Last weekend for Matthew’s birthday I was in Chamonix and on skis. On Saturday that was exhilarating; we lapped the off-piste in Vallorcine over and over again – in powder on the open slopes, then still on powder through the trees, then through the chopped tracks, and finally for the sake of it down the bumps under the lift. Being in the shadow of the ridge on which Matthew was injured kept distracting me. Despite that the day was fun and I also skied well. But then on Sunday and Monday the grief was debilitating again. Mostly I cried, or slept, or wandered aimlessly through town. I also made full use of the medication I’ve been prescribed. It’s taken me another four days to get back into some emotional balance.
I hadn’t anticipated that. I expected, obviously, that Matthew’s birthday on Sunday would be hard. But I’d been let off lightly at New Year by an evening that was easier than expected, and so my guard was down. I expected to be sad. I didn’t expect to be knocked to the floor.
My point is: I have no knowledge of how this plays out.
I saw my doctor last night. We were both talking at the same time, both saying that the issue is I don’t know how to manage this grief in the context of my life. I’ve managed my illness, with help from her and others, for over eight years. I know how to do that, know when I can push on and when I need to rest. I know what imminent collapse feels like, and generally can judge how severe the symptoms have got. I know that when I’m about to dissociate it affects my eyesight first, and then my speed of movement, and then my ability to speak, and onwards until I have no feeling in my body and my brain entirely shuts down. I know the other patterns as well. I have a well-practiced plan for what to do when things are bad. I’ve used it time and time again and it’s kept me alive.
But the grief is new and it is brutal. It has a rhythm of its own, different triggers, a set of symptoms which are unfamiliar and still, six months in, unexpected. I don’t yet fully know how to ride those – or when I’m about to fall off. Having those layered on top of my illness puts me on a bucking bronco. Life currently is tricky, to say the least.
So here’s what we do. My doctor knows me. She knows my illness. She knows grief. I trust her absolutely (a trust forged in extremis and over many years). Independent, headstrong and driven as I am, I have for now submitted the process of my life to her. Very literally I have written down how much time I am going to spend for the next week on work, clearing the house, dealing in one way or another with Matthew’s death, and anything else that causes mental, physical or emotional stress. We’re agreeing limits to each of those, and I have agreed that I’ll stick to them. This is not me. I prize my independence, my ability to do more than anyone thinks possible, and my right to do as I choose. But for the moment I need to let that go, and do as I am told, and wait, and believe that somehow I’ll learn how to manage this as well, and somehow I’ll come out the other side.