If there is any truth to this old adage, then the faint rays of dawn should be on the horizon. The past few weeks have been terribly dark for me. Even in my dreams, troubling imagines and circumstances are indications that I am not coping with my life.
Several nights ago, I dreamed that my family doctor told me that the results of my tests were not good and that I, too, would be leaving this earthly life. My response was not one of fear or dread, but rather, I asked if the doctor could orchestrate my leaving to be at the same time as Dan’s.
In light of my families’ tendency to have prophetic dreams, at first, I was alarmed. But, on further reflection, I realized that my inner person was telling me that my desire to live this life was not strong and that I needed to be proactive about my physical and mental health.
When I began to contemplate all that was in the dream, I recalled the statistics regarding caregivers and depression. Depression is very common in those who have loved and cared for someone until they died. In fact, I don’t know how you can not become depressed as you watch someone who has become a part of you suffer and loose their battle to live.
The article that I read noted that caregivers and spouses of the terminally ill often develop terminal illnesses or develop chronic conditions frequently after the death of their loved one.
I became aware of this while I was caring for Dan. and I began a routine of walking regularly. I knew that physical exercise helps to balance anxiety of the mind and it releases helpful hormones to the brain.
After Dan died, I would walk Mozie twice a day. Once before I left for work and then on my arrival home. I kept to this routine until on one of these walks, one of my cats was hit by a passing car.
I realized that this accidental death could have been me or Mozie. Most times, it was dark when I would walk. Even though I had a flashlight with me, I know that I was not easily seen by the motorist. I decided that it was too risky to continue to walk the dog in the dark and I stopped.
Then the cold weather hit.
It seems that I have become quite a wimp when it comes to cold weather. I really didn’t want to walk in the cold. It seemed that it took hours for me to feel my extremities again, so I talked myself out of walking in the cold.
Now, I am out of the habit and I find all manner of excuses to not do what I know will help my mental and physical health. Inertia has definitely set in. The longer inertia is allowed to stay, the more resistence there is to any kind of movement.
There is one activity that I have not quit doing. It is somewhat an unconventional but I believe that it has helped me both physically and emotionally deal with grief. I attend Sweat Lodges.
I can’t remember if I posted about this on the blog, but attending sweat lodge was a major part of Dan’s inner healing. It put him in touch with his Native American roots.
Our family doctor suggested that Dan to this and the first sweat that Dan attended, he was not able to complete all of the rounds. I took his place as his proxy.
It was not an easy sweat because this was the first sweat of the new season and the round that expressed thanksgiving for the new willow saplings for the lodge was quite intense. It was also very warm outside, so this round was not easy for the seasoned veteran of attendants. But, for Dan’s sake, there was nothing that could have prevented me from enduring the heat. After that experience, I knew that I could endure the sweat and I seemed to find a peace during the ceremony.
Since the time of our first sweat, our family doctor completed his study with an elder and he is now able to hold sweats. The elder under which the doctor studied has taken the elements of the sweat and modified the ceremony to be less specific to the tribe and more universal. Everyone is accepted. The is no restriction or requirements to observe. You are asked to pray.
After Dan died, our doctor invited me to one of his sweats. I was thankful for the invitation. As I was thinking about attending a sweat on my own, I remembered what my friend, the hospice chaplain, told me about the physical composition of the tears of grief.
She explained that I tears of grief are of a different chemical composistion. She explained that the tears carry away the residue that grief leaves behind in the body. She wanted to explain this to me because shecould sense that I was refusing to cry. She wanted me to know that tears of grief were made to be released and should I not do this, I was holding within myself toxins that needed to be cleaned from my body.
As I recalled her explaination for tears, I reasoned that the sweat would further help my body by release the toxins that stress and grief manufactured. I also was needing a place where I could moan, lament and cry without worrying about others trying to “fix” me. I need autonomy.
In the hallowed darkness inside the lodge, I am free to allow my grief and pain flow from me. In the midst of endless tears and drops of sweat, I can feel the toxins and residue of this kind of living are wash from me. In many respects, I as I did when I was baptized.
When the sweat is completed, I feel refreshed and regenerated. Physically, I feel lighter and emotionally, I feel peace. For the short time afterwards, I feel happiness return and I also enjoy the feast and fellowship that follows the sweat. I feel clean and restored.
For a time after the sweat, I have increased energy and I feel like doing things that I have recently lost interest. The effects of the sweat can last a few weeks before I feel the strain of bereavement return. Then, I begin counting the days until the next sweat.
I attended a sweat this past weekend. Instead of the effects lasting a few weeks, I was returning to the strain after a few short days. I have a couple of months before I can attend the next one and my dream was telling me that I didn’t have the luxuary of time. I need to counteract this depression, now. I called and made an appointment with my family doctor.
The dream has become the catalyst for me to face what this pain is costing me. For some time, now, I knew that I have several symptoms of depression. The one that has plagued me the most is lack of sleep.
Each night, I fall asleep on the couch around 8:30 in the evening and wake up around 10:30 PM. I know that I must get back to sleep because my alarm clock is set for 3:30 AM. I have to be at the client’s house by 5:30 AM. If I can’t get back to sleep, I will be awake about 20 hours. After a few days of this, I am totally exhausted.
This cycle of sleep deprivation has caused my immune system to be compromised and I can fall victim to every flu virus that comes along. I cannot afford to miss work and I cannot afford to become chronically ill.
I also noted that I seem to have an increase for minor accidents. Lately, I have pulled muscles in my ribs and arms. I have sprained my ankle and I have fallen more than I usually do. Normally, I don’t find myself so clumsy. But, I know that this kind of thing goes along with depression. Now that I live alone, falling and spraining things are more of a concern. I know that I can have an accident and no one will know until I am able to get to a phone or have another way of communciation. It becomes more of a concern.
Depression can be well disguised when you keep yourself too busy to think. I think that the dream caused me to acknowledge that I need to be wiser than my pride and accept that I need help so as to not be overtaken by this kind of dark of shadow.
After seeing my doctor on Friday, I am to start on an anti depressant this weekend. As I discussed this with him, I expressed that I do not want medication to become a long term kind of treatment. I told him that I do not want something that will keep me from grieving, but rather, I need this medication to be a tool and I want to take this medicine for 6 months to a year period at most.
I won’t be relying on medication alone for this problem. I will be doing the things that I know will help combat this disorder. I will return to walking for exercise andI will try to eat better. I will also take supplements to help build my immune system.
I also contacted my hospice chaplain friend about a bereavement group that meets at times when I can attend. If there is no group, then I will go back to meeting with her for counseling. I know that this must be a balanced plan.
One of the other tools that has helped me has been writing this blog. You may have noticed that I do not post as often as I have in the past and that I do not respond to comments like I once did. Writing has been my “saving grace”. Now, it is not as fluid. That was also one of my warning signs. Hopefully, the blog will see more attention.
So, now, I begin the uphill climb, up this rugged face of a mountain called depression, toward an emotional recovery. I am not walking an unknown path. Many have struggled with this pain as they try to find life after the death of someone they loved deeply. There is no reason to stay in this dark moment.
I will meet a New Dawn. To accomplish this, I will need every tool to be successful in this quest.
If it is true that it is darkest before the dawn, then know that, at this moment, I cannot see my hand in front of my face. But know this, I shall see the light of a new day dawning…Dan told me that I cannot leave here as yet. I must stay….