Mourning My Old Self

The part about grief that no one seems to mention.

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I originally started this blog with the intent and hope that I could help someone – really anyone at all – navigate through topics that often times go unspoken about in society as a whole, but are usually discussed frequently among women. Amongst ourselves. Maybe not always literally behind closed doors, but certainly in close quarters, for fear of unprovoked judgment or lack of acceptance. Because what’s worse than being all alone? Standing separate when you know you’re not alone. Close enough to touch each others experiences, empathetic beings we are. But all too used to the silence, for fear of disrupting our own lives, not to mention the lives of our loved ones, with the truth.

I found that when I searched for guidance or relatable content about everything from female entrepreneurship’s connections with marriage to trauma and grief impacting society’s expectations of women, my deep internet excavations usually came up with nothing. But not for lack of experiences. And not for lack of trying.

If my years spent behind literal closed doors with hundreds of women has taught me anything, it’s to share. Because sometimes a simple word or two can reach a heart in a way to remind you of yourself. Not a simple “You’re not alone” but a more complex “I see you, and I actually hear you. And while my experience may not be the same. I give you permission to tell me your darkest thoughts, because I see myself in you.” Some of the most profound moments in my life have been moments like these, and my goal here is to take some of those talks and make the ideas more public. Make close quarters a bit wider. Easier to breathe in.

I’ve found myself contemplating grief more frequently in the last few days than I have in a long while. Mulling over one tiny thing that changed my life for the better about a year ago. I was listening to a podcast or interview with Sheryl Sandberg, Harvard graduate, billionaire, author, and COO of Facebook. She was talking about her newest book Option B, a how-to guide on grief that she wrote shortly after her husband Dave Goldberg died tragically and unexpectedly while on vacation in Mexico. I then read the book. And while I appreciate the tools Sandberg presents us to assist others and understand grief in ourselves, the book (in my opinion) and it’s usefulness went overshadowed by one point she made in her interview. Without dwelling on whether it was positive or negative, Sandberg articulated in a matter-of-fact way that no, she will never go back to how she was before, and no, it will never be as easy for her to be happy again. And that’s okay.

I had never heard anyone admit that before, and until that moment had assumed that I was broken and incapable of putting myself back together. Years of popular doctrine – “Time heals all,” “Give it time,” suggests the harsh and unrealistic “truth” that somehow after enough time passes, we magically transform back into our old selves, pre-trauma and loss, healed by time and it’s infinite wisdom. If years later we haven’t become our old selves again, the grief can double as we mourn for who we used to be and dwell on the failure we feel as we reach for the past, and our old selves, unsuccessfully.

Although no one has told me directly that I’m “not the same” I have and still feel the pressure from those around me to finally just get over my past and be happy. Because the world keeps turning, and I think well-intentioned loved ones have to hope that I can be happy again. For everyone’s sake. That expectation is difficult not to crumble beneath, and comes from preconceived notions of who I was. And to be fair, even if they don’t know it, they must mourn for the way it was too.

I’m not spontaneous; I’m no longer even minutely care-free. But I’m more empathetic, analytical, and specific. It takes extra effort to make me laugh – the post traumatic stress rears its head with anxiety, bouts of depression, frustration, anger, and anti-social tendencies. But I’m more creative and driven to be artistic. I’m comfortable with solitude and the clarity that brings. I have an arguably unhealthy obsession with time, and cram as much as I can into each day because of how little we have left. My tolerance for most things is low while my expectations for things and those close to me can be unrealistically high. But I’m more productive and fulfilled, and usually I can encourage others toward the same. My self-esteem suffers. Every action is an effort on most days. Put one foot in front of the other. But my vulnerability led me to trust my husband to take care of me when I can’t do it myself, a characteristic completely absent in me before.

Try not to think every movement through. Like Tom Hanks says in Sleepless in Seattle:

“I’m gonna get out of bed every morning … breathe in and out all day long. Then after a while, I won’t have to remind myself to get out of bed every morning and breathe in and out.”

Just because I remembered how to breathe doesn’t mean I’m anywhere near being my old self. And in that moment, hearing Sheryl Sandberg say those words, for the first time in six years I felt okay, because someone else had shared. I felt like I could stop mourning my old self and stop wishing I could be that girl again. Because I will never be her again. I can move forward, different and changed. Ultimately better if I allow myself to be, but never the same. Instead of carrying around the guilt I feel daily for not living up to that great expectation to “just be happy,” I can work on my new self. Let before go. Stop comparing myself to her. And once I do that for myself, maybe those around me can recognize that too. Expecting me to be anyone other than who I am now, is unrealistic and self-damaging.

Time does not heal all. Some tragedies, some trauma, some grief will change you forever. How you use that change is largely up to you, and out of that change can come immense goodness. I am simultaneously the happiest I’ve ever been in my life and absolutely the most grateful while recognizing that I have to try harder than I ever have in my life to be that happy. Because it may never come as easily again.

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Photo: Amber Ferriman Photography

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