Friday, November 18, 2011

Hope and Rope

After a week of being less social that usual, last Friday night sucked. Really, really sucked. I have no idea what triggered the mess. I wasn’t wallowing around in old wedding pictures. I hadn't gone back in time to read our Great Cancer Adventure blog (reading about our last days together still transforms me into a wailing mess of a man.) But for some reason, Friday evening was the night an ugly freight train of emotion hit me like never before. Maybe the train’s always been there but I have always had some judo to derail it before it picked up speed. Friday, it was just me, dark thoughts and a fast moving train.

From December 2006 (just prior to the diagnosis), I’ve been fairly good at staying positive or at least letting the negative waves of emotion and fear wash over me without pulling me endo via a riptide into unsafe depths. I’ve learned to control my thoughts and, when powerful negatives start echoing around in the emotion-amplifier called my brain, I just change the subject, quite literally. I don’t try to resolve the un-resolvable (“Why us? Why now? How can this happen?”) I just hear the questions form in my brain-chatter and let them run right out, giving them no energy or focus. Then I immediately change the subject to ANY other subject. I don’t avoid them but I don’t let them control me either. I just acknowledge them and move on. I’ve always been careful not to give them any energy because without energy, those thoughts starve and die.

...At least until last Friday night. That night, for some reason, I was weak. My idle mind filled quickly with widower-style un-resolvable questions (“How do I rebuild? Will I always be alone? Are my best years lost?”). Every question led to worse follow-up questions. Down and down I went. Eventually I was building doomsday scenarios, each more terrible than the previous. (Oh, I’m very resourceful and creative with my doomsday scenarios!) Each one played out like slowly falling dominoes clicking together to create my destiny. Eventually, I had built up multiple scenarios that painted my life so bleak that within just a few falling dominoes, I’m homeless, friendless, starving and living under a bridge. I’m never seen from again and no one bothers to look. Good riddance of that widower guy, they all say (in my head, of course.) My existence fades into a timid whisper between old friends at parties, much like Maggie’s has become, it seems. My life is over.

On and on I piled the punishment. For hours I whipped up a furious storm of morose self-abuse. Then came the Big Question: Why don’t I just call it quits right now?

That last question scared me. It wasn’t really the question. It was the feeling that drove the question. It felt like the only option. And that’s the key part – it seemed like the ONLY option. In a matter of hours, I had built an impenetrable wall that forced me down one path in my future that led to one inescapable conclusion. There was only one way out: call it quits – suicide.

Now this had gone too far. Something inside me sat straight up, wide awake and screamed “ENOUGH OF THIS!” But I wasn’t quite sure how to rescue myself. I felt like a panicking drowning victim, quite aware of the danger but not clear on how to escape. I was stuck under negative emotional debris while the riptide of a dismal future was carrying me quickly out to sea. It sucked. I was scared.

Then something simple and unexpected happened. I got a message with a casual invitation to lunch Saturday. It was sent from a person whom I had met exactly once but found engaging. Simple, yes, but it was just the rope I needed. That imagined impenetrable wall forcing me down the inevitable path of doom cracked. This unexpected lunch invitation wasn’t on that predetermined path. Instead, it was a trailhead of many paths, many I hadn’t considered. And if there were many paths, especially ones that I hadn’t seen yet, then there couldn’t possibly be only one option. And if there are lots of options, then there’s certainly no needed to call it quits now, with so many options still to explore. With that one simple message, the whole carefully-crafted notion of a single path of doom-and-gloom unraveled. As yet unseen options and opportunities were out there! Yay, hope! That was just the rope I needed to pull myself out.

The lesson: Even when it’s darkest, believe with all my heart a trailhead is just around the corner. No matter what, I just have to keep trudging forward. (And keep more rope handy for use around pesky sinkholes.)


  1. Chris this was me yesterday..... out of the blue it came... thinking thinking . I too come up with scenes that have me dying alone. Ridiculous because I have a loving family and friends. It's been 5 years for me and I too can go this route. Thank you for being so honest with your feelings. Not too many people will admit how far the hole can take us. I too know in my head there are always new roads but who knows what triggers our mental relapses.Thanks for this post.It shows us we are not alone in our thoughts.

  2. Chris,
    First of all, so very, very glad you made it back from that dark, scary path that often seems like the only one in front of us. There is a song by Gary Allan called "I Just Got Back From Hell", it seems to fit everytime I come back from the dark place which is what I call that place that sucks me into the hopelessness of it all.
    I went to my husband's grave yesterday. The first snow has settled around the still bare dirt that reminds everyone that it is a fresh grave. I know that I will never feel the warmth of his body or see his infectious smile again on this Earth; however, I believe there is a chance that I will experience these wonders again after I die. So knowing there is a chance that I can see him again if I leave this Earth, why do I stay where there is no chance? Why do I choose to continue living? I honestly can't answer that question with a clear, concise answer. I just know that I do.
    Our grief paths twist and turn, dead-end, seem endless at times, but somehow manage to keep us moving. And the one light on some of those dark paths is having others like you popping up along the way to remind us that we are not alone. Sometimes we need someone to stand in the middle of our path and block us from going any further. Someone to tell us to turn around or hang a left.
    Enjoy your lunch!

  3. Thank you Chris! I hit such a point the other night. Yes, I, too, can host some pretty awesome "pity" parties for myself. I wonder, along with the rest of us, why I keep going at times? It doesn't seem possible, yet a new day has continued to dawn for me since 3/8/10. I think it is that feeling of "hope" (regardless of how small) which definitely came through in your message.

    So thank you....

  4. Chris, I think we all at some point have been there! Hope is all we are looking for after such a loss of hope when our love one "did not make it like so many others who did", Can not wait for the unexpected hope!

  5. This also makes me think about the times I've held back from reaching out to others because I've thought I couldn't possibly help. But I wonder what kinds of ropes I've extended to others without even knowing it? I guess you never know how your actions will affect others.
    I'm so glad you got that message when you did.

  6. Thank goodness for casual never know when one will come and take us away from our dismal state of mind. When friends ask "what can I do?" or "are you ok?", I have begun to say "give me a call to talk" or "can we take a walk sometime?". Any change is most welcome, and when it comes unexpectedly, it is even more welcome.

    I'm glad you are still trudging forward, Chris, it's the only way to go. I'm right behind you.

  7. And your post was the path I needed to visit today! Thank you so much. I usually read every day, but got a little behind and was your post! We are exactly where we are supposed to be...sometimes it just takes a while to see why!

  8. I have certainly visited the "black hole" and I had times that I thought it would be lovely to go to sleep and not wake up, but I have never been suicidal. To those reading who have or have had suicidal thoughts, particularly if you have gone so far as to have made a plan: please make an appointment with a mental health professional, get into counseling, or at the very least, if you have a close friend or family member, share your feelings with them and make a verbal contract that you will call them right away if you have these intrusive thoughts and let them know. In a minute of the insanity of grief, it is possible to take your own life. I had a neighbor a few houses down that I had never met, he and wife never had children, and a few months after his wife passed another neighbor told me she had died. About eight months later, I found out he committed suicide by shooting himself in the head. As I said, I did not know him, but the sadness of thinking he was going through hell and he had neighbors who would have supported him really haunted me. He didn't reach out, tried to handle it alone, and two lives were gone. Sometimes suicide is an impulsive act when our brains are on overdrive, as described above by Chris. Please make a plan for safety in the event this happens to you.

  9. OMG - I have been right there.
    the dark path from widowed to dying alone, in a nursing home, possibly neglected and abused and alone, alone, alone. Because my husband was supposed to live until we were old and then we would die together - one week apart. But that didn't happen, he died at 56 and I at 53 have to keep trying to carry on.
    But there are those moments were I think "why?" Why keep going? Why live in this constant pain and longing? Why not end it now and be done with the struggle. But like you - no matter how close - what pulls me back is knowing that my husband tried so hard to live. Despite a terminal brain tumour, he woke each day determined to live - for us. So I can't do that.
    Not when I know how desperately he wanted life.
    If only our family and friends knew how those simple things, the calls to say "come have lunch< or go for a walk< or see a movie, talk, have coffee"
    how it saves you. to know someone, anyone cares that you still live.
    I am so grateful for those moments. I like the idea of a plan for safety. For me when I have those moments I take out pictures of my children and grandchildren and I think about how much I love them, and how much they have suffered already and how I don't wish to add to their suffering. It works each time.
    Sometimes just acknowledging that it is so hard to keep living but that our loved ones would never want us to make that choice, helps.
    This blog helps.
    Remembering the love - helps. Knowing you are loved can save you.
    Thanks for the message, so glad you are here.

  10. This was me yesterday. Saturday was a hard day. I am new to this, being alone and not knowing what to "do" next. And then just being alone, dying alone. The whole miasma of emotions blows the mind. I am grateful for these posts, thank you.