Posted in Mindfulness Matters, Personal Perspective

Grief Reflects Love

Last week my therapist said that as painful as grief is, it’s reflective of how much you loved someone.


My optimism about Tubs’ ability to recover from his illness didn’t keep him alive. He passed away at home, in my arms, while I was feeding him. It was traumatic. I was wracked with guilt. I felt like I’d killed him. I played all those terrible grief games we’re prone to. I examined the weeks before his death with ruthless scrutiny. My mind looped phrases that began with what if, if only, or I should have, wishing for a time machine to give me another chance to get it right.

Tubs’ littermate, Skinny, stuck to me like glue for the whole week that followed. Wherever I went was where he wanted to be. I was worried he might be depressed about losing his counterpart, but he was still eating, drinking, and using the litter box so I tried to relax. On Sunday, I moved into a new apartment. When the move was finished I picked up Skinny and ordered pizza for those that helped.

I noticed something strange on the ride over to our new home. Anytime Skinny had ever been in a car he screamed bloody murder for the whole trip, even when he was diabetic. This time, he was silent aside from a meow here or there. When we let him out in the new place he would pace around a few steps before laying down. He was meowing, but a strange meow I’d never heard before. It looked like it was hard for him to move around, although he still found a way to jump on my lap. Then he started licking his lips a lot and foaming at the mouth and there was no disputing that something was seriously wrong with him.

My sister and brother-in-law drove us to the emergency vet, hoping maybe he was just dehydrated from the heat. On the ride he lay completely limp in my lap, the full weight of his head in my hand. I wasn’t expecting good news. As much as I wanted to be proven wrong, I was right. The vet’s initial assessment was eerily similar to Tubs’. We were devastated. I didn’t have the money or the emotional capability to go through that process again, so we had to say goodbye.

As heartbroken as I was, a part of me was relieved that they were together. They’d spent their entire lives with one another and something didn’t feel right about their separation. I’m still struggling with intrusive thoughts trying to convince me that it’s all my fault. Luckily, they aren’t as overwhelming as they first were and it’s slowly becoming easier to ignore my inner bully. The hardest part is how lonely I am at home, but my friends have kept me busy and I take comfort in knowing that my cats were happy, healthy, and loved for the majority of their decade on this planet.

Even without my boys, I’m still a crazy cat lady. I’m sure it won’t be too long before I bring home a furry friend to help me navigate the next chapter of my life. After all, they’re great for your health, at least according to an article Greater Good Science Center posted for International Cat Day that goes over research on the health benefits of cat ownership.

 

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Posted in Free Time Fun, Life Lessons

Comedy Can Be Cathartic

Pain is often expressed through art. We can point to exhibitions of torment across almost all mediums, but comedy is an area where it’s still uncomfortable to explore difficult topics. There’s a social understanding that certain topics are off limits. If a comedian speaks about loss, suicide, or their own mental illness there’s a chance that the joke is going to be met with awkward silence.

One reason is that the joke might not be funny (haha). More likely, though, the audience tensed up as soon as the subject matter was announced. We’re conditioned from a young age that these topics and feelings are meant to be worked out internally and go unspoken, but that isn’t healthy. There are many comedians that have been making efforts to add these ‘dark’ topics to their comedic routines.

I’ve mentioned Paul Gilmartin’s Mental Health Happy Hour (MHHH) in a previous post on podcasts and it’s worth bringing up again. No topic is off limits. People of all ages (over 18) and backgrounds come on the show and talk about the really dark things they have thought and experienced. And there’s laughter! A term of theirs I love is “awfulsome” and it’s something that is truly soul-crushing, but looking back on it there’s something kind of awesome about it, even if it’s just the riotous laughter that sometimes happens when one reflects on life experiences.

Anna Akana is a former guest of MHHH and one of my top five favorite humans. Her younger sister committed suicide at age thirteen and Akana actively advocates for suicide prevention. Whether it’s through skits on her YouTube channel, her larger creative work like Riley Rewind, or a regular part of her comedic routine she challenges us to talk about suicide and the darkness we can easily be consumed with. She has a book out called So Much I Want to Tell You: Letters to my Little Sister that I cannot wait to get my hands on during winter break.

Maria Bamford is my hero. She is an established stand up comedian, an incredible voice actor, and she’s the star of Lady Dynamite, a Netflix show she stars in that’s loosely based on her life experiences. Bamford has bipolar two and is open about her struggles with hypo-mania, depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, and her recent hospitalizations. On the show she whirls though dark lows to vivid surreal highs and everywhere in-between. It’s one of the first pop culture representations that has found a way to joke about mental illness without making mental illness the joke (if that makes sense). It’s also the hardest I’ve ever laughed, possibly because of how close I can relate. I’m grateful I’ve had the opportunity to listen to and watch someone with a similar diagnosis be so raw and honest.

I think what I’m getting at here is that pain no longer needs to be a solitary experience. If isolating during your troubles helps you process, that is amazing and I am not trying to take that away from you. I’m merely suggesting that there are plenty of people out there who don’t necessarily want to be alone while they are in pain or going through something, but have been so culturally reinforced that it’s something they need to do alone. You don’t need to be alone, we can suffer together and find the laughter in the lows.

Posted in Life Lessons

Separating Food from Feeling

Food is comforting for many of us. Whenever we feel sad, stressed or lonely we try to stuff the feeling down by finishing an entire bag of chips, eating an entire frozen pizza, and a whole pint of ice cream (if you can’t tell, these three in that order are my regular comfort food combo). We fill ourselves until we’re sick and before we know it the ‘bad’ feeling returns, so we reach for another treat to take the edge off.

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It’s problematic for many reasons. For me the main issue is that it fuels my self loathing. When I’ve finished binging and I’m sitting there feeling sick I beat myself up. I criticize being unable to check my impulses when it comes to eating and then I start to pick at my fitness routine. It’s a spiral that only leads to more food and more shame. There’s also a physical fallout. My stomach is extremely sensitive and consuming certain foods can lead to a lot of pain. And that leads to more shame…. the whole situation is a mess.

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How does one go about separating food from feeling without developing disordered eating habits? I have tried logging food before and while it’s been helpful it became obsessive in a very unhealthy way so I’m hesitant to give it another shot. What are my other options?

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There isn’t a quick fix, trust me, I’ve tried. I can follow a new routine successfully for weeks or months at a time, but when my feelings become too burdensome I drown them out with food. It will take time developing healthier eating habits, but there are some methods we can use to get there. Hope to Cope has a post about Emotional Eating Food vs. Feelings that lists some strategies to get there, the most helpful being to face the feelings you’re trying to fill. Wish me good luck, and good luck to you if you struggle with emotional eating!

Posted in Life Lessons

Marked.

It is an understatement to say that I was a troubled teen. I was dramatic, volatile and vulnerable.

I made bad decisions that could have had worse results. I would meet much older boys and men that I had barely chatted with online. Alone. It was like To Catch a Predator, only Chris Hansen never came around the corner. We joke about my bad behavior now, but I was reckless and am incredibly lucky to be alive.

I wanted companionship and connection, but as I’m sure you can guess the guys I met online were looking for something different. Sometimes a vague interaction resembling a relationship would form, but it wouldn’t be long before I was back at my computer in an AOL chat-room offering myself to strangers for free.

I got the idea to brand myself from school. We were reading The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne in AP English and having secured my position as an outcast, I found myself identifying with Hester.

I was fifteen and in a relationship with a nineteen year old boy, but I never fully stopped talking to other boys online. I ended up cheating on him. When I got home I couldn’t face the reflection in the mirror. The shame and anger only escalated. I thought of myself as the lowest of the low. I needed to do something to show myself a lesson.

I sat cross legged facing myself in a full length mirror. I held the razor blade I broke off from a shaver to my left shoulder and pressed. I don’t really remember the pain, but writing this I can almost feel the adrenaline. I made two lines and watched the droplets of blood trickle down my arm. Then I did the same thing on my right shoulder. “There,” I thought, “now everyone can see how worthless I am.”

To this day I avoid wearing anything sleeveless. In the years that followed whenever my marks were exposed and anyone asked about them I broke into tears.  I was a cutter and these were neither my first nor my last cuts, but while the others have faded to ghostly lines these marks are as fresh as they were over a decade ago. Try as I often do, I can’t bury something so visible.

We’ve learned to live together these scars and I, but I think they will always make me feel uneasy. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to speak aloud about them, but I think by writing this I’ve lifted some of the weight that carrying their secret story has put on me.