Fight!

That’s exactly what my therapist chanted at me as I left her office this afternoon.  The past few days have been terrible, with nightmares and gruesome flashbacks every day.  I’m exhausted, annoyed that it seems I have to choose between mental and physical health, and becoming paranoid.  It’s a lovely combination.

She told me that her goal for me this holiday season is to fight against my emotions.  That might seem odd, coming from a therapist, but I take her point.  My emotions aren’t always rational.  This sense of foreboding doom and paranoia comes out of a nightmare.  The thoughts of self harm that keep cropping up stem from the flashbacks.  None of these things are ‘normal’ events that spark ‘normal’ emotions.  These are the emotions I need to guard against.  My therapist says sometimes we have to lead our emotions rather than following them, and I know exactly what she means.

We’re coming upon the dates for my sister’s birth and death, trying to cope with the more recent loss of my best friend’s brother, and generally fighting to keep from spiralling out of control as the various emotions come up against each other.  But, I will fight.  I will fight to get through my sister’s death anniversary without shutting down.  I will fight to get through the holidays without bowing to grief.  And I will fight to be present.  To enjoy the holidays, even when what I want to do most is cover my head and forget to exist for a while.

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Time Marches On

The passage of time can be something of a trigger for me.  I am not a snowflake.  I’ve had my share of trauma and am here to tell the tale, so to speak.  But I do have triggers.  Typically, I can work with or simply avoid them.  Not so with the passage of time.

We’re headed in to a time of  year that is difficult for me.  The anniversary of my sister’s death looms ever-present as we near early December.  This will be the 17th anniversary, but it still feels new on that day.  Time has done nothing to touch that.  I think of her still as a twelve-year-old girl, smart and witty beyond her years, touching the lives of everyone who knew her.  My therapist asks me what I think she would be like now, but I have  no answer.  I’m stuck in the year of her death.  She’s frozen there.  I can’t take on the task of bringing her to this time of my life.  I guess I fear she’ll simply leave again.

Every December, I mark another year that has passed on the calendar, but my mind stays in 2000.  My sister took my heart with her on that rainy afternoon, and, in at least part of my mind, time has stopped there.  It’s hard to move on when you’re clinging desperately to the past with a child’s false hope that maybe you can stop it happening if you just try hard enough to return there.

Bittersweet

If I had to pick a single adjective to describe my life, ‘bittersweet’ would be the one.  There have been so many losses over my life that it seems every memory is tinged with sadness at times.  The happy memories of those I’ve lost are always there, but the sting of their absence is, as well.  And so it is with this holiday season.

My best friend’s brother died very suddenly in early August of this year.  Having been part of their family for almost seventeen years, I feel this loss acutely.  We’re all working through in our own way, sometimes even with each other.  When we’re together, though,  there is an absent presence.  We gathered a few weeks ago to spend time with each other, and it was clear someone was missing.  My best friend and I, along with his two surviving brothers, sister-in-law, parents and nephew all came together for games and a meal.  It was a wonderful afternoon full of love and laughter.  And unspoken loss.  Bittersweet.

Death has a way of bringing everyone together before splitting them in to separate groups when the public mourning is done.  Last year, my best friend’s grandmother died.  It’s been quite a time for his family.  This year, they won’t all be together for Christmas.  With the matriarch missing, the siblings have decided to gather with their own families of children and grandchildren.  No more big family Christmases to be had, now the centre point is gone.  Everyone will be with their separate families, and there will be love among all, still.  They just won’t be together as they have been in the past.  Again, bittersweet.

The thing we have to remember about the word ‘bittersweet,’ though, is that it is a compound word.  Separately, the words are opposites.  Brought together, they are two sides of the same coin.  You can’t have sweet without bitter, simply because the sweet of any relationship will end.  Whether by lack of compatibility or by the separation of death, the sweetness ends.  The trick is to enjoy the sweetness so much that, when the time of bitterness comes, its sting won’t be so bad.

The Beauty in It All

As I took a stroll on this beautiful Autumn morning, a peculiar thought occurred to me– the beauty of Autumn is in death.  What we see as beautiful colours is actually the death of the leaves.  Beauty in death.  Who would have thought that possible?

This got me thinking of my sister’s death, which is a thought that’s never far away.  My therapist tried to help me see a sense of hope in her death.  She chose her time to go out, and she went out on a high note.  Those were my therapist’s words.  They only served to make *me* suicidal, though.  If suicide is about going out on a high note, why don’t we all do it?  Why don’t we all just choose our time?  Those were my thoughts from the therapist’s perspective.

The answer I discovered took me by surprise.  Suicide isn’t the  answer, even though it seems so right sometimes, because we can’t actually guess when our high note occurs.  My sister died four days after her twelfth birthday, four days after a celebration that was all about her.  I can’t help but wonder what she had ahead of her, though.  I’d like to think there would have been many more high notes.  Enough to keep her here, at least.

There is a certain beauty in death.  The kind of death that is a long, slow and peaceful decline toward our next journey.  I saw this last year when my best friend’s grandmother died.  The family gathered together to take the last steps of this life with the matriarch who linked them all.  It was so sad to watch her pass, but it was beautiful to see her family come together to support each other and share this pain.

There is no beauty in suicide.  There is violence and endless questions and years of longing.  I say this both as a survivor and someone who has attempted herself.  I can’t promise I’ll never be suicidal again, but I can promise that I’ll always look to my family-of-choice and all the high notes they bring to pull myself back out again.  The beauty of life is that, no matter how dark it gets sometimes, you never know when a high note is just around the corner.

Happy(?) Holidays

I include the question mark because so many people struggle this time of year.  For me, issues with deep grief and ritualistic trauma frequently permeate the lighter side of the season.  This year I have made a concerted effort to participate, rather than hide myself away somewhere.  I have gone Christmas shopping and made plans for both Christmas and Chanukah celebrations.  This has helped, to some extent, but I find my agita spiralling as the holidays near.

My sister’s death from suicide on 7 December 2000 is the most painful thing I’ve ever been through, and its sting is still just as sharp as it was that day.  I have had quite a few other losses, and they all still sting. My sister’s death, however, still drops me to my knees sometimes.  She was my second self.  We were rarely separated, and I still hold myself partially at fault for not seeing the signs in her.  That day was just as painful as ever this year, and it started my mind down the spiral of grief and fear.  I’m trying to bring it back up.

If you are struggling this month, please hold on.  Somewhere out there, someone needs you more than you know.

In the UK & Ireland: Contact the Samaritans  116 123

In the US:  1-800-784-2433;  TTY:  1-800-799-4889

 

 

 

A Tribute

For some reason, I have  been missing my mother terribly over the past few days.  Grief for all of my lost loved ones comes and goes, of course, but it’s been a decade since my mother died and it feels new now.  I know it will pass.  Just quite painful in the meantime.

My mother was an enigma.  Due to her multiplicity, she could be sweet and loving or dangerous and angry and everything in between.  I played many roles for her.  At times, *I* was the parent to her younger alters.  At other times, I was a friend to teens or older alters.  Rarely did she seem like my mother, and rarely did the person who claimed to be my mother spend a significant amount of time out.  For as far back as I could remember, our relationship hadn’t been the typical mother-daughter paradigm.

She brought some amazing things to my life.  It’s through my mother that I met the first person who became part of my FOC and taught me what family was about.  She taught me patience and how to be accepting of others’ difficult circumstances.  She taught me respect.  In those ways, she shaped who I am.

She also scarred me physically and mentally to the point that my therapy sessions sometimes remind me of Freudian satires.  Through those injuries, though, I have learnt strength and endurance.  I’ve learnt to guard myself, even to an unhealthy extent, but self-protection isn’t always bad.  I try to draw strength from the dangers she sometimes posed.

My mother died in mid-Spring, just when everything was in full bloom.  Winter is here, now, but I think about the promise of Spring and the promise of her life at that point.  She was finally coming to the place where she might have had a chance to heal, but she decided to end her life instead.  I will never understand that decision, even as I work to accept it.

There are so many things I miss about her and so many questions I have for her.  I miss her both as a child misses her mother and as an adult who misses her friend.  Her life ended much too soon.

Obstacles

Since my mood episode has passed, we’re back working on grief issues.  Specifically, we’re working with my sister’s death.  I asked the therapist if she found this repetitive, as we do keep returning time and again to this one loss, but she said we deal with another aspect of it every time we discuss it.  This time, we’re dealing with the extremes.

I have a tendency to bottle emotions (gasp from crowd).  As it turns out, merely intellectualising my feelings or stating them as fact does not count as actually expressing them and processing.  My therapist told me that I’m merely doing circles about them and will have to open them up in order to heal them.  Then, we discussed obstacles to that.

Obstacle one is easy to understand:  culture.  The stereotypical English stiff upper lip isn’t as stereotypical as some might think.  I’m not accustomed to overly emotional displays.  I’m more accustomed to the quick acknowledgement and subsequent containing of strong feelings.  This is separate from abuse issues or any kind of disorder.  This is simply culture.  Overcoming it is probably a question of pride and modesty.

Obstacle two *is* the trauma issues.  I grew up in a cult where people were literally killed for showing emotion sometimes.  Funnily enough, I have trouble with that now.  Then, Dr Freud, there’s the abuse my mother handed down.  On the day of my sister’s funeral, she was kind enough to remind me that, since it wasn’t my daughter, I had no right to be upset.  When I was a child, she taunted or hit my sister and me for showing emotion.  Again, small reason I have trouble with that.  Overcoming this is my biggest challenge.  No idea where to start.

Obstacle three is something I’d never considered: bipolar disorder.  My therapist pointed out that, given bipolar disorder is a condition of extremes, we spend some time attempting to keep me from giving in to strong emotions.  My emotions can’t always be trusted; some result from psychosis or other bipolar symptoms.  To overcome this, I guess we’ll just have to be overly cautious about the pace at which we attack the pesky little emotions.

There’s a danger in opening this box.  Sometimes, I follow down the path of wanting to be with my sister and follow her lead.  I don’t think that is a problem now, though, as I seem to have got a decent amount of control over the suicidal feelings.  Self-injury is the more likely problem, but I’ll deal with that when/if it happens.  It’s time, regardless of how much my mind fights against it, to at least begin the raw work of true mourning.

Unknown Longing

For the past few weeks, I’ve been having this odd weepy feeling.  The feelings come on very suddenly and leave almost as quickly.  In the moment, I feel close to bursting in to tears with no real idea of what’s prompting the feeling.  It’s a haunting sense of longing that I can’t quite place.

And then there’s the wailing.  It’s this constant chanted mantra of ‘I want things to be like they were before.’  Sometimes, the voice is very quiet and the feeling is completely one of longing.  Sometimes, the voice is an actual wail, full of panic and pain.  It comes from the very depths of my consciousness, and it leaves me feeling weak.  The weepy feelings spring from this sort of primal reaction, I know, but I don’t know the actual cause.  Which makes working to heal it only slightly difficult.

I need to identify what ‘like they were before’ means.  It could be any number of things.  There are the major changes– transatlantic move, deaths, et c.  And there are the more minor changes that became major in my mind– changes in relationships, my best friend moving to a new part of the city, et c.  There are many, many ‘befores’ in everyone’s life.  Some of mine are just a bit more pronounced than average.

As I mentioned a few posts back, the bit with my best friend’s moving to a new house in a new part of the town has been a rather large upset in my life.  I recognise part of that as feeding in to the current issues.  Quite some time before he moved, his mother had already moved out.  That was the point when the home I knew there broke.  I didn’t realise, at the time, that things would never go back to how they were in the flat before she moved.  That’s led to a feeling like unexpected loss.  Things changed forever without a thought of it; I didn’t know those last days before she moved would be the last days when things were as they had been when my best friend’s flat was home to me.

Herein lies an issue with temporal space.  My logical mind knows that, regardless of where he lives, I am at home with my best friend.  It is the person, not the space, that makes me safe.  Living with him and his mother gave me a sense of safety I’d never known before, though.  It’s the only time when the Really Bad People did not know my location.  It was the only time I’ve truly been free.  With that gone, and the recent hacking away at my space done by the Really Bad People, I feel like I have no steady ground.  And I feel like I never even saw the steady ground fading away.  I guess the longing isn’t so hard to understand.

There are so many causes for longing, but this is more acute than the grief bits.  They factor in, of course, but this is a longing for something that still exists– a sense of safety from the Really Bad People.  It’s just outside the realm of possibility.

Elements

As a practising Wiccan, I’ve always turned to nature to help hold me together.  I hadn’t the space to work through the Full Moon rites of November and December, nor was I able to hold my usual ritual to mark the Winter Solstice.  These are things I’ve done for quite some time now.  They hold me to the Earth, to all of time and space, and to what I recognise as Spirit.  Gutted by grief as I am right now, I decided to do a simple mandala representing the four elements– earth, air, fire, water– and the Spirit that binds them all together.  I’m sharing that mandala here in hopes that some of you who are also feeling adrift these days can use it to focus your minds or simply to meditate on the image.  This is something my therapist taught me.  The process is to put on music that does not have an emotional attachment and just let your mind wander where it will as you gaze at the image.  It’s actually neurobiological at its base, but it does wonders (in my experience) for the soul.

Wishing everyone peace for now and in to the New Year.

Element mandala

The Tip of the Scale

Apparently, this significant anniversary of my sister’s death is going to be more problematic than typical years.  It’s been two weeks, and things aren’t improving.  The nightmares are still happening, the flashbacks are still interrupting my day, and the desperation is still a constant thought.  I will bring this to my therapist tomorrow, but tonight it’s overwhelming me.  I’m not sure what to do with the intensity of the emotions, and I’m not sure how to deal with the fact that they are lasting this long.  The black and white answer is that I simply endure.  One foot in front of the other, as I told a very depressed friend recently.  Easier said than done.

With this tip of the scale, my sister’s death seems more significant than her life.  She lived twelve years; she has been dead for thirteen.  It’s like my worst fear realised– her death has been a fact longer than her life.  She feels so far away.  It’s like her existence is fading.  Like her energy has dissipated beyond existence.  I don’t know what happens after we die, but I’ve always hoped that at least *some* version of ourselves lives on.  But for how long?  When is that essence gone?  Does it even exist in the first place?  While the scale was tipped in the ‘positive’ side, I seemed to retain some hope in my sister’s life.  Now, it feels like she is lost forever in every form possible.  It’s like she went from an entity to an apparition, all with one slide of a balance.

I just want to hold on to some part of her, but that feels impossible now.  Perhaps it’s false hope finally breaking.  Whatever it is, though, I just hope it leaves some small piece of her behind.  Right now, it feels like I’m losing her all over again, and I don’t think I can take that loss.  Twelve years was so very short, and thirteen so very long.