Wednesday, 28 November 2012

It Really Is 'A Wonderful Life' Afterall

The other day a few of my friends and I celebrated a belated Thanksgiving meal.  I hosted, and they acted as sous chefs, eagerly helping every step of the way.  It was a day of cooking, eating, drinking wine, and chatting.  And it was good.

Oddly, despite the somewhat chaotic nature of the day, I felt extremely relaxed.  I enjoyed having something to focus on.  The lead up to the day instilled motivation in me as I spent the preceding days shopping and prepping, joyfully playing my mum's role for a just little while.  I felt so grown up.  So organised.  By the end I felt tired and wired, to be sure, but it was such a huge accomplishment for me that the meal tasted a hundred times better than any Thanksgiving meal I've ever ate previously.

I'd cooked Thanksgiving meals in the past for friends.  It always tasted good but it was always very stressful, last minute, rushed, and on a thin budget.  This time, it was on my terms, in my kitchen, and I did it.  Despite my widow brain.  The thing is, people forget, that my brain is still scrambled.  I feel like it completely shut down when P died and it's been reprogramming and rebooting slowly ever since.  I know I'm a lot better now.  I no longer look, talk, and walk like a zombie, but I still struggle to remember things, whole conversations are often lost in my memory.  People take it personally, but seriously?  I can't even remember when I've taken something out of my bag and moved it to the next room sometimes.  It's like there are gaps in my mind, and I am constantly having mini blackouts.  So the fact that I was able to plan a whole Thanksgiving, complete with a stuffed turkey breast, homemade, from scratch cornbread stuffing, cranberry relish, mashed potatoes, roasted vegetables, green beans, and a pumpkin pie, feels like a small miracle.  Oh and we had nibbles to start as well.

And then we sat down to watch It's a Wonderful Life.  Another family tradition of mine I was happy to share with friends.  They had to leave before the film finished, so I had the chance to sit alone and really focus on the message of the film.  And it surprised me to find that I identify with George Bailey.  I, too, have always dreamt of seeing the world, of doing big things, and making something of myself....

"I'm shakin' the dust of this crummy little town off my feet and I'm gonna see the world. Italy, Greece, the Parthenon, the Colosseum. Then, I'm comin' back here to go to college and see what they know. And then I'm gonna build things. I'm gonna build airfields, I'm gonna build skyscrapers a hundred stories high, I'm gonna build bridges a mile long... "

Sure I've seen more of the world than George Bailey ever did, but instead of thinking 'Why'd we have to have all these kids anyway?'  I find myself thinking the usual thought why'd I have to lose the love of my life at age 26?  Why was my life stolen from me?  P's from him?  

As cliche as it sounds, this past year has been a blur and often I've felt like it's been a wasted year.  Nearly 28 years old and I still don't know what I want to do with my life, or where I want to live.  In a very different way, I too feel stuck like George Bailey.  Stuck in a life I didn't choose.  But I guess the challenge now is to see that no matter where life has landed you, or the cards you've been dealt, It's a Wonderful Life if you choose to see it.  If P hadn't died, I never would have gone sky diving, ran a half marathon, or learnt to scuba dive.  I never would have met some of the most wonderful people that I am blessed to know now.  Certain friendships would never have blossomed or rekindled.  Out of the ashes comes new life, if you let it.  So as strange as it may sound, as hard as it may be to say aloud, there are so many things to be thankful for this holiday season, if you choose to see it.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Depression? What's that?

It's a taboo topic.
And I can kind of understand why.  It's hard to understand what it is and how it feels until you've experienced it.  And no, it's not just like 'being really sad'.
I honestly didn't get it.  I would say all the right things to friends who admitted they had dealt with or were currently battling with depression.  I'd advocate taking anti-depressants when needed.  I'd tell them not to be ashamed, that they weren't alone, that it was a chemical imbalance, and it wasn't them.  But I did not get it.  I had been REALLY sad in the past and thought it was like that.  I remember spending countless days sobbing with P told me he couldn't move to London as planned because he had to take care of his sick mother.  I struggled to eat, focusing on tasks was near impossible, and dragging myself up out of bed was difficult.  But once I was around people I was able to put it to one side and carry on.
This depression I'm experiencing now?  It's hard to hide.
I sit in the rehearsal room, barely able to crack a smile, fighting to make small talk as required, and resting my head and body every chance I get.  I want to crawl out of my skin.  I want to scream.  Time seems to drag and this aching sensation feels like it will never end.  Food is so boring.  Talking is boring.  TV is dull.  Nothing, and I mean NOTHING, makes the minutes tick over faster.  It's hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel and I feel like everything is an uphill battle.
I let the rubbish pile up this week until it was full to the rim.  The dishes mounted in the sink until I could fit no more.  Bits of dried cereal lay on the floor for days.  Changing the channel required too much energy so the TV stayed on one channel throughout the night.  I am late to most engagements because the only time I can get up and go is when I'm running late.  Some days that sense of urgency is the only motivation I can find.
This show has been one of the hardest challenges of this year.  It is so hard to act in a comedy when inside you're being consumed by a pit of darkness.
I was prescribed anti-depressants.  And even after good friends gently encouraged me to start taking them despite my fear, they are still sitting in my bedside table drawer, the box unopened.  Why?  It's not the taboo.  It's not a sense of 'pride'.  It's a fear of an outside force dictating my mood, controlling my emotions.  And yet, this depression feels just like that.  Like someone has taken over my mind and body.  This is not me.
This year I have been SAD.  I have been DISTRAUGHT.  I have been ripped up and torn apart.  But it was always ME.  Even when I felt out of control I knew where the emotions were coming from.  Now.... I feel like I'm only just in control.  It's a thin line and frankly its disturbing.

So next time someone talks about being depressed, please try to's not just that they're a bit sad and they need to 'buck up'.  Help them, practically.  Go round and eat with them.  Try to get them out of the house for a walk or a meal.  Realise that they might not want to talk.  Silent company is still helpful.  Encourage them to exercise by offering to do it with them.  Exercise really does help but it's so hard to find the motivation.  Send encouraging texts.  And most of all, remember that your help might not be appreciated or accepted now, but when the fog clears they will be grateful.
As for me?  Well I'm the resilient, stubborn type.  I'll see my doctor again, go back to my counsellor, and generally make the most of the good days and try to go easy on myself on the bad days.  I will get through this, I know that.  But until then, please put with my moaning about how much this sucks, and how badly I miss him.  

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Thank you Weeds

Weeds is a dark comedy about a single mother, Nancy, who decides to make ends meet and provide for her family by selling marijuana after her husband unexpectedly dies from a heart attack.  The show ran for 8 seasons.  I was a fan before, but needless to say, over the last few weeks I have been drawn into this dark twisting tale through a sense of empathy and curiosity towards the character of Nancy.  The show does not dwell on her grief.  Not at all.  She doesn't really deal with it.  She's too busy trying to make money, provide, and stay out of jail and alive to be worried about crying and moaning about the loss of her husband.  But in season 8 lines sneak into the episodes regarding her grief.  Andy, her brother in law, says at one point 'Just so you know, I don't think she's ever really loved anyone since Judah.'  When she finds out that her new boyfriend is also a widower and that's only been 15 months, she is reluctant to be his first foray into the dating pool and she tells him he's not ready.  That she has no idea how long it took her to get to the point she's at now.  I like that over the series you see glimpses of the pain behind her eyes.  You see her go off the rails, and if you are like me, you know why.  You see that she's trying to escape the emotional pain, to distract herself.  Although it's a far fetched tv show, I think the writers and Mary-Louise Parker (who plays Nancy) did an incredible job.  She has these crazy, vacant eyes for much of the series until season 8, when she finally seems to come to terms with the loss of Judah.  When she finally lets herself revisit the place where he died.  She is calmer, balanced.  But then, of course, in the final episode, we find her dealing with the loss of her latest husband (she gets married multiple times for complicated reasons, but this one she loved) and this conversation happens.  And it's like Andy was speaking directly to me:

Andy:  You're going to be fine.  Things happen.  Things change.  We can't control it but the one thing you can control is how you think about it.  So look at it this way.  You're free.  You did your job, now it's done.  No one there to answer to.

Nancy:  No one to come home to.

Andy:  No one to hold you back from becoming the person you always wanted to be.  Doing only what you want to do.

Nancy:  Who is that? What is that?

Andy:  Time for you to figure it out....You're going to be fine.  You're so strong.  Time for you to face yourself.

It never ceases to amaze me - the power of film, television, and music.  The ability to put words to an experience or an emotion that so many people feel.  The opportunity to make people see life differently, to view their own experiences from another perspective.  Television is such a powerful medium.  TV shows become our solace.  These past few weeks I desperately needed a distraction, something to focus on, and yet, something that spoke to me in some small way.  Weeds provided me with an escape and got me through the final first anniversary (the anniversary of the funeral).  The writers and actors left me with advice that I will carry forward with me.  Facing yourself is the scariest and hardest thing of all to do, if you ask me.  Discovering who you want to be is difficult.  But I know that P would be saying this to me if he could:  'You're free....time for you to figure out who you are and what you want to do'.....

So thank you to the creators and actors of Weeds.  Well done.

And to all those out there on this journey - good luck.  I hope to see you on the other side.  Calmer, balanced, and self aware.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

'I may look your age, but inside I'm about 100 years older'

I may look your age but inside I'm about a hundred years older. - Private Practice

I love it when a tv show gives you a quote that nails it right on the head.  I have been addicted to Private Practice (the spin off of Grey's Anatomy) since last year when I discovered one of the lead characters was a widower.  I immediately began watching every episode with a fine toothed comb - watching closely to see how they portrayed this difficult journey, hoping to gain some insight of what the future might hold.  This year is the final season, season 8 and in the first episode, Pete, the widower, passes away suddenly from a heart attack.  Thus far, in the episodes that followed, the writers have dealt with the different character's grief in each episode and I'm so grateful that they haven't just 'done the funeral and moved on' like they do in so many tv series when a character dies.  They are really investing in portraying how the grieving process is different for everyone involved, how a loss affects every relationship in different ways.  And although it makes me cry uncontrollably from time to time, I am relishing watching this season.  It's cathartic.  And sometimes I find quotes like the one above that just get me.

Initially I found it so hard to socialise with friends my age.  I even felt decades older than friends 15 years my senior.  In some ways, over the course of the last year, I feel like part of me reached old age, and died.  This may sound crazy, but go with me on this one....

A friend said to me in the early days 'some people live multiple lives in one lifetime'.  That stuck with me.  And so I've not only mourned the loss of P, but the loss of that life.  Our life.  Our future.  The girl I once was - wide eyed, optimistic, passionately in love.  That life was brought to a crushing halt when P died and it's been dying a slow death ever since.  I have finally begun to accept the loss of that life, and the loss of that self.  I look back at the girl I was one year ago and I feel so sorry for her, it breaks my heart, that she had to go through such a hideous experience at the age of 26.  That might make me sound like a lunatic, but honestly, I feel like a different woman now, in a different life.

At times I still feel about 100 years older than I look.  Friends moan about financial stress, job worries, break ups, and living circumstances.  They hold grudges, and end friendships.  And I stand back, listen, and watch, like an elderly grandparent I smile knowingly and try to offer advice.  But inside, I know.  Life is too short for these mundane worries.  And I pray they never know the emotions I feel.  That they never experience all that I have.  And if they do, that they are as old on the outside as I now feel.

I can not lose the wisdom I've gained, and nor would I want to in some ways.  I am who I am because of what I've been through, but it makes it hard to operate as a 'normal' 27 year old.  My desires are not the same, my view of life is drastically different, and I have an urgency inside that is difficult to explain.    I'm so acutely aware of the fragility of life that I am eager to tick off my bucket list items as quickly as possible and I'm desperately afraid of passing up any opportunity at acquiring a semblance of happiness again.  I want to be impulsive but I've been there and done that.  I'm wary of making the same mistakes twice, of putting all my eggs in one basket yet again.  Sometimes I think - the more you know, the harder this life is.  If only we could start over at the beginning.  If only we could live like wide eyed children, appreciating each and every moment without bitterness or pessimism.  Wouldn't that be great?