Tuesday, October 27, 2009

On a General Sense of Lethargy

I have been rolling the content of this post around in my head for about two months now. It was originally intended to be a summer wrap-up post, recounting many things that occurred, but were never committed to paper (or in this case, screen). But by taking so long to actually compose and post these thoughts, I have become a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts. And I have lived up to the title.

What prompted me to actually post these words now was a recent post by Supa, who has apparently been experiencing many of the same thoughts, feelings, and (lack of) actions I have. Ironically, I read this post while in the midst of cleaning house, but that may come into play a bit later on.

When I started this blog, I had visions of grandeur. I thought that I would post twice a week, or once at the very least, and then only when things became extremely harried in my daily life. I never dreamed I’d see months with only two or three posts. But this blog is an account of how grief has/is/continues to affect my life and that of my daughter. And the truth is we’ve had a lot of two-post months as of late.

It seems to have begun sometime in April. After an excellent trip to visit family over Spring Break, we settled into what would become the end of our now familiar routine - my daughter’s last few months at day care before embracing the world of “big school” and my last few months of school at the job I have held for the past five years.

In May we managed to take our first family trip to Disney World, which I wrote about here. Despite the rain and being acutely aware that we were supposed to make this trip as a family of three (not two) we had a great time. And the end of my school year was, in some ways, one of the smoothest I’ve ever had.

But sometime in May, I noticed that I had put on a few pounds. And that it wasn’t coming back off readily. Not a big deal for most people, but for me, it was a sign of things to come.

About six months after my daughter was born, my wife and I decided to do something about our “baby weight”. Those of you who have children know why it was ours, and not solely hers. When I stepped on the scale, I was amazed to see that I had gained twenty pounds since we’d been married, which was at that time only three years. So we set out on a regimen of strict dietary change and increased exercise. And the pounds came off. In no time at all I had lost twenty-five pounds, and my wife was within ten pounds of her goal weight. I ended up losing thirty pounds in all (I had thought I needed to lose ten going into it) and kept it off for four and a half years.

Now, I typically put on a few pounds around the holidays and any time we visit family (here or there) because my eating habits change. But I am always able to get back to my normal weight within a reasonable amount of time. The distressing part about the May weight gain is that it didn’t really seem to coincide with the trip home or the trip to Florida. I had just gained some unexplained weight.

But it was not so much that I couldn’t bear it. And I had other things to attend to. Like my daughter’s graduation from preschool and the emotions I endured in having to go through that alone. We had a nice visit with all of the grandparents during and after…

But then I sold the car and had to deal with all sorts of new grief-driven feelings.

Then within three days’ time we not only found out that my daughter had to have ear surgery, but she also had it. You can imagine what that was like (or read about it here).

I wrote about those three things. But at the end of June, I completed my first week of teaching Vacation Bible School at our church. It was a rewarding experience and not nearly as mired in grief as the rest of the month had been. But I never managed to share that experience here.

Within a week of that, we were headed to the Midwest for our annual summer trip to see family. We arranged for five days with each side of the family, with a five day side-trip in the middle. You may recall that while some of you were at the Widow/ers Conference in San Diego, I was in the heart of the country at a work related conference. It was my first time in that city, and I managed to add my twenty-third state to the list, while my daughter added numbers thirteen through fifteen to hers (she’s catching up too quickly!) I had big plans to record the exciting moments here, much like I did with the Disney trip, but alas, this is the closest I’ve come to doing so.

And only two days before that trip, I was doubled-over by the worst physical pain I’ve ever endured, which turned out to be a kidney stone. I had actually composed an entire post about that in my head and yet, it never made it to this small screen. Suffice it to say, I can now boast that I have driven halfway across the country on (low, legal doses of) painkillers though.

And as I’m writing, I realize I forgot to mention the garden. That beautiful, sad little plot that held so much potential. Strong tomato plants, evenly-spaced rows of bean seeds, hills of pumpkins, yellow squash, and zucchini… But the bean seeds never took, even with two plantings. And we had almost a week of hundred degree heat in June, when that is usually reserved for late July/early August. Then we had our ten days of rain (which is customary for June, but does not usually follow extreme heat). We did manage to get one small, hard, inedible piece of yellow squash and several undersized tomatoes. But I don’t eat tomatoes. And I’m guessing neither did the people to whom we gave them.

July is also a month with some hard dates for me, as is evidenced by this post and this one here. But as you may recall, I posted them in reverse order and the latter was posted almost three weeks after the date.

And then came August. We had out-of-town guests who inspired my first trilogy of posts on this site (see here, here, and here). And we increased our time at the beach, even though we had managed to make it down there more often this summer than we did the last.

Then my daughter started kindergarten and had her second ear surgery within three days of one another, but I didn’t get either of those posts up until September.

In the midst of all of this, I left the school where I’d worked for the last five years for one closer to my home. With the job change and my daughter starting school, my commute was cut by forty minutes each day. Yes, I gained almost an entire feature-length film’s worth of free time every day. (Not that I know where it has gone!)

The job change was an amicable one, but it’s been over two months and this is the first real mention I’ve made of it here. There have been some occurrences there, mostly dealing with having to reveal my marital status, that I will save for another post (here’s hoping it makes it to this screen sometime in the near future).

But suddenly September was gone and within a week we’d make a weekend trip together to see family in a nearby state and a weekday trip apart (since she’s in school now), which I did manage to write about here a few weeks back.

I know what some of you are thinking by this point, but it’s not true.

Some of you are thinking that these all sound like classic symptoms of depression. And they do. But they are not. I have been depressed before (though ironically it was in college before my wife and I even began dating) and it was much worse than this. Precursors to depression? Possibly. I won’t rule that out at this point. But full-fledged depression? Not even close yet.

What I think this is instead, is simply grief manifesting itself in my life. Like other widow/ers I read, my grief has changed over time. Just when I figure out all the triggers, they shift and I have to learn the new ones. It’s a seemingly endless battle, but one I am destined to fight (or flee from at times) nonetheless.

And there is hope in all of this – namely that I recognize what is happening. So that’s where things like cleaning the house come into play. I usually keep a relatively neat house (especially for a single dad!), but over the last month I noticed that I was cleaning a few rooms here and there, but the entire house was never completely clean all at once. So this weekend I set out to do just that. And once I had accomplished that goal, I felt better.

And even though I’ve gained ten pounds in total since April and I keep eating junk food like someone is going to take it away from me at any moment, I’m starting to make healthier choices here and there again. Just last week while my daughter was at gymnastics, I spent some time walking at a nearby park. Baby steps in that department perhaps, but it is, at least, forward motion.

And in all of this I have managed to maintain the daily routine. My daughter’s homework is always completed, the laundry is never so far behind that we’re scrambling for things to wear, we’ve increased the number of meals we eat at home, my work hasn’t suffered… All important aspects of our lives that are being carried out in such a way that no one would know the relentless undertones of grief that are always there, just below the surface.

Day by day. One step at a time.

Forward motion.


  1. the most important thing is being taken care of and being taken care of in heroic proportions, your daughter. whatever slides you are always focused and intuitive to her. weight can be lost. gardens can be done over next year. your house will get clean. but time with her is fleeting and attention paid to her is the best gift to give to her and yourself. take it from an "old" mom (daughter 25 and son 23), any time the dishes sit while you focus on your child is time that comes back to you tenfold when they are grown.

    as for the depression or not depression. i know i wrote about the Widower Howe in a previous post (done with you in mind) but what i didn't write was that he suffered the same symptoms as you have described, and that i am feeling. the old timers called it melancholia. whether that is the accurate medical term or not, they meant it as simply a condition that rises up when someone is hit with all the losses (or the one big loss and all the dominos that fell because of it), the regrets as they recognize the things that will never be, and the drifting off of their focus as they wish things were or had been different.

    when i was a young woman full of hope for what my life would be like, i never thought i'd be where i am today. BUT, i have my Dragon, had him, have him, see, melancholia takes my sense of perspective. i had him in my life, and he is still there. he will always be there, but not. that is what takes my powers of audible speech. that is what makes me write. knowing what it feels like is what brings the writing to bear when i try to reach out to my companions here online in this venue.

    we tell each other here that we are not alone. and we mean it. we feel acutely what each other writes. but it is not the same as calling each other and saying, "come over and help me with this garden," "or cleaning the house," or "kill the frog that got into my apartment." (yes, that happened to me and i was so afraid of the slimy, jumpy little green thing. fortunately my daughter is the incarnation of St. Francis of Assisi and she came and got him and set him free.......far, far away in the woods.)

    alright, i must be lonely to write so much as a mere comment. sorry. just be kind to yourself. you do such a good job of recognizing what is happening to you, and such a great job with your daughter. i know your wife is at peace because she knows the kind of dad you are. take care of yourself. as you said, "one step at a time."

  2. I don't think you're depressed either--or at least not traditionally, clinically depressed. I think it's just how the grief normally works through itself.

    There's such a weird period in that second and third years (and later too) where the grief isn't as obvious as it was in the first 12-18 months and it just goes internal, underground. It's not an external, reactive, life-force-into-itself kind of grief, like all the tears and horror in the first year, but it's still there...just morphed into other things. Like lethargy and weight gain and indifference and detachment and just...only being half there. No excitement to things (or not for long), little energy for anything more than the basic requirements. All of what you described sounds completely normal to me, based on what I went through and what I've seen other widowed friends go through.

    Hang in there.


  3. Not that I'm too far out (I sound like I'm pregnant or something) but I have been feeling really energy drained as well. I can't seem to get anything done although I have lists a mile long.

  4. hey... my new blog is at: http://marsgirlontwowheels.wordpress.com... Sorry for the inconvenience of locking down my blog.

  5. Try not to read too much into what is just ebb and flow. You're a single parent - which is daunting regardless of why - and parenting is hard work on top of maintaining a job, keeping house, seeing to the feeding/watering of everyone, etc. You sound pretty normal to me.

  6. WNS - Thanks for your insight, as always. Deep down I know these things, yet it's difficult to remember them when I see everything that isn't getting done. But eventually everything does get done and even though I am a single parent, I feel I actually spend more quality time with my daughter than most parents I know.

    And don't ever worry about writing too much. Your comments are always welcome (and encouraged!) here.

    CCW - Thanks for the reminder that this is all normal. I think I am so used to having it all together, even during the first two years, that it was hard to see things slipping. And harder still to see how little I was inclined to change that. Having been depressed once before, I try to spot the precursors long before they become a problem. I believe I have this time, but it's still scary to think about.

    Star - That's why I finally sat down and wrote this post. When I read Supa's post, I realized that this is yet another of those times when it might be nice to know we're not alone. But here's hoping we all pull out of it soon.

    Mars Girl - Thanks for clearing up the confusion. I've missed reading you lately, so it will be nice to catch up again!

    Anniegirl - Thanks. I generally feel normal and I don't think these things are spilling over into my work or anything else (extra trips to the vending machine aside). It's just that even in grief, I'm not used to feeling less-than-in-control of things. It will be nice when that feeling fully returns (or at least as much as it ever has).

  7. Excellent post. It's really useful to look back across a period of a few months and see where life has taken you, and in my experience it's rarely where you thought you were going.

    The lethargy is entirely normal. Single parenthood is exhausting, and while you can keep going on sheer adrenaline for a long time, eventually it catches up with you. Lack of proper sleep, and the constant stress of managing tenser relationships all around you will take its toll as well.

    I think you have to cut yourself some slack. The garden is the least important of your problems, even if it seems symptomatic of them. Compromises have to be made somewhere, and if the loss of your horticultural dreams is the worst of those, it's likely to be survivable. In any case, you could find a gardener to help you out. That costs money, but in the scale of things, if a few dollars spent will keep you sane then they're definitely a good investment.

    The new job is massive, too. The longest blogging breaks I have taken have always been around a change at work. With new colleagues and a new working environment to adapt to, you have to give that your full attention and concentration. It's one of the most important investments in your future (and thus your daughter's) that you could ever make.

    It's difficult to find the time to exercise properly as a single parent, but good to see that you are taking steps in that direction. I went through a similar decision process, recognising that I had to keep fit not just for my own sake but for my children, too. Fortunately, that proved a really helpful move, since exercise is such a fantastic stress reliever.

    Twelve years on, I run whenever and wherever I travel. I've gone from never running to an unlikely veteran of races all around the world, having completed seven marathons and a couple of dozen half marathons. In fact, I haven't lost much weight, but I'm a much fitter if still slightly rounder person than I should be, and my whole outlook on exercise, on travel and the world around me has changed. This is one of the very most important perspectives that bereavement has given me.

    It takes away so much, for sure, but finally you find it gives in a few small and unlikely ways as well.

    Keep going as best you can, and spirits up. Kind regards from London.

  8. I think lethargy is our brain's way of saying NO MORE THINKING TODAY, BUDDY. :P

    Sometimes, in our grieving process, we have to shift into nutral and just idle...and then shift into the next gear when the timing is right.

    It's been more than two and a half years now for me. I have also been down the junk food orgy route( ala the "who cares how I look and why should it matter if I am healthy?" thinking )and the "just slide by" method of home cleaning.

    At the two year mark I decided to get fit once again, to put my home-and my life-in order and to actually set a few new goals for myself. I may not go after them with the passion I once had for life, but I am still going in that forward direction-and I think that's what really matters.

  9. Roads - Thanks as always for your insight. The experience you have shared in comments here and posts on your own site has helped me immensely these last several months.

    In a sheer bit of irony, a woman at church, who knows nothing of my gardening woes, shared with me this morning that she had a dream in which I was teaching a class of children how to maintain a massive, well-kept garden. So maybe there is hope for my gardening skills yet...

    SJW - I think you and I are on opposite tracks - you started getting things together just about the time I started letting them slide! I'm glad to hear that you have though, and it's good to see you back here. And I think that as long as we continue moving forward, regardless of the pace, then there's not much more we can ask for.