Last summer my wife died. She had a haemorrhage on Thursday evening and died Wednesday morning the following week, without having woken up from an (induced) coma. She was buried the next day.
It was a strange week, but I experienced it very calmly, not because what happened didn’t get through to me, but because I was so very aware of it. I was experiencing my life changing forever in real time and I was able to handle it well.
The weeks and months after her death were some of the most beautiful in my life. I am sorry if this sounds strange; she would understand. It also made me believe I was able to do great things: it felt that if I could handle this, I could handle a whole lot. And I did really want to start doing great things.
Then things slowly started to slip. I started sleeping badly. I had a hard time concentrating. One evening I found myself crying over a work meeting I was to have the next day. I had never done that before. But I convinced myself it was work, not me, and dismissed it as a relatively insignificant incident.
My ability to sleep slowly got worse, to which I responded by having multiple short naps a day and drinking an unhealthy amount of coffee. I realise now that I am lucky that coffee is my go-to vice at times like that.
My ability to concentrate got worse too. I had a hard time focusing on the books and articles I read. I was feeling tired most of the time. The many naps I was having only resulted in me waking up restless.
Meanwhile, I thought I was fine. Or maybe not fine, but I didn’t think there was something structurally wrong with me. This has always been my response to not being well: to pretend everything is fine. And to convince myself this is the case. I am frustratingly good at it.
There were of course plenty of reasons for things not to be fine. It was never really the grief itself, I was and am fine with that, but I slowly started to realise that I was really on my own. That the children we had planned to have were gone forever. And that, happy though I felt about our relationship, there were some unresolved issues that had now suddenly come to a strange end.
Being on my own was a problem for a different reason too: I work from home. I think working from home has many benefits for both parties and I like to think I have shown this in the past decade. But doing so when you are on your own, not in a good mental state and don’t see many people in the evenings isn’t a healthy thing to do. Which is putting it mildly.
It allowed me to stretch my working days from 8 in the morning to 11 at night. Not because I had turned into a workaholic, but to make up for both low productivity and the many breaks I found myself taking.
Thinking back to some of the events I attended, some of the trips I made and some of the talks I have given, many of these appear to have passed in a blur. My output in just about every measurable sense was really poor. And my brain started to do some weird things.
I have been rather proud of my self-sufficiency this past year: I can cook and do things around the house because I have always done them. In practical terms, the past year has been easy. But it took me a good six months to realise I am not that good yet at emotionally looking after myself when I am really on my own.
And really, I should have known that. I have gone through enough mental health stuff in the past to know I find certain things difficult ─ even if I perhaps handle other things surprisingly well.
When my wife and I just got together, I went through a rather difficult time. She helped me and stuck which me, which I appreciate now more than ever. She also wasn’t shy of discussing what was going on and would often refer to the various weird things she found me doing. She regularly wrote about them on her blog.
I now realise how much this served as a reminder to me that things weren’t okay, because then as now I preferred to make things smaller and pretend I was mostly fine. I write this post in large part to remind myself that things haven’t been all that okay, now that she isn’t there to remind me of it.
Realising how not okay things have been is a relief in itself. Still, I have learned my lesson and won’t say I am okay while I still sleep badly and while I still struggle to concentrate. I now know to regularly check my logs.
But I do feel a lot closer again to the person I was last summer. And I still want to do great things. Heck, if I, with my privileged life and now quite a bit of life experience, aren’t going to try to make the world a better place, then who is?
But I won’t be able to achieve this without making myself a better person too. And that requires some more work.
The past year has been good. Even the past six months included many genuinely great moments and important life lessons. But things can be so much better, and it feels again that I have an unique opportunity to make that happen.
Onwards and upwards.