And Then The Fog Lifted...

 Image Credit: Gio... "Get the shot!" 

Image Credit: Gio... "Get the shot!" 

Since it’s both Mental Health Awareness Day and the anniversary of my need to get my shit together, (wow that went really fast) I want to talk to you guys about what I now refer to as ‘the fog’. 

I want to talk about this, because it dawned on me that when talking about mental health, we usually talk about acute issues or outwardly chronic symptoms that interfere with our daily lives in a dramatic way. However, we don’t talk about the things we’re able to mask and hide from the world by virtue of simply functioning.

You all know almost three years ago I went through a major life change. It came on the heels of five years of tumultuous life changes. Half a decade of upheaval and turmoil and I never seemed to be able to come up for air… I simply dog paddled from one crisis to another. 

On the surface, I looked okay. I smiled, told jokes, went to work everyday, had friendships, romantic relationships; it looked like I was a phoenix who always managed to rise from the ashes each and every singe time. I was praised for my resiliency. Hell, I even thought I was a bulletproof warrior. 

But I was secretly shutting down, self-destructing, and falling apart. It was a secret because not even I knew what was going on until only a few weeks ago. 

I was out shopping on a bright and sunny Sunday afternoon, and I bought a French press to make fresh coffee every morning. I know, you’re like, “so what?” But this was actually a big deal because it was a huge revelation to the pain and depression I had been experiencing for years and didn’t even know it until recently. 

When I was married, making coffee was my job in the morning since I was the first one up. In my marriage, making coffee was one of the few genuine kindnesses we shared. I so loved bringing my husband a fresh cup of coffee in the morning and setting it on the bedside table so it was there when he opened his eyes. Occasionally, he would return the favor, and there was just something about having that cup delivered to me in bed that would heal a lot of the wounds suffered between us in our decade together. 

My friend Karrie gave me her old coffee maker when I got my first apartment here in Atlanta, and it was then I began brewing the whole 12 cup pot, and drinking that pot of coffee over the next 2-3 days. I’d just microwave a cup every morning until I had to make a fresh pot again. It didn’t seem like a big deal to me… I put so much milk in my coffee, as long as it was hot, I didn’t even notice it was that gross. 

When Louis would stay over, he recoiled in horror and insisted I make a new pot, “That’s gross!” 

“I don’t mind. It’s just me, why would I make a new pot of coffee just for me every morning? I hate Keurigs and this is working.” 

“That’s gross, honey. Make a new pot,” he'd scold. 

Gio also gagged at my habit. “No. Just NO.” This was how his daily Starbucks run for me got started. He simply couldn’t abide with the fact I sometimes drank days old coffee. 

But one day ‘the fog’ lifted, and there I was buying a vessel to make me fresh coffee every morning. Suddenly, the idea of brewing myself coffee when I woke up every morning wasn’t an exhausting idea. I also wasn’t going to bed early just to get the day over with, or barricading myself in the house on the weekends unless someone dragged me out into the daylight kicking and screaming. I wasn’t bargaining with myself to go to the gym instead of going home and crawling into sweats, drinking wine, and waiting for the sun to go down so I could go to bed. 

I felt like living life again. Not in a dramatic way, but in a ‘maybe don’t drink moldy coffee anymore because the thought of making a fresh pot is as tiring as running a marathon.’ 

The truth was, I had been grieving. Grieving it all: every circumstance, bad decision, every reach and grab for something external to fix the pain inside of me, and I was probably very clinically depressed, only not because while I knew something was off and had to change, I didn’t know what. I couldn’t put check marks on any questionnaires, or even articulate what was going on inside me. I was functioning at such a high level and had been through so much, shitty old coffee and sweatpants seemed like a good entitlement to have. 

And really, was there anything I or anyone around me could do? Probably not. I knew something was off with me and needed to change, and I went back to therapy, but I couldn’t put my finger on what. So I muddled through trying to fix things and then it happened in a HomeGoods in Norcross, GA buying a $12.99 French Press. 

There weren’t any thunderclaps of understanding, no celebrations, no major revelations…

I had simply finished grieving and was ready to make coffee for myself without the past attached to it. People think I’m nuts to grieve that marriage, but there were good moments that are probably magnified because the valleys were so deep. Making coffee was that good we always had, and it took this long to let that go along with a host of other things. My marriage was garbage, but I did love my husband very much. When they do something terrible it doesn't just flip a switch and that goes away. People on the outside could flip that switch. I finally acknowledged it took me three years to recognize it and get past it. I hate the term 'let it go' because you never really let it go. There's tears in my eyes typing this right now. You don't let it go. You grieve it and find a new normal. I wish that were the conversation instead of this notion of moving on. I feel like 'moving on' keeps people stuck because there are some things you don't want to forget or let go. Somethings you want to keep knit into your heart forever. For me it was making my husband coffee every morning and having one brought to me here and there. I don't want to let that go, but I can allow myself to shelve it as a memory in order to move on. 

So if you’re like me, and muddling through and functioning, yet something just seems off. Keep muddling. At least talk to someone about it if you can, or at the very least, have patience with yourself, because while it will take a long time (it took me 2 years of unraveling and an entire year of rebuilding to get here)… the fog WILL finally lift one day. When it does, make yourself some fresh coffee and smile at the fact you got through something, survived it with a hell of a lot of wisdom, and it’s only onward and upward from here. 

Jennifer Gulbrandsen