Immediately following the death of a loved one, the bereaved party needs the support of family and friends. That person doesn’t necessarily need you to be there 24/7 because if I’ve learned one thing over the years, it’s that following a loss, there is a need for space. There is a need for time away from everything and everyone. It’s mandatory in my opinion.
Several times after my mom’s passing, I took long drives to nowhere just so I could think. I didn’t want to talk. I didn’t want to listen to anyone. I didn’t want sympathy from anyone. I didn’t want to work on a plan. I just needed to be by myself.
The days following the death of a loved one aren’t the only times that calls for solitude. I found I needed that same break from society following my divorce. I needed some alone time with me.
Don’t get it twisted — I needed my family and friends. There is no way I could have made it through those days without them. They were the strongest resources of my strength during that time. Everything from calls to food provided comfort for me following what will always be one of the darkest periods of my life. I can’t imagine where I would have landed had it not been for those people. I needed their emotional, mental, and financial help. More times than I can remember, I needed their physical touch — a hug, a shoulder to cry on, or a hand to hold mine. I will be eternally grateful for them and their love. I needed to find myself through solitude, though.
THAT FIRST LONG RIDE
In hindsight, the first ride I took after the dust cleared following my move back to Louisiana felt like an actual road trip, but in reality, the entire drive took about three hours from start to finish. Part of the way, I listened to love songs so loud my speakers should have exploded. Then I turned the radio off. The only sounds I heard were the humming of my engine and the wheels turning in my head. It was that moment in the silence, that one of the worst bouts of anxiety I’ve ever had set in.
Shortly after that terrifying moment, a little further into the drive, when I finally stopped, one of greatest bursts of joy I’ve ever had fell upon me. I know that sounds crazy, but here’s what came of that.
ANXIOUS??? FOR WHAT?
The episode in the car that day was severe. I couldn’t catch my breath. I was struggling to breathe. The air in my lungs was being sucked up by fear of not being able to take care of myself financially. It was being swallowed by worries about finding a job. It was being consumed by thoughts of what others must have thought of me since my marriage had failed. I couldn’t breathe. I was so stifled with fear, anger, and a loss of control, I couldn’t even cry.
Anxiety is a nasty bastard and it doesn’t care what shape it leaves you in. Then I pulled over.
JOY, SWEET JOY
Since I’d driven about 30 minutes into Texas and had headed back by the time that anxiety attack nearly wrestled me down, I pulled into the rest stop just inside the border of Louisiana. It was a beautiful day so I got out of my truck and sat at one of the picnic tables. A couple of people spoke or nodded, and I returned their greetings. Somehow, those gestures caused an incredible level of peace to come over me.
In total, it took me about 15 minutes to calm myself to the point that I could actually feel the beauty of the sun on my skin and that wonderful little breeze. After that point, my spirit settled, and I was able to think. For all the things that anxiety attack tried to take from me, I began to measure the alternatives.
Sure enough, I would need financial help from my family, but I also figured that I was smart enough to work some of the avenues I knew about to earn money for myself. Finding a job required determination and persistence. I decided at that moment, that I would be more determined than ever to find a good-paying job and my persistence would over-rule any self-doubt. I wasn’t going to let the negative win.
Finally that day, sitting at that rest stop table, I decided that what others thought of me was none of my business. Sure, I would love folks to like me, but if they didn’t, that was their problem. If they chose to judge me because my marriage had fallen apart without knowing the story behind it’s collapse, so be it. Folks are free to think what they want — I’m free to look the other way and go about my business.
That day, I found a sense of joy that has been with me ever since. Joy is not to be mistaken for happiness. They are not the same thing. Happiness is dependent on what is happening. It can be taken away by incidences, situations, circumstance, and other people. Joy, on the hand, is internal, and it CANNOT be taken away from you. Think about it. We all want happiness and it’s vital that we have it to survive, but what you have to strive for is joy.
WHAT’S IN YOU
Look for joy. It can only be found inside of you. Give that thing some thought: you alive and kicking, you have the activity of your limbs, you have a clear mind, and most importantly, you’re tough. Get on with your life and refuse to let anything or anyone dictate your existence. That’s what’s next!