I Knew I Was in Trouble When I Got Sick of the Sound of My Own Self-Soothing

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“You’ll get through this,” I told myself. “It won’t always be that way.”

And immediately felt annoyed.

I spoke to myself with a voice I’ve worked hard to cultivate. One that has been there for me when no one else is. And especially when I don’t want anyone else to be.

Because, let’s face it, those are easy things to say to someone else who is struggling. But they sound annoying when other people say it to you when you’re struggling.

The key here is other people. Because I’d always had pretty good luck with saying it to myself. And being able to let it help me get through hard times.

But this time, I couldn’t. My center had fallen out somewhere. And deep within me was a void. One that made me not only empty but structurally unsound. The pain came in spasms. Horrifyingly, they seemed to come out of nowhere. Like something within me was attacking me. Something that didn’t care what else was going on in my life. And certainly wouldn’t respond to reason.

Not other people’s — and not even my own.

The small voice I’d cultivated within me didn’t work. In fact, it was only annoying. It did more harm than good.

There was nothing else I could do then but hang on and ride. Through the pain, the shame, the doubt, the regret, the suffering.

There was no sadness then. In the early hours, the early days. Sadness was too quiet of an emotion to be felt. Too sober. Too easily overwhelmed by every other more intense thing I felt.

No, at first there were only excruciating pain, primal wails, and existential terror.

In that din, I could not find a single iota of kindness within me. In fact, I couldn’t find myself at all. Not within that cyclone of grief.

Instead, I spun through the time before me like something feral, completely at the mercy of ancient inner mechanisms I would never understand. At least not to my satisfaction.

*

I wrote that introduction nearly a year ago, shortly after my father passed away in spring of 2020. I saved it as a draft, tucked it away, and left it. 

And this morning, as I was looking through my folder of drafts, seeing if there was an older essay I could finish up, I found it. Reading it I could easily recall those early days of raw grief (including the ones where I was in too much pain to write much about what I was feeling, the ones where I only wrote in my private journal, entries that I can’t read now without crying). I remembered that feeling of impending doom. The bad sign that my self-soothing wasn’t going to work. 

This will be with you for a while, I thought. And a year later, I can tell you that I was right about that. The months that followed were some of the worst of my life. Something buried deep in my brain just scrambled and struggled. And no matter how much I consciously reached out and tried to soothe my own unrest, it wasn’t really effective. It had to play out — on its own schedule. Grief did its own thing; I didn’t have any control over how long it lasted. 

But I can also say, reading that introduction (as well as my private journal entries, crying or not) that I have come a long way since I wrote that. I still miss my father. There’s still a sadness there. But there’s also a powerful sense of meaning and gratitude there, too — one that grief worked out on its own schedule. 

(He was a truly exceptional person. Brilliant, hard-working, generous, funny. I’ve known no one else quite like him and very few anywhere close. I feel so fortunate to have had him as my father. What a lovely bit of luck.) 

Anyway, I was right. I was in trouble. I was in for a struggle. But it was always trouble I could handle — given enough time and self-compassion as I struggled. 

 

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