Doing It Anyway: Pushing Through Fear

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Written Nov 21:
So my latest update on moving and homesickness and new places: it still fucking sucks. Don’t get me wrong, being close to Mike is wonderful… and things could not be better between us. The joy he brings into my world is immeasurable. But as the weeks go on in this new landscape, other things are actually feeling worse, not better.  Things are starting to wear me down… like the house still being in complete chaos and not being able to find anything when I need it. And not knowing how to get anywhere without my map on my phone telling me what to do. And not even knowing how to find some of the things that I am looking for – like a good community of artists or writers. And not having anything figured out in regards to work yet.
Okay, I shouldn’t be so hard on myself, these are all good reasons to be freaking out. It’s a lot. And it hasn’t even been a month since I moved here. It’s completely normal to feel all of this. So why can’t I just accept it? Why am I fighting it so hard? There’s a good reason for that too. After Drew died, I fought tooth and nail to find my joy again. I battled day in and day out with the pain and the sadness and the lack of motivation and the chaos of grief… and finally I had begun to pull out of that. Finally, I’d found my way back to joy, and groundedness, and peace. Finally, I could sometimes go to bed at night only feeling normal tiredness and not complete emotional exhaustion. Finally, I could wake up and not STILL feel exhausted. Finally, I felt like I was living. I do not want to let go of that. I do not want to have to sit in pain again.

I can’t avoid it though. I mean that is life. Struggles won’t stop happening just because he died. And just like the darkest days of grief… I am feeling exhausted all the time again. Suddenly, that joy I fought so hard for, is feeling harder to get to. That groundedness within myself is feeling shaky. The peace I had begun to find is feeling distant. A change this big is no doubt trying to pull apart the very foundations I have worked so hard to build. And suddenly I am feeling myself very much in fear and feeling lost. Fear of losing myself, fear of becoming bitter or isolating. Fear that I won’t be able to adjust to all of this. And especially fear that I will not be able to figure out the next steps for my work, which is very much my life as well. As an artist and writer, I’m still at the very early stages of building a career. I am on the cusp of continuing on and maybe one day “making it”, and giving in and going back to working for someone else. I am living off of savings just to give this a shot. So right now, I’m feeling paralyzed with what steps to take next to balance bringing in some better income with my art and writing. And that is where it ties into grief a great deal.

The unknown can sometimes be an exciting place. Other times, it’s terrifying. Like grief. This whole minefield of unknown pains. It’s so easy right now to see my unknowns as the same kind of minefield. I feel like I am just waiting for another explosion to happen somewhere nearby. Almost 3 1/2 years after Drew’s death, I am still trying to figure my life out. And I am just tired of trying to figure shit out. I am not in the depths of grief any longer. I have met someone new and wonderful and he has brought so much joy back into my world. But there is still so much that I do not have figured out… and sometimes it just gets scary, and exhausting, and frustrating beyond belief.
I forget sometimes that I somehow did make it this far. I am even still HERE and I have worked through a huge amount of grief and pain and heartache and anger in these years just to get to today. I have created a beautiful series of photography and essays on grief in the process of all this, too, and it has taught me much about healing with creativity. I have learned so many things that I still wish to shared with others who are grieving… things that can help. Lately, I’ve forgotten all of that. And all I’ve been able to see is my fear. Fear about how I will sustain doing this meaningful work. Fear about which directions to take it all in.
In the process, I’ve forgotten that the only way I got this far, was by choosing to push through the fear. It’s the only way to make room for things to begin to happen. I already know this. Ugh. I mean WOW how our minds tie us in knots sometimes. I have felt so small and confused and lost lately… being in a place where I know almost no one and everything looks and feels very foreign. How quickly I’ve lost sight of things, and of myself. It was by pushing through fear that I ever made it to Ohio. I was terrified on the drive up here from Texas, and I did it anyway. I was petrified to begin to date someone new for the first time since Drew died, and I did it anyway. I guess I just need to remember all those experiences, take a deep breath, and ride it out… because indeed – despite my fear – I am going to push through, do it anyway, and trust that things will work out.

Visits of Comfort

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Written Nov 1:
It’s been a week now since I made the big move up to Ohio, to live near Mike. I’ve had a roller coaster of emotions going on. At this point I’m just feeling like it’s a miracle I’ve made it through one whole week. While I don’t have any reservations about my decision to move here, still I’m having anxiety and headaches pretty much daily. A lot of change always does this to me. This is the farthest by far that I have lived away from home, and the homesickness has already kicked in too. Feeling vulnerable doesn’t help things. Having grief wrapped up into it all doesn’t help things. Needing to find work still doesn’t help things. It hasn’t taken long for all of this to constrict around me and start creating anxiety. I’ve caught myself spiraling into my own thoughts and fears about all this newness. The irrational sort of stuff that doesn’t to any good to focus on. And for a time, this strong, resilient person that I am is worn down and overwhelmed too much to be so. I hate being in this state of overwhelm…

It’s not unlike grief itself. It makes you vulnerable. It takes your energy away and leaves you depleted, less able to function like you normally do. It creates limitations. It creates irrational stories in your mind. It gets your mind running rampant on you. In this sense, how similar my grief and the change of moving have felt.

I’ve wanted to be able to just enjoy this move, to open my heart to it and just let it all happen. To meet it all fearlessly and in a positive light. It’s clear though, it’s going to be a battle for me to relax and be able to trust. It is just how I am now after so much loss and so much painful change has happened in my life.

For the last few days at least, I have had a small break in the anxiety of it all. My best friend came up from Texas for a first visit Friday. It’s been so comforting to have her here, and so much fun. Halloween has been our holiday since Drew died, and so the plan was to celebrate it up here in a new way. She, Mike and I went out Friday night to the bar for a costume party – all dressed as pirates. We danced and enjoyed the night, and for a little while, I didn’t feel the anxiety or the fear or any of it. Yesterday, Mike chauffeured us around the area. He took us to a bunch of the best nature areas and parks. We saw old barns and waterfalls and gorges and lakes. With the fall leaves in full effect, it was nothing short of breathtaking. Getting to see it all for the first time with my best friend made it even more special. And watching Mike and her together, talking and laughing and getting along so well gave me such joy. Especially being that she has been my closest friend through all the years dating Drew and through his death and these years or surviving after. And now she not only approves of Mike, but she has gained a wonderful new friend in him too. For this new person in my world and my best friend to get along so flawlessly feels like the most comforting and beautiful full-circle kind of thing.

In an eerie way, these past few days, it has started to feel like things are exactly how they should be – despite how painfully we arrived at this point. Having her here and getting to see new sights with her has helped to switch my panic mode off some, and help me see this new adventure as just that – an adventure. A new and exciting journey that she and I will be going on together, even if from very far apart much of the time. It’s beginning to sink in, that things will be exciting, and new, and beautiful. Grief will still be here. But There will be new landscapes to explore… a whole new winter world soon unlike anything I have ever experienced in Texas. Sometimes, all you need is a good friend to remind you to shake off your fears and find the positive again.

33 Years in 40 Minutes

image1-6.JPGWritten Oct 18th:
It’s Sunday afternoon as I type this, and I’m on a 4 hour layover in Denver on my way back to Texas. I have spent the past 3 days in Portland for a conference on death and dying – where I stood up for the first time and did a presentation about my story with death and how creativity has helped me. What an experience it has been. Almost a year ago now, I was invited to speak at this conference by a woman who I’d shared my photography with. Small world, she turned out to be in charge of the arts & culture section of this brand new conference called DeathOK… she wrote to me and said I was the first person she thought of inviting to speak. I decided it was meant to be, and despite me total fear of public speaking, I agreed to come out.

This was a first. A big and scary one. I’ve never presented anything outside of a few less-than-mediocre speeches in college. That was over ten years ago. And I totally bombed my presentations most of the time because I was so nervous. Let’s just say, public speaking is NOT one of my strengths and is something I have completely avoided for the entirely of my adult life.

Until one day last year, this woman emails me, asking me to present… and I realize that I might just have something really important that I want to say for the first time. And that something… is my story. About losing both of my parents before the age of 26. About losing the man I was going to spend my life with, and this whole bullshit ride death has taken me on. Also about how creativity helped me time and time again through each of these losses. Suddenly, when presented with her request, I realized my desire to share this journey with others was finally greater than my fear of public speaking…

So after a crazy few weeks of writing and rewriting, rehearsing and editing, freaking out and crying and avoiding and trying again and basically a generalized feeling of not knowing what the fuck I was doing… I stood up yesterday afternoon in front of 30 or so people and I told my story. For forty minutes, I shared about my mom, my dad, my fiance, and all the ways that art and creativity has helped me to cope with all of it. I didn’t fall apart. I wasn’t overly nervous. I finished exactly on time. My ending was only slightly awkward and nothing was a disaster. Once done, I opened up for questions… really hoping I’d just at least get ONE. The very first comment was from a man who thanked me for sharing such a personal and inspiring story, and how much he loved my photos on grief. And then came questions about my creative process with some of my photos, and questions about different artforms, and insights on how some of my work speaks to many other painful traumas like the PTSD of veterans and the struggles of homeless children. We had such a beautiful and intimate exchange. At least half of the people there came up privately once we concluded to thank me and share something. We left with hugs and business cards exchanged. For all of myself that I have poured into this for the past few weeks – and for the lifelong journey that has been required to get me here – I was given so much back. It was overwhemingly beautiful.

I remembered something when I stood up there yesterday too. I forget this so often, but it was reiterated in the keynote address that morning and I thought about it all day. The ones going through the darkness now have a responsibility to put some lanterns out there in the wilderness to light the way for those who follow. And when it comes to death and dying… everyone, eventually, will follow. I have known death nearly all my life… but I often am selfish and feel everyone should have to learn for themselves. It’s an old bad habit of mine. Yesterday pulled me out of that in a major way.

We all have that obligation, whether or not we act on it or not. Each person who came to my presentation reminded me of that yesterday… and it is something that I hope I will not soon forget. It isn’t about whether I like doing presentations or not. It’s not about whether I’m an amazing speaker. It was never about that. It isn’t about having all the answers or being the most knowledgable person. It is about sharing whatever I have. Sharing what I’ve learned from the pain of loss with the hope that there will be at least one nugget in there that will be picked up and carried in the heart of someone else. After all, countless others have done the same for me. I have been following the faint light of their lanterns all along my own journey for years.

As I sit here halfway between Portland and home now, I feel so proud. I wanted to quit. I wanted to run away from it, to cancel my spot in the event. I seriously contemplated chickening out. And I didn’t. Instead I cried and cursed a lot and eventually got to work. And now I have followed through with confronting a huge fear of mine. Instead of giving up, I decided to try. I decided to believe that, even if I’m not the best public speaker, I can still do this and I still have something valuable to say. As much as I write and share, you’d be amazes at how easy it is to believe that what I have to share isn’t valuable. It happens to all of us… we get in our heads. This time, I didn’t let my head get to me.

I found myself in tears after I wrapped up and had some time by myself last night for a moment. It was an all-too familiar layer of grief… the one that wishes so badly for my parents to be alive for this moment. To imagine the pride in their voices as I called them to tell them. And at the same time, knowing that they brought me here. I would not have been standing in front of anyone yesterday if it wasn’t for my parents, for their death, and for Drew and his. And so they all three come with me, on this part of my new life and every other part ahead.

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Turning A New Page

I’ve gotten behind on posting some of my blogs here recently, so this one is a catch-up. Written Sept 13….

I am sitting in my hotel room in Toronto writing… trying to find the best and most concise way to describe all that has happened in the past seven days of my life. I say “most concise” because I’ve got a bag to pack, and many wonderful widow friends to still say farewells to before leaving Camp Widow Toronto. In a nutshell, the past week has been an enormous roller coaster. My first day visiting Mike in Ohio, I met his parents, brother, sister-in-law, niece and nephew. Oh, I also viewed the house I am looking to rent… because yes, its a great idea to go looking at a house the very first day you have ever been to a state halfway across the country from where you lived with your fiance. Yeah.

On day two, I met Mike’s mother-in-law and father-in-law, Megan’s parents, and her brother. On the same day, I looked at a new car, which I would be driving around in this new state halfway across the country when I move. This is because my in-laws want to keep Drew’s truck, which they told me just days before leaving to Ohio. Since we weren’t married, that one isn’t my say. I’m grateful for their help financially to get a new vehicle, but the idea of leaving his truck has added a whole other layer of grief to the idea of this move.

During these first two days, Mike and his daughter Shelby also drove me around and showed me their city and the various interesting things about the area. Even this was overwhelming, because I wasn’t looking at it as a place to visit… but as a place I will soon live. A place I will soon live that is NOT any place I have ever been with Drew. It felt foreign, very foreign from Texas. I felt so tense, like a part of me was resenting every last thing in Ohio because Ohio is taking me away from my beautiful home state. Ultimately, taking me away from the world I knew with Drew, and with my parents. It is another layer of loss. Despite how wonderful it’s been to meet all of Mike and Megan’s family and to see this beautiful part of the country and to fall in love with this house I want to rent, my heart has been honestly pretty pissed off since arriving here… because I do NOT want to endure any more fucking loss. Like seriously, no more.

And then on Friday, Mike and I packed up the car and took a road trip up to Toronto, for Camp Widow. I really have to say that, yet again, I am leaving Camp completely transformed. I brought so much resentment and fear with me to camp. So much resistance to change. And I am leaving with none of it.

I am leaving instead with laughter and smiles. With a renewed lightness and trust about things working out. With an even deeper assurance that Mike is the person I want to uproot my life for. I’ve shared moments of tears and opening my heart to others who understand. Moments of being able to talk about how scary it is to be changing so much of my life all over again. I’ve shared about how much I really really REALLY hate that opening this new chapter in my life also means turning the page on some of the old chapters. But most of all, I am leaving Camp with HOPE.

There’s a feeling of excitement now about this big unknown future I am about to jump into (even the snow, which for a Texas girl, is a hard thing to say). Over the past few days, I’ve started to realize that just maybe there will be even more goodness to this change than I could possibly imagine. Just maybe there are so many more reasons for living in this new place than just being near Mike and Shelby. There will be a chance to deepen relationships with many other people who I have previously lived very far away from… widowed friends, artist friends, and even some family.

It is nearly official now… I will be signing a lease agreement in just a few days. I will be moving at the end of October. I’ve decided. And I am committing to this leap, no matter what. It’s still scary as shit, but now it is also exciting. Having my community of widowed people this weekend was EXACTLY what I needed during this time. And I cannot thank them all enough. You all remind me that I am safe, and loved, and strong, and I can do this. You remind me that we are all capable of doing big things. Michele’s keynote address reminded me that, even though I am starting a new volume of my life, I can always go back to the previous books. They are always there in me, just waiting for me to pick them up, sit down with them, and flip thru the pages. The volume of my life that is Drew will always be there… and his volume will go with me everywhere I go. Just as all the others will.

At the end of this whole crazy week, I am seeing that what’s waiting in the next chapter could still be some of the happiest years of my life… not the same happiest years I had with Drew, but different happiest years… with new love, new friendships, new laughter, new memories, and new life. Drew is going to be a part of this chapter too, just as he is going to be a part of every chapter ahead. And his volume in my life will come right along with me and my moving truck. And it will be okay. And life will still be beautiful.