Monday, August 2, 2021

Camper and Body Wash

Before Steve died we talked about what would happen and he always said that I would be okay financially because I would be able to have the life insurance and then would sell the truck, boat and camper.

 I have not been able to sell the truck and I think that made sense financially as well as emotionally. We had had a loan on it as it was new. I find comfort in driving his truck. We fit in it very well and it has been reliable and dependable. It took a long time before I was able to remove his fishing hat from the dash and other things that were his in the vehicle. 

My family and I decided to gift the boat to Steve's best friend as they were the two that had fished together.  His friend was the reason why our boat had as much fishing equipment as it did. We gave it to him as a Father's Day gift a couple months after Steve had passed away.

The camper sat all that first summer. Then last summer we went out in it one time. It's now sat since then. I'm not even sure we physically would be able to sleep in the camper with the boys being over 6 ft tall. I talked about selling it last year and didn't do it. I've talked about selling it this year and haven't done it. I think because this is the last big thing that needs to be dealt with, I'm really struggling. I need to take the rocking chairs and some other things out and put the slide out out to be able to take pictures so I can post it for sale. Every time I think about going and doing it I get a headache. It doesn't make any financial sense to keep it when I have to pay for storage every winter. It takes up space in our driveway and makes parking difficult. We haven't been using it and most likely will not. I worry that it's going to deteriorate or get mice or something and then another family won't be able to enjoy it as much as we did. But yet knowing all of this I can't sell it.

The other thing that I have not been able to throw away or get rid of is the bottle of body wash in the shower. The first many months after Steve died I would squirt some on the wall in the shower and lean against it and sob. I've stopped doing that but for some reason cannot remove it from the bathroom.

It's frustrating and confusing that certain items can be such a trigger.

Monday, June 28, 2021

What Helped Me Heal and Be Okay (part 7: relationship)

At about the two and a half year point I started thinking about being in a relationship with someone again. I was very scared about how to grieve, continue learning about myself, setting boundaries and following my intuition and about how to go about finding someone that wants to be with a widow and single mom of three teenage boys.

I connected with a friend's brother on Facebook. I asked if he wanted to meet and look for agates. I wasn't sure if it was a date or not. We got together and walked on the beach for three and a half hours. I tried not to talk about Steve too much but that's such a huge part of who I was, it was hard not to. But he knew Steve. He had played hockey with him when they were in middle school. We had all gone to the same church. After our time on the beach we went and had dinner together. He was willing to see me again a couple days later. I then knew it was a date. I felt very comfortable with him and it was very natural. I was super excited to see him again.

We have seen each other most days since. We have now celebrated 9 months together and I'm so in love with him. He allows me to grieve. He's always there when I need someone to talk to or to get a hug. I don't feel that me being a widow or a single mom is an issue. He lets me be who I need to be when I need to be that person. He knows that being a mom comes before him a lot of the times and is very understanding. He accepts that I have a past because he does too. Everything that happened before we got together made us who we are and has allowed us to form this relationship.

I thank God everyday for the time I had with Steve and for the time I now have with Chris. I am so blessed to have two men love me completely and accept who I am.

I told Chris yesterday that I wasn't sure what I would do today or how I would be feeling because it would have been my anniversary. He told me to do whatever I wanted to do. That is the best advice anyone can give another person no matter what the situation is, if they are grieving or not. 

Everyone needs to do what is right for them in the moment. Each person needs to find what works for them to heal. It's okay to not be okay and it's definitely okay to be okay. It is okay to be happy and loving life while still missing the people that have gone to heaven. 

What Helped Me Heal and Be Okay (part 6 body work)

One of the things I missed the most with Steve not being near physically was his hugs. I missed being able to lean against him inside of his arms and cry on his shoulder. I missed our time together as a married couple. I missed him rubbing my knee during church. I think in other types of grief you don't have that physical portion that's missing whereas when it's a spouse you lose so much. No one else can give me a hug that feels like Steve's.

I started a monthly routine shortly after Steve died I think mostly to keep myself busy but found that many parts of it were healing. I did a monthly craft night at a local pottery place. I was journaling and blog posting. I was meeting with therapists and social workers. But the other part I added in and extended was dealing with my physical body. I did eventually take medication to help my brain and the chemicals in my system.

I had already been seeing a chiropractor but committed to going every 3 weeks to keep my body aligned. My chiropractor had lost his parents when he was young. He also had worked with Steve as a football coach. It was nice to meet with somebody who understands grief as well as able to heal my physical symptoms. Spending a lot of time in my bed while grieving was not great for my back or my hips. Having chiropractic healing done helped me be able to function and walk properly. 

A friend of mine does massage and I started seeing her monthly. And although her massage was never inappropriate or sexual in nature, it was a good feeling to have someone touch my body. A massage is so much more than just the muscles being relaxed and released. Many times I sobbed through the entire massage as my body was able to grieve and let go of the emotions it was holding. She was also a good listener but let me be quiet when I needed that too.

I had seen Emily a couple of times for a massage and then she learned myofascial release. This out of everything has probably been the most beneficial for me. I still see her monthly. Myofascial release allows the layer of tissue (the fascia) that covers your body to become relaxed and unwind. There is also a huge emotional component. Grief is held in my chest and lungs and by having my body moved in different ways it allows the grief to leave my system. I was also trained in level one myofascial release technique. I have been able to do some with my boys, but the energy connection I feel with them makes it hard.

I have done acupuncture quite a few times. I don't always feel as much relief when I leave the appointment as I do with some of the other forms but it has been helpful. One day I went and had been crying for multiple days off and on. After the treatment I was unable to cry and it was great to feel that way for a few days.

I've tried to space things out so that I was getting some physical touch or something to deal with my body each week. One of the things I worried about during the pandemic was how this part of my self-care was going to continue. I was able to still see these different providers and am so grateful. 

The other things that I have found very helpful in healing have been walking on the beach on the shores of Lake Superior. My family has a camp with private access. Walking along looking for agates and omars while enjoying the sunshine or sunsets is one of the most peaceful activities I can do. I find the physical movement and being by water great for my soul. I feel connected to God and my faith. I feel connections to my grandparents and Steve and others that have passed away. Being out in nature and experiencing the openness has been healing for me. 

I have moderate arthritis in both of my knees and I'm sure forming in other parts of my body. Yoga was another thing that I was doing. Sometimes I had emotional release during yoga also. Taking time to breathe and stretch my body and focus on what I was feeling helped me physically and mentally feel better. This is something that I know I need to get back to doing. Doing yin yoga through YouTube videos with friends once a week with friends is something that I miss. 

Sleep, rest and relaxation are all things that were crucial especially at the beginning. Widow's brain and not being able to focus and process information is a very real experience. Taking time to rest and just veg in front of the TV sometimes was the most healing thing to do.

What Helped Me Heal and Be Okay (part 5 therapy)

When one of my best friends died in 2010, it took me many months to realize that I needed to be speaking to somebody professional. When I told Steve that I was planning to see a counselor, he told me that it was about time. I questioned why he hadn't told me to go to someone. His answer was that until I was ready he knew it wasn't going to work. 

I started seeking a counselor very soon after Steve had passed away remembering how much it had helped after my friend had died. 

I recommend that everyone see a counselor or a therapist at some point in their life. I think it is good to have a relationship established with someone because you never know what's going to come up and when you are going to need to talk to somebody. This is another thing that does not have to be long-term but I found so helpful. I had my boys also see therapists to help with grief, anxiety, depression and being able to go to school.

I knew that if I did not make a connection with the therapist or counselor I was meeting with that it would not help me and I needed to find someone else. I did end up working with three different women for different lengths of time. Each experience was unique and gave me what I needed. I mostly sought validation of my feelings. 

I was prescribed a therapist through the hospital by my primary physician. I was able to make a connection with her and found that she listened to me and she was able to guide me to learn about what I was feeling and how to cope with grief and the other emotions I was feeling. It was in talking to her that I realized I just wanted somebody to tell me that it was okay to be okay. Everyone told me that it was okay to grieve for as long as I needed to and that there was no timeline to grief. Although I believe that is true I also believe that you can have good days and that you can be happy and experienced joy. Because you are happy does not mean that you have forgotten the person that is gone or that you don't love them anymore or that you're not still grieving. I was also able to talk with her about my job and dealing with secondary trauma related to the students I taught. I got parenting tips and ideas of things to journal about and other self-care ideas. The one thing I appreciated the most about working with her was that she wasn't grieving the loss of Steve. Everyone else in my life that I was connected to also was grieving in some way or another. It's hard to share your grief with other people when not everyone is in the same space or dealing with the same emotions at the same time.

I also joined a group called Self Care Bestie. Cathleen Bearse is a licensed social worker who had a Facebook group and also offered monthly sessions with her. Because we live in different states I was able to do phone calls with her. She put together a course called Fearless which dealt with anxiety. I find anxiety a large part of grief. There were many things to worry about especially around parenting and finances. She offered multiple techniques and validated how I was feeling and the things that I was doing. She made me feel what I was experiencing was normal and that I was okay and going to be okay. Cathleen gave ideas about cognitive behavior therapy, breathing exercises, meditations guided and not, and journal prompts. I think she helped me realize that I was a good mom and that I was going to continue to be a good mom.

After attending 6 weeks of meditation I started personal sessions with a spiritual healer. Most of the session is counseling and talking through what I'm experiencing and then there is time for quiet healing. Almost every time during the healing portion I was able to meditate and connect with God. One time, I experienced being in the garden of Gethsemane before Christ was crucified. It was so peaceful and I was able to hear Christ telling God that he would follow his plan even though he didn't want to.  Through her style of guidance, I was able to learn more about who I am and the roles I play. I have learned about setting boundaries and allowing my body to experience what it needs to and to listen to my intuition and do what I felt led to do regardless of how others were going to feel or be affected.

The other people that I have in my life are my best friends. Although most of them are not licensed therapists or social workers, talking with them has been so helpful. One friend and I try to get together weekly for a half an hour just to share what's going on in our lives. Another friend and I get together once a month and spend a couple hours together. A friend that lives far away and I try connect on the phone. Sometimes conversations with them is hard because of the connection with Steve. 

What Helped Me Heal and Be Okay (part 4 writing)

Writing is something I have done my entire life. I have always kept a journal or a diary. I still use a paper planner and I do bullet journaling. I do a lot of my writing now with paper and a pen. The secret is to have paper that is smooth with college ruled lines and a pen that flows smoothly and writes in a thickness that I love. Although I find using using Google voice effective so that I can get all of my thoughts out while it types for me, I still find that handwriting is the most therapeutic way to write.

I have gotten away from a lot of journaling being a full-time teacher, a mom to three boys, a wife, a friend, a daughter, a sister, a parishioner, a fundraiser and every other role I had in my life, but when Steve died I knew I needed to get back to it.

I wrote letters to God. I wrote about how I was angry with him and how confused I was. I wrote scripture verses that were helping me heal. I wrote prayers of petition. I wrote prayers of gratitude. I asked that he watch over me and my boys. I thanked him for the time I had with Steve and for all that our life together had taught me.

I wrote letters to Steve. I wrote him poems. I wrote about how much I missed him and things that I appreciated about him. I wrote lyrics from songs that meant something to the two of us. I asked him for advice on how to be a single parent. 

I wrote about what I was thinking and experiencing and what was happening in my life related to grief and related to everything else because although I was deeply grieving I still had the rest of my life going on and there was a lot going through my brain at every moment about my self-worth, about grief, worries about my boys and parenting and being a good mom, about my job and how that was not going well, about the students I worked with and the worries I had for them, about my friends and family and everyone else that was grieving while living their life, thoughts about my future and how I was supposed to be and who I was, and about the things I was learning about myself. 

A friend of mine told me that I should write a guide for other widows on what to do related to the financial part and so I started this blog. I have not done a good job of sharing the financial portions like I planned but the rest of this has been so therapeutic that I've needed to continue it.

I did go back and take out sections of my journal and turn it into a book. I learned all about self-publishing and cover design. 
In the spring of 2020 I was able to publish a book about my healing called "It's Okay to be Okay; Finding Joy through Grief" on Amazon. Any money that I have made by selling either the ebook or my paperback, I have used to purchase copies which I then donate to others that are grieving especially widows. I have received a lot of positive feedback from those that have read through it that it was helpful for them regardless if they had lost a spouse or not. I still hope to bring copies to the local funeral homes to be able to reach more people. I would also like to do a book launch that was cancelled because of the pandemic. 

I did some writing using prompts that I found on Pinterest but found that just free writing and getting any thoughts in my head around paper was one of the best ways to heal.

What Helped Me Heal and Be Okay (part 3 medication)

I remember sitting at the doctor's office with one of my boys trying to figure out how we could help them heal and what needed to happen next when the doctor asked me how I was doing. I told him that I was doing okay. He told me I wasn't. He told me that maybe I needed some medication to help me with the depression that I was experiencing. He assured me that I didn't have to do it long-term but it could help. 

I felt that my faith, therapy and other things that I was doing for myself were enough and that I was supposed to feel overwhelmed, anxious, tired and depressed because I was grieving. I didn't have to feel that way. I can grieve and at the same time feel relaxed and rested. I could have energy and sleep well. I could feel in control of my body while deeply missing Steve and feeling hurt and scared and worried.

Starting to take a low dose antidepressant was one of the best things I did. I took it for about 5 months and then weaned myself off of it knowing that at any point I could go back on if I was back to feeling the way I had. I realized that I took medication for all kinds of other things that happened in my body such as allergies and arthritis I know many people that take an antidepressant or an anti-anxiety medication everyday and without it could not function.

I was lucky that the first medication I was prescribed worked for me. I know that that is not always the case.

One of the therapist I was talking to wrote this as an email and blog post: 
"It’s totally normal to hesitate when you’re thinking about putting psychotropic drugs in your bod. Believe me, I get it.

I also want to clarify (before we get too far) that this post in no way takes the place of meeting with a therapist and/or doctor or psychiatrist in your area. I can’t help you make the decision whether or you not you should take meds for your anxiety – only your personal treatment team can do that. Just sayin 

What I can do, however, is give you a few things to consider to help make those meetings a little more efficient. AKA, I can help you think things through a bit ahead of meeting with your therapist or doctor so that you feel you are making an informed decision that is 100% in your best interest.

TAKING MEDICATION FOR ANXIETY DOESN’T “MEAN” ANYTHING ABOUT YOU
I wanted to start with this one because it is SO near and dear to my heart. So many of my clients (especially parents of my teenage clients) are quick to ascribe meaning to beginning a medication for anxiety. By that I mean that they are wary of medication for themselves or their child because the story they are telling themselves around medication is:

“I’m a failure.”

“I should be able to handle this without taking drugs.”

“I’m a bad mom.”

“I’m dependent on drugs.”

“Our family doesn’t do that.”

“It will change my personality.”

Those thoughts and feelings mostly have to do with the stigma associated with anxiety, medication, and mental health issues in general. Although we have made major progress in this area, by and large, people still feel that taking medication means something about them, beyond that they are trying a new and healthy way to cope. In fact, I would argue that self-medicating for anxiety by over or under eating, alcohol, working too much, working out too much, gambling, or other habit-forming coping are waaay more harmful than taking a prescription for anxiety under a doctor’s care. Yet many people choose these methods over medication, which is simply continuing in their choice to suffer through their anxiety. Which leads me to point number two…

TAKING MEDICATION FOR ANXIETY CAN REDUCE YOUR SUFFERING AND HELP YOU ACCESS COPING SKILLS
When someone comes to me and they are so anxious that they are suffering, I usually advise them to see a doctor for a medication evaluation. What do I mean by suffering? I mean, if someone is telling me their struggles of late and I sense that they feel so overwhelmed they can’t possibly access the coping skills I would recommend to them, that’s a good time to see a doctor. My friends, it’s 2020 – if I’m trying to get someone to engage in cognitive behavioral therapy with me (the BEST non-medical intervention for anxiety), and they simply CANNOT, because their anxious thoughts are out of control, then for me to keep suggesting the same coping skills over and over would be foolish. And not helpful. Anxiety medication, when properly prescribed, is meant to be taken for a short time to help someone access therapeutic coping skills that once learned, will last a lifetime. This is also reason number 23929 I recommend that anyone taking any type of medication for anxiety also see a therapist regularly. Medicine isn’t a cure-all, easy button. I mean, it would be awesome if it was, but it’s not. I look at medicine as ONE coping skill of many that a client can put in their toolbox.

TAKING MEDICATION FOR ANXIETY ISN’T A LIFE SENTENCE
That said, most anxiety meds aren’t meant to be taken forever. This is why it’s imperative you take psychotropic medication under a doctor’s care, preferably a psychiatrist, as they are specifically trained in the nuance of each type of psychotropic medication…which is very, VERY helpful, since there are so many to choose from these days. For most people, cognitive behavioral therapy, mindfulness, and other modalities of treatment work even BETTER than anxiety. That’s why I created my course, Fear Less – to teach the same anxiety reducing skills I use with clients in my office! These are the tried and true (and evidence based!) techniques that therapists rely on time and time again to help their clients reduce anxiety and increase their peace. So if you’re worried about trying medication, just remember – you likely won’t be taking it forever. You’ll work with your doctor (and therapist!) over time to decide when and if you should lower your dose or come off your medication altogether.

THERE IS NO “ONE SIZE FITS ALL” RIGHT MEDICATION FOR EVERYONE
This probably goes without saying, but I like to dot my i’s and cross my t’s. Just because your Aunt Bertha loves Lexapro doesn’t mean it’s right for you. Just because your husband has seen amazing results from Zoloft doesn’t mean you will, too. Try to let go of any preconceived notions you may have about certain medications and trust your treatment team to get it right for YOU.

THERE ARE WAYS TO DEAL WITH ANXIETY WITHOUT MEDICATION, SHOULD YOU DECIDE IT’S NOT RIGHT FOR YOU
I mentioned this earlier, but it’s worth stating again. Medication for anxiety isn’t the right choice for everyone. I firmly believe MOST anxiety can be dealt with using CBT, DBT, and mindfulness techniques. Don’t feel pressured to take or shy away from medication – you are in control of your own mental health, and whatever you choose is ok."

Cathleen Bearse, is an amazing woman; licensed social worker; wife;  bio, adopted and foster mom; and blogger/podcaster. More about her can be found at fearlessfostering.com

What Helped Me Heal and Be Okay (part 2 Faith)

(I'm breaking down each of the things that helped me heal into its own posts so that It didn't get too long.)

My faith is one of the biggest things that has kept me going and helped me heal.

I know and believe that God created each one of us according to his plan. We will never know what that plan is and we need to be okay with that and trust that it's meant to be and whatever happens will be okay.

When Steve and I got married we planned to celebrate our 25th anniversary and our 50th and maybe even our 60th. We worked hard at our marriage so we could be together and be a good example for our boys. We were faithful. We loved each other. We were in love. We had our struggles and our arguments. We were best friends, lovers and parents together. We knew we would be together until death did us part. I never expected to only make it 20 years together as husband and wife.

I truly 100% believe that God gave us the time we needed to be together. As hard as it is parenting alone, I know that we built the foundation together and I am meant to continue building it by myself. I know Steve watches over each and every one of us everyday. He is here, he is there, he is everywhere.

My faith tells me that there is a heaven. Heaven is a place without pain and without sorrow. Heaven is another place that you get to do the work that God has chosen you for. I believe I will meet Steve again when I get to heaven.

One of the best pieces of advice I heard was to tell God when you're angry with him or confused by his plan. This was very hard for me but I realized that God knows all of my thoughts and what is in my heart. He knows I was mad that he took Steve away from his family. He knows I was confused about how I was to be a single mom. I prayed through these things. It's okay to feel all these emotions and more.

Continuing my faith,  I write in a journal and three things I am grateful for and a sentence or two that I hear God telling me every morning. I read a devotional. I usually journal my thoughts worries and questions and end with a written short prayer. When I have trouble falling asleep, I send a prayer or listen to a rosary recording.

Being in the church that we grew upin, were married in and had our children baptized in is still really hard sometimes. I don't always feel as close to God in the church building as I do standing on the shores of Lake Superior. My boys have struggled with their faith and I know that God will continue to guide them and watch over them.

"I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."

"Be still and know that I am God."

"I have prepared a place for you."