There really was so much more to it. My MIL was already battling Breast cancer. She'd had a double partial mastectomy and developed a mrsa infection in both surgery sites. I, being the only female in the family was her main support. My 15-year-old dog was also acting struggling. My roof was leaking, and my landlord was trying to coordinate getting it fixed. I was planning Christmas already because my son was coming home from school for the month. I was working on a couple projects for clients, planning an author extravaganza in December. You get it, life was happening. I was managing it all. That’s my personality. Bring it on. I can manage it. Between oncology and vet appointments, I received a call that my father, who lived in another state, was diagnosed with cancer as well and had a year to live. So, I began to shuffle priorities. I would see him when my brother got married next year. Then the next day my brother called and said they were wrong dad had a week. 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 hold on to was not keeping me afloat. Instead, trying to hold on only seemed to force my head under. So, I gave myself permission to let go. 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.
My dog also died two days later. 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. Despair has movement like a river. It speeds up and swirls all around you at times, then there are moments of quiet darkness. I rode out the rough spots, seeking peace in the dark stillness. I felt myself floating freely, finding solace in the current of darkness.
I happened to have a Dr Appointment of my own scheduled, 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 felt I had every right to be sad. That sounds like a strange statement. But it is accurate.
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 shore. But the strokes were difficult and, in the beginning, I gave up before I even got started. I worried that taking anti-depressants would cause me to get comfortable enough to stay in the river rather than try to swim for shore. I thought perhaps what I felt was not the same depression that many people suffer from. That the sadness was a result of loss, a process I had to get through. And that taking the anti-depressants would just prolong that process. That if I didn't work through it now, it would 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. When I spoke with my brothers, we wondered at how the world didn’t seem to notice. How everything went on as usual and we felt numb to it all.
It's been three months. And I found that swimming for shore got easier, eventually. 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.