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.

Fragile

Posts have gotten behind. Wanting yet not wanting to be said, things I think and say to myself. Here inside my room, they are safe. But outside in the world, hopes and fears become more real.

I still think about uncertainty. Around me and in the news. Up close and farther away. The shifts in attention, lens contracting, opening, closing, its focus shifting between my life and world.

Racism. Covid. Politics. Beliefs. Trust. Lack of trust. Distancing. Not distancing. Numbers. Decisions. Fear. Uncertainty. Anger.

Exasperation. I hear it in the people around me. Those overfilling carts, taking more than they need, some out of fear and some greed. Those who will post it for sale online at greater cost to those who couldn’t get it in the rush, those stuck in low pay or waiting for a monthly cheque. Selfishness and fear. I feel it in the tension of shoppers distancing, not distancing. Not sure what to do or where to look. Some little faces, tense behind their masks. And I think of my little ones, now grown. Our lives our hopes. Past, present, future.

A customer comes through buying a coat. He’s working here today and didn’t bring one. He scans the coat as he talks, then gestures towards the nail salon.

When did the real estate leave? I shrug. He tells me he used to live here.

I’m not sure. I only lived here a few years.

Oh, where did you live before?

He turns as I tell him. And gives a nod.

Oh, Acton. Did you live there when the KKK sign was on side of the highway?

OMG yes. I told people there was a sign there, but they didn’t believe me.

No. It’s true. It was there. My friend lived nearby. I saw it often when I visited.

I’m not sure how to feel. A short, quick conversation in the rush of day. It rattled me. Rattled some memories and my sense of truth. I shook my head as he left. Disbelief. I’m thrown a distance, a former place.

I think, or want to think, I live in a good place, a good country, but every day I see or learn things that question it. I try to stand tall, believe in hope, smile and treat everyone with respect. I lived through abuse and like to think it’s not common. There are kind people, generous people. But I’ve also heard horrible things said by shoppers going through my work area. Some just generally bad, others more ugly, targeting people; family, friends, strangers. Some wanting me to agree with their caustic beliefs and behaviours. I won’t. And I cringe at how little impact my determination towards good has on them. It shakes my faith in people. It shakes my faith in myself. I think of some little faces, unsure whether to smile at me, and I wonder if it’s a natural shyness or the colour of my skin.

Memories kicked loose skitter through my thoughts. There were skinheads at my son’s school. His justice raged against their presence. I was shocked when he told me, shared some of the words and attitudes he ran into there. We lived in a tiny town. Seven churches. Good people. I couldn’t understand the dichotomy, the smiles and kindnesses, yet ugliness interwoven. It shook my faith. It shook his faith too. I watched the grief and anger go through him every time injustice appeared. Watched his heart break.

Our hearts broke so often through the years. Gentle justice is not an easy place. Home was hard enough. The world is a weight that needs many more hearts and much love.

Perception. I feel naive. There are bad things everywhere. Racism, hatred, abuse hurts everyone. Even where we think we are sheltered, there is no shelter. These things shake the ground under our feet. Put us off balance, impact our actions. Seeing and doing nothing dulls us like the frog in a pot, the end comes but all we see is the illusion.

At times things seem calm, the news is busy with other things. I wish that was an indication of change. I’ve prayed for change longer than a decade or maybe two. On a personal level, for our family to move beyond the abuse we faced. On a community level, for equality to be given a fair chance. For attitudes to shift. For strength to fight for it. To stand firm. I wanted and feared the process.

Change feels so fragile. My efforts like wisps. They blow with every wind. Dust kicked up in their place. Please G-d send some love on us. Hope for a new day. At times it’s wanting. I know you’ve heard it too many times, but believe me, we are so fragile and hope is getting sparce. Fill us again.

Faces/Smile

Surprised, not surprised at our world this week. We are a people in trouble. Sad and discouraged. Covid and ….. I don’t have a word for what I”m seeing. Attitudes and anger have not changed or improved since I was a child, or years before that and I wonder if they ever will. Judgement, Hatred, Wealth, Poverty, Power-over. The list could go on.

Had conversation yesterday with woman at the store. Venting by shopping. Avoiding her husband and home. Sadness over age and now wanting to end up less than she already feels, with less than she already has. No one wants to be less than. So many struggle with it. Nova Scotia talking about domestic violence. It’s bad. Those on ODSP feeling demeaned further by government giving out $2,000 basic needs to those who have more than them and told to get by and get a life. Here and US struggling again/still with how we as individuals, agencies and government treat others based on biased judgements. I’m tired. I left domestic abuse. I’m doing what the lady didn’t want, and advised to do what she needs to do to be safe and happy. Do what you can. Do what you need every day. I have friends from a number of backgrounds and cultures.

Who we are matters. It needs to be valued. I still struggle with who I am and how I value myself. It’s terrible to be constantly demeaned, undervalued, judged. It breaks the spirit. It breaks my heart. I hurt from my past and how it impacts my present. I hate seeing it in others, hate watching it, am broken again seeing the looks, the anger, the judgement. If you look at the people who are scared, hurt, confused, emotionally scarred and passing it on to generations after them, whether they want to or not, try to see without question. Just look. Let your heart take it in. Yes it will hurt. It’s supposed to hurt. Let your heart break open for those around you, and take time to see your place in these moments.

I watched a grandmother belittle a child, not more than 10 or 12 years old. Venom. I watched the child standing with her head up, hands out confidently to the screen, making her purchase, striving for dignity. I was so proud of her. I’ve been there, struggling for dignity in the face of scorn. Grandmother finished, she turned to me and said, “She’s a little bitch you know” then took her bag and stormed off to the bathroom, spitting indignities over her shoulder as she left.

The child still faced the screen, eyes down, steadily focused on her own actions, her own self. I didn’t know what to say that would comfort. I couldn’t speak to the abuse. Didn’t want to rock her further saying what I saw. Instead, I made eye contact, smiled my best and spoke with respect, “Thank you. I hope you have a great day.” Eyes speak. I see you little one. The spew cannot hide your glow. Hoped to convey my respect for her calm, her steadiness. My eyes and heart spoke. Her eyes replied, “Thank you.” I hope good things for her future. She is strong so far.

I hope that continues. It takes so much extra energy to just exist in the midst of ongoing character assault. She is doing well. But I know the cost of losing life and energy to just staying ‘here’, present in the day to day. Not having that energy, that life to put to normal things. Holding off the looking less than you are to those who get to use all their life and resources to gain the future without the waste of energy to simply exist.

When you look at others who live in that space – the less than – do you realize, truly realize they are gifted with amazing skills and life. They don’t have less. They aren’t less. Many who have had hope and character plundered by esteem/power grabbers go on to use their ‘less’ to the betterment of those around them. I know some. I see some on TV speaking with dignity to those of us they hope are listening. I watch people who have been given greater struggles than me, excel in things I’d never think to try. We all have courage in different places. I hear friends and others at times speaking their fear, beliefs instilled in them that demean them. At times believe it – that they are ‘less’ and that makes me very sad. I at times feel helpless for myself and others. But I try.

Every day, I am given opportunity, at home, work and community, to speak words that build up, restore, refresh people who tell me their hopes, dreams, struggles. I’m tired. But I’ll do what I can. I nod. I smile. No matter your look, your height, weight, colour, language …. the melody your bring to this life … and I get smiles back. Eyes. Face. They matter.

This is long and convoluted perhaps. But please. Just smile. Listen. Acknowledge for good the people you encounter. Every day. Every face. Our faces hold more power than we realize. We use our faces, the looks and sounds we turn towards others for good or ill. Please use them for good. And when we learn that, we can move on to words. Use them carefully too. Our future is in the faces around us. Make it a good one.

 

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.