Failing Forward

walkthroughthefire

This week marks the end of a seven year journey that my husband and I have been on.  On Friday of this week, we will be closing down our business, a business that we have poured our blood, sweat and tears into.  We didn’t come to this decision lightly.  Closing our business effects more than just us, it effects our kids, our staff, our suppliers and our customers.  We held on for as long as we could, but the fact is, we just couldn’t do it anymore.

The last two years of our lives has been harrowing.  If you’ve been reading my blog, then you know that I have been suffering from anxiety, depression and grief.  These take a toll on a person, physically and mentally.  I had a breakdown a few weeks ago and was housebound for two weeks and I walked a very fine line between giving in to it and fighting back.

Fighting is hard and I’m tired.  There were only three things that kept me from giving up; my husband and my two children.  They kept me tethered to this world when all I wanted to do was disappear into the ether.  I can’t see beyond the bleakness that consumes me, but they can, and I hold onto them in the hopes that their belief in a brighter future is what will get me through.

There are so many negative emotions associated with closing a business and for someone like me, who has way too many negative emotions to start with, dealing with this failure is like stepping on a landmine.  My whole world is about to explode and I don’t know what will be left in the aftermath.

One of the hardest things to cope with is the fact that I know that I am about to become fodder for gossip.  I have lived my entire life feeling the judgement of others, never measuring up to what those around me thought I should be and now I am proving them all right.  The fact that these people, so-called friends and family, will look at us and judge us and then use our story to titillate the ears of others, hurts, but what can you do?  People love a tragedy and my life has become very like a Shakespearean tragedy.

Nobody ever goes into business thinking they will fail.  This was not our first business, not the first time we failed, but this is probably the hardest.  We survived for seven years, sure we made some mistakes along the way, but seven years is a pretty good batting average for a small business.  I know that we’ve done everything we can and now it is time to let go.  It’s the letting go that is the hardest.

How do you let go of something that you have lived and breathed for seven years?  How do you get up in the morning knowing that there is nowhere to go, not even a reason to wake up?  They tell me that my stress levels will go down and my health will improve.  They give me reasons why this is a good thing, why this is a positive move, why I will be better off when everything is finalised.  I want to believe them, but right now, I can barely see the world beyond Friday.

I don’t want this to be the end of my story, and I suppose that is a good thing.  It means that I, at least, have a tiny ray of hope that I can go on.  I want to rise from the ashes, like a phoenix.  The legend of the phoenix states that the bird that rises from the ashes is more beautiful than the one before.  I want that.  I want to be able to rise out of this mess and be better, stronger, happier, healthier.  Isn’t that what is meant by failing forward?

Maybe in a month’s time I will look back and know that, although it was hard, we did the absolute right thing.  Maybe I won’t even recognise myself as the same woman who sat here and penned these words.  Maybe I will have found a new dream.

Or maybe it will take longer than a month.  The point is that it is in the rising after a fall that determines the future.  I may not feel the strength to rise right now, but I know I will.  One day.  One day in the future I will feel strong enough to lift my head and look to the horizon and dream of what the future holds.

I look forward to that day.

I’m Fine

imfineEver have one of those days when everything seems to be slipping out of your fingertips?

Ever looked in the mirror and not recognised the person looking back at you?

Sometimes that can be a good thing.  If you’ve been dieting or exercising and then one day you look at yourself and you see those changes that you’ve been striving for.

But sometimes it’s as scary as hell.

In the last twelve days I’ve only left my house four times.  I haven’t been able to work, I can’t go to the shops, I can’t drive or go to the gym.  I can barely get out of bed.

Am I sick?  No, I’m fine.

Okay, not so fine.  But I’m not sick, I don’t have an injury or an ailment.  Twelve days ago I had one of the worst anxiety attacks that I’ve had in two years, and now everything has changed.

I’m not a stranger to anxiety or depression, I’ve lived with it most of my life, but two years ago something happened to exacerbate it to the point that I could no longer ignore it, could no longer sweep it under the rug and pretend it wasn’t there.  So I started seeing a psychologist and things were getting better…good even.

And then twelve days ago happened.

Just thinking about it brings the symptoms back.  Since that day I’ve had numerous smaller attacks and just the thought of leaving my house is enough to bring one on.

I used to joke that I could quite happily become a hermit, now that it’s a possibility, it’s not so funny anymore.  The fact that I welcome it is even more of a worry.

Being a shut-in is appealing.  Never having to leave my house, not having to face the world outside, it sounds like paradise.  Maybe that’s just the anxiety talking, or the introvert, either way, I like the sound of it.

I’m not saying I want to be that way forever…just for, you know, a while…just until I feel better…just until the anxiety isn’t so bad…just until…

That’s how it starts.  Little by little it creeps into your life and before you know it, even if you want to go outside, you can’t.  I can see the future of my life if I give in to this need to withdraw from my life.  But it doesn’t make it any easier to face it.  And forcing me to go outside brings on an attack that is likely to set me back yet again.

When I look in the mirror, I don’t recognise this person I’ve become.  I always thought of myself as someone who was strong on the inside.  Now the woman I see in the mirror is weak and I don’t like her, I don’t want to be her.

When did this happen?  Surely I haven’t become this person in just twelve days?  No.  This has been a long time coming.  Every time I told myself I was fine when I wasn’t.  Every time I told someone else I was fine when I wasn’t.  Every time I gave in to the fear and the anxiety, every time I withdrew, every time I kept silent.  Little by little those small, seemingly inconsequential compromises changed me, changed who I thought I was.

Now I’m someone who can’t leave my house.

But I’m fine, really.

Alis Volat Propriis

tattoo

Yesterday marks a major milestone in my life.  It has been twelve months since my daughter in law died.

It has been a long and horrible year, there is no other way to put.  My family has been pulled apart, my life has been turned inside out and I feel completely wrung out and done.

I suppose I felt that if I could just make it to the twelve month mark, then it would get easier.  It was like a beacon in the dark storm that I have been journeying through. I have held on to that magic number waiting for the moment that I could finally breathe and say that I made it.  It has been twelve long months and I have fought the good fight and now, now it will get easier, now I will turn the corner and things will get better.  But today has shown me that that is not the case.  Nothing has changed or become easier just because the magical twelve month mark has passed.

To people on the outside, I probably look like I’m doing ok.  I get up every morning, I go to work.  I’m productive, in fact I’ve written eight books this year.  I’m sociable at work, I smile, I even laugh occasionally.  But my grief is still with me, hanging over me like a black cloud.

Some days are worse than others.  Some moments are crippling, others steal my breath with pain.  Sometimes I feel like there is hope, that the future is something to look forward to and it is to those moments that I cling, they are my lifeline, they get me through.

Grief has changed me, and I don’t mean the type of change that is temporary.  I kept waiting to wake up and feel like my old self, to feel like the person I was before, but I’ve come to realise that that is never going to happen.  I am profoundly and irrevocably changed.

This is surprising for me.  I didn’t know what to expect, really.  I knew, theoretically, about the different stages of grief, but I didn’t understand that when you reach the end, you don’t go back to being the person you used to be.  At each stage I have been changed, sometimes a little, sometimes a lot, but always changed.  I don’t even recognise the person I am becoming, I don’t know who she is, and that is probably the hardest thing.

People have told me throughout this journey that everyone grieves differently, but it has always been said with an undertone of ‘you’re not doing it right’.  I have found myself at times thinking, ‘I don’t know if I’m allowed to feel this way’ and it has made my grief confusing.  I am only the mother in law, I only knew her for a relatively short time.  We had a good relationship, but didn’t have a profound relationship, we were friends, but we weren’t best friends.  She was part of my family and I loved her.  I still don’t know how I am supposed to feel, I don’t know if I am doing it right, I just know that there is a hole in my heart where she should be.

audreyI have come to understand that that hole will always be there.  Whoever else comes into my family, there will always be a Kari shaped hole in my life.  That doesn’t mean that anyone else is less important, it doesn’t mean that I will love others less or that there will be no room in my life for new people, it just means that I will always feel like something isn’t quite right, like a jigsaw puzzle with a missing piece.  But I’ve come to realise that sometimes, like great pieces of art, we are defined more by the negative space in our lives.

It has been really hard to put these feelings in writing.  I thought I would do it yesterday, but I couldn’t, they were to big, too raw.  Even today it is hard to pull them from my heart.  I am so full of emotions that I don’t know what to do with them all.  Much like this blog post, they are jumbled and confusing with no real form or structure.  A metaphor for my life perhaps.karilee

I spent yesterday hiding from the world, apart from one particular outing.  I did something that I never thought I would ever do.  I got a tattoo.  There are many reasons why this tattoo is significant to me, but the main reason I got it was to have a physical, permanent reminder of Kari.  The words say ‘Alis Volat Propriis’ and it means ‘She flies with her own wings’.  When I think of Kari, this is how I think of her, flying free.

Shattered

Life, fracturing into a million tiny pieces.  Hold on to them, don’t let the go.  But they are torn from my bloody fingers, torn away with force.  I try to grab, try to keep them close, but the pull is too strong and they are gone.

Months of heartache and pain.  Every part of part of me breaking.  Every part of my family fracturing.  As hard as I try, as determined as I am to make it right, the cracks continue to form.  The pieces continue to break away.

I feel so helpless and at times hopeless.  There seems to be no solutions, only more problems.  There is no firm ground to stand on, nothing to anchor a lifeline to and a voice in my head saying, “All is lost.  All is lost.”

Empty platitudes and sympathetic smiles do nothing to relieve the very real pressures of the life I find myself trapped in.  The world marches on, unconcerned, unhindered, unknowing of my plight.  The black dog bays unrelentingly.

Where is the light?  Where is the relief?  Where is the dawn of reprieve?  There is none, there is nothing, just darkness and a void swallowing my life, swallowing my joy, swallowing me.

The night is full of terrors.  Attacks come from those closest.  The vultures circle, sensing death.  Their hungry eyes watching, waiting, claws at the ready to rip and tear.

I want the nightmare to end.  I want the pain to abate.  I want the pieces back together, whole again.  But how can you repair something so utterly destroyed?  How can it ever be put to rights?

Nothing will be the same.  The cracks will remain, the pieces missing.  The gaping holes will testify to our loss and our forever broken lives.  All is lost.  All is lost.

The Importance of Being Labelled

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Labels are important…let me clarify that, well defined labels are important.
We moved house recently, and let me tell you, a box that is labeled with ‘stuff’ or not labeled at all can cause a few problems. We used recycled boxes, so they already had other people’s labels on them and they did not necessarily reflect what I was putting in the box, so they had to be relabelled, but even that was confusing…which label was correct? Consequently, I am now surrounded in boxes with no labels, incorrect labels, misleading labels and those that are precisely labelled and I have no idea where anything is!
I have a bit of a organisational bent…I love having things in precise lines, I alphabetise my books and DVDs and, if I had my way, each box would be labelled, numbered and entered into a spreadsheet that listed all the items in he box, but I live in a family who don’t see things the way I see them.  I like to have specific drawers for specific kitchen utensils, but unless I am prepared to always do the dishes and put them away, my kitchen never stays organised and I get frustrated.  I’m sure my family does it on purpose just so I will tell them to leave it, but I’m on to them!
Although I have a love of labels and lists and like to have specific homes for specific things, I have always hated being labelled myself.  I have had a very varied and eclectic career life from retail to beauty to I.T to graphic design to cafe owner.  I like my options to remain open, there are so many things I want to do and want to experience that being labelled and put in a box grates against me.  I even struggle against the labels of ‘mother’ and ‘wife’, although I love being both of those, I don’t want to be ‘only’ those things.
We live in a society that also rebels against labels, people don’t like to be put in a box and told that this is all they are. It feels somehow restraining to be told you are an A when you may be more than just an A. If we are always told we are an A, we may never discover that we can also be a B.
Despite individuals disliking being labelled, society likes to use labels to help categorise people.  We are all so diverse that it is practically impossible for governments to deal with us on an individual basis, so we have to be lumped into people groups and socioeconomic boxes just so those who are running the country can try to meet our needs. Unfortunately this is not always helpful or particular effective and as much as I hate being labelled, in some cases, we need to be.
Nobody likes to be incorrectly or cruelly labelled. Just like labelling a box with ‘stuff’ doesn’t do it justice, labelling a person as stupid or useless or even fat doesn’t do the person justice. But some labels are vitally important. Food labels, medication labels, poison labels all these are necessary and good. They acknowledge what is inside and warn about potential problems. And imagine if tinned foods didn’t have labels? How many would you have to open to find what you were after?
Just looking at the labelling laws and the legislation that is created to ensure food is labelled correctly goes a long way to proving how important labels are. We all want to know what we are getting, we want it to be clear and truthful and in that way labels are good.
I am a diabetic…it only hit me as I was packing my boxes to move that I am a diabetic. I have type 2 diabetes and for some reason I have not been able to acknowledge that this is a real disease and the implications it will and does have on the length and quality of my life. Maybe it is because it gets beat up on in the media as being self inflicted or a byproduct of obesity, but my inability to label myself as a diabetic has meant that I have not taken it seriously, have not seen myself as someone who is suffering from a potentially life shortening disease and therefore have not been treating myself accordingly.  As much as I hate being labelled, this is an important one.  I need to be labelled as a diabetic so that I can get the treatment and medication I need, I need to be labelled as diabetic so that I can take the steps needed to ensure I live as long and as healthfully as possible. By denying the label I am not doing myself any justice and I am robbing myself and my family.
Acknowledging the label scares me.  By acknowledging myself as a diabetic, I then have a responsibility to take care of myself. Acknowledging the label means being accountable…and that’s a whole other issue.

Broken Shards

grief

I expected the world to stop.

I expected the world to pause…to take a collective breath…to notice.

In that moment, right at that very moment, I expected there to be some sort of acknowledgement from the universe that you had gone.

But there was none.

We, who witnessed you stepping into heaven, knew you had left this mortal coil, knew that you had walked into eternity, knew that you had left your frail mortality behind, but there was no acknowledgement from the universe, no shudder from the world that it had lost one of it’s souls, no pause to notice that we had lost a bright light, a shining star, a gentle heart.

My heart still beats, my lungs breathe, my eyes blink…shouldn’t something have changed?  Shouldn’t there be some sort of outward appearance that part of my heart is gone?  Shouldn’t there be a mark on me to tell others that we, the world, have lost a precious soul?  Shouldn’t the world mourn?

But the world still turns.  People go about their daily lives, unaware.

I stand apart, the world a blur of movement around me, and I ask why.  Why does life go on around me?  Shouldn’t it just stop?

I feel like I am moving through honey, the world around me in hyper drive while I struggle against the resistance.  Sounds come from far away, muffled.  I am cocooned, my life seemingly out of time and space, drifting, unable to find purchase, unable to find stability and unable to care.

I expected the world to stop, just for a little while, just so I could find my feet, just so I could come to terms with living without you.

But it didn’t.

And so life goes on…without you.

And I am trying to keep up, trying to keep my head above water, trying to do what the world expects me to do while inside I am breaking.  Inside I am a mess of smashed dreams, shattered wishes and fractured hopes and every movement causes me to brush up against those broken shards and the pain is renewed, relived.

I expected the world to stop, just for a moment.  I expected the universe to pause, to make an adjustment, to prepare itself for life without you.

Because how can this world keep turning when you are not in it?

I Am Undone

panic

This is a raw collection of emotions and grief and the fallout from a specifically severe panic attack.

Shortness of breath
Heart racing, pounding like it is going to jump out of your chest
Nausea churning in your guts
Shaking, uncontrollable shaking
Restlessness
Impending doom
The overwhelming desire to run away, disappear…die

I have always suffered with anxiety.
From a very young age it controlled my life.
I learned, eventually, how to control it.
I had to, otherwise I wouldn’t have the life I do today.
I have strategies and processes to help me.
They became second nature to me and I began to feel confident, self assured.
And then Tuesday happened.
I haven’t had a panic attack in a really long time.
This one was the worst I have ever experienced.
Two days later and I still feel the effects of it.
And at 4am on the third day I feel like a old pair of jeans that has been washed too many times; worn, thin, faded and frayed around the edges.
I feel like I am only barely holding it together and am liable to come apart at the slightest provocation.
That panic attack scared me.
Really scared me.
It felt like something in my brain snapped.
Yes, I have been under a lot of pressure lately.
Yes I am grieving
And yes there is a lot if stress in my life.
Logically I know that these things contributed to my attack
But anxiety is not logical and this time I had no defense.
Using logic has been my biggest weapon in the past.
I have taught myself to catch the dark wayward thoughts that would seek to terrorize me.
To hold them up in the light and bombard them with logic.
That is how I have defeated them in the past.
That is how I have kept them in check.
But this time I couldn’t.
This time all those dark thoughts broke out of the prison where I had them contained.
They attacked me with a coordinated assault.
My defenses were down.
I was at their mercy.
They were ravenous and brutal.
Seeking to destroy me with a determined hatred and viciousness.
I crumpled like a wet paper bag, defeated.
I feel smashed upon the rocks.
Tossed by the tide like so much flotsam and jetsam.
And I feel guilty for it.
Everyone in my family are grieving.
We have lost someone precious to us.
I feel guilty that I am falling apart.
I feel guilty that I am adding to the stress.
And it makes my anxiety worse.
I am stretched thin
My skin is like a fine piece of porcelain
A fragile barrier to contain the raging storm within me.
When will it end?
When will the pain lessen?
When will the tears cease?
I have cried myself dry
I am parched.
I am empty.
So very very empty.
The future unfolds before me
Full of uncertainty and dark places.
Every shadow hides a threat
Waiting patiently for me to pass by
Barbs come at me from unexpected places
Stealing my breath and reducing me to ashes
I am defenseless and weak
All of my learned lesson are fled from me
My thoughts are scattered and uncontrolled
Their prison is broken wide
They rampage unchecked through my damaged mind
I feel the seams of my fragile life unraveling
Falling away, blown away in the wind
And I am undone.