I’ve been dipping in and out of Outlander, a Starz TV series in which the heroine is suddenly transported back in time from the 1950s to 1743 whilst on holiday with her husband in Scotland. 18th century Scotland is vastly different to the time she used to inhabit including how people live, what they eat, what they wear, and their values. The landscape and architecture is unrecognisable and all reality is distorted.
About a week before the third anniversary of my dad’s death I started to feel like I had time-travelled. Not literally, of course, because that really isn’t possible. I’ve checked. Rather, I felt transported emotionally back to that time when everything was grey. It was as if the canvas of my current reality had a grey wash. Everything continued as normal around me but it was monochrome and I was feeling empty, low, and at times, tormented. I couldn’t concentrate so well. I felt lost and my head ached. Worst of all, I felt NEEDY. Uh oh. It is so hard to think and behave rationally when we are in pain.
This was a lingering state for the following three weeks. During this anniversary period I had moments of worrying I was getting depressed. I wanted to stay in bed. Forever. Unsurprisingly, being in a state of grief makes one more susceptible to mental health problems. One reason being that when I’m sad I have less of a handle on my thoughts and negative ones tend to rule the roost. My anxiety isn’t getting better like I thought it was. Now I’m getting depressed. I just hate my life and I can’t change it so I will feel like this forever. Before I know it, I am feeling inescapable symptoms of anxiety and depression.
I recently watched the music video for alt-pop duo Oh Wonder’s song All We Do and it was set up around the following question;
What does it mean to be human?
One person in it said:
‘Accept where you are, then it’s easier to move forward.’
Recognising what you feel at certain times in life, perhaps in response to certain triggers, and then accepting those feelings is so important for when you feel like you’re circling the drain and could drop into that black hole any minute.
It’s the anniversary of my cancer diagnosis
It’s the anniversary of my wife leaving me
It’s the month my baby would have been due
It’s no wonder you feel anxious/low/tormented/lost/irritable. I have certainly found that accepting being in that place makes it easier to bear, especially since I know it will pass.
Yet the problem with accepting where I am is, I sometimes can’t figure out where I am. Right? I am feeling the feelings and have no idea why. They are all-consuming and my rational brain has been squeezed out of the party like some unwelcome misfit. ‘You don’t belong here with your logic and your calm explanations.’
So, the questions remains, how to help yourself find where you are?
Talk to someone
I literally told my husband he had to listen to me. We went out to walk the dog and I announced;
‘I’m aware that I’m not feeling good and I need to talk about it so that is what I will do.’
This was followed by…. Silence. Then,
‘I just don’t know what to say.’
It’s not easy being vulnerable. I managed to find some things to say and so on and so forth. After two hours I stumbled upon the idea that I may still be feeling rubbish because of the anniversary even though it had passed. I realised I was still in this three-week window. You see, the funeral was three weeks after his death and the time between felt like a bit of a black hole of suspended animation. I was just floating in murky depths, awaiting the frequent waves of sorrow to wash over. Once I realised this, my rational brain was then summoned and I thought lots of helpful things like,
You’ll feel better very soon, then.
It’s not surprising and therefore not something completely random.
You need to do lots of comforting things and not push yourself.
I’d regained some control and, most importantly, some hope. I’m still feeling that weight of sadness. I guess it’s here for a while yet and to some degree, for the rest of my days. Strangely, accepting that does help me find a way forward.