Richard died four years ago. The anniversary is quickly approaching, and I think of it now because of this, but I also think of it now because of something else.
I went to a dear friend’s wedding this weekend, and I was reunited with other dear friends. Among the usual chatter of “you look great” and “I’ve missed you” was something else I wasn’t expecting. A “where have you been” feel. When we did the math, I realized it had been years since we’d seen each other. Jobs have ended, classes have started, moves have happened, relationships have sparked.
I found myself confused, disbelieving, it has not been years. But thank god for social media, I can prove myself wrong. The things I’ve captured since I last saw these friends…the time that’s passed. The memories I have of our last time together…it’s been years since.
I left the wedding with mixed emotions. I felt sad, like when will I see these people again? I felt hopeful like, I’ve done something right with my life to know these people. I felt guilty, too, but more than that. There was something burrowing underneath the guilt, gasping for air. I felt a missing. I felt…a lack. Where have I been for two years? How did I let so much time pass without reaching out to the people who once were my life? How did I not spend any time– or even think about spending any time– with the people who I once shared so much of my life with?
So, I reflect on the past two years of my life, and even though Richard’s passing was four years ago, I know the last two years would have been insanely different if he were still alive.
When Richard went missing something inside of me shifted, drastically. Where there had been confidence and hope and belief… a purpose, if you will, there was suddenly a black hole of doubt and grief. What once kept me going, what once sustained me, was drained. Just gone. And beyond this hollow, my shield, my guard, were down. Out.
As my mental/emotional state deteriorated internally, so too did my external world. My professional world crumbled, at first slowly, starting not long after Richard’s death, and then it completely shattered in 2016. I had nothing to keep me going once my job became pointless. I was living, living, living, trying, but then I lost my support system at work that summer. Both of my mentors left. I had been making moves to do other things. I’m always the one with the back-up plan, but I quickly realized I was in no mental state to take on those things either. I had applied to PhD programs, and been accepted, but I deferred first one, then another enrollment deadline. I was in talks to apply to other jobs at my alma mater. I had been referred to first one, then another. I started one, then left unfinished, another job application. I was out of breath. I had used up all my mental and emotional stamina. After twenty some years of running, I just couldn’t do it anymore.
I had prepared and prepared and prepared. But then, Richard died, and my heart took its last shaky step, and then it was like the world decided to take a shit in the deflated space left by my heart. Where once I had felt resilient and capable, I now only felt loss.
I started going to therapy in August of 2016. I started learning about anxiety and mindfulness and meditation. I realized how all my planning to run had saved me before, but would likely not save me this time. With the help of my therapist, I saw how I was only trying to run away from myself this time. As I delved into why I wanted to run away from myself, I got worse.
In March of 2017, I fantasized about falling asleep and never waking up. I dreamt about dying. I had all the hope in the world that I would stop living. Stop thinking, stop breathing. That something would come and put a stop to the hopelessness I was feeling by putting an end to me. Anywhere but here.
I recognized these thoughts as unhealthy. I recognized this as outside of my normal. I found another therapist. I was diagnosed with seasonal depression. I was given lots of reasons for why and how and what to do next. Having a diagnosis helped, but wasn’t enough to cut me out of the black cotton I could feel surrounding my brain. I walked around in a suit of pain. I felt so vulnerable all the time. When I was with people, I was usually drugged. Something to keep me going. When I was alone, I was usually crying or asleep. Something to keep me going. I knew I had to keep living, despite my desire to not.
I look back on that time now and do not see myself. I see her entombed in grief. Entombed in this ugly orbit of hurt.
I didn’t realize it then, but I realize it now: I stopped. I stopped talking to my friends. I stopped reaching out to the people I loved. Conversations were impossible. Text messages were overwhelming. Everything in me screamed to be alone, to be left. To be empty. I had no excuses, so I didn’t make any. Instead, I tried my very best to have a minimal existence. It was so much work to exist in my self, with my self. I had no idea how to exist for others. How to be present outside of myself, beyond myself.
I spent the year trying to escape while trying to be present.
Something is awake now in my brain …I can only describe it as a kind of rebirth. Something that curled up and went into hiding, went off to hibernate, has finally roused. And I am here now, and I am looking around now, and I am amazed at everything I’ve missed. All the time that’s passed since last I was awake to bear witness.
Two years I let that grey wool numb my brain. But I’ve done the work, and I’m back. I can take on the world again. I can be in the world again. I can love and live and hope again. I can feel something else besides me. I can feel and think of someone else besides me. I am free of the trap of my hollow, shallow doubt.