Monday, November 5, 2012



The last few days have been a bit rocky, with a little depression and uncontrolled tears. It's a spiral down into a dark place. I can feel the shift happening in my brain, the language goes from "maybe, hope so, it's possible" to "never, it's hopeless, impossible".

It's not just missing the love of my life. That's bad enough.

It's a story I start telling myself about how lonely I am and how maybe I'll always be this lonely and that I'm not worthy of love and soon I'm imagining myself homeless and dead, alone.

I call it the death spiral and I think I stole that name from one of my favorite bloggers, Heather Armstrong from She believes she has the fastest death spiral in the west, but I think mine might be a close second.

The way to stop my death spiral is to plug into life in some way: make plans with someone to do something fun, sign up for a class I've always wanted to take, drive somewhere I've never been, watch a ridiculous movie, even simply take a walk.

I have to snap myself out of a death spiral before it can take me to the very bottom, which is a scary, dark place to be. Even if I return to the death spiral a little after trying to plug in, usually the plug-in has already led me somewhere slightly better. It's reminded me of the bigger story - that there's life out there to live, beauty to see, and what's happened to me doesn't mean I died too.

I was rereading a post I wrote a while ago during another one of these spirals I had. I wrote about how I'd joined a choir, signed up for a cooking class and started a grief recovery class. I realize now that all three of those plug-ins helped draw me up and out of that black place.

And even better, they now continue to deliver little rewards, but I love going to choir practice most of all.

I have always adored choir music. There is something about many voices blending together beautifully that stirs my soul like nothing else.

The moment a choir begins to sing in the middle of a popular song (think Madonna's Like a Prayer or Pat Benatar's We Belong) the goosebumps break out all over me as my soul lifts right out of my chest and floats up out of me. Seriously, that's the best way I can describe how it feels.

I had always wished to sing in a choir but hadn't made it happen yet.

Suddenly, while in that particular death spiral, I felt my heart search for something that would lift it and "join a choir" popped into my mind. I see now how instinct took over and got me to where I needed to be for my own healing.

My heart needed to sing in a choir. Who knew?

Now, I look forward to Monday nights because that's when I find myself sitting alongside dozens of other women, blending my voice with theirs while all of our souls rise up together in harmony. It feels like my heart's been carbonated.

Every time I plug in to life again, the death spiral's hold loosens and I find reasons to live, a moment of joy or wonder, or a reminder of the ways I've actually got it good, despite my loss.

Sometimes the plug in has to be something very basic, like watching a 30 Rock marathon while snuggling with the cats and other times it's something a little more adventurous like joining a choir.

Either way, it gives my broken heart what it needs to heal and it short circuits the death spiral long enough to get my feet under me again.


  1. "Plugging into life." What a great phrase. Thank you Cassie. As always you have given me a nugget to take forward on my journey. Enjoy choir rehearsal.

    1. Thank you so much!
      I actually kinda stole the "plug in" phrase from Christina Rasmussen from Second Firsts. Check her out. She's a fellow widow and grief specialist.

  2. Cassie - I was in the death spiral last night but I didn't know it had a name.
    I couldn't do what I love to do - write.
    I was sitting there in the dark looking for the light but it was a desperate wind that suddenly blew threw the room. I looked at photos of my husband and I together and then . . . . the story began to write itself in my head and it was very familiar to yours -
    " I start telling myself about how lonely I am and how maybe I'll always be this lonely and that I'm not worthy of love and soon I'm imagining myself homeless and dead, alone."
    I felt sick with loneliness.
    I felt like I was wasting my life.
    I love your solution - I am going to remember that phrase "plug in" because it is true that people, life, engagement pull us back from the death spiral.
    Thank you so much for the reminder!

    1. You're so welcome. I'll probably need the reminder myself next time. Hell, I always need the reminder! :)

  3. Thanks for writing this today; my husband actually coined the term "death spiral" to describe what would happen to me sometimes - and he WAS HERE then!! If only he could see a REAL death spiral.....he was always good about changing things up for me to stop the spiral. I am 20 months into my grief and up until recently I couldn't stop the death spiral, it was the waves of grief rolling in one after another after another. And I would land at the bottom of the sea unable to breathe for a while and then resurface briefly until the next one rolled in. But recently, I find that I have been able to find "footholds" that sort of stop me from spiraling; they aren't fake either, and I don't have to work too hard to find them; it's just like they're there when I look around as I am falling. It's been nice. However, today I am heavy hearted. That heaviness is back after having been gone for a few weeks....can't even come up with a reason's just there. You know that feeling. I have tasks on my list today which I will follow. I am plugged in - though I really like that visual and that term "plug in" - and in grief sometimes I find I have to sit in my inner tube and prayerfully stay upright while I ride the waves - at least thats what I hope it is like this time. I do believe for me, it's the approaching holidays....our second without my love, and my kids without their Dad....the hole, the vacuum is so much larger around supposed "happy festive" times. We are still figuring out what to do, what works to make it more tolerable....that is not easy because we really don't know - sometimes we get it right and sometimes its a major flop. I anticipate the waves to increase over the next two months, sadly. The way you describe the "language" in your first paragraph is perfect. Thanks so much!

    1. You're so welcome. I too was really skilled at the death spiral before Dave died. It's so helpful to be able to recognize it for what it is - a story and to not attach too much to it (easier said than done).

  4. Wow Cassie...such a great post! I have been exactly the place you described more times than I wish to remember since March of 2010. I never thought of it as a "death spiral". How true, that we have to look inwardly to pull ourselves out and muster up the energy to make those important plans so we can once again see daylight!


  5. “I can feel the shift happening in my brain, the language goes from "maybe, hope so, it's possible" to "never, it's hopeless, impossible".”
    I feel this too – a shift in my brain, and I think it’s a good thing that it’s recognizable, in that I tell myself that if I can swing into this feeling than I can swing out of it too.

    Shortly after Dave died, I knew immediately that I had to force myself to keep doing things. (Dave was diagnosed with terminal Esophageal cancer and died 6 months later. I quickly became his primary caregiver on top of my full-time job, and often felt overwhelmed by it even though I would have it no other way. So on top of losing him, I went from barely having time to eat & sleep, to having too much time on my hands. Without him.)
    There was no swing or shift happening yet in my brain. It was just a fog and a constant low. I just kept hoping that if I hung on long enough I would feel better. I forced myself to go to many events and outings that I didn’t want to. (I’m a bit of an introvert, so it’s not easy most of the time, but sometimes “Fake it ‘til you make it” actually works.) I did things that I thought should help – individual and group grief counseling. I took up piano lessons again – something I did as a child and had always regretted stopping.
    Time passed, and the shift started.

    I’m at almost 2 1/2 yrs and mostly feel better, but there are times when life starts feeling hopeless again and I can feel anxiety creeping in again. I make sure I’m taking my St John’s Wort :-) and pray that the pendulum will stop and swing the other way soon.

    My point is that recognizing you’re going into a low is a good thing. Remind yourself that you don’t always feel this way. You can and will feel better than this.

    The purpose of life is to live. And I’m living for two now.

    1. I've said "I'm living for two now" so many times. It helps. It makes me get stubborn and fiery which is a lot better than apathetic and hopeless.
      As an introvert, I agree with you that faking it till you make it does work often.

  6. Very insightful posts from all of you. That death spiral feeling is real and can take you to a very dark, deep place. I know I hit bottom 18 months out after the sudden death of my fifty-four year old husband in 2000. I stayed "plugged in" off and on as long as I could. The new job I took two weeks after the funeral proved to be a double edged sword. It kept me actively involved and at the same time added a ton of stress to my life. Shortly after my second Christmas alone, I hit the wall. It took all the strength I had to dial 911. After almost two weeks in the hospital, months of weekly counseling sessions and medication, I was finally able to plug back into life. I agree Valerie, that pendulum swings back and forth, but you continue to hang on. Keep singing CassieI Life does get better, keep replugging yourselves back in to life! Author of Twenty-Eight Snow Angels: A Widow's Story of Love, Loss and Renewal

    1. Wow. You really dug yourself out of the depths. I need to read your book.