It is hard to describe the waves of emotion that flooded over me with the news that Emily wanted to get on with her life, and not be part of mine. Devastation, destitution, disorientation – choose your own ’dis-‘ words and insert here.
But I am not a passive person, even in my depression. My mental health meds may have been flattening my mood but I was still compelled to act, I had to do something. Not for me to stay in bed with a tub of ice cream, the covers pulled up to my chin. Does that even work?
I did not heed her warning to not try to contact her – she said she had blocked me – and not mail anything to her. I tested texting her, and was not surprised that it relayed. (Where?) I phoned her to see what would happen, slightly relieved that it went to voicemail. (Did she ever listen to those either?) I wrote her a long letter and said my own goodbyes. But did I really mean it? More likely the letter was just another ploy, or plea, a desperate reach to reengage.
It didn’t work. She did not reply, despite the fact I had included a stamped self-addressed envelope!
As I had discovered in my first grief, the habits and patterns of living sustain you. Parallel lives continued in the midst of all this grey emptiness. I had the dogs to take care of: they still needed to be fed and walked. (I wonder how much I owe those dogs for my ultimate mental health.) I made my bed.
My plunge into the abyss lasted four months. Maybe abyss is the wrong metaphor; it didn’t feel like falling into a black hole. It felt more like I was walking underwater, trudging, dragging my feet on a sandy bottom with an undertow holding me under. Or worse, I wasn’t sure if I was walking into deeper water or making my away back to the shallows. I wasn’t horrified, even though I have always dreaded the idea of death by drowning, but it did feel claustrophobic.
And maybe this agitated aimlessness lasted longer than four months. It wasn’t as if I suddenly woke up one day and felt well. But from August to December I have only fractured memory of what happened to me. But in December, I know now, I was beginning to turn the corner.
Here’s a list of the things I do remember happening, seemingly all at once. But keep in mind, much of this happened to another Doug Jordan, almost as if I was a spectator on my own life.
- My grief counselor ‘fired’ me. Maryse said I had issues that went beyond her capacity, that I needed to see a qualified psychologist/therapist who specialized in relationship issues. I questioned why a relationship counselor was going to help but I was not unhappy with this turn of events as I thought I had outgrown her ability to deal with substantive problems, not just the platitudes and clichés of grief counseling. Why should one expect a 32-year young mother to be able to help a 70-something man with end-of-life rage?
- My new counselor was actually a sex therapist. She took my case for reasons known only to herself. Sexual dysfunction is a sign of a relationship in trouble but I was no longer in a relationship: There was no hope of reconciling with Emily, and Marlene was beyond reach. I don’t think Nancy was very helpful, but she was a good listener and I kept going back to her. That SunLife reimbursed 75% of her $200/hour fee enabled me to continue. At times I thought to myself, I’m just paying for an audience. Maybe that’s all psychotherapy is, an opportunity for self-healing by self-talk. Maybe the Catholic Church has known about this for centuries with its Confessionals and Indulgences. More on mental health in a later blog.
- Nancy was only mildly alarmed when I talked about suicide, unlike Maryse whose alarm showed through her professional face. But Nancy was a mature and wise woman who gently chided me from these ideations.
- I met with my family doctor every two weeks. I reported on my progress with my mind, my meds, and my counseling. He didn’t think I was serious about suicide and he certainly didn’t accept a suggestion that I might have BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder). ‘You’re grieving Doug’, he’d say, ‘and you are going to get through this’.
- I had a major consulting assignment for a new/old client which required me to lever my analytical and writing skills. I noted that at times when I was in this mode (professional self and focused on the project) I didn’t think about Emily. And I produced an excellent report!
- I set up AFS Publishing as a vehicle to market and promote my books, and hired a Literary Agent to help. I had ideas but not the inclination and the staying power to do the research and the administration: I just wanted to write, or so I told myself. I had business cards printed for Shannon and me, and notepads, and a banner. Shannon got me registered for a couple of book fairs – a small one in Ottawa and then a major show in Toronto, Word on the Street. The Ottawa Small Press Book Fair in June was my first such retail effort and I was apprehensive about meeting people, and peers. Somehow muscle-memory set in and my social skills carried me through; I managed to get myself and my books to the community centre, set up my table with my banner, and greet the more or less empty room; The day went well enough – I met some interesting people, though only sold three books, and two of them were bartered. The WOTS fair was a wholly different big-league affair; maybe it was the diazepam that got me through this one. Enough happened in that endeavor that I should devote a whole blog post to it, next.
- I joined the Canadian Authors Association and began to attend the monthly meetings of the National Capital Region Chapter. I was typically reticent at my first meeting finding myself strangely intimidated by all these scholars and veteran authors, artists and misfits. I surely didn’t belong here. But the President is a very lovely woman and I felt encouraged enough to come back. Nobody seemed to object to my sense of humour.
- I visited Marlene’s grave, often. Seeking to emulate that touching scene in the Creed movie in which Rocky Balboa visits his wife Paulie’s grave, I had bought myself a folding wooden deck chair from a garage sale, kept it in the trunk of my car; I parked my car near her monument, unfolded the folding chair and sat with her; and talked to her, told her what was happening. In reality I talked to myself. I studied the tall blue spruce tree above me, and speculated about the thickness of the branches.
- I decided that, with the sands of time running out for me, I needed to maximize my experiences in my remaining ‘healthspan’. So I traveled: close friends in Florida, a long-time friend and professional colleague in California, Mexico City to watch a woman friend present at a conference on immigration! Manila. I began to say ‘yes’ instead of a my usual considered ‘no’, and I began to say no when to say yes was not in my best interests. I was living with urgency. As one of my friends remarked, ’Doug, you’re living as though your hair’s on fire.’ I didn’t mind the simile.
- I couldn’t stand to be alone, so I had lunches out with friends, often even dinner. I hardly touched my food but enjoyed the wine. I spent a lot of time at my local bar, sitting at the bar. I made it my excuse that I could enjoy watching my beloved CFL on tv three or four nights a week, with ‘friends’ rather than alone at home. I nibbled at nachos (with chicken) and drank red wine. Mostly I drank red wine, though never to excess; I had enough problems with sleep as it was. I lost 25 pounds. I spent a lot of money but my grocery bills were modest.
- I discontinued my occasional visits to my former Italian neighbour. I told her I couldn’t stand being in the same pace that Emily had recently visited.
- Reluctantly I signed up on Match.com and posted my profile and a few pictures, without any enthusiasm. [See Dating, Oh My.] I persuaded myself that this was the most efficient way – so everybody told me – to find my way out of my loneliness. It only made feel lonelier.
- I bought a rope from Home Hardware.