I’ve been feeling off for about a month. Actually, I think I’ve been feeling off since about Christmas, but really not myself for the last month. I didn’t realize what a mess I’d become until I went to a therapy appointment last week (my first in about a year) and my therapist looked at me, as I listed all of my physical and mental ailments, with a look on her face that said “what in the hell have you been doing to yourself?”
And as I said everything out loud, I realized how bad I’ve let myself get.
Two months ago, I went into the doctor with extreme pain in my right heel, a swollen left knee, and a twisted left ankle and she shook her head a little as she ordered x-rays of my lower body to try and figure out what was going on. I’ve been sick for the last month, first with a cough that I think can be attributed to all of the fires we’ve had in Colorado and then with a cold that was a present from my daughter. The night before my birthday, I twisted the same ankle I twisted 2 months ago by doing something really dangerous: Walking down the stairs.
At a time of the year when I would normally be outside, walking away my stress, I’ve had to just sit with both feet up, hacking away. My delusion that I was sailing through what has always been my worst month of the year was incorrect. I know ‘cause my body is telling me so.
But why? Why now? Why since Christmas?
As I sat tearfully listing everything that has been going on in the last 6 months to my therapist, just saying it out loud helped me recognize what a fool I’ve been thinking that I was fine. This last year has been full of transitions, many of which I haven’t really wanted to acknowledge. My kids are getting older, with one going into middle school and the youngest going into the 1st grade. For the first time in 10 years, I will have full days to myself, something that I always thought I’d look forward to, but now…
“I think you’re hitting a ‘now what?’ phase in your life,” said my therapist. “Things are changing for you and you’re questioning your life.”
This wasn’t new information. But for the first time, I felt like I really recognized it. Widowed or not, these are milestones. For the first time, I won’t be working around a ½ day preschool class or ballet in the middle of the day. I’ll actually be able to participate in the networking groups I signed up for years ago and work for more than 2 hours at a time.
But then again - for the first time I won’t be cuddling with a little person at 10 AM on a random snowy morning and watching Cars. ‘Cause they’ll all be gone.
The other issue, however, was new information for me. Last year, I worked on a book, something that was meant to be light and funny – you know, a laughter through tears kind of thing. But the book started somewhat in the middle of my story because I didn’t want to bring the reader down with the depressing details of what had happened. Then last fall, I was fortunate enough to be mentored by a bestselling author who read the book, made notes, and ultimately came up with this suggestion:
“You can’t not tell the story of what happened to your husband,” she said. “The reader has to get invested in you and your story. They have to know what happened.”
After she gave me that advice, I could see that she was right. Before people could see the light at the end of the tunnel with me, they had to be in the dark part too…otherwise it really wouldn’t make much sense. So I sat down at my computer and began to write…and write…and write. For 2 months, I wrote in detail about the worst 3 days of my life. What I saw. What I smelled. What I felt and what I thought I should be feeling. And when I was finished, on December 23rd, I sent the manuscript back to that author who replied, “That’s it. You’ve done it.”
In the weeks following that declaration, I signed with an agent, made more revisions, and it seemed like everything was falling into place.
The weird thing was…I didn’t feel happy. Actually, I didn’t feel much of anything. And that scared me.
When I told my therapist my timeline, what I’ve been doing and how long I haven’t been feeling well, her response was, “I think you’ve almost re-traumatized yourself a little. Writing is deeply personal and writing about that every day took a toll.”
And she was right.
I didn’t realize that in the last few months, I’ve almost been mourning all over again. That writing about every little detail had put me back in the moment – that horrible moment – and that it’s taking me a while to climb out of it. I haven’t felt this bad since the months following my husband’s death. But my sadness is different this time because right after he died, even though I was sad and traumatized, I had this fighting determination that I was going to create a new life, one where I would be happy.
And this time, I had all of the sadness and trauma, but none of the determination.
It will come back. I know it will. I think all that has happened to me physically in the last few months has been my body’s way of telling me to slow down and deal with what’s going on in my head. My refusal to do that in the beginning just caused me to go from bad to worse and denial only works for a certain amount of time before reality starts taking over in one form or another – whether it’s through tears, illness, or swollen feet.
The determination will come back. Because there will come a point when I decide that it will. But for now, I’m going slower and being more forgiving. I’m telling my body to take its time and that I’ll be patient with it instead of carrying around all of this irritation about what I can’t do. I’m going to let myself cry when I need to and find laughter when I feel up to it. After the sadness and transition, I will keep working on that life I knew was possible in the beginning.
But right now…I’m going to go put my feet up.
My therapist recommended the following book so I thought I would pass it on:
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Widow Chick (aka, Catherine Tidd) is the owner of www.theWiddahood.com and the author of the upcoming memoir Confessions of a Mediocre Widow (Jan. 2014). She is also a writer for The Denver Post's Mile High Mamas and a contributor to several books on grief and renewal.