This is always a rough time of year. Anniversaries of people I’ve lost, deadlines, marking, and end-of-year existential lala all seem to come together in October.
This week particularly has just been blah.
And it’s not that I don’t know how to self-care. I’m much better at it than I used to be, and I’m much better at recognising when I need to take more care than usual. Slowly, slowly stumbling my way towards grace as always with that one.
I run. Walk. Bake. Write. Sit in the sunshine with my small cat. Do breathing exercises. Go to the foot man. Read books (in the sunshine if possible). Coffee (and skype) with friends as we dissect the world, and The Bachelorette. Sing loudly in the shower.
Occasionally sing loudly out of the shower.
Write some more.
Acknowledge my blessings, because there is no question of that. Remember that there are small beauties and small loves, great beauties and great loves, everywhere. Be present with the sunrise.
Get my hair cut/coloured (my hair may be more pink than ever before right now). Get something pierced, or cry in public at art exhibitions in Derry (hypothetically speaking)
You know, all the things.
I’m not sure there’s an article on stress or wellbeing that I’ve not read, just to make sure there’s not something I’m missing in the quest to keep on being well and happy. To make sure I am as OK as can be, as productive and as creative as possible.
I know I’m not the only one reading everything that comes their way on this.
But sometimes, it all feels a bit blahblahblah. That cogs are turning, and things are whirring, but that nothing actually shifts or changes. Movement and motion, but no action. All of Shakespeare’s sound and fury still signifying nothing.
As much as running is fantastic for relieving stress in the moment and it seems to be the best time for ideas to pop into my head (as an aside, why do ideas only appear best formed during a run or a shower?), all the running in the world won’t make my heart break any less for the anniversaries.
No matter all my insight and self-care and learning, this time of year is always hard. And I was talking to friends yesterday that it’s not that I miss the people I’ve lost in a way – they stay frozen in death whereas I’ve changed. I had to – I grew older. The person I miss isn’t the person they’d be now so that feels a false emotion for me in a way. What I grieve and miss – what breaks my heart – is the loss of that potential. We lost who they could have become, and what they could have been in the world. That I will never know who they could have become, for better or for worse or for all those in-betweens. And that breaks my heart every year.
And I realized yesterday that nothing can make that heartbreak better because how can you fix that loss of potential? There’s nothing that will bring them back.
But, strange as it sounds, yesterday’s realization gave me a freedom I’d never explored properly before. I sat in that rubble and mourned my loss. I had made myself a jam-packed day so did interviews and meetings and things. But I let myself grieve and feel heartbroken. And today I feel lighter for it; this morning I woke up lighter for it. Quiet still, but lighter. Almost as though giving myself over to heartbreak fully yesterday (and these last few days) was enough of a penance – not a penance for sin but one in memory, so maybe that’s not quite the right word – and this morning I could breathe with the weight that has shifted if not entirely gone.
I wonder sometimes though – in our quest to frame everything positively and to retell mantras – that we’re losing our ability to be OK with the blah. That maybe sometimes we need to sit in the rubble with our heartbreak and just be. Be present with our ghosts and make peace with them, because not all of them are scary. Some are just sad. That giving ourselves over to grief, just for a moment, allows us to then cleanse ourselves of it a little more. One week out of a year rather than a whole year. A week to feel the pain, and acknowledge its presence, rather than carrying the load all year in silence, hiding a broken heart.
I could out-PollyAnna a lot of people but, more and more, I wonder whether we strengthen our positivity and our resilience by feeling the hurt – and shouting out to the world that it bloody hurts – rather than coating it in inspirational sayings, rather than giving ourselves a narrative that we would be better if only we did this one extra thing or tried hard enough or read one more article. Maybe we can be OK almost all the time, and still sometimes be sad. Maybe being OK also involves being sad as well….? Maybe some times are just blah and you trust (and you know) that these blah times will pass.
I’m trying to figure this out and so far this is as articulate as I can be about it. I have pink hair as a result of trying to sit with my feelings and make myself feel better so this is certainly a grace I’m stumbling towards. Certainly there’s a line between sitting in the rubble and being drowned by it, just as there’s a line between one week turning into many more. But I think as well, when you travel with your trauma every day, you can also allow yourself to learn its ways as well. I know to surround myself with people I trust on the anniversaries. I know that I will be quieter and there will be some work I struggle to do in that week. So I make allowances and am kind to myself because – as long as everything gets done – what does the order matter? I arrange this week so I can grieve and function all at once – a whole of life.
I’m not sure whether this will work all the time but it’s a process that I know now works for me after a long time now. I take all the bits that work and make a tapestry to protect myself and my inner PollyAnna, because she knows that everything will always be alright in the end.