Thursday, 6 October 2016

The future doesn't exist

I went back to see my old therapist last week. It was a routine follow-up from the sessions I had when we were together. She was the one who was helping me to trust again, who encouraged me to take a chance on love with you. She told me that no-one is perfect, that nothing is permanent. Love is like a cup of coffee, she said. It always ends. Someone will always leave or die. All we can do is enjoy the coffee while it lasts. When you died, she acknowledged that she didn't expect my coffee break to be so short.  (I'm not sure if I ever told her that I don't like coffee.)

I start crying as soon as I walk through the door, remembering all the conversations we have had in this room about you.  I cry as I tick the boxes on the routine form asking me how often in the last two weeks I have felt anxious, or sad or hopeless (most days, every day). I cry when she asks me if I think a lot about you (most of the day, every day). I cry as my pen hovers over that box that asks if I have had thoughts that I would be better off dead, as I explain that I have no plan to kill myself (I love my children) but that, often, when I am exhausted and drowning in waves of sorrow, I still have that thought that I would rather not be here anymore. Dead would be easier than living with this pain. It is natural, surely, to want to be with your loved one and dead is where you are. I cry when she tells me that my scores are lower than when I started seeing her eighteen months ago, that, according to some clinical diagnostic criteria, I am suffering from moderate to severe depression, that my anxiety levels are high. She suggests anti-depressants and some online CBT. I leave feeling worse than when I went in. I'm not just grieving anymore. I'm now mentally ill. Someone in some central NHS office has created a downloadable test that tells me so. It must be true.

I try not to let it get to me but I wonder again if I should be over this by now. I have passed the six month milestone after all. I logged it as it went by and hoped for some respite. We were properly together for six months so six months seemed a reasonable length of time to mourn your loss. And I'd read somewhere that if you're 'functionally and significantly impaired by grief symptoms' six months after being bereaved, then you move into the territory of 'complicated grief'. And I remember the TED talk that I watched in March that told me that happiness is all in the mind and nothing to do with life circumstances. Apparently, six months after trauma, in most cases, the trauma has no bearing on levels of contentment. Evidently, I am not most cases. (Mind you, I have been through a whole heap of recent traumas. I have covered most of the most stressful life events in the last three years - sick child, ill health, separation, death of a parent, death of a partner, massive change in financial circumstances and I threw in a house move just to finish me off). But I am complicated, still suffering, doing it wrong.

It was the mindfulness teacher who suggested the group watch the TED talk last time. She recommended it again this time, as I restarted the course six months after your death. Take it gently, she'd said to me, see how it sits. And it was sitting ok until she mentioned that talk again and my mind was flung back to that evening when we were apart and I was telling you about the dude on TED and his theory that happiness is all in the mind, all about living in the moment. 'That makes sense to me', you'd said. 'Longer term thinking is more vague and uncertain, more likely to lead to anxious thinking.' Twenty-four hours later you were dead.

The therapist asks me the question that other people ask. 'What have you got to look forward to?' She's like a hairdresser asking me if I'm going somewhere nice tonight or if I have holiday plans, as if a night on the town will fix it all, as if things might look better from the top of the Eiffel Tower. My mind draws a blank. I can't see the future any more. The future now is vague and uncertain and reflecting on it leads to anxious thinking. I shake my head and she adds up my scores and shakes hers. I am failing again.

I leave her office seventy pounds poorer and seventy per cent less happy. Rather than head to the GP for some pills, I think of the words of the mindfulness teacher and ground myself by asking questions that I can answer, the questions writers often ask: what can you see, what can you hear, what can you feel, what can you smell? I see my daughter's freckles, speckling cheeks that are rose-petal soft to my touch. I hear the rustle of autumn leaves underfoot. I feel the water supporting my weight in the pool. I wake up and smell the coffee, even though I don't like what I smell. I do as she suggests and watch my feelings like clouds in the sky. I name them, as writers like to do, welcome them in. I see you, Pain. I feel you, Anxiety. I know you, Grief. Ah, Loneliness, you too. I remember you. I label the emotions, refuse to take on the label myself. I have moments, hours and days of unbearable depression but I am not depressed. I am grieving but I am not just grief. Yes this grief is complicated and cumulative. I have been through a lot over a lot of years. It will take time to recover.

A few days later, I get a message from my daughter's school. A girl has died. She was nine year's old, healthy by all accounts. She contracted meningitis and died suddenly, just like that. I have to lie down and cry when I hear the news. I feel it fully now. It cracks open the rift in my broken heart again. I can't bear to imagine the carnage in another's life of such a brutal loss. This wasn't in anyone's plan. In six month's time, I wonder, will her parents have recovered? Will they be as happy then as they were last week? Will they be back to normal? Dr TED can say what he likes but I don't believe him. When death explodes into your life like that, there is no normal any more. Everything has changed. Everything is rearranged. Life will never be the same again. They will never be the same. I am not the same.

But it is not all doom and gloom, not for me, not now as I approach seven months without you. I reflect again on the therapist's questionnaire and wonder where the other questions are? The ones that paint a balanced picture. How many times in the last two weeks have you felt joy? How often have you felt love? How many moments of calm have you experienced? Did you see today, the beauty of the trees? How many times this week have you held something precious in your hand? Most days, every day.

I am living in the moment now, like you did, like we did. I take notice of each moment and hope that, perhaps, the future will take care of itself.  Yes my moments of sorrow are many and as deep and dark as the deepest sea but I have moments of joy too and these moments are brighter now and more precious. At night, I hold my children tightly, marvel at freckles and fingers and locks of hair. I know that this moment might be our last. Life is made up of moments - unbearable beauty alongside unbearable loss. This moment is all we have. The future doesn't exist.