This is the story of my summer, the summer of 2017. I know there is still a month of summer left, but it is too soon to know how long this writing hiatus will last. I’m hoping that this is just a season and the words will soon begin to flow again. Writing is normally very centering and therapeutic for me.
After June 1, 2017, the one year anniversary of my husband’s death, the world went dark. I’d focused my eyes on surviving the firsts of the first year, hoping the second year they would all be easier. But somehow I forgot that he would still be gone the second year. Somewhere deep buried in my subconscious, I believed if I could just survive the year, all would be well again and he would return.
The first year you are focused on surviving intense pain. Then the second year arrives and you realize that the darkness stretches in front of you, with seemingly unending sorrow and exhaustion.
It was in the second year that depression hit. Depression was very different from grief. They were both present simultaneously, but were as different as fire ants and bronchitis. It wasn’t apples and oranges, it was apples and pencils. The grief was sharp and painful, but the depression was hopeless. I continued functioning on sheer willpower and inertia. But even sitting up took a major effort. One day I woke up and had gained 25 lbs, and another day I realized even when I was leaving the house, going to work and running errands, I was managing to walk less than 2000 steps per day. Standing took strong effort. One day I realized I’d moved a chair over to the refrigerator so I could sit when pulling out the milk, butter or cheese.
It wasn’t just exhaustion. It was also hopelessness. I wasn’t considering killing myself, that’s a whole other thing. But the only thing I could find to look forward to was joining my husband in death.
It didn’t help that my job is an insane amount of work and responsibility for anyone, especially for a new grieving widow. But it did help that there was something I had to do each day. I had to work and I had to keep Zoya alive.
THE DEPRESSION TURNING POINT
SLEEP. There was a combination of things that started to turn things around. I was exhausted after 9 hours of sleep each day, but then I read an article about after the shock, and then the pain, grievers need rest, lots of rest. So, I napped. And then I started sleeping with Zoya. There are times when I need time away from her the most, but during this time, I needed sleep. So I started sleeping 10-12 hours a day.
WALKING. I also asked a private widow’s Facebook group about their experiences with medication. I heard as many stories as there were people. No two were the same. I’m learning to appreciate multiple opinions given by people who truly understand their way may not be right for anyone else. No pressure opinions THAT ARE REQUESTED sometimes help you figure out your own opinion, when the experience of someone else really rings true for you. The responders that I mOst resonated with were those who said they just started walking, putting one foot in front of the other.
I know walking is therapeutic. This spring I was training for a half marathon and running strongly. Then year two hit, and that is when I realized I wasn’t even walking 2000 steps. I kept focusing on running again, but wasn’t even walking. Now I’m walking, one foot in front of the other.
READING. My pastor asked me about self-care during my darkest days. As I talked through things that I had found renewing in the past, reading came up. I’d read every piece of fiction C.S. Lewis wrote earlier in the year, and they brought such new life. At the time, I was bogged down in some deep non-fiction that I was too tired to even process. I had to ask for book suggestions, because my old crime novels were a no-go and super light-hearted chic-lit made me feel completely alienated. So, I read East of Eden and I became so engrossed I wanted to keep going so I could hear the next part of the story. I read the nearly 30 hour book in a week, while I was still getting extra sleep. I listened while walking, and driving, and cooking and cleaning, and resting, and … .
I’m still where I am. My goal is walking 5000 steps. I often reach it, but not always. I had a really hard time sleeping last week. I received fresh news about my husband’s murder that I had to process while work got more and more stressful. For the first time since he died, I had trouble sleeping for many nights in a row. Work as at the front of my mind and wasn’t even allowing me to process the new details of my loss.
A magical friend came over for dinner, and suggest we take some time to clean the house, and then she gave Zoya a bath while I took a shower, and finally I slept. I slept a long time. Since then, I’ve kind of made falling asleep my priority, whatever it took. Cleaning, putting my phone away, reading physical books, warm baths, lavender everything, and chamomile tea, have all played a roll.
The other night, was the first night in a long time I could stay awake because I wanted to stay awake. I had recovered from lack of sleep and knew I could fall asleep when I wanted to, and so I stayed up, watching Big Bang Theory, alternating laughing at the show and crying because he wasn’t watching it with me. It was a luxury.
I’m tired to my core, even when I am not sleepy. Grief is exhausting. It’s the second year when widows most need the support to stay in bed all day. It’s the second year, that the exhaustion from the tears and responsibilities really catches up. It’s the second year when you need a meal train and your grass cut. I guess you need those things the first year, too. But the second-year surprises you. It’s the second year that you want to stop pushing forward for a while and rest.
Of course, I only write from my experience. But I want to share my experience, not only because it helps me process, but also to help others know they are not the only ones. If there is a “normal” experience, this seems to be it. I write so that other widows can be as fortunate as I am to be surrounded by others who understand. I write so that other single mothers can be as fortunate as I am to be surrounded by others who understand. It doesn’t take a large group, but when friends, family, and colleagues understand, it makes the burden just a little lighter.