Stage This

‘And if one day, she said, really crying now, ‘you look back and you feel bad for being so angry, if you feel bad for being so angry at me that you couldn’t even speak to me, then you have to know, Conor, you have to that is was okay. It was okay. That I knew. I know, okay? I know everything you need to tell me without you having to say it out loud.’

~Patrick Ness, A Monster Calls

Grief impacts everyone at some point in their lives, and it can come in a lot of different forms. We experience loss of loved ones: family members, friends, pets (though I rank them in the first category), significant others. We lose jobs or opportunities that meant the world to us. We have property taken from us through various means. All of it strikes us to the soul, and we’re plunged into despair – which people understand. After all, psychology informs us that there are five stages of grief we’re allowed to experience.

And then we move on and get over it.

Except that’s a load of crap. We aren’t robots – we don’t follow programming, regardless of what doctors with medical degrees tell us. Stages or no, everyone goes through the grieving process differently. Maybe we mix up those stages, maybe we skip stages entirely, or maybe we decide to stay in a single stage and never progress beyond it. Does that make us wrong or backward or [insert medical jargon here]?

Of course not!

Everyone experiences grief differently. How you go through the grieving process depends on the kind of person you are, the loss you experienced, and how the loss came about. I have not grieved the loss of any of my cats the same way because I haven’t lost them in the same manner (you may not relate, but I can’t have children, so they are my kids). Mischief was hospitalized for several days for a condition called diabetic ketoacidosis and rapidly declined. Nimue had lymphoma, and the second round of chemotherapy was failing. Talisman developed acute renal failure. Necile declined over several months (likely cancer) and was wasting away.

Each time, I had to make the decision, and each time was pure agony that ripped out my heart. But the grief wasn’t the same. I wasn’t prepared for Mischief or Talisman because their conditions were sudden – Tali’s more so than Mischief’s. I knew Nimue and Necile were coming, and the knowledge hovered in the back of my head for months, but the grief was no less for that. Did it hit me any less when the time came? Maybe, but it still ripped through me.

To this day, I see pictures of them, and I cry. I hear the song, “Memory” from Cats and think of Mischief (she always sat with me when I listened to the soundtrack). I watch the live-action version of Beauty and the Beast and sob because Tali sat with me when I first brought the DVD home. I can’t let go of the sadness attached to the memories and “move on” as everyone insists I should. They were a huge part of my life, and I cannot detach that and pretend it’s gone. What insane moron would expect that?!

When the grief was fresh, I isolated myself and ignored everyone around me. They all wanted to hug me and say the same exact thing:

“I’m sorry.”

“I’m thinking about you.”

“I know how you feel.”

Tripe.

It’s what’s said when you have nothing better to say – when you’re mind goes blank because you KNOW you can’t say anything. You have NO IDEA how that person feels! You have NO IDEA what they’re going through! But not saying anything is frowned upon. And if they continue beyond the proscribed grieving period, you’re supposed to nudge them forward into sunshine and light.

Leave them be!

Let a person feel the emotion they need to feel! Don’t spout the conventions! Be honest: Tell them you can’t imagine what they’re feeling! Let them scream, let them break things, let them cry for hours or days or weeks. Let them sit in silence. Let them experience the grief how they need to. If you’re a friend, let them do what they need to, and be there for them.

It rips my heart out every single time I read it, but A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness is the best book I have ever read on the subject of grief and letting go. It’s a quick read (a couple hours), but don’t read it before bed because you’re not going to sleep, you’re going to cry. It’s a realistic portrayal of grief, and the movie was a faithful representation, though it does leave a couple of key scenes out.

Take the time and the means you need and grieve your losses. The world is still going to turn (I know that sounds harsh, but it’s true) while you do. If you make people uncomfortable, good – more people need to be.

Saying No to Yourself

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Whether we admit it aloud (or even to ourselves), we all have vices. Big or small, we have our negative habits that we fall back on during our times of stress or depression to cope with the pain and darkness. They are our standbys and faithful friends, built up over years into a quasi-addiction (after all, we’re not exactly enamored with being depressed or wound-tight with anxiety).

Be honest: What are yours?

A particular food? (Chocolate doesn’t count – that’s a food group)

A game you only pick up when you want to disappear?

An album you never play except when things get bad?

Walking blindly out of the house and not paying attention where you’re going?

Tearing plants out of the ground?

Cleaning the entire house beyond normal levels? (Nope? Just me? Okay, moving on)

How about everything listed above? That’s right – I’ve had every one of those vices on my list at one point in time (we won’t discuss the fact that the last one is still on the list). Some of them are more harmless than others, and I won’t discuss the harmful vices I know exist out there – you know what they are, and you know you need to speak with someone about those. None of these are healthy coping mechanisms, though, for one simple fact:

They don’t SOLVE anything!

They’re AVOIDANCE maneuvers! They are designed to avoid reality, to avoid confronting whatever is going on at the time. So far as that goes, they’re brilliant. The problem is, they don’t actually help the depression fugue, they don’t ease anxiety (especially not the damn video game – it brings MORE anxiety…I really don’t know why I play it), and they don’t solve any of the problems I was ever trying to avoid. They gave me some space away, sure, but then I went right back to where I started – usually worse than I started.

It took me awhile to figure out that I wasn’t helping myself by turning to those “old reliable” standbys. I had to realize that I was constantly feeling worse every time to confront the reality that they were vices – with everything that word entails. Now, there is no Anonymous for crawling around your yard, pulling out dandelions (at least, I haven’t found one), but when you do it for several hours to avoid what’s swirling in your head, it’s STILL a problem! A vice doesn’t have to drain your bank account or shame your family members – it’s simply a negative habit you develop and come to rely on to avoid reality.

So how do you fix it?

Same way you do excessive drinking or smoking. First, you admit you have the problem. Then you start denying yourself that vice. Yup, that means learning to tell yourself, “NO!” That particular lesson is a bitch.

Trying to tell someone else, “No” is pure hell – I won’t deny that. It took me YEARS to figure that lesson out, and I STILL felt guilty each time. It didn’t matter that it was in my own best self-interest and for my own good, I agonized over uttering that single syllable. I still do, honestly, though I’d like to think I’m getting better at it (I’m really not, but I’m trying to make you feel better).

Now multiply that lesson times 5000 and you get an idea of how hard it is to deny yourself. Especially when you’re talking something you KNOW has “helped” in the past. It SUCKS. You can do it, though, with practice, and it gets easier over time. It also has the side benefit that you start to learn how to actually COPE with what you’re feeling (I know, that sounds like a terrible idea, but you’ll learn to appreciate it down the road).

We developed those vices for the wrong reason, and they aren’t doing us any favors. The sooner we recognize that – and admit that the vice is doing damage – the better off we’ll be.

Nothing Ventured…Everything Lost

If you dare nothing,

then when the day is over,

nothing is all you will have gained.

~Neil Gaiman, THE GRAVEYARD BOOK

Everyone out there has dreams: little dreams, big dreams, supposedly impossible dreams (okay, if you’re dreaming about being made ruler of the entire world, that one is impossible – because my tiny demon has that one in the bag). Everyone has probably also shared those dreams with other people and heard variations on the following theme, “Yeah…that’s not going to happen,” or “Do you know what that would cost you?”

Then one of these happen: you bury that dream in the backyard (with or without funeral rites), you laugh it off as a joke (“I can’t believe you thought I was serious!”), you channel your disappointment and/or frustration into about twenty pages of journaling that no one will ever see, or you turn those words into a fire of determination to prove the idiot wrong.

Guess which one is LEAST likely?

Risk is scary, and following a dream is crazy-risky. It takes hard work, commitment, and sacrifice – not just on your part, but on the part of the people around you. You may be the one standing on the edge of the cliff, ready to jump, but those people have to be prepared to LET you. They don’t know that you have any idea of what you’re doing (frankly, neither do you), but you have to convince them to untie the safety line, stop holding your hand, and let you take that leap.

Not to mention, then YOU have to jump.

Taking risks is what makes us ALIVE; it gives our existence MEANING. Otherwise, we’re just plodding along a set path like robots. And following a dream – no matter how large or small – involves taking a risk. Maybe it means choosing a different career, or starting your own business, or showing your artwork (whatever the medium) to a critic…or just the public. It’s a risk that invites failure, and that is HORRIFYING. People don’t want to fail, don’t want to have to scrape back to those nay-sayers and admit you screwed up.

Which is why we often end up huddled on that cliff, looking over the edge and just sit there…for days…for weeks…for months…for years. Eventually, our friends and family get tired of watching us, and they drift away (can you blame them? How long are you going to stand there and watch for something amazing to happen?). They took a risk in believing, and it isn’t panning out.

Take the jump!

What’s the worst that can happen? Okay, yeah, you can fail and plunge to the bottom of the cliff. You’ll learn something, at least. Maybe you’ll be a little battered and bruised when you climb back to the top and try again, but you’ll have some rudimentary wings to help the second time around. You’ll have a new energy, a new drive to take that chance again. And maybe, this time, your jump won’t end in disaster.

The best part is, when you’re willing to take a risk, people are willing to stand behind you and cheer you on. People love determination, and they cheer for people who face up to fear. You can inspire someone else to take their own risk, to reach for their own dream.

Or you can huddle on the edge of that cliff for the rest of your life, wondering what could have been. The choice is yours.

DON’T Conceal – FEEL

Photo by Tengyart on Unsplash

When you’re bright and happy and full of hope, the people around you are content to join in and encourage those feelings. In fact, that’s the dominant message expressed all the time: be happy, be hopeful, look at the bright side of life. Everything is one big rainbow of glitter and possibility. Right?

WRONG!

Okay, there’s nothing inherently wrong with those messages, but they whitewash over and obscure the fact that the emotional rainbow actually contains a lot of darker pigments. The range of emotion doesn’t stop with “Just Okay” – it continues on down through sadness, grief, fear, anger, and even fury, with all of the requisite shades of grey and darkness smeared between.

And all of those emotions are okay!

The problem is the general public HATES those emotions and likes to bury them and shove them behind corners or into closets as if they don’t exist. People will tell you that you shouldn’t feel a certain way, that you shouldn’t express yourself a certain way (keep in mind I don’t condone violence or self-harm, okay? There are limits, people), and then they spout some spiritual guru nonsense that leaves you feeling like shit…usually worse than you were in the first place. They tell you they’re making you feel better – or, my personal favorite, that they’re making you a better person – when all they’re actually doing is overlooking your feelings, overlooking YOU.

Guess what – we’re all human (much as Wal-Mart people and the internet, in general, might prove otherwise). We have feelings and emotions that run the gamut – sometimes all in a single day (single hour?).

And that’s OKAY!

It’s a GOOD thing to not be full of sugar and glitter all of the time – frankly, that’s terrifying. We are NOT My Little Ponies! (Seriously, they are horrifying) We feel EVERYTHING, and we should be allowed to do so. Instead of denying a person’s anger, a person’s sadness, a person’s fear – LET THEM FEEL THOSE EMOTIONS! How would you feel if someone denied your feelings and slapped a rainbow sticker on your forehead instead? That’s exactly what you’re doing when you pat them on the head and then quote Annie…or worse, scripture.

I believed people when they did this to me, in the past. I swallowed my emotions, thinking I was wrong to be upset, to be angry. I also ended up adding the burden of guilt for having felt those things to the mix. I FELT GUILTY FOR FEELING?! All that happened was that I made myself even sicker, more depressed, and I damaged my psyche – I inflicted mental wounds on myself because I wasn’t allowed to express my true feelings.

That’s SICK!

And this happens all the time – to children, to teenagers, to ADULTS. They’re feelings are dismissed or belittled, and they internalize them in shame. It’s wrong.

Especially right now, people need to be allowed to feel how they feel – whether you agree or not. Let people vent, let them cry…and for those that are in that state, let them spout about rainbows and flowers. You don’t have to agree – and, no, you can’t kill the latter – but you can LISTEN. The majority of the time, that is ALL a person is asking for. They don’t expect you to agree with them, they just want you to listen – THAT is validation for them.

Talking through a feeling will usually help a person unravel the core, even if it doesn’t provide an answer. And if they don’t want to talk, build them a blanket fort and just sit with them.

Just stop with the Bob Marley music and stickers, and stop telling people to only focus on the positive side of the spectrum. Emotions get dark and murky, feelings get scary, and ACCEPTANCE is the answer, not bullshit.