Reminders.

Last week I learned that my grandfather has advanced, aggressive cancer. He’s ninety, and he’s lived a good life, but neither of those facts make this easier on any of us.

This news comes at a time in my life when I’m finally working toward getting through my dad’s death. As I’ve said before, my father’s death is something from which I’ve been running for almost six years now, so to have this put on top of me when I’m finally trying to move forward makes the whole process feel that much more daunting. It’s just too similar. The waiting. The long, drawn-out agony of waiting for the death you’re so afraid of. I feel myself picking up pieces and sprinting as far away from this as possible, but I’ve already started my journey in the other direction, so it’s too much of a disservice to myself to abandon the effort and run away.

I’ve been led to remember some pieces from my past lately, mostly concerning my dad. I’m amazed by how little I remember about my childhood and those years in which grief fogged up my life. I’m startled as to how little I remember about him, but it makes sense. It’s a defense mechanism, sure, and I’m not sure if I’m ready to remember. I’m not afraid of what I’ll find–I know there are things in our past that are painful–but I think I’m more worried about the nostalgia that comes with the territory. If I remember what it was like, I might want that past to be my present again. That’s an impossibility, obviously, so why put myself through the pain of wanting something so completely unattainable?

I get that I should honor his memory just like I should honor the time my grandfather has left with us, but it’s all too painful and close to the surface at the moment. I’m dreading Father’s Day even more fervently this year than I usually do. My entire family is going out to lunch to honor my grandpa, which is a nice idea, but the restaurant they chose is the restaurant we went to right after my dad’s funeral. That is the only time we’ve been there as a family, and it’s pretty much the only time I remember ever being there. I don’t want to be back there, especially since it’s going to be another time of pain. It’s going to be hard for everyone, but it’s going to be the worst on me. On the surface that kind of sounds selfish, but for once I actually carry some kind of resentment and anger. It’s so unfair that my mom and her siblings have had their father for more than fifty years. I had mine for fourteen. It’s just not fair.

I hate that petty “it’s not fair” stuff because it doesn’t get my anywhere, but that’s where I am in relation to this process. I’ve never been allowed to be angry or frustrated or emotional. I realized only yesterday how silent I was forced to be in my dad’s death. Lawsuits really do complicate things, and I was taught to be suspicious of almost everyone. I was told not to talk about it, and somewhere along the line it really stuck. That’s at least part of the reason why thinking and talking about it now are so foreign to me.

This is all disjointed and not nearly as eloquent as I usually like my work to be, but nothing in the grieving process is neat and tidy. It bleeds over into everything, leaving stains and marks you try to scrub out but never truly can. There are no rights and wrongs, no do’s and don’ts, no map to follow. I find my journey is a series of starts and stops. I picture myself as a sprinter, but one that doesn’t have enough energy to clear the hurdles, so every time a hurdle appears in my lane, I crash into it. Then into another, and another, and another until I sit down and wait for my muscles stop aching enough for me to run again.

As I said before, everything feels too similar, and it’s jogging memories of what life was like when my dad was in the hospital. Yesterday I was reminded of how little support I had in high school, at least in the beginning. I lacked true support in a lot of ways, and I didn’t find really helpful people until my junior and senior years. By then a lot of the damage was done; I had taught myself how to suppress feelings and memories, so that support didn’t do as much as it would have when I was 14 and 15. This time around though, as someone was smart and kind enough to point out, I’m not alone. I do have an abundance of support at this moment in my life, so if ever there were a right time to work through grief, it’s now. My fear, as always, is overburdening other people, but right now my need for comfort far outweighs the guilt I might feel. I have to keep reminding myself that I’ll be able to repay them later somehow. I really have to believe that, and then I’ll feel more comfortable with what I need to do now.

I’m lucky, though, to have so much support. That’s what I choose to focus on a lot of the time, especially now when things seem to be so difficult. For now I’d rather write and think about the amazing relationships I presently have and how they’re helping me along. Later I’ll be able to think about the relationships that I’ve lost or are about to lose, but gaining strength is one of my main goals at the moment. I’ll do what I need to do to get there. I’m not weak by any means, but I’m not yet strong enough to clear the hurdles.

And you know what? Right now, that’s completely okay.

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The Manifesto of a Girl Too Sick and Too Tired to Handle Life.

I am such a precise set of contradictions that it’s hard for me to understand myself let alone expect others to understand what goes through my head.

I try so hard to be optimistic all of the time because that’s how I choose to view life, but sometimes everything hurts so fucking much that I can’t force myself to believe that everything is okay. It’s not. It’s not okay right now, but that doesn’t mean I’m thinking that everything will be terrible forever. No. I know that there are positive things in my life and that so many people have it way worse than I do, but the more I think about that, the more I hate myself for being upset. That just makes it worse.

I am tired. I am sick and I am tired and I am overloaded and I am breaking. At any given time I have a dozen different tracks of ideas whizzing through my head, and I can’t sort them all out right now. I’m horrible at taking care of myself, yet I know well how to take care of others. I allow people to rely on me, but when I get too overwhelmed, I shut down. I can’t handle other people’s emotions let alone my own right now, yet I know that I can’t run away from people without hurting them.

On the flipside, I need people in order to cope. I know that many of my friends are the same way which is why I can’t refuse them when they need me… but I’m tired. I’m so goddamn tired and I can’t be what they need me to be. I become too stressed, and then I use other people in order to vent, essentially becoming what I’m running away from. The guilt starts to eat away at me, and I hate myself. I hate myself for running away from people who need me and I hate myself for burdening other people with my bullshit.

I over-analyze literally every single thing that happens to me when it comes to my interactions with people. I don’t ever want to make loved ones’ lives more difficult, but I can’t deal with everything on my own. I need someone to help me carry the things that weigh me down, but I can’t do so without the guilt and the worry that I’m pushing them away or making them too exhausted. I can feel when I’m pushing too much, and sometimes I know to back off, but other times I’m so selfish and so needy that I just don’t stop. I need that release–that comfort of talking to someone–so I keep talking even though I know it’s getting to be too much for the other person.

I am needy and clingy and dependent and I hate all of those words because they sting with negative connotation. I don’t want to associate myself with the words, but I can’t ignore the fact that I need people. I think I can handle things on my own, but at the end of the day I want so desperately for someone to hug me for a long time and tell me that things suck but I don’t have to ever be alone. I should know the last part, but I’m filled with so much doubt all of the time. I don’t think I can trust anyone when it comes to their staying around. I can trust that they won’t tell secrets, but I can never believe that they won’t leave. (Unless they literally take my hands and say, “I swear to God I will never leave you.” That’s something I really fucking need but can’t ask for.)

I believe in the power of love and the power of standing united and in talking and hugging and crying and sitting in silence and feeling another’s presence. I believe in people more than I believe in myself, and right now, that’s okay. My love for other people is what has the greatest ability to heal me, but I need at least some of that love to come back to me. I try to love selflessly, but I can’t. I give everything I have to others with the selfish hope that I will at least get a small part of them in return. I hate that about myself, too, but I can’t love in a half-assed fashion–all or nothing, take it or leave it. (Pleasepleaseplease don’t leave it.) And I want more than I can have right now. I need to take care of myself without waiting for other people to help me. I’m incapable of asking for help without feeling like a needy burden of an immature child, so I try to get other people to offer, which is so fucking ridiculous that it pains me to write it.

I need to be direct. This is what I need, and whether or not it’s selfish or unreasonable is not something I can explore right now:

1. A really long hug filled with the either verbally or implicitly expressed notion that I am loved.
2. Someone to tell me that they are never going to leave no matter how much I cry in front of them or how much I talk to them about the same ridiculous things.
3. Someone to say, “This all sucks. I hate that this is happening to you. Is there a way I can help you?”
4. Someone to say that they love me… with so much earnestness that I have to cry.
5. Someone to hold me while I cry without asking why or judging.

Most of the time I have a hard time accepting that people like me because I have such shitty self-esteem. I just want to feel really important in someone’s life, but I can’t actually think that I am on my own because I avoid egotism as much as I possibly can. I look to other people to give me self worth a lot of the time, and that’s awful. I want to feel like I make a difference in someone’s life–that they are legitimately happy to have met me and don’t want to imagine their life without me. And goddamn, that sounds so egotistical, but I need to feel like I matter. (There are reasons for this, but I can’t go into it now.)

I should stop relying on others, but I can’t. Not now.

Monsters.

“Monsters are real, and ghosts are real too. They live inside us, and sometimes, they win.”
-Stephen King

How very true it is that each of us deals with monsters on a daily basis.  Often the monsters lurk outside of our skin, and they show themselves in events like spilled morning coffee or being late to work because of random road construction.  We have our own set of experiences when we come together in a place like college, for example, and we work with each other without knowing the monsters the others had to battle before even showing up to a nine o’clock class.  We don’t even know what monsters might be lurking in the classroom itself.

The external monsters are the easiest to deal with.  While yes, they make us feel extremely uncomfortable, we can put a legitimate, tangible cause to our discomfort, making it seem justified and “normal.”  It’s not unreasonable to be frustrated after getting a bad grade on a quiz for which you studied intently.  It’s so much simpler to be able to point to something and say, “That.  That is why I’m feeling this way.”  More often than not, you can deal with the “That Monsters” and work at them until they limp away.

It’s when the monster is inside of you–that’s when things become difficult.

It’s very hard to comprehend feeling a certain way without being able to point to a concrete cause.  Some of us, and maybe not all of us (I can’t speak for the entire population), have monsters that dwell in our very souls.  A day could be going extremely smoothly, and then all of a sudden you’re hit with a feeling, and unfortunately, it’s usually sadness.  (Sometimes anxiety, anger, etc.)  There’s not a single thing you can point to and say, “See that?  That made me sad.”  There’s no event to cite.  Suddenly your thoughts turn direction, and it leaves you wondering what the hell just happened in your own head.

So, if you’re anything like me, you still try to find an external solution.  When I encounter an actual event that provokes an undesired emotion, I physically do something in order to “fix” the situation.  I try to implement the same strategy when the problem is internal, and it hardly ever works.  So you (or I, the pronouns really don’t matter because my hope is that this is somewhat universal) wander through your life trying to find the one thing that will make you go back to the happiness you felt even an hour before.  Some people use alcohol or the like, which doesn’t really do anything to fix the problem, but it’s a self-medication thing, I suppose.  Some people, like me, use people.  (I want it to be clear that I don’t mean “use” people as in take advantage of them; rather, I mean that I find a place where there are people I like and try to take comfort in their presence.)  People have the power to make us feel more human again, for a lack of a better way to explain it, and so we surround ourselves with the laughter and conversation of others.  A lot of the time it works, but there are definitely times when it doesn’t feel like enough just to BE around people.  Sometimes you want to TALK, but when you don’t know what the hell is wrong with you in the first place, you don’t know what to talk ABOUT, and then you just feel like you’re wasting the other person’s time.

Also, you feel like the person you’re talking to has the magical ability to make you feel better if they’d just say or do a certain thing, but you can’t even identify what it is because you don’t know why you’re upset, so you sit there waiting for something that might not even exist in the first place.  It is a sort of desperate, frustrating thing for all persons involved, and then you end up feeling worse than you did before you tried to talk about it.  Then what?  Well, you try to listen to music, or watch TV, or do anything else to distract you from the annoyingly persistent emotion you’re irrationally feeling.  Sometimes that works, and when you’re on the other, monster-less side, you can’t understand why you allowed yourself to be captive of that emotion for so long.

Other times, the fog doesn’t lift for quite some time, and eventually whatever monster it was just nods off into hibernation, leaving you to wonder when he’ll decide to surface again.  It makes you feel crazy and/or abnormal, and you wonder whether or not everyone goes through this or if it’s only you.  When it happens again (it always happens again), you have an internal fight.  Your first instinct is to talk to a friend again, but A. you know that it will frustrate them, B. you’re afraid they’ll think that there’s something wrong with you, and C. you still can’t articulate what is happening.

And what THEN?  It either gets more difficult to deal with or you learn to ignore the monster by locking it in some dark room in your mind, feeling its presence but not letting it run amok.  I vacillate between the two, and I can say that I’m exhausted by the effort it takes to keep a monster tied up.  There comes a time when you collapse into your own effort and wait for someone to drag you back up to your feet again.

Or maybe it’s just me, in which case, shit.

The Longest Years.

My father died on October 10, 2006.  I was fourteen years old and was only a month and a half into my freshman year of high school.  I haven’t been anything close to a child since.

Monday will be the fifth year anniversary.  Each year “The Day” hits me a little differently, and up until yesterday I thought I would slip by this year unscathed by the searing pain of grief.  However, my best friend, trying desperately to make me feel better, inadvertently pushed me into the deep, dark abyss.  For a moment it seemed as though all comfort in my life had disintegrated, leaving me literally gasping.  I’m still trying to claw my way out of the hole, and I’m not sure how long it will take me to get out this time.

Usually I’m good at concealing sadness, so much so that I often trick myself into being happy.  Today, though, I didn’t have the energy to put up the facade.  Three out of four teachers commented that I looked tired or asked what was wrong.  On most days I’d shrug it off and walk away, but today it was too close to the surface for me to bury it in time.  I had reached my suppression threshold by the end of the day, so my poor Special Ed. professor was the recipient of my word vomit.

During class, I made no effort to look even remotely focused.  I was mentally there enough to get the information I needed, but otherwise my brain was tangled in its own web of thoughts.  My pen died while I was trying to correct my homework.  Because a student was going over the homework with us and my professor wasn’t, she was able to see my predicament and hand me another pen.  Later, she asked the class a simple question and didn’t receive an answer.  She commented that we all seemed exhausted, and she specifically singled me out.  I wasn’t surprised; I was quite aware that I was zombie-like in appearance.

The professor ended up letting us out early because of our complete inattentiveness.  When I handed her the pen she had lent me, she said, “Are you okay?  You look… sad.”

I couldn’t stop it.  All of a sudden I was telling her nearly everything that was pent up, and I came to a very interesting and slightly startling revelation: my life has been completely fucked up.  I don’t ever let myself really think about it as a whole, especially because I don’t like “playing the victim” or what have you, but honestly.  My dad died as a result of medical malpractice.  I watched the heath care system fail.  I saw corruption so disgusting you’d never set foot in a hospital ever again.  I went through the trial process and watched my mother relive the worst day of her life over and over again… and then it was my turn to do the same.  I had to read my personal journals in front of a courtroom of strangers, as if I were some sick sideshow attraction.  “Come see the grieving daughter spill her soul everywhere!  Admission is free!”

I then watched the judicial system fail, at least in part.  (It was ruled a wrongful death against the hospital, but we settled because nurses flat out lied on the stand.)  I had to fill the place of my father in the household, meaning I was told financial things that no fourteen-year-old should ever have to know.  I have never been fourteen… or fifteen, or sixteen, or seventeen… I don’t even feel like I’m nineteen now.  It has been nine months since the trial ended, but I still feel like the healing process hasn’t begun.  Since 2006 I’ve been waiting and waiting for the moment when it will “hit” me, but it has never come.  Is there really just one moment?  Will it come in spurts for the rest of my life, picking the worst times and rendering me debilitated until it finally subsides?

In this conversation with my professor, I was able to see my life for what it’s really been.  I don’t want to give off the impression that I hate my life.  I still believe that everything happens for a reason; if I didn’t, I wouldn’t be able to survive.  It was a strange feeling to view my life at once subjectively and objectively.  I feel those five years right now, if only by their weight.  I’m tired.  I’m tired of running from the grief that threatens to consume me.  I’m tired of trying to keep up with schoolwork.  I’m tired of being tired all the time.

I know that I’m going to be fine.  That’s never been a question because there’s never been an alternative.  I don’t know how long this spell of grief is going to last.  I feel myself closing off again, but whether that’s indicative of the end is not something I can know for certain.  I know the present, and presently I feel completely exhausted in every possible way.  I have a rough draft to write, a chapter of psychology to read, and my own personal bullshit to attend to before 1:00 tomorrow afternoon.  All I want from my life at the moment is sleep and a hug.

I find it interesting that I can explain my life events to other people as if they haven’t happened to me.  The whole time I talked to my professor, I didn’t even come close to crying until I admitted that it sometimes feels like my father never even existed… like he has only ever been a figment of my very vivid imagination.  Otherwise, I can separate myself from this horrible event completely.  The whole fifty minutes I talked to her (God bless her for listening to me for that long, because I had no idea I had spoken for more than fifteen minutes) I spoke about myself and not as myself.  I analyzed myself and my life from an outside perspective, which was how I could see how completely fucked it’s been without reacting to that realization.

This will not be the last time I visit these thoughts.  Writing is usually my catharsis, but I feel as though this time it’s made me more active instead of more subdued.  As tired as I am, I’m worried about falling asleep tonight.

I miss him.