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Oct 13 2012

Grief Diary, 10/12/12

10/12/12

The thing I’ve been having a hard time with in the last couple of days: The fact that grief feels horrible — and there’s pretty much nothing I can do about it.

I’m very used to tackling my problems. I’m used to trying to fix the bad things in my life, or at least taking action to alleviate them. And I can’t do that now. There is a basic, unfixable problem in my life, which is that my dad is dead. There is another basic, unfixable problem in my life, which is that grief happens, and takes time. And the only thing I can really do is to slog through it. There are a handful of things I can do that sometimes make me feel better, or at least that don’t make me feel worse: exercise, time outdoors, socializing, chocolate, making plans and having things to look forward to. But basically, all I can do is ride it out, sit and wait for time to pass. There’s a line from the movie “Tootsie” that Ingrid keeps reminding me of: “I’m going to feel this way until I don’t feel this way anymore.”

And I. Fucking. Hate. That. I’m a control queen. I hate just sitting around waiting for days and weeks and months to pass, so I can feel better. This helplessness itself is just one more fucking thing that feels bad, just one more shitty layer of meta piled on to the core of the grief itself.

I’m also realizing that I’m feeling cut off — voluntarily, but still cut off — from one of my usual avenues of connection and expression and participation in the world… namely, the ongoing conflicts and debates in atheism. I’ve always been someone who’s relatively unafraid of conflict, who’s willing to speak her mind even if it gets blowback. I pride myself on that, and to a great extent I’ve carved it out as a major part of my career niche. But right now, I just don’t have it in me.

And that’s very frustrating. There’s a whole host of pieces I’ve been writing in my head, pieces where I think I have a valuable and unique perspective that could make a real difference in some of these conflicts… and I’m not writing them. I don’t have it in me right now to moderate a flamey, 200+ comment thread about feminism, or sex work, or Atheism+. Even the fairly small or private conflicts I’ve been participating in have been upsetting me and depressing me and freaking me out, all out of proportion. I wake up to a couple of mildly angry emails, and it fucks me up for hours. I know that holding off on these fights for now is the right choice, the best thing I can do to take care of myself. But that sense of being cut off… it’s yet another shitty layer of meta. On top of the 23,452 ways that I feel uncomfortable and restless and like nothing feels right, I have the profoundly uncomfortable sensation of keeping my mouth shut when I normally would be speaking. Keeping my mouth shut does not come naturally to me. Not saying things, solely because I’m afraid that people will be mean to me and I can’t handle it, does not come naturally to me. I fucking hate it.

(A few hours later)

On the other hand — damn. Going to the gym. I really have to remember going to the gym. Made it to the gym tonight — absolutely did not want to go, was not in the mood to go, seriously considered being a bad angel and trying to talk Ingrid out of going and into hanging out with me at the cafe instead, had to pull together all my fortitude and inner resources to force myself to go — and was so very glad I did. Went to the gym, and afterwards we picked up take-out burgers and took them home and ate them in front of “Project Runway” and read Tom and Lorenzo and watched South Korean pop videos on YouTube and let cats crawl all over us… and it felt great. It didn’t feel ecstatic or mind-blowing or anything. It just felt like a Friday night. It felt like myself, enjoying my life and my home and my marriage. Yet another note to self: Go to the fucking gym, as often as you possibly can. Do not keep telling yourself, “I don’t have time.” Your productivity is for shit right now. You are spending hours every day staring blankly at a computer screen and re-checking Twitter for the fiftieth time. Your productivity will be vastly improved if you wake the fuck up. Going to the gym wakes you the fuck up. And besides, you just like it. So go.

10 comments

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  1. 1
    Ariel

    Even if it means nothing, I’m really sorry for your loss, Greta.

    I’m very used to tackling my problems. I’m used to trying to fix the bad things in my life, or at least taking action to alleviate them. And I can’t do that now.

    I’m probably the last person to advise someone in such a situation. (I know of course that you didn’t write it to ask for advice.) In retrospect, it seems to me that in my depressive periods I’ve always depended to a (too) large degree on external stimuli – on my wife, my kid, deadlines, my students … I’ve never really had a serious problem of the sort you describe – wanting to take action, but feeling too vulnerable and scared of possible effects. It was rather the opposite: the difficult task was to convince myself that I want something.
    All in all, it seems to me that it’s healthier and better to hate helplessness than to treat helplessness as one’s natural state … but I’m not so sure of myself here. Both cause pain.

    Hugs to you; and apologies for not being able to write anything more constructive. I hope you will be back with full force soon, ready again to charm and irritate this particular reader of yours.

  2. 2
    horsehairbraider

    There is so much you say that resonates with me. When my father died, all of a sudden I could not stand to read mystery books… and I had *loved* reading them all my life. Usually someone dies in them, I had just watched my father die, and I could not stomach it for a long time. It did not seem like entertainment. It was even difficult for me to go to movies due to the conflicts that are generally built up in the story line.

    Hugs and kind wishes to you in your time of grief. I am sorry it takes a while but it just does.

  3. 3
    No Light

    It is awful not being able to fix something. I felt a lot of anger over my lack of control.

    I’m glad you had a good Friday. Do whatever makes you happy, extra fab if PR is involved.

    After my release from hospital, a very dark and scary time, me and my partner were basically living in exhausted fear. One night I had the sudden urge to listen to Queen. The computer is hooked up to the tv, so we hit YouTube.

    After two hours of belting out various Queen songs (fortunately the house next door was empty!) I felt like a person again. It’s so strange, the most unlikely things can flip a mood around.

    I’m sad that writing about actual issues is scaring you. I wish there was a way of banishing troublemakers.

  4. 4
    aziraphale

    It feels like a great privilege to be allowed to share your feelings in this difficult time. You write beautifully, as always – I don’t think I could do as well.

    And you are contributing greatly to the atheist cause, even if you’re not in there fighting. You are showing the world that atheists can be sensitive, caring, in touch with their emotions, open… Almost like human beings.

  5. 5
    chakolate

    You know, even if you don’t post the things you write, write them anyway. It’ll be cathartic. So you can’t handle the blowback right now – so keep them private, email them to carefully selected friends. Just write, right?

  6. 6
    allencdexter

    chakolate is right. Nothing is more therapeutic to me than writing and just getting it off my chest, whether it’s anger, depression or elation. Just letting go verbally with an understanding listener is good too.

    You’ll heal eventually in your own way and your own time. No one is a carbon copy of anyone else. We’re born with different genes and proclivities and those are modified and molded by a lifetime of experiences.

  7. 7
    Lofty

    Hard physical effort helps when dealing with grief as you found out. Keep safe and strong, the world still needs you.

  8. 8
    adobo

    I dont know if this would help. But I want you to know that when I feel very down I always go to your blog and just bask (right word?) in the warmth of the stories of your relationships with your wife and specially with your cats. Thanks. I really mean that!

  9. 9
    Markita Lynda—threadrupt

    Thanks for writing this. So often I deny myself even a walk because Everything isn’t Done Yet. I’d be more productive if I woke the f*ck up.

    You could even publish your pieces and turn off comments due to unusual circumstances. People can go complain or praise elsewhere.

    “When you’re going through hell, keep going.” –Winston Churchill.

  10. 10
    Stevarious, Public Health Problem

    Noticed you hadn’t posted in a few days, and I thought I’d drop by and let you know you’re in my thoughts. I know I’m just some random schlub on the interwebs that you’ve never met, but I really appreciate these grief diary posts, they are very cathartic, and I hope you’re doing okay.

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