It’s been almost 3 years since my husband passed. Next week is what would have been his birthday. I was under some sort of illusion that it would get easier as time passed, but I’m quickly realising that after a couple years the fog starts to clear. And you’re just left with unresolved layers that are suddenly coming into focus. At least for me anyway.
For a good two years after he died I’d been doing the whole ‘finding myself’ thing, diving into my fears and travelling here and there for a bit. I didn’t have much direction and for the most part, it didn’t really matter. I was really just wandering around, trying to remember who I was again after being his carer for so long. Our lives had become so enmeshed over our 8 years. He was my priority and it didn’t leave much room for me. (My doing, not his).
The night he died, I remember going out and laying under the willow tree which would forever be the symbol of letting go, speaking softly into the night that it was now time for us to take care of ourselves. Self-care is a concept which still escapes me somewhat, but I’m getting better slowly.
Anyway, enter a period of me seeking new experiences and trying to get some passion back into my life. 6 months in Thailand did the trick. I went there to volunteer as an art therapist when I realised how stuck I was in Perth. I knew it was time to make a bold change or risk falling into deep depression and just giving up entirely.
I half planned to move there but still wasn’t ready to make any commitments. Yet I was going through the motions. I started up my face painting business there and was volunteering at the children’s hospital and trying to set up some teaching work. Somewhere along the way it clicked I was just creating the same chaos as when I was running my business in Perth. Trying to look after Mike and teach also. But in this instance, Mike was now special needs kids. I knew something wasn’t right but I wasn’t quite sure what. I was exhausted and in need for some healing. And so after I got back from America, I knew it was time to sort my shit out.
I’ve been back for about 5 months now. So this fog I mentioned before… It made me panic and wonder what the hell I’ve been doing for the past couple years or so. Coming home suddenly snapped me out of the present and back into worrying about the future again. It’s almost like a culture shock. Chiang Mai felt more like home to me. Strangers in the street treat you like family. It’s all about the present moment. Connecting to spirit. Valuing experiences over possessions. At least that’s how I see it. And yeah, in that sense it makes no sense I came back. But I felt like it was time to heal and rest. I’ve been pushing it for so long and my experience in the states really tipped me over the edge.
I decided to study art therapy, which I had looked into earlier but didn’t feel ready for yet. I didn’t realise the course had already started but I had made it in for the cut off date, so I ended up having a week’s notice until I joined in. Going back to study has been hard. Art therapy has been a process of drawing attention to these emotional layers which have steadily built up over many, many years. I started getting kinesiology too, which effectively does the same. So now my chaos has blown up in my face. And all the pain and anger has started resurfacing. And it’s probably even more difficult than watching my husband slowly die over the years. Because he may not have been 100%, but he was still there. Now every time something comes up that only my best friend would understand, I’m having to figure out how to work through it positively instead of self-medicating or avoiding.
On top of the study, I have been looking for a house and a job. But neither is happening very quickly. I’m still too exhausted. And my heart’s not in it. And the panic rises and I give up. Gone is the passion for life I once felt whilst in Thailand. The excitement of self-discovery. It’s just brutally painful now. And yet something is happening. Change. The heaviness is beginning to lift. I have nightmares. I wake up with headaches because I’ve stopped breathing in my sleep. But my bodily aches formed from emotional pains have lessened. I’m moving through my intense feelings. Just as quickly as I doubt I can make it. I still wake up weary everyday and struggle to get out of bed but inside something is changing.
I realise I’ve gone off on another tangent… so essentially what I was trying to say is that since I’ve been back I’ve been trying to do everything at once again. Study, get a house, find a job. So focussed on the goal that I’m losing sight of … well… everything. So much so that, I accepted a job working as a live-in carer for traumatised kids and wanted to quit art therapy because I wasn’t sure if I could afford the luxury of the self-healing that was occurring as a result of my studies. And there it is again. That point where I have two choices laid out in front of me. One where I can focus on myself and get to the bottom of my…. stuff (I don’t know what to call it. Suffering sounds too dramatic), or again try to help others before I know how to help myself. And over the months I have never been more confused. I feel like everything has been spinning to the point where I don’t know who I am again or what I want. And I’m getting tired of experimenting. Yet I find myself going down paths just for the hell of it…
I was reading through my transpersonal art therapy notes yesterday and I came across this:
“There are so many ways in which we can fall out of the world so that it becomes distant, strange, even hostile. The fragmenting forces of the contemporary world reach through the world from psyche to society so that the rules for navigating through social life, the life-cycle, and one’s own deeper self become unclear or contradictory.
Moreover, there is one poignant question at the core of all this: ‘Where am I in the world?’
So many people now ghost through daily life being drawn into the machinery of economics and culture [mass media, politics, law, science and religion] without a grasp of what their identity and life path may be. Just as the mind may be unknowingly contracted, so may the body. Illness and disease may flow from the trapped and unrealised potentials of our being.”
It suddenly struck me that this is what my past few years have been about. I watched Mike die slowly for years. His brain was still functioning but over time, MND shut down his body. Both him and I had hidden away from the world for a really long time. And only when we found each other, did someone else finally know who we were. We stuck together through the whole thing. Of course there wasn’t much time for a social life anyway, but I had been so invested in him that I didn’t know how to be around people anymore, when I was largely spending my days at a nursing home (the only placement he could get). And he didn’t really want anyone else around either. Only we understood our crazy little world. It was challenging for sure, but it’s what we knew. And what we knew, was that we didn’t know. We didn’t know how long he had left. How quickly he would lose his ability to eat, speak, move his arms and legs… And finally, breathe. And so when he died, it was like it didn’t happen. There was a limited number of people that really knew him. I didn’t have anyone to reminisce with. Nothing.
And we were both the sort of people that didn’t like to take chances. We kept to ourselves. It changed over time as we drew strength from each other but with Mike… it was too late. And it got me thinking… Why I have been so focussed on figuring out who I am in the world… What do I have to give? What gifts and wisdoms can I offer? What good can I take from such a horrible experience and use to help others? And the legacy I would want to leave is as much for him as for me. It explains the pressure I’ve been putting on myself. Because I want it all again. I want the passion for life. I want to find something of value. Life will never be the same again, and as hard as it is, I wouldn’t change that.
And so I ask you, what legacy will you leave? What are you doing to make the world a better place, simply by just being you?