asking for help is not exactly a hobby of mine. it’s not about pride or anything like that. i can see two reasons for this. one, it’s because i like to solve things on my own either because i’ve been trained to do so – the curse of the middle child, i suppose – or because i just need my own pace, my own amount of time. and two, i sometimes don’t even realize that i need help. the simpler answer is usually the right one. in this case, i can be oblivious to my own needs.


number two definitely applied when it came to asking for help after Barbara died. when she was battling her illness, i tried to find various ways to help myself. meditation groups, yoga, writing. they helped to a degree. but after she died, all of these strategies suddenly had the single effect of making me feel more stressed and helpless. i can see now that they were just quick-fix scaffolding that was bound to crumble sooner rather than later. like a bandage on a fresh bullet wound. the methods i knew could only do so much.

and when it all came crashing down, it did so in the most spectacular manner. i was buried beneath the rubble and to be honest, i felt comfortable enough to remain there for the rest of my days. it wouldn’t have been a very soluble solution, i know that now, but living in darkness gave me a sense of a kind of false well-being. let the world fall apart, what do i care. i’m happy in my place of gloom. my sadness is a heavy blanket that i have wrapped myself around and i don’t want to get up.

more like, i couldn’t get up.

although i never abused alcohol or drugs (too much), i noticed that they no longer had the desired effect. either i became overwhelmed with grief and found myself weeping or they had no effect at all. they just made me feel empty yet full of sorrow.

there is a time and place for overwhelming sadness but there is a price to pay for it in the long run. in my case, i wasn’t sleeping. i was losing weight without trying to. i had heart palpitations and anxiety attacks. i found it difficult to focus on even the simplest of tasks. i was terrified of driving a car even though driving was something I’d always enjoyed. i wanted to pack up my things and move up north to some obscure town in the middle of nowhere. when i wasn’t crying i was staring into a hollow space that wasn’t there. i was dying and i was happy to do it. who would miss me, after all?

one of the horrible things about losing a sibling is that we couldn’t help each other within the family. the only person who could share my pain that was my brother, because he too had lost his younger sibling. talking with him helped tremendously. still does. but i couldn’t help my parents and they couldn’t help me. i never felt abandoned by them but their pain was too much to handle. as was mine. i couldn’t comfort them. it makes me a little sad that i didn’t try enough, that i didn’t try at all. i couldn’t. i had no strength, no means, no willpower.

luckily, i have a partner who after three months of utter misery sat me down and said, you have to do something about this. we called a psychologist friend of ours who referred me to someone she thought was suitable and before i knew it, i was in an office with green walls and a big window that looked out to a church. the friendly face in front of me said, ok, tell me why you’re here.

and thus started my psychoanalytic treatment, a path towards a healthier me.

honestly, it couldn’t have come at a better time. those sessions which would go on for two and a half years would not only save me, they would help me help myself. i learned about dealing with grief, working through and out of vicious cycles, pinpointing triggers and patterns and changing them. they helped me understand who i was and they helped me deal with my mental struggles.

after a while though, both my therapist and i came to the conclusion, that the sessions weren’t enough. i also tried kinetic massage therapy for a short period of time. but that was yet another superficial approach. i needed something to treat the root.

the root was depression, an illness or disorder that i had been battling for most of my adult life. and of course, it was something i was used to so i never dealt with it properly.

weekly therapy sessions alone wouldn’t help.

i went to see a psychiatrist who listened to my story and prescribed me a mild anti-depressant. i was reluctant. i was prescribed them after a five minute conversation back when i was a teenager, 25 years ago. all my friends were taking them. it was something very ‘normal’ back then. maybe it still is. i don’t know.

whatever the case, i didn’t take them back then and i nearly refused to take them now. then the psychiatrist said something very simple, there is an imbalance in your brain. this can help with that.

so i tried the pills and their effects were nearly miraculous. finally, i was sleeping well. i was thinking clearly. i was living a life of quality, dealing with problems as they came along and enjoying the happy moments. i thought to myself, so this is what life without depression feels like. wow.

another big thing that helped me was finding people that had been through something similar, if not the same. i found sibling support groups online and even though these people were strangers, their stories, their comments, observations, feelings, were all my own. finally i had found people who understood. who needed no explanation about why i was just missing my sister so much i could crawl into a hole and stay there. who still wanted to talk about their siblings. who asked about mine. their stories moved me to tears, sad and happy all at once. i wasn’t alone. and neither were they.

with time, these strategies changed. i no longer felt like i needed the weekly therapy sessions. i do recommend them to everyone, at least to give them a try. i started exercising more. no more yoga but long walks seem to do the trick now. i still see my psychiatrist every three months. i still have prescribed sleeping pills, very mild and non-addictive, that i take as needed which is nearly every night anyhow. the anxiety is at bay and when it does appear every now and then, i can handle it.

there will be people along the way who will try and help you too. i was/am lucky to have plenty of those around me. not all will be of help. for example, in my case, i had absolutely no desire to seek solace in any kind of religious institution even though it was suggested to me on various occasions. i might write a bit more about this in a second edition of ‘condolences’ but yeah, there were people who said that prayer helps. that god doesn’t give you anything you can’t handle. to me, that’s all nonsense. prayer made me anxious and god doesn’t exist.

i mean, if it helps you, by all means, go for it. not everyone believes in the same things.

other comments went something like ‘throw yourself into your work.’ i found that difficult because my work is so intricately connected to my mental state. my mind was too clouded, my soul too crushed. i was incapable of finding any inspiration for about a year after my sister died. back then i even felt like i had lost my voice. being a singer, that’s not exactly helpful. so again, this is something that didn’t work for me so i put it behind me and left it there. i was lucky to have the work but i was on auto pilot for the better part of that season. i did my best as i always do.

i guess what i’m trying to say is that i had to find things that helped me. the key point here being is that i tried all sorts of things. i guess that’s the take-away in all this. try and see what helps. if it does, great, if not, move along.

one such thing was a video of billy bob thornton that i came across a few months after Barbara’s death. random, i know. in an interview he explained that the death of his brother changed him forever. all the bells in my head started ringing frantically. yes. YES! this man got it. i understood that i had changed and that i could never be the same again. it’s a tough pill to swallow but it’s a necessary one.

which kind of reminds me of one thing i remember my therapist saying. it struck a chord with me, made a big difference. she said, you have to go through the pain. i didn’t really understand it at first, it just seemed to make sense on some level. essentially, i felt like my mental state was comparable to an attic filled with boxes. and boxes. and more boxes of stuff. i knew that i had to open them all up and organize them. throw out the things i no longer needed. fold the things that i did. etc. my therapist helped me start by dusting them off and going through them, one by one. a difficult yet worthwhile process.

i realize now that i need to just feel my feelings as they go. yes, i still cry uncontrollably sometimes, simply because i miss Barbara so much, my heart still feels like it’s being ripped to pieces. but i eventually stop and continue with my day. i don’t think this’ll ever stop. acceptance is half the battle.

and no. time doesn’t heal all wounds. taking care of the wound is what heals it. knowing how to do it. working very hard to heal it. some days it’s still impossible. others it’s a piece of cake.

i can also finally, well, with a near certainty allow myself to (maybe) be happy at times. to smile without feeling guilty. to laugh and to enjoy life when it gives me little treasures and moments of joy. at least i can look at a beautiful day now and recognize it as such. three years ago, this was nearly impossible.

and yes, i talk about Barbara a lot. i used to hesitate but i don’t anymore. she’s always with me. that’s not going to change.

the depression is still here but i find it’s manageable at the moment. who knows what the future will bring but all i can do is make the effort. and when that fails, i know that i can always ask for help.