All that I lost

I had my best sleep for ages last night and woke this morning in a good frame of mind. I switched on the radio for the news, fed Rigby, made a coffee, and returned to bed. Rigby lay on the end of the bed as I caught up with social media from overnight, before picking up a book. In the background, the radio was sometimes on, sometimes off, as I was keen to hear the latest updates from the AFL trade. I’ve now showered and dressed and just returned from taking Rigby for a walk. It’s sunny, but with a cool breeze out.

I’m not surprised that the initial positive frame of mind has dissipated in the time since. While you do all those things, while you read and listen to the radio and walk the dog, your mind continues to tick over in the background. Thoughts develop along themes until you set aside your book to consider what’s in your head.

What’s in my head this morning are thoughts of grief. This is not something new, but nor is it something that has been resolved. I guess, technically, what I feel right now is depression, but what it really feels like is deep and abiding sadness. I think about six weeks ago I would have thought myself pretty content, though on narrow parameters. What’s happened since undermined that, but in so doing it also upset the delicate balance of emotions. From the depths have emerged grief that I had packed away, hopefully for good.

I think one of the reasons I write is a fascination with both human complexity and human frailty. I’m well aware we develop narratives to describe who we are and what we’re about. They make life easier because they’re arranged in such a way that what’s unpleasant is hidden away. In many ways, they’re necessary. We can’t go about mired in regret and past distress when we can do nothing about it. At the same time, there’s something artificial about that construct. These things happened after all, and they have a formative effect on the person you are today. And, if not properly dealt with, they can come back and haunt you.

This is where I am today. As a writer, I’m a master of narrative. I’m strong-willed and stubborn on top of that. It means that I’ve been very effective in locking things away. You could argue that it’s been necessary given the journey I’ve endured. When things were at their most dire I couldn’t stop to dwell on how miserable things were, I had to keep ploughing forward. I managed that. I survived. I’m grateful, but I lost something along the way.

Right now it feels like one of those movies where miners or archaeologists inadvertently pierce through to a chamber, thus releasing a monster. This monster, for me, is unresolved grief.

I’ve touched on this before. How when mum died I was too busy dealing with the fall-out from it to properly grieve what I had lost as a son. I never got the chance later when I was struggling to survive from one day to the next, nor did I ever grieve for, or even acknowledge, what I lost in that time either. To my way of thinking I had about five lost years but, by and large, I just put them behind me and got on with things.

Now they come back to me and now I must deal with them properly. I don’t know how to do that. I don’t even know how you’re meant to grieve, except that I think it’s a process that till now I’ve skipped through.

It’s true – and very reasonable – that I’ve chosen not to dwell on all that I lost. There was no point to it, I thought. It couldn’t be undone, forge ahead. And, I knew, it was much too painful. I think the time has come when I must face it.

When I lost my mum I lost a lot more than a loving and supportive person in my life. I lost a whole way of life. Her death fractured the family. Up until then, the family had been a warm and predictable thing. We were close-knit and social. We weren’t all close, but some of us were very close – and then she died and outside the funeral, I haven’t seen them since. Six years on the only family connection I have is with my nephews and niece, and that haphazard. For me, personally, it means I don’t have the support network I once had, I don’t have the easy affection that comes from long-established bonds, and I’m isolated – and never more so than on the big occasions. My life is much less for all of this, and the wound is deep.

My life was precarious before mum died, but afterwards, it became catastrophic. Much of that has been documented – the homelessness, the near bankruptcy, the despair. I survived all that, but I lost things that couldn’t be retrieved – opportunity and time.

I estimated a while back that I was a million dollars worse off now than I would’ve been had none of this happened. That probably errs on the conservative side. I was comfortable, had a good life, and had every reason to think it would continue to improve. Even if it hadn’t, I had a great foundation. I’ve not thought about this a lot because it hurts too much. I look at my friends with their nice homes and good lifestyles and that’s all I don’t have. It means that unless I do something drastic my senior years will be a struggle too. I went from having a life (and destiny) of ease and comfort, to struggling to get by, now and into the future.

I had a metaphorical gold pass. I was in the upper echelons professionally. All that was trashed by becoming homeless. Now, I am invisible. I strive to be heard but am overlooked. The roles I would have been a shoo-in for previously I’m not even considered for now. I have become tarnished. Damaged goods. And, I have changed because of it.

I don’t know if I’m being wise in retrospect, but what seems the hardest thing for me is that I was set back then to step into the next stage of my life. In my mind, that’s to become a husband and father. I always wanted that, but I was restless and there were other things I wanted to do first. I’d got a lot of that out of my system and had established a foundation on which I hoped to embark on the next phase of my journey. Then, shit happened, and for all those years I set that aside. It’s what makes me ache most – what could have been.

I hope this doesn’t come across as a litany of complaints. I’m trying not to be self-pitying. All these things have been so painful that I pushed them aside, out of sight, and constructed a narrative around them. This is all about tearing that narrative up and facing up to the ugly facts. These are the things I have to acknowledge, feel, grieve for. Maybe I need to feel that pain, and maybe I need some healthy sorrow.

It’s true, I can’t go back and change things. I’ve always been bullish and positive, by instinct and intention. That’s admirable, but it’s not enough by itself. It’s time to set that aside and accept these harsh truths and get them out of my system. It’s a further development on the plan to be more open and honest, except this time it’s about being open and honest with myself.

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