DEPRESSION AND IT’S SIDEKICK LONLINESS
The room was dark except for the blue and gray flickering light from the television. I was sitting on the couch when she slipped her foot in the door and pushed it open with her elbow. She staggered into the room and curled up in the easy chair in the corner, emptying the last of the bottle of wine into a plastic cup. She was wearing the same clothes she wore the last time I saw her and her hair was unwashed.
“Great!” I said. It’s you again! I know you!”
Depression, hiding her face in her hands, began to sob. Slurring her words she admonished herself, “I can’t believe I never left the house. I meant to go to the grocery store but I just ate junk food all day. A little fresh air, maybe a hike would have been good; but I didn’t even walk the dog. I’m worthless! Why can’t I just get over this?!” she lamented. Suddenly her mood turned self destructive, “I just need to do something for Christ’s sake; a shower might be a good place to start,” she groaned sarcastically. “What? Am I going to sit around feeling sorry for myself the rest of my life?!”
Out of the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of a shadow and thought, “Terrific! And, here comes her side kick”. Loneliness slipped quietly in the door. “Hi,” she said gingerly. “Is there room for one more?” She curled up next to me, tugging at my blanket shyly. She whispered in my ear, “it’s ok. Don’t pay attention to her. I understand. You just don’t really fit in anywhere right now. It’s easier this way; I mean, isolating and not dealing with people. She purred seductively in my ear, “Besides, you don’t need anyone. We’ll take care of you. “
My name is Jan. My son, Chad Kesler, took his own life in 2004 at nineteen years of age. Even though life with an Attention Deficit child had always been somewhat of a roller coaster ride, with perseverance; we usually chugged our way back to the top. We were at that pinnacle in the spring of 2004 before the final plunge that would steal our son from us; forever changing the lives of those who were left behind. Chad was a gift in life and even in his passing, if I look closely; I am able to see shadows of silver linings. This Blog is intended to promote a healthy conversation about ADD, Addictions and about a subject that no one wants to talk about – Grief!
All you have to do is turn on the news and you’ll be reminded that there are a lot of reasons to grieve. What I now realize is that there are a lot of reasons not to! Sadly, our story is not unique. I’m writing about grief from the perspective of a mother who has been down in those trenches for ten long years. Finally something within me decided that enough was enough and led me to realize that I, like my son, had an addiction. I had actually become attached to and addicted to grieving. I would never have thought it possible. In the beginning, the pain was all that I had left of Chad and being in that space was the only place I knew to look for him, to feel some sort of connection. Even though I held that space for him, years later I realized that it was the very place I would never find him; it was darkness and he was light.
Unable to stop the mental stories and the emotional cycles that fed and empowered one another, unbeknownst to me, I was hardwiring patterning into my psyche which would only grow stronger day by day and year after year. The unfortunate part is that nineteen years of memories, mostly beautiful memories had now became anchored, tied and intertwined with sadness. As I became less consumed with the process of grieving, instead of processing emotions in a healthy way so that the good memories could be preserved and live on, whenever possible I avoided anything that would be a reminder in order to avoid the pursuing pain. In other words, I couldn’t access a good memory without experiencing sadness in close pursuit. It is no wonder one prefers to run from their memories altogether rather than evoke the inevitable emotions of loss and longing. Without knowing how to handle my grief, I unwittingly lost daily access to my beautiful memories of my son. Platitudes like, “you always have your memories or he will live on in your heart” don’t work like that for these very reasons.
This fall my horse died suddenly and I was intensely upset for days and felt sadness for weeks; however, the grieving period dissipated relatively quickly. It helped greatly that I have learned so much lately about the grieving process. In my grief support group, within the first month of Chad’s death, a girl in the group cried for her lost cat with enormous anguish. I wanted to slap her at the time; but when my anger subsided, I realized a very important truth. Grief is just grief and it’s all relative. I hesitate to say that there is a right or wrong way to grieve because everyone and every situation is different. Every person has their individual upbringing, family history, emotional shields, brain chemistry and inner strength to draw upon.
I was dismayed recently when I was introduced to a friend of a friend who quickly identified some resonance of grief within me as if I had a scarlet “G” written on my forehead. I shared my frustration with my friend who then shared her own personal story. She said that the “emotional dependence” we have placed upon a person makes all the difference when it comes to the amount of healing time required upon the loss of that person in our lives. I liked her analogy in which she used distance as a measure for the journey of healing. She said, if grief has a base line, for example from the East coast to the West coast; you will find that some people may need to arrive at their destination (healed) by way of Canada or perhaps, meandering throughout the South. Regardless, the recovery time is directly proportional to the emotional attachment you have with the person, place or thing you have lost.
I used to believe that grieving just takes as long as it takes; however, I have now come to realize that some circumstances take longer no matter how much you know about the process of grieving. Admittedly, losing a child is considered to be one of the worst nightmares that a parent can face in life. My experience also included a child missing for almost a year and death by suicide. Even though I was beyond stressed, I have found that my grieving process more or less mirrors that of other parents. I now know that I could have gotten to the place where I am today a lot faster if I had known then what I know now; there is a healthy way to grieve and then there is the other way. The ‘other way’ is the way that many of us have processed monumental impacts in our lives and to our hearts. With resistance being my main defense, I became an expert in how NOT to grieve.
I’m sharing my process as it may be similar to what you, or someone you know, may be experiencing. My moods, emotions and mental processes went into a free fall through somewhat normal stages of grief that looked more or less like this.
- First Six Months: First came extreme shock causing extensive abuse to my adrenal system and resulted in hypersensitive nerves resulting in pain in my extremities for many months. During this time I saw a counselor, a special grief counselor and a support group. I was prescribed an antidepressant and Ambien so I could escape from the pain for a few hours each night. I went back to work after three weeks which was not a healthy choice for me; but I wasn’t given a choice. I believe this resulted in an extreme memory lapse after about 3 months. I understand that your memory becomes problematic regardless; most likely due to the drop in Serotonin, the neurotransmitter which mitigates problems with depression, memory issues and digestion. I began to isolate into my own world of sadness.
“It takes courage to feel the pain but it became too much eventually and I was weary. My daily prayer became “Please help me let him go. Let me go! I just don’t want to hurt anymore.”
- Sometime around six months: I came to a point where I no longer wanted to live with the emotional pain. I began risk taking behaviors. Apparently, I had a flock of Guardian Angels as I survived without injury. The antidepressants seemed to flat line me, which was a detriment to a healthy release of emotion; not that I had any idea how to process in a healthy way at the time anyway. I was taking a Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor or SSRI which functions by blocking the reuptake of Serotonin and certainly does nothing to support the production of more Serotonin. Unfortunately, SSRI’s cannot provide relief if you have no Serotonin in your system in the first place; and secondly, they actually are a detriment for the production of Serotonin because they can reduce the number healthy cell receptors at the same time. This is why you sometimes hear of people who actually commit suicide while taking antidepressants.
I could not see past the pain to a time when I would feel alive again, to laugh again. I began to fantasize about suicide, a legacy of suicide that is not uncommon for those left behind; the survivors. Like most people who are quick to judge suicide as selfish, I couldn’t understand the depth of the hopelessness and debilitating depression that drives one to suicide; not until I too slipped into those shoes, that is. After months of enduring the loss of my son, I now experientially have an understanding of the emotional pain and chemical imbalances that drove my son to suicide.
- Six Months to one year: I tried diligently to step back into life and do the right things such as exercise, sleep, eat, go to work and sometimes go out and even laugh once in a while. Even though I had an abundance of friends and support I continued to isolate and escape in more or less nurturing ways such as meditating, reading, journaling, nature walks, and horseback riding. In the beginning I was too raw with emotion to really escape. As soon as it was possible to once again run away from my feelings, however, a legacy of my upbringing; I ran as fast as I could. I did everything possible to escape from my emotional prison, suffering only occasional intense emotional reactions triggered by people, places, anniversaries or things. Unconsciously, I intellectualized and rationalized everything. When that didn’t work, I tried numbing my feelings whenever possible with other distractions. Luckily, I innately knew to avoid alcohol since it causes symptoms of depression. Through it all, I resisted what could have been a healthy release of emotion causing these emotions to become suppressed instead.
Ultimately, there was no escape, not really. Even if I managed to escape by day, my subconscious brought me another opportunity to work through my crisis by night. Every night I had dreams, for years that were some version of Groundhog Day. The ironic part was that the dreams were usually some variation of my life ‘before’. The shock was awaking to my new reality; the real Nightmare!
“How bottomless the grief that shows itself in the tracks of fresh tears at a random memory, years or even decades later. If you run from grief, I promise you, it will sneak in like a thief in the night and slowly steal your life force.”
Tears won’t bring your loved ones back but it might bring you back!
- At about a year: I had survived but now what? To my surprise, I became more lonely and depressed. Most of the shock had worn off and even though I had an extremely supportive network of family and friends; eventually they must go on with their lives. Still not ready to engage, it was just easier to isolate; a place where I felt comfort with my own company. I became tired of false pretenses and trying to be entertaining when I no longer had the energy resources or motivation. I can only imagine how tiresome it must have been for friends, co-workers, family and even strangers, to be in the company of someone who has no life, doesn’t particularly care about having one and most certainly has little patience for hearing about anyone else’s life. I became quite a good ‘faker’ and even learned to sound cheery and smile when my heart was as hollow as a tin can. I was clearly trudging through a ‘no man’s land’.
Sometimes, I became afraid as the memory of Chad’s face and voice began to fade. I could not erase his final voice message to me, a tearful yet simple message “Mom, I’m so sorry. I love you!” As painful as it was, his voice was the only tangible thing I had left of him; it made him real for the year he was missing. For another year after we found his body, I listened to his voice, as painful as that was, until the phone company inadvertently erased it. I was devastated and relieved all at the same time. It was as if spirit was saying, “That’s enough. It’s time.”
- Between Two and Five Years: I thought that I had ‘moved on’. Through my extensive searches concerning Neurotransmitters and brain chemical imbalances I was able to greatly increase my own Serotonin balances on a daily basis helping me sustain control over depression. I was back ‘into my life’ at least it appeared that I was. So what went wrong? I actually thought that I was going through the process as well as could be expected. I didn’t run; all of the time anyway. I can now admit that I still had no idea how to actually process feelings at that time. When I was sad I cried. What else was there? Imagine my chagrin, however, when I found myself actually digressing. I had tried so hard for so long but like that roller coaster, I had finally painstakingly chugged my way to the top, escaping despair only to find myself spiraling downward once more; this time into a state of apathy. My friends and family just wanted me to be ‘over it’ and I became tired of trying to convince them that I was. Now I felt ashamed on top of all of the other feelings I drug around as baggage.
“Your organs will weep the tears you refuse to cry”
I was living the life of a wounded warrior. For a lifetime I, as well as others, had relied on my strength, courage, honestly and determination. I fought for my children, for their causes, and our financial survival; oftentimes alone. I was weary and sad and life was not only giving me permission, but actually begging me to lay down my weapons, remove my armor and surrender that warrior energy. I knew that I needed to stop resisting and simply open my heart and resonate with a different kind of strength; but I had no idea how to do that. That path was long, unfamiliar and full of twists and turns. Even though I kept getting lost, Spirit was my GPS. Unfortunately, the voice of Spirit was oftentimes drowned out by that of Ego; the part of me that had been fighting in the name of survival since I was a little girl. Intuitively, I knew that melting into my feminine energy would be like truly coming home at long last; and, it’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.
- Between Five and Ten Years: Somewhat like the Phoenix rising from the ashes, the Pendulum swung and I started really seeking on all levels. I travelled a lot and met new people. I began experimenting with different spiritual practices; chasing Buddhists and Buddhist Monks, gurus, shamans, and psychic mediums around the world. I began taking a series of intensive transformational classes and all the while continued writing as a form of release. Alas, I discovered that the very thing that I thought released me from my emotions, my writing, was in fact creating deeper Neuro-pathways and keeping me stuck. When I felt a moment of happiness, along came its old side kick sadness. More importantly, I still, in all my searching for Chad “out there” was actively avoiding “letting go.”
I traveled to Nepal, Bhutan, and Tibet in the fall of 2011 and Machu Picchu in the spring of 2012. My life began to feel much like the song by the Indigo Girls-
Closer to Fine.
I’m trying to tell you something ’bout my life
Maybe give me insight between black and white
And the best thing you ever done for me
Is to help me take my life less seriously
It’s only life after all, yeah
Well, darkness has a hunger that’s insatiable
And lightness has a call that’s hard to hear
And I wrap my fear around me like a blanket
I sailed my ship of safety till I sank it
I’m crawling on your shores
And I went to the doctor, I went to the mountains
I looked to the children, I drank from the fountains
There’s more than one answer to these questions
Pointing me in a crooked line
And the less I seek my source for some definitive
Closer I am to fine, yeah
- Today, ten years later: Finally, the pendulum swung back to a more centered place. It’s impossible to live in two places at once, the past and the present. My friend quoted a baseball player who said, “when you’re running the bases, it’s ok to look back but don’t stare.” The past is just a story that we keep telling ourselves and we become stuck there in a time, place, and roles that no longer exist. There will hopefully come a day when we realize we can choose to live again and make the most of the life that we have before us. It has been said that the two most important days of your life are the day you are born and the day you discover why. I believe that one life is not more precious than another. No one but you and your higher self knows why you have chosen a particular life. We owe it to ourselves to live it large, in our fullest capacity, and to never forget that life exists in the present moment
The past is like using your rear view mirror in the car. It’s good to glance back and see how far you’ve come, but if you stare too long you’ll miss what’s right in front of you.
One thing I know for sure is that I am not, nor will I ever be the same person I was before. When I am blessed in these moments of grace and clarity with being able to see past the pain and recognize the beauty of the gifts bestowed upon me, however, I feel grateful and humble. I feel sure that few things in life could have delivered me from my physicality to this level of spiritual awareness. In this I am eternally in debt to spirit, both of my sons and to those incredible healers who walk among us.
Why do we cling to our past and to impermanent things; knowing full well that no one and nothing lasts forever? I finally had to accept that Chad was dead; plain and simple. I finally had to accept his decision and choice in order that I could once more join the living. I had to take down the vacancy sign that says Chad’s ghost is welcome here. I had to clean out the closets, thoroughly this time, take down the little shrines around every corner, put away a few more pictures and get on with my life without him. I had to let him go after years of searching desperately and clinging to him through meditation, crystals, books about afterlife and mediums hoping for a miraculous and irrefutable direct spiritual connection with him.
So how do we let go and live life with hope and promise, reinvigorating our soul once more? With the poignant realization that nothing lasts, do we dare allow ourselves to fall in love with being alive again; really feeling the sadness as well the joy? Sometimes the simple realization that if we can express sadness; with practice, we can once again express happiness. These emotions are not opposites and are both learned skills of the heart.
We must accept that death is a package deal that is born when we are and no one (or nothing) is excluded. By its very existence, death is our best teacher. Knowing that nothing lasts forever, grief can become a skill that will show us how to love life in all of its forms. We can either surrender to it as an integral part of life; or dig in our heels, kicking and screaming our way into a state of resistance, which will only promote and prolong our suffering. Rarely are we taught how to grieve in our culture. We need to develop a willingness to remember and feel the sadness and unsuspected losses that will form the blank pages in our story.
Life is gone in a flash! We all find it challenging in the busy-ness of our current lifestyles and our perceived “survival” to stop long enough to smell the roses. Yet, who among us wouldn’t turn back the ‘hands of time’ to re-experience and celebrate some of the miraculous moments that have made up our lives. If we can live in the full appreciation of the precious moments which make up our remaining time here; we will be blessed in our discovery that each sunset, each smile, and each of our loved ones will live imprinted in our hearts for all time.
― Albert Einstein said: “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”