When I woke up this morning, I didn’t immediately realise what day it was. Half-asleep, I opened the window to let the cats out, then looked at my watch (yes, I wear a watch again, just to know how many steps I walk every day, because that’s the kind of thing I care about these days). Saw the date. 13th of November.
Six years ago, life as I knew it stopped. I didn’t understand then what that meant. I’ve had time since – and therapy, so much therapy – to think about it. I broke. My wife says éparpillée façon puzzle, scattered like a jigsaw puzzle. I like that. It’s very accurate. And every day, or maybe week, a piece finds its place. But I’m not a regular puzzle. I’m more like the wasgij kind, where the picture you’re shown only gives hints of the one the puzzle will eventually reflect. I’m never going back to who I was. I am and am not that person anymore. That person could do things I can’t do anymore. They also couldn’t do things I now can do.
Tragedy saved my life. How weird is that? It feels disrespectful to say that, and yet it’s true. It’s a fact. Tragedy struck in Paris on that day and even though I was nowhere near, it put a stop to my life. A stop that had been years in the making and I didn’t know that. No, that’s not true. I was aware that I had to change the way things were going. I had to leave my dream job that was killing me from the inside. I had to listen to myself. I tried, I failed, my body (or was it my brain?) took over and gave me no choice.
In the years since, I’ve done a lot – A LOT – of work on myself, on my life. I already knew I had married the best person in the world but damn if she didn’t prove it to me time and again. With her by my side, with my kid’s love despite everything, I built something. Something new. Someone new. I listened to myself. I slowed down (once I could start moving again). I found new roots. I stood up. I’m still standing. I started reviewing and found a new calling. I opened up. I made new friends (all my love and gratitude to my gals, to Rach, and to M, the most unexpected friend). Found old ones again. Made my own rules, rules that work better for me and, hopefully, for the people in my life. I don’t make myself do things I know will break me. That’s the main difference, actually. I now know things can break me. I am not unbreakable. But I am strong. I’m still here, am I not?
I found out I’m dyspraxic and that it’s probably one of the reasons for my anxiety and so I learned to take it into account and how to work with it. I learned to deal with panic attacks. I left Paris and found the sea, soothing even when it’s roaring. I left chaos and embraced the quiet. If things are calm around me, my mind and body can focus on what’s important rather than on surviving. I accepted that there are some things I can’t deal with as they are, and found strategies to make them manageable. It is okay to not want to see people every day. It is okay to leave your own party. It is okay to be tired and need me time. It is okay to be selfish, especially since it will give you the strength to be there for the people who matter when they really need you. It is okay to ask for time out. It is okay to cut out the noise. It is okay to be weird. It is kind of fun to be weird. It is okay to not play by society’s rules, as long as no one gets hurt. It is okay to not want. It is also okay to want. It is okay to change your mind, to make plans, to go with the flow, to whatever.
In previous years, I’d feel uneasy, or sad, or broken for a few days before the 13th and not always know why, until the day itself was here. It’s different this year. I did have a couple of rough days recently (have you tried having a panic attack during the relaxation part of a yoga class? It’s… an experience), but they had wholly unrelated reasons. Life stuff. Work stuff (I’m trying work again, who’d have thought?). Not end of the world stuff. And it feels like progress and really strange at the same time because what is happening?
A lot of good came out of it all. I’m a better person, I think. Hopefully. I’m trying to do better in the areas where I messed up. Taking care of myself and putting myself first turned out not to be so selfish after all. By allowing myself to choose the right circumstances, I’m actually more available for others. More present. A better friend, a better wife, a better parent.
I’m doing well. Often. Mostly. And then, I look at my watch and it’s November 13th. I still have the best person by my side. Yesterday, she baked a chocolate cake for me. She doesn’t like chocolate, but she loves me. I’ll be fine. It’s not a maybe anymore. And you know what? I fucking love my life.