After having survived my second Thanksgiving without Matthew, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on my journey. The holiday season has proven to be useful in its ability to help me gauge the progress that I have made in my personal and professional life.
This time last year, I was very freshly diagnosed with my PTSD and it was out of control and running my life. I was having flashbacks regularly, constant severe anxiety, and frequent panic attacks. I was struggling to handle my job. I wasn’t able to focus at work. I never wanted to be there. I was constantly confused and making errors. I was having to go hide in the bathroom to cry, or having to step outside and talk to my mom on the phone to calm down and get back to my day. I felt like a liability.
Last year for Thanksgiving I didn’t see any of my family. I did something completely different from my normal, thinking that would somehow make Matt’s absence be less obvious and therefore less painful. Instead, I went to the Thanksgiving of the family of the guy I was dating at the time, whom I hadn’t been seeing for that long and wasn’t particularly serious with. I somehow found myself meeting the family of someone I was dating, and it felt so wholly unnatural and uncomfortable for me. I felt traitorous to Matthew. I felt like I had alienated myself from my family and I was ashamed for having done that. Everything felt wrong and I was being crushed under the weight of it all. I felt so lost, and I honestly wasn’t sure how I was going to survive. I was genuinely concerned for my survival, not in a dramatic or theatrical sense. I thought my PTSD was going to ultimately lead to my death and I was not going to figure out how to survive the trauma of losing Matthew. And by doing so I was going to let down myself, Matthew and all of my loved ones. I couldn’t comprehend my reality and I was consumed with thoughts of being a failure and an irreversibly broken person.
This year was thankfully a very different experience for me. It was not without grief or longing for Matthew, but I was able to spend time with those whom I love and care about. I had a Thanksgiving dinner with both my family and my boyfriend’s family. For the first time, we even blended our two worlds and included his daughter in my family’s gathering. At both functions, everything felt comfortable and natural. I found myself feeling grateful for what my life holds now. I didn’t spend the whole time shaking and wanting to run home to curl into a ball and cry. Instead, I was engaged in conversation and enjoying those around me. I was even able to help my mom in the kitchen.
My PTSD is no longer running my life and I am able to actually enjoy the ones I love and care about the most. I am now able to properly interact with others and not spend all of my energy trying to manage my anxiety or PTSD. I have laughter and joy in my life again. I’m working a job that I love, I’m in a healthy and happy relationship, I’m getting more and more stable with time. I no longer question whether or not I can go to work everyday or if I can handle an entire work day. I show up without question and it is no longer a continuous battle. I have found a job in which there is a future for me and I’m able to finally grow. I have felt so stuck in my career for so long now, and finally I am overcoming my circumstances and making forward momentum in my career. This particular battle started prior to Matt’s death, by the way. It has been a very weird sensation to make progress on goals that I was striving toward with Matthew, but I do what I can to embrace it and allow to it exist in my life and hope that he’s smiling, proud from afar. I can feel him cheering me on in my heart and I do what I can to listen.
I finally have a future to hope for and plan for. After Matt’s death, when I tried to look forward in my life I was met with too much uncertainty and the pain felt like it was never ending, and therefore my future always felt so bleak. All I could see was a future of pain, I didn’t know what my healing would look like or how that would go. I wasn’t sure that healing was possible, at that particular point. It was all dark and heavy and I was lost in the fog.
The holidays are still challenging without Matt. My grief is not gone. My PTSD is not gone, it is just manageable. I still have moments where my grief consumes my entire being and all I can do is collapse and cry until there is nothing left. But I have fewer of those moments and I am able to bounce back from them better than I used to. I no longer spend the majority of my time being triggered, agitated, or disassociated. I am more present. I’m shifting from surviving to living. I don’t even have to go to therapy every week anymore, I have “graduated” to every other week. I’m finally getting my life back to some extent or another and it’s a beautiful thing that I am so grateful for.
I am finally learning how to allow joy into my life. I’m trying my hardest to learn from Matthew and appreciate what life has to offer. I strive to be a light for others the way Matt was. I try to teach people what Matt taught me: how joyful life can be. Matthew taught me how to take a step back and look at the world with awe. He showed me the importance of gratitude and patience. He showed me how to be disciplined but also allow room for your inner child to come play, too. I want to live by his example and spread this kind of thinking to as many people as I can.
My time that I had with Matthew was a gift and I refuse to let that be spoiled by the fact that he was taken from us too soon. Life is a gift that is to be cherished, even if it does contain heartache. I feel that I must honor him and find peace in my life, and that is what I have been doing one day at a time. I hope I am making him proud.