September 2021

Embracing Change When You’re Widowed and Extremely Cautious

2021-09-03T15:40:35+00:00
Woman holding empty frame @thehungoverwidow

Life as a blank slate

When George died, my life was very small. I’d never left the United States, had lived in the same suburban house for almost twenty years, and my grief therapist thought I might be agoraphobic. Which I wasn’t exactly, I just couldn’t think of any place I wanted to go by myself. I did not embrace change.

During our 32 years together, George had chosen where we went, and what we did, and drove us there himself. So my own driving and socializing skills were pretty rusty, and I wasn’t used to being in a car by myself for anything more than running a few errands.

Some of the worst widowing advice I received was the demand that I change.

Apparently everything and anything indiscrimately, according to my unwanted advisors. Travel, go to an ashram, sell my house, move, downsize, leave my hometown, start dating, meet someone, get back on the horse.

But I didn’t want to travel by myself and I liked my home. And why does everyone assume a widow needs to downsize? Maybe she wants to garden or refurbish an old mansion. Maybe a bigger physical space would give her more mental space.

And dating is so personal. Only we get to decide when to see other people. Not to mention that being single is the new normal. I know many women who’ve decided being on their own is exactly how they want to live, permanently, not as an interim state or something that needs fixing. I might even argue that the alleged need to pair up is a remnant of the patriarchy.

A Prior Life

My biggest hurdle after being widowed is that I’m naturally very cautious. So I might consider new things, but generally rejected them as being too risky. Doing something different required cogitating and considering, then deciding to take very moderate action.

And then deciding against it before reconsidering, and finally actually doing something.

Like trying out a new yoga studio, or the first time I went on a U.C. Alumni tour in Europe, or signed up for group hike on meetup.com and actually went. I had to buy hiking shoes, and get up early, and drive by myself to a new place I’d never been before, and join a bunch people where I didn’t know anyone.

I wanted to be braver, but I could only be myself.

Which meant taking tiny steps forward, the kind of steps that other people took for granted, but which felt strange to me. Like when the little mermaid got legs, and every step she took hurt, maybe because it was all so new. I’d been like a goldfish in a small bowl, and now I had to climb out of it, and grow legs instead of flapping about with little fins.

I’ve often wondered if other widows feel this way, making little motions forward, feeling like we’re swimming against the tide, knowing we have to change to have rich lives on our own, but sometimes hating the entire process.

Being on one’s own for the first time at middle age doesn’t favor the naturally cautious. Our adventure muscles atrophied years ago.

It’s hard to explain to more adventurous folk that for me, those tiny steps were being adventurous. They just didn’t look like much from the outside from the outside.

I’ve been ashamed by how anxious I get when trying something new, even if it’s just a different yoga studio or a hiking in a new location. Some world travellers and those eager to uproot themselves at a moment’s notice seem to sneer at us cautious folk.

And yet.

If I look at the almost eight and a half years since I lost George, I have made changes. It’s just that most of them happened over the past three and a half years. The first two years were a clouded pool, my little goldfish bowl murky and stagnant, my mind addled, first with PTSD, then with just loss.

But how can we say “just loss” when it changes everything we know?

My grandfather died at 86, leaving my grandmother of the same age railing against the universe. “But we wanted so little,” she said time and time again. They lived in a modest apartment, went out to a simple lunch together almost everyday, then ran a few errands and came home for nap-time and a light dinner, maybe with a scoop of vanilla ice cream in a glass of ginger ale for dessert.

When I told people my grandfather had died, many said, “Well, it was his time.” But not to her. And she never recovered.

She was a major worry wart, and I’m convinced I inherited her anxiety gene.

But when she was younger she had huge dreams, to be a concert pianist (she was very good), and to travel the world, and go to college. I remember her loving documentaries about China and Bill Moyers’ interviews with Josep Campbell. But she never got to do those things. In a different era, she might have been an anthropologist studying ancient Chinese culture.

Sadly, I see aspects of her life as a cautionary tale.

Who wants to realize in their last moments, “Aha! That’s what I really wanted to do.

I think my grandmother’s dreams were bigger than mine. I never felt any particular  professional calling, but I did get an MFA in writing last year. I just moved from the house I shared with my late husband for 27 years into a new house with a water view, which is something I’ve wanted for a long time.

I wrote a book which comes out in a year. And now I’d almost rather let it go than promote it. Somehow getting it published was a dream, but pushing it on people just feels wrong.

In the same way, I can tell you about my loss, and how taking tiny steps forward started to form a new life (albeit one cautiously lived). I can even suggest you be proud of yourself for taking those steps forward no matter how small, and reward yourself with something you love, perhaps a new book or fuzzy socks or raspberry lemon bars.

But I can’t tell you what you should do.

Except not to give up hope.

That’s the biggest thing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Embracing Change When You’re Widowed and Extremely Cautious2021-09-03T15:40:35+00:00

March 2020

Sheltering with Anxiety Demons

2020-03-23T18:24:53+00:00
Person sitting alone by window.

These are strange and worrisome times. And for those of us who already live with anxiety demons, there is even more to worry about. Maybe we can even feel a strange camaraderie with other people because they too are now totally worried, albeit about something that merits being concerned about (unlike the lack of career path and imaginary roof leaks that sometimes fill my early morning hours).

How much harder it is to go through difficult times alone.

I remember the last presidential election, and feeling very alone as I went home after evening yoga and the world was different and there was no one to talk about it with. I went by myself to a meeting at a local nondenominational church and sat through a unity ceremony, but being out at night was worse and the ceremony wasn’t anything I would have done were I not alone. But now most of can’t even venture out.

My husband used to help me through my anxiety demons. He’d explain the worst case scenarios. I remember going grocery shopping with him the day after 9/11 and making our usual dinner and following the news…and we were together. Being with him let me go to sleep and stop finally stop watching the news. He was there so my world would be there. For some of us, our spouses were our world.

We are unmoored and even though we find ways to stay grounded, difficult times can bring up those feelings of being completely adrift. For the anxious, this is especially hard.

We don’t have our anchors and don’t tell us things will be fine because our beloved spouses died too early for no justifiable reason so no, things actually don’t work out for the best. Let us now bemoan platitudes (like I did here): everything happens for a reason, He has a plan, when you close a door, you open a widow…but who wants to have to go through broken glass because you got locked out?

Often people who haven’t been in long relationships don’t understand.

Disclaimer: I have been in a relationship for almost two years. That’s probably why I don’t write much these days…I have no more bad dating stories to seek commiseration about, although I’m still very cranky and happy to overshare. I’m still anxious, but not as much as I used to be.

My partner has undertaken the task of keeping me rational and, for the most part, it works. He’s a big self-help and positivity person which is nothing I ever thought I could live with (but is actually quite cheering and the possible topic of another blog post). He bought me roses yesterday and looked confused when I asked why he didn’t also get food we didn’t need, because everybody else was doing it so we’d better do it too.

I don’t have great advice for coping with anxiety demons, especially now, when joining a group or taking an in-person class isn’t an option. But as a long-time anxiety sufferer, I’m thinking of:

  1. Returning to journaling. I really like the 750 words site. Somehow, it encourages me to write through my feelings because it feels like a homework assignment. Ahhhh, that excellent feeling of checking something off a to-do list.
  2. Investing in actual books with pages or at least using a Kindle instead of a regular computer. That way I can’t keep checking the news or seeing if Amazon has restocked its toilet paper supplies. But be careful what you read. I tried some books on grief in an effort to improve my writing, and soon realized I wanted cheerier, more escapist fare. Cheers if now is the time for you to tackle Crime and Punishment, but it isn’t for me.
  3. Doing yoga online. My regular yoga studio is posting classes online since we can’t go to class.
  4. Trying to appreciate slowing down. I’m getting an MFA in writing and lately I’ve felt like I’m always dashing, trying to get in classes and exercise and house stuff and be present in my relationship but I’m generally two steps ahead of where I actually am. I’d like to use this time to reflect on what I really want and if I’m happy in my home and what I’d like to change.
  5. Finding creativity. For example, the folks in my MFA class have created their own shared writing spaces online. A friend has created her own site called Pickle Ball Yogi offering rolling and yoga training for pickle ball fans. I myself, being too technically inept to create a new site (I’m just figuring out meeting by Zoom), may try to resurrect this one.

Take care. Thank you for taking your precious time to read this. I’m open to suggestions. I love you.

Debbie

Sheltering with Anxiety Demons2020-03-23T18:24:53+00:00

May 2016

Anxiety and Widowhood

2016-05-10T23:06:19+00:00

 

Aaahhh...serenity

Aaahhh…serenity

Since George died, I’m much more anxious than I used to be. I’ve probably always had an anxiety disorder which, in the past, I’ve called “being anal retentive.”

When I was married, George took care of everything. And I liked it. Looking back, I‘d have liked to have had more friends and outside interests, but overall I was happy with our lives, from spending almost every evening together to the law degree I didn’t have to use because he supported me.

He was the one who calmed me down and told me things were going to be fine. And he was right, up until he started wasting away from cancer.

I’ve gotten better at a lot of stuff. I can do more things on my own and panic less when things go wrong. And yet…it doesn’t fix the anxiety (or loneliness) about the more solitary life I’ve landed in.

I’ve tried to work on gratitude. And the gratitude meter can be pretty high on a fresh new morning, but it swings to empty on evenings when I’m alone and anxious, wondering “is this my life now, how should I change it, what should I do?”

And maybe part of it is legitimate in that when we’re on our own, we have to do everything. So if the husband did home maintenance, now you get to do it all!  I’ve had days where I’ve dealt with house stuff and administrative stuff (Hello, Covered California!) and…now I’m tired…and anxious because I’m not getting much done… and I don’t like being alone at night and…etc.

But I’m also kind of ashamed of my anxiety.

I’m a privileged, middle-aged white chick living in suburbia. My late husband left me a house plus some financial resources. I should be fine and becoming more productive instead of becoming even more batshit crazy.

So, my fellow widows and divorced folk are you dealing with heightened anxiety on your own? How do you manage it?

 

 

Anxiety and Widowhood2016-05-10T23:06:19+00:00
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