Survival Mode, Psychology & Palliative Care

The next few blog posts will probably be about my dad.  I can't afford a therapist, so I figure blogging about it to miscellaneous members of my global community should be an adequate substitute.  Also, perhaps I can shed some light on grief, and help someone else (other than myself) who might be going through the same thing.

When my dad passed away I think I surprised most people at how strong I was handling it.  I can't really explain how I felt, because I don't think all of me realized the gravity of what really happened.  When something life-changing occurs, you have to choose between fight and flight.  I knew that I was going to fight, so I subconsciously turned on "survival mode".  In survival mode, all you want to do is get through the shock.  Its kind of like trying to stay on a mechanical bull for as long as possible.  My family and I were by no means ready to say goodbye to my dad.  He was so much a part of our lives that everyone looked up to and respected.  He was always full of life, and that he is gone is completely unthinkable to all of us.  I can't speak for the other members of my family, but personally, I didn't want to acknowledge to fact that he was gone.  I just wanted life to continue - survival mode demanded it.

It did for a while.  My family, friends, and family friends were and unbelievable source of support - I never would have made it without them.  They made me feel like, for a time, things were normal.  Then, as time goes by, the tragedy subsides, and life really does go on.  Life is all of a sudden undoubtedly and decidedly different than before.  People who were there for you naturally go on with their lives, and you are left with no distraction - only the realization of what it is that you just went through.  It's only recently that I've declined into a lull about the whole situation.

Grief is a very peculiar thing; it makes you act in peculiar ways.  Sometimes I psychoanalyze the things I do, and it would be beautiful if it weren't so sad.  Or maybe it is beautiful because it is sad.  Either way, recently I've been more reflective and solitary, and there are three ways I discovered that I have personally dealt with my family's tragedy.

(1) Listening to the Arcade Fire, on repeat, for months.  For the last few months all I've listened to is the Arcade Fire's album "The Suburbs".  I know every track inside out, its order, its duration. Well, you get the picture.  At first I thought it appealed to me because it was kind of sad, and at the time, I needed to be sad.  Then I kept on listening to it, even though I thought I was okay again.  I think that the real reason Arcade Fire is on repeat, day in and day out for the past 90-something days, is not only because its nostalgic, folksy, and alternative, but its because it never changes.  No matter how many times I play it, it will always be the same - it will sound the same, the words won't change, and it will always take exactly 1 hour, 4 minutes and 10 seconds to play start to finish.  I can play it any time of the day, and it will always be there for me, and just get me.

(2) Intense workouts and miscellaneous physical activity.  I recently noticed that I've been doing a lot of things to strengthen my body.  Every spare moment I have, I use it to go run or to work out somewhere. At first I thought it was a product of boredom, but historically, I've never been this proactive in fitness, and I've been bored plenty of times.  I think that maybe I thought that if I could be physically strong, I could also be emotionally strong enough to cope with whatever happens to me or my family.

(3) Perhaps this is the most telling sign of me not being quite right.  Sometimes when its late at night, and I'm coming home from a friends house, I stop at the hospital in the waiting zone, park the car, and just look.  Some nights I go inside and sit outside his room.  I don't know why I started doing this.  I hate the hospital.  They've been a part of my life for the past year that I would very much like to forget.  When my dad was sick I would drive him to and from the hospital on my days off of school.  I never wanted to think that anything was wrong; I just wanted life to be normal.  Going to the hospital isn't normal; it's the furthest thing from normal.  I think that for this entire year I've been in a state of denial.  I never wanted to think that anything was wrong with my dad, and was convinced that things would be back to normal soon.  This was just a blip.  I wanted to escape into my friends, and spent a lot of time away from home than in it.  I didn't want to know any details about his Cancer because it scared me a great deal, and I don't think I ever wanted to come to terms with it.  Going to the hospital now is like a practice of remembrance.  I really don't know what the act of me going there is accomplishing for me psychologically.  Maybe I'm trying to make up for lost time of having my head in the sand, because it certainly doesn't make me feel closer to him.

As of late, I've realized that survival mode is now officially turned off.  I thankfully got through the roughest part, and everything from here on in is an aftershock.  I can deal with anything life throws at me, and usually I hate the lulls, but lulls have value.  You learn during the lulls, and more specifically, you learn about yourself, others, and the value of things.  So even though I know that for the next while things are going to be less of a blast than they usually are, I know that life has ups and downs - realities that we have to face whether we like them or not - and I know that the only way to grow is to embrace the good and the bad equally for the different experiences they have to offer.  I think that now that survival mode is switched off, its time for me to get out of the palliative care wing I built within myself, and turn it into something better; I'm looking forward to the renovations.