I don’t process emotions the way most people do. This is likely because I grew up in a household where free expression of emotion – particularly negative emotion – was discouraged or even punished. Combine that with a long period through adolescence where I thought the only way to survive depression and bullying was to withdraw so far into myself that I didn’t feel anything at all, and you have a recipe for poor coping skills. And the problem is that no matter how much therapy you go through and how much work you do, you can’t outrun the biological instincts that take over “for your protection.”
Example: When my grandfather died in 2007, my internal voice scoffed and scorned me each time I shed a tear or expressed an emotion, telling me that I was faking it, and disrespecting those around me who truly did feel grief. I recognized the defense mechanism, so I paid no attention to it, and the next time a family member died, in 2009, I disassociated altogether. I remember the funeral the way I remember dreams, floating above and behind it for the most part. I couldn’t cry at all, couldn’t force a single tear. When it was all over, I went home, and shortly afterwards, read a book that just happened to involve the unexpected death of a character I loved. I broke down completely, just bawling at his death, and then I read the book a second time, and the series all the way through, just to “spend more time with him.” That’s how I mourned this second family member, shunted sideways into an “acceptable” expression of grief.
So what am I feeling now? Uncomfortable. It’s like all my mom senses are up, knowing something is wrong, something is about to happen…except it’s not. The thing that is wrong is nothing more than the kids are no longer here. I spent so long and used so much mental energy on making sure schedules ran smoothly and chores got done and warning signs were watched for etc etc. And at first, when the house emptied out, it just felt like the kids had gone to a friend’s house, or to spend a week with their grandparents, or any number of temporary situations. Now, it feels like said temporary situation has gone on too long, so that my mom senses are acting as if something is wrong. My mind knows that everything is fine, just different. My nervous system has yet to adjust.
Yesterday was my oldest’s 22nd birthday. Three years ago, on his 19th, he was at Navy boot camp and I experienced this same uncomfortable something-is-wrong feeling when I realized that 1) it was his first birthday that I’d ever missed, and 2) I couldn’t even call him to say happy birthday or check in with how he was doing. Then the two younger children both left within months of each other this summer, so it wasn’t even a gradual change. Yeah, Laurence will be home over Christmas – note: a roundtrip flight from Canada cost well more than a month’s mortgage payment, heh – but I still just feel weird, weird, weird. Uncomfortable, like missing a tooth that’s always been there and you haven’t yet adjusted to its absence.
I did finally put up Halloween decorations, a thing that had lost all joy once the kids were gone even though I was the only person to ever get joy out of it! I felt nothing at all doing so. I’ll probably be more excited to put up the Christmas stuff simply because Laurence is coming home. I’ve lost interest in most things, and at the same time, have been obsessing over Projects. This is another thing my brain does when it can’t deal with grief or change or whatever else it’s suppose to cope with: it creates and hyperfocuses on projects. Right now, I’m in the process of transferring the important info from 13 past bullet journals into a master journal so I can get rid of all the little ones. I spend hours each day doing this, alternating between the journal project, creative photo editing (pics in this post), and staring at houses for sale in different parts of New Mexico, trying to calculate how soon we can afford to move and the best timing for that. Those things may seem from the outside to be pointless, but internally, it’s all about trying to avoid a feeling of uselessness (given that my job/identity of 17 years is basically gone) while also desperately trying to feel some sense of control now that I now have a big, yawning gap of possibility and uncertainty in front of me.
The good thing is that I’m aware of all this. I know what my brain is doing and I’m taking steps to move forward while simultaneously giving myself space to process this grief/change in whatever way my nervous system feels safest. Sometimes that’s all you can do.