On Vulnerability

This will be my last post for the indefinite future…I need to get back to being myself.

At any given point, I usually have two or three of these posts in the works, swapping places with a handful of others in the trash. The topics range from the less personal (e.g. talking about seasonal affective disorder – which y’all should definitely read up on if you haven’t before – or some other mental health condition), to those that are deeply personal – ones that I’d always struggle to share.

Over a year ago, I decided to start this blog to share a lot of what I had and have been struggling with in an effort to help myself and others heal. I would give myself a year to turn my mental health around. It was never easy, I was never fully comfortable telling my stories, and – I’ll admit – most times I didn’t want to. In every case, though, what made me share was the fact that maybe I’d be able to help just one person who was going through something similar. I became terribly passionate, not about sharing my life, but about helping someone.

I’d like to think I did.

Now, sixteen months after I began, I think it’s time I call it. This will be my last post for the indefinite future…I need to get back to being myself. I unknowingly took on an incredible task, and didn’t realize just how far this little project would go. I am tremendously happy with the results, both internally (within myself) and just how much positive feedback I’ve received from various people and groups.

Before I sign off, though, I’d like to leave my readers with a few of the lessons I’ve learned during this journey – and hope I’ll be able to give you something worthwhile one more time.

Being vulnerable is ridiculously difficult.

I get a lot of messages from people along the lines of “I don’t know how you do it”, or “you make it look so easy.” It really isn’t. Being open is very, very hard for me – especially in such a public setting. Being vulnerable can – to many – be seen as a sign of weakness, neediness, and a source of shame. It’s definitely not something I would willingly sign up for all the time. What made me share, though, was the hope that by being vulnerable it would inspire others to do the same, and to show that it’s not always a bad thing to ask for help.

Sometimes, people will get the wrong impression of you.

If you met me seventeen months ago, for example, you’d probably never think I would have been capable of doing something like this. I greatly enjoy my privacy and personal space, and it’s not a regular thing that I would be so willing to open up. By sharing so much of my personal life, I may have made myself too available, too open, in certain situations. While I enjoyed receiving messages, both for help and for encouragement, I’d often need to take a step back and re-evaluate if I was really ready to keep doing this. At this point, I think I’ve had my fill of the spotlight.

It may seem wrong, but sometimes, it’s OK to be selfish.

Selfishness is usually looked at as a bad thing, but sometimes it’s necessary to protect yourself. I’ve always believed that everyone needs a recharge sometimes, and as of late, I’ve been stretched thin. I think I’m a pleaser by nature, and love taking care of other people and other living things (if my dogs and plants could talk, they’d tell you)…but sometimes taking care of myself needs to come first.

That being said, I’m looking forward to being just a bit selfish over the next few or more days. Time for a little social media purge and do a little retail therapy! *googles closest Designer Shoe Warehouse*

All fun aside, for my readers: if you’ve been following my writing since the beginning, or have just recently found this blog…thank you so much for taking some time to read it. I’ll probably leave this site up for a while, so feel free to share it with someone you feel could use a little reassurance, or even just a break from their own struggles. I could definitely use a break myself. For my friends: you know how to reach me.

Wishing you the best and Happy Halloween,

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Phil.

 

 

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On Anger

My mother used to tell me that I had a temper like my father. He was – and in ways still is – prone to being angry, short-fused, impatient…many qualities I seemed to have inherited by being his child.

My mother used to tell me that I had a temper like my father. He was – and in ways still is – prone to being angry, short-fused, impatient…many qualities I seemed to have inherited by being his child.

My anger would get me in trouble a lot with my parents, teachers, and others. It would range from me acting out, yelling, refusing to do any sort of work or chore, to – on my worse days – physical fights or striking things (I think there’s still a few dents in the walls at my parents’ house). Once I got past a certain point, I would lose control…even at times not being able to remember what I did when I was angry. I’ve ruined relationships because of it, hurt people, and it got to the point where I had to make some changes for my own sake and before I went too far.

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I asked a few people on Twitter and Instagram if they’ve ever been really angry. Here are a few responses.

Thankfully, I am not as quick to anger as I was then, and I’m not the same person. I’m more patient, less frustrated, and can handle my now extremely rare bouts of wrath much easier than I could as a younger man. After having a conversation with someone recently – both of us describing incidents of violence brought on by rage or finally lashing out – I decided to do some research into why some people are more prone to these sort of reactions, and help others the way I helped myself move past that part of my life. That being said, with the rest of this post I’ll try to answer a few questions about this topic.

What is anger? Why do we get angry?

tweet2In all of my reading, anger is described as a “basic” or natural emotion that everyone will experience. It is also described as, often, a secondary response to either a primary emotion: being in a situation of sadness, feeling threatened, if one of our basic needs like food or sleep are not met, being frightened, or experiencing loneliness. If you’re following so far, that tells me that we’re supposed to feel angry at some points in our lives. I’d also add that we shouldn’t feel upset or ashamed that we do, at points, feel angry. Rather, I’d say how we react to or in anger is probably more important.

Some researchers also think that anger later in life is the result of childhood or past experiences. For example, if you were subject to some situation where you couldn’t adequately express your anger in the past (e.g. bullying, abuse, or trauma)…you may still be coping with it at present. This may mean that current situations where you feel frustrated or ones that may evoke similar emotion can make you react with anger. Also, some people think that if you witnessed a parent or other adult express their own anger aggressively or violently, you may be more prone to do the same – or even be so afraid of becoming that angry that you suppress it. Eventually, that anger may surface in other situations.

So, why are some people more angry than others?

I think we can all agree that everyone is different. The same goes with anger and how an individual may react to it. So, what can make some people seem more easily angered? Reasons can include higher-stress lifestyles, genetics (yes, there is evidence that if your folks are more easily angered, you may be as well), and our own individual ways of assessing situations. With that last point, some articles I’ve read suggest that if you’re more sensitive or are more emotional in general than someone else, you will be more prone to reacting angrily (since anger falls under basic emotional response).

img_4365-1Another reason, as described in the section above, could be socio-cultural or socio-economic. By the former, I mean that anger is often looked at as being very negative in society. Because of this, there may not be very many resources to help an individual learn to express and deal with their anger – thus making them more prone to outbursts. By the latter, I read a study that suggests that Americans with lower social status expressed more anger because a lower social standing was associated with greater frustration – stemming from leading more adverse lives. On the other hand, the same study also concludes that Japanese people with higher social status experienced more anger  because, as being part of an important group or relationship is seen as self-defining and central to what it means to be a person in this culture, expressing anger is frowned-upon due to such expressions having the potential to ruin these relationships.

How can I tell if I have an anger problem?

This list is not comprehensive, but here are a few items that could point to someone having anger issues:

  • Inability to take criticism
  • Feeling that anger needs to be hidden or suppressed
  • Arguing with others constantly
  • Holding grudges
  • Feelings of impatience, irritability, hostility, or resentment that lead to outbursts when angry
  • Becoming physically violent to people or objects when angry, or being short-fused
  • Avoiding situations where one knows one may become angry/angrier
  • Lack of ability to control anger escalating

Some of the symptoms above may even be worsened by alcohol or drug use. While – as mentioned before – anger itself is not a problem, expressing anger during and in ways like the items in the list above could lead to a lot of problems for someone who can’t get their anger under control.

Are there things I can do to help with my anger?

Let’s take a quick look at ways to help control and manage anger.

One of the best ways I found that helped me was to first own that I had a bad temper and that I had a problem. I would realize and accept that I was angry in certain situations, but chose not to let the situation escalate nor get the better of me. I also would continually remind myself that it is very difficult to make smart choices when feeling a powerful emotion like anger, so I chose to let the anger subside before doing anything else.

Another method, as I preach to myself in sports, is the concept of having a “short memory”. If I missed a shot or dropped a ball, I wouldn’t let myself dwell on it nor think about it while setting up another shot or play. In the same way, I didn’t let a past event dictate how I would react to a present event. Also, I did not allow myself to sit and steam about an event that made me angry – it just didn’t make sense to stay angry at the past or something I could no longer change.

img_4366Another very important step in managing anger is recognizing one’s triggers, and figuring out exactly what can make you angry and how to work through them. This may mean avoiding the trigger altogether (for example, I dislike traffic…so I leave for work earlier and either leave the office early or later depending on the day) or attacking it head-on (e.g. if you have disagreements with another person, trying to iron out your differences in a civil manner). This isn’t an easy process, and I think I’m still working on some of my triggers to this day.

Finally, and probably the most helpful for me, I found that improving my thinking, communication, and relaxation skills became an invaluable asset in helping me recover from my anger problems. Instead of rushing to reply or get the last word in, I began to learn how to express my thoughts and feelings (even if they were coming from a place of anger) in a calmer, less aggressive way. When this became too difficult to do in a situation, I’d let myself walk away (or politely excuse myself) to cool down and then re-approached the situation later.  You’d be surprised what taking a good, deep breath before speaking can do for you.

I hope this post has been both insightful and helpful. If you or someone you care about is struggling with issues with anger or other mental health conditions, there is always help. While I did not address (and have never been to) counseling or ever saw a professional for anger, I know these resources exist and would definitely recommend them if someone chose to take that route.

I’d love to hear your stories, comments, and opinions as well. Feel free to reach out to me 🙂

As always, keep fighting the good fight (shout out to my friend Kyle),

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Phil.

On the Casual Use of the Term “Depression”

Did watching an episode on Netflix make you have trouble breathing, or make you want to lock yourself in your bedroom and spend the rest of the night under covers? I’m not here to police language or take away from your experience, but I’ll put a few dollars on “probably not.” 

Hope y’all had a good weekend! If you’ve been as busy as me, you probably needed the break.

Besides playing way too much Fortnite (xchilphilx on XBL) and bumping new Travis Scott way too loud…I’ve been working on a few things behind the scenes. While those are cooking, I wanted to stop by and have a quick (but important) discussion on a topic that’s been on my mind for a while.

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How y’all doing?

Several weeks ago, Instagram began providing an option for users to ask questions on their story and have them answered by their followers. I’m always looking for topics to continue the mental health conversation, so I decided to ask my peeps if there was anything they wanted to read about. One follower and good friend (thanks, @theycallmetap) in particular started a conversation about whether or not I think mental health words and terms such as “depression” and “anxiety” are overused (spoiler alert: I do), and before too long this post was born.

You’ve probably experienced it in your daily life. Someone says “Ugh, this weather is depressing,” or “Have you seen the latest episode of X, so depressed Johnny died,” or “this traffic is giving me anxiety.” Regardless of the situation, it’s becoming (at least to me) a disturbing trend – both in my day-to-day life and social media. Trivializing and colloquializing (had to double-check the spelling on that one) mental health and its terms have unfortunately become a norm – more often than not, it seems, by people that just don’t seem to understand mental illness.

Using something too much, like a word or a term, can dilute it and remove the significance of its meaning. “I’m depressed” these days has really become equivalent to “I’m a little sad.” “This gives me anxiety” really means “I’m just a little stressed about it,” and so on. I once read that we would never use a serious physical illness (like cancer) to mean “a little sick”, so why do we use mental illnesses this way?

Did watching an episode on Netflix make you have trouble breathing, or make you want to lock yourself in your bedroom and spend the rest of the night under covers? Did a little bit of rain give you heart palpitations, sweaty palms, or make you feel you don’t deserve to live? I’m not here to police language or take away from your experience, but I’ll put a few dollars on “probably not”.

In my experience, using terms in this way really takes away from those who are going through serious mental health struggles…and it isn’t fair to us as a whole. In addition, it can further add to the stigma of mental illness by contributing to its misunderstanding and making anxiety, depression, etc. seem less serious or important. Mental health and mental illness are serious issues, so we should treat them that way.

So, all that considered, the next time we choose to use a term such as “depressed”, “anxiety”, or “OCD” and the like, I hope we all consider what those terms may mean to someone else.

What are your thoughts?  I’d love to hear them.

Here for you always,

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Phil.

On Suicide

I once read a quote that suicide doesn’t end the pain, but rather it passes it on to someone else…someone you love, someone you care about. If you’re reading this and have been going through pain, please reach out to that someone. 

To be honest, I’ve been trying to write and finish a blog post like this for a while – over a year, at least. I would start writing, then stop, then start again…always being torn between wanting to share one of the most personal and darkest moments of my life, and wanting to not pick at that scab again.

I was ready to move on, to move forward. I had survived the longest and most difficult period of depression I had ever faced, and was ready to never go back to it. Ever.

Then, almost immediately after I had resolved to leave it in my past, the world lost Chris Cornell.  Then Chester Bennington right after that.  Reeling, I came back to this post, got halfway through, and stopped again. Cue June 2018, where we would lose Kate Spade, and then Anthony Bourdain. I decided that maybe it was time to spill again, to own what I had been through and share just one more of my experiences with the hope that it can help someone struggling.

This isn’t an easy story to think about or tell, but I’ll do my best. With disclaimers for the possibly triggering material, here’s “The First Time I Ever Wanted To Kill Myself“, by Phil.

It’s a warm day in April 2017. My day started as they usually do…wake up, shower, eat, pill. That evening was Easter supper at my aunts (a welcome break from being alone in the suburbs). My car was out of commission, so I rode my bike from my house to the train station. I remember feeling just fine at dinner – it was great to be in the company of family and people who care, and nothing was out of the ordinary. I would have never guessed that later on that night, I’d go through hell.

On the bike ride back from the train, I felt a huge wave of hopelessness set in. I got about halfway up the overpass near my house, and stopped. I felt like I couldn’t go on, both physically and mentally. All the negative things that I’d been through leading up to that point – the breakups, the fights, the car accident, asking my doctor for medication, the lack of direction I felt at my job – were taking turns flashing in and out of my head, and I felt an overwhelming urge to jump and end it all.

Thinking about killing yourself is a horrifying thing, and for so many reasons. I felt all the strength and determination I had previously built up over so long just wilt away, and my will crumble. I wiped tears and sweat from my face and I thought about just how I would go: I’d just leave the bike there and topple over the edge with my eyes closed. Would I hit metal or pavement first? Who would find me? What would my parents think? Would anyone else care? These thoughts and questions flew in and out of my brain at rapid pace, and I eventually physically crumbled as well. Feeling my legs give out from under me, I dropped to my knees and then just sat there leaning against the concrete barrier separating me from the fall. I spent the next several minutes convincing myself that I needed to press on, and that I wanted to live.

Talking yourself down from something like that, and having to convince yourself that you are worthy of living, is both a shameful and humbling experience. In what felt like the hour that had passed, I realized that I wanted so much more out of life. That there were so many goals and accomplishments left to achieve. That I wanted those dreams way more than I wanted it to end. I was ashamed that it had come to that point, but I felt proud that I had survived yet another low. With that, I dusted off my jeans, wiped the sweat from my forehead, got back on my bike, and pedalled home.

I don’t think I ever flat-out wanted to die before that moment, and I don’t think I really wanted to die at all. Rather, I just wanted the pain I felt to end. I once read a quote that suicide doesn’t end the pain, but rather it passes it on to someone else…someone you love, someone you care about. If you’re reading this and have been going through pain, I know it’s difficult to, but please try to reach out to that someone. You deserve to live.

I am happy to say that since this experience, I am doing well. Through a lot of hard work, a dash of therapy, and the belief that I can do better, I have been doing just that. If you are like me and aren’t currently struggling personally, but you care at all about someone else…check on them. Sometimes it’s the ones who seem the strongest that need it the most.

 

Continue reading “On Suicide”

On Coping

I wanted to write a post about how I deal with bouts of depression as well as share some ways I’ve found that help me get back on track. It’s a bit of a longer read, but I hope they help you or someone you know in even the slightest way.

Hi guys.

As usual, it’s been a bit of a break between posts. Things have been up and down, but I’m coping.

On that note, I wanted to write a post about how I deal with bouts of depression as well as share some ways I’ve found that help me get back on track. It’s a bit of a longer read, but I hope they help you or someone you know in even the slightest way.

Alright, on to the meat (sorry, vegans) and potatoes.

Avoid the negative.

This includes negative thoughts and words. When I’m feeling less-than-ideal, I tend to make things even worse by putting myself down, especially with my own words. On my worse days, this ends up putting me in a terrible cycle: I feel down, and then I’m hard on myself for being down, which in turn tends to make me feel worse. On other days, I make plans then either cancel or fail to meet my goals, which in turn makes me punish myself for not meeting them or canceling on someone. I also tend to make everything black-and-white (things are either all good, or all bad), which we know in reality is never the case.

Challenging these thoughts and feelings can be difficult, but is a necessary step in moving forward. One of the ways I do this is for every negative thought or feeling, I try to think of a few of the positives relevant to it. For example, if I have a stressful day at work I try to remind myself that hey, I have a job. Even though it may have been hard to get out of bed, I was able to make it there.

Another method I use to try and cope with negative thoughts and feelings is to own them, but only within that moment. For example, there have been more than a few times where I’ve said to myself “I feel like I’ll never get anywhere” or “I feel like I don’t have a purpose.” When I’m struggling with these thoughts, I try to make an effort to change them to “I feel like I’m going nowhere right now” and “At the moment, I feel like I don’t have a purpose.”

See the difference? They change from absolute statements to ones that are more open-ended and a bit more optimistic than before. Sometimes, slight changes in your thinking like these may be all you need to get you going.

Add some structure.

I try to avoid the term “routine”, because for me nothing ever goes 100% according to routine…but I find having some structure to my day helps me cope. For example, I try to set a general idea of when I get to bed and when I want to wake up. I also try to make a mental note of one or a few things that I want to get done or should get done that day, such as “get up from my desk every so often” or “go for a walk at lunch” or “finish this task today.” More on this later, but I find that these small action items really help me feel good to accomplish.

I approach meals the same way as bedtime, by trying to have a general idea of the times I want to eat. There are still days that I get either so busy or so overwhelmed that I “forget” or don’t have too many opportunities to have a decent meal (which is never a good thing), but I find that even just mentally reinforcing the fact that I need to make time to eat will help me stay on track. This leads me to my next point:

Eat.

Some people (me) don’t have an appetite when they’re depressed, while others find comfort in food. I’m not here to tell you what you should or should not eat, but step one is making it a habit of getting your meals in.

As I mentioned above, I regularly end up skipping meals (especially breakfast) due to wanting to stay in bed longer or being “too busy.” I always find on these days, though, that I am more irritable, fatigued, and more prone to feeling down than if I took the time to get something healthy and filling into my body.

Other suggestions I would add here include reducing sugars and other carbs (in the future I’ll post about a few of the diets I’ve tried and how they made me feel), as well as throwing in a multivitamin to help your body get what it needs.

Ease off of alcohol.

For some people this may be harder than others, but I found personally that when I stopped drinking as much, I generally felt better. I used to drink a lot to cope and to escape from what I was going through. This coupled with the usual social drinking saw me imbibing way more than the average person, and nothing good came out of it. The days after binge drinking were my worst days, as everything I was going through felt magnified.

When I stopped drinking, I almost immediately saw benefits. My mood was better, I lost the weight I gained, and generally felt less fog-brained. I began to replace the alcohol with other activities, and I really believe it made me better off.

I’m not suggesting to cut out alcohol completely, but I’m living proof that alcohol in moderation is orders of magnitude better than making drinking a regular thing.

Set small goals. 

The smaller the better. There’s a common saying that goes “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” The bigger picture may be overwhelming, but I find if I take things one step at a time (trust me, sometimes they are VERY small steps – like just getting out of bed), eventually I get into a rhythm and begin ticking things off of my to-do lists.

I find even for larger goals, if I try to break it up into smaller stages or steps…it makes accomplishing the larger task (especially ones that seem daunting) just a bit easier. It also helps if you’re as impatient as I am, as I find accomplishing the smaller tasks tends to ease my mind, reinforcing the fact that I am making progress.

Take a break.

I am a firm believer in the mental health day. When I was working in IT full-time, one of our running jokes (even if the issue had nothing to do with the computer) was to ask the client if they’d tried unplugging it and plugging it back in. Sometimes, our bodies and minds need that reset…even if it means getting away for a period of time. Even if you can’t afford to take a full day off, even making time to get away from that desk or computer screen can help.

When you do take that break, though…it’s important not to use it as a form of avoidance, and equally important not to neglect yourself. The idea is you want to use your breaks to get better. If you’re exhausted, use it to rest and recuperate. If you’ve been neglecting something physical or medical that’s been bothering you, use it for that doctor’s appointment. If you’ve been meaning to start working out, now’s the perfect time to go to the gym or try that yoga class you saw being advertised.

I personally make it a point to improve my self-care on my days off, and I highly recommend it. Brush your teeth, take that extra shower, try that new skin care product you bought…whatever it takes to get you going and feeling like a better you.

Finally, when you’ve exhausted all of your other options…my final point can be very helpful.

Reach out.

Many of us tend to want to deal with our problems on our own, regardless of what the problem is. Unfortunately, that can mean keeping the worst to ourselves and suffering alone. On the bright side, there’s simply no rule book and nothing set in stone that will say you have to.

The easiest way is to talk to someone you know who has or is going through something similar, as support is so invaluable. Even if you never discuss the topic directly, sometimes just having a bit of company is enough to get you through a rough patch. If you don’t have someone like that close by or available to you, there are a number of support groups out there. You may choose to attend the ones that offer support in-person, or simply call in or join an online group. Reading or talking to someone about their story can help put things into perspective for you. You’ll likely find that more people than you think go through similar struggles everyday, and you’re never alone unless you want to be.

Finally, speaking from experience, professional help can be a life saver. If you’ve been feeling like you’ve tried everything else and nothing is working, I really recommend it. I used my work’s employee assistance program, which may also work for you. Your doctor may also have similar resources.

As always, thanks for reading, hope even the smallest thing here helps, and feel free to reach out if you’ve got any comments or questions. Until the next post, don’t give up!

Phil.

 

On Medication and Mental Health IV

I’ve always considered medication to be an aid, and not a fix-all solution to treating my depression. Over time, I slowly began to replace meds with other things.

So it’s been a little while since my last post. I’ve done some traveling, made some changes to my diet and fitness routines, and generally have been busy with the 9 to 5 grind.

Before I get into the content, I’d like to thank everyone that asked about the blog and when the next post was coming. If this is your first time reading, please feel free to check out the other posts.

If I had to pick a different title for this post it would probably be “Why I Stopped Taking Medication For My Depression”, or something similar.

Now before we get into the “why”, I want to be clear. I’m not giving up, ever. My choice to end medication as a form of treatment for depression didn’t come overnight, nor was it an easy one to make. I do think, however, that I made the right choice. What follows next is the shortlist of why I decided to stop.

My regular side effects never really went away. While they did get easier to handle over time, there was never a long stretch of time where I didn’t feel some sort of effect from the medication. These included constant fatigue, the occasional numb feelings, weight gain, and libido changes. It really hurt my productivity, and I never really fully felt like myself. I didn’t want to continue feeling that way without any sign of it getting better long term.

The meds would eventually stop “working”. While I do feel like the medication did help in stints, there were a few occasions where I felt like they stopped doing their job. I’m not sure if my body had adjusted to the dosage, or if they simply weren’t effective anymore, but there were periods of time where I felt worse than before I was on medication. My doctor and I agreed to increase the dosage each time, but eventually I would experience the same issues. I did not want to continue taking high doses of a prescription med, and I didn’t want to try a new/different medication (complete with new and possibly worse side effects).

I sometimes felt “that” feeling. I’ll talk about this more in another post, but on occasion (especially the time following a dosage change), I felt like I wanted to check out. I had never really had suicidal thoughts or feelings before, especially before I decided to take medication. Eventually, I decided that the risk was too high for me to continue. I wanted to live.

It’s important for me to note that I didn’t (and one shouldn’t) go cold turkey. I spoke to my doctor about stopping, and we agreed to slowly and gradually reduce the dosage. Even this process was difficult for me, as I felt like the symptoms got worse during this time. I was constantly dizzy, felt light-headed, and very, very irritable. My depression felt worse at points, as well. Eventually though, things got better and now I’m doing very well. Minus a few recent (and minor) hiccups, I’ve been maintaining a pretty stable mindset for the past several months and – save for the occasional joint (more on that later) – have been drug-free.

In conclusion, I’ve always considered medication to be an aid, and not a fix-all solution to treating my depression. Over time, I slowly began to replace meds with other things. These include more physical activity, more regular sessions with my therapist, and being more mindful of my sleep and what I put into my body – including food. I still have the occasional “off” day, and I know it will be a while before I’m completely symptom-free (if ever), but I plan to stick this out the usual way I do – one day at a time.

 

On Grief and Loss

Getting “over” any loss – whether it be a death, end of a relationship, or otherwise – takes a huge toll on me, and I’m not sure I’ve fully moved on from some of them. For some, I’m not sure I want to move on.

My maternal grandfather was born and raised in Greece. He grew up in a small village, survived a war, married my grandmother, and moved his family from Europe to Toronto in search of a better quality of life and opportunity.

Before I moved to Canada permanently, I’d stay with my grandparents during every visit. While his English wasn’t perfect and my Greek was basically non-existent, we forged a bond between papou and grandson that was cut way too short about eight years ago.

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Papou manning the grill.

I lost my grandfather in the middle of what should have been my final exam period in university, and got the call that he had passed right before walking into an exam room. While I knew that he wasn’t doing well, I don’t think I would have ever really been prepared to lose someone close.

Needless to say, I never took the exam. Still reeling, I was forced to essentially re-live his loss every time I had to talk to a professor, ask for a death certificate, or apply for some sort of extension allowing me more time to get things done academically. In the end, I would spend an extra semester in school making up for classes and exams that I just could not get myself to sit through. I still dream about my grandfather, and there are days when – even though it’s been years – I still feel the loss deeply.

Grief doesn’t always occur with a death. It can happen with a breakup or divorce, loss of a job, death of a pet, or even financial hardship. Sometimes, the loss doesn’t even have to be your own.

Around a year ago, a friend of mine lost their mother. I had met her in person only once, well over a decade ago when I was still new to Canada. It was a cold fall night, and I boarded a GO bus from York University to Streetsville, Mississauga (which might as well have been a flight to China – I didn’t know what direction I was headed in and nothing looked familiar) to visit my friend at her house.

If you’ve followed my posts so far, you’d know that that period of my life was complicated to say the least. While I was still struggling externally with adjusting to a new country, and still battling with an internal need to belong, a woman invited her daughter’s friend into her home with a large smile and open arms. I don’t remember many of the other details of that night minus a grand tour of the house and a hot meal, but what stuck with me was the way I felt there – welcomed. To see and experience that sort of kindness, offered to a complete stranger…that’s something that, for me, would be very hard to forget. I can only imagine how her loss must have affected (and still affects) that family, and they’re in my thoughts and prayers.

pp
Papou and I, early 90’s.

Everything you read in life about grief and loss will probably tell you that losing someone you love is one of life’s biggest and most difficult challenges. Most sources may even tell you what the symptoms of grief are, or that there are several steps involved in the process of grieving, or that there’s professional help for that sort of thing. What you may never read, but definitely may experience at some point in life, is just how long it takes to get to the other side of grief. Sometimes, you may even feel fine for a while – even years – and then that one song plays or someone brings up that thing you used to do together, and you’re back to where you were before.

Getting “over” any loss – whether it be a death, end of a relationship, or otherwise – takes a huge toll on me, and I’m not sure I’ve fully moved on from some of them. For some, I’m not sure I want to move on.

That being said, if you’ve got someone in your life that you love and appreciate…don’t wait until they’re gone to show them that you do.

Until next time,

Phil.

 

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