Mourning my Mornings

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I’ve started to wonder why people fear the night and find comfort during the day. For the past weeks the dawn of a new day holds more terrors for me than the quiet solitude of twilight.  It had not always been so. I used to find dusk so forlorn and desolate, the slow goodbye of the sun sinking into the pallid blanket of the evening. Nowadays i find twilight restful and peaceful, the demise of the sun bringing with it the soothing comfort of anonymity, of escape. The darkness is welcome. Shadows hide a face swollen with tears shed in the stark blinding brightness of daylight and camouflage a heart wracked with guilt and doubt.

I used to love mornings. I loved waking up early to spend a few minutes staring at my sleeping husband’s face then getting up silently to prepare a breakfast that I would insist he share with me despite his protests that breakfast had never been a part of his morning rituals. I loved the smell of coffee brewing. It was a daily reminder that I had to wean Beau from his belief that 3-in-1 sachets can actually be considered a suitable replacement. I would take great care in setting our tiny table for two, obsessively insisting that we eat “proper”. There was love in a pretty looking meal, in beautifully made plates that brought out the sunny colors of food meant to jumpstart your day. I loved when he would wake up and just watch me while I puttered about, smiling a lazy smile as he wondered what all the fuss was for when he could just as easily enjoy a breakfast straight out of a cereal box.  There was comfort and reassurance in starting the day together, basking in the comfort of each others presence, sharing each others plans and knowing that the day ahead would end peacefully in each others arms come nightfall.

Our days had settled into a routine, but they were never simply habitual or mechanical. Beau had defined my mornings. He smelled of sunshine, of trees, of wind and song. Even in sleepy grumpiness he always managed to make me smile, for he was mine to keep, mine to care for, mine to spoil, to serve, to love. It was the rest of the day that to me was routine and uninteresting. Events animate and gain color only when I was back with him in the evening. It is at home, tired from the workday and from climbing,  armed with stories to tell, tales of the successes and failures of the day, that everything comes to life. He was genuinely interested in me, happy for me, angry for me, sad with me. And when he would share his day I would find calm in his joy and simplicity, in his ability to be happy with the most mundane of things.  Back then it was sleep that I wanted to delay, to do away with if only it were possible. Because when I slip into slumber, no matter that I do so cocooned in his arms, I lose consciousness of the blessing of Beau that I had in my life. Before I slept I would already look forward to the morning, when I would rise and watch him sleeping, his chest rising and falling with the cadence of peace. A peace that shattered. So suddenly. So abruptly. So incomprehensibly.

Now, mornings terrify me. I am so mortified by the coming of day that I weep in my sleep during the night, my tears saline witnesses of nightmares that I cannot remember no matter how hard I try. When I speak of panic, I mean panic. My heartbeat races like I’ve run a marathon instead of having come from a rest meant to prepare me for the day ahead. I cannot breathe and I am attacked with severe anxiety from the fluidity of the hours that lie in front of me. I feel pressured at any thought of things I have to do and I feel pressured at the thought of not knowing what to do. It is like waking up having to make a daily decision that is neither wrong nor right, left or right, here nor there. It is waking up afraid because there is nowhere to be, nowhere to go yet nowhere to stay. It feels like standing on a razor’s edge, afraid to fall yet desperately praying that someone, something would tip me over one side or the other, to tell me where I should be, where I belong, where I am organic. My chest fills full to bursting knowing that even those who love me would not really care as much where I end up. At least never as much as a husband who is half of me in spirit.  To ask me to make my own decisions on what to do and where I should be feels almost cruel. It is mocking torture. Because in my heart I knew I was meant to be making a breakfast for my life’s champion.

Even the memories of our nighttime conversations are now poisoned. When once they gave color to my otherwise mechanical day, they are now memories of signs I missed, of things I regret not having understood.  Instead of the joy and simplicity that I had seen in his smiles I now remember the days when he would come home frustrated and angry about things that were just as “simple”. I now remember his inability to see solutions and possibilities, how each problem sounded so insurmountable. They were moments, that were fleeting and seemingly insignificant. They were challenges that were Lilliputian to anyone not haunted by the ghosts that I now know plagued him. And he was a master at hiding. I realize now I was only privileged to have been let into his private world, the darkest parts of which he kept only to himself.  I wonder daily if it was something I should have caught, something that shouldn’t have escaped my notice, if it were somehow a lack of attention on my part that had disabled me from saving him from self destruction. But was it a crime for me to have seen the smiles instead of the frustrations? Was it a mistake to have seen what was whole in his simplicity instead of its brokenness when it was Beau himself who taught me to be grateful for all things given?

I mourn for my Beau. I mourn for my Beau-tiful mornings. I am angry that I am accused of choosing to dwell on my misery. I am frustrated at being asked to simply make a decision to get better.  What I would give to not have to wake up afraid to live another day. What I would give to wake up refreshed from a full night of undisturbed sleep. What I would give to find joy in delicate tableware, in matching placemats, in coffee brewed to aromatic perfection. My mornings are no longer those I have come to know. I wake up in a place cluttered with boxes of my married life just waiting to be put aside. I reach out desperately, repeatedly, for help in the mornings and know that sometimes there is no help to be found. Then I take it one minute at a time until I am embraced by the velvet ebony of night.

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My argument with God: Where are you?

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I never really knew what loneliness meant until my husband Beau passed away.

I am luckier than most. Lost as I am in my grief I can feel the love and support around me. In many ways, one can say I am never really alone. But deep inside, in that place where blood, bone and sinew cease to define us; where time, space and matter cannot reach, there is an aching loneliness that is beyond our humanity to comfort. The loneliness is intangible, something that cannot be experienced through touch, sight, taste, sound or smell; and yet, it brings an almost physical pain. It is the pain of the spirit, as real yet as abstract as the soul. And yet I wonder, in that place that no human love could reach, where do we seek salvation? Where do we seek relief from our suffering?

Beau was a faithful, prayerful man. I am certain, that in those dark days in his life when nothing I said was enough to comfort him, when my love was not enough to heal his defeated spirit, he had turned to God. Is it not God whom we were taught loved us so much that His love humbles our human love? So, where was God when Beau needed him the most? My spiritual pain is irrefutable and proves that intangibility does not mean non-existence. But if God is as real as this pain then where was he?

In the weeks following Beau’s death I had parked my argument with God. I was too busy being human to deal with abstract realities. I felt almost ashamed to pray, knowing that in my heart I questioned. But pray I did… perhaps by rote. Perhaps by blind faith, imprinted as it was by my Catholic upbringing. In fact, I don’t think I have ever prayed so hard in my life. I prayed from a place of desperation rather than hope. I was told to keep my faith, to believe that God would help me through this, that Beau was in a better place right now because of God’s love. I would nod, smile, cry. Too tired to argue. Too confused to even know how to express my doubts. If I were to understand and accept God as real, then I needed to have something to anchor my belief. Something more than abstruse promises of a heaven too far removed from my present reality to appreciate. Something that makes sense within my human limitations.

I’ve been living like a robot, mechanically going through the motions of trying to understand suicide, poring through biological explanations on genetics and clinical depression, seeking counselors, doctors, priests… Even my tears feel automatic, with someone else playing with the switch. When my questions of science and biology have found answers somewhat I begin looking for something tangible in the intangible. I search for proof that there is something more than this life, something that continues more than his death, something that would give me a reason, a desire to survive. I’ve gotten absorbed in myself, looking inwardly to look for answers, summoning all my faculties of logic and intellect, following relationships of cause and effect. I am imploding with the burden of guilt, the burning need to answer why and the frustration coming from a helplessness I refuse to accept. I am exploding in desperation, reaching out to friends, strangers, anybody who would give me the time of day. I write without editing, words spilling out  like a fountain of blood from an artery severed over and over again, my thoughts running too fast to capture, keyboard a frantic clicking, as if a thought left unwritten would mean the loss of the opportunity for understanding. There is a mania about me.

I am in fear and I am running. I am running from the questions that hound me. No, not the questions brought about by the death of a beloved husband, but the questions I need to ask now that I am left behind.

Who am I if not a wife defined by the love of a man? Why does his loss destroy me?

Who am I if not a strong, intelligent woman defined by success in work? Why do I not allow myself to cry and heal today because I fear what my peers would say tomorrow?

Who am I if not the dutiful friend, sensitive and caring to others? Why am I ashamed to show weakness, to ask to be carried, to admit defeat?

WHO AM I? I asked the question. I had no choice. I’ve cycled and reached the end of my tether. I’ve run out of gas.

Then there I found myself. In that dark place where no man can comfort me, where I am helpless as a babe in the womb, where my spirit is stripped naked and cold. Where I can only assume my Beau was, desperately praying for salvation. And again I ask, where are you God? Beau was here and now I am, and still where are you?

There was nothing else to do but surrender. I threw in the towel and stopped fighting. I let the wings of sadness embrace me. I wept and still weep like there is no tomorrow. I am helpless. I cannot see beyond today. All I could do was ask my questions and pray… pray to an absent God for answers.

I questioned if Beau was at peace, if he was able to leave behind the suffering for which he took his life in order to escape. I questioned if there was truly life after death or if all consciousness ceased the moment he took his last breath. But if there is no life after death then he is now simply gone. And there can be no suffering when one is non-existent. If there is, then he would be in the hands of God. And if God is real, as we have been taught, then he is an ever loving God, as we had been taught; with a love far greater than mine can ever be. If so, then either way Beau would be okay. There is no certainty, none at all. But it offers sense and that offers peace.

I questioned why I had to go through this suffering? Why me? But then again, why NOT me?  If there was no God, no consequences, if everything were random then what is the point of living? So if one is to continue living, as I do, then we need to believe that there is a purpose for everything. That somehow, things happen for a reason, that there is such a thing as cause and effect. There is no certainty, none at all. But it offers sense and that offers peace.

I questioned why I continued to pray, despite my lack of proof, despite my anger, despite my doubts. My answer sounded shallow and embarrassing, even to myself. I prayed for Beau and his soul, I prayed for peace and strength just in case there was a God. I realize now that it was then, when I had thrown all logic and sense to the wind, when my only answer was JUST IN CASE, that what I believed in my heart to be true had begun to show. And in those prayers, left undefended and without explanation, I had exhibited a glimmer of hope — not from my mind but from somewhere deeper, from something intangible, from an indefatigable spirit.

I questioned who I am, when I am stripped naked of everything I use to define myself to be. I questioned who I am if not a wife, a daughter, an employee, a friend. I am soul. I am spirit. And from where do souls come from? Where do spirits begin their existence? Not from an egg, a sperm or any biological process we have come to know. If we humans then are not our creators, then who is? Perhaps God exists after all. There is no certainty, none at all. But it makes sense and that offers peace.

Where are you God? Perhaps, it is exactly there, in the gaps of our lives that you are. It is in this moment of absolute emptiness that i had begun to talk to you more, holding on to nothing more than hopeful faith. Faith that you exist. Faith that my beloved is safe and happy and alive with you. Faith that the promise of your love, your existence, your protection is more than just something imagined to give purpose to an otherwise meaningless existence.

In the end the answers to my questions lie in the reality of the pain in my soul. It is not a physical pain but a pain in the core of my being that no human love can reach. The loneliness in my soul is real. It is a certainty it exists, as surely as God must exist. It makes sense, and that offers peace.

They say it is through suffering that we experience God. I now know why. Dear God, HELP ME THROUGH.

Was Beau’s death his choice?

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I wanted to hit him.

In the 4 years we’ve lived together I had never felt the urge so strongly. Bile rose bitterly in my throat and the room began to sway in front of me. My heart was pounding so strongly it felt like it would leap out of my chest at any second. Whatever sense I still had about me went into stopping my fist from swinging across space and hitting that perfectly aristocratic nose of his. Instead I heard myself scream.

It was a scream unlike any other I’ve experienced. It sounded cavernous inside me. As if my body and flesh had muffled the anguish and anger and allowed nothing more than broken sobs and a pathetic, tinny whining. But inside, I screamed so loudly I could have sworn my insides could have combusted into a bloody visceral mess. How dare he lie there, his handsome face frozen forever in an expression that would have been peaceful had it not been marred by the thick angry red ligature mark on his neck, left by the rope he had chosen to use to end his life.

If anybody would have morbidly conjured up how Beau would execute a suicide, they would have predicted exactly that —- a death by hanging so technically proficient it left no room for error. From his Jujitsu sessions he knew that cutting off his air supply would put him to sleep and that he would be unconscious when the throes of death claimed him. He knew the kermantle rope can hold many times his weight and that his expertly tied knots would hold. He had tied them many times before, oddly enough to make sure that his life and the lives of others would never be in danger. Indeed it was the way Beau would have chosen to do it.

That made me livid. It made my blood boil so badly I felt pressure in my brain.  How dare he? How dare he plan this so methodically, without thought or care to me, his mother, his siblings, his friends? How can he choose so predictably how to do something that none of us could have predicted?  Everyday, I still continue to see his body lying on that cold, sterile pan. I hear my brothers repeat our questions and our composed answers in a mad attempt to make sense of an act so senseless and sudden. I see his mom crying from a pain I cannot claim to own… the pain of a mother who is forced to bury her son; forced not by the laws of nature, not through illness or old age, but by her son’s own choosing.

But anger immediately turned to despair and disbelief, and then to a search for understanding. My fist unclenched with helplessness and I reached to hold his lifeless hand, as if I needed to feel the marble coldness to convince me of reality.  And reality begs the question: Did he really have a choice? Is it not unreal for any human to court his mortality when what is natural is to fight for self preservation? If so, then what would push someone to “choose” to defy nature?

It is an aberration, to be sure. And yet I wonder, what kind of unfathomable mental illness denies us of the freedom of choice? Is a rogue synapse in the deepest part of his brain to blame? Was he somewhat like an epileptic or an autistic child who have no control over the movements of their bodies? What physiological process can weed out love and everything positive and leave and magnify only the thoughts and feelings that cause the loss of hope?

I burn. I burn with anger. I burn with the need to know. I burn with a quest for knowledge of this intangible disease, if disease indeed it is.  While I am still in the process of finding my peace, I came across something that gives me temporary comfort. I share it below:

Suicide is Not a Choice: People Who Die by Suicide Do Not Choose to Die

by Kevin Caruso

People do not choose to have clinical depression.

People do not choose to have bipolar disorder.

People do not choose to have schizophrenia.

People do not choose to have cancer.

People do not choose to have post-traumatic stress disorder

People do not choose to have obsessive-compulsive disorder.

People to not choose to have tourette’s syndrome.

People do not choose to be autistic.

People do not choose to have seasonal affective disorder.

People do not choose to have heart disease.

People do not choose to have dysthymia.

People do not choose to have narcolepsy.

People do not choose to have muscular dystrophy.

People do not choose to have Alzheimer’s disease.

People do not choose to have dementia.

People do not choose to have anxiety attacks.

People do not choose to have delusions.

People do not choose to have psychosis.

People do not choose to have phobias.

People do not choose to be paralyzed.

People do not choose to have migraine headaches.

People do not choose to be victims of crime.

Children do not choose to be bullied.

Children do not choose to be sexually molested.

Children do not choose to be abused.

Women do not choose to be brutally beaten by their husbands.

Women do not choose to have postpartum depression.

Women do not choose to be raped.

People do not choose to be discriminated against.

People do not choose to be mistreated.

So why do some people think that people choose to die by suicide?

Answer: ignorance.

Many people (including some who are supposed to be “professionals” in the area of suicide, psychology, and religion) maintain the misguided, ignorant, outdated — and idiotic — belief that people “choose” suicide.

Over 90 percent of the people who die by suicide have a mental illness at the time of their death. And the vast majority of those mental illnesses are untreated, under-treated, or not properly treated.

People who die by suicide are not thinking clearly — and they cannot possibly think clearly — because their brain is not functioning properly at the time they pass away from suicide.

Their brain is giving them overwhelming signals to die.

They have a chemical imbalance in their brain, are in extreme emotional pain, and their mind is saying “you must die by suicide to end this.”

Again — it is an overwhelming condition.

They do not “choose” do die — their mental illness causes them to die — just like some people die from heart disease, cancer, or other things that are out of their control.

And every time an ignorant person makes the statement that “people choose to die by suicide” the stigma of suicide is perpetuated.

Let me draw an analogy between suicide and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD): People with OCD have recurrent, overwhelming, obsessive thoughts that compel them to act in ways that others do not understand. For instance, a person with OCD may believe that his or her house is contaminated — even though it is immaculately clean — and thus compulsively washes his or her hands to get rid of the “germs.”

So do people who are otherwise very intelligent simply “choose” to wash their hands 500 times a day?

No.

They have a disorder and need treatment.

Now, someone with severe depression — and untreated depression is the number one cause for suicide — has a similar signal that their brain is sending to them, and that signal is this: you must die by suicide.

That “signal” is incessant and overwhelming.

Again, the person does not “choose” suicide; the mental illness causes the suicide.

One more time: People do not choose suicide; their mental illness causes the suicide.

People who die by suicide are strong, intelligent, loving, caring people — who happen to have a mental illness.

And there should be no stigma whatsoever associated with that mental illness — regardless of what it is — as well as no stigma associated with suicide.

The people who do not understand these basic, irrefutable truths about suicide are part of a serious problem — and that problem is ignorance. And, unbelievably, many psychologists, psychiatrists, suicidologists, and members of the clergy are part of this problem — and thus they actually perpetuate stigma instead of fighting it!

So, don’t be part of the problem. Share your understanding about suicide with others, and help combat this ignorance.

And be as supportive, helpful, and understanding as possible to suicide survivors. They deserve our unconditional love.

And always remember this: People who die by suicide do not choose to die, they have a mental illness — and it is the mental illness that causes them to pass away.

Ordinary

I considered adding those words, “the ordinary instant”. I saw immediately that there would be no need to add the word “ordinary”, because there would be no forgetting it: the word never left my mind. It was in fact the ordinary nature of everything preceding the event that prevented me from truly believing it had happened, absorbing it, incorporating it, getting past it. I recognize now that there was nothing unusual in this: confronted with sudden disaster we all focus on how unremarkable the circumstances were in which the unthinkable occurred, the clear blue sky from which the plane fell, the routine errand that ended on the shoulder with the car in flames, the swings where the children were playing as usual when the rattlesnake struck from the ivy. —- Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking.

Still can’t bear to read continuously, but getting there slowly. A year after, I have just begun to pick up the pieces of my blissfully ordinary life. It feels extra ordinary to me. I feel extra tired, extra bored, extra pressured, extra indecisive and extra lost. You cannot imagine how extra lonely this feels, when everyone around me has assumed I’ve gone back to normal. But I will never go back to normal. It’s different now. After what happened my life needs to be EXTRAORDINARY. Aye, there’s the rub…Image

The Cobra Ironman 70.3: A promise fulfilled

BEGINNING THE JOURNEY

To finish the Ironman 70.3 began as someone else’s dream. It was the dream of a man who had always believed that when it came to physical training, everything could be achieved with discipline and perseverance. Beau lived a life on the edge and when he set his goals on something, he focused with such precision that it left little room for error, much less failure. It was no wonder then that he looked the part. He had molded his body like clay, with every part sculpted patiently; belly flat from a thousand crunches, back and arms strong from the long hours traversing the walls and climbing up inclines.

I on the other hand was the complete opposite. I shared the passion for sports and the competitive spirit, but instead of willpower, I had the willfulness, patience and sweet tooth of a seven-year old child. I didn’t like extended periods of pain. Competitive sport climbing suited me. Although it required long hours at the gym, training required short bursts of power, not the long heart squeezing, slow burn pain of cardio training.

When Beau first suggested we do a full marathon together, I just said yes because I thought it would eventually erase my hatred of running. Oh how I hated running. It was a program that required 6 months of training, training that my mind seemed to consciously reject. There was always an excuse — my job, my health, and family responsibilities. Come race day I was nowhere near prepared for it. But it was our first year anniversary as a married couple and I imagined it wouldn’t do at all to have a husband rendered romantically incapable by running his first 42km while I waited around twiddling my thumbs. I might as well run with him. I decided to run one loop of 21km with him then wait for him when he gets to the finish after completing the full Monty. I ended up suffering through the entire 42km. But I did it. He told me then, as he hugged me, tears streaming down my face, that he always believed in me. “You could do whatever you set your mind to babe,” he said beaming. “You just have to start believing”. I lived in the afterglow of that accomplishment for weeks.

One day, months later, he told me he wanted to go into triathlon. I told him I would support him all the way, as I always have in all of his endeavors. When he told me he wanted us to do it together I smiled brokenly and told him there was no way I had the confidence to swim, bike and, God forbid, run in a flimsy piece of lycra. It was bad enough that I have lived my life being the overweight athlete, the one who surprised everyone with an above average performance not because it was truly amazing but simply because I just did not look the part. But my husband had a dream and I was not the one to stand in his way. We found ourselves at a Century Tri Hard triathlon clinic shortly after. And the rest was sharply bitter history.

THE PROMISE

On the day of valor, while the nation celebrated courage and heroism, my handsome, adventurous husband took his own life; defeated by a foe that nobody saw coming. It was like a fog that descended heavily into our lives, as if our happiness was a farce and we were mere puppets pulled by the universe with strings that we did not know existed. I wrote his eulogy in a daze, more eloquent than I have ever been. And in those final words I made a promise — I would finish the Ironman 70.3 for him. I knew that to him it would mean more than finishing a race. It meant I would have begun to have faith in myself, something he promised me he would spend a lifetime helping me gain. I never imagined a lifetime would be so short. And if a lifetime were so, then 6 months felt like nothing. Before I knew it, it was time.

A RAINY RACE DAY

When you make a promise like mine, the thought of not being able to fulfill it summons demons of extraordinary power. In the week running up to the Ironman I could barely sleep. My stomach felt permanently out of whack, my throat sticky and dehydrated and my mind kept serving images of failure. I was haunted by all the reasons why I would not be able to finish the race, all the hours of training that I had missed, my inability to change a flat on the fly. It didn’t help that I was booked in the city, 30 kilometers away from the race venue and that my bike, although also in Mactan, was on the other side of the island. Post-race my parents and my brother in law, who had raced with me, would be parroting lessons learned. First, arrive at least 2 days early to get a handle on logistics. Second, triathlon is an expensive sport. Book at or near the race venue even if economics has turned your dream into a cash cow. Third, no matter how anal one can get about preparations, things can always go bonkers on race day.

The one thing that is predictably unpredictable is the weather. While I am sure all 2,000 athletes prepared to bake in the heat of the southern sun, I doubt even half of us were prepared to handle the sudden squall. The night before, I stared out into the burgeoning swells of the sea from a hotel room balcony. Memories of a time not so long ago, when I bawled like a baby from fear of sea creatures and drowning in the open sea, came flooding towards me the way the water pounded the sand below. Whatever will be, will be.

THE SWIM

It was a riot. The water seemed calm enough when I dipped alongside the throng of athletes trying to expend nervous energy and warm up before the gun start. But when it was our turn to begin, the waves decided to up the ante and give us something of a challenge. We marched shoulder to shoulder like cattle being herded towards the starting line, which apparently was a string of small buoys 50 meters offshore. We looked like a bunch of yellow and pink apples bobbing in a bucket on a stormy Halloween day. I didn’t actually even hear anything. I lost all sense of direction. I concentrated on keeping calm while I floated up and down on what felt like titanic swells. Then just like that I was in the middle of a frenzy of flailing arms and legs going I knew not where. The buoy line had all but disappeared. I had no choice. It was follow the throng, find a space to swim or sink to the depths. I muscled my way through those first 200 meters. My heat rate was racing and I feared I was expending too much energy too early on. But I didn’t even know where the buoys were. If I chose to stop I wouldn’t even know what to hang on to. I might as well swim. I swam hard. Eventually I found my little space of calm, found my rhythm and began to slice methodically through the water. Periodically I would be alone in the deep, swimming too far from any warm bodies, then without knowing how, I would find myself in the middle of another group of arms, elbows and kicking legs and I would have to disentangle myself, propel myself through until I found my own space again. I have never wanted to get out of the swim so badly. I was out of the water a little over 40 minutes but it felt like so much longer.

THE BIKE

I have always loved a good bike ride. I loved to go fast. There was something so exhilarating about the wind on your face when you ride. In a mostly flat course I was more concerned about conserving as I had a tendency to lose myself in the moment and pedal with reckless abandon only to find myself nursing a creeping cramp before the run began. When I ride I feel free, the steady release of energy from muscle and sinew was empowering. Too soon, a pothole. And another. The smooth ride was over and I worried about the creaking and grinding of my complaining bike at each bump in the road that tried to slow me down. Thankfully there were a lot of distractions and the road conditions quickly relegated itself as a necessary evil I could do nothing about. There was also a lot of cheering from schoolchildren along the length of the road, probably promised a star on their little hands if they cheered for people they didn’t even know. There was also a lot screaming, this time from teenagers, mothers, cougars all beside themselves at the thought of catching a glimpse of “Mattio”, “Irwan”, and of course the iconic Papa P, who surprisingly, had the time and energy to smile and wave to everyone. The screaming followed him like a never-ending wave. Then silence.

I have mixed feelings about silence. It unnerves me at times because I wonder why I felt alone in a field of over a thousand athletes. I felt left behind and a part of me wondered where everyone else had gone. I busied myself trying to spot teammates and people I knew but they were few and far between. But I welcome the calm that the silence brings. It is when I truly enjoy the race, when I go back to who I am, why I am there and what I need to do to bring myself home. I make no apologies for being an emotional athlete. It is the well from which I draw from. I felt it strong, that headwind that I had been warned about for weeks. But it bothered me little. I consciously maintained my level of effort, looked to the sea, colors dead from cloud filtered light. I would sigh, stretch, hunker back down and continue spinning.

The specter of the Marcelo-Fernan Bridge was intimidating. While it was a beacon that heralded the end of a long ride, it loomed in front of me like a circus clown ready to crack a joke at my expense and blow my confidence away. I loved the tunnel but I do not like hills. Hills are highway hold ups that rob me of my joy. It was frustrating to be pushing hard and not be gaining any speed. I could see the crowd, they waited and I just knew I would do anything not to walk. But sometimes what we imagine is worse that what is actually there. Before I knew it I was over the peak and on the way home.

I finished sub 3-hours on the bike. Surprised I readied myself slowly for my arch-nemesis, the 21km run.

THE RUN

I don’t understand why people don’t believe me when I say I cannot run. And to be honest, I don’t even know exactly why I can’t in the first place. Having finished 2 full marathons already, one would think I had made peace with running. Runners talk of the second wind, that moment when you breach the crest and you feel like you can keep running forever. I have never reached it. My peak is to realize that I refuse to continue panting like an asthmatic dog and give in to the need to stop. It is rarely my legs that give me trouble. I think I give up far too early for my muscles to feel the stress of overuse. Heck I started walking after 1.2 kilometers and began to execute a whim-driven run-walk strategy. Forget Mr. Galloway. Even his evenly paced intervals had no space in my defeated mind. This is it, I told myself. Barely two kilometers in and tears were pooling under my lids. 19 kilometers to go. It seemed impossible I would survive it. And to be honest, I don’t know how I did. At least the weather was perfect. Had it been as hot as we thought it would be, I felt like I would have dropped dead at the side of the road. Not because I was really that tired but because I thought it was all I could do.

I looked at the side of the road and focused on trees, people, other athletes, using anything and anyone as mental landmarks as to how far I had to run before I would allow myself to walk again. They were intervals of hardly more than 20 feet each; it was as far as I can imagine pushing myself. When the illusion of the constantly moving finish line failed to fool me, I would look at the crowd, concentrate on little details of their faces, strain my ears to listen to Visayan conversations I could not understand. The aid stations were little pockets of heaven. At least when I walked towards one I felt it was a valid excuse to stop running, unlike the constant walk breaks that my plan did not originally include. I can imagine my coach scratching his head at my lack of willpower. There I was again, the 7-year old child, more willful and impatient than focused and enduring. As always I got angry with myself, a virtual Gollum with an internal struggle that probably showed on my sweat-drenched brow. I carried on like that for most of the race. Physically capable but mentally crippled. People who had not even seen my behind during the bike began to pass me one by one, and with each of them went pieces of my shattered confidence.

It was the belief of others that again saved the day for me. Beau would have been shaking his head if he were there. Fellow triathletes, teammates and friends who would bump into me along the course and say I was doing a great job. They saw it. They said I looked strong. That I was well on my way to the finish. I smiled at them because I thought it was ironic, but at least I smiled. Before I knew it, I had hit the halfway mark and last 10 km did not seem so daunting anymore.

I picked up the pace, ran faster than I knew I should to make up for the walking I absolutely needed in between. It wasn’t ideal and was far from any plan a coach would advise me to do but it was all I had then. I remembered my last race and focused on my breathing. The kilometers fell away and there it was, Shangrila.

Shangrila is described as a secluded and mystical hideaway, a place of great beauty and peacefulness. In a way that was how it really felt for me. I ran as fast as I possibly can, mindless of those who passed me in the last 100 meters.

It took me 2:48 to finish 21km. But it didn’t really matter. All I knew was I was there. I was done. I had finished. J

I began this journey because my love for Beau was so encompassing that I couldn’t bear the thought of not fulfilling what was then his greatest aspiration. I crossed the finish line to fulfill someone else’s dream. But to me, the line had a more pregnant meaning.

To me it is the beginning. The birth of a hundred more dreams just waiting to be fulfilled, not for Beau but for me, and for all those that I hope to inspire as I continue my journey through life. I will forever feel an emptiness that Beau had been destined to drop out of the race. Why that had happened is between him and God. But for those of us who live, there are countless finish lines yet to be crossed. I still believe in rainbows. I still believe in love. I now believe in me.

Life is what we make it. Let’s not just be survivors, let’s live victoriously everyday. I know I will. LIFE IS GOOD.Image

A widow’s valentine

We were Valentine scrooges, Beau and I. Not because we didn’t believe in love but because we were too lazy to brave the traffic to go out on a date and found it insane to pay the sudden premium on roses, chocolates and things pink and red. But we did find it the perfect excuse to stay home and just enjoy each others company while eating trash disguised as cheesy, salty snackfood and sharp, bubbly, sugary soda. Today is Valentine’s day again, but all that is left for me are the things we avoided about it. The man I loved is no longer around to share the calories, to share the silence, to share the warmth of a priceless hug. I shouldn’t be affected actually. We never celebrated Valentine’s. But even the “non-celebration” is a memory of what once was and again, a reminder of what can no longer be and why that is so. The latter is the more painful, as no matter how beautifully my life turns out, the horror of the way he left will be remembered with questions unanswered.

I’ve gone on a standstill with my efforts to proactively deal with Beau’s loss. If in the months right after he passed away I wrote incessantly and read voraciously to equip myself for survival, in past months I’ve dealt with my pain through avoidance. I’ve stopped talking about him, stopped writing about him and refrained from thinking about him at all. Ive blocked my pain somewhat, hoping that Rhonda Byrne’s Secret would work and that i would attract happiness instead. And in a way it has helped me to cope. I seem happier. I’ve seen possibilities and began wishing for things again. That I suppose means I now believe there is a future. For one does not wish for things when one is devoid of hope. It makes me guilty though to be trying to forget. I feel like I am doing him a disservice although when I feel that I argue to myself that it is HE who did a disservice to me by leaving me widowed so young.

Valentine’s brings those thoughts to mind. It isn’t surprising that I feel more than a bit sick and nauseated today. And while I sit and pray at his crypt what comes to mind is the emptiness that he has left behind. I am sick to my stomach and I suspect it has something to do with the burning in my heart.

I miss being loved. I miss being number one in the eyes of another. I wish to tell everyone who gives the standard well meaning line that to love myself would be the most important thing for now to go to hell and go back into the loving embrace of their significant others. Leave me be. You do not understand and fear loneliness the way I do. I wish to be loved. Anyone who will judge me for that is of no importance to me in any form whatsoever.

I will love Beau forever. But he is also gone forever. And I refuse to live a lifetime alone.

Can You Think Your Way Out of a Depression?

I’m sorry I’ve been out of it for a while. I tried to keep myself from thinking about Beau too much. I thought it would go away. This horrible pain and loneliness. But it’s back. I spent so much time thinking about so many things. I spent so much time trying to make sense of it. I figured i should write it down. It would help because it helped me before. But I’ve become lazy. But I came across this article posted on my FB account from a friend of mine. It spoke to me. I wanna stop thinking but I’m wired that way. But reading this made me realize I might be digging myself into a deeper hole. I hope it helps someone out there too.Image

Can You Think Your Way Out of a Depression?

Think about it
Published on April 26, 2011 by Jonathan Rottenberg, Ph.D. in Charting the Depths

Whether it’s advanced language, ability to reflect upon the past and plan for the future, or our access to a rich shared culture, our unique human traits are usually a source of pride. But, in my last post, I explored the riddle of rising depression in humans. It seems that the same capabilities that enable our species to harness fire and put a man on the moon lead to self-defeating efforts to control low mood. Do our special cognitive capabilities play into a uniquely human pathway into depression?

A main function of low mood is to draw attention to threats and obstacles in unfavorable environments. The consequences are a pause in behavior and a more careful analysis of the environment. In humans, this analysis is more explicit than in a tiger or a tree shrew. Our advanced language ability permits construction of detailed theories about where painful feelings come from.

It’s natural to expect, “If I understand why I feel bad, I will know how to fix it.” Humans have unique powers of mental simulation (we don’t need to put our hand on a hot burner to know it would be a bad idea to touch). Although it’s easy to make fun of coulda, shoulda, woulda counterfactual thinking, our skill at understanding why bad things have happened helps us to prevent their recurrence. By forewarning ourselves, we are forearmed.

As a scientist who studies mood, I’m naturally all for the examined life. Insight-oriented psychotherapy, weekly talk therapy sessions with the guidance of an expert, can be helpful for depression. It’s also possible for a novice to think their way out of low mood and depression by themselves. But humans are not nearly as good at this as they think they are. Here are several pitfalls of trying to think your way out of a depression.

(1) Repetitively thinking about the causes and consequences of low mood can become habitual. Some people do it even when there aren’t significant challenges in the environment. Research shows that excessive use of this strategy, sometimes called rumination, is associated with depression.

(2) Our advanced language and ability to hold ideas in mind forms a dangerous echo chamber for mood. We are in a sense too good at meaning-making. We can easily think about the meaning of a troubling situation well after the situation has passed (my boss seems mad at me; maybe it was that email I sent three weeks ago?). A bad mood can prompt a potentially unlimited number of stories and implications. These may or may not be relevant to the source of the mood. The meaning-making machine might be doing its thing 24/7, in full overdrive, coming up with dozens of reasons for “why I am so blue?” All the while, low mood could be due to a thyroid deficiency, or some other “meaningless” source.

(3) People tend to be overconfident in the use of thought. It’s much easier to list these pitfalls than to recognize in the moment when thinking is not working. The belief that, “I can just think my way out of depression” comes partially from the fact that we humans solve so many other problems by thinking!

(4) Our meaning-making machine can get stuck.  The worst situation is when persistent thinking does not arrive at a stable theory of the problem, does not solve the problem, and cannot come to terms with the problem; it simply perseverates on the fact of the problem.

(5) As time wears on, the focus of analysis turns away from a problematic environment to a problematic self. This escalating-self-focus is far from benign.  A chimpanzee does not lie awake at night thinking, “I am a terrible mother.” A human does. The next day startssleep deprived, with a mood hangover and little new wisdom won. What started out as an environmental analysis ends up as vicious deconstruction of the self.

(6) Repetitive thinking on the failings of the self is associated with a deepening of depression. Again, this exposes a unique human vulnerability. A dog does not ask itself, “why can’t I just get over this?” or “why am I so weak?” An elaborate conceptual self puts us at greater risk for serious depression when sustained analysis of mood holds the thinker at fault. It’s as if we humans are constantly playing an action film of our own life in our heads. When times are good, we are the hero; when they are bad, we are the villian of the piece.

(7) Once the meaning-making machine is up and running, it’s harder to change gears than you might expect. Our meaning-making machine does not respond to the easy advice, like “snap out of it” or “stop thinking about it”. One must be quite clever to avoid getting sucked into a spiral of negative thoughts. Talk is cheap. Totally squelching mood-relevant thoughts is almost impossible once a serious depression has taken hold. Rather, the trick is to critically engage your thoughts without getting embroiled in them. Some people figure out how to do this on their own. Others use several therapies such as acceptance, mindfulness, or cognitive behavioral –all of which involve techniques for turning down the volume on the verbal meaning analyzer. The goal: To become a detached spectator of your own mind. As you learn how to stand apart from your stream of nasty cognitions, you can question them as they occur, a first step in reclaiming thought for psychological health.

The Knots Prayer

Dear God, Please untie the knots that are in my mind, my heart, my life.

Remove the can nots, the have nots and the do nots that I have in my mind

Erase the will nots, may nots and might nots that might find a home in my heart.

Release me from the could nots, would nots and should nots that obstruct my life.

And most of all Dear God I ask my mind, my heart and my life , all the ‘AM NOTS’

that I have allowed to hold me back, especially the thought that I am not good enough.

AMEN

Author known to God

Mockery of a Vacation Leave

“Oh! Really? Aaaaaahhhhhhh…”

Awkward silence. Inner struggle. Brain shifting. Gears cranking. Losing self control. Eyebrow raises. Itching to ask. Cannot help self.

“So if you’re not working then what have you been doing then?” 

I find it almost hilarious how some people around me react when they find out I have asked my office for an extended leave. I’ve come to expect the bewildered look on their faces. I can tell from the slow creasing of their foreheads how puzzling it is for them that I, always put together, responsible and dependable, would choose to simply wallow in my grief and misery and decide to do NOTHING. Once I answered back to say I was doing a lot and received another bewildered “Like what?”. Hysterical! Makes me wonder what they think my grieving is like. Do they imagine me sitting batty in a bathroom corner, twirling a strand of imaginary long hair, feeling sorry for myself all day? I imagine they would expect the old me to be more productive than that. Time is a wasting. And it won’t help me to allow myself to drown in sorrow. Indeed. I know it. And I am fighting tooth and nail to fish myself out of this quagmire.

As it turns out, when your life gets turned upside down in an instant there is an insane amount of work to be done. Let me begin with what is tangible and physical. Beau and I were married. We lived our own life, in our own little home. There, in our humble studio we’ve kept the stuff of our lives that describe who we are. There is the stuff that show the things we loved to do together. Ropes, harnesses, carabiners, chalk bags, rock shoes, a crash pad that doubled as an extra mattress when we had friends too drunk to even get out the door. On our refrigerator door is a chaotic display of magnets collected from places we’ve traveled to, small reminders of experiences shared, people we’ve met, cultures we’ve learned and appreciated. There was a lot of space left for more magnets, space that spoke of future dreams, space that allowed for possibilities, for the growth of love and wisdom that should have accompanied what i thought was a certainty of graying hair, facial wrinkles, sagging body parts and the smell of liniment. Our pantry is a picture of our duality, painted by packs of rolled oats, whole grain cereals, skim milk and a variety of herbs and spices sitting uncomfortably beside Beau’s party sized packs of chips, instant noodles, bottles of insanely hot pepper sauce, soy sauce, fish sauce, fish paste and other liquids that guarantee a gall bladder surgery at some point in the future. Shopaholics that we were, our cabinets were full to bursting with dry-fit shirts, running shorts, cycling jerseys, and jackets. How he loved jackets. He would obsess and discuss excitedly the benefits of tape sealed seams, the differences between a parka, a windbreaker, a fleece. I had always wondered in bewilderment what we would do with all of them, in a tropical country where I honestly would rather enjoy the rain on my face rather than rivulets of sweat. But he had them all, in brands that branded him, us, as members of a proud fraternity of outdoor adventurers. He had taken most of his clothes when he had left to search for answers, but still, now that he is gone, I am left with the task of discovering what has been left behind.

Storing a past, present and future is no easy task. And while there are kind souls who have helped me pack away, I am alone in the pain brought by each memory attached to every material thing that disappeared into those boxes. I sat and cried while friends wrapped our matching dinnerware in newspapers, to go into the box where the fine cutlery gifted to us during our wedding had already gone. A wedding still so fresh in my memory that the end of a marriage seemed like the most grievous of lies. I sat and smelled every stray shirt of his we found in the closet and despaired when I was told to let go and put it in the pile we were going to hand over to his brothers. Better for them to be used instead of constantly cried on, I was told. Let go, they say. In the bathroom I smiled sadly as I gathered up the badges of his vanity; bottles of men-specific toner, facial wash, moisturizer and after shave.

Weeks after, the boxes clutter up my old bedroom in my parents home where I’ve moved back into. And still, our apartment remains unoccupied, with still a few more boxes of things left behind as I have still been unable to get myself to go back and completely close shop.  It simply takes up too much energy to re-arrange a life. Moving days are usually exciting even while stressful. They usually mark a new beginning. I too have a new beginning. But to begin from where I started is understandably different. It’s like having to start from the beginning when you’ve already gained momentum. It takes time. Packing takes time. Unpacking takes time. And trying to hold myself together while doing all of this takes time. How much time? I’m only starting to find out. Days for sure. Weeks just as likely. So no, I’m not on leave simply because I am lazy. I truly am just more than a little unwell.

Trying to heal my fractured psyche takes up a lot of time and energy as well. Going to therapy has been helping me immensely but it exhausts me just as much as running a marathon, with the endorphin rush replaced by a feeling of release brought about by a waterfall of tears and boxes of used tissue. After two hours of pouring your heart out one is left bleeding and raw, as if every integument, both clothing and skin, are stripped from you and you are left naked as the day you were born. Imagine dissecting your soul, layer by layer, peeling off year after year, trying to get to the bottom of the mysteries that magnify the pain of your loss. It takes time to go back in time, to revisit dreams and childhood experiences in the hopes of healing wounds long left untended. Old wounds I never thought I even had until a loss so colossal brought them all to surface.  The sessions are so physically and emotionally draining that I have been asked to refrain from driving, to start taking medication to regulate my sleep, to meditate and pray and the most difficult of all, to abstain from thinking too much.

Aside from therapy there are visits to the doctor for medication. I’ve had to resort to a cocktail of anti-anxiety pills and anti-depressants to control my morning panic attacks, ones that began to visit me daily the second consciousness returns after a night of restless slumber. As it turns out, getting the cocktail right is an exercise in trial and error, with some combinations requiring up to a month before we can evaluate results. The first try was a nightmare, with the sleep medication leaving me completely lethargic. I would sit in our darkened den, refusing to leave the house which left me alone with my thoughts all day and night. It is a dangerous thing to be taking drugs that are supposed to help alleviate depression when you can read labels and research on the net and find out that results could be the complete opposite, with some side effects causing an increased risk of suicide from the depression that it was trying to cure in the first place. I have increased respect and compassion for psychiatrists who carry the burden of healing diseases that are hardly tangible, where medication is so personalized that science can only guide and not necessarily provide.

I’ve had to take care of my spirit as well, and a good number of hours are spent in the company of a Jesuit priest who patiently listens as I process my anger at God, my questions on life after death and my search for meaning and purpose now that the love of my life is dead.

I feel my hackles rise defensively when it is even insinuated that I am milking the situation for what it is worth, using it as an excuse for a break. I would rather be shackled hand and foot to my office chair rather than be on this mockery of a vacation. What kind of happy holiday would it be when shopping becomes a compulsion brought about by the need to fill a void nothing can ever satiate? What time would you have to enjoy when half the day is spent deciding what to do because thoughts paralyze you so much they render you incapable of movement for hours on end? Thoughts can be like sticky spiderwebs that keep you rooted in space while time continues to flow. How I would rather spend my hard earned money tanning on a beach with my well built husband, rather than spending my leaves and salary on professional fees and feel good pills.

Unfortunately surviving my husband’s suicide is so much more than doing nothing. It takes so much of everything inside me that it leaves little room for anything outside of me. If there was any valid excuse for self-centeredness it is this. It takes work to find one’s center after you’ve been rocked violently at the core of your being. It is like having your insides rocked by a cataclysmic earthquake so massive it is beyond the Richter scale.

There is nothing I would like more than to gain stability and recover enough of my old self to go back to doing the things expected of me. my employers deserve nothing less and I expect nothing less of myself. But time seems of the essence, especially when nothing, not even the loss of a stable, well paying job can compare to the loss of a future I was so excited for that we celebrated it with a promise in front of God and loved ones, balloons, ribbons, confetti and yards of white indian satin, in a place with a view so breathtaking that it deserved to be captured both in celluloid and digital. My marriage was meant to last a lifetime. I’ve been on leave for a total of two months give or take. Perhaps it is but fair to give me a break.