“Forever Winter” – Taylor Swift

 Has Taylor Swift made you cry this month? Probably. But probably not like this is me listening to “Forever Winter” on repeat three weeks before your anniversary. A professor of psychiatry at Washington University in St. Louis wrote an op-ed for the Huffington Post just tearing these lyrics apart. “I see it as about serious mental health struggles, particularly suicidal thoughts.”  My thoughts too Professor Gold, my thoughts too. Like half the world right now, I’ve been listening to the re-release of Taylor’s Red album. I immediately listened to all the un-released “vault” music first; because of course I begin, there. I knew “Ronan” but that’s because I knew Maya. But I didn’t know “Forever Winter” but I know me. The me knew that girl begging and screaming and not knowing what breaking down looks like, sounds like, feels like. I still don’t because it’s different for everyone. But for my husband, the one I should know better than anyone, I still didn’t know what he was going through. I guess what I’ve learned professionally and personally is that your gut feeling will tell you more about what someone might be going through than what that person will actually tell you what they are going through. Aren’t we all like that though? I can probably guess how many people thought “I was just fine this week” based on my responses to them – but I bet their gut knew, something is going on with her? In fact, my motto this past week has been some version of “fine”.  “Everything’s fine”.  “I’m fine”.  “It’ll be fine”. It’s all NOT fine is what my gut told me and I know a few people picked up on this little habit of mine and called it out for what it is. You. Are. Grieving. It’s ok not to be fine this week, this month, all holiday. Those people, those are my people. Those are my safe people and I’m so grateful for them calling me out because sometimes admitting to breaking down is quite scary. 

There’s a lot about mental health that I don’t know. I know, I’m a therapist, but a lot of us don’t actually know. We understand and continue to learn and try to understand. I’m getting more comfortable with this, but not entirely. Not knowing is scary, especially for someone who likes -no; needs an answer for everything. If it doesn’t make sense, I need it to. Yet I somehow chose a career to live in grey areas. What I try to grasp about mental health is that it is different for everyone and that means treatment, healing, talking, feeling, pursuing is different in recovery too. What I think you should for your mental health is probably a wrong answer. But what I do know is that suffering in silence is not anymore scary than talking to someone about it. And I say this to tie it back to – that is still not enough. Therapy isn’t enough; and for all my therapists – that is not our fault or failure. I don’t know what is enough, though – but I feel compelled to say it. Therapy is still better than no therapy. Therapy saves lives. Therapy prolongs life. Therapy heals. But why isn’t it enough; always. I don’t know. 

The caregivers, the lovers, and the overall carer’s of people struggling with brain health. I feel you; Taylor Swift feels you too ;). It’s not an easy road; it’s scary. That’s what has been on my mind a lot leading up to this anniversary. I’ve had a few candid conversations about what it was like to be married to someone with brain trauma. Scary. It was scary – all the time. I don’t think I fully realized it then, but I do now looking back. I was scared all the time that he would kill himself, that he would relapse, that he would leave. Those are the nightmares that continue now. Some version of him just disappearing, dying, overdosing – all of this. It wasn’t easy, but it was what I wanted and who I loved and there was no changing that. 

Someone asked me if I worried that one day my kids will look up online what happened to their dad. I guess I never thought about it because that question scared me. Maybe my son already has? And then I remembered that whatever is online is stuff they don’t already know. Also, a lot of it was the out-pouring of positivity and love of his memory – so I hope one day, if they do look it up, they’ll see a lot of love and support they had. Today was hard. Just like the four years prior.  But it was different. Both of my kids are in bed now, neither knowing that today was their dad’s 5th anniversary of his passing. They may have noticed some extra phone calls in the evening. Seen the flowers a friend sent. But to them it was like any other day and I was deeply feeling stuck between telling them and just moving forward. Last night I decided not to tell them. I would keep this to myself and protect their innocence. Especially for our son. He was keenly aware of this day for the first few years. It was evidenced by nightmares, separation anxiety, anxiety of dying, and so much more. The past two years has been sadness around this time, more talking about his dad and sharing happy memories with his sister – but no more regressions. For his sake, I silently grieved in our home. As the kids said their final goodnights, I made a cup tea, sat down and gave myself the chance to feel what it’s like to be where we and I am now. I feel at peace but forever sad. 

Dr. Gold continued in her article, 

“This shows how hard it is to be a friend in these times, and how complicated mental health struggles are.  Sometimes you can’t fix someone even if you try. Even still, she wants him to know she’d love him even at his darkest and wants him to know even if his illness convinces him she isn’t, she is always there for him, and he matters so much to her”


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