Northern Exposure

Sisyphus

Sisyphus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Despite the bawdiness and the bravado, I am, today, wondering how I’m going to get through this.

Like Sisyphus, I’m pushing my boulder of grief up the mountainside only for it to come crashing down once it nears the top.

Insomnia has set in again, not through lack of alcohol, but because of the heat. It has reached the woozy heights of 19 degrees in the village, and both my daughter and I are still rolling about the bed at midnight trying to find the cool patch. Insomnia allows Bad Thoughts to roam free, and also draws attention to the wardrobe, at the bottom of which is the casket containing…well, Him.

Sunny days are, in themselves, catalysts for sadness – they make everywhere look full of hope, even grey-rendered, pebble-dashed Northern villages such as this one. But part of me doesn’t want hope to blossom (the stubborn, self-pitying, foot-stamping toddler part), because M has been denied it.

My counsellor is starting a round of Exposure Therapy next week. This does not involve us flashing our bits at each other across a crowded room; rather, we will be breaking down the traumatic event (Husband, intercourse, “socks!”, pillow, dead), recording it like chapters in a book, then ‘exposing’ ourselves to it and the onslaught of emotions it elicits. By deconstructing the trauma, its power to destabilise is weakened, therefore I can allow myself to think about it occasionally without hyperventilating.

It sounds like psycho-babble, but I’m trying to be hopeful.

The Prophecy of the Bald Surgeon

Agadoo

Agadoo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There was a crash outside our village this weekend. Ambulances, police cars, rubber-neckers, the lot.

My heart sank at the prospect of fatalities. Which poor sod would get the policeman at their door telling them that their loved one was dead?

Whilst no less devastating, losing your spouse suddenly is a different experience to watching them succumb to a long illness.

You have no time to prepare, to say goodbye, for them to make any last minute confessions or request Agadoo be played at the funeral.

Equally, you don’t face the agony of the slow diminishment of the person you love, of steering them through the realities of imminent death and the fact that they will never see their kids grow up.

In a sense, with M, we went through both of these scenarios.

He fell ill, suddenly and catastrophically, in 2008. He was wheeled into emergency open-heart surgery, not knowing whether He would see daylight again.

But He survived, and the prognosis was good. A ‘normal lifespan’ was to be expected, according to the Bald Surgeon in the Blue Scrubs. (How I came to fear the Bald Surgeon in the Blue Scrubs  – he and his team of wingmen would come sweeping onto the ward and announce yet further obstacles to M’s recovery – collapsed lung, mild mid-brain stroke – but despite it all, we were discharged with the belief that a ‘normal lifespan’ was to be expected.)

I had watched my beloved suffer though; I had seen the fear in His eyes. His rehabilitation was gruelling, but His determination to live somehow over-rode every setback.

It seemed like God’s final insult, therefore, to have finished Him off in the way He did. Unceremoniously, with no regard for how far we had come.

So much for God and Bald Surgeons.

On homesickness

Nostalgia's not what it used to be

Nostalgia’s not what it used to be (Photo credit: marc e marc)

In one of those weird moments of simultaneity, after I wrote yesterday’s post about homesickness, I opened my bedtime reading to find William Fiennes talking about the same thing. (Although he made no reference to projectile piss at a Madness concert.)

Fiennes describes how the condition was given a medical designation as far back as 1688, by a Swiss physician named Hofer. He called it ‘Nostalgia’, and described it as a ‘serious disease’ characterised by the following symptoms:

‘…continued sadness, disturbed sleep either wakeful or continuous, decrease of strength, hunger, thirst, senses diminished, and cares or even palpitations of the heart, frequent sighs, also stupidity of the mind – attending to nothing hardly, other than an idea of the Fatherland.’

The idea was picked up again in 1754 by a fella called De Meyserey, who observed ‘nostalgia’ in a military context. He emphasised the importance of ‘keeping any soldier who showed signs of homesickness busy, diverted, occupied by tasks or vigorous activity. He recommended medications that would allow the blood and humours to circulate more easily…’

Anyone who has experienced grief will recognise the symptoms, and the prescription for its ‘relief’. Diversions, medications. Anything to help contain the spread of the ‘disease’.

The passage in Fiennes’ book (The Snow Geese) helped elucidate my feelings of ‘homesickness’ within the context of my grief.

For grief is a ‘sickness’ in itself, impacting on every aspect of my new life. And as far as I can see, there is no cure other than to keep going.

Meep meep!

54226

Look out! Acme anvil!
(picture credit: http://www.rankopedia.com

I’ve started smoking again.

Strictly other people’s fags though – I wouldn’t dream of buying any of my own. (Have you SEEN the price of a pack of Marlboros?)

So essentially, I’m smoking on the odd occasion when I go out and find someone who is smoking, and who is prepared to give me a cigarette.

Hardly anyone smokes anymore though, with even fewer being prepared to share a commodity which costs more per ounce than solid gold, so I’m averaging about one cigarette a month.

If I’m honest, I don’t even like it. It tastes like shit and turns my brain into a waltzer. But! I can add it to the checklist of Reckless Things to do Since Sudden Death of Beloved Husband, and that is its one redeeming feature.

I find that I have stagnated at a confusing intersection on this journey. I am terrified of boarding a plane for fear of dying, yet I’m beating my liver into submission on a nightly basis with red wine. I catastrophise the potential for danger in EVERYTHING my daughter does (Look out! Falling Acme anvil!), yet feel like fucking the first man I meet.

In short, I am wilfully tap-dancing around the edge of oblivion and at the same time I’m scared shitless of my own shadow.

To an extent, I have always had this contradiction in my personality. But since M’s death, the two extremes have polarised further to a point where sometimes, I think I have regressed to my University days – the ones in which I would drunkenly ambush the lead singer of every band who played the Union and insist on taking over the mike. (Cringe!)

Anyway. Enough of this shit. My alter-ego wants to know if she can borrow one of your cigarettes?

My reptilian brain

English: Artist interpretation of reptilian al...

English: Artist interpretation of reptilian alien. Human is shown for relative size. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Widows! You know that shame you feel when, even fleetingly, you have the desire to sleep with another man? The postman, the bus-driver, that bloke sitting opposite you right now – anyone will do.

You don’t want a relationship, or love, or even respect particularly, you just want to look up at a stubbly face from the vantage of a hairy (perhaps tattooed) chest and take in the warmth, the *smell, the closeness that has been missing from your life for sixteen long months. (*debateable).

In short, you want to engage in arguably one of the most life-affirming acts in order to feel…alive.

Perhaps, like me, you have already succumbed to the desire, and are currently listening to the sound of self-loathing and insatiable lust tussling with one another in your brain.

Well I wanted to share something I heard today in my counselling session which reassured me that my behaviour wasn’t as deviant as I’d imagined.

It turns out this is a well-documented phenomenon. Yes, other widows are doing it!

Faced with trauma and loss on this scale, humans refer to their reptilian brain, (I wasn’t even aware we HAD one!) and the familiar three ‘Fs’ of survival – Fight, Flight or Freeze – become four. I’ll leave you to ponder what the final one could be.

Psycho-babble or not, it sure as hell made me feel better.

Menace to sobriety

Three days off the booze!

Enough to make me realise that sobriety has absolutely no redeeming features whatsoever, except to allow you to announce Three days off the booze! smugly in the faces of your hung-over friends.sobriety%20freeway%20exit

So far it’s caused insomnia (probably due to the fact that I’m so bored in the evenings I just go to bed), which in turn causes me to lie there thinking about M, which in turn makes me feel hopelessly empty and sad.

It’s caused almost complete cessation of my studies, as only a mind numbed by alcohol can begin to contemplate the bullshit contained within academic textbooks.

I don’t feel any better physically, emotionally or creatively. So what’s the point?

I went off it because of a bowel-loosening piece of propaganda I read in the doctor’s earlier this week. It stated that by regularly exceeding the advised 21 units of alcohol per week for a woman, I was almost certainly going to contract a hideous, if not terminal disease. In fact, as a long-term abuser, it was a foregone conclusion.

I totted up my weekly unit consumption according to their calculation of 10 units equalling one bottle of wine. You do the maths.

Immediately after M died, I was positively encouraged to get shit-faced – and the earlier in the day the better. Red wine for breakfast? Why not? After all, I deserved it! Now, 16 months on, it seems there’s less of an excuse.

My abstention ends tonight, however. I am visiting a friend for the weekend and we have to get drunk because it’s Father’s Day on Sunday and how can I possibly cope with that when I’m sober?

Any excuse…

A blast of Charlie Rich

Behind Closed Doors (Charlie Rich album)

Behind Closed Doors (Charlie Rich album) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My Mother asked me the other day whether I thought my daughter needed grief counselling. It wasn’t a question; it was a statement designed to make me consider whether I had done the right thing in organising some for her.

This isn’t a dig at my Mother – she is a wonderful and caring soul who only has our best interests at heart. Yet for her, the concept of counselling is anathema. She simply doesn’t ‘get’ the notion of sitting in front of another impartial, trained individual and exchanging dark thoughts for potentially healing ones. She has been through her share of grief – one way or another – and as far as I’m aware has never had more than a small gin and tonic and a blast of Charlie Rich to get her through it.

After M died, I was referred for some counselling through my GP. The first woman I saw practised what is known as ‘person-centred’ counselling. That is to say, we sat in a hot little room for an hour and looked at each other. The next woman I saw was much more my style. I wailed, she offered me practical advice as to how to get through the week until the next time I saw her. She conceded that I would probably cry for M every day for the rest of my life. There was no ‘solution’ to my grief, but it was possible that one day, I may be able to accept that He had gone. We reached a point in our counsellor-client relationship where she couldn’t do anything else for me, but the time we were together was undoubtedly beneficial.

As for my daughter, she is having her first round of grief counselling later today. She doesn’t cry for her daddy, but she does mention Him a lot. Last night, for example, she drew a picture on a piece of paper and rolled it up.

“This is my map to find Daddy,” she said. She unfurled the paper. “Daddy is in the cupboard in a box. Daddy was set on fire.”

Maybe she doesn’t need counselling, but I feel as if I have reached a point in her grief where I can’t do anything else for her.