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.

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Why It’s Sometimes Really Good to Really Cry

So few of my friends have seen me cry. If you’ve seen me cry it’s a privilege. It’s not that I don’t cry. I actually cry regardless of the emotion – I cry when I’m happy, sad,angry, confused, tired. Sometimes I cry because I’m crying and realize that I’m crying for no reason. It’s really a viscious cycle. Once I even cried because I realized I was crying off my new eye cream. You name it, I’ve probably cried it.

taken from http://www.reasonsmysoniscrying.com/ - perhaps the funniest collection of tears I have ever seen.

This is me. If I was a boy. And about 2 years old. Taken from Reasonsmysoniscrying.com – perhaps the funniest collection of tears I have ever seen.

I was talking to the lovely Shauna Vert over at Shaunanagins.com the other day and the conversation turned to books, and she informed me that she went through a phase where if a book did not make her laugh, she would not read it. It was in that moment I realized that my favourite books have all made me cry. The Giver, The Outsiders, Harry Potter (pretty much all of them but worse from book 4), recently the Hunger Games. They were all filled with this gross injustice, written in such a way that I connected to the characters on such a level that I felt their pain. If the book made me cry, it was a good book. It’s not my only criteria – the best book keeps me up all night laughing and crying. The literature trifecta. 

Either way this conversation made me seem just a tad morbid.

My empathy systems tend to be very readily activated, I am very prone to sensing emotions and feeling them – I feel bad for the OC Transpo driver that gets yelled at, once when I saw these two girls get reamed out by some cranky passenger for wearing fishnet tights, I almost cried for them right there on the bus. So yeah, I have a lot of feels, and I feel a lot of feelings that aren’t even really mine. 

Last week I got some of the toughest news I have received in a long time. I will not be going to graduate school in the fall. I’m getting really good at handling rejection thanks to my decision to apply to one of the toughest programs in the country, but this latest rejection felt like it literally cracked my soul in half (melodramatic maybe but I have a major nerd crush on this school). And I did what any mature adult does – I sat on the floor and sobbed on the phone to my mom. Then I got off the phone and shouted at the walls as I cried some more. This time it didn’t really make me feel better. But, after nearly pulling a New Yorker and crying on public transit and shouting at the passengers for watching me break down, I pulled my big girl panties on an moved on.robinsubway

Sometimes a good cry helps. Or at least that’s the way I see it. It’s a sort of cathartic release. For me, it is release valve for the pressure, but also a blaring signal that we are alive. That we are not robots. This kind of deep all consuming pain or overwhelming elation is a reminder to me that we exist. And it sounds cheesy, but you know all those quotes about how you have to feel the bad to appreciate the good – it’s sort of true.
you survivedLooking back on the happiest moments of my life, I contrast them with the worst. I am about to graduate, and I am happy, and mildly apathetic about even finishing this year, but I remember back in first year when I was so homesick I thought about leaving. And it’s the memory of the bad stuff that makes the good stuff that much sweeter. Knowing that I came from such a low place, but I pushed through all the hurt, all the sleepless nights, the break-ups and new beginnings, and BAM! Here I am, procrastinating writing the last paper I will ever write for my undergraduate degree. I will soon have an extra 13 letters after my name and a diploma to hang on my wall. Never before have I paid so much for 13 letters and a piece of paper. 

graduation

When you think about it – there had to be some advantage to crying in terms of evolution, some advantage to this extreme display of emotion, because I can guarantee it wasn’t to adjust osmotic pressure. My guess is that it releases feeling, but more importantly it connects us – it becomes a blaring signal to those around us that we are suffering. Think about when you were a child, maybe you don’t remember, but when you fell down and skinned your knee, you started to cry from the physical pain, and mom or dad or grandpa came and soothed you. Your knee was still skinned, but emotionally you felt better. Then you grew up, and skinned knees caused you to swear not cry, but you figured out that crying for emotional reasons elicited the same soothing comfort, only there was no cut you could put a bandage on. 

So we cry to let it out and to seek help. Crying can be very good for you.

So does this mean that any time something bad happens, if you cry you’ll feel better? Maybe not right away. Some things don’t ever feel better – the loss of a loved one doesn’t feel better per say, it just stops feeling as often. Does it mean that crying should be a go to solution? No. There’s a reason the expression “don’t cry over spilled milk” exists.

Crying isn’t a solution, it doesn’t fix things, it feels things.

This was one of those situations crying wasn’t going to fix anything. I couldn’t change the answers. I couldn’t make the next 6 years magically reconfigure to match the plan I had in my head. You know the one that looks like a cheesy university commercial with people laughing and walking around clutching notebooks despite wearing perfectly functional bookbags, maybe even some laying on the grass in the sunshine?

 

I’ve been reading about mindfulness lately, and it became clear to me that this is the core of an effective cry – feeling the sadness and not judging it. Just letting it pass by. Don’t wallow in it, but feel it and let it go.

So basic point? Crying is an indication that we are alive. It can sometimes help, even if you’re not precisely sure why you are crying, to just let the feeling out, to cry, pound your fists on the floor like a melodramatic teenager and shout at the ceiling. Sometimes you will feel better. Sometimes you won’t. And sometimes you can cry, but then you have to get up and move on to fixing the problem. But never stop feeling. Feeling reminds us of our existence, our humanity.

At the end of the day there is absolutely nothing wrong with having a good cry to let go of all the feels. Unless of course you’re wearing $40 eye cream.