There really was so much more to that moment in my life. My MIL was already battling Breast cancer. She'd had a double partial mastectomy and developed MRSA infections in both surgery sites. I, being the only female in the family, became her main support. My 15-year-old dog was struggling with day to day life. My roof was leaking. I was planning Christmas already because my son was coming home from college for the month. I was working on a couple projects for clients, planning an author extravaganza in December. You get it, life was happening. And I was managing it all. That’s my personality. Bring it on. I can manage it. Between oncology and veterinarian appointments, I received a call that my father, who lived in another state, had been diagnosed with cancer and given a year to live. So, I began to shuffle priorities. I would see him when my brother got married in a few months so I still had control over enerything I needed. Then the next day my brother called and said the Doctors were wrong, dad had a week. I shuffeled faster. And the next day he was gone. It happened that quick.
At that moment I literally sat down. I figurately let go, and everything I was ‘managing’ toppled to my feet. Nothing I did mattered. It was as if I had fallen into a river that rushed around me, and the one branch I struggled to keep a grip on wasn't helping. Trying to hold on only seemed to force my head under. So, I let go. I had no fight left. I didn’t care enough to make a decision about what I would have for dinner, let alone a business decision. I called any obligations and explained I needed a hiatus. I knew it could cost me dearly, but I also gave myself permission to just accept the consequences of letting go.
Despair has movement like a river. It speeds up and swirls all around you at times. Then there are moments dark stillness. I rode out the rough spots, and sought peace in the quiet. I felt myself floating freely, finding solace in the ebb and flow of the torrent around me not caring where I ended up in the end.
I happened to have a doctor appointment of my own scheduled, one which I had no choice but to keep. When the Doctor heard all that had happened, she said I showed symptoms of depression and offered an anti-depressant. I declined, not because I am brave, or have anything against taking anti-depressants. But I found her offer strange. I thought, or felt, I had every right to be sad at that moment. That sounds like a strange statement, but it is accurate none the less.
I kept envisioning this river of sadness I floated in. Happiness. Life. Joy. It all sat on the far shore. Every once in a while, I’d get the impulse to swim for that shore. But my arms were heavy and the strokes were difficult in the beginning. I mostly gave up before I even got started. So I worried that taking anti-depressants would cause me to get comfortable enough to stay in the river rather than even attempting to swim for shore. I thought perhaps what I felt was not the same as chronic depression that many people suffer from, that my sadness was a result of loss, a process I had to get through. And that taking the anti-depressants would just prolong that process. Perhaps if I didn't work through it now, it would just be waiting for me later when I tried to stop taking the anti-depressants. Or worse, I would lose site of the shore entirely and never leave the river. This may sound weird, but I chose to embrace the sadness, to drift in it until I felt like swimming.
When I spoke with my brothers, we wondered at how the world didn’t seem to notice. How everything went on as usual, and how we felt numb to it all. And I continued to drift.
It's been three months. And I find swimming toward that shore is easier. This week I picked up one of the items I dropped that day. I finished the book I had been reading. It felt good, like reclaiming part of my "normal". Sometimes I think I am free from the river. Other times I realize although my feet touch bottom, the water still tugs at my legs trying to reclaim me.
We talk about things like self-care and mental health as if they were goals to be met rather than things to experience. I tell you, whoever needs to hear this, you do not need to pull yourself up by the bootstraps and get on with life on anyone else’s schedule. You have a right to feel whatever grief you feel. It is part of the healing process. If you need help from those around you, ask for it. But do not feel bad or ashamed for taking the time you need to swim to shore. You don't have to hold the world together while you grieve, it will be there when you get to the other side.