The Worst is Over…Not.

This whole business of divorce recovery and starting life over again in mid-life…it ain’t for sissies, as they say. For a while I’d thought I was through the worst of it, after going through the initial few months of sleepless nights and sheer panic about my future, then a period of calm reflection and settling down emotionally, and eventually starting to feel more optimistic about what lay ahead for me. When I got to that point I was sort of surprised: I thought it was supposed to take longer than that to heal from the trauma of divorce, but maybe I was one of the lucky ones, right? Wrong.

When I was offered a great job several months ago, I felt temporarily courageous and decided I was brave enough to move away from my friends and a place I loved. I convinced myself I was strong enough to start life all over, in a place that was geographically not all that far away but felt – psychologically – like it was thousands of miles away. Today I’m not so sure I’ve got enough strength.

Kim with titmouse in hand at Kensington Dec 2014
Hand-feeding a Tufted Titmouse at Kensington Metropark

But I’m not giving up. I’ve worked incredibly hard over the past 15 months to adjust to being on my own again. It’s taken every ounce of strength I could dredge up from the depths of my soul to get to this point. I’ve gone through all the stages of grief about my divorce–some of them more than once. I do wish the grieving process could be a linear one, so that once you’ve gone through each stage you could be done with it. But it’s not that way, and even though you think you’ve finished with the “anger” or “depression” stages, they can come back when you least expect them, which is even more unsettling than the first time.

I’ve been trying to figure out why I’m falling back into negativity and sadness lately.  I just spent a few minutes looking back through my Facebook timeline for December of last year, and I almost can’t believe how happy I looked back then. The photos in this post were all taken last December while I was living alone in my apartment, in limbo, not sure what I was going to do with my life. But look at me, I was happy! So why am I not happy now? I have a house and a job, so you’d think I’d feel better about my future, right?  But what I’ve realized is that I’m still missing so many of the people and places that I love, and more importantly, I don’t have the time or energy anymore to do the things that make me happiest.

Kim with two chickadees in hand at Kensington Dec 2014
Two chickadees feeding from my hands at Kensington Metropark

I can’t remember the last time I went out and just walked in nature. These days I come home exhausted, often crying as I walk into my dark and empty house, and spend the evening just sitting on the sofa in front of mindless television. And that is so not how I want to live my life! I want to be with friends who want to be with me, and I want to be able to smile without forcing it, and to see birds. In fact, I’m really missing the joy of seeing birds and just being able to spend time in nature. That’s been an important part of my healing process, and I can easily see the impact of less nature time in my life. Clearly, I need to make this a priority.

I’m also sure that this recent sadness is also partly due to the fact that it’s THE HOLIDAYS and we’re supposed to be giddy with happiness all the time. Maybe that’s why few people are willing to really hear me when I try to share something about my sadness and my fears. Since my emotions are so raw, I cry easily. And I see the way they look at me when I mention my troubles–their eyes glaze over or they just pretend they didn’t hear me and quickly change the subject. I wonder if people are afraid to acknowledge my pain because it makes them feel guilty for their happiness. Does that make sense? Or maybe they think I expect them to make everything better for me?

Kim and Deb in Rochester with holiday lights Dec 2014
My sister Deb and me enjoying the light display in Rochester, Michigan (Dec. 2014)

But that’s just it, I don’t expect that of anyone. And thankfully, I found one friend recently who was willing to just listen to me. And I’ll be eternally grateful to her for really seeing me for who I am and for not thinking I’m weak. She didn’t try to solve my problems, and I didn’t expect her to. She just listened to me. And that was such an amazing gift.

Is there anyone in your life who could use someone to just listen to them this holiday season? Could you give them that precious and life-affirming gift? I know I’ll try to pay it forward now that someone has done me the immense honor of acknowledging my struggles. After all, isn’t that what we all want from life, to be really seen and heard?

Wishing you and yours a holiday season filled with love and healing.

 

And Then There Was One

Two months ago I lived in a beautiful home on two acres of woods, with a husband and two cats. The four of us weren’t always happy, but we were still a family. Our daily lives were deeply intertwined.

Then it all came apart.

The cats and I moved into an apartment a few miles away. The three of us began a journey together. None of us were thrilled about it, but it happened nonetheless.

The first night after I brought Mickey and Dexter here, after they’d explored their new home and settled down on the sofa with me, I felt a tiny glimmer of optimism that maybe we were all going to be okay in the end. The cats gave me much-needed comfort as I began my new life on shaky legs.

Dexter at his favorite window
Dexter at his favorite window

Then one month ago it became clear that Dexter, an active five-year-old, wasn’t happy here. His favorite activity at the house had been watching the many birds at our feeders. He spent his days “stalking” the ground-feeding Juncos and Mourning Doves, leaping against the glass and scattering them. Over and over. Sometimes the squirrels would stand face-to-face with him in a sort of contest of wills. The floor-to-ceiling windows were perfect for his critter-watching hobby. And he made good use of the entire 2800 square feet of the house, galloping up and down the stairs, running headlong into that big window by the feeders. He was so happy there.

Here in this second-floor apartment of 1100 square feet he didn’t have any vantage points to see wildlife. And since I’m not allowed to have feeders here, he had little chance to see birds either. Of course I made extra efforts to play with him often throughout the day, tossing his favorite toys across the apartment until he grew tired of chasing them. But it just wasn’t enough.

Dexter and Mickey in 2012
Dexter and Mickey in 2012

He began showing signs of frustration and, I believe, unhappiness. I told Eric about my concerns and he offered to take Dexter back to live at the house with him. So two weeks ago I said a sad goodbye and took him back there. When I let him out of his carrier he ran directly to his favorite window, clearly happy to be home. I’m sure it was the best decision for Dexter, but it was pure torture for me. I had immense guilt for splitting up the two cats, who had been great companions for each other. As a younger cat, Dexter was great at keeping 15-year old Mickey active. Mickey would rather chase Dexter than play with toys. So I beat myself up over my perceived failure as a responsible cat owner. Every time I adopt a cat from the shelter I make a commitment to care for it for the rest of its life. So I felt I’d broken that commitment. And I missed Dexter terribly. I worried that Mickey also missed him.

Day 7 in the new apartment
Day 7 in the new apartment

So now the two of us began a much quieter life. Those first few days without Dexter felt like I was living in a funeral home. It was like the life had been sucked out of my home. Eric reassured me that he was smothering Dexy with love and lots of new toys. And he said he might get another cat to keep him company. That made me feel better.

So Mickey and I were starting to adjust to our situation. Then, on Tuesday last week he stopped eating and slept all day. I was concerned and watched him closely. On Wednesday morning he didn’t wake me up early as he usually did, and I found him sleeping on the bathroom floor, someplace he’d never slept before. He seemed to be in pain when I picked him up. I called the vet and they let me bring him in right away. After an exam and an inconclusive x-ray, they sent us to the vet hospital for an ultrasound. Mickey had two ultrasounds at this hospital before, most recently in July this year. He was diagnosed with inflammatory bowel disease and was being treated with a daily steroid pill.

Mickey's favorite sleeping spot in the apartment
Mickey’s favorite sleeping spot in the apartment

The new ultrasound was inconclusive too, and they gave him pain medications and wanted to keep him overnight for observation. On Thanksgiving morning he was worse and had emergency surgery. The vet called me in the middle of the surgery to tell me she’d found a hole in his intestine. They could remove a section of his intestine but because of his long-term steroid use and enlarged organs, he would likely not heal well from the surgery and would require a long hospital stay. I knew what I had to do, and on Thanksgiving day I made the excruciating decision to have my baby euthanized to spare him all of that trauma. At that moment I thought I would die too. My heart was still bruised and battered from all the other losses I’d experienced lately. My world crumbled right then. I’d felt alone before, when I had both cats. But now I was really alone. Heartbroken, I made the 15 mile drive to say goodbye to my sweet baby boy. Numb, I came home to a very quiet apartment.

My beautiful Mickey
My beautiful Mickey

Mickey and I had a very close relationship for his entire life. He slept beside my pillow every night. He sat on my lap whenever I sat down on the sofa. He loved to be carried around on my shoulder as I went about simple household chores. He was my buddy. I loved him dearly. I still have moments when I can’t believe he’s really gone. I still can’t sleep through the night. In fact I’m writing this at 3 a.m.

Mickey snoozing on my legs (2013)
Mickey snoozing on my legs (2013)

Everyone seems to think I should get another cat, right away. I don’t know if I can ever get another cat. Every time I lose one of them it brings me to my knees. I just don’t know if I can go through that again. Now I’ve got three little urns filled with ashes in my closet. It’s unbearably sad. But, on the other hand, I can’t imagine not having a cat in my life — they’re such wonderful companions and fascinating animals, so full of unconditional love.

Mickey portrait resizedI know that anytime you love someone you risk the pain of losing them, whether it’s by divorce or death. Right now I hurt too much to even consider letting another cat into my heart. But I realize that by protecting myself from this hurt I’d be denying myself the joy of rescuing and loving another cat. I guess I’m pretty confused right now, in the rawness of this fresh grief.

At Eric’s urging, I went to visit Dexter on Friday and Saturday. It was like a bandaid on my heart to sit there and cuddle with him while he purred his funny little purr.  I sat on the sofa in my usual spot and watched a movie, with Dexy staring up into my eyes as if life had gone back to “normal.” In fact it was surreal being back in the house like that. I almost wanted to close my eyes and pretend none of the past three months had happened. But I knew I couldn’t do that. As painful as it was, this split needed to happen.

Dexter and Mickey (2012)
Dexter and Mickey (2012)

So now I’ve got to just put one foot in front of the other and keep moving forward. Time will ease some of this pain, I know.  But I’ve been so sad and scared for months, and that really wears a person down. Very late on Thursday night, after crying until I was exhausted, I suddenly felt all the fight go out of me at once. I felt too tired to be scared anymore, if that even makes sense. I didn’t have the strength to keep holding up my protective walls anymore either.  I had been shutting out my family because I always ended up feeling sadder after phone calls with my parents or my sister. I believed nobody really understood my pain. I resisted every suggestion they made in their efforts to soothe my broken heart. But suddenly I was ready to hear them. I had no more fight left in me.

Over the weekend I spent hours on the phone with my mom and sister, soaking up any crumbs of advice or positive thinking they had for me. I started to feel gratitude that they loved me enough to not give up on me when I shut them out. They know all my weaknesses but don’t judge me. They are strong for me when I can’t be strong for myself. They hold me up until I can stand on my own again. Some friends will turn away in times of tragedy — maybe they’re uncomfortable witnesses to your pain or they don’t know what to say. And I don’t blame anybody for that; I suppose it’s human nature. But I’m incredibly grateful to my family for catching me when I fell so far down into the depths of despair that I thought I might not be able to get back out on my own. Now I understand that even though I live “alone,” I’m never really alone. No matter what our differences, we are family and they’ve got my back. I am grateful.

 

Alright

I know, you’re all waiting for my second installment of the Panama trip, aren’t you? I’m sorry to say that I’m not very motivated to write that part anymore because my life has taken a dramatic turn recently and my priorities have changed: Shortly after we returned home my husband and I decided to end our marriage of 16 years.

I’ve debated whether or not to write about this personal situation here. That’s why I haven’t written anything lately, because I felt blocked. It seemed somehow dishonest to go on writing about normal things as if everything is okay, when in reality my entire life has been turned upside down. But this blog has been an important part of my life for years, and I miss interacting with you all. So I’m going to be open about it in the hope that it will relieve the burden of the big secret I’ve been carrying on my shoulders. I’ve been writing furiously in my journal, of course, but that’s where I let all the crazy thoughts tumble out without editing them. But I think sharing some of my experiences here will serve another purpose — helping other people who find themselves in a similar situation. And since almost everything in my life  has changed recently, it will give me some comfort to maintain at least this one familiar thing as I go through this difficult transition.

White-breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatch

Despite realizing long ago that it would eventually come to this, it took me years to get up the courage to finally go through with the divorce. And it felt like jumping off a cliff without a parachute. I couldn’t sleep for weeks because I was terrified of having the conversation. And yet I knew it wasn’t fair to either of us to continue just going through the motions without our hearts being in it anymore. If there’s anything sadder than divorce, it’s settling for an unhappy marriage. Life is short and we both deserve better. It’s my hope that we can look back in a few years and be happier, healthier people.

So I’ve been in panic mode for the past couple of months as I tried to come to terms with what this means for my future. Along with all the emotional and financial turmoil that comes with a divorce, I’ve got the added problem of having no job and very little work history for the past 14 years. It’s going to take some time to get myself back into the work world after I get my head on straight again but I’m planning to resume my freelance indexing career and add proofreading services too.

Rochester Municipal Park bench and creek w sigI moved into an apartment a couple weeks ago and am pretty much settled in now, with just a few boxes that I can’t seem to fit anywhere. Moving from a 2700 square foot home to an 1100 square foot apartment meant that I had to let go of a lot of things that meant a great deal to me. It was torture trying to come to terms with not being able to take the antique furniture I’d discovered at flea markets, and my kayak, and — oh my gosh — my books. One day as I was trying to sort my books I ended up sitting on the floor in front of the bookcase sobbing my eyes out.

Rochester Municipal Park (13) (800x600)You may remember that I’ve written before about how much I love my books, here. But I had to tell myself that they’re just “things” and I can always borrow them from the library. One of the hardest things was leaving my beautiful knitting books behind. Those books are loaded with amazing photographs of sheep and lovely hand-dyed yarns…just really nice to browse through, even if I’m not knitting much anymore. So I took about 20 of them and left all the others behind to get donated to the library. I also took photos of all the books I couldn’t bring with me, so at least I won’t go nuts looking for something I don’t have anymore.

I reminded myself that I’ve been saying for years that I don’t need “stuff” and I wanted to simplify my life anyway. It’s just that having it forced on me in this way, when I’m already dealing with the grief over the loss of my marriage, was just one more trauma piled on top of everything else. It’s so easy to say, “I don’t need stuff” when you don’t have to let go of that stuff.  I’m so glad that I found a therapist to help me through this process, as she’s already taught me a lot about myself and talked me through some of the hardest parts of this whole thing. She helps me think through my fears and she’s helped me see that I really tend to beat myself up for my weaknesses, especially while I’m making such a huge transition in my life. So I’m trying hard to be kind to myself for the next couple of months as I adjust to my new reality and figure out who I am again.

Robin with red berry in beak w sigAnd of course I’m reading everything I can get my hands on about healing from divorce, about dealing with the grief. It’s very similar to how you feel when someone you love dies. You go through shock, sadness, and denial first, and then slowly you begin to function normally again. And eventually you have some happy days sprinkled in there. But then, when you least expect it, you’ll hear a song or watch a movie and be reminded of something that breaks your heart all over again. For a few weeks I couldn’t even listen to my iPod because every song seemed to be a reminder of the love I didn’t have any more. It’s an emotional roller coaster, that’s for sure.

But as bad as it’s been, I can see glimpses of light at the end of the tunnel now. On my good days I can almost picture myself happy again, leading a new and exciting life. And my friends have been incredibly supportive, sending me notes just to let me know they’re thinking of me. When my self-esteem is at its lowest they remind me of all my positive qualities. When I’m having a bad day and feeling sorry for myself, getting even a one-sentence text or email can make it a lot easier to get through it.

Chickadee on red sumac w sig
Black-capped Chickadee feasting on sumac seeds

One of the saddest parts of moving to an apartment has been the loss of the two acres of woods that surrounded our house. I’ve written many times about how much I loved the wide variety of wildlife that visited our yard. In my apartment search I made a priority of finding a place with big trees and as much privacy as I could. Most apartment communities are arranged so your view is likely to be of another apartment building, but I was really lucky to find a place where my view is of a lovely strip of woods. There are two sumac trees right outside my windows (although they look like they’re almost dead), and big cottonwoods and oaks too. The fall colors are beautiful right now.  I’m sure you won’t be surprised to hear that I started my new “yard bird list” on the day I moved in. Since October 1st I’ve seen 17 species of birds already, without even stepping outside the apartment. And even better, I’m getting close up views of them when they come to the sumacs. The sumac trees are a big draw for birds that love feasting on the big seed heads, so I have hopes of good birding all winter long here.

All of the photos in this post were taken after I moved into the apartment. Looking at the photos helps convince me that I’m going to be alright here. My living space is comfortable, my cats are settled in, and I still have birds! Birds have been such a blessing in my life in recent years. They’ve taught me lessons about nature. They’ve graced me with their beauty and resilience and charm. They’ve brought me the best friends I’ve had in my entire life, kind-hearted people who share my respect for the natural world and who accept me for who I am. Even when I don’t know who I am.

Yes, thanks to birds and birders, I’m going to be alright.

Northern Flicker right outside my window
Northern Flicker right outside my window