My natural reactions to discomfort are overeating and oversleeping. But neither tactic is very helpful (if only Oreos and mid morning naps were rejuvenating long-term). Instead of avoiding the pain, living in denial, or self-medicating, I'm choosing the harder way. I'm living through the loss. I'm feeling every emotion and doing my best to process each of my own reactions. This is time consuming and exhausting, so I am working on productive responses (I share them here as recommendations but mainly as reminders to take care of myself emotionally and physically).
I have been seeing my current counselor for about a year and a half. She has been an excellent sounding board for me and Hubbins. Some weeks I attend individually, others weeks we go as a couple. She gets us. She appreciates our differences and helps us find common ground. She helps me look at my life through a telescope instead of a microscope. Whether I spend an hour in her office laughing or crying (or both) I leave every session with a broader perspective. Finding a counselor, spilling my guts to a stranger, and building rapport took a lot of time and dedication. Honesty in the midst of struggle is no cake walk. But it has been worth it. Does it make me sound like Bob Wiley to say I love her? I love my counselor.
For a little over a year, I've been getting regularly scheduled massages. It feels indulgent to admit this, as if I'm recommending being fanned with palm fronds and fed peeled grapes as a path to health. But massage has made a big difference for me. I love it for the peaceful atmosphere, decreased muscle tension, and nurturing touch. It's mentally calming. I don't understand all the science behind feel-good hormones like dopamine and oxytocin, but I know how much better I feel after a massage.
When I exercise, I have more energy, a better mood, and increased confidence. I am not an athlete. But pushing myself past comfortable is worth it. When I run, my concentration is only on forward motion. My head clears. My heart beats from activity instead of anxiety. Running provides literal and figurative practice in endurance. I don't get a runner's high, but my motivation is reaching mileage goals and seeing progress in myself from year to year.
|With running partner Diane, April 20th|
There's no textbook for grieving. I looked.
|Most depressing shelf in the bookstore|
However, I have found plenty of stories of hope and guidance. I gravitate toward story tellers who are authentic, imperfect, and honest about their struggles as well as their joy. A little inspiration goes a long way these days.
|Titles and authors I've written about before, plus a few new favorites|
I knit, sew, crochet, quilt, and embroider to keep my hands and my head busy. The repetitive motion is meditative and soothing. Seeing individual elements come together as a whole is satisfying. Order exists in the world when I knit two, purl two.
Silence and solitude
These are the hardest for me. Being alone forces me to address what's actually on my mind. Silence means turning off the distraction of the TV and allowing myself to hear my own internal chatter. Writing helps. If I pack my weekends so full of activities that there's no time to sit still and be quiet, I feel scattered on Monday morning at work. It takes planning to leave time for nothing, and I'm learning how much I need down time each weekend.
There are other ways I cope, too: napping has it's place. Healthy eating makes a big difference in my mental well-being. Crying is necessary and cleansing. Appreciating beauty and humor in unexpected places combats melancholy. Being transparent with friends and family about how I'm doing keeps me from isolating myself and feeding depression (probably a blog post all it's own: who to confide in, how much is too much information, hurt feelings when no one asks how I'm doing, my own expectations of caring dialogue, etc.).
Again, these are lessons I am currently learning. I'd love to hear your recommendations.