There is a hush in my apartment. My cat, Prana, sleeps on my feet, so that she can feel both the warmth of my body and the hum of the computer against hers, while she naps. The daylight is waning, though its only 4:03 p.m, and I’m waiting just a while longer for dusk, so that I can go down to the beach in my gloves and hat, and gaze up at the sky with my mouth agape, at the biggest SuperMoon in decades.
It’s been hard to write lately. It’s as if something has stolen my words. Ironically, I felt stronger when my life with Patrick was in a medical sense, much harder. I felt like I was the SuperMoon version of myself; big and bold, glowing brightly and casting light down all around me. I felt expansive, though terrified, and fueled by this energy that seemed to come from within me, that I couldn’t really understand. The stress of it all was so relentless and hostile, that I had little time to question, or to process. In reality, my disconnection from my own mind and body was a true gift. It was the gift of shock; the ability of the mind to protect itself from trauma for as long as needed. I lived in its arms for a very long time.
Then, one day, shock loosened its grip, and I fell through into the depths of grief. For three years, I had felt like the SuperMoon version of myself, and now I was suddenly a black, starless night devoid of any moonlight at all. This past summer, I entered this phase, and it came in concurrence with Patrick’s newfound freedoms; taking solo transportation and volunteering at a rescue farm for animals. I was so eternally grateful for this progress, but once the transition was made, something tore open inside of me, and what poured out was a river of grief.
Yet it was more than his new freedom; he was also blossoming into a new person. He had newfound passions and interests that were being cultivated like a garden, new like-minded friends, and he was experiencing the direction and momentum that comes with discovering what you want to do with your life. Make no mistake: the new Patrick was emerging and coming into focus, while the old Patrick, whose possible return had remained an unsolved mystery until now, was disappearing. I found myself watching the ship of the “old him” sail into the distance, almost beyond my line of sight, while another docked into the harbor of the “new him.” There are no words for what this process has been like for me, other than to say that it has been…. strangely, painfully, and wonderfully unique.
What I can say, is that for the first time in a very long time, I actually envied my boyfriend. His new sense of self was taking shape so beautifully, and it seemed to act as a mirror that revealed how battered, misshapen and torn apart my own had become. I had planted the seeds, and worked so hard to help get Patrick to this very point, and now here we were, reaping the harvest of that co-effort. But when I looked at my own garden, I found it overgrown with weeds, and the soil depleted.
Which brings me to my current status:
surveying the effects…
of three years of neglect…
to the garden…
that is me.
I wasn’t prepared for this part. I’m not sure how to sit with it. I’ve spoken a lot about the caregivers need for recovery, but I’m finding that this process is so much bigger than even I alluded to in previous posts. Now is the time for me not only to recover, but to rebuild myself, which is a much bigger endeavor than originally imagined, especially from the ground up. I must plant seeds of self-kindness, self-reflection, openness and exploration. Yet doing this while also still being a caregiver, albeit a different kind than I once was, is extremely difficult.
I find that it is especially challenging, because caregiving has become a security blanket for me, and in a sense, all I seem to know how to do. I am lost without it. And it’s not as if it has suddenly become unnecessary, because Patrick is still unable to be 100% self-sufficient at this time. Yet finding out just HOW much is needed, and providing no less or more, is a delicate dance that we have not yet learned how to do.
As for Patrick, he is struggling with letting go of me as well. Deep down he wants to live a “normal” life, hold a job, and be my partner rather than my patient, but he struggles with the idea of not having a caregiver in the way he once did. He hesitates with trusting himself to handle situations on his own, even though I would never put him in situations that I knew he couldn’t manage independently. So, needless to say there is tremendous fear on both our parts, where perhaps we thought there would only be joy. This is yet another unexpected turn of events on our TBI journey.
Through this process though, I have learned something truly invaluable about trauma and the way our body/mind/spirit endures it. I’ve realized that grief must come second to shock, in order for our SuperMoon selves to get through the acute phase of TBI. I speak to so many caregivers just starting out with this horrific injury, and I see myself in most of them. They are anxious to know how everything will turn out. They want time-tables that can’t be given. They are hungry for information. They are ready to fight with all they are, for the recovery of their loved ones. They may think they have grieved, or think they have felt exhaustion, but all of it is still on the outside waiting to come in. While I wish I could wave a magic wand and bring them understanding, I also know it is OK, because shock is acting as a secret weapon on their heart and mind’s behalf.
I am grateful that I lived in a state of shock for so long, because if grief had come any sooner, I am not sure that I could’ve gotten Patrick to the place he is today. But now I am ready to move through grief into a new place; a new garden, of peace.
This version of me I believe will not be a Supermoon-self, shining light onto everything and everyone with such luminosity that it has no choice but to burn out. Nor will it be the black, starless night that I have been for so many months. I believe that it will be a version that will allow me to move through the phases of my own moon year after year, and regardless of how much light there is on any given day, still find stillness there.
I don’t know the path to peace. But I’m working on it. I’m trying to take time to explore, to reconnect with my once insatiable curiosity for the world. I am trying to gently find my way back to music, though I still cannot write a single note. I know it all has to still be in me somewhere. I am trying to become quiet enough to hear it speak to my heart again, and lead the way.
First comes shock, then grief, and finally peace. There is no guidebook to lead you, no timetable for moving from one to the other. Give yourself permission to wax and wane with your own soul’s yearning, and I truly believe that if you’re like me, one day you’ll wake up and realize that you’ve moved on, that the weather inside you has shifted, and a new chapter has begun.
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Thank you. All our love, Anj & Patrick)