The retired man I live with walked into the den recently and said, “Ten years ago you had cancer. Now you have 3 grandchildren. It’s all going to be okay.”
I was in a dark place that day, a place I called depression. A few weeks later, my therapist called it grief.
In the last 2 years, my brother (the last of my family of origin) died, and I had 6 surgeries, most complicated by very slow healing due to immune-suppressant drugs for rheumatoid arthritis. I had reason to be in a dark place. But I didn’t label it grief until my therapist did.
There’s a difference, for me, between depression and grief. Depression feels endless and hopeless. Grief, on the other hand, is a recognition of loss, a process that I can move through. There is hope in that.
My friend, Kim, a former Hospice grief counselor, said that grief and depression can feel the same. For me, both involve emotional and physical fatigue that makes any kind of movement challenging. Inertia settles over me like a blanket and I become comfortable there.
I don’t drink anymore and depression kills my appetite so I don’t stress-eat. I use reading as my numbing-agent, my drug of choice. I can tune out any feelings or circumstances if I have something to read. Inertia looks okay if I’m reading, right?
My family valued good grades and achievement and emotional control. I need to feel competent. So, in my head, my physical limitations become defects, which makes me defective, not competent. And so I am grieving the loss of my competent self.
My therapist helped me see that maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I don’t tell myself the truth.
I’ve been dealt a hand of cards that includes physical limitations, but I can find competence within those limitations. I tell myself I have strengths and talents that are still available to me, no matter how well I walk or balance on one foot. Sometimes I believe that.
I’m not sure just when the window opened on my dark place and started letting some light in. I became willing to change, to move out of the comfortable, dark place under that warm blanket of inertia into a new place of acceptance and hope. I became willing to do the hard work of growth.
Without words, my spirit reached out to God and grace made the difference.
It’s rained here for a week and a half with a couple more days of showers to come. The temperature has dropped into the 50’s. A week ago, I had to stop one of my arthritis medications because of possible side effects. Between the no-medication and the weather, my whole body feels stiff and achy.
But I’m okay in that. A bit whiny at times, but not rooted in a chair with a book. In a bit, I’ll go to a recovery group at Higher Ground, the drop-in house for people who are HIV positive. This afternoon I’ll go sit with a Hospice patient for a couple of hours to give the caregiver a break. Tomorrow morning I’ll go to an AA meeting and then out to lunch with a woman I sponsor.
I’m grateful today for the energy to push through the remnants of grief and the physical challenges of the day. It helps to focus on the needs of others.
I look for balance between denial and being overwhelmed. Denial sends me back to my chair with a book. Overwhelmed takes all my energy and I care about nothing. Balance says, “Okay, today I hurt, but I can go sit in a chair and listen to others just as easily as I can take root in my lonely chair at home”.
Balance requires mindfulness, acceptance, gratitude and hard work paired with surrender to what is.
Many times lately, my prayer is simply, “Help me.” And that is enough.