I could write a whole list of the Things No One Told Me About Grief (in fact, it may become an ongoing series of posts.) But the one I want to focus on for this post is how grieving has affected my ability to feel competent. Period. And I’m not just talking about feeling competent in the face of highly complex logical reasoning and/or emotionally stressful situations (although that has doubtless been affected). I’m also talking about, like, feeling competent about putting on pants.
I am a person who has always prided myself at being hyper-competent. I’m an incredibly independent natural leader, and a quick learner with high standards. Give me a job, and I will do it to the best of my abilities simply for the sake of pride in a job well done. However. Since my mom died, and then the subsequent losses and trauma that occurred (mom died, childhood friend died, three miscarriages and a major injury, plus some other stuff) I just kind of suck at…everything. Here is a partial list of things that I used to be amazing at but which I’m pretty sucky at right now:
- Being on time (hooooooboy this is a big one for me. Being “on time” used to mean arriving, fully prepped, half an hour early. Now being “on time” means anything that’s less than 10 minutes late and with pants on.)
- Feeding myself and my husband (gotten a lot suckier at making sure the grocery shopping is done and that we’ve got ample food to stay alive in the house)
- Putting on clothes that aren’t sweatpants (I’ve actually just given in to this one and adjusted my wardrobe to embrace what I’m calling the “Sweatpant Lifestyle.”)
- Being social (everything from just talking to people at a bar, to running into an acquaintance on the street, to throwing a party, now requires a billion times more physical and emotional energy)
- Not breaking things (I have lost track of how many glass jars and bowls I have broken in the kitchen…in the last 3 weeks)
- Being consistent (how many weeks has it been since I published the last blog post? Lolz I don’t even know)
- Remembering things (scheduling? Phone numbers? Names? What day of the week it is? Who you are? Yeah, sorry, no idea.)
- Putting clothes on, period. (there was one day a few weeks after my mom died that I was trying to put a shirt on but I couldn’t because I literally forgot how to do it. For clarity: I forogt. How to put on. A shirt.)
- Keeping the house organized and tidy (I am a person who is House Proud, which Google defines as being “attentive to, or preoccupied with, the care and appearance of one’s home.” Preoccupied with? Sounds judgy. But unless you are a super duper best friend…you are not allowed to see my house when it’s less that immaculately clean.)
Not only did I used to be amazing at these things, but I identified as a person who was amazing at them. Needless to say, this has all been a profound lesson in humility and loss of ego.
In some ways, I feel like a different person than I was in December of 2015, before the shit started to continuously stream through the fan at an unrelenting pace. And I’m not sure if my current state of reduced capacity is temporary, or if it’s the new normal. (I assume folks feel similarly after having a baby, when the “you” that you used to recognize has faded into obscurity, and you wonder if you’ll ever be that person again). I’m trying to accept my current suckiness with grace, and stop judging myself for it–I am trying to view it with patience and humor.
But one day when I was feeling a particularly ashamed about the fact that I was wearing the same sweatpants I’d been wearing for the last 5 days, and I was running late to meet somebody because I was sweeping up the glass I’d broken, and I was crying with frustration and berating myself for being so horribly incompetent, I had a moment of clarity; after the tantrum of shame passed I thought “You know, I might be fucking up a lot of things that I used to find effortless, but I’ve also gotten really good at some things I used to struggle with.”
Here is a partial list of things that I used to be pretty sucky at but which I’m amazing at right now:
- Saying “no” to things that I don’t want to do
- Asking for help when I need it
- Being present for friends who are going through some Rough Shit
- Having difficult conversations
- Initiating difficult conversations
- Watching awesome British television
- Finding humor in even the darkest situations
- Slowing down to really enjoy a beautiful moment
- Thinking about death
- Talking about death
- Thinking about my own death and the deaths of those nearest and dearest to me in a way that is not terrifying or awful, but is actually okay
- Communicating clearly and honestly with others about my emotional state
- Going to bed early (Okay fine, I’ve always been good at this one, but I’m extra super good at it right now.)
So while I’ve had to let go of feeling like a person who Does Everything Well, I’ve also grown in some rather profound ways. Would I go back to the old, more competent me? Well, yes insofar as that me was ignorant to the pain of profound grief. But if I’m really honest; no. I think the experience and emotional intelligence I’ve gained is more meaningful than being able to juggle my schedule, get places on time, and dress myself well. I think that for all my new flaws, inconsistencies, and mistakes, that the new me is actually a better version of myself.
Umm, okay wow. To be completely honest, this is not where I thought this post was going. When I started writing this my only intent was to write a humorous and honest piece about how much I feel like I am failing at basic tasks right now. (“Me! I’m such an idiot, amiright?”) I am surprised to have arrived at a completely different conclusion—that I’ve actually changed for the better, on a post that I set out to simply write about my incompetence. Well…shit. You learn something new every day.
Until next time,
The Cry Babe