A MOMENT OF SELF-DISCLOSURE
If you’ve ever taken Psych 101, these 3 words together ‘moving, death, and divorce’ are known as the top 3 life stressors. As a graduate Social Work student we discussed these life events in depth – how to recognize and validate the loss and changes involved when serving our clients. How those who have particular vulnerabilities, such as mood disorders (like me) or a previous history of trauma or addiction issues are more prone to relapse during this time. If you’ve experienced any of the above you certainly know the trials in making it through major life hardships upright and face forward. Well let’s be real, shall we? Simply making it through a run-of-the-mill day poses those challenges as well.
The last year and a half has been a trip to say the least. I thought that, in a moment of self disclosure, I’d share it with you in faith that someone will connect or find their strength through it.
In 2015 I was married, had a full and fulfilling professional practice, and was finally at a place in my life where I was sinking more confidently into my own skin (no small feat for this gal who spent much of my younger years image managing). All was beautiful and I was breathing it in deeply.
That is, until I received a call that threw off my centre of gravity: my father had a stroke. Not the kinds of strokes (yes plural) that we witnessed my paternal grandfather have. Dad had the type that only 20% of people survive. Still saying that sends shivers down my spine; 8 out of 10 people immediately die from this condition. He was spared and we are grateful. He began rehab and was making his way back to himself with few lingering side effects. It was a miracle. For me though, the sleeping beast called ‘anxiety’ had awoken. This was nothing new but it was louder this time because I was facing my father’s mortality in a real rather than imagined way. And oh boy, is that a giant scary thing!
As the grind of life found its return a few months later, my husband and I decided to embark on our next life milestone of purchasing our first home in Toronto. We looked at five and bought the fifth. A cool, modern, redesigned row house in Harbord Village. We got it under asking, without other bidders. For those who don’t live in the North, it’s like a unicorn meeting a leprechaun. Our life felt charmed again.
Right before closing, my 89-year-young grandmother, who we affectionately call ‘Nana’, was diagnosed with what was thought to be localized lung cancer. It had been almost 40 years since she beat breast cancer like a champ, and now it had returned? It was a 4 month rollercoaster to get an accurate diagnosis: “it’s local”, “it’s in her lymph nodes too”, “we’ve found more”, “we’ve isolated it”, said the oncologist. She did radiation and, sadly, we were told that it had metastasized. I know, BIG word. She was given 6-12 months.
This was a huge hit to our ‘Queen Matriarch’ and to our family. She was my best friend on the planet. The stable source of unconditional love, sage wisdom, head rubber extraordinaire, and the most fun and adventurous person I know to date. If there was ever a qualifying moment for me to lose my mind this was it. Moving, unpacking, being a wife, running a private practice, a quick trip over the pond to London for training, and facing a loved one’s illness and upcoming death all in the same month? I’d like a hall pass here, one to simply roam the periphery of the building mindlessly for a bit. No? Okay, moving on.
Apparently, Nana wasn’t “pleased” with the 6-12 months prognosis. She made up her mind (at least that’s what we tell ourselves) that she frankly had no interest in suffering after the long and beautiful life she had so brilliantly lived. She willed herself off peacefully 3 short weeks later.
She passed and we grieved. My husband was by my side. That’s not to say that in between we didn’t have our disagreements or issues. We were two humans trying to navigate uncharted waters in a dark thunderstorm without a light to shore.
Unfortunately, we never found shore. He and I parted 6 months later and have decided to make it permanent. Not an ideal situation for anyone, let alone a ‘relationship therapist.’ It brought me to my knees.
How am I, a year and a bit after experiencing the trifecta? I am human, I am vertical, and I am grieving more losses than I thought I could. But I am; albeit quite often messily, and “With Grace Too!” (Gord Downie)
I have ugly cried, felt heartbreak, gotten angry, had gorgeous moments of connection, found a great therapist, been comforted by my loved ones, napped, laughed, been exhausted, paused, took up jogging, and watched Netflix a lot.
There’s also a surprisingly new sensation present: a deep, unapologetic desire to LIVE and LOVE and CREATE and CONNECT as fully as possible. The sort of emotional space that can seemingly only come from the kind of loss that wakes us up inside and reminds us how precious life is. Wow, am I grateful for the awareness! Sure there are those days where my bed seems like the best option but mostly it’s life outside that drives me. Right here, right now.
I share this in hopes that you find your way through whatever struggles have shown up in your life. Be present, breathe, feel, find moments to be still, love, rest, and live as much as you can. You are not alone. If you’re feeling isolated, stuck or overwhelmed, I’m here and ready to pay forward the care and support that was generously offered to me.
In honour of you, Nana!