Where, Oh Where

empty-nest-1024x952

A year ago my youngest left for college 3 hours away. As a football player, he had a practice schedule that prevented him from coming home and visiting often. Instead I would attend his football games and once found a pet friendly hotel close to his university, loaded up his dog and took “home” to him. It wasn’t the same but it kept the emptiness at bay for the most part.

This summer he decided to quit football and college and pursue his dream of being a music producer and has been accepted into his dream music school…in LA. In the meantime, he moved to Boulder for the summer to start collaborating on music with some established producers there and I haven’t seen him since early May. His dog passed away in early June and my home is now completely empty of the parenting responsibilities that have kept me busy and fulfilled for so many years.

I’m so happy that he’s pursuing his dreams and that he’s escaped our claustrophobic small town midwest home, but my heart is wrenched.   I am retired and divorced shortly after the start of his freshman year in high school. Being his mom (and being involved in his football/wrestling/track/band/theater activities) have been the primary purpose of my life for so long and I’m finding myself lost now; struggling to find purpose within my days.

I feel like this should be a time in my life when I am liberated to do whatever I want – travel, volunteer and find my own interests. However I’ve discovered this will not be as easy as I had anticipated.  After he graduated I moved to a remote hilltop in the Missouri Ozarks and go days without seeing other people.  The MeetUp app promises some non-dating social opportunities but it has become apparent that Ozark hillbillies don’t use apps to congregate (IF they congregate…I haven’t quite figured out the culture here yet.) Meeting new people “organically” isn’t the way things work anymore; even with social apps, everything designed to help singles find a social life seems to more “hook up with someone” and I’m more interested in “find a tribe.”

I expected loneliness and some sense of losing  direction, but I never expected to still feel so purposeless and lonely a year after my nest became empty. Hobbies help. Exercise helps. All of the things suggested for new empty nesters helps…but nothing has been able to scratch even the surface of my feelings of not belonging and having no purpose. Just a few weeks ago I was writing about how I would be all set to live well once my house was unpacked from my remodel.  I was so confident…so sure that everything would be good once I was all set up and ready to live.  And yet…here I am…all set up and ready to live but not really living.

If I’m not the athlete’s mom, who am I? And where, or where, is my life?

Vertigo, Vortices and Victory

vivid reverie storms within me

When I woke up from my nap this afternoon and stumbled into my bathroom I wasn’t sure if I was really awake and walking. I wasn’t sure if I was walking or sleeping and dreaming I was walking. I wasn’t sure if I was awake or dreaming I was awake. I hoped I was awake and that the reality I had just experienced was in fact the dream. I kept telling myself “It was just a dream. It wasn’t real. Those horrible things didn’t happen.” But then I would immediately hear my mind reply “Maybe. Or maybe they really did happen and I am dreaming now that they didn’t.”

My mind wobbled back and forth in that precarious state…one I’ve grown accustomed to and one I fully expected to overcome this afternoon. I’m used to this….figuring out what is real and what isn’t real has become something I do every day. Every hour. And on the particularly bad days, every minute. Years of therapy have taught me the coping mechanisms that usually calm the mental vertigo. “Breath in. Okay now, breath out slowly. Again. In. Out. Good. Think of the safe place. Think of Grandmother’s hands. I’m safe. Grandmother’s hands. I’m safe. Breath in. Breath out. Good. Good. Doing good. It’s okay. There is no real danger. Sit in this…it’ll pass. I can do this. I am ok. I am safe. Breath. In. Out.”

I had almost calmed myself and I relaxed just a bit – it was almost over. And just as I felt my mind start to settle it’s warbling spin, suddenly and without any warning, a mental tornado set down within my mind and suddenly my vertigo, instead of fading away, was replaced with a vortex of anguish, grief and a pain so deep that I collapsed screaming. The sound that erupted from me is one I heard the first time five years ago and not since; a completely unhinged and unbelievably guttural and continuous wail that is all exhale and no inhale. Out. Oooouuut. OUT.

I was no longer calming myself. I was suffocating on grief. My head was throbbing. I was gulping, gagging and gasping for air while still screaming. Screaming. Screaming. My throat started to burn from the fiery raw emotions that were tearing up through and out of me. The darkness started to fill my vision and I wanted to run away… somewhere, anywhere. Instead I stayed where I was; knowing that soon I would be passing out and waking up covered in my own vomit, urine and possibly blood. I know how to do this too, instinctually; using the tiny bit of logical floating around in the magma of my erupted mind. “Sit still. Be safe. Lie down. Hold on. Brace yourself. Here is comes.” And there it was indeed. Every bit of the very real grief I’ve suppressed. Every fear I’ve reasoned away. Every tear I haven’t shed. Every painful memory and every ounce of anguish I’ve refused to feel. I laid on my bathroom floor and sobbed over the loss of the dear ones lost but not lost. I felt the pain of every painful experience not experienced. My heart shattered. My mind melted. My frail hold on sanity disappeared completely while the dream world became my reality and my reality faded away to like a dream I couldn’t recall.

I’m not sure how long I laid on my bathroom floor. I’m not completely sure if I stayed conscious. I remember only bits and pieces of what I did for the two, maybe three, hours unaccounted for in my memories of the time between first waking up from my nap and the time stamp on the texts I sent to my loved ones to make sure they really were still only a phone call away and not gone from me forever. I don’t know why I capitulated into full panic overdrive without any warning this time despite my usually successful self calming having at first seeming to be successful. I am not sure how my mind conjured up the tornado that wrecked my fragile balance. I don’t know how my body was able to produce the sounds that I heard coming from myself. I don’t know what to think about these new unknowns. I don’t know. I don’t understand. I don’t know why my mind, body and soul feel so wrecked even now…several hours later, my mind somewhat recaptured and quieted and my loved ones beautiful text messages showing proof it really was just a dream. A really really bad dream. A nightmare. A sleeping terror from which there is very little escape while my deepest fears are fully experienced in vivid detail. I am carrying a phantom, but very real, grief within me that is calling my name and telling me to remember, to hurt and to cry for all those very real things in my dream that weren’t reality.

Maybe someday I’ll have peace. Maybe some day I’ll be victorious over my masochist mind that tortures my soul. Maybe someday…but obviously not today. But even in this fog of mental illness I have hope. I am focusing on my upcoming therapy treatment sessions. Who knows what this new method will uncover in my mind and my memories. How much of my memory is real? How much is forgotten? Am I ready to start digging through my mind in search of the events that have made me who I am? Am I prepared to sift through the good to find the bad and through the bad to find the good? The answers to these questions has to be “yes.” I’m approaching my 48th birthday in just a little over a week. If I am to have a life before I die, I must first finally put my past to rest. I must take the power away the storms inside my mind, take the sting out of my memories and start seeing life for what it is…a beautiful gift of existence in the present moment. Day by day. Hour by hour. Minute by minute. Second by second.

This is life. And even in the aftermath of the storm, I am grateful for all that I am and all that I have ever been. And for the hope for all that I will be. I’m bruised, broken and weary but I’m not done fighting. I’m not surrendering. I’m holding onto the fierce warrior inside of me and I’m going to keep getting back up every time my mental vertigo makes me stumble and fall and vortices pick me up and toss me around. I’m in the midst of the hardest battle I’ve ever fought..but I’m still fighting. Fiercely.

“Come home with your shield. Or on it.” ~300