I’ve been struck lately by how much time it takes to process emotions. I don’t just mean the ‘I’m annoyed at the parking inspector/check out chick/bank teller’ ones. I’m talking about the ‘my partner is having an affair/my parent just died/my teenager has been trying meth/my loved one has cancer’ ones. The BIG ones. The ones that hit you in the guts like a sledgehammer. Or squeeze your heart like a boa constrictor. The ones that make you fall down and weep, or lose your breath and sleep and appetite.
We’ve all had them, for a variety of reasons. We’ve all processed them, to a greater and lesser extent. But goodness they take a lot of energy. No wonder our shoulders hunch and spines bend as we age.
A dear friend has just suddenly lost her Dad, on top of a big year already which saw her deal with her dog being run over, buying a new house, fighting a lingering flu, and being a single parent while working full time. She sent her friends an email letting us know about her Dad, and notifying us of her need to withdraw for a while… Fair enough. I have no idea how she copes with all the pressure she’s under, and I’m too far away to really help.
When my Dad died suddenly, I think I was traumatised. Couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep, couldn’t think straight, certainly couldn’t function at work, and took 4 weeks off. Only when 6 months later I realised that all my food was still tasting like sawdust, that I felt like I had a smiling mask over my numb blank face, and still couldn’t sleep with the light off, did I take myself to the doctor.
Three tests later and I was registering ‘high’ for Anxiety, Stress, and Depression. That felt like another blow; that somehow I’d ‘failed’ to cope, and that I was weaker than everyone else who’d lost their dads…
It took me another 9-12 months to get out of that, and back to ‘normal’. It was hard, scary work, and my friends were wonderfully supportive and understanding. But I also have the time. I live alone with no dependent children; I can reduce my teaching and performing work to suit me; I am not weighed down with a massive mortgage or credit card debt.
Another friend just separated from her partner of 17 years, and has majority care of their son while working four days a week. How does she find the spare hours to write in a journal, or go to the therapist, or beat pillows in a counselling session?
One of the greatest gifts I was given during my ‘official depression’ came from my fortnightly therapist, who was small and twitchy like a sparrow. She talked to me about my grief for Dad, and my options for managing it. She told me this:
“Imagine your sadness around losing your Dad is like an A4 clipboard. You can choose to hold it right up in front of your face, and not be able to see anything else around you.
Or, you can spend a lot of time and effort pushing it away, keeping it at bay, but then you will have a lot less energy for anything else you want to do.
A third option is to just tuck it under your arm, or sit it beside you in your favourite chair. This way, you know where it is, and you can keep it safe. When you need to, or when you feel like it, and you have the time and space, you can allocate it some attention. Maybe ten minutes, or an hour, or even a whole day. But then that’s it; you tuck it back under your arm or down beside you, and get back to what you were doing.”
I’ve written before here about my belief we need to have a day to honour our dead that’s socially-condoned; perhaps we all need to make the time to honour our sorrow, abandonment, betrayal, fears, and shock as well? I know we’re all busy, and that the dishes won’t wash themselves (although I have been leaving mine a bit lately!), but attendance to emotional crises and their ripples is important. What do you think?
Different people find different affirmative ways: meditation, spirituality, faith, exercise, therapy, art. And we all know the negative ways, including denial, workaholism, and alcohol abuse.
My Dad invested hours and hours writing his thoughts for 15 years. I do the same, and credit The Artist’s Way for guiding me. I also dance 5Rhythms, which calms my soul like nothing else. I want to encourage you all to find the time, make the time, swap the time, steal the time… Whatever it takes to help you feel more at peace with your dramas, and to honour their effects on you. I know I love having my ‘clipboard of Grief’ with me, and how to give it attention when I need to.
With love, gabrielle