There is, unsurprisingly, a progression in grief. At its most basic it is a progression in time: it is one day since he died, a week, a month. Tomorrow it will be seven weeks. (That means incidentally that seven weeks ago today my darling Matthew was still alive and driving towards a dinner with friends in Chamonix, and that is knowledge almost too much to bear.)

So time. Through its progression the edges of my grief are softening. I do not believe that. My grief still feels raw. (I know that other people’s does as well.) But – looking objectively – I am not crying as much as I was in those first days. I am sleeping better, able to concentrate more, can do more over the course of a day.

That softening is kindly. Time has a cruelty as well. Time makes events recede, takes Matthew away from me into the past (forces me, with guilt, to walk away from him into the future). On 1st September I was in a month that Matthew did not get the chance to see. The season now has changed: this autumn will never see him, nor the coming winter, nor the spring.

And time is brushing away as well at my memories. As early as day one I was scared I was forgetting him. Kind people told me I wasn’t, that I’d never forget him, that I couldn’t. ‘He’ll always be with you,’ they said, and they were right.

But I was right as well. Because with every passing minute, hour, day, week Matthew is less clear in my mind. What ‘remembering’ meant to me in those first days, what the remembering I yearned for was, was the ability to recall him so vividly in every one of my senses that it was as though he was standing there in the room, laughing, putting his arms around me, making plans for the next day. That was what I wanted and already on day one it was impossible. I wanted a level of remembering that allowed me to deny reality. I still want that. And every day as my senses are not reprimed by his presence the vividness of my memory is getting further away. I want him back. He’s not coming back. In that sense there’s no more to say.

But I ran the park run this morning (he would have loved that); had brunch with friends (he would have done that as well); and today I’ll read and write and see more friends, and time will continue its softening and its blurring in tandem. That’s it. That’s the way it goes.

A few years ago as part of my post-breakdown recovery I deliberately tested my ability to build helpful new neural networks which improved my mood. The exercise I used was this: every time I stepped onto a Tube platform (usually several times a day), I looked at when the train was due and if it was approaching told myself I was grateful not to have to wait, and if there was a wait told myself I was grateful to have time to get the the right place on the platform. After about a month that thinking became automatic, and since then I have not got stressed while waiting on the Tube; the gratitude pops up automatically, regardless of the situation. I then extended it to other situations, and that was what made my life get better. But above all it was an exercise in changing automatic thoughts.

Since Matthew died I observe my brain going through an analogous process. I think automatically of him every few minutes, and for the first days that is all my brain did. But now each mini Matthew thought is followed by another automatic thought that says he’s dead. That’s not a deliberate practice, but it’s real. At some point the ‘must tell Matthew’ thoughts will arrive simultaneously with the knowledge he is dead, and later still they will be preceded by that awareness, will arrive already coloured by that irreversible fact. I’m dreading that day. Unfortunately this one’s not under my control. So I’m trying deliberately to add gratitude thoughts to the chain: Matthew would like to know that – and he’s dead – and I’m so grateful for all the time that I had with him.

I’m wondering how I feel about mountains having lost eight friends in the Himalaya in May and now my darling beloved Matthew as well as the consequence of a climbing accident.

A mountaineer friend experienced in death as well as climbing said to me back in July that the mountains give more than they ever take. I told Matthew that and he strongly agreed.

But now as a simple equation that statement doesn’t work. Matthew was (is) my central point, my tether to the world as I know it, and having that torn away changes everything. The worst thing that could possibly have happened to me has happened. How can the mountains, much though he loved them, still give more than they take?

And yet.

I was in the hills on Tuesday and found them beautiful, vast, solid, reassuring. I walked in the Alps in the days after Matthew’s death and there was joy in the height, the views, the sense of physical exertion. Today I’ve been to the climbing wall for the first time and still, as before, I find the concentration hard climbing requires distracts my brain from this catastrophe even if only briefly.

So the plan is to keep my fitness up, to keep hard-earned finger strength, to continue to train muscle memory for technique, and, when the time is right, to be back in the mountains not just to walk, run and ski, but also in due course to climb. And then to see whether or not it’s what I want.

Not the best of weeks

I tell myself it’s like being California. Being relaxed sunny California hit by an earthquake. There’s little or no warning. The subterranean shift is catastrophic. There is shaking and destruction for an initial few hours; then a brief pause in which I hope it is over. There are the aftershocks that come in waves, but which slowly settle to mere wobbles. Eventually the rubble is still, help has arrived, and the wearying, depressing, hopeful rebuilding can begin.

Somehow an external metaphor helps.

Last week was a really good one. One of the best in my seven years post-breakdown. All was going well: work, relationships, energy levels, happiness, writing.

Then suddenly it wasn’t. Continue reading “Not the best of weeks”

My Perfect Feminist Storm

I’m late to the party on feminism. Obviously I’ve never believed in inequality. Of course I’ve always nominally been a feminist. Yet only this week have I realised that by being born a woman I’m on the losing side of life. (Yes, I know I have other privileges.)

It’s taken me thirty-eight years. I simply haven’t seen it till now.

Largely because I avoided the issue.

In my teens I was apart from the crowd, too deep in depression to be part of the feminine stereotypes that went with being sixteen. And academically I was way ahead of both girls and boys; there was no sense that boys had it easier. Continue reading “My Perfect Feminist Storm”

OK, I’m not superhuman.

Because generally I still think that I am. Six years post breakdown I still think the rules don’t apply. And sometimes they don’t: in May I spent three nights in hospital and two days later ran the Edinburgh marathon. (Look how well I bounce back!)

This time it didn’t work that way.

I assumed it would. Last Tuesday when my brain started to shut down, I did the usual things. I fought it. I went to a self-help group. I went for a walk. I tried to notice the sunshine, to feel my feet on the ground. I warned my doctor what was going on. To no avail: cue the pattern she and I know so well. By the time I knew I had no other options I could barely walk. And yet, infinitesimally slowly, I made it to her waiting room, as I always do. Continue reading “OK, I’m not superhuman.”