I don’t know

I’m tired of being tired. Dragging and dragged over rocks of grief. Realizing the many ways and places this grief is laid out over years of unmet grief.

July 15

My first day back to work. Four hours. Folding clothes. I may not make it, there are updates to online training that need to be completed. That’s easy. I can do those. It’s the floor that scares me.

July 20

Yesterday, day three. I shook. Forced myself through four hours. Kindnesses of staff.

A coworker called me brave. I was negating myself again; fear of change, fear of loss. Berating myself for falling, hitting my head, struggling to heal. Knowing I’m not okay. Missing Jack. Showing up triggers me. Too many memories of waiting for him to come through the doors. Working apart. Not able to go to him. Listening to people yell or complain about petty things. I’m afraid. I can’t go back to listening to it right now. Doing this … staying alive and learning to grieve … it does not play fair. I had no idea.

I live with levels of stress accumulated in decades of abuse. Crisis a daily reality. I thought pain would go when I left my ex, slide back into something others call ‘normal’. I would laugh off that word telling people “normal is just the fat part of the graph. Statistics.” But this is not funny. Dissociation is a common experience of abuse, of PTSD. So are the panic attacks that wake me at 2am shaking from dreams or something I don’t remember. It’s strange how …. thoughts lost.

July 25

I had rough days this week. More than rough. I get angry at myself for them, for their unpredictability, for not being able to control myself or the days. Long hanging silences on calls to the crisis line, then sobbing because I’m frozen in bed, my body a lump of shock, sizzling. Blood pressure high, pills taken, bathroom done, back to bed, lay and shake. And so I call,

“hello, my name is …. how can I help you?”

“I, um I …” my mind and thoughts racing with guilt and grief and disasters past and pending.

The thoughts freeze in my head. Instinct. Fear; of living, being, lost and labelled. Something my ex would say, A negative judgement on who and how I am. And I can’t do it. Getting it out takes a breath, and sometimes that’s where they start. But first I give my name, the basics of identity. Then the call.

I talk and talk, through getting up, getting going, going to work. Even with the fear. A rational irrational place where emotion and action don’t fit the norm, but given the circumstances I understand. Tears or not, I have to go. I push too hard. Don’t overdo. Am warned. Holding myself back from demanding full hours. I don’t want to hurt myself again. The side of my head that hit the floor is ok, but not ok. Numb or tingles at times. Stress?

There is so much I can’t predict, so much I just don’t know. I’m trying to be ok with that; not knowing. Living and being is the hard job right now. The rest will ease in slowly, not smoothly. I hope, but am learning I can’t expect it. My body needs to purge the grief, but also years of pent up grief or things attached to it. Chaos of layers, interwoven connections, years forming. I’m just taking it a day or two at a time. Feeling useless, but knowing I’m not. Telling myself to be quiet when I want to rebuff the kindnesses and compliments of others. Still so much fear letting others in. I understood that far too well, Jack. We were kind to each other’s broken places. Love lingers in the tenderness.

Sanctuary.

Writing Life

I started May’s blog post several times. Got nowhere. The long post I eventually arrived at by June 3rd has been saved to files and deleted here.

7:30am June 6th and I’m starting fresh, though that’s a strange word for the circumstances and my now chronic lack of sleep. I passed out sometime shortly after 6pm and retrieved laundry from the dryer down the hallway around midnight when I awoke. Today, I have an essay to tidy and send off to a magazine whose current theme of ‘ancestors’ finally got coherent words from my tired and broken heart.

That said, this will be short. Off the cuff.

I emailed a note to a local councilor, telling her that I’d like to talk about a request to name or re-name several local streets in honour of persons with indigenous heritage. I have never put such a request forward before. This one flows out of grief, in honour of someone to whom it mattered greatly, and who was still pursuing a request made several years ago.

The past five years (or nearly) I have had the joy of being in a relationship with a man named Jack who died over the May long weekend pursuing another love of his life, whitewater paddling.

Jack was away teaching in a Cree community in northern Quebec. We spoke every day by text or in Facebook. I started to share my loss here, but found it becoming too poetic. I have written actual poems to Jack these last few years and may write a few more. He was an amazing man, the kindest, most gentle and generous man I know. Honest. Full of compassion and integrity. He brushed it off when I told him so, “Then you’re the only person who knows. Most people think I’m a pain.” I don’t believe that, and would reply, “If so then they aren’t listening.”

It’s still too soon after hearing you died, Jack. I wake shaking some days in shock. I read back through conversations shared and look at how many video calls show up on your side of the conversation thread. I’m glad you wanted so much to talk to me, to share your hopes and joys. To let me know how surprised you are it took you so long to say you love me. I shared it with one of your sons last week, and continue to grieve with him that it wasn’t your way to say it more. I understand why it was so hard for you, and why I said it too much. We shared places in our pasts I’m finally digging deep to understand.

I’m listening now, as I write, to Gabor Mate; a recommended listen from someone I volunteer with in mental health. Wisdom I’ll come back to more this year.

I wish we had more time to enjoy each other’s laughter, the gentleness we shared, ways we gave each other space and were discovering some of the things this man describes that need to heal. Not complicating them with demands, just offering understanding and giving each other permission to ‘not fix’. You said that to me early on, ‘don’t fix’. One of the reasons I told you I thought you were wise. So much of my life was responsibility and demands to fix things not mine to touch. You healed me in a way, just giving me space and telling me I need to respect myself and follow my dreams. Then showing me how, letting me watch you and admire your bravery.

I wonder if we messed that up just a bit at the end. You pushed yourself too hard at times. Your wrist was hurting from last time out. I was afraid you were going again too soon.

We had just four weeks to wait until you were home. You told me every day, soon, and let me know how excited you were coming back me. But the short time pressed against your list of things you wished you’d done last fall when the weather allowed you out on the waters. I understood it from the rush of photos you shared, the video rides you took me on coming back from the land. Waiting for open water. “I wish you could come up.” But the borders had been closed. “I wanted you to see.” I wanted that too. You did your best.

And now, I have to wait a little longer still. I love you, Jack.

Waiting for Spring

April is spring and flowers and beauty and outdoors and sitting on my back deck watching the squirrels chase their way around the pole to the feeder. There is peace in watching the small things. So many birds and small animals grace the yard.

The store is quieter with lockdowns, but there are still shoppers. I’m longing for spring. Seeds and potted plants in many sizes leave looking for gardens every day. I want them. Some already fill spots in front or back garden, and I can picture them, anticipate the colours that will fill the gardens in the coming months.  

We talk as they ring things through. Sometimes I mention the longing, how I miss my house, the bond that forms between gardener and growth, a shock of realization for me, home was outside. The plants held my heart in place.  Not only the peace of times spent there, but the can and can’t of some of the work. My sons doing harder digging or moving of things than I could do. My sons, anchored in that place, house and garden – memories, good and bad, held in context of the places they occurred.

Memories feel tangible; I remember the warmth of a smile, a look, a movement made, the tone of voice, the way a room, the deck, garden, plant or soil felt. Warmed by sun or darkened by mood. Remember.

Someone may ask how I do it. They often do. Ask. Did. Ask.

How do you get Jacob to communicate with you. How do you stand the abuse, the hours put in at two schools balancing needs, the physical effort of Jacob hanging on you, your own injuries.

How do you smile so much. Laughter. If you didn’t have your quirky sense of humour, you’d probably be dead.

I wonder. If the flowers still grow. If the bird feeder is still there. Do the rabbits come, and squirrels. Do blue jays have fights over fresh poured seeds. I saw the fence was gone. New windows stared at me. I wonder. Do you spend time in the gardens? See the same miracles of spring. Wonder. Do you think of me.

Never met. May never meet. Still I think of you. I miss my house, the gardens most. At times I cry for wanting. Remembering comes hard. Distance and the longer view remind me there were things I loved. Beauty comes in many forms. Even our broken places held beauty. Too fragile to not break.

We live apart. Shattered. Borrowed space. Concrete walls. I wish for the world, the great outdoors. Cohesive. The only lines it draws form waterways, cliff edge, a tree line.

Balcony plants. Can’t feed the birds. Don’t tie anything to the posts. Behind the screen of tempered glass. There is no grass to touch my feet, no buzzing bees to hum me tunes. Tiny birds dart quickly past. Red heads where once yellow bright as the corn, came bold within an arms length.

I must climb down. On my own. Cross lanes of concrete. Man-made lights still glowing in the break of day. Walk to find where houses still hold space for sharing. Where trees are tall enough to climb and host nests to birds and squirrels. Open doors for calling. Sounds of spring. Lingering.

Beneath your trees. At sidewalk edge. I hover. Waiting for spring.

Imperfections

February’s been a rough month. March too. I ping between okay and ‘oh so over it’. I’ve hit the wall. All I have left is to write about it.

On one hand, I have a small box called apartment. It’s crammed full of left over bits of past life and the one I’m trying to live now. Creativity wages war with it daily; art and writing supplies, music all fight for space.

I write regularly, paint occasionally. Mostly my keyboard and guitar cower against one wall, asking me to practice. I paid for a month of guitar lessons, tossed a penny into the well of expectation and hope it brings good things. Last week, encouraging words from my teacher assured me that regardless of my frustration with ‘only’ practicing one song and one scale, I have done a good job. Okay. I’ll bite. I’ve done well. Now believe it.

I want to improve my art. Create paintings I love and learn to part with them. To do that, I need a better grip on money and budgets both for home and sales. Even if it’s just for fun, I’d like enough to replenish supplies, I need to let myself learn the basics of give and take, hobby or business.

I want to release things I’ve written. Send them further out. Not just the one or two places I know who are open to it. I want to push past the barriers and broaden my reach.

What scares me about writing? People tell me I’m good, I have a raw way of writing. It draws people. They see it in pieces I’m doing for a memoir. Say, I have a strong, staccato style to my poetry. I read a list of possible literary magazines suggested to me. I probed their online offerings and re-read. Decided to write a cover letter and choose some poems to send.

But then, a tangible restraint on my arms. typing has weight. sleep falls upon me, passing out like with a migraine. and less obvious shut down, internal, my body folds in on itself, origami folding into invisibility. impossible. i need to move. i need to …. submit …. ringing past intentions, rules that bind. breathe swallowed up within lungs that strain hesitation.

Words. They lean towards poetry. They leap at opportunity, but cringe at expectation. Dear words, can you help? I want you to know full expression. I hope this year to let you fly.

Old Buildings

Old buildings. Old people. Memories that tell me stories of life and love. I’m collecting their moods in my heart. 

I love old buildings. At times I take walks along the downtown where history lives. Stone faces and wide trimmed windows. Old wood and brick somehow comfort me. Things slow down and I can breathe.

Walks take me out and away. Both provide and alleviate distractions. The stone in my shoe, a twinge in my hip. Fibromyalgia biting at me. Deal with it. Walk. I love to walk. Look around. Reflect on life.

Today, my walk starts indoors. Shopping. And a customer who likes to chat.

Oh you jumped the fence today, did yah?

I laugh. Yes. I jumped the fence, but I’m in later to work the afternoon shift.

A sweet man. Always friendly. He talks happily about visiting family, going to meet his newest great grandchild. Moments of joy. He will get tested (Covid) before he goes, just to be safe. He’s looking forward to turning 89 next June. Why that year, I’m not sure, but tell him he’s the same age as my mom. She’s aiming high too. He bought pastry shells to make butter tarts. Loves to cook. I knew that about him. He reminds me of growing up, having my parents and grandparents around me, soft smells of home.

Old buildings. Old people. Memories that tell me stories of life and love. I’m collecting their moods in my heart. Letting them fill me with strength and joy. I’m building my own stories. People I love, those who love me. Times and means of being together in this wild year, riding out the unknowns. Alone is better shared. Every puzzle can be solved. Even this one.

It’s hard to believe March is so far behind us. It’s been a choppy ride and promises a few more whitecaps before we’re done. Balance is important. Friends, neighbours, co-workers, customers all contribute and test my balance. Some kind, others … they rock things hard.

Old buildings, long walks, pacing myself. The smiles work their way up from inside. Little bursts of joy to measure the day. Giving myself space to react and remember there were older times and older ways and older folks who lived and loved and steadied themselves in rough times. They made it through. I can too.

One day, the old ways will be mine and others will look back at me and smile.

Determination

I have a few posts on the go, not yet sure which will post first. Creativity is a big part of my journey and thought process lately. Today’s art prompt, I didn’t know I needed one, but it was shared by a friend: Determination. Ugh.

Stubbornness. Does that count? I’m not so sure. As I write my memoir, I’m struggling with qualities I have that were strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes they look very similar. Being determined. That should be positive, right? Some sites commented it can be mistaken for anger. I did look it up … determination … quotes, images, characteristics, definitions. In general, it represents as:

“intentness, decision, decidedness. steadfastness, staunchness, perseverance, persistence, indefatigability, tenacity, tenaciousness, staying power, strong-mindedness, backbone, the bulldog spirit, pertinacity, pertinaciousness.”

All good things, but I thought about the comment it can be perceived as anger. It shows in the faces that came up. Even the one I chose. I did one drawing from my search of faces. A baby. Yeah, at that age, we are all about determination, and stubbornness. This little guy has it, for sure.

sandy-bassie baby 20200609_180300

Cute, and he still looks almost angry. Poor thing. I shared it to the art group. I’m learning to do that more this year – share things. Let sharing become smiles.

 

As I was finishing the drawing post, I noticed my inbox had something from a local publisher doing an anthology of healing stories. I’ve read some from others and debated last year whether to contribute. After some internal argument, I decided I would risk it. Today, I received the edited version of my story for me to review and comment. I’ve sent my reply and will try to not think about it too much more.

 

It’s scary reading things I write when I get feedback from others telling me they’re good, or in this case ‘powerful’. I love words and putting them together in ways I believe share my story of growth, healing, risk, learning trust, and other paths in the emotional journey I’m taking. But hearing others tell me the ways my words impact them, that is still hard. I’m learning to keep moving, keep writing, to tell myself not to linger too long over what was said, to look forward even while looking behind.

 

Determination. I guess this is that place. I’ve called it stubbornness, been told it’s patience, laughed and shook my head. In the end, whatever I call it, I hope it continues to lead me, encourage me, remind me to breathe. I want to write. Will write. But humbly, knowing others take hope from them. Find reasons for their own journey. I hope that means they also find reasons to  laugh. I’ve valued the laughter. It fills me and feeds my ongoing determination to find life in each day and hope for way ahead.

 

Determination. Yes, I’ll think on it further, and value it.

 

Allowing My Heart

“My second day off this week. This morning I’m tired. The day involved simple things, sleeping and eating, painting and writing. I would be rested if life was functioning properly; but it’s not. Enough sleep doesn’t add up to enough rest. That’s been true before given some mental health concerns, but it’s so very noticeable lately.”

I’ve been staring at these words for two weeks. I wrote them May 7th, but it could true of last week or this one. a couple of days off do not resolve ongoing exhaustion.

Last week was difficult. Smoke alarms in my apartment ended their life abruptly in a chaos of light and sound that hurled me backwards through memory. Trauma lives in the bones and muscles, shuts them down without giving notice.  This was that was morning; sound asleep at 5 am my body slammed with a cacophony of sound and light, each pulse feeling louder and more intense. There is no up or down, no bed, no floor, no walls, no door, only bones and skin trying to hold together not knowing how to escape.

Between the strobes and blares, hands reaching for glasses, balanced on the side of the bed. Heart pounding, every muscle taut and loose at the same time, pain and panic became one. Stomach retched up while nerves shut down. Direction is a thing of the past.  Inside the bars of piercing tones and strobes of light, a sound. Low to their high, persistent, resonant, this deep drum roll of memory: pounding floors, echoing walls. A burst of anger. Feet and stairs colliding with enough intensity to break them. Before the assault, the sound wave hits.

Crisis ready. Trauma scarred. I wobble on the brink, between two boxes. Disorientation informs decision, but crisis says push on. Work calls. Crisis must be faced. So, I gather myself. Shaken. Carrying the pain. Ears screaming things my insides want to say. A voice finding a way through time and trauma speaks from memory, “What would you do if your house is burning?” 2014, revisited. I hesitated at the question, unsure of (the right) my answer. I hesitated. Stayed. Paid a debt not mine. Didn’t understand the question or the reasoning behind it. Learning the answer is a slow process.

Crisis and Trauma lived in separate boxes; still do. I shift gears and hope to find strength enough for this day. This time. For the smoke alarms; a phone call or two, repair handed off, I head to work only to find later the baton was dropped and two more alarms sounded that day as I waited for the electrician to come. One unit changed, one left, and two more alarms a day later. Five times total the shock wave hits before both alarms are changed. Broken moments too like memories past, I still cringe thinking of it.

Alert is a habit hard learned. Sleep is not rest. Rest is something beyond trauma that comes tentatively, touching a moment. Like the tiny birds on my balcony who chirp their questions at me and the day. Outside becomes sanctuary. Outside always was. Outside I was safe. Inside, halls and stairs, too many corners and doors. Boxes within boxes; no place to hide. Holes in the walls. Feet on the stairs. I can handle the crisis, but trauma wears me down. Rest? No. Rest is the full breath that comes when you have a safe space to breathe.

It has taken one whole week to convince my body this space is safe. I bought chairs and a small folding table for the balcony. Plants for something alive. I’m teaching myself to be in this space, enjoy the sound of birds and traffic flying past,  dandelions in the grass below affirming a change of heart is possible, imperfections are allowed. If I’m out early enough, the morning breeze softens itself against my arms, reassuring. It is in this space, I sit to read others’ memoirs and write notes for mine. Nine months writing, gathering, seeking form and momentum.  Allowing myself to look back, open myself to memory. As yet, no book, but many words. Today, a drawing. Allowing my heart it’s language of colour and form. Simplify. Memory. Just the heart of it, alarms and all, at the centre a hope: HOME.

Rest. I’d have you if I could. Stared two days at two lines from memoir notes. Yearning to rest. Question longing for answer:

Home is on my mind today.

Tell me where home is, I want to be there.