Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The thing that you do

My friend Anne wrote here about how in light of my family's recent tragedy everything else seems quite trivial, especially blogging.

I feel that way too. My world is greatly darkened. And I have to think that if my world feels this way I cannot begin to imagine the blackness that is my brother and Pam's life right now.

Anne is right, everything by comparison is trivial. But I think we need those trivial things. If we spend our life weighing in on the heaviness of death and life I think our heads and our hearts would explode.

We need the trivial.
We need laughter.
We need the mundane.
We need the heavy.
And we need whatever it is that will get us by.
You see those two little cherubs in the picture with Evan?
That is what gets me by. And I know Duncan is helping Justin and Pam. He helps me too.

Right now though, even with my little angels-- sometimes devils-- I am having a hard time picturing when the world will not be this way-- so dark and so sad. And as a person who long ago aligned herself on the side of happiness I am particularly fearful and disgusted at this sadness-- this darkness that I once called my nothingness.

There was a time in my life where I was depressed. How depressed? Well, I can't say or honestly, don't care to-- and I suppose it doesn't matter now as it was long ago. I rarely think of that time but it sits there in the corner of my mind, a crouching reminder of darker days.

That was a time where daily I thought about killing myself. Most days I just hoped I would die but there were other days that I spent daydreaming on how to do it. Once, I even half heartedly tried. I saw a therapist twice a week and tried a bunch of different anti-depressants. I never slept but I wasn't exactly a productive member of society either. You know, unless you call Olympic beer consumption as productive.

During this time period I also had extreme guilt over what I saw as my obsessive self-indulgence into my nothingness. I felt guilty because I knew I had no real reason for being sad. This made it all the more terrible and me all the more self destructive. I suppose my thinking was: I will make things terrible in my life so at least then I will have a good reason for this depression. I thought about myself and my sadness-- my nothingness, obsessively. I might even be inclined to say I reveled in it. It was truly disgusting.

The only positive thing that I did do during that time was read lots of books and write. Mostly this was because when you don't sleep and are awake when everyone else is asleep there isn't much else to do other than read or write. So that is what I did.

I read a lot of Tom Robbins's books and so I am not sure from which one I got this notion but it was probably Jitterbug Perfume but possibly Still Life with Woodpecker, maybe even Another Roadside Attraction. Anyway, in one of those books, Mr. Robbins wrote about happiness being a "learned condition". He furthered that by saying that you have to make happiness a habit and went on to say how it takes 2 weeks to break a habit and 3 weeks to create one. Or, something like that.

At any rate, that was for me, as Oprah would say, "a lightbulb moment". Before that I really thought of happiness as something that some people had and others didn't. I guess it is sort of like how it is easy, even natural, for some people to sit still and for others this is something you have to learn and work really hard at--see, that I am still working on. Understandably, I am way less committed to sitting still than happiness.

So, you see, anyway, I never thought about having to work to be happy. Once I understood that happiness took work, I committed myself right then to the habit of being happy. I quit my therapist. I quit my antidepressants. And most importantly, I quit feeling sorry for myself. The habit of sadness took much, much longer than 2 weeks to break and the habit of happiness took even longer to adopt. Being happy is work. Really hard work, sometimes. I have also learned that part of being happy means learning to be grateful and humble. Those were really hard for me too. I. Try. Every. Day. To be all those things. And, obviously, since all this that has happened to Evan, to Justin, to Pam, it really has been so much easier to be grateful and humble. I just wake up now and it is there.

It has taken years and honestly, until I discovered running, I can't say I truly achieved my "habit" of "happiness".

You knew it was coming, didn't you?

That somehow I would work this into another boring post about running. But really, I think it is about more than that. Give me a chance to get there. Running, while a big piece of the pie is not the sum of the whole. I have a point, damn it!

And I well know I am not the only person who has discovered the art of self medication through endorphins. I always have to laugh when I spot some article "scientifically" affirming what thousands of runners already know.

And here is where I am going to wax romantically for a moment about running. Read if you want or skip head. Whatever.

Running is what untangles me.

After I had Carmella I was in a horrible knotted state. Sure, I was ecstatic with my baby but I was so anxious, worried and scared. I was totally freaked out about my new status as mother. I desperately needed to feel like myself, look like myself and know myself again. Going back to running-- even though I certainly didn't feel like it-- I knew would be my quickest route to me. Even after Beau's birth I felt that same anxious snarl again but was less frightful of it because I was confident running would save me again.

Running, crazy as it sounds, relaxes me. As the miles fall away I unravel and can see clearly, think or even feel. My mind can divorce my body and I can actually focus on what it is I need to.

Running is the thing that I do.

I have to say that since last week when Evan got so sick and then--even worse--once he was gone, everything has felt viciously empty.

Even running.

Even being with my kids.

Everything feels very, very, empty.

This has killed me that running has become a dark place. It has always been my savior.

I have not wanted to run-- or really, do anything. But not doing anything feels worse.

You might be surprised to hear that my sister and I did go and run the Atlanta half marathon on Thanksgiving. We didn't yet know the exact nature of Evan's condition and had to wait anyway until the neurologist came on duty later that morning to find out. We'd been up since 1 am and were just sitting at the hospital, not far from the start, hand wringing and pacing. Mom kept saying we should go run and around 4 am we decided to go run since just sitting idly was worse. I think one of the hardest parts of this has been that there is nothing "to do". There is nothing you can do and you just feel so worthless.

It was a prefect day for the race and besides being really sleep deprived I felt physically great. The first few miles were so easy but then "How to Save a Life" by the Fray came on my iPod and I lost it. I. Could. Not. Stop. Crying. If I had seen a single person I knew race side I would have thrown myself in their arms and had them take me back to the hospital.

I wish I could say the race was cathartic. That I solved something or gained some perspective but I didn't. It did not even make me feel better. It did though, let me feel. Time wise I ran the best race I have ever run at Atlanta, so did my sister but instead of triumphant I felt defeated, empty. All I wanted was to do was get back to the hospital.

It was about an hour after we got there that we were told the devastating news.

I didn't run for several days. But I told Ryan he had to make me go on Sunday. And he did and I went and I cried the whole time again. But crying while running has allowed me to be strong in front of my kids. I cried again on Monday when I ran too.

So yes, like blogging, running right now does feel incredibly frivolous, so selfish and absolutely trivial. But those are things that I do. I do not think that by doing them I am going to rid myself or miraculously heal me or anyone of this gaping hole. But I do think it will help heal me and in turn let me help those around me.

Please, do not think that for one second I don't feel horrible guilt and sadness and anger. I am so angry. At what? Nothing. There is no where to place blame but the anger is still there and running is working it out of me. While I run I think about Evan and I talk to him. I don't know. I just don't know. I guess, that probably sounds crazy-- but it is helping me.

Yesterday I ran for 12 miles and it was the first time I did not cry while running. I still thought of Evan and Justin and Pam and Duncan with every footfall. I didn't solve anything or find myself on the other side of this grief but I managed it a little better yesterday. And nope, I don't feel the joy or the happiness or the laughter I normally feel when I run. I did find though that when I laughed with my kids later in the day it wasn't forced or false. I didn't want to shut myself away and sob.

So this brings me back to the thing that I do. I had thought that I would stop blogging because really, where do I go from here? My intention when I started my blog was to make this a positive place. And I just don't know if I can live up to that anymore. And believe me, I know I write about a lot of frivolous crap and silly, self-indulgent things. That is who I am. I have intentionally avoided the more thoughtful topics and tried not be too "deep". (Well, I may still be succeeding on that count but you know what I am saying.) My point is that I certainly do not feel optimistic or positive or like life's little cheerleader anymore-- and that was the well that I was drawing from when I wrote most of my blog entries.

Right now that well is dry and there is a lot of bitterness. A lot. And, who wants to read about that?

But, you know, I think I am going to continue on. You see, while running allows me to workout a lot of emotions; writing really does help me to spill my head. I think right now I really need both to get me through this. So I can't promise that this will be a happy place for awhile, if ever. And, I'll understand if you don't want to come here and read anymore because of that. But, if you asked me, I would say I would like it very much if you would stick around. It is nice to know that people are listening.


  1. I'm glad you are back Nat! But do take time to tends to be a healing process.

    I came to your blog from RW to read about your running/prepartions for your marathons...I just recently got back into running and have been reading everything I can about it.

    I enjoyed reading your blog...but it saddens me to know that this tragedy has happened to your family and wish there was something that I could do in my powere to make the pain go away. Yes blogs are trivial compared to life and death...but...all your responses show you that there are a lot people that are touched...sad...but most of all...we care.

  2. I told someone yesterday about Evan and they said that what he was put here to do had already been accomplished. I can't quite wrap my mind around that but I do find just the tinyest bit of comfort in that thought. Turn, Turn, Turn.

  3. I think this is your best post ever. Sorry that it took such pain to bring it out of you, but I appreciate you sharing all of this with us. I also started blogging for fun, but now I find that it is part of me, one of the things that I do. Keep doing what you do. It will get you by.

  4. I'm glad that you are going to continue on. I look forward to your posts every day, bitter or not.

    The hard thing is that as much as we'd like to take this burden for you or at least carry it for while (same as you with Justin and Pam), there just isn't anything we can do except what we usually do. As much as I'd like to believe in the power of casserole, it's just food. Maybe we can share some funny stories, maybe share something pretty, maybe just be here to listen.

    Oh, and my secret word to get this entry posted was hugzh. Coincidence, I think not.

  5. I don't know you, but I'm going to comment anyway, because I enjoy reading your blog.

    Don't worry about how anyone else perceives you or how you handle grief. Do what you need to do for YOU, to get you through this.

    I'm so sorry you and your family are going through this. Though I don't know you, I'm saying prayers for you in my fashion.

    wishing you peace,

  6. Howdy! My depression had reached the lowest point in 1978 when I attempted "suicide by cop." That event cost me my first marriage, my job, and my health. I had seen several therapists since then and have taken a variety of medications. I'm currently medication free and no longer have depression, which I mainly attribute to my running habit. Nevertheless, I always have a watchful eye on my moods, I find when I start losing interest in running, chess, family events, food, etc., as I could be easily spiraling into deep depression. Keep active with your blogging and running, it WILL keep you sane. Be gentle with yourself, many people love you and want to see you safe and sound. Happy trails, Bruce

  7. Oh Nat,

    I can hardly read these words as I write them through my tears. I can not stop thinking about you, your family and precious Evan. You have touched upon your past "nothingness" with me before but never with as much candor as is poured into this post. I agree with you that we need the trivial in life. Hell- that is primarily what I cultivate in my own life, so I'd be screwed if I didn't feel that way. This post may make you feel vulnerable, but all that I see is your beautiful humanity and strength. You inspire me. Don't stop blogging kid.

  8. Natalie- I hoped for the best along with you and wished I could have offered solace when I heard your family's sad news. Take care and please don't stop writing-

  9. Natalie,
    Your family continues to be in our prayers. Thank you for sharing with us. Hopefully knowing that others care will help ease your grief, even if just a bit. I am glad you will continue to write, I look forward to reading your blog.

  10. Hey Nat,

    How are you doing? We miss you!

    How's your running coming?