Don’t Speak

It’s been over four years since Heck died and this is the first time I’ve really felt like writing in a long time.  I had a typical dip in mood earlier in the year, and I’ve made it worse by not talking to anyone about it.  Now, in my defense, this has been a tough year for people around me, and when I really needed, and was ready, to talk, everyone was very much off the radar.  So that wasn’t great.  But the truth is that I don’t really talk about my feelings at the best of times.

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The frustrating part is that my inability to talk about things isn’t caused by any  trauma, nor is it some mild and quirky personality trait. It’s my very nature. And I have worked hard my entire life to work around it. Being with Heck, it wasn’t a problem. I didn’t need to tell him something was wrong for him to act like he cared about me, because he always did. I could talk to him about anything, but I didn’t have to. It wasn’t work. And yes, I relied on him to make phone calls for me. I hid behind him in unfamiliar social situations.

And I’m proud that in the last four years I’ve built that missing part of me up. People I’ve met since just wouldn’t really believe I was shy, let alone cripplingly non verbal. But at the same time, it pisses me off when people suggest that I can solve my problems by just talking about them.  It’s like telling someone with no arms to give you a wave if they need some help.

But I do need to talk about things.  I was lucky to have someone who filled in the gaps for me, but I don’t now.  I have to fill them in myself.  So I’ve tried… but I’ve only scratched the surface.  And I’ve joined a local widows group that might involve some meet ups so maybe I can even find people who relate.

And I remembered why I started blogging to begin with.  To write something “out loud” instead of running through conversations, that will never really happen, in my head.

A Little Cry

I’m feeling a little snowed under on the emotional front lately.  I left my old apartment and moved in with some excellent friends, which has been really good for me.  It’s like being in a family because we all eat dinner together.  I’m working full time and considering applying for a modelling supervisor role in work, so that’s fine too.  But moving was very hard and I still haven’t fully unpacked yet.  On top of that, if I could ignore my bereavement, I’ve had a bad year anyway, since my house was robbed a while ago and I found out my insurance had lapsed…

  

I feel like I’m in a weird in between space.  I know I need to sort out Heck’s ashes and I want to give some things to his siblings, but it’s hard to find the emotional energy to organise any of it.  On the other hand, I feel a bit like I’m waiting around for something profound to happen in my life. 

Sometimes I find little islands of calm and peace, and sometimes, like right now, I just want to hide and cry a little.    Most of the time, life just goes on as normal, like the heartless, unsympathetic beast that it is.  I sort of like that about life?

Guilt and Taking Time

This is a photo of my husband and myself hiding from the heat in Budapest. It was our last holiday together. I regret not having more holidays, but we really did enjoy home life. We spent a lot of time playing games. Computer games, pencil and paper, board games. We were gamers and part of the gaming community. So it was a privilege to see our friends run a one day games convention in his honour and raise 3.5K for the Irish Cancer Society. He would have been so chuffed with ‘Heckcon’.

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I was surprisingly light hearted during the event. I’ve spent the last few weeks, maybe months, feeling fine. Sometimes I laugh or crack a joke myself. I even played Just Dance and won the Trials tournament. You’d hardly know there was anything wrong with me at all.

And that’s okay, I’m comfortable with it. I feel none of the guilt I might expect at enjoying the celebration of my husbands life or in life going on. What else would it do?

So maybe guilt is not exactly what I felt for taking the day off work today, because I’m not okay right now. I can tell I need space. I feel it as clearly as the days just after my husband died, and yet those weeks of being okay make how I feel now seem less authentic.

It’s partly because I’ve taken up a whole barrage of responsibilities. I’m a lead on a project and on top of my work I’m helping with technical and art direction tasks. My junior is away and I should be on a new project, so I have to start on that at the same time now. I intended to take a back seat on the charity committee, but when I’m there, I pick it all back up because I hate to see opportunities linger. I’ve resolutely decided to finish an art project for an upcoming exhibition and I’ve gotten back into games blogging.

And while all this business is something I have always enjoyed and have been leaning into recently as a distraction and as a way to feel purposeful, it makes it very scary to just stop.

But I really have to stop. I’ve felt this creeping up for a while and it’s too big to ignore any longer. I need to step away, I need to drop what I can and hand off what I can’t. I know it, but my heart isn’t convinced. Maybe I’m scared of stopping.

Trauma Triggers

A few days ago, a friend was asking if I’d seen a particular movie that’s in the cinema. She hesitated and said, “it’s just that… I wanted to warn you… It has triggers for you.” I gave her a weird look, I’m sure, but I just replied, “Uh, thanks… Noted.”

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Now this friend and I share a belief in proactive compassion. If we were to share a blog on Facebook with content involving physical or sexual violence or abuse, we’d both consider it common sense to include trigger warnings. I think the practice is most common in the context of rape or domestic violence, but you just use your head and apologise when you get it wrong.

‘But’, I thought, ‘I don’t have any triggers’. I knew she meant death or cancer or something related to being widowed. We went to a music and poetry night only weeks after my husband died and one of the poets spoke about so many relevant points that I basically bawled my eyes out for most of her set. There are links to her work here http://www.dimitraxidous.com/poetry.html

It had me thinking about what a trigger, or more specifically a trauma trigger, really is? One tends to think of PTSD, but I suppose that’s quite an extreme version. The closest I’ve come is when a friend started talking about corpses a couple of days after I watched my husband die. I got really angry, but I just shut down. My pulse quickened and popped in my throat, my breathing went shallow and I wanted to get out of there immediately, but I didn’t feel like I could. I froze.

That was an extreme case of blatant insensitivity, and it felt nothing like the poetry reading. While listening to the poetry I felt intensely sad, a bit embarrassed at crying in public, but grateful for the opportunity to express what had been bubbling under the surface already. It gave me release and made me feel lighter afterwards. I bought two copies of her book.

Bad Thoughts

Widows can be quite emotional. There’s depression and anxiety and fear and society expects all that, but then there’s anger. I come across this all the time when reading about grief, I’ve had friends and radio shows and blogs explain it to me, so I was ready for it. But sometimes I wonder where it all is, this anger?

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I’m not saying that I never feel angry, but I think I was led to expect more of it. I heard a widow talk about how she made detailed plans on how to murder all her crappy friends once! The answer I’m dwelling on right now is that being a widow does not make you angry, but makes it harder to deal with your emotions. So it is good practice to accept and even embrace emotions that are unpalatable and more acceptable to fail at inhibiting them.

I am, however, going to focus on anger, because on deeper reflection I think there are some issues I’d rather externalise and it is an emotion that bystanders find difficult to respect. So here are some bad thoughts that may be inevitable for a modern widow.

Get over it!
Every problem another person has is dwarfed by my life. Intellectually, I understand that my big problem doesn’t make their smaller problem disappear. I also know that someone out there has problems that dwarf my own. But when people complain to me about virtually anything, I have an impulse to remind them of who the hell they’re talking to. And I really want to tell them to get the hell over it!

Fuck off with your perfect life.
Yes, if our situations were reversed, I’d totally post all of my joyful moments and great achievements on Facebook regardless of how that would make you feel. No, I’ll never say to your face that your joy makes me feel bitter. But neither will I feel shame at scrolling right on past your little heaven thinking, well, fuck you! You have a right to take pleasure in your life and I won’t interfere. But I think I have a right to ignore the hell out of it.

I’d like to be a super villain now, please, thanks.
Probably the weirdest, but strongest, bad thought I’ve accepted as a widow is, given the choice, I would trade anyone, close to me, or a stranger or any number of them, to get my husband back. Even if he hated me for it. That’s pretty much super villain territory, but I have thought long and hard and I really think I would. My niece might be the exception here, I don’t think I could trade her for anything.

So there you go, I’d be hard pressed to admit these thoughts to anyone in real life, but an anonymous blog is pointless if you can’t be really honest. I’m sure my empathy will wane before I get any better, but that’s where I am right now. Any other bad thoughts? It doesn’t have to be widow stuff or even grief, just put it out there… If you can 0.0

Loneliness

I’ve gotten up to three days a week in work, but I decided to take this week off. I’m not sure what really triggered me to ask for the time off, a growing empty feeling maybe, or a subtle panic n the back of my mind. But the rest doesn’t seem to have help so far and I’ve realised I’m lonely.

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I’ve just been going day to day without thinking. On Friday I went out with friends to dinner and karaoke. I smiled and sang talked about nothing and at the end of the night one of my friends started crying and turned to lean on her boyfriend. I just ignored it and didn’t look. I had to be told she was crying later because I was so busy not looking at them comforting each other, I didn’t notice.

I didn’t ask why she was crying, I don’t have the energy for other people, but when I got home to bed I burst out in tears. Maybe I was a little tipsy, but I went from jovial denial to miserable the minute I was on my own.

I’ve mostly isolated myself since then and I think I’ve been sleeping more too. I usually come to expect emotions like this to pass by themselves, but I don’t feel like it will at the moment. So I’ve started looking through photos and things of my husband in the hope that it will trigger something. It started me crying easily enough, but will that help?

It just has me isolated more because I’m afraid someone will drop in and catch me sobbing. I know that’s dumb, but I just don’t feel like being vulnerable around people. I think I can count the times I cried during my 10 year relationship with my husband on my fingers, and now I’m doing it all the time.

Grandmother

Last Friday morning I went to my grandmothers funeral. I wasn’t close to her in her last years, I’m not close to any of my extended family. But I admired her as a great role model, ahead of her time in many ways, extremely talented, strong willed and very giving. Hearing more about her in the last few days, I find myself wondering what she believed?

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This photo is my favourite, from her wedding day. She made her own dress as she was a tailor. She made dresses and coats for a lot of people, and I learned recently that she had a tendency to give them away for free if she felt the person didn’t have the money. Not everyone had those flowing white wedding dresses those days, but mostly she gave away the jackets she made to less well off children.

I have two dresses and a jacket from my childhood that she made for me, a flower girls dress, a communion dress and a jacket for my confirmation. It’s strange to me, as an atheist, to look back and see what a truly catholic upbringing I had. But my grandmother raised six atheists in that catholic culture, and while I believed in the religious superstitions of my community as a child, my brothers and I grew out of God in the same way that we grew out of Santa and the tooth fairy.

I’m thinking of religion not only because of the ritual clothes I have to remember my grandmother by, but because her funeral was catholic and felt surreal to me. After the beautiful humanist ceremony we had for my husband, it felt really cold and impersonal.

It was in her local church in the area my grandmother hated. But the location was a small issue compared to the eulogy. My grandmother was a quiet and giving woman, but she was well known as someone who stood up against cruelty and the hypocrisy of the church.

When she was still raising her own children, she took in a 15 year old neighbour girl who had gotten pregnant. Everyone had turned against the girl, and when her own mother died, she was blamed because getting pregnant caused the mother stress. My grandmother stood up for her and took care of her until the child was born. The girl would have been in a home, her child taken off her and sold, or dead, if my grandmother hadn’t stepped in.

This was just one story that stuck with me, but although the priest giving the eulogy made a vague mention that she wasn’t a woman to be ‘cowed’ by religion, he didn’t make any mention of the pregnant youth or any of her more radical side.

At one point in the eulogy, I remember thinking, ‘wow, for a catholic funeral, there’s an awful lot of talk about atheism here.’ I noticed my mother moving around in agitation and she raised her hand. I waved her down and tried to encourage her to be patient, but now that I was paying more attention, I realised that the priest was using my grandmothers funeral as a platform to berate her mostly atheist family!

My mother managed to restrain herself from jumping out of her chair and waited to slip behind the people doing the prayers instead. She stood up and very respectfully announced that she just wanted to ad something. That her own mother was always very respectful of others, whether or not they were Christian, or another religion, or non religious. That’s pretty much all she said, though far more elegantly, and I’ve never been so proud.

She was cheered and people were patting her on the back for the rest of the day, though it was clear that some family members didn’t get it, and others took offence. Her sister, who is often at odds with her, said that it was just like something their mother would have done. It was a perfect moment to me.

Work Day 1

After my anxiety attack last night, today has been incredibly easy. I was completely calm when I woke up, even if I wanted to throw something at my little black demon of a cat for waking me 20 minutes too early. I walked in to a cafe near work and got a mocha while I waited until ten. I was told IT would have to set my PC up, so I should come in a little late. Then I headed in to work and was met with just the right balance of sympathy and welcome.

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That’s me on the front left in the black jumper.

I know every day won’t be this easy, so let me take this opportunity to express how thankful I am for my career. I spent five years studying animation in college and then walked straight into my company as a 3D artist. I’ve been there for 7 years and do a lot of supervision and a little project development now. I didn’t realise how much I was missing that.

I won’t play down my hard work or ability, because I worked really hard and have enough talent to make it worth while. But I was also very lucky to get such a creative job in my own country. It took a few years before I really started making friends in work. After college, I was just too out of my element with the kind of fashion/football normal culture. But as we’ve grown, more geeky gamers and quirky arty types have joined.

The actual work I did today, called blend shapes, was familiar and not too challenging. There was some annoying clean up to do from working on other people’s files, but it let me switch off and just work for most of the day.

I normally work from 9am to 6pm, but by 5 I tend to burn out. For the last leg of today, I looked into what was on file in the projects in development I’d been working on before I went on extended leave. Nothing’s gone too far ahead without me, which was a relief.

All in all, it’s been a very calm day, but sadly, I also heard that my grandmother passed away today. She had late stage Parkinson’s and had been in a home for 9 years. I wasn’t close to her, but I know it will be a little tough to navigate another funeral this soon, and probably a religious one. I’ll try to write about her in another post, for now, I need sleep to face work again.

Anxiety

I almost called this post fear, but that’s not what I’m feeling. Fear was when I thought I might lose Heck forever. It was heavy and dark and inescapable and when it grew in me I recognised it very clearly as a distinct emotion I’d never had before. Now that I have lost him, fear isn’t relevant anymore. I’m back to feeling anxious and I no longer have my emotional support.

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In the morning I plan to go in to work. I thought the idea of facing people would be the hardest part of that, but as the hour grows closer I find myself unbearably anxious about more existential issues. It’s been months since I’ve been to work and months again since it was a normal routine, before Heck was even sick.

The idea of waking up to an alarm clock freaks me out. The thought of walking up the road by the park. Turning into the square where my company is. Trying to focus for eight whole hours. Getting home after 6 to just my cats. Going on with my life just like before just seems wrong.

I’ve always had some anxiety. I don’t like to make phone calls. I’m shy with people I don’t know. As an extension of those issues, I’m not great at keeping up to date with doctors or dentists. But I’ve never felt anxiety like this. I feel panicky and hot and very much not in control. I can’t sleep and I’m crying through way too much tissue. This is the closest I’ve ever felt to a panic attack

My brother suffers from anxiety in a more medical sense. I only learned recently that when he describes an emotion as painful, he means it literally. He gets nerve pain, actual physical pain from strong emotions. I can’t quite imagine that.

But it puts things in perspective. I know people survive worse than anything I know. I know millions of people have been through similar experiences to mine. I have to keep reminding myself, because that means I’ll probably make it through this.

But in the back of my mind there’s a conversation I had with Heck in the hospital. He’d dreamt that he survived, but lost the use of his legs. Five years from now, we were still together, but I’d grown to resent him. He cried harder than he’d ever cried before and I told him that I’d never resent him. I believe that.

I also told him that my greatest fear was that five years from now, he was just a faint memory of a previous life to me. I said before on this blog that a part of me would have to die in order for me to move on. Well it’s not going easily.

Practicalities

So just over a month after losing my husband, his favourite of our cats has disappeared. He was a beautiful, white, one year old who was too adventurous for his own good. I hope someone has taken him in out of a naive good will. I suspect he may have been poisoned.

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Emotionally, it’s barely registered, but the extra stress has put a spanner in my practical life. It sounds tawdry, but I’ve been wrapped up in sorting out my widows pension and hoping to get pre approved for a mortgage before the reduced pay for extended leave shows up in my accounts. They gave me full pay for 6 months, and I’m not worried about the money, but I am worried about having to explain discrepancies to a bank.

I was even thinking of going in to work. Not straight back to full time, but maybe a couple of days a week and then building it up. Now, with a missing cat and two cats acting out of sorts because of it, it all feels quite insurmountable.

I just read back on some earlier entries and I’m suddenly feeling more emotional than I have in weeks. I guess that’s part of the reason for this blog to exist. Practicalities are a good way to move forward, but I don’t want to drift off into numbness.

Hardly a poetic entry, but sometimes that’s how the world seems to turn. If I’m not expressing the mundanity of real life quite strongly enough, I’ll just add that I’ve started jogging to get my stamina back up after having been stuck in the hospital for so long. But I’ve mostly been playing World of Warcraft with my friends.