“You’re so strong!” If I had a minute for every time I heard it, I would live forever. Which is exactly what I didn’t want to be doing in those early months when everyone kept telling me how strong I was. The truth is – I was numb, shook, exhausted and unfairly required to put one foot in front of the other. It took a long time for that numbness to wear off. For me, months that fed into year two. I was on auto pilot. Focusing on required tasks and doing the things I needed to survive. Survival mode saved my life – but it’s not a place you can live forever. It’s a temporary place where you can create habits that simply get you through the day. I remember sitting down on the kitchen floor and sobbing after unloading the dishwasher one day then taking myself for a walk. Re-building after loss literally starts at ground zero. It’s deciding to get out from under the cold water when you have been sitting in a stand-up shower for an hour. It’s re-learning how to get through the minute and day.
Keeping myself present with each string of sadness was one of the habits I created during that period. When I had people telling me to “keep busy” I wanted to scream. Throwing myself into work to flee the pain would have just pushed it down the line. Just moving my body helped. I’d breathe it in and lean into the pain because I knew it was the only way to release it. When I got home, the sadness was still there, but I had given myself permission to feel what I needed to. If I couldn’t do that – the people that were mistaking my numbness for strength definitely wouldn’t have been able to.
To be truthful, I haven’t had many aha moments in the last few years. I just started moving towards the activities and people that felt OK. And I say OK and not “Amazing!” or “Magical!” because the sadness overwhelmed me, sometimes it still does. Even through despair, we recognize that the days will keep coming. My life was chugging forward no matter how desperately I didn’t want space between me and the life I once had.
So, what felt OK? I started small. Going for walks or a yoga class, being immensely grateful for the coffee that got me there, spending time with the people who show up for me. Some days it is just about acknowledging myself for getting out of bed and showering at all. Eventually, these little feats evolve, getting out of bed becomes a little easier and you start thinking about what tomorrow might bring.
Suffering fundamentally changes you. You WILL grow. Only 10% of our long-term happiness is based on the external world. 90% of our happiness is based on how our brains process life. Think about that – 90% of our happiness comes from how we see the world and react to the parts not in our control. Re-training our brain starts with the choices we make in our the day to day. The little stuff that becomes our foundation as life flows. Practicing gratitude, moving our bodies, connecting with nature and fueling our ourselves healthy foods all create clarity as we face the tough decisions ahead.
Despair is inevitable – it will come in different forms for us all. Trust when I say I have thought about ending my life. Although I’m not naturally a depressed person, I have seen the deepest and darkest part of myself – and humanity. At times, closing the space between Iggy and I was my singular want. Establishing healthy habits when I was numb gave me a pattern I could fall back on when the grief really digs in. When reality of my new life hit me hard and my usual hunger and passion became non-existent, those habits pulled me through. A hunger for happiness will ebb and flow, like grief, but the basic building blocks that give us balance during the high highs and low lows are the little things we do for ourselves daily.
“When I was 5 years old my mother told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up and I said “happy”. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment. I told them they didn’t understand life”. – John Lennon