Navigating the Line Between Okay and Allowed to Not Be Okay

So it’s been a while.

I allowed myself to get swallowed into graduate school and neglected a lot of other things (I can’t remember the last time I ran more than twice in a week and after two failed attempts at baking in my new apartment kitchen, I have given up). Probably wasn’t my best plan.

Here we are. Today marks the 14 year anniversary of my brother’s death. Fourteen years since I watched my brother walk past me for the last time. Fourteen years since the day that changed everything. In that 14 years I have graduated 3 times, met the love of my life, got into grad school, ran multiple half marathons, made friends, lost friends, moved lots. A lot has happened and at many of the pivotal moments I have asked myself – what would Troy think? How would he behave? Would I be annoyed at him the way I get annoyed at my other brother? Would I have extra nephews and nieces to buy presents for this Christmas? In short – there are a lot of what if’s, a lot of questions lingering in my mind.

Sitting back today I realized how different these questions have become for me. How much I have come to accept the world as it is. Some days are tough. Some days feel like a knife is still twisting in my chest. Some days I struggle to catch my breath amongst the crushing sense of loss. Key word there was some days. Some days. Some days I cry, some days I am happy and I almost forget for a second that I am the girl whose brother died. I think the days I realize both – that I am happy and that I am the girl whose brother committed suicide – are the hardest because part of me still feels guilty for feeling such pure and simple joy.

I’ve thought about this for a while, last Saturday when we went to Troy, Michigan, I realized, I no longer clung to his memory. I was okay and I had so much more in my life than his presence (or lack thereof). That stung a bit. Like I was betraying his memory in some horrible way. The thing is that the more I thought of it, the more I realized – this is just the new stage of grief – the point you return to living. It is complicated walking the line between being okay, feeling like you’re not allowed to be okay, and feeling like you’re also not allowed to not be okay. No one warned me about this stage of grief.

At this point I feel like I should offer some sagely wisdom, about what I really don’t know.  Maybe I should have some wisdom about navigating this complicated point, but I don’t. All I have is this – accept it. Be okay, or be not okay. Be happy or be sad.

Just be.

There’s this great concept/therapy in psychology called mindfulness I feel is particularly salient in this conversation. Mindfulness is in essence, being. It is being fully aware of your body and your thoughts and accepting  them without changing anything. Beyond grief, I think we often tell ourselves that we shouldn’t be feeling things, that we should be okay, we should manage our stresses better, we should plan better, we should be smarter, faster, cooler, prettier. Truth is any constructions about what we should be are inherently arbitrary; travel to a different to a country or visit another family and you will find different rules.

Mindfulness is beautifully simple – sit with your eyes closed, your feet flat, and your back straight and focus on your breathing; the flow of oxygen into your lungs and blood stream and carbon dioxide out. Accept your thoughts as they come to you, do not judge them or ruminate on them. Recognize them and return to your breath.

Pretty simple eh?

That’s all I have for today – be. If you are grieving, regardless of the stage, accept your feelings as your own. Grief and loss don’t just disappear. There is not some magic day when everything feels okay, and there will probably always be days you are not okay, there may even be days you’re not entirely sure either way if you’re totally okay or not okay at all. All of these days are categorically okay.

Even if you are not grieving, practice being with the moment and accepting you as you are. Accept your feelings, in all their messiness. Lastly, accept others as much as you accept yourself (and the other way around).

Just be. Unless you can be Batman. I would always recommend being Batman.

“…Then death becomes interesting.”

A lot of philosophers and psychologists (especially Freud) talk about this idea that we feel near constant anxiety about death and our mortality. It’s the basis of the defense mechanisms. Which is interesting.
See as morbid as it may sound, I have thought about death before. And I am not afraid (mostly). Except I’m afraid of an apocalyptic death, which suggests to my over-analytic self that what I fear is the loss of those I love, even if I’m not around to miss them. Not to mention that I am such a control freak I hate the idea of having such a chaotic death. I am also afraid of a painful death. Basically, I don’t fear death so long as it is a calm and peaceful death. Which I suppose could be interpreted as an anxiety about death, calmed by the idea of a peaceful transition to death. To the cessation of my existence. Which is how I have always viewed death. I never really cleaved to any particular religious afterlife story with any degree of certainty and conviction. But two things have recently struck me that are incredibly fascinating.

  1. In follow-up to my post about our lives online – our behaviour almost suggests that we are not so much afraid of death, but rather we are afraid of a meaningless and insignificant existence. Which could then be explained as us wanting to be Gods. By definition, God(s) are considered immortal, all-powerful, and all-knowing, thus we appear to want this eternal and omnipotent existence even if it’s metaphorical. Thus we live online and enjoy stalking ex’s and friends alike via as many social platforms as we can. We connect infinitely to the world around us so we always know, and we leave our trail online so we never die. I choose to think of it more as an ego based thing – we want to be Gods not because of their immortality but because of their importance, their status as objects to be praised and adored. Just a thought, but I find it counter-productive that we fear death but focus on building a digital footprint.
  2. The point was recently proposed to me, which I posted about, that our existence the essence of who we are is based on our consciousness. Not the content, but the actual consciousness. The experiencing. This point was furthered following a recent discussion with Claude, who at one point declared,
    "If consciousness is our existence, our being, then death gets interesting."

    “If consciousness is our existence, our being, then death gets interesting.”

    And this was such a powerful statement for me. What he meant was if consciousness is our existence, what makes us who we are, then how do we know that anything changes after the death of the body? Not in a sort of soul going to a final resting place or waiting to be reincarnated, or left tormented to wander the earth as ghosts, or whatever else religions may suggest about what happens when we die. But in a “what difference does it truly make for our existence?” sort of way. What if our body exists only because it is the way we demonstrate to the world that we exist? What if we can shed it like a sweater and continue on, not in a separate and distinct afterlife but like a continuation of life? If we do so when we have left our print on the world and choose to move to “higher ground” or a more free-flowing existence?

If our brain constructs reality, and our “you-ness” is in our consciousness and not our physical actions and reactions with the physical world persay, but more an internal, intangible, and free-flowing state of being – then perhaps our bodies have already died. We have no way of knowing that we are alive in any physical sense, and we have no way of knowing if there is such a thing as “death” at least not in the way we typically conceive it.

It’s a little terrifying and freeing no?