the tension in life

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In Harry Potter, there are these creatures called “dementors.” They guard the wizard prison and by nature, they are dark, cold, and soulless. They suck every joy out of the unfortunate person within their proximity, leaving the person to feel as if they can never be cheerful again. Dementors even have the power to suck someone’s soul out of them, a fate worse than death. J. K. Rowling has said that dementors are a metaphor for depression.

Having suffered with depression for more than half of my life, I can see the clear parallel.

The wizard who wants to scare away the dementor has to cast a Patronus charm. A patronus is cast when one focuses on one’s most happiest memory. It takes the shape of an animal, vibrant and full of light.

The significance of that too, is not lost on me.

When I think of my “Patronus” and happiest memory in my life, I think of when I was thirteen, isolated and unpopular. One day in winter, a boy that I liked grabbed my cold hands and said emphatically, “I will warm them for you.” It was incredibly touching, and a memory that was seared onto my brain with love and adoration.

But then I think of my dementors–my demons, my depression. And my most saddest, and arguably most traumatic, memory. I was fifteen. I arrived to the emergency room, anxious yet oddly numb, wishfully thinking that my dad was going to be okay. A family friend asked me, “Do you want to see your dad?” When I said yes, he led me into the dark room. I stared at my father lying in the bed, still as a stone. Sitting in the chair next to his bed, I reached out and grabbed his hand–but it was stiff. Cold as ice. And I knew. He’s dead. Why did no one tell me? He’s gone. He’s dead.

These two memories, are intricately linked and tied together. Hands. Warm hands. Cold hands. Connection. Love. Death. Loss.

As I reflect on all this, I think of Jon Foreman–he stated that as human beings, we are constantly living in tension, like a guitar string strung between two poles. While we often make attempts to fight against the tension, he asserted that perhaps instead our goal should be to make beauty in the tension.

And this is one of the biggest tensions we must face in life: Love vs. Pain / Loss. Or even more so, Love vs Fear.

I’ve spent most of my life fighting the tension. Living in fear, while also running from it. Fearing love, while also desiring it to the point it physically ached. But this is the tension: to love, despite our fears of hurt or loss. To love, even when we don’t know what will come. To never cease loving, even as we are drenched in pain. If we avoid loss or pain, we also have to cut out love. And having lived that way for many years, I can say with confidence that avoiding loss does not mean you will not experience pain–in reality, it is a confirmation that you will feel pain. Except it will be a different kind of pain… the pain of loneliness, of isolation.

I’ve experienced some of the most painful losses, but I realize now that this is a part of living in the tension of life. It is a part of living life in full color. We love and give love, empowering, inspiring, and giving warmth to others in the brave act. But then we lose and we suffer.

We will hurt, that is a guarantee. But eventually, we will be okay. With all of these swirls of human emotions, we are inspired, we grow, we make beautiful music. They are the raw materials that we use to build our lives and amplify our voices in the world.

The tension is where the beauty happens. The melody of our lives is when we dance on these strings of tension. Be brave, your melody is worth it. Be courageous, your melody is needed. I dare you. I dare you to live out your purpose. That the melody within you would soar above the fear, above the crowd, above the past, above the pain, and that the song that you were born to sing would come to life.” – Jon Foreman

necessary loss

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The concept of “necessary loss” has been revolutionary to me recently. Loss is rarely present without a web of complexity–in not only the grief, but the other emotions that arise, depending on the kind of loss you’re experiencing.

This is not to say all losses are necessary. Losses cannot be generalized that way. But, there are some kinds of loss that may end up falling in the “necessary” category.

I’m reflecting on this, because my life this year has had the overarching theme of “loss.” I did not only lose my romantic partner; I am losing my two current jobs in lieu of a new full-time job I will be starting in two weeks. I am losing clients I have worked with for at least 2-3 years as a result of my leaving. On a personal front, I have been losing all kinds of friends, and even parts of myself.

This is where the necessary part comes in.

When the loss of my ex first started everything off, I was feeling anxious and depressed, in addition to grief. When more losses rolled in, I felt overwhelmed. But now that I am at the end of the year and at a place where I can see all of this more clearly,  I realize that despite the turmoil and struggle, some of those losses were/are needed.

My ex? He was narcissistic and emotionally abusive. My job? Toxic environment and I’ve hated working there the past 10 months. My best friend? He’s been MIA the entire year, and it’s not too much to ask to want a best friend who is present more than 20% of the time. My other best friend? She’s more concerned with getting emotional support than giving it. Other friends and acquaintances I’ve chosen to not engage with anymore? More concerned with meeting their own selfish needs. The part of me that feels compelled to give at the expense of herself, making herself invisible in order to make space for others? Well, it’s because of that part I got into the aforementioned mess in the first place. It’s no longer serving a good purpose–in actuality, that part of myself is harming me a great deal more than helping.

My therapist brought up the term “blessed subtractions,” and I think it’s very fitting for my current life’s circumstances. It’s a blessing that I am no longer in an abusive relationship with a narcissist. It’s a blessing that I found a new job, even if it means building a new normal. It’s possibly a blessing that my clients will be getting a new therapist–that new person may give them something I may not have been able to give. It’s a blessing that I’m losing the friends I’m losing, because I need friends who can reciprocate support, love, and care–and not expect me to do all the work. It’s my responsibility to give myself what I need, and to trim out what’s not working.

Letting go has never been easy for me. It could be because I lost my father when I was fifteen, or the fact that I grew up never given emotional support from my family. Maybe both. I’ve been fearful of the grief and being consumed by it. But learning to let go is an essential skill of life… I’m only now just learning. Because there are fates worse than grief–like being stuck in a life of perpetual gray and unhappiness, or settling for abuse and emotional starvation. Grief and loss are tough, I know all too well. But all feelings pass. No exceptions.

And perhaps you’ll find that once you’ve let go of some of the unnecessary sacks you’ve been carrying, you’re free to pick up something new. Something better. I put my hopes in that.

 

on grief

                               sunsett

Mourning isn’t a temporary process; it’s a lifetime one. Whether we’ve lost someone to death, broken up with a love, or had a falling out with a best friend, I think that all of us can imagine what mourning is like. The 5 stages of grief come to mind for many, but I think the concept warrants more elaboration. Something that I have come to learn in my own life is that losing someone in any context isn’t something that you simply “get over.” You cannot counsel children or teachers who were victims of (or lost loved one to) the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting to “get over it.” In obvious ways, they may never “get over it.”

I am not speaking of complicated grief, or being so immersed in one’s grief to the point that life’s meaning is forever lost, which is a different issue. What I argue against, however, is the message we give in society or the expectation we push on others and even on ourselves to “get over it.” Because it is not reflective of the true mourning process. The reason I believe that mourning is lifelong, is because many losses are heavy and deep indeed, and cause our lives to shift in innumerable ways. It takes time to settle into a “new normal.” And once we do, we may be happy on some days and other times we may be stressed or anxious in our daily living. But there are certain moments when we are reminded of our loss and the old pain is scratched. It hurts. A tear or two (or many) fall. Our hearts feel the emptiness of that loss. But then we continue to go forward.

And those moments that remind us of our loss will always be there throughout our life walk… like on my wedding day, walking down the aisle without my father. Or when I reminisce with my mother, and that desire bubbles up, I wish I could hear my dad call my name again just once. Or when I see a man playing with his kids at the park or a daughter taking out her father to a nice Italian restaurant on Father’s Day. The old wound scratched, I feel the pain of what has been lost and will never be fully redeemed. But the thing I have come to find is that this process is normal… and maybe, arguably, more true than just the concept of 5 stages of grief. Acceptance (the last stage) does not mean we are done with grieving. If anything, these moments of grief peppered throughout our lifespan are to be expected.

We are not still tied down to our grief. Most of us are still able to live our lives. But grief will come up from time to time, and if we conceptualize of these moments as part of the typical grieving process, we won’t be burdening ourselves with the fruitless goal of “getting over it.” There is nothing to get over. There is nothing wrong with having our feelings come up again and to be missing the person we lost. The pain tells us how special that person was and how much we loved them; so of course, if we are reminded of their absence, it will hurt. But it’s okay to hurt. It’s okay to feel the pain. We only do ourselves more harm by ignoring it. It is the tail side of the coin, in which heads is love. It is all inextricably part of the beautiful, and often unfathomable, human experience.