I’ve always had a pretty good grasp on myself. On who I am, on what makes me tick, on what shapes my mental health.
That’s not to say I’ve not had to learn things. I’ve had my tiny little mind blown several times as the dots have been connected in front of me, and it seems the older I get the more revelations there are. This year in particular has been full of them.
Last night there came one about my relationship with Grief.
I’ve been fortunate enough to go through life not losing too many important, real, people. I say real because I have, as I’ve talked about before, a somewhat unhealthy attachment to a cache of fictional characters. Some whose deaths have affected me more than real, living, breathing people.
Grief for me is mostly hollow. An emptiness that sits weighty in my chest. Like an awkward silence that needs to be filled it just sits and waits, sits and weights. It’s a black hole that reaches out claws to wrap around my throat, catching me off guard in moments of normality and overwhelming me with emotion. Grief is a hollow hole that needs filling with something and often that something is guilt.
Neither is an option that’s fun. The empty void of hollowness sucks energy out of you at an alarming rate. The fullness of guilt makes me feel sick, it creeps up my flesh and makes me want to tear myself apart. The guilt forces me to find things that will disturb or upset me, just so I can feel something that isn’t guilt. Something that will be bigger than the guilt. Something that will override it.
I’d take fear over guilt. Lock me in a bathroom with intrusive thoughts going nuts and the paralyzing fear the world is ending on the other side of the door, make me walk through a dark underpass where the light seems to get further away the faster I run, make me face a room littered with house spiders as large as dinner plates. I’d take all that over the feeling of guilt. All of it.
Fear is something that’s been a constant companion to me. It’s comforting in a way, because I’ve come to be at peace with it. It doesn’t mean I’m not afraid, that I don’t get scared, it just means that I’ve accepted it.
Guilt is a killer, but so is the Hollowness. They’re two sides of a terrible coin.
We lost a Guinea Pig over the weekend, Friday actually. There was nothing could be done. He got ill, really ill and my gut told me not to take him to the vet for two reasons;
- The 30 minute taxi ride there (Guinea Pigs should be seen by an exotic vet) and the stress of getting ready to go might have seen him off.
- I didn’t want him dying at the vets, alone, in a cold box, surrounded by the strange and unfamiliar like Patch did.
Unlike with Patch, this time I followed my gut.
My anxiety and OCD tried to wrestle with me but every time they did the solidity of my decision was too much for them. They stopped fighting me.
Gus was gone by Friday afternoon, I held him on and off most of the day letting him spend time with Pickett (his companion, who actually seems to be fairing better than me out of all this), then I held him as he passed and went over the rainbow bridge.
The hard thing isn’t death itself. I find death fascinating.
The hard thing is having OCD and Anxiety when this comes. The hard thing is the little intrusive thoughts questioning whether they’re actually dead, maybe they’ll just spring back up? The hard thing is the voice in my head asking if the hollowness I feel is because I didn’t really care. Last night those voices were strong, last night there were thoughts telling me to dig him up, there were thoughts telling me I didn’t care, there were thoughts telling me I was a horrible person.
I started analysing the difference in my reaction between the deaths of my various animal companions over the years. The most recent guilt filled death being Patch the Guinea Pig – who died of heart failure, my gut told me to take him to the vet earlier and I thought I was over reacting, then when we did take him he had days at most as they tried hard to help him. The most overwhelming thing was the fact he’d died alone, in a plastic box (it was an incubator but still), away from all the comforts of home. The sound of our voices and his companion. It still kills me to this day.
I used the guilt like a stick to beat myself with over and over. Sometimes it surges forwards in times of stress or when my mental health demons feel like being particularly nasty. It’s painful, it hurts, it makes me feel the sickly shades of green and yellows. It makes me desperate to find something to see the feeling off.
With Gus, no matter how many times the mental health demons tried to ask if I’d done everything I could, if I’d really chosen correctly, the answer was always a resounding yes. The booming yes of a defiant hero as they stand against an enemy. With no guilt to beat myself with, all that was left was the cavern.
Actually I don’t think it is a cavern. In the dark at least there are things to imagine. Even when it’s bleak and unending. This is more like a brilliant white scape that nothing can exist in. It fills up every corner leaving no room for anything. I feel like at least in the dark there’s room for things.
Anyway, it means all that’s left is a sort of emptiness. The space where they used to be. The grief here catches me off guard. I was prepared for his death and that does make things easier and yet, it doesn’t. Flashes of him running, squeaking, wanting attention come and overwhelm me. The space is filled instantly with such an intense amount of emotion that it takes a minute to come back to reality.
You have to take a minute, just sit and breathe.
The world doesn’t really give you that moment though.
I don’t mean friends and relatives and understanding people. I mean the actual world. With Guilt there is something to distract you, keep you occupied but with the Hollowness there isn’t. You just want a moment, a solid moment for the world to stop, for time to slow, for everything to pause. Just for one moment so you can sit and be.
I always think of the song in these moment Don’t They Know It’s The End of The World?
Why does the sun go on shining?
Why does the sea rush to shore?
Don’t they know it’s the end of the world?
‘Cause you’re not here any more
Why do the birds go on singing?
Why do the stars glow above?
Don’t they know it’s the end of the world?
It ended when I lost your love
I also always change the lyric, it’s supposed to be ‘Cause you don’t love me anymore, but that never feels right.
Everything else fits though.
All in all the Hollowness is probably better than the Guilt.
Guilt festers. Guilt lies in wait like a troll under a bridge, like a tumour thought benign, it lingers and springs upon you. Guilt twists you up inside and suffocates you.
The Hollowness, becomes a sea of memories. It fades away to a pin prick as other things begin to grow and blossom in the space.