With everything that’s been going on the last little while I’ve been finding it hard to be able to separate, organize and understand my own thoughts, let alone string them together for any sort of comprehensible sentences. With my name in a couple of local papers right now, I figure it’s time I officially address what’s been going on through the medium that has had a huge role in a lot of it.
I’ll start from the beginning.
On August 6th, 2013, I lost one of the closest, most cherished and important human beings to me on the planet. After battling for a decade with bi-polar disorder, my younger brother took his own life. The loss of a loved one is probably the hardest thing a person deals with throughout his/her life, but suicide throws in many curve balls in many stages of the grieving process.
I’ve avoided talking about what has happened with my brother because I wanted this blog to ooze with the parts of my personality that I like to share most – the witty, sarcastic and wry humour that has become who I am over the last 3 decades. The reasons I love writing are the same reasons I love meeting people – I find joy in sharing experiences, learning, and relating and connecting to people. Most of all though, I love to make people laugh. I love to make people laugh because I love to laugh. It’s as simple as that.
I’ve realized recently, however, that there are some stories that need to be told even if they don’t result in laughter. Even if they aren’t stories that make me smile. I’ve convinced myself somehow that anyone who reads my blog is looking for the same thing as anyone meeting me for drinks on a Wednesday night – a fun and often ridiculous time. But what I haven’t thought about until now is that maybe there are people out there who need to be able to relate to the not-so-good experiences too. Maybe writing about the hardships in life as well as the frivolous parts would benefit someone, whether by making them think, see a new perspective or even just realize that they’re not alone. Regardless of how many people I may or may not touch with this blog, writing about my experiences whether good or bad also aligns with the reason I started it to begin with – as an outlet for me to decompress – and I can have it both ways.
If there’s one thing that has crept up on me since losing my brother, it’s the feeling of being alone. While I do have many AMAZING friends and family members, grieving is a crazy thing. It’s something that is so personal and unique to each individual that it’s hard to experience it together even when you’re… experiencing it together. It’s like doing shrooms – you can both eat the same amount from the same batch, but you’re going to experience completely different trips. Some of my family members don’t want to talk about it at all. Some of them are angry. Some of them have completely fallen apart. The majority of my friends just don’t know what to say, which is 100% understandable. Even if they asked, I couldn’t tell them what would help. Some of them have never experienced loss, let alone a loss this traumatic. I find some of them casually change the subject when I bring it up simply because it’s an uncomfortable topic and more often than not people tend to avoid topics that produce any amount of discomfort. Sometimes I need to vent for hours, sometimes I just need to sit in silence in someone’s arms and cry. I can watch South Park and be fine (one of his favourite shows) but then I’ll cry at my desk at work for 10 minutes without knowing what triggered it. I haven’t gotten it even close to figured out, and I don’t know if I ever will, but I’m definitely working on it. It will soon be the 6-month mark, and where I am today is somewhere that took a lot of work – a lot of crying, a lot of talking and a lot more crying after a lot more talking.
I’ve gone to 5 individualized Survivor Support sessions through the Toronto Distress Centre, and I cannot even begin to describe how much they have helped. As you would expect, the first session was the hardest. Sitting in a room with two complete strangers and discussing the most personal tragedy you’ve ever experienced is not an easy thing to do. I’m not sure they understood half of what I said during the first (or second or third) session because I was crying harder than I’d have ever expected to cry outside of my own bedroom. But they listened. I could not have predicted how amazing that would feel, to be able to just talk about what I was feeling, what I wasn’t feeling, what I wanted to feel and what I didn’t want to feel for an hour without interruption. Without feeling guilty. Without feeling ashamed.
Immediately after I walked out of the building, I felt like a 100-lb weight was lifted off my heart. After the first session, I went home and continued to cry for a while afterwards (shout out to Erin, Wendy’s and the $0.50 cent horror movie we watched that night). It took a lot out of me. I was emotionally and physically exhausted in the same way I was after the viewings and funeral, a way I had never experienced before we lost CB. But the way I felt the next day and for a couple of days afterwards was a surprise for me. I felt good. Not “good” in the way it meant before the loss, but as “good” as a person can feel in this situation. I had had a good cry (understatement of the year) and I had gotten to talk about CB and who he was, not just what his last days here consisted of, and talking about who he was always makes me smile. It’s a hard feeling to put into words, but the best way I can describe it is satisfaction, maybe pride. I felt the way you do after you’ve accomplished a daunting or difficult task. I had taken the first step towards tackling my loss.
I didn’t go to another session for about 4 weeks after the second one. They were supposed to be weekly, but I kept coming up with excuses and canceling. As much I wanted to feel that post-session relief, I just didn’t want to face the crying and emotional exhaustion I felt during and after. I was anxious and uncomfortable every week, knowing Thursday evening was coming and what it would mean. I would try motivating myself but Thursday morning would come and I would find myself writing an email with some sort of excuse as to why I couldn’t go. I was sick. I was busy with work. I was double booked. Every time I hit send I felt guilty and disappointed in myself. This may come off as arrogant or self-serving, but I really am more resilient than your average person. I have dealt with a lot in my life, and more than the rest of my life combined in the last 12 months. I have stayed positive and strong and have pushed through. But canceling my sessions was changing that. It was making me feel weak. It was making me feel like I couldn’t face my demons. After our first Christmas and New Year holidays without CB, I went back.
This time, something was different. I was starting to really dig into my feelings. I discussed my feelings, what I thought other people were thinking, what was hardest, what has changed, my mom, my dad, my other brothers, my friends, my job, guilt, anger, helplessness, the loss of the ability to breathe sometimes. Everything. I got into it all. But what was different was with very simple but precise questions from the volunteers, I would step back and think about why and how. I had only been focusing on what. What am I feeling, what am I missing, what am I doing, what is everyone else thinking had turned into why am I feeling this? How do I stop feeling this? Why do I feel I’m alone or that I can’t talk to my friends? How do I start opening up to them? How can they make me feel better? Why does that make me feel better?
If I wanted to use clichés, which I never do… OKAY, OKAY I LOVE THEM….. I would say the 3rd session was my breakthrough. I still cried a lot, but I was able to speak while crying. It didn’t overpower me. After the third session I started writing about everything we talked about when I got home. I didn’t want to forget anything. I thought it could help me down the road if I was ever feeling something similar. I guess I was starting to prepare for the end of the sessions because I finally realized how important they were. This was also when I started being able to actually recognize progress, which was a small feat in itself. I was still dreading the sessions and I skipped a week in between the 3rd and 4th sessions. But again, I went back. Going in to the 4th one I had given myself a challenge. I wanted to see if I could go an entire session without crying. I never felt judged or embarrassed by the crying, but I just decided it was something I wanted to attempt. That challenge went out the window as soon as I sat down, which is where most feelings or thoughts I’ve attempted to create and control beforehand go while I’m there. I still cried, but so much less than usual that we can just say I didn’t to appease my ego. After that session something crazy happened – I stopped dreading them. And even crazier, I spent the next week actually looking forward to Thursday night. I could not believe it.
My 5th session, which was this past Thursday, was a bit different because I was in the middle of dealing with a separate beast; being a victim of an online harassment case (next time, kiddies). But it was business as usual after my initial update about that, and once again we hit some really key points and topics. I came sooooooo close to going an entire hour without crying this week but got a little teary-eyed at the very end. I had been explaining to them everything I just got into; how this was the first week I looked forward to the session, how I’ve been feeling more in control of my feelings more often, how our talks have helped me become more able to sort through my feelings and how I am even getting, dare I say it, excited for the group sessions after my last individual one (there are 8 in total). I initially thought the group sessions would be corny and awkward, but now I’m actually excited about them. Such a weird word to describe it but it’s true, I’m excited to meet people who know EXACTLY what I’m going through.
The sessions have almost always ended awkwardly – I look at the clock and realize I’ve been talking for an hour and then say something along the lines of “Uh, oops. Ok I guess it’s time to go. Um, thank you. Bye.” But this week I must have subconsciously channeled my inner Jerry Springer because the session ended with my ‘Final Thought,’ which was what made me fail at my no-crying challenge (I’m most often the person that makes me cry). Without remembering exactly what I said, this was the sentiment, as I’m sure when I said it on the spot it didn’t sound nearly as coherent:
At first the hardest thing to deal with besides not having CB around was the idea that my life has changed completely without my consent. Everyone who has been through this has said the same thing whether they are people I know or people who have written blogs or books on the topic of loss – your life will never be the same. That was something I couldn’t deal with – the conclusiveness and finality of that fact. I am a person who needs to understand ‘why’ to be able to process something fully. I’m also a person who feels most comfortable when in control. I thought I would never be able to get through the fact that I couldn’t change or control what happened. But after these sessions, I’ve realized something. It’s true that my life will never be the same. But that doesn’t have to sound so terrifying. Every experience we have changes our lives, if you think about it. That shouldn’t be what I’m so scared of. The hard part is not having him around. And while that will never change and may never get easier, DEALING WITH IT will get easier. Talking it through has made it easier to tackle my feelings from within. I have been having a lot of existential freak-outs. I sometimes felt like I was watching myself from the outside. I couldn’t control my feelings or thoughts and I didn’t know how to cope with that.
So, I can finally understand what people mean when they say you’ll never be the same. I won’t ever be the same. But I will still be me, I’ll still be happy and I’ll still be able to enjoy my life. I’ll just have to learn to accept that it will be different than the one I had planned.
(And yes, I did title a very serious blog post after a Simpsons episode. I can’t help it, it’s who I am.)