Thursday Therapy: PTSD & Living With Grief ...

... because crisis is part of life - and so is death.

I am in my early thirties, and in my 30+ years in this life, I have known a lot of crisis. I have known a lot of loss - sometimes through the usual death of a friend or loved one, and sometimes through other loss, such as the loss of pride, the loss of a close relationship through means other than death, and the loss of my freedom and autonomy while in abusive relationships.

I've said before that my first memory is a traumatic one, but I don't share all of them - why would I? If everyone is a book, it's only fair that most of us would prefer at least a few of our pages to be glued together and never read again, right? I have those pages too - and yet, if you hold those pages up to a bright enough light, and if you scrutinize them just closely enough, then you will undoubtedly be able to see the ghost of the printed words through the paper.

Such is my life, and no matter how thickly some pages of my personal life story may be glued together ... the ghost of the printed word remains.

Did you know there are different kinds of grief, and that they all act in different ways? That they all bleed into your life, quietly changing and impacting everything around you? Well, there are. And they do.

My personal experience with grief is a varied one - over the years I've seen and survived a lot. And truth be told, I'm still doing it.

If you've been here long, you know about me and what I've survived - my childhood, my step-parents ... my parents.

But it keeps on. I'm still watching my mother decline - but now, with the issues with my van, I'm doing it from a distance because I can no longer trust my vehicle enough to drive that far. I haven't seen my mother in person in months. I'm still getting news about my grandmother with Alzheimer's from her caretakers - and she, as is expected with Alzheimer's patients, continues to decline as well.

Just because it's expected ... that doesn't make it easy. My family is facing a cloud of death that seems to be growing bigger and darker every day, and I'm struggling. I'm living by the strength of my to-do lists, my calendars, the constant lists of reminders I keep so that I won't forget to get gas in the van or toilet paper for the house or any of the countless things the girls are always asking for.

Last week, my aunt (who has already been battling a cancer diagnosis) had a massive heart attack and nearly died. She was sent home from the hospital afterward, alive but certainly not well. She was sent home days earlier than she should have been, probably because the hospitals were desperately trying to clear out as many bodies as possible before hurricane Irma came charging through central Florida. But my family in Florida survived the storm with strength and dignity, as did my friends in the area - they're slowing regaining electricity and beginning to repair and replace things that were damaged or lost.

Monday night I received a call, alerting me to my other grandmother's imminent passing. We've been estranged for nearly 8 years, but in the interest of leaving the past in the past, I drove over to sit beside her. I spent the ride battling uncertainty and grief. Would she want me there? The last time I saw her, she looked through me like I didn't even exist. I know she saw me - but she refused to even utter a quiet hello, and the moment passed. I almost didn't go to see her, truthfully. Not because I held a grudge, but because she's where I learned to hold a grudge, and she will always be the expert master of grudge-holding. Would she want me there? Or would it be offensive to her, such a proud and strong woman, to be laid bare in such a way, so vulnerable in death? I wrestled all the way to the hospital, sobbing.

She taught me to crochet when I was little. And it was in her home, at the feet of my grandfather, that I learned to love the sport side of wrestling as much as the entertainment.

When I walked in, I did it the same way I do everything. Head high, face dry, jaw set, shoulders straight.

She knew who I was; she reached out for me as I stood uncertainly at her bedside. And for most of the next 3-4 hours, she held onto my hand. She calmed when I reminded her that she couldn't get out of bed just then. She looked at me.

I went again on Tuesday morning while my children were in school - they've barely met her, and a hospital deathbed is no place for children. I spoke with her church pastor, I visited at her bedside with my brother and his wife, and together we searched Facebook for the goddaughter my Grandmother would most have wanted at her side.

Tuesday night I swallowed the grief and ignored the cold I've been battling all week; I made dinner for my family, I kissed my children goodnight, and I watched over them, grateful for the sounds of their breath in the quiet - before I succumbed to exhaustion and the effects of the night-time sniffly-head, can't-breath, everything-hurts, dear-God-I-just-need-some-rest medicine.

Wednesday I got up and faced the morning as best I could - unshowered, still tired, sore throat, sneezing like mad, and with no coffee. The children cooperated for the most part, I got them off to school, and made my way home to work on some blog stuff with a company I'm totally and utterly IN SUCH A HURRY to tell you guys about. Still with no time for coffee. Or a shower yet.

When I first opened my phone for the day and started checking messages, I had one from a close friend who recommended that I read this ... because it made her think of me. Of my life. Of my experiences in various periods of my life. It made me sad ... but it also made me feel less alone. Which was pretty timely, considering the confrontation I had to stand up and shove myself through. Still sick, still grieving, still exhausted. Still with no coffee.

When it was over, I broke down and called my therapist because I was teetering on the edge of too much stress and I needed someone to talk me through the moment. I had had a long week already, with very little sleep - and what sleep I had gotten was filled with dreams, night sweats, and panicked awakenings. The days were filled with tension, poisoned by exhaustion and lack of caffeine, and lack of appetite. Just on Wednesday alone, I still had blog things to do, laundry to wash, a shower to take, groceries to shop for, and a dying grandmother to visit before time ran out. I needed to pick up medicine for the kids that I wasn't sure I'd have enough money for, and get gas in the van too. There simply wasn't time for therapy right then, no matter how much I wanted there to be or how much I needed the help in that moment.

In the end it worked out alright - it usually does - but in the moment it was just ... it was too much. I needed someone to remind me that I could make it, someone to remind me of the strategies I've learned. I needed a kind voice and a little compassion - and in those moments as I curled up on the couch with my phone, listening to the encouragement and the advice of my therapist, I was so thankful for the moments of strength that had allowed me to reach out and find a qualified counselor who could accommodate my needs in such a reassuring way..

Because she reminded me that it isn't "too much." That I'm still standing, and that it's okay that for a while I was a little shaky. She reminded me that I'm still moving, and that it's okay if for right now, I'm doing it slowly. She reminded me that I'm still breathing, and that although I rattle and wheeze between crying jags, I'm still living.

This is partly because I know when I need someone to coach me, partly because I'm strong enough to admit when I'm no strong enough, and partly because I happen to have a therapist who is a great fit for me. Not only is she uniquely qualified to handle my issues and compassionate enough to offer patience when I most need it (but tough enough to give me a talking-to, too), she also has just the right qualities required to set me at ease. To find an equally amazing therapist near you, check out this page on BetterHelp, which is full of great tips and strategies for finding just the right match for your treatment needs.

And in case you were wondering, once the majority of the day was over and I was cuddled up on the couch with my babes, I did finally get to have that coffee - while I talked to them about death and my memories of a grandmother they never knew.

Today's "Featured Favorite Product" is a book I wish I could curl up with and weep my way through right now. I've read several of Max Lucado's books in the past and I've loved them all, but somehow I haven't yet read this one - and it's definitely going on my "to-be-read" list! You'll Get Through This uses the biblical story of Joseph to remind us (Christian and non-Christian alike) that even the very worst happenings in our lives can be turned around and worked into something beautiful. I know it won't appeal to everyone ... but today, it's sure appealing to me.

And if you like that one, there's another one called God Will Use This for Good - and then there's another one called He Fights for You. This whole trio has been added to my personal book wishlist, and I've set a reminder to keep an eye out for them at the local used bookstore as well.

Quick Disclaimer: Since I am using affiliate links, remember that if you choose to click any product links on my site and end up purchasing through them, I will receive a (very) small commission for referring you. Rest assured that this is at no extra cost to you, but my family and I appreciate your support. (If you'd like to see a list of other companies I'm currently working with on a more regular basis, click here.)
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  1. This touched me today. My grandmother died this spring after many years of decline (Alzheimers). It had been years since she recognized me fully. Also the part about how we mothers put taking care of ourselves last.--Dawn

    1. Yeah that has been a struggle for our family as well. With this grandmother, it was a somewhat sudden death (but not entirely unexpected, as she was 83) due to medical complications from a fall. But my other grandmother is currently on the decline with Alzheimer's, and it's heartbreaking. She still recognizes her regular caretakers sometimes, but rarely by name anymore. But she was such a strong, proud woman ... my cousin and I would often joke that she would be immortal and nothing could take her down. It's crushing to watch her go like this.

  2. These must be difficult situations for you to experience and yet you've managed to make it through. You are a strong person despite the difficulties you've faced and I praise you for that. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thanks - but no praise needed. I'm just a girl trying to get through life, giving it the best I have and hoping that something I've learned will be helpful at some point to someone else.


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