the western way

I woke up around 5 am, as I seem to do lately–even though I rarely get to bed before 2 am.  I was hot and sweaty and had to use the restroom.  I got up, turned the AC on (just barely), and went back to bed.  (It always amazes me how humidity changes my experience of temperature.  In Denver, I’d be turning on the heat).

The problem with waking up like that is that my cats immediately think it’s attention time.  Especially this one.


His name is Mumford, but I call him Monkey.  He likes to sing and head boop and kiss-kiss.  And man, he was pulling out all the cute this morning.  Then Fogg decided to play Queen of the world and mounted my thigh.  Then, Rilly decided to play with their new toy–the roller ball thing that lights up and chirps.  And then, Monkey decided to join in and Fogg decided to get under the covers with me–which meant she took most of the covers–and now I was cold.  Then, Monkey and Rilly did this loud fake attack thing they do that sounds like an angry mob of felines mauling each other.

So, about an hour before my alarm went off, I gave up and busted out my phone–only to read some infuriating shit out of Texas regarding women’s healthcare, and then I raged on Twitter.  As one does.

Mostly about how fucked people are.  And about how our Western bullshit is affecting our ability as a species to survive.  And about how healthcare in this country is basically the ultimate in bullshit hypocrisy and the opposite of healing or care.

And then I read something about the Westernization of grief.  The author basically talked about how fucked we are about grieving, even though 100% of us will experience loss at some point or another.  And how those who have not experienced grief inflict even more bullshit on the grieving.

Yes–that was my experience.  Yes–that IS my experience.

And how so many people think therapy is the ONLY way for us who don’t move on in a year to get better.  As if you CAN get better.  Don’t get me wrong.  Therapy is great.  I have a huge belief in it as I navigate that journey myself.  It’s effective when you have conditions (often caused by grief and how we condition ourselves to grieve) that need attention.  But the thing that pisses me off so much is how people see you as broken rather than just fucking living.  Like–if you’re grieving more than the prescribed amount–you MUST have some fucking mental illness.

Um, no.

Now, I DO have a mental illness.  It’s called PTSD.  But my mental illness was not caused by grieving.  It was caused by NOT grieving.  By postponing grief.  By stuffing down pain and moving on before I should.  My shit happened when I was a kid, but the PTSD started before that when I was a child living in poverty with people who were either addicted or formerly so.  With people who had generational depression and anxiety.  Who had no tools to cope.  Who never fully grieved anything.  I was taught not to feel.  I was taught to get on with it.  And because of all of that, when immense loss happened, I grieved in a way that allowed me to survive in that dysfunctional environment–an environment not unlike the Western world.  And by all accounts, for the next 20 years of my life–I was doing fine.  I achieved.  I was a good person.  I was “normal.”

Only I was slowly dying inside.  I had no idea how to connect with people.  I was incredibly alone.  And when I found love, somehow, I had no idea what to do with it.  And then I was hit with another massive loss, and my world literally shattered.

I’m actually grateful it shattered.  But it threw me.  Hard.  And I spent a long time just trying to exist and figure out who I was.  Which was–by the way–absolutely normal.

I was lucky.  Most of my friends didn’t judge me for it.  Very few people–other than strangers–told me to move on.  I was still high functioning, though.  Because my PTSD taught me how to do that, oddly.

But I will never forget–and still find it hard to forgive–when an ex broke up with me and told me I needed to get therapy.  He had suffered a loss in his past, and to him, it was significant.  But until you’ve lost both of your parents in pretty traumatic ways–telling someone to get therapy because they still grieve every day–is pretty rich.  I was so heartbroken by the whole thing that happened between us and so angry too–by this little suggestion–that I never confronted him.

Years later, this morning, I was reminded of that.  Of how pompous others can be in doling out advice about mental health or grief.  The thing is–I DID need therapy and had sought it out, but had never found a match.  Mental health in this country is not an easy quest.  To get help, I have to fork over 1/4 of my monthly income.  I have to take time off work.  I can’t go see someone on weekends or even evenings.  My therapist isn’t covered by insurance.  So often, the quest for sanity is one you have to create for yourself.  And when I finally found my soulmate therapist, she was super impressed by all the shit I did myself.  How all my instincts were right on the money.  How I was actually the healthiest PTSD survivor she knew who hadn’t been in therapy.

For me, that conversation with my ex was an example of shaming masquerading as concern.  My constant grief was hard to take, I’m sure.  Even now, years into therapy, I grieve daily.  My mother is always in my thoughts.  And this isn’t a PTSD thing.  Most people I know who have lost a parent or a child think of them absolutely every day, all day long.  Often.  We exist through it.  It becomes an appendage.  And we can live our lives just fine–can be happy and okay–but still grieve every day.  And that’s pretty goddamn normal.  But it often makes others in our fucked up world uncomfortable.  Because it reminds them that this is what is waiting for them.  Whether they want to be honest about it or not.  And so, they try to say we’re wrong or we need help, so they don’t have to deal with it.  Because acknowledging our pain requires an empathy they just don’t have.

I do still have a hard time forgiving my ex for that one.  But I’ve let it go.  Mostly because I suspect he is feeling (or will feel) something like what I’ve gone through eventually.  And I have no interest in shaming him for what he couldn’t know when he hadn’t gone through it.  I have often told friends who haven’t lost people really close to them that, while I appreciate their attempts to sympathize and understand–they can never really understand until they go through it.  At the same time, I don’t want them to go through it.

The only thing I share now is–please please please stop trying to make yourselves more comfortable by controlling other people’s pain.  It’s not okay.


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