makes it possible for her to share all of who she is with the people who want to love her. Like she can talk about her pain and weaknesses out loud.

I found myself jealous that she was liberated, and wondering if I could have some healing and newness by sharing some of my more painful parts, too.

OK. I think that’s all I can let myself write about this today. I’ll put more into it tomorrow.

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