Visiting the Homeless

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We trotted through the woods like a gypsy caravan, each holding blankets, bags of food or toiletries. I’m sure we were an odd looking group, a collection of young adults stumbling over rocks and twigs following our guide from one homeless camp to the next. We were on a mission, I guess you could say, to serve the underprivileged in downtown Indianapolis.

I know homeless people can seem patronizing at times, but this evening as I looked into their eyes that yearned for friendship and comfort, I was reminded that they are human just like me.  Read More

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Lent

I gave up coffee for lent this year and I’m probably being more dramatic than I should. But can I just say if withdrawal feels like you want to cry every time you get a whiff of espresso then I stand condemned. Read More

The Wintrovert

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The time is 5:37 on a Wednesday evening, and I’m sitting alone at an empty dinner table eating my chicken paella and catching up on bills. The sun has bid me farewell nearly half an hour ago, leaving a blanket of darkness to cover my city. A bottle of wine sits in my kitchen and I consider opening it, pouring myself a glass, and snuggling on the couch to watch TV. Read More

Spring Semester

Me: my name is Julia I work for the state government. I’m studying public administration.

Blinks awkwardly.

Interesting fact? Umm, I have a desk job so I power walk in the conference center on my lunch breaks.

Also me: When did I get so boring?

Wednesday Wisdom

Today’s headlines and history’s judgement are rarely the same. If you are too attentive to the former, you will most certainly not do the hard work of securing the latter.

– Connie Rice

Christmas & PTSD

Despite Christmas being this month, last week I sat face in palms crying in a kitchen chair beside the stove as my roommates tried to diagnose my random outburst of sadness.

I never asked to walk the road of grief.

At least I can say I survived another year of graduate school, two years at the same job, and a few awkward dates (#ForeverSingle) But to be honest, none of these brought me to tears last Friday.

“I can’t be sad,” I told myself. “It’s almost Christmas.” My office has gone ballistic with the holiday festivities. And the chaos only follows me home. One night it was a church concert, then a trip to the German Christmas market. Next there was cookie baking, gift exchanges, caroling, choir practice, and still I was brought to tears in the midst of it all.

But for sadness I was not brought to tears. They were somehow triggered by what I saw as I drove home from work. It was simple, mundane, and even typical. In the wet December streets there was a man in front of me, riding a bicycle.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for cycling. It’s one of the shared traits of Millennials. That along with drinking coffee and mastering social media, and a host of other unimpressive skills.  (#NotMyGeneration) But I’ve had this sort of reaction to cyclists lately. The first time it happened was during my last night of classes. In the dark streets I saw a man riding his bike under a bridge. It was as if his body was just a silhouette waiting to be hit.

I’ve written before about my friend who was killed fourteen months ago in a bike accident. But it’s beyond me why a year later it’s hitting me this way.

“A year is nothing,” my friend D. said from the passenger seat of my car. I tried to explain the PTSD to her in hopes of normalizing the episode. Her response seemed to empathize with my lingering grief.

My friend D. loves to cycle more than I love to write. She’s the international student who bought a bike without knowing how to ride, and now talks of nothing else. She was telling me about her project for a public health class in which they were asked to create more incentives for people to bike in the city. Her project explored ideas like protected bike lanes and bicycle expressways. Obviously, I don’t share her enthusiasm, at least not at this point. But I do appreciate it.

After reading up on PTSD, I discovered that symptoms may not occur or become problematic until years later. I’ve had episodes of PTSD twice since John died. It first happened a few days after my car accident last January, and the second time was when my brothers suffered a car accident last spring. According to Mental Health America this disorder is common in people who “have learned of or experienced an unexpected and sudden death of a friend or relative.” Symptoms include repeatedly thinking about the trauma, becoming upset when something reminds you of the event, rapid breathing, muscle tension, and rapid heart rate.

But I really think there was more than just seeing a biker, which triggered my PTSD. It was the recollection that my friend was hit while riding a bike. It was the remembrance of how I responded when I heard it. And most importantly it was the realization that he is in fact gone.

This is a new area of grief, I suppose.

“Do you need a paper bag?” my roommate asked. It wasn’t a bad idea. There I sat, my hands shaking as if I had Parkinson’s and my lungs gasping for air.  But I didn’t even realize I was struggling to breathe until she mentioned it. Steam billowed from the kitchen stove, where pots of chicken soup were boiling.  And what do you know, moments later, the shaking, the heart rate, the gasping for breath had all passed.

A Grief Continued

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Confession: I skipped my last Policy Process class to spend time with my sister. But in my defense my life as a graduate student is a constant struggle of juggling school, work, life, and mental health.

Family trumps education. At least for me.

My sister has this adorable child who is developing every day. And for fear that I might miss his entire childhood I recognized my need for some “auntie time” with him. Plus, I’m vying for his love, attention, and admiration in the face of his eight other aunts and uncles, not to mention eight or so more on his dad’s side. So, as you can see, I couldn’t pass up an evening with them even if it meant missing class.

John’s niece and baby cousin were at my sister’s house. Our families grew up together so I feel like they are my nieces and nephews as well. We shared a meal in the warm house, on a freezing December night, and the toddlers and babies played happily on the floor. Well not entirely, but their interactions were entertaining, to say the least.

As autumn frosted into winter this year I thought December would bring depression as it did last Christmas. But for some reason my foreknowledge of the potential to slip back into it has kept my head above waters.

But on this night, before I even arrived at my sister’s house, I knew the gathering would create remorseful nostalgia. And as expected it caused me to remember John. It was the sort of dinner he would have come to, with his sister and cousin.

Well, maybe.

I’m sure he would have been invited, but he’d find an excuse not to come, and then two hours in, he’d appear in the doorway with a cup of coffee and a mischievous smile.

*          *           *

The snow was falling as I drove home from my sister’s. Christmas music hummed from my car speakers as the seat warmer heated my bum. The quiet streets glistened from the neighborhood Christmas lights. Halfway home I started to think about John, not John when he was alive, but John today.

Because it’s difficult to fathom life after death, in vain I try to imagine what he’s doing up there. But the longer we spend without him, the more difficult this becomes. Is he making a new life? Is he outside of time, so far removed from the earth, that life before death is just a dream to him?

These late night ponderings always make me cry. For all that death is, the shock, the denial, the graveyard visits, and the PTSD, I can honestly say the hardest part of losing a friend is their absence. I sometimes wonder why I reacted so dramatically the night he died. Was it the unexpectedness, or the disbelief, or the fear? And then I sit there wondering why I revisit those thoughts so often, dissecting each moment to make sense of what happened.

One year, two months, and four days since John died. I’ve grown use to this reality in a sense. But the small things still trigger that painful remembrance. For some reason, dinner with my sister and John’s family caused me to cry. Holding his niece in my lap, her soft hair brushing against my chin. He would have laughed with me when I told him I’d skipped class. But in vain I resign to imagine what it would have been rather than accepting how it is? Just continued grief.