If you’ve kept up with the blog thus far or know Emily and me personally, then you’re aware that we met in group therapy. Of course, the assumption underneath all of that is that Emily and I were both in group therapy because we were mentally unwell. And, as other posts have revealed, that assumption is entirely accurate.
I’ve been watching Ted Lasso after some friends showed me the first few episodes on New Year’s Eve. Although the show is partially supposed to be lighthearted and fun, I also see a lot of myself in Ted, especially lately because, as my therapist pointed out today, I’ve really downplayed how much I’ve been struggling, and the one person who would call me out on it isn’t here.
An Award-Winning Faker
On the surface, I think that I cover up my mental health reasonably well. I crack jokes, laugh, and ensure everyone around me has fun. I volunteer, I offer to help people, and I will always offer a listening ear to anyone who needs it. I find a way to accomplish all that needs to get done, and I try my best to always be a pillar of strength for my family.
However, what you see on the surface isn’t always me — it’s the mask I wear to fit in.
Honestly, I’ve been this way for as long as I can remember. I’ve always been a perfectionist and people pleaser. I also don’t want to appear vulnerable or weak, because I know people will exploit it. So it’s just better for everyone if I say yes with a smile and push myself as far as I can.
I think the combination of my upbringing and the desire for others to like me have always been a motivating factor in this behavior. However, I also think that experiences during my middle school years really drove this notion home, and I carried it into my adult life.
Emily Always Knew
I know there are times when it’s obvious to everyone that I’m struggling. 2017 was a prime example of that. However, not every difficult moment in my life is a five-alarm fire. In fact, those moments usually start as something much smaller, something almost no one would notice.
And yet, somehow, Emily always did.
The first time Emily knew goes all the way back to 2018. We were a few months into our DBT group, and it was one of those days where everyone in the group showed up seemingly dysregulated. At one point during the group, I felt an anxiety attack coming on, so I tried to quietly excuse myself to the bathroom.
I felt Emily look at me as I left the room, but I tried to avoid eye contact. When I returned to the room, she mouthed, “You OK?” and I gave a thumbs up. The group continued, and I calmed down.
Of course, as soon as the group ended that day, Emily was there beside me. As we walked out to the parking lot, she said, “Dude, I know you got up to use the TIPP Skill. What’s up? I’m here if you want to talk about it.”
Over the years, Emily continued to just “know” when I wasn’t okay. By the time we started dating, she would just roll her eyes at me if I tried to put on that fake face when I was having a hard day. She always had a witty way of essentially calling me out and letting me know she knew I wasn’t okay.
I think part of it was the fact that she was literally trained to know these things. She was a badass social worker, and she was just naturally perceptive. However, I’d also like to think that part of it was just the fact that we always shared a unique bond. We just got each other in a way that very few other people did.
And here’s the real kicker: She never once reacted negatively when I opened up to her. Usually, she listened, comforted me, and asked how she could help me. Sometimes she’d say, “Which Emily do you want for this? You can have problem-solving Emily, non-judgmental social worker Emily, or girlfriend Emily.” Other times she’d worry that my feelings were the result of something she did, and I’d have to explain things to dispel that. But she was never angry, never critical, and never left me hanging high and dry.
Emily always knew when I was struggling, but she loved me all the same.
I’m Trying My Best Without Her
Losing someone you love takes a toll on your mental health in ways that very few other life experiences do. However, sudden, traumatic losses like Emily hit in an utterly indescribable way. So, to say these past two and a half months have been hard is an understatement to say the least. They’ve been almost unbearable.
I have shared some of my feelings quite candidly on social media because I know Emily would want me to be honest about where I am mentally. However, I’ve still held back quite a bit. A few people have seen me on particularly rough days, and my therapist has had to deal with a few intense sessions over the past few months.
Really though, there’s so much that no one knows except me… But she’d know if she were here.
This week has been exceptionally tough. I’ve felt so untethered and lost. The new year has added a whole new layer of finality to Emily’s death, and the thought of going an entire 365 days without her really makes me want to give up. The grief isn’t coming in waves anymore. It’s a full-blown storm and I’m drowning.
I don’t know how to tell people what I’m doing and thinking. I don’t know how to stay afloat. Because I love Emily, I want to keep my promises to her and fulfill her dreams. But because I love Emily, I also just wish I could be with her again. But alas, those two desires are incompatible with each other.
I’ll end with this: Grief sucks. Losing the love of your life sucks. And the one person who handled me the best when I get in this state of mind is that love I lost. It’s a little too ironic, don’t you think?