You will be okay

You will. You will. You will.

Sob story

I slept a lot in December—like 9, 10, sometimes 11 hours a night, when I was able to. Strangely, these big sleeps came to me only after I was finally feeling a lot more like myself. When I explained what was going on to my friend Sam (“Shouldn’t I have had depression sleeps while I was depressed?”) she told me, “Maybe you’re just tired.”

I am tired. My body is still recovering from the months it spent in a constant hangover from tears and mental anguish. My weight has evened out—all of the energy spent on survival is now being redistributed to creativity, relaxation and joy. I’m excited for my future again, and the present. I’m okay.

It’s been fascinating to witness the milestones of my recovery, like when I: made it 24 hours without crying; truly enjoyed a night out with friends; spent a whole weekend alone and liked it; felt like I hadn’t accomplished enough over my weekend (a real marker that I was feeling like good ol’ me again); felt good enough to joke with a stranger on the subway; sat through a play and was able to concentrate on it; went to a concert by myself; went on a date I enjoyed; left the Reddit breakup groups; danced alone in my room, because I was in a good mood; sought out happy reading material (ha!); flew on a plane without crying; woke up in peace.

I’m ready to move forward now. But I couldn’t have been ready back when I first wanted to be, when I desperately wished, demanded, that I care less, feel less, be less human. Self-compassion is likely the biggest lesson I have yet to learn. I’m working on it.

It’s important for me to tell you: You will be okay. I know that’s so hard to grasp. I know that you’re sick of everyone saying that. I know that maybe you’ve been through this before, and you’re angry at yourself for not remembering how to get through this, for not being better at this. No matter how broken you feel, or how long the pain lasts, or how little energy you have to get out of bed and face the world today: This too shall pass. One day, you will wake up and feel okay. Some time after that, you will wake up and feel good! For now, do anything that doesn’t make it worse. Your body knows what to do. You’ll be amazed by how it heals. Keep going.

Share Cruel Summer Book Club


I’m reading

The subway crush who crushed me by Zoe Fishman in the New York Times

Ask a fuck up: My boyfriend of two years ghosted me by Brandy Jensen at the Outline

Firsts and seconds by Kaylie Hanson Long at Medium

After 12 years together, my relationship withstood just months of marriage by Kate Wills in British Vogue

This viral Twitter account wants you to stop chasing men who aren’t worthy by Anna Iovine at Mashable. Follow imdatfeminist on Twitter and Instagram y’all!!!

The replies to this tweet about the best personal essays on grief and loss:

I’m listening to:
Death Sex and Money: Anne Lamott and John Green


Questionable self-care advice


Support I got that you might need to hear


Minerva moment


This cheered me up

Driving around LA in my mom’s convertible and screaming along at the top of my lungs to every emo song I loved in 2005. And spending time with my family’s dog, kitten, and two crazy birds.

Family portraits 👯‍♀️🐶🐱🌟
January 12, 2020

Anthem of the week

“Seventy Times 7” by Brand New


Mood

My word of the year is JOY! What’s yours?

#PSA : #2020 #PERIOD !!!!!✨💖💜♥️💙w/ 🗣: @rickeythompson
December 21, 2019

“That bitch sadness? I DON’T KNOW HER IN 2020!!!!!”


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Let's talk: What are you most looking forward to in 2020?

2019 is almost over!!!!!!!!!!!!! (Actual pic of me making it to the end of this year.) I want to thank this community for supporting me in my time of great need—I hope I supported you just as much.

Let’s start a hopeful new year off with Big Joy:

What’s the one thing you are most looking forward to in 2020?

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The storage unit

Things to have and to hold, and to let go

At just 20 years old, British writer Suchandrika Chakrabarti had lost both of her parents, leaving her and her older brother to sell their childhood home and move what remained of the family’s belongings into a storage unit. Here, Chakrabarti shares the path she took from holding on to letting go of her parents’ things, and where some of those cherished objects actually ended up.


My parents had both died by my 20th birthday: my mom when I was 16, and my dad when I was 19. Apart from the more obviously painful consequences, these events led to my older brother and me having to sell our childhood home in Hornchurch, a district at the very northeastern edge of London, England. I was 23 by the time this was completed, in 2006. We had gone from being a family of four to just two lost and confused people, in three short years. 

There’s a tendency in early grief to hold on to your loved one’s personal things, as though that keeps them present in the world somehow. If you’ve lost someone you love, you know about this kind of magical thinking. In my early- to mid-twenties, a storage unit was the closest thing I had to a family home, as that’s where the detritus of my childhood was kept. Without loving eyes to watch over it, though, it was less a home and more a library of my family’s history. I visited often. 

Over the last two decades since I first learned about grief, I’ve grown to understand that objects lose their meaning. If I can locate my parents anywhere in my atheist view of the world, they’re in the stories I’ve built around them, the memories I carry within me and in the very specific ways I catch a glimpse of them in my features. I already had my father’s eyes, but these days I see more of his face in mine. I’ve emailed myself quotes I’ve loved over the years, a 21st-century update of the notebooks that my mother filled with her favorite lines of literature. I think that’s what the grieving process does: transforms the person you’ve lost from being separate from you, to being a part of you. That’s why it’s a long and painful process.

The author’s mother’s notebook, where she’d write down her favorite literary lines

We don’t lease a storage unit anymore. It was emptied out two years ago. Here’s what happened to the most important things:

  • My father’s red jumper that I bought him one Christmas and he wore all the time: given to a charity shop

  • Family photo albums and other keepsakes: at my brother’s house in Bristol (a city on the west coast of England, about 90 minutes from London)

  • My mother’s saris: vacuum-packed and boxed-up, in a hallway cupboard in my flat

  • Essays from my last years of high school and college: binned, because they needed to go

  • Books: in my living room, on a set of shelves I’ve had since I was a child

  • My school photos: filed away with my passport and useful paperwork, because they have to be kept safely

The author and her mother in the early ‘90s

Is it a coincidence that I rediscovered my creative energy when I finally let go of this sad version of home? I had always known I wanted to write for a living in some way, and my parents heartily supported that ambition. After their deaths, I basically experienced writer’s block for about 15 years. While my brother and I emptied the storage unit, I was making my first podcast; since that time, I’ve gone freelance, and written more in 18 months than I have in my whole adult life. I’ve written about some of the most painful, lonely, shameful (or so I once thought) moments of my life, and felt better for it, stronger. I’ve received messages from readers telling me that my writing has helped them through their own losses. I’ve realized that I’m not alone. 

The things your loved one leaves behind might be essential to your grieving process at the beginning, but you have to keep reassessing. Have the things started weighing you down? Do you have space for them? When you think of them, is it less with pain, and more with contentment? 

“You see, your loss has added multiple inner worlds and you live in them simultaneously,” says counselor and author Christina Rasmussen.

“We are no longer living in a linear way. You jump outside of time and space a hundred times a day after loss. 

You go in your memories. 

Then you go into all the possible futures. 

Then you come back in your present. 

And you do all of this fast.”

Remember how quickly your mind could go off like this when you first knew grief? It made you feel mad, or anxious, or scared. Your loved one’s belongings would set you off, but also bring you back, anchoring you. With time, you start to make sense of the absence. Once that happens, swimming in the past becomes safer, because you learn how to throw down your own anchor. Your memories are better than things, anyway. They’re the greatest gifts our imaginations can give us. 

The author’s father wearing his red jumper on her 19th birthday in 2002

More about the author: Suchandrika Chakrabarti is a freelance journalist and podcaster based in London, England. She makes Freelance Pod, which is about how the internet has changed news and creative jobs. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram; if you do, tell her to get offline and write that book.


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Being alive

Want something

Sob story

When I was in London in February, I saw the musical Company for the first time. If you’re unfamiliar, the Stephen Sondheim classic centers around 35-year-old Bobby being pestered by all of his married friends to get married himself. (In the production I saw, featuring Patti LuPone as thrice-married Joanne—she’ll be in the 2020 production on Broadway, too—Bobby was a 35-year-old woman, which makes so much more sense for a modern telling of this story. Imagine a bunch of New Yorkers feeling sorry for a single 35-year-old man?) Each couple pushing Bobby to wed faces its own challenges—lies, divorce, fear of commitment, not wanting to lose your love but also daydreaming of life without them. Bobby’s friends tell him to want something. Want something! In the finale, Bobby belts out “Being Alive,” ready to find a reason to live: someone to experience true intimacy with, in all its guts and glory.

After watching Adam Driver sing “Being Alive” in Marriage Story, I revisited the song. I’ve listened to it dozens of times, sung by Patti LuPone, and Bernadette Peters, and even the cast of Glee. Sunday my friends and I gathered to watch a 2006 recording of Company on Broadway that my friend Shadi found on Reddit (these are my people), and we watched Raul Esparza sing “Being Alive” with rising chests and wet eyes.

Somebody, hold me too close,
Somebody, hurt me too deep,
Somebody, sit in my chair
And ruin my sleep
And make me aware
Of being alive,
Being alive.

Somebody, need me too much,
Somebody, know me too well,
Somebody, pull me up short
And put me through hell
And give me support
For being alive,
Make me alive.

Make me confused,
Mock me with praise,
Let me be used,
Vary my days.
But alone is alone, not alive.

Somebody, crowd me with love,
Somebody, force me to care,
Somebody, make me come through,
I'll always be there,
As frightened as you,
To help us survive
Being alive,
Being alive,
Being alive!

In my first weeks with a freshly shattered heart, I texted my friends, “I can’t keep doing this every few years for the rest of my life. I just can’t.” But if I must, I can, and I will. I will love and lose as many times as I’m able to—as I’m privileged to. I’ll open and close my arms again and again, and surround myself with my someones. I will meet people who fill my lungs with stardust, then crush me to bits and send my tears streaming through the universe. I already have.

I don’t know if I have anything useful to say about the dualities of life and love that hasn’t already been said by Aristotle, and Shakespeare, and Pema Chödrön, and bell hooks, and Sondheim. Or by all of those motivational phrases your aunt posts on Facebook. (The journey is the reward.) But bury me in their earnestness and universal appeal. May we all find a love that makes us say, “Love is a single soul inhabiting two bodies,” and mean it. May saccharine words continue to drip from my lips as long as being alive continues to be the greatest cliche of them all.


I’m reading

Ask Polly’s holiday survival guide by Heather Havrilesky in The Cut

Katie Hawkins-Gaar on the most wonderful* (*conflicting) time of the year at her newsletter, My Sweet Dumb Brain

37 self-care tips for anyone who is kind of not OK RN by Anna Borges and Rachel Wilkerson Miller at Buzzfeed

The fraught culture of online mourning by Rachel Vorona Cote at Longreads

The need for kindness at the Book of Life

The true reason why it matters boils down to a thought that we may resist for a long time: because we are alarmingly, and almost limitlessly, sensitive, by which is meant, hugely unconvinced of our own value, of our right to exist, of our legitimacy, of our claims on love, of our decency and of our capacity to interest anyone in our pains and in our ultimate fate. We need kindness so desperately – even its tiniest increments (a door held open, a compliment on a biscuit, a birthday remembered) – because we are, first and foremost, permanently teetering over a precipice of despair and self-loathing. The impression of grown-up self-assurance is a sham; inside, just beneath a layer of competence, we are terrified and lost, unsure and unreassured – and ready to cling avidly on to any sign, however small, that we deserve to continue.

I’m listening to:
“Call Your Mom” from The Cut on Tuesdays

I’m thinking about lessons for my professional and personal lives:
How to feel like you have enough by Christine Garvey at The Creative Independent

You accomplished something great. So now what? by A.C. Shilton in The New York Times

I’m learning:
An obvious gift-wrap tip that blew my simple mind

How to better deal with anxiety from this Twitter thread:


Support I got that you might need to hear

The week is almost through. // photo: @werenotreallystrangers
December 13, 2019

Questionable self-care advice


Minerva moment


This cheered me up

Decorating my apartment for the holidays. And so early in December too! My home is merry and bright, and I’m looking forward to spending Christmas in New York, a first for me.


Anthem of the week


Mood


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Mother!

Momma said there'll be days like this

Sob story

On the Sunday after Thanksgiving, my mother and I walked among the violet bunches of prickly pear cactus at the Boyce Thompson Arboretum in Arizona. As we wandered, the desert landscape shifted from a forest of fragrant eucalyptus trees to towering saguaro cacti reaching ever skyward to rust-colored mountains I remember whizzing by on the Thunder Mountain Railroad ride at Disneyland.

My mom, Jan, took my hand and said to me, “Jillian, see how the plants turn toward the light? They know what they need to survive.” I looked to her, my light.

The week I spent in Arizona with my mother, sister and grandfather was the most peaceful one I’ve had in six months. It started with the days I spent in Sedona alone with my mother; that’s where calm first trickled down my spine, like an ice cube slowly melting from my crown. I went walking at sunrise, watching the famous buttes come alive, feeling the crunch of frostbitten leaves underfoot. I experienced a tarot card reading, and turned smooth crystals over in my palms, and went into a deep state of meditation at a yoga nidra class that left my body suspended in a sweet state of pause. We hiked the red earth of Sedona’s energy vortexes, had long conversations, and watched deer saunter by.

I’ve lived as a raw, exposed nerve for a long time, sensitive to any breeze of hurt that comes my way. It’s a highly vulnerable, deeply uncomfortable state of existence, but one I’ve found I have minimal control over, no matter how hard I’ve worked to escape the expanding chasm of my emotions. (Of course, the key is to stop trying to escape. Easier said than done.) In fact, often the harder I worked and the more I demanded from myself, the more I suffered. I discovered how very much I have yet to learn.

Without the shield of a telephone call buffered by forced composure, my mom saw my pain instantly; she embraced me with strength, and let me talk, and dried my tears, and slept beside me, and enveloped me with limitless love. She is the only person in this world to whom I matter most; I never take that for granted. Her hand on mine was a promise—I am going to be okay.

We drove away from Sedona to pick up my younger sister, Jessica, and head to Florence, a sleepy town filled with older folks, where my Grandpa Chuck lives. (I interviewed him about his normal, miraculous life a few months ago.) We ate cereal together while he took his pills and told me about his days in the fire department, and watched all of The Irishman in one sitting, and ate endless dishes of spaghetti and chili and cornbread cooked by my mom. Those meals were like medicine. In the pleasant evenings, I’d head out on long walks to watch the sunset and see families of quail run by in terror. The woman who gave me a tarot reading in Sedona told me to “remove the rocks sitting on your head.” I raised my arms and did so.

Within two days of allowing myself to crawl into the fetal position and surrender to my mother’s presence, to curl up with her soft skin and familiar scent, I felt like myself again. As the days ticked on, and my emotional sea level remained, my hope it would stay grew. It has. In the most primal way, I needed my mother.


#CruelSummerBookClub reading list

Thank you for your reading recommendations on hardship and healing. I look forward to reading many of these books (and re-reading Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire…for the sixth time). Here’s a list of your picks:

Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
Bluets by Maggie Nelson
The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk
It’s OK That You’re Not OK by Megan Devine
The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb
True Refuge by Tara Brach
The Unwinding of the Miracle by Julie Yip-Williams
What Remains by Carole Radziwill
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
To listen to: The "What Happened To You?" series on the podcast Terrible, Thanks for Asking
To attend: The Dinner Party


I’m also reading

Over at the Two Bossy Dames newsletter, Margaret H. Willison shares the breakup songs that have meant the most to her over the years. I am in awe of her reflective writing, just weeks after her breakup. Is this what a strong sense of self looks like?

Edith Zimmerman on Pema Chödrön’s books and heartbreak in The Cut. I’ve written about discovering Chödrön’s worldview and psychologist Guy Winch’s thoughts on heartbreak as addiction here before—Zimmerman’s articles are great reminders of healing helpers I already know.

Making a place at the table for grief on Thanksgiving by Saeed Jones at Buzzfeed

Why “Maps” is the best song of the decade and why it was the sound of New York by Helena Fitzgerald at her ever-wonderful newsletter, Griefbacon

What happened when I took a year off from having a personal life by Rainesford Stauffer in The Cut

A family isn’t a number by Laura Zigman in the New York Times

This Twitter thread from Rachel Syme on beating Winter Sunday Bummers

The replies on this Twitter thread that prove love still exists:


Support I got that you might need to hear


Questionable self-care advice


Minerva moment


This cheered me up

Dancing with my 87-year-old Grandpa Chuck:


Anthem of the week

“Mother” by Kacey Musgraves


Mood


Cruel compliments


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