Eat Wild Prey, Love

Is it weird that sometimes I feel pressure to do something with my grief?  To eat? To pray? To love?  To hike?

Eat? I haven’t really eaten a healthy meal since March- I’m still trying to kick the wicked dark chocolate Ensure addiction that I developed when my dad was in the hospital.  It was the only thing I could stomach.  Pray? I recall about half of the words to any Jewish prayer at any given time.  Baruch At…ah crap, I forgot the words again.  Love?  I’m not sure I even understand the meaning of that word anymore.  Hike?  Tempting, but there is a high likelihood that I would be eaten by something large and furry.  I confess that I’ve never actually read Eat, Pray, Love or Wild (I am reading Tiny Beautiful Things so get off my back!), but I do like the concept of journeying big to find meaning.  It’s just not my style.  Anxious people don’t really journey big.  They take staycations.  My grief is like a staycation.  It mostly sucks, but it has its moments.

It’s true when they say that the stages of grief aren’t linear.  Why the fuck not?  Because that would be too easy.  Oh!  Done with sadness, let’s check that off the ‘ole “to do” list.  Denial?  I’m the Queen of Denial!  Nope!  You cycle through the stages.  It’s as if you’re riding a merry-go-round.  You’re bobbing up and down on your pretty, painted, pony in a forward motion and, suddenly, someone plucks you up flips you around and makes you ride it backwards.  Two steps forward, two steps back.  You didn’t know it at the time, but Paula Abdul was a goddamn grief counselor.

Here is the secret- grief itself is the journey.  It’s tangible. It’s a trail guide.  It’s a time machine and a time thief.  It’s an angel on one shoulder and a devil on another.  It’s an impossible labyrinth that is somehow conquerable.  Trust me.  You can’t lose a parent and go through a divorce in one year and not learn a thing or two about the internal journey of grief.

Here is another secret- grief is that teacher you hated as a kid but look back on now and secretly thank for giving you chops.  I had a teacher like that in 5th grade.  She smelled my fear and called on me when I didn’t raise my hand and, instead, tried to slink down in my chair. Because I knew she was coming for me, I studied every night and, eventually, I raised my hand and sat tall in my chair. Action, the enemy of anxiety.  Acceptance, the enemy of grief.  I hear it’s the last stage, too.  The end of the line.  Maybe.

I’ve almost reached the acceptance stage a few times and then circled back to anger and sadness, because I like to go back and double check my work.  I’m getting there though.  I feel mostly okay on a lot more days.  I laugh a lot more and answer honestly when people ask how I’m doing.  “I’m okay.”

I know a lot of you understand loss and some of you don’t yet.  You will at some point, in some way or another.  When you do, you’ll clutch the pole of your painted pony and realize your hands are slipping.  It’s okay.  Know that you’ll be okay.  Own your journey, whatever that journey looks like to you.

 

Will the Real Rebecca Bunch Please Stand Up?

When a billboard popped up in my Chicago neighborhood for the show “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”, I produced an eye roll so epic that I almost needed emergency surgery.  I turned to my husband and said “I would never watch that show!  How sexist! Way to propagate the stereotype that women are crazy!” Then, we walked home, hand-in-hand, made dinner and settled in to a nice night of cuddling and T.V. watching on the couch.

Fast forward a year.

A couple of months ago, I had brunch with two of my girlfriends to catch them up on the absolutely hellish year I was having. I explained that in March, I lost my incredible dad to bladder cancer.  By the time he was diagnosed, it was basically too late. When he died, a part of me died, too.  Less than 5 months later, while I was still grieving the loss of my dad, hard, my husband walked out on me.  I was absolutely shocked.  I didn’t see it coming—we were actively planning for a family.  I was in the middle of ugly crying through my updates when my friend turned to me and said “have you seen the show crazy ex girlfriend?” I paused, looked at her and thought, Really?  Really!?  That’s your suggestion right now? To watch some sexist tv show? Then, she told me a little about the show and simply said “trust me.”

So, I went home that day, pulled up season one on Netflix and was immediately hooked.

The protagonist of the show Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is Rebecca Bunch, who leaves her stressful lawyer life in New York and moves to West Covina, California after she runs into her high school boyfriend.  However, as the theme song of the show teaches us, “it’s a lot more nuanced than that.”

Rebecca starts out as a Xanax popping workaholic who is clearly not happy with any aspect of her life.  Episode one begins with a flashback to a summer camp she attended in high school where she meets Josh Chan, her true love—well, according to her.  When Josh’s parents come to pick him up at the end of the summer, Rebecca, the romantic that she is, wrongly assumes that their love will transcend all time and space.  Instead, Josh tells her that she is weird and dramatic.  She doesn’t see Josh again until ten years later when she bumps into him on the street, minutes after having a panic attack about the trajectory of her career and life.  Josh is getting ready to move from New York back home to West Covina, California.  He tells her how happy California makes him and how New York just isn’t for him.  As he walks away, the word “happy” resonates in Rebecca’s mind and, the next thing we know, she’s moving to West Covina, too. There’s a song about it! There are a lot of other songs throughout season one of the show, and they are all delightful and poignant (and on the CW website).

About 20 minutes into the first episode, all I could think was will the real Rebecca Bunch please stand up? During the first season, we learn Rebecca is a lawyer- guilty, so am I.  She sings- do re me, too.  She’s Jewish– oy, I am as well.  She’s got anxiety- pass the Xanax!  And she has heavy boobs—in college I had to hug myself when I ran on the treadmill.  In short, I’m standing up.

Throughout the season, Rebecca learns a lot of valuable lessons.  But, she doesn’t learn them in a saccharin Full House sort of way.  She learns them by wading through a lot of crap (in one episode she literally climbs into a sewer).  It felt like I was watching my own therapy.  With every hurdle Rebecca overcame, I too felt like I had the courage to overcome the absolute shit storm that was my life.

The first few weeks after my husband left were terrifying for me.  I had spent nearly every day with him for seven and a half years and I didn’t know how to start over.  I could barely eat, I could barely sleep.  I felt my dad’s absence more intensely.  But, little by little, I started to come back.  I remember the first time I heard Rebecca’s West Covina bestie, Paula, sing about facing your fears. It just woke me up, and cracked me up, and suddenly I was like, yes, Paula!  I will face my fears! There was nothing that could possibly be as terrifying as losing my beloved dad and my husband within 5 months of each other.  Nothing.  And I survived both of those things. That realization pushed me forward. When you reach rock bottom there is no other option but to face your fears.

The episode that opened my eyes the most was “Josh Has No Idea Where I am.”  In this one, Rebecca realizes that she never learned to put the things that made her happiest first.  In the case of this episode, it was her love of performing.  Instead, she always let herself get distracted by terrible men or the need to please everyone around her.  She was never good at simply “doing Rebecca.”  That episode straight up inspired me. For months I had cried about my dad and about my marriage.  Frankly, it had been years since I explored or indulged any of the things that made me happiest- like writing and performing.  So, I started writing again and it made me feel empowered.  I started cracking jokes again and it felt good to make people laugh.

I’ve been looking at my life through a new lens since I discovered the show.  The thing I love the most about Rebecca is that she’s not perfect and she’s certainly not crazy.  She’s human.  Sure, she’s a bit dramatic, but what’s wrong with that?

Is it scary to start over?  Hell yes.  But, Rebecca did it and so can I.

 

“A” For Effort

The first time I had a Xanax, it took 20 minutes.  I don’t mean that it took 20 minutes to kick in, I mean that it took me 20 minutes to swallow it.  It balanced in my palm for 20 minutes while I deliberated about whether or not I should take it.  For those in the audience who have never heard of Xanax, it’s a medication for people who suffer from panic attacks and anxiety.  It’s meant to alleviate anxiety, not cause it.  Anxiety is funny like that though.  Before it sat in my palm for 20 minutes, the Xanax sat on my shelf for over a year so, by the time I took it, it was expired.

I burst forth into this world with anxiety.  Doesn’t everyone?  Isn’t crying the first act of our humanity?  We’re not crying because of the deeply spiritual experience of being born, we’re crying because it’s fucking terrifying to be a thing in this world, and it’s instinct to cry. Anxiety has followed me throughout my life.  I think of it as the Cheshire Cat, just hovering over me with an asshole grin.  Have you ever gone to the Disney Store to buy a stuffed Cheshire Cat to remind yourself that it’s the physical embodiment of your anxiety? I have.

Until recently, I thought of my anxiety like a scarlet letter.  I think a lot of us feel this way about our anxiety, that it’s something to be ashamed of.  Instead, I’ve started thinking of it like Superman’s iconic “S”.  I’ve heard a lot of people talk about their anxiety like it’s a superpower and I think that’s accurate.  Anxiety allows you to think extremely quickly, and process all potential realities.  But, with great power comes great exhaustion.

In March, I lost my dad to cancer.  It was quick and, for a week, the Cheshire Cat was there over my shoulder, grinning like an asshole.  But I learned that the nemesis of Anxiety is The Moment.  Living in the moment (some call it mindfulness) keeps the flies from buzzing around you.  On the day my dad died, I watched his chest for hours.  I’ve never been so aware of anything in my life.  I’ve never been so in the moment.

My dad was the master of living in the moment.  He meditated twice a day for most of his life and he helped people all over the world to learn how to heal, process and let go through his energy work.  I was always proud of him, but I never understood how he was able to be still and centered.  I’ve come to realize he was that way because he practiced it consciously.  It doesn’t come easily to anyone and, if they tell you it does, they are lying.

My dad accepted the fact that he was going to die with grace and beauty.  He died with a smile on his face that seemed to get wider after he passed away.  It wasn’t a frantic, Cheshire Cat smile.  It was a smile that said “I died as I lived- in peace.”

This blog is a tribute to my dad.  It’s my way of being in the moment, if only for a little while.  It’s my way of understanding my anxiety and walking through it.  I started it over a year ago and, much like the Xanax, it sat on the shelf for a while.  But now, I’m dusting it off, taking a big gulp and moving forward.

Thanks for reading.