On Facebook tonight, an old friend asked me how I was doing. We'd not spoken for a year or so. 'Not too bad,' I replied, not wanting to go into too much detail in a public conversation that began with me wishing her Happy Birthday. Not too bad.
At the same time, today I rejoined the charity Widowed and Young having let my membership lapse when I felt that I no longer wanted to be identified so completely with my grief. Tonight I found myself going back onto their Facebook page wanting to offer some hope to people who are earlier on in their journey. I wanted to tell them that things do get better, at the same time as recognising that, when I was in the early stages of my grief, the idea of being 'better' was almost as horrifying as the idea of 'dating' or 'loving again'. Still I offered some hope anyway and then realised that if they looked at my blog, my last post with all of its talk of trauma, anxiety and depression would not be very helpful. So, here's a hasty update.
I am doing much better now, thank you.
The grief and sadness has not totally gone. I still miss Paul (and my mum). I still sleep with his fleeces. I still find myself periodically gazing at clouds, hoping for hearts. I still see people walking towards me who share his build or his facial expression and feel an unconscious surge of joy followed by a crushing sadness when I realise it can't be him. I still pause to notice herons on the pond or feathers on the path. But I walk on without picking feathers up. It's a calmer, more reflective. more intermittent sadness these days.
Of course, sometimes I still get completely derailed by grief unexpectedly, like the time last week when the chimney sweep came to clean the chimney of my log burner, declared it unfit for use and handed me a card recommending a friend of Paul's for the job of rectifying the situation. And suddenly I was crying just because I saw his name and because Paul used to make log burning stoves and he should still be here. As his friend said when he came round to look at the stove, 'he's a bugger going and dying like that.' I don't blame Paul but still, it is, a real bugger. And just the other day, I received a Facebook notification that it was Bert Mulligan's birthday and, honestly, my heart leapt with excitement as if I thought that Paul's Facebook alter ego might still be alive even though he is not. And I almost opened up Messenger to re-read our messages, but I didn't. I didn't.
It's nineteen months now and the fog has really started to clear. I no longer live in a state of perpetual anxiety and fear. A week or two ago, I finished reading my first novel and I've managed to watch a few episodes of TV dramas as well as a few films. I am working more and buzzing with ideas for creative projects, in fact, I have so many ideas that I'm impatient that I can't bring them all into fruition immediately. I was moaning to a friend about my frustration with my progress towards my creative goals the other day and she helpfully said something along the lines of, 'I think you're doing ok. Not so long ago, you couldn't see the point of living.' She's right. I couldn't. I have come a long way.
The truth is, when I read my early blogs, it's almost like reading fiction. Last week I met an author that I hadn't seen for a while and when I blithely told him about what had happened, I saw the look of horror on his face and was taken aback when I remembered that it actually happened to me. I remember it of course and I can recall the anguish and the unbelievable pain but it feels distant now, like a memory of a place that I lived in for a while, that I hope never to return to. I blame the therapist in London who has been treating me for post traumatic stress disorder. He's been practising some bizarre magic that takes away some of the pain associated with traumatic memories. Evidently it's worked. I look at the photo of myself taken by my boyfriend at the seaside last weekend and I see joy in the eyes that have cried so many tears. The bags under them, I fear, are here to stay but who cares? It is such a relief to see that I can smile genuine smiles of happiness again.
Of course, not everything is fixed - he wasn't that magic. Life is not perfect and I'm still finding my way. I still suffer from anxiety and I am worn out right down to the bone marrow. I'll never go back to being who I was before. But I feel that annoying post-traumatic growth taking place that I never wanted to hear about; who wants to trade love for growth after all? Yet, I feel it anyway. I feel like I'm changing, evolving, moving forwards into some unknown future. I don't know where I'm going but, as I learned so very deeply, all futures are unknowable anyway. All I know at the moment is that my future is a future that I want to live for and that I'm doing much better now, thank you.