Have you ever experienced an event so traumatic that inevitably forevermore all things will be mentally placed in two boxes labeled Before and After?
Like how people always remember where they were on September 11, 2001, or where they were when Kennedy was shot, or when the first man walked on the moon. Or when your mom died, things like that…you know where you were, how old you were, even what you were wearing or what you were doing. These moments are indelibly stamped in your heart and brain as well as the accompanying emotions.
I have my own personal tragic date of profound sorrow that will forever mark my future. There was happiness BEFORE: sadness and confusion AFTER.
My life is split in two now. What was will never be again as I dwell in a mostly perpetual state of grief, of dysphoria, of purgatory, of anhedonia.
That’s not to say there aren’t moments of brightness, moments that bring a smile to my face and lift my heart a little, but then I see a certain date or I remember a certain event and I mentally place it in its appropriate container: BEFORE or AFTER. I say to myself, oh yeah, that was before. Now we dwell in the after box.
If I see a story or read an article about, for example, Yellowstone, that memory goes in the before box. Ironing perfumed sheets for a homecoming or walking to the beach, Sunday morning buckwheat pancakes–or any one of the thousands of sweet daily memories since 1991–all BEFORE. Don’t get me started going down THAT road. There are actually about half a dozen dates that signify different aspects of after-and those recollections are even more painful to tidy up and allocate to their designated container.
BEFOREANDAFTERBEFOREANDAFTER. I do it automatically now.
For me, it signals panic attack time. I never experienced a panic attack BEFORE–now I know the triggers and force myself to use the tools I went to therapy to learn so I don’t once again spiral into a paralyzing dissociation with reality.
There is so much that is before. Why wasn’t I able to foretell the future? If I had only known. But I didn’t know, I couldn’t have known, and the abject shock of it all still colors my waking hours–and my sleep.
In my case, every single day I mourn the death of someone who’s still very much alive.
Unless you’ve walked this same journey, you might not understand how I can grieve for someone who still breathes and eats and sleeps. Although they aren’t clinically deceased, they are gone, and it feels like a true death in every sense of the word.
And now for me, I will forevermore be tormented by BEFORE and AFTER.