I harbour no superstitions. I don’t believe in fate. I don’t believe in our souls setting up our lives before we live them. I don’t believe in gods and monsters and demons and angels. I don’t believe our dead loved ones hang around the ethers watching our lives like some sort of Truman Show.
I believe we are all products of the meeting between the fastest sperm and a receptive egg that successfully implanted itself in a woman who was also receptive to the idea of carrying a pregnancy full term and whose body supported that. I was born white and female into a North-eastern American middle class family not because of a plan by any being – but because of the biology involved. An act occurred in June and I was born full term in March. That’s it.
Despite that lovely biological chance, I have always felt (and was taught to feel) that my life is largely in my control.
As I matured I learned that there are circumstances we cannot control and other people’s actions are largely out of our control. I was bullied at school – primary and secondary. I didn’t date much – and found out that was partly due to my father being a police officer. I fell in obsessive love with the wrong people (zero gaydar in my teens). I married an abusive man – and got away from him. I have had horrible jobs with horrible bosses. I have been in scary situations involving men who thought they were entitled to something I wasn’t willing to participate in. So I learned that there are people and situations with which I have had to deal. I ended up battered from some of them but either immediately or eventually re-gained control and moved on with some psychological bruising that has mostly healed over time.
When all of the plans I made for the rest of my life were ripped away from me in an instant, and the unique, wonderful man who was my support, confidante and best friend was also taken away from me – I experienced something more. A helplessness I felt in the worst times of my life with no respite. I was bullied at school but at least had nights and weekends to recover and the promise that school didn’t last forever. I quit the horrible jobs eventually. I left my abusive first husband. I stopped blaming myself for the sexual assault that fortunately didn’t result in rape.
But this – this is for the rest of my life. My whole life is impacted and there is nothing I can do to make it change. The man I was going to grow old with, have adventures with, laugh and love for the next 30-40 years is gone. The helplessness is the worst feeling in the world for someone like me who doesn’t believe in fate or grand plans made by invisible super beings.
And then I shattered my elbow. And that wiped out plans I’d had to go out and adventure seek locally by joining a women’s group that had plans to snorkel and boogie board and abseil down a rock face. All gone. And physical discomfort and pain to add to my situation.
As with the other situations in my life, I do have some agency in all this. I can choose how to deal with all of this pain and sadness. I have had depression my entire life and have always felt things so intensely that some people have thought I was being overly dramatic. As a result, I’ve wasted hours in this situation debasing myself for being an overly dramatic, entitled jerk.
Other women are losing their husbands to war, famine and poverty. You are middle class with a great job and a comfortable living situation. Who the hell are YOU to be this torn apart? You’re lazy. You’re a drama queen. You’re selfish. You’re a diva. You’re an attention and pity seeker. You’re crazy.
These are the thoughts that go through my head regularly. So I feel guilt for feeling the way I feel — and that guilt adds to the feeling of helplessness. Because when you can’t trust yourself to react and think appropriately you are, by definition, out of control.
Then there is the need to reach out to friends and get help. My dad had a saying “A friend in need is a pain in the arse.” So every time I go to reach out, I have to weigh it up against wondering if they resent me for it. If they’re going to get sick of hearing from me. If they’re already sick of hearing from me.
When I do receive help, I am so grateful. I have some amazing friends and family who have the gift of bestowing favours without making one feel indebted. There are too many of you to name.
I feel so helpless for having to ask. For calling up and sobbing. For taking so much and having so little to give back.
I also feel helpless because the job of rebuilding my life seems so immense. Metaphors involving eating elephants are fine – but when I’m having to deal with so much on my own, it seems to me there is more than carving up the metaphorical elephant going on here.
A counsellor told me that grieving and mourning well is a full time job. Added to a full time job to pay the bills and housework and it feels overwhelming. The lack of energy is a running current under all of this. So more helplessness.
So I feel helpless because of Paul’s death, helpless because I’m feeling and expressing emotions that I deep down don’t feel fully entitled to, helpless because I have to ask for help (and then wonder if I’m doing so at the expense of a relationship), pay bills and do the housework and go to work and am lacking energy BUT I need to heal myself/mourn/eat an elephant.
Unpacking all of this has taken time and reflection that I’m only now exploring. Thinking about mourning (or sorry business as an Aboriginal friend of mine calls it) as work to be done actually cheers me. I can work.
I’ve gone through a few books and am reading another. I have done a couple of exercises from one of the books and that felt good. A friend told me that I set impossibly high standards for myself. So maybe I need to look at a personal Kaizen. Just improve a few things by a small percent every day and week. The thing I want to do – sleep most of the time – I can’t do if I want to rebuild myself and my life.
I need more of those small exercises – like writing a mantra, looking at photos, micro meditation, organising my medicines and vitamins – to incorporate into my life. These give me small ways of being in control. These techniques, strategies, mental exercises are important to people like me who don’t submit to the whims of fate or the plans of a super being.