Friday, February 17, 2012

Grief in a vacuum


b: a state of isolation from outside influences
<people who live in a vacuum…so that the world outside them is of no moment  — W. S. Maugham>

As a business owner, a wife and a mom, I tend to juggle a lot. But there have been times that I have wished I could just live life in a vaccuum . . . 

Last April, I keenly remember wishing I could put life on hold for just a bit while I operated my business. Or maybe I wanted to put my business on hold while I operated my life.

I was juggling my normal schedule -- 2 full days of proofing at the advertising agency, 3 full days of being a stay-at-home mom, working to finish a promotion, laundry, cooking, cleaning, singing on the worship team -- you name it.

But then a dear friend of mine was getting married.

I was not only a bridesmaid in her April wedding, I also hosted out-of-town guests, was in charge of arranging all the flowers, did the bride's makeup, helped set up and tear down for the wedding, ironed the wedding dress 
(S-C-A-R-Y), and helped arrange and serve food for the reception. 

It was beautiful!

And exhausting.

After trying to balance everything that month, I wished I could just operate life in a vacuum. I would do really well at Arbonne -- if that's all I had to do. I'd be an awesome bridesmaid/flower arranger/makeup artist/friend -- if that's all I had to do. I'd make an excellent wife and mom -- if that's all I had to do.

But life doesn't operate in a vacuum.

That's what makes life beautiful.

That's also what makes it messy.

Lately, I've found myself wishing I could just grieve in a vacuum.

I have a history of depression and anxiety. I have used, and weaned myself off of, medicine for both issues. Last year, when I felt the cool shadow of depression darken my soul, I chose to enter counseling so I could address the root of my depression and not just treat the symptoms.

After almost a full year of counseling, I felt so much better -- that is, until I had my ectopic pregnancy and lost my baby.

Grief awakened the demons of depression and anxiety, and they preyed upon me at whim. (I am not claiming spiritual warfare -- nor am I precluding it -- but no other descriptor fits my feelings. At times I truly felt possessed by my overwhelming feelings).

In one last effort to address my depression without medication, my counselor suggested I take a week off. She instructed me to get rid of all outside distractors as much as possible, listen to my feelings, and do whatever the heck I felt like doing (within reason, of course) in order to express my grief and deal with the emotions it brought.

Enter -- the vacuum.

A week off? Sounds awesome. Except I'm kinda a workaholic -- or, as I like to think of it -- I'm productive. And I don't know HOW to take a week off.

Clearly I still had responsibilities. My daughter still needed diapers changed. (Ick.)  And we still had to eat. Besides taking care of the input -- and output -- and general hygiene, the rest was really filler: stuff I could delegate to my husband, or put off for a week.

I usually cannot relax unless it is in a clean room -- so you can imagine my dilemma. Relax -- but don't clean. Sounded counter-intuitive to me.

It took me 4 days of trying to NOT work -- all the while, thinking of what must be done and combatting the associated guilt -- before I was finally able to relax.

7 days off = 4 days of doing what I wanted and feeling miserable about it + 3 days of doing what I wanted and feeling good about it.

Did it completely heal me? No. Might I still need to consider medicine? Maybe.

But I learned some pretty valuable lessons about myself in the process.

I learned that I can let go of some of the pressure I put on myself, and still be valuable (and productive!). I learned about some really unhealthy thought habits I had formed.

I learned that I am still very, very sad for the daughter I will never know this side of heaven.

I learned that I was hiding behind a busy schedule, behind a smile, behind a facade that I was all OK because the grief and sadness felt just too scary to handle. I learned that I have to fuel my soul, and not just make myself push harder while on "empty." I learned that I really need to take care of myself so I can be a good example to Maddy.

Enter -- life outside of the vacuum.

So, the vacuum is over and done with. I have found myself wondering, "Now what?"  How do I deal with the mess of grieving while juggling everything else?

And grieving while doing life is really messy.

The other day, I went on a playdate that had all of the makings for being an amazing time for me and Maddy. Valentine's Day, delicious cookies to decorate, cute elephant valentines to make and pass out, and an amazing hostess I love very much . . . All good, right?

Except I wasn't planning on everyone attending being either 1) Pregnant. 2) Have a newborn with them. 3) A practicing midwife. Or 4) Nursing. 

One lady came late -- bless her -- that did not seem interested at all in having another baby.

But still, for 2 hours the talk was about babies, nursing, babies, birth stories, babies, gift registries, B-A-B-I-E-S.

So, how exactly do I handle this when everything in me wants to run away and burst into tears? How do I act polite and courteous to these people who I don't even know, while everything about them at that time brings pain to me?

And it's not just hard when I'm around babies or pregnant people. My grief can be triggered at the most obnoxious times.

What about when I get blurry-eyed as I walk past the vitamin aisle, remembering that this is where I got my prenatals? Who cries at the vitamin aisle?

What about crying while getting my favorite coffee because I am so sad I can drink it without having to worry about protecting a baby in me? Pretty awkward for everyone else, right? Really, is coffee something to get THAT worked up about?

What about when a close friend is pregnant, and I love them with all my heart, and I am so HAPPY for their growing baby, but I am so SAD for my loss, that I don't even know how to act without hurting their feelings?

How am I supposed to react when my dad starts counting his grandchildren -- and Olivia doesn't make the list?

What about going on Facebook and feeling jarred every time an ultrasound photo is posted, or a BOY/GIRL announcement is made, or a newborn photo is proudly displayed? I often will myself to "like" their status, even when the truth is, it was really hard for me to see.

What about dealing with the hundred billion reminders out there of the baby I lost, all while trying desperately to not offend or hurt everyone around me, and still, somehow, care for myself at the same time?

I still don't know how to juggle it all.

But I'm starting to think I need to tell my counselor that I need another week in the vacuum . . .

. . . just for good measure.


  1. As the mom of 5 children, 3 of those in Heaven, I hear you sister! One day at a time, one event at a time, one prayer at a time.

  2. Another great blog Rachel! I have a tendancy to stay in the vacumn. I know there is balance in everything and I would do well to get more involved in activities outside the home. Volunteering is fun, exercise etc...but, am I really willing to take on a serious committment outside my home? Not really. Today, I did something just for myself...I changed my Facebook wall picture to show Kara's hand tenderly resting on her open Bible. The picture brings me such comfort! Sometimes it's just one breath at a time. Other times I feel at peace. Everytime, I reach for Jesus.

  3. Amazing blog Rachel :-) I related to so much of it and it is nice to read that I am not alone. Thank you for blogging about your experiences :-)