One Day at a Time, Part I

In March I wrote about the fact that I was taking a program – Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for Depression. This was the second mental health therapy program I’ve taken since I was released from the hospital. It has been a challenge, to say the least.

I’ve been writing about metamorphosis lately and that’s where I believe I am now. I had a meeting with one of the case workers at the hospital who ran the CBT program and I had to tell her What I Learned and How I’ve Changed. So, being me, a writer, I wrote about it.  I’ll break this down into a few posts over the week because it’s lengthy. I will start here with the background to fill in some of the blanks.

June 23, 2015

The past two years has been a tumultuous journey for me. It has also been a time of many epiphanies. To say ‘it hasn’t been easy,’ is an understatement.

I believe I have always suffered from depression since I was teenager. I was diagnosed when I was 40. I was put on medication (Prozac). I weaned off (with my Doctor’s permission) hoping that I would be able to manage without it, but found myself in that dark abyss of depression again, so agreed to go back on the medication. I was on it for almost 20 years.

Despite the medication I have always suffered some symptoms of depression and low self-esteem and extreme anxiety. After Bob died (June 8, 2013) I started a slow decent, fueled by intense grief and (I learned later) the medication no longer working. Instead it was making me more depressed and I became suicidal. My anxiety was out of control. The slightest little issue sent me into a frenzy. I couldn’t think straight. I felt immobilized by fright.

I was hospitalized in October 2014 after an attempted suicide. Doctors quickly diagnosed the biggest issue,  the medication no longer working and, ironically, this meant it was making me even more depressed. I was admitted to the psychiatric ward and my medication changed under the care of a psychiatrist. I attended classes and through the learning was able to label my anxiety issues. My low self-esteem was also at an all-time high (no pun intended).

I was released from hospital approximately a week later and began an outpatient group therapy– Track to Wellness. This program gave me tools to deal with my depression and anxiety and an overview of other group therapies available at the hospital. I requested and was accepted into CBT for Depression.

After a four-week three-hour activation sessions, followed by eight week, three-hour CBT group therapy sessions, including homework every night detailing everything from how I felt on a scale of 1 to 10 about every single thing I was doing to noting what made me laugh, positive events and many other details, I emerged in a very different place than when I started.

Looking back, I do wonder if part of this is be due to the two-year mark after Bob died. Maybe the worst of my grief passed by calendar days. But it’s more likely a combination of many things, the biggest lesson being to “live in the moment” and exactly what that means. I leave that for my next post.

 

Down the Rabbit Hole: In and Out of Sanity

If you feel upset reading this feel free to stop. It is my journey, not yours…

Saturday October 18 2014

tears 2 I had tried it all – psychotherapy, grief therapy, grief groups, alternative therapies…the list goes on and on ad nausium. I knew I was in trouble. I needed help. I saw my therapist that day. I probably didn’t articulate what I thought because my mind was muddled. She drew me pictures of life as we would like it to be: line from bottom to right going gradually up. Then reality: twists turns and circles as you climb up, sometimes a dip down along the way. I’d seen it before. I knew this. But I knew something wasn’t clicking. What I didn’t realize then is that somewhere inside the twists and turns I had been spiraling rapidly downward – down the rabbit hole.

I analyzed;  looked for triggers. Knowing the pain of grief would come unexpectedly, expecting it to abate eventually. Sometimes I think I am ok. Other times I know I’m not. I had been spiraling downward into the vortex of what I believed to be grief, but it was so much more than that.

That night the pain was unbearable. I couldn’t see the light. I could end the pain but if I was gone who would look after the cats? Sounds crazy, I know. I have family and friends but this kind of pain takes away all rational thought. You just want it to end. But the cats were with me, looking at me. I haven’t had them for long. We had just started to bond. In fact, in less than a year everything that lived and breathed in my house was gone. I couldn’t think of getting more living creatures. The story began March 1, 2013. That was the day we had to put one of our cats down.

*****
I was trying everything I could do to keep him alive. I knew he was suffering. We can IMG_0012put animals out of their suffering. We do everything in our power to prolong the suffering of people. The irony isn’t lost on me. But cat number one was very, very sick. And though I try to ease his pain and hide his rapid decline, Bob saw what was happening and said that it was time. He was right. I was beside myself with loss already.

We took him to the vet. He was a beautiful cat, so loving, and so happy until he became so sick. I held him in my arms; wrapped in one of my daughter’s old but still soft baby blankets. They asked if I was ready. Who is ever ready for this? I swallowed hard and nodded, buried my face into his fur and whispered in his ear “I am here. I love you. You will be oknow. You won’t suffer anymore.” He took a deep sigh as the injection went into his veins and he was gone.

I cried long and hard. This is not my first loss, but it the first in less than 12 months of three great losses. That same month Bob got sick – March 11, 2013. Our journey is chronicled here in my blog. On June 8, 2013 he was in critical care where he died – gone, forever.

Cat number two couldn’t seem to cope. His world that has been rocked beyond anything familiar. On February 14, 2014, Valentine’s Day (the irony isn’t lost on me), I must do it again. A friend comes with me. I go through the exact same thing like the first cat, except for the most important thing, Bob isn’t with me. I wrap the little guy in the blanket and whisper that I love him in his ear, then he is gone.

I feel alright after my friend and I part. I go home, then break down, laying on the ground kicking and screaming and crying, “What did I do that made me so bad that nothing that breathed the same air that I did was no longer with me? Why? Why? Why? But no answers come. I pick myself up and think I’ll go on with life, but life isn’t what I want it to be.

*****

Down the Rabbit hole

Someone has to take care of the cats. I posted it on Facebook. I was counting pills. I knew others would be sad but my muddled mind said “They will get through it. They will go on with their lives. God knows I’ve tried but I can’t keep doing this. It’s been 16 months and I hate being alone, lonely.” The wine heightens my depression. I have hit the bottom of the rabbit hole.

IMG_0573My post, intending to find someone to look after the cats, becomes a cry for help. From Montreal to Winnipeg to to my hometown, people call each other, then call me. I try to ignore it but eventually a good friend calls and I answer. I am crying and incoherent. I scream for people to leave me alone. She hangs up and calls someone closer to where I live. He comes over and calls another friend who arrives. Each time someone walks in I tell them I’m o.k. and scream “please go!” But they tell me they can’t; that they care too much. Texting, phone calls, social media goes into action. Friends leave as family arrives.

Then my daughter walks in the door after driving from out of town. Tears in her eyes, she hugs me and I cry. More family arrives. I am told they won’t leave me, that they are here to help me. My daughter leads me up the stairs and helps me pack a bag, speaking gently. An ambulance arrives. I am more coherent. I answer their questions but keep saying “Please don’t make me go.”

What I don’t realize is that help has come. What I needed is there. And if I just reach out my hands I will get what I need; what I have been looking for as I spiral down the rabbit hole. A new chapter in my journey has begun…

After he was gone: confusion and grief consuming

TorahThis week I went to Jewish Yom Kippur services. This is the part of the Jewish High Holidays celebration and this particular day is called the Day of Atonement, where we atone for our sins throughout the year and ask ‘God’ for forgiveness for our everyday transgressions – large or small – and promise/vow to do better in the coming year.

An integral part of the day included a lengthy Yizkor service honouring the memory of our dead loved ones.  We read poems and Jewish death liturgy. It was an intense service where the words spoke to me again and again. I was enveloped in mourning those who passed before me. I believe this was the beginning of my week spiraling down into another deep grief depression.

This week I met with a friend – an editor – who agreed to talk about a submission I wanted to write for a book anthology on death, and to bounce around some ideas with her for an outline. As we talked, the memories flooded back again. Tears welled up. I was living the last moments of his life, questioning the rationale for what happened – Why did he die? Did I do all I could? Why couldn’t I save him this time? Could we have done something differently?

writingAfter my friend left, I tried to start writing my piece, but it didn’t seem genuine. The words and thoughts were stilted. It didn’t capture what I felt. It wasn’t conveying my feelings. I began wondering whether I really wanted someone to judge my personal writing and possibly reject it because it didn’t meet their standards. When you pour you soul out and others dismiss it as substandard would it be too difficult to bear?

Even after an evening with my weekly meditation group didn’t relax me. The act of meditating became a futile attempt to calm a wandering mind focusing on finding words for the anthology story and coming up with empty platitudes, stale remarks and boring analogies.

The fact that our Canadian Thanksgiving is this weekend probably added to my muddled mind. Another holiday without Bob. The enveloping sadness that was taking over and then there was October 11th. It would have been our 29th wedding anniversary.

That night I couldn’t stop thinking. The yearning of my loss morphed into a need to be held, but there was no one there to hold me and tell me it would be alright. I was, again, back in the time of feeling bereft.

Today, I am wrung out from crying, wailing and flailing my fists at unfairness, aloneness, desperation. Can someone please bring him back, reverse time, make this as if it never happened?

Grief is a never-ending cycle. Slowly, through time, the positives in life begin to outweigh the negatives. We are more present, living in the moment rather than living in the past. The bad days don’t go away but we begin to see the triggers and rationale. But  that doesn’t negate the grief. It slowly heals, then we fall back and, like a Band-Aid® being ripped off quickly and without care for the pain it inflects, the wounds, partially healed, are revealed and the anguish and heartache return.

It’s been 16 months since he was gone. I have fewer people to turn to. Who wants a call in the middle of the night from a woman who can’t stop crying? Shouldn’t I be over it? Is that what others think? And yet the grief continues. It doesn’t take a holiday. It is part of my life and comes up unexpectedly again, and again, and again.

I know I did all I could to try and save him, but it was his time. And now I must live without him. I still don’t know how to do that. I haven’t figured out what my purpose is. After a day and night like I just went through I just feel wrung out. It’s easier to crawl into bed and never come out.

A belated farewell to Robin Williams – sometimes it feels like it’s about me

Robin William’s death was beyond tragic. If I could have been with him I would have told him how I struggled with this myself. I wrote a few blogs about a recent bout I went through. One was a suicide note: After he was gone: Darkest Days.

A friend  wrote me an imploring e-mail reaching out to me. I changed the wording after I had settled down… a bit After he was gone: Darkest Days 2.

I obviously have a strong affinity for those who are left behind after the death of a loved one. When Williams’ wife posted about allowing them privacy during their “profound grief,” I was struck again by my own personal journey. I have used that exact phrase in my own blog. Ironically (not in a funny way), I recently posted a blog about my grief journey and my own battle with depression: My new reality.

Sometimes I wonder if anyone even reads my blog (save for a few good friends). A few people post on Facebook and other social media, and some tell me they read it. Some say they don’t read it. Fair enough. But without the tangible feedback those in the world of their own depression feel alone.

Reaching out is scary. No one touching you when you reach out is worse.

The other night I had a friend over. I read my bog post My new reality to her and she cried. I realized that it’s too painful for people to read. So if they find it too painful to read about other people’s struggles then it’s no surprise that we keep our demons to ourselves.

Rest in peace Mr. Williams. Your demons are purged. You are missed profoundly by those who loved you most. but you aren’t in pain anymore.

After He Was Gone: My new reality & my old demon – depression

I haven’t written a blog since May: After He Was Gone: Darkest Days. It was just under a year, the long weekend in May, when I had a breakdown, actually one of two, leading up to the one-year anniversary since Bob died, June 8, 2013.

Image courtesy of FrameAngel / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of FrameAngel / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I found myself sitting with my doctor in her office, another blog in my hand: After he was gone – 11 months, I am. I’d been crying for two days. I felt like I was going through the first days of loss all over again. It was like being violently thrown back in time and crashing against the grief wall, living the first days of loss over and over and over again.

She read my blog, raised her eyebrows ever so slightly, then said “O.K….” We talked at length, actually, she talked. I cried, in between getting out a few straggling thoughts of depression and hopelessness. After what seemed like an hour, and having assessed my state of mind enough to feel she could trust me not to do anything rash, she asked me to increase my antidepressants and made a follow-up appointment.

It takes a while for the medication to kick in, but when it did I finally realized it wasn’t a place I wanted to be either. I was numb. I couldn’t cry. I didn’t care about anything. There was no sadness, but there was no joy either. I was existing in a fog of daily to-do chores. I could work because I could focus again, but my creativity was nil. I went back and told her I needed to decrease the medication. She agreed, but continues to monitor me. I am on the lower dose now and started to feel emotions again. It actually felt like relief when I cried again. But I wonder why I’m doing this balancing act with antidepressants.

*****

For me, there is a hairline difference between existing and living. It’s called antidepressants. Given the right dose I feel ‘normal.’ When I go off them I find myself in a deep, dark cavern. It’s been going on for years. I have not found the antidepressant antidote that works for me. I must stay on them, even just a low dose. I’m not crazy, but they make me feel, well, ‘normal.’

So what is normal, or abnormal? Our Western society, dictates that we must smile and be happy. No matter how far we fall, we need to get up, brush ourselves off and move ahead. We need to “get over” anything that happened in the past and focus on the future.

Things get more complicated when you set out on a grief journey. It changes life in a way you can’t imagine. I try to learn as much about it as I can, and about ways to get through this, because I know that I will never will get over it. One of my lessons has become a new buzz phrase in Western society: “being in the moment.” It’s done through conscious effort but has been used in meditation for decades. It’s a place where you don’t think about the past or future. If your mind wanders back or forward, you need to pull it into the present.

Image courtesy of Arvind Balaraman / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Arvind Balaraman / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It’s often a fight to get the busy (sometimes referred to as ‘monkey’) mind to settle down. Even those who have been meditating for years still find their minds wander. But the entire act of control over your mind and where you focus is achieved with repetition. The idea is to bring the practice into your present life. Don’t think too far ahead. Don’t focus on what happened before. Live each moment as it comes, every day.

In grief this is the biggest challenge. When we lose a loved one, we are thrown into a frenzy of making arrangements for their burial, or whatever our tradition requires. We are surrounded by family and friends who hold us up. We console others on their loss of our loved one. Then, suddenly, we are left on our own. Life goes on for everyone else. The grief-stricken don’t have a life as they knew it. Being in the moment means pain.

*****

As time moves on we move further away from the intense grief but there are times when the loneliness of our new reality makes us apprehensive, fearful and sometimes depressed. For me it’s long weekends. I am alone, not by choice. So I post on Social Media, hoping to connect with someone out there:

“I don’t like weekends. I especially dislike long weekends. Why? Because I feel like everyone is with family hanging out or getting away, especially in the nice summer weather. Not that my preconceived idealist notion is true, but it feels like it to me. I don’t have my guy, or cats…or anyone to be with, consistently, throughout the weekend. I used to, but not now. Yes, I do try to make plans but sometimes it seems like a lot of work. I never had to do this before. [This is] Another part of my new reality.”

I am greeted with support. Some say they feel this way too. Others say this is a revelation to them. Over a year ago it would have been a revelation to me. But not now. And so I continue on my journey, after a year has passed since he was gone. I will be on pills that make me try to feel normal. I will smile and some days I will feel happiness, but nothing is the same, or will ever be the same. There is a huge gaping hole in my heart, but I’m the only one who can feel it. I didn’t sign up for this, but this is my new reality.

*****

As I write this it’s the last day of a long weekend. I have seen some friends. I have spent time alone. It feels like it’s been a week, but I made it.