Life keeps kicking me in the teeth. How do I stay resilient?
January 31, 2016 7:07 AM   Subscribe

In the past five years, I've suffered a staggering number of losses, combined with generally stressful situations. I don't want to let it destroy me, but I feel like I'm running out of coping mechanisms.

Most recently, my 33-year-old little sister, to whom I was very close, died suddenly. Before that, our dad died suddenly in November 2014. Our mom died in January 2012 (also suddenly, but neither of us was in contact with her). In the past five years, I have also gotten divorced, lost a house in a short sale (that almost went to foreclosure), gotten remarried, and had the usual small sadnesses (pet deaths, mostly). I'm also stuck in the same awful small town where my ex-husband lives because we share custody of our daughter, and the job prospects for me here are limited.

People keep telling me I'm strong, and I am, I guess. In this same time period I started writing fiction and actually had two stories accepted for publication. I have a regular meditation practice. I exercise. I try to get enough sleep. I have a wonderful spouse. I don't have a therapist right now, but I have been looking (again: small town with limited resources).

With my entire immediate family dead, and no other close relations, I'm afraid that I'm just going to crack. This is my first day home after traveling across the country for my sister's funeral, and the rest of my life is staring back at me like a vast, featureless wasteland. I am perfectly able to get up, do laundry, work on my novel, and generally return to business as usual, but should I? Are there some kind of extreme grief measures I should be taking for emotional/psychological self-care right now so I don't just keep putting strain on the stress fracture that is my brain?

I'm not sure if this question even makes any sense.
posted by missrachael to Health & Fitness (15 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
Wow... that's a lot, no doubt about it.

And, yes, the question makes sense.

You identify a number of positive aspects of your life, it's good that you can see that through the grief.

I would strongly recommend that you search out a grief support group (and, continue to look for a therapist) , even if you have to travel weekly to attend.

And, don't fall into the trap of believing the way you feel today (after a grueling trip) is the way you'll always feel, it WILL get better.

posted by HuronBob at 7:42 AM on January 31, 2016 [7 favorites]

You're understandably overwhelmed by grief, and might want to consider reaching out to support groups (you can try your local hospice for suggestions) or therapists specifically around that issue.

With my entire immediate family dead, and no other close relations

You have a "wonderful spouse" and a daughter still living and close by.
posted by blue suede stockings at 7:43 AM on January 31, 2016 [8 favorites]

You're grieving and you recognize it. Take each day as it comes and lean on your spouse. The featureless wasteland will eventually come back to life but it will take time.
posted by crocomancer at 7:58 AM on January 31, 2016 [2 favorites]

I'm so sorry. Have you tried looking for a remote therapist who could meet with you on Skype?
posted by three_red_balloons at 8:15 AM on January 31, 2016

Do something wonderful with your daughter every day. Every night, weep like there's no tomorrow, until you're tired of grieving.

Then, change your circumstances. I know you share custody, but geezus christmas, you need to move to a better environment!! Hold that as a silent goal. You need more people, places, and close friends. When you're ready.

And focus all of this into your novel. I look forward to reading it one day. Because it's on the best seller's list.
posted by jbenben at 8:41 AM on January 31, 2016 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: three_red_balloons: lord, how I have tried to find a remote therapist. I keep striking out, getting tired, and giving up. I'm specifically interested in someone who can do DBT or at least mindfulness-based therapy, so it is difficult.

jbenben: the novel is gay erotic romance where one of the heroes is in a wheelchair, so if it ends up on the bestseller list, I _will_ wonder if I have finally snapped and begun to hallucinate. :P
posted by missrachael at 8:45 AM on January 31, 2016 [4 favorites]

Best answer: That is a LOT, and would wear down anyone. You're doing the right things, and to some extent, only time will help.

When I was more or less in your emotional shoes (different circumstances, but just as serious and unrelenting), I found that it helped me to read things about grief. That might push someone else over the edge, but it helped me feel like someone else understood what I was going through - even though that someone else didn't know me. In other words, it was therapeutic and validating, a time for me to grieve and cry, and understand what I was going through. Having one friend who just listened and loved me helped tremendously - everyone else was trying to fix me. If you don't have that friend, but have one with potential, maybe it would help to explain what you need. Therapy didn't feel like the right choice for me for at that time - I was doing the right things, and didn't need the stress of someone giving me assignments. I just needed someone to listen, to care, and to understand, while time did its work.

After reading some things about grief, I began to find little ways to take care of myself - fixing up a corner of my room with pretty things, going for a walk in a place of beauty, reading a book I enjoyed, taking a craft class.... It would have really helped if I could have gone away by myself for a long weekend now and then, but I couldn't afford that.

One other thing that seems small, but was really important for me: I learned that spending time in nature is restorative for my soul. I found a quiet, pretty place in a park where I could spread out a blanket & lie down & think, or read or listen to music if thinking was too painful. I fixed up an area in my yard with a comfortable lounge chair where I could stretch out and relax at least a couple of times a week, even if it meant wrapping up in a blanket. That was so important for me that last year, I bought myself a patio swing with a canopy and cushions. I read out there, watch movies on my iPad, take a nap....

Best of wishes to you.
posted by onemorething at 9:35 AM on January 31, 2016 [4 favorites]

I'm sorry you are going through all of this.

You don't have to be strong. You are allowed to be however you are. During my hardest times of dealing with death and loss, it's helped me to think of myself as not at all strong, but instead very very squishy. I was crushed and destroyed in many ways, but I was still me. If I'm squishy enough, it's okay to crack.

I lost my brother five years ago, and it was fundamentally disorienting. I couldn't understand life without him in it. Business was not as usual, for a long time. This is so so hard.

What would feel like the right thing for you do right now? Maybe go about your business (there is comfort in routine) for a week and then ask yourself again. Going about your business doesn't mean you aren't grieving.
posted by ewok_academy at 9:55 AM on January 31, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I honestly feel for you.

If you read my old posts, I went through "similar" stuff.

I lost my Father, Uncle and a close family friend all within 6 months. My Brother's moved away and my cat died. It felt like I was cursed. I also have suffered with lifelong depression and anxiety so this only made it worse.

I just kept "showing up" every day because I couldn't bring myself to kill myself (thought about it plenty).

Everyone would tell me how strong I was too. I could care less about that because I was in pain. Who cares how strong I am? What does it get me?

This August my Fiance left me (and was with another guy immediately) after an 8 year relationship. I again had the feeling of there being nothing left.

People would encourage me to do things to improve myself - which I did. I still felt/feel lonely. What good is enriching yourself if you have no one to share with?

I will say that time DOES heal. I am not saying that things are ok and that there is no pain, but they do get a little better. You can't believe this when you are in it. You understand it on an intellectual level, but that is it. I think that my problem is that when I was "growing up", I thought that everything would work out. Part of my inability to deal is routed in my OCD/Perfectionism/All or nothing thinking.

I am sorry that you are going through this. It ISN"T fair! Just know that things will improve. I would encourage you to make a list of what kind of life would like and make realistic goals. Try and especially enjoy the things that bring you joy. It would get to the point where my morning coffee and tv shows were the only thing that I enjoyed. I clinged to those as tightly as I could. I also started weightlifting 6 days a week. Hard to think when you are pushing heavy weights over your head. It helped distract me, but also wore me out so that I could sleep at night.

I wish you the best. Don't hesitate to message me if you need anything.
posted by kbbbo at 11:14 AM on January 31, 2016 [7 favorites]

I agree with a previous post that distraction doesn't mean that you aren't grieving. I honestly believe that your mind is processing thing when you are consciously thinking about them. It isn't healthy to fixate on the pain
posted by kbbbo at 11:20 AM on January 31, 2016 [2 favorites]

Are there other group/community mindfulness-based resources that you might be able to access while you're seeking out real mental health treatment? I find a lot of peace in yoga, and I know some people get the same meditative effect from other kinds of exercise, especially running and swimming. There may be a yoga studio or community center or even a church that runs a guided meditation class. My local public library has one, actually. It's worth looking around for those kinds of resources. There are also meditation and mindfulness podcasts specifically designed for people who are grieving or suffering trauma, so you might consider adding that to your practice. But at least for me (even though I'm an introvert), being with other people is therapeutic to me sometimes, so it might help to have a group or class.

In addition, I think it's worth a visit to your regular physician if you have (or can get a recommendation for) someone you can trust. Both because trauma is an actual physical thing, so it's not out of the question to see a doctor for it, and because your doctor might have ideas about mental health resources you haven't discovered yet. Your doctor might also be willing to prescribe something, at least in the short term, that could help get you through this especially tough period.

It is 100% ok to be distracted. In the weeks and months after my mother died very suddenly, I watched a truly absurd amount of television. That didn't mean I wasn't grieving; the distraction was my body and mind's way of protecting me from the parts of what was going on that I couldn't handle dealing with at that moment. Let yourself feel what you feel, but also give yourself permission to not feel anything if that's what's comfortable for you right now. But just like if you broke your leg badly, you might treat it first with rest, and then later with physical therapy, it's totally okay to treat your brain and your emotions by letting them rest now, and then working back up to full strength later, when you're done resting.
posted by decathecting at 12:10 PM on January 31, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: What I've learned about grief is that it is really fucking heavy. I haven't the score of losses that you've had, but a few years ago I did have a dear friend who died, probably via overdose, immediately after we had a bad argument. Boy did I get familiar with grief from that.

If you can sleep, sleep all you can. Cry as much as you can. What I did when I wasn't crying or going about in a daze was watch Battlestar Galactica, which is full of characters grieving.

This is I think stolen from some show or another, but my experience with grief is that it is a heavy load that at first is impossible to pick up and then it gets lighter and lighter, bit by bit. It makes sense that given your series of losses, it feels like an unmanageable burden. But I do believe, not knowing you at all, that your losses will become bearable, bit by bit.

Also, writing material, as you've discovered already. I have a rule that things that devastate me emotionally, I write about them. I just lost a beloved pet. I'm still in the crying stage, but once I'm a little removed from it, I'm going to write the best fucking story about a cat that was ever written.

Hugs from an internet stranger.
posted by angrycat at 12:54 PM on January 31, 2016 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks, good folk of MeFi. You are all very kind.

decathecting, you're right about other mindfulness groups - I actually have a sangha that I haven't been attending in a while, and I need to start doing that again.

I just slept for four hours. The weirdest thing about grief is how physically tiring it is.
posted by missrachael at 1:39 PM on January 31, 2016 [1 favorite]

Part of it is definitely that having strong emotions can definitely make you tired. But part of it too is that I bet that your regular sleep is less restful now than it is at times when you're under less stress.

Honestly, I'd treat this period of your life the same way you might treat yourself if you had a cold, or if you'd just worked a bunch of overtime at work, or if you had just run a marathon. Get lots of rest, as much as you can, whenever you can. Ask for help from your husband and friends, and outsource tasks you can pay someone else to do, like cleaning and food and laundry. Make sure (and maybe ask your husband to help you make sure) that you're eating (and allow yourself to eat comfort foods sometimes while also keeping in mind that you'll feel better overall if you eat nutritious, healthful foods) and sleeping and bathing on a relatively regular schedule. Rent a really funny movie. Heck, rent twelve, and watch them with your husband or some friends, and laugh. Be really gentle with yourself, and ask your loved ones to be gentle with you too. Take care of yourself.
posted by decathecting at 3:25 PM on January 31, 2016 [3 favorites]

I'm sorry you're dealing with this. If you need a skype therapist, you can try talkspace. I used it when my mom died and it was great for me. It took a few weeks for me to open up and tell her so much that I've never felt safe telling anyone.
posted by Coffeetyme at 6:31 PM on January 31, 2016 [1 favorite]

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