being dumped

Some thoughts on an anniversary

Last weekend marked a year since we lost our home, which in turn marked the start of the gradual disintegration of ‘we’ back into ‘I’.

It’s been the longest year of my life and at the same time, it still feels as if everything happened last weekend. So much has happened, changed and not happened, not changed. There’s no reason a year should yield up particular wisdom, why a year after closing the front door on my old life that I should have any remarkable insights or life-changing advice. But it’s an anniversary and there are some thoughts in my head, so here we go:

1) The storm is part of me. It does not need to pass.

2) Thinking about writing is way more painful that writing.

3) Getting fitter made me feel better. Getting thinner made me feel worse.

4) Happy endings, just deserts and karma are fairy tales. If you turn to these ideas for comfort, if you offer those who are in the darkest moments of their lives these fairy tales as wisdom, you are denying the rawness and madness of suffering. Pain does not happen for a reason; to give it one by tying the pretty bow of narrative around it is to leave those in pain alone, silent and scared.

5) Time alone won’t make things better; it’s what you do with the time that starts to create the distance between you and what happened. New memories start to cushion you from the old.

6) Things do get better, but never in the way you expect and if you’re too wrapped up in fairy tales, you won’t notice.

7) Silence is the worst thing you can do to someone in pain. ‘Giving someone space’ when they haven’t asked you for it is the excuse we make when we are too afraid to face the vastness of suffering. If you don’t know what to say, find the person, phone the person, write to the person and tell them that you don’t know what to say. There is nothing to say in the face of trauma, grief, sorrow. But being there, being a presence, recognising the unspeakableness of what someone is facing, that is how you help people start to find their way back from the formless mess that’s swallowed their lives. Your presence and words alone are enough to start anchoring someone’s world again. Silence is the worst thing you can do, because you leave them at sea. Don’t give people space. Give them your speechlessness.

8) People are awesome, in the proper sense of the word. People will find ways to let you down, to twist a knife, to destroy the most basic foundations that let you exist in this world which are so beyond the horizons of what you can image that before the rage and pain can kick in, you are left winded and opened-mouthed in awe. People will find ways to reach into your darkest hour and hold your hand, will pull you into the safety of their lives when you’re spiralling off into danger, will make the smallest gesture that somehow captures what it means to be cared for and to care. It’s a quieter, gentler awe, but it’s equally breath-taking. What a fucking spectrum.

9) Leaving Facebook has done my mental health and my friendships a world of good.

10) Anniversaries mean fuck all.

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Waking up

There’s a moment in grieving when you become aware that the clouds are starting to lift. Maybe it’s that you make it to the end of the day and then realise that you managed to become totally absorbed in that day, that for once your attention wasn’t split between the present and the past. Maybe it’s that you suddenly find yourself doing something that haven’t done for a really long time, like laughing with all of your body or giving yourself over to enthusiasm. Maybe it just didn’t hurt as much today. Whatever the sign, there’s a reason that people talk about clouds lifting – it’s clichéd because that is exactly what it feels like. Something huge is quietly shifting, and you get a reminder of what life felt like before this fuzzy, dulled sensation settled over your world. It really does feel like a shaft of light or a fresh breeze has broken through the fog.

Which is disconcerting, and in fact comes with its own set of mournings. As painful and muffling as the fog is, there is a comfort to it. It lets you pass through days in a state of suspension, allows you to tarry with the life you had even though time is pushing you forwards. It insists that you are gentle with yourself and that normal world rules don’t apply to you at present. It cushions you, acts as a buffer between the past and your future.

So when the clouds start to lift, it’s a bitter-sweet experience. The first evening I got so engrossed in a conversation that I forgot I was grieving, I burst into tears the instant I realised what had happened. I was overwhelmed by a sense of disloyalty, of not being ready to move on, and shock. But even more than that, I was sad that I was starting to let go. It’s like grieving for your grief. And it’s a different kind of sadness, one that’s mixed with a profound sense of peace. I guess this is how we mark the past genuinely moving away from us.

As bleak and aching as the past months have been, it doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m eager to rush into the gaps emerging between the clouds. After all, it means giving up that sense of suspension, of life being on hold and getting back into the swing and mundanity of everyday life. I know this is perhaps not the case for everyone, but there has been something profoundly productive in this hovering state for me. I have unravelled myself and started to remake myself and my world in ways that I never thought possible for someone like me. Actual loss has released me from the fear of having something to lose. Life is too short to worry about invented consequences.

So I’m not in a hurry to leave this foggy landscape and life solidifying into something definite again. And I’m not in a rush to expose myself to press and callous bumps of normal life either – I want to insist on my fragility for a while longer. But it’s not entirely in my hands, because once the clouds start to shift, they start to evaporate all of their own accord.

The other cliché that crops up time and again because it’s captured a grain of truth is the image of waking up, of having slept-walked your way through the painful months and then gradually becoming aware of your world again. For me, this also encapsulates my current reluctance to rush into the next moment. I’m starting to sense the coming day, I’m beginning to feel the possibilities of that day, but I’m not quite ready to get up yet. I want to slumber a little longer, stay in the familiarity of my mourning, my fog, my dreams, as aching as they have been, so I can carry something of this strange moment into the day that’s breaking over me.

The need to be gentle with myself and with other people. The freedom to remake yourself, to remain unfixed. The time to pay attention to what matters to you in the silent parts of yourself. The ability to put the push of the world in its place when you need to. The astonishing quality of love you’ve discovered in the most unexpected places. And the loss of fear. I want to take these with me, carry them out of the fog and into the day. So I’m going to spend a bit more time experiencing them, learning them, living them, before I completely wake up.

Starting to start over

I’ve officially started over. I’m in a new city, in a new house, with two new jobs and a bundle of freelance work. It is terrifying and exhilarating and also very, very ordinary.

Having lost a home and had an awful experience with my last job, it feels incredibly good to be working again and being out of my parents’ home, able to support myself again. The moment I moved in to my new teeny-tiny room in a beautiful, welcoming shared home, a huge weight of anxiety lifted and a level of self-respect that I hadn’t realised I had lost returned in a rush. Starting my new jobs felt positive – challenging but rewarding having responsibility again and great to have some structure to my time again. And both in my new place and in my new jobs, I’ve been really lucky to meet interesting and supportive people.

The initial rush of starting over was quickly tempered by the daunting reality I’m facing. I’ve moved to a city I know slightly, and I’ve been lucky enough to move in with a friend of a friend, so things are a little familiar rather than completely strange and new. I also know several people in the city already, although I’ve never simply ‘hung out’ with them because my life was somewhere else. So I have a little head start in making a life here. But once the boxes are unpacked and the madness of moving fades, you realise you actually have to build a life in this place, for yourself, by yourself. You have to make things happen, otherwise all you’re going to do is shuffle between home and work. You have to go out there and make a world for yourself.

That’s a huge task to face alone. Even with friends around you, you still have to do it alone. I literally don’t really know how to start and have kind of had to get comfortable with the idea that I just need to put myself in certain places and then let life go from there. Joining classes and a sports club have been my initial forays, and actually talking to people when I’m there rather than just shuffling in and out. It’s been a push, but each time I’ve felt better.

My housemate has been amazing; we’ve been out a couple of times and she’s invited me out to various parties to meet her friends. It’s intense meeting so many new people in such a short time – it can simultaneously feel like you’ve come so far that you’re creating a whole new life and that you’ve isolated yourself so much that you’re surrounded by strangers.

I’ve also been trying to figure out how to develop the friendships I have already in this city, turning occasional socialising into hanging out. It’s really hard, because on the one hand, you’re potentially asking a lot of people – just because you want to spend more time with people, it doesn’t mean they want to spend more time with you! And I’m also conscious I’m currently learning to be alone after eleven years of always having someone there by my side – and that can mean I am asking too much of people, as I look for ways to not be alone at moments when in fact I should be.

It’s an intense learning process; how to build a life, where the boundaries are between you and others, how to live life alone rather than always thinking for two. And it’s peppered with moments of very cruel lucidity, where you see your current life with your old eyes. For instance, thinking about the fact I’ve crammed the remnants of what was a loving household into a tiny room in a shared home leaves me feeling winded with shock. But the key thing is that it’s shock at the scale of the change, rather than regret. I wasn’t happy in my old life. It wasn’t working. It fell apart. As huge as starting over is, it is better than the alternative.

I don’t want to

The truth had been haunting your tongue

for so long, it silenced you.

Your shifting perspective cotton-woolled your mouth,

padding you out into muteness.

 

All our talk of the future

were my words, echoing off a room

you’d already left.

 

Your lyrics to our love

were all written

in the past tense.

 

You stood and listened

until I couldn’t breathe for trying,

so could you leave

with the fewest words possible.

 

I wish I’d noticed the slips.