Month: December 2014

5am Grief

I am reliably informed that what I’m experiencing now is grief. A totally expected and necessary response to everything that’s happened. And looking over this blog, I guess you can read it as tracking the course of grieving.

What I hadn’t realised was that it’s not just the loss of a living presence that you need to grieve. You can mourn the loss of your own life, the one you had and thought you were going to have. When things, huge things, drastic things, things beyond your control happen to you that bring about irrevocable changes in your life, you need to let what was move into the past. That full realisation of what you’ve lost because of what’s happened so you can start to rebuild and letting what was move into the past, that’s what grief is for. At least that is what I’m hoping it is for.

As I say, I’m looking at this blog now and seeing gestures of grief; moments where I’m trying to understand the bleakness and pointlessness of some of the huge changes that crashed over my life, peppered with efforts to think myself into the next moment, the space beyond the aching, the bit where life starts again. But I didn’t recognise it as this until now. It’s only now, when the absolute last remnant of the life I was hoping to lead has gone that I can see the loops of hope and despondency, creativity and stagnation for what they are – the cycle of grief.

Letting go of possibilities, leaving the hopes you held for one particular future behind altogether, leaving the lives you dreamed of sharing with people behind – I’m trying to figure out how to do that. Because grieving alerts you to the fact that those hazy, warm hopes will become daggers in your new world, ideas that will tear a hole in anything you try to do and lacerate your new efforts with the failures of the past. You can’t ever leave them behind totally, as much as you might feel you want to at moments, but for me, grieving is a process of blunting these newly- formed blades. Finding the hidden daggers that used to be your hopes and blunting the blades. That takes time.

It’s the rollercoaster nature of grief that makes it almost unbearable at times. Each peace you make will be punctured by something – a stray thought, a seemingly unrelated comment from a friend, a trace of your old life interrupting the new. And then you’re back in there, in the midst of anger at the injustice of it all, despair that anything is worthwhile anyway, horror at the enormity of what is happening to you and just pain. Throat-blocking, thought-blocking pain.

You work your way back up to some kind of peace again, although you know it’s fragile. I’m told that the spaces between peace and turmoil get larger, but it’s early days for me still. But even this early on, I guess the depths are getting less deep. The fact I can write this is telling me something.

The worst part about this process for me is that it’s something you have to do alone. And when part of what is causing you pain is getting used to being alone, it’s even harder to accept. Yes, you must talk to people about it, you can’t bottle it up. But talking to people is one thing. They can’t share your pain, even if they’re suffering the loss too, because the shape of that loss is so different for everyone. And no one can do the work of blunting the daggers but you, because no one else knows where they are. But you don’t want to be alone and you want people to understand and tell you the answers, and when they can’t, it hurts all over again. It’s amazing how angry and frustrated grief leaves you at the very moment when everyone is actually doing all they can for you.

And no one can do anything about the 5am grief (5am if you’re lucky – when it starts at 2am, you’ve got a long night ahead of you). You can’t call anyone because the world is resting, but even if you could, you wouldn’t be able to say anything that comes close to the enormity of it. It’s wordless, directionless, thoughtless. This morning, a single thought woke me up at 5am, especially to ensure that I got my daily dose of horror and hopelessness before the rest of the world began its day. A single thought. Oh my god, how has this happened to my life? Then, thoughtless, chest-heaving pain.

No one else can get you through these moments. You literally just have to live them out. I guess it’s the last gasps of my old life breaking in when I’m at my most relaxed and leaving me gasping instead. But if I just keep breathing, I’ll get to the next moment. And the next. And then the next.

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Unravelling and re-threading

I’m not a fan of similes and forced metaphors. Things get very cheesy very quickly. But the ones that occur in daily life are pretty startling. I don’t if it means you can learn something profound from them, or whether the only similes and metaphors that work are the ones that give you pause for thought. The ones that snap you out of the flow of daily life and make you aware of something bigger going on behind your day, behind your thoughts.

I’ve made a lot of claims about going through difficult times on this relatively young blog. So I apologise for the blatant moaning. But I guess it’s not surprising that things continue to be difficult – and even get worse – because once certain events happen in your life, they set off a chain that has to play itself out for a while. That said, in the shit-storm that seems to have been my world for the past couple of years, the last two weeks were an extra-special low. The last vestiges of the life I had finally unravelled. And I unravelled with them.

I’m not entirely sure how I’ve gotten from then to now. It’s hazy. But between now and then, somehow (I really don’t know how), I’ve managed to produce two of the most beautiful tapestries I’ve done in my short career as a stitcher. I actually don’t know how I did them, but they’re there. They exist and they sparkle with light, the very thing that has been almost completely absent from the past two weeks.

It struck me today, the first day I could say I’ve been properly present for a while, that this is one of those metaphors that happens in life but would be awful in fiction. I unravelled and got through it by stitching. And I made two of the best tapestries I’ve done so far. Can’t take more from this than what it is, but it made me stop and think.

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Mistakes

I had the oddest moment yesterday, one of those moments that should only happen in films. Someone asked me what was my biggest mistake?

A little context. We were discussing questions that come up in interviews, in particular academic interviews. And specifically, we were thinking about the unexpected questions – or as it turned out, the increasingly common questions, which seem to follow some kind of corporate psychometric logic. One of which was, ‘What would you say was your biggest mistake?’

Obviously, the context of the original question and our conversation implied that it was perhaps a question intended to get the interviewee to reflect on their professional practice. And yet, its parameters are deliberately vague. It’s allowing you to stray into any area of your life if you so wish. If you want to lay your heart bare before the interview committee, here is your chance. If you’ve had a burning desire to confess a haunting error, now is your moment. Nothing is ruled out of bounds by this question. It’s as open as you want it to be.

Of course, we all have a sense of what the ‘right’ answer is. We practiced self-satisfied responses such as ‘My biggest mistake is that I’m always early/ I try too hard/ I’m a perfectionist’ blah blah blah. But amongst friends, we were also curious as to what the genuine answer would be, albeit in terms of our careers.

One of us had an answer immediately, a clear regret that was a missed opportunity. One of us somehow managed to escape quizzing. As for me, I was appalled by my response – not least of all because it was utterly genuine.

Some more context. In the past eight months, I have lost my home, I have moved back in with my parents and most recently, my eleven year relationship seems to have come to an end. In fact, I spent the weekend with the man with whom I’ve had the best times of my life, working through all our possessions, helping him pack what has now become his into a van and watching him drive potentially out of my life. The only way to explain how that leaves you feeling is by telling you that when my sister asked me what I wanted to eat on Sunday night, my response was to cry.

There are just no words for this feeling.

And here we arrive at the filmic moment. I mean, seriously, who gets asked this kind of question two days after the love of their life has gone? Well, I did. And my response, which in fact I didn’t say out loud, was shocking. In my most private thoughts, in my secret self, I had nothing.

I know I have made mistakes, huge ones, painful ones for me and for people I love. But faced with this question, I realised none of them have stayed mistakes.

Mistakes are momentary. They’re mistakes for as long as you don’t respond to them in some way. I won’t say learn, because they’re not all lessons, and learning alone isn’t enough. But if you’ve responded to mistake, then their moment has passed. They’re not mistakes anymore. They become part of who you are. After all, it’s your mistakes as much as your successes that bring you to where you are now, and in fact, your mistakes make you the person you are more than your triumphs, as they help you find the lines you don’t want to cross, the limits of who you want to be.

I have no home. I’m facing life alone for the first time in eleven years. But right now, I can’t say I’ve made a mistake that’s stayed a mistake. So pat, so corporate, so appalling good for an interview answer. But in this moment, which is all we ever have, it’s true.