Grieving my former life with elephant shirt meltdowns

Maybe it was this blog that did it to me. Or maybe it was having a few days where I felt pretty good. Maybe it was just temporary insanity. Whatever it was I thought I was dealing with this whole chronic illness thing pretty well. I got a little too self-confident I suppose. And, you know what they say, pride always comes before a fall.

You see, before I was a ‘professional sick person’, I was a middle school/ high school teacher, and I loved it. I’m one of those incurable nerds that has always loved back to school time. Even as a student myself, I looked forward to buying school supplies (especially if they were sparkly or pink!). Then, as a teacher, my enthusiasm doubled around this time of year. Crayons for .50 a box? I was on it! I stock piled school supplies in the back seat of my little Altima the entire month of July. I used note pads, napkins, or gum wrappers to sketch possible seating charts. I really loved back to school time.

So, a few days ago, I was in Wal-Mart and saw the back to school sale items. I was excited; I perused the selection; I even considered stocking up on crayons for my next festival of sick days. (**Note- I forgot to mention in my previous post that coloring is another great way to pass time on sick days!) Then, I walked away. I remember feeling proud of myself. I didn’t look at the School Supply lists longingly and wish that my classroom was posted. I didn’t buy 100 boxes of crayons for the sake of nostalgia. No, I perused and walked away. If I’m being honest, I even had the fleeting thought that I had really come to terms with leaving my old life behind. I thought, “Holy cow! I should probably write a blog post about this!” Oh, beware prideful heart . . .

Joe is a college professor, so he requires a little back to school prep. It’s frightfully boring, really. A couple new sport coats and flash drives, and he’s ready to make higher education magic. So, today, we ventured to Louisville to shop for him a bit (and check out a gluten free bakery- big win!). My handsome husband picked out two blazers that made me wish we had more excuses to dress nice, and I decided to wander through women’s clothes while he paid.

Then, it happened. I saw a gray maxi skirt in the petite section that would actually fit me! (For those of you over 5’, please realize that this has never happened to me outside of a children’s department. It’s a big deal!) I picked it up; held it against me; searched for a mirror to admire my amazing find while held next to me. And, then, I saw the shirt that was intended to go with it. It was cream with bronze and silver metallic beads and had an elephant in the center. I realize that doesn’t exactly sound incredible, but just trust me, it was!

For a fleeting moment, one thought took over my mind- “This is the best first day of school outfit ever!” For that one moment, I could picture my students’ desks all spaced into groups, my newly decorated bulletin boards, fresh dry erase markers, and my wonderful, amazing new elephant shirt on the first day of this school year. And, then, reality came flooding back to me in such an overwhelming way that I actually felt physical pain.

See, grieving isn’t really a process. Making a sandwich is a process; there is a sequence of steps, and when you reach the last one, sandwich making is over. Grief for my life pre-illness hasn’t been at all like that. Some days I’m fine. I start to believe I’ve completed the process, and the next day it all comes crashing back and hurts like a fresh wound.

In that awful moment at Macy’s I hurt for every decision that life had made for me. It hurt that I could no longer teach, and I had to give up a profession I loved. It hurt that I no longer had a group of colleagues to laugh and joke with at work. It hurt that my days are filled doctor appointments and IVs rather than lesson plans and teachers meetings. It just hurt so much.

Now, I’m not going to tell you some magical story about how I suddenly remembered all the good things in life and everything was better. It’s not that simple. Instead, I walked away from the elephant shirt. I walked away from what was prompting that moment’s pain. I’m obviously not an expert on this whole thing. I’m not ‘over it,’ and I probably never will be. What I have learned, however, is that it is okay to meltdown occasionally. I used to feel guilty that I couldn’t just focus on the ‘good things in life’ and get over it. Now, I realize that it’s okay to feel however I feel in the moment. When I try to deny it, that’s when I get into a seriously depressing place.

So, here I am. I’m Tiffany, and today I had a meltdown over an elephant shirt. Oh well, I also bought a gluten free brownie. The whole day isn’t a loss.

Peace, love, and health.

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3 thoughts on “Grieving my former life with elephant shirt meltdowns

  1. Savannah

    Lovely post. You are stronger than I am. I would have bought said Elephant shirt and found somewhere else to wear it. I mean, the guys do owe us for that Mormon play. I’m thinking a Spice Girls reunion tour or something equally dreadful 🙂 Plus, you’re quite the trophy wife, you could have just rocked that elephant shirt to the grocery store too.

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  2. Cristy Edlin

    Keep blogging 🙂 This one definitely helped me. I have fibromyalgia and vertigo. I also fight panic and anxiety attacks, and here lately its all I can do to get out of bed and go to work. Some days I hurt so bad I just want to lay down and just cry then sleep. I have to MAKE myself because I have to work. That, in turn, makes the panic /anxiety rear its ugly head. 😦 I pray for healing!!! Healing for you and for me 🙂

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  3. Magan

    Tiffany, I am praying for you. You are so right, grief is not a process that follows some sort of order. It comes when it comes and it goes when it goes. While my struggles are different, I definitely relate to random meltdowns (more often than I care to admit). I encourage you to let the emotions come. Identify them and sit with them long enough to feel it. It’s the only way to move forward even though it feels like moving backward at times.

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