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It was roughly nine months after my husband died.
I woke up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night and felt a massive urge to throw out my living room rug.
So I proceeded at 2 a.m. to move the furniture, roll up the carpet, and take it out to my apartment compactor room. Thankfully, I didn’t wake any of my neighbors because they would have thought, what is this crazy lady doing?
Afterward, I walked back into my living room, grabbed my computer, and quickly ordered a new one—then curled up with a blanket on the floor and fell back asleep.
That rug was something my husband bought. I had never really liked it, but each time I walked into my apartment living room, that rug would give me a feeling of complete and utter dread. In those moments, I thought to myself: it was because he bought it. My therapist told me maybe I was moving into the anger phase of grief (by the way, those stages aren’t linear, but that’s another article).
About a month after the middle-of-night rug purchase, I kept coming home and feeling a sense of dread again. Of course, I thought it was because Andy wasn’t going to be there. And yes, of course, that was most of it, but there was something else.
My therapist says our brain works visually, and since I had kept my apartment pretty much the same—time was standing still. She had suggested that I start to intertwine the new with the old. That was a hard pill to take; I immediately thought I didn’t want to erase him, but keeping an environment where everything was exactly the same from before his death wasn’t healthy either.
After that therapy session, I hired an interior designer to help me redesign my apartment. I had always remembered as a girl watching Oprah and how she said, “Your home should rise to greet you every time you walk in.” So why not try that? I was thinking it had to be my living environment that was causing the dread. It was lovely working with someone, and I did create a space that for a while gave me a semblance of peace—if only for a fleeting moment.
On the year anniversary, I started to have the same feelings of dread show up again. The emotions weren’t going away. So I kept trying to put “lipstick” on it, using the grief excuse—and yes, grief was a significant factor in all this, but there was something more profound.
Cue, my son starting to have his grief begin to bubble up. He said he hated his room. I immediately called the designer again to give his room a makeover. Once again, it wasn’t the surface stuff making it any better.
So many of my therapy sessions surrounded this, until one day she said to me: maybe your inner soul is trying to talk to you; perhaps you should start trying to listen. Talk about getting hit over the head.
At that moment, I realized that something inside me was trying to guide me to something or somewhere. But what? It’s so hard to listen. I mean, don’t we all keep trying to put lipstick on a problem instead of looking inward?
I saw my life completely changing, and I couldn’t stop it. I had gone back to work after staying home for 10 years to raise my son because now I was the provider. At first, this gave me purpose—mostly, it was a reason to get out and do something for myself, another layer of lipstick getting smacked on. How many layers are we at now?
Fast forward to March 2020, COVID-19 hits, and my son and I leave New York City to our mountain house. Now, this is where the voices inside started to get louder. This mountain house was the house that we had built together, our dream house to retire to, but I pushed it away, saying to myself it’s just grief and missing Andy being here—but like my conditioning, I just put some more lipstick on the house.
It’s incredible what new bedding and a coat of paint can do—right? Wrong. Of course, the new bedding was truly luxurious, but my anxiety was through the roof, and I started having panic attacks and eczema breakouts.
How could this be? I was in the mountains, working from home, nowhere to go, ultimately slowed down—why was I starting to have panic attacks? You see, this is where your body will force you to pay attention! I had never had panic attacks before, not even after Andy died—so why now?
Those attacks in the middle of the night forced me to listen. They forced me to stop and indeed pay attention.
You see, anytime your soul feels overwhelmed with anxiety, this is the universe telling you a breakthrough is coming. When a chapter ends, things get confusing, challenging, and infuriating. You can’t make sense of anything.
There are always two roads you can take at this moment; one that repeats the same cycles you’re currently experiencing or one that thrusts you into a world of new beginnings. My soul was guiding me somewhere, and during the pandemic, it gave me time to slow down and be. To Listen. To take baby steps.
Breakthroughs don’t happen overnight. So you must also have patience and trust in yourself.
One night as my son and I were having dinner, he said to me (which stopped me dead in my tracks), “Mom, you know what? You don’t yell at me anymore.” He was right. I hadn’t even realized in my completely overwhelmed state I had been always yelling at him.
At that moment, I knew I needed to make a change. Figure out a new beginning.
That summer of 2020, I decided to leave New York City and stay at our mountain house, and although this decision didn’t stop my panic attacks completely, they lessened.
In many of my sleepless nights, as I scrolled through social media I came across a video of Jim Carrey. He was talking about the depression he encountered through the years and how ultimately he left Hollywood. He spoke of depression as “deep-rest.” Your body gets tired of playing an avatar for everyone and eventually forces you to listen, in my case, in the form of panic attacks and depression.
By staying in New York City, I was playing that avatar by staying in a place that no longer served me, and eventually it caught up to me. By being at the lake, I was finally getting back to myself—well, this new version of Kathleen, whoever she becomes now. Knowing that I feel more peace than dread, I know I made the right decision.
I now watch the trees blowing in the breeze, I listen to the sound of the bullfrogs lull me to sleep, and when I look up at the stars, I can see the expanse of the universe and be grateful it guided me here.
I know my soul is healing, and I am where I am supposed to be.
Sometimes, you have to make a decision that will hurt your heart, but it heals your soul in the end. Leaving behind that life in the city was hard, but I knew it was no longer sustainable without sacrificing something in my heart.
I would ask each of you to stop and think when you get hit with the dread feeling—that ugh feeling. And listen; see what comes up. Over the years, I have spent many therapy sessions where my therapist says to me what’s coming up; when she sees me getting emotional, she stops me before I can push those bubbling emotions back down. She forces me to “listen” to pay attention. Sometimes I have answers, and sometimes not, and that’s okay.
Panic attacks made me listen, and I think we all should pay more attention to our bubbling up of emotions.
Now, I don’t think we all need to make a significant move like I did or even be in therapy to figure out what our souls are trying to tell us.
My life changed not by my doing, but because I had realizations. I realized that living that old life, continuing to play that avatar, thinking if I kept pushing harder, I thought it would mean it would all be okay and I could get that feeling back that I had when my husband was alive.
I kept having these thoughts over and over and over. I can’t do this; I can’t keep going on this way. I thought I would be a failure if I just gave up. I had created a life in New York City with Andy and my son. I had a wonderful life there, and to give that up—how would I do that?
It took three years of these thoughts constantly coming and me repeatedly ignoring them to ultimately develop physical symptoms to stop me in my tracks and finally listen.
The thoughts that keep coming up, I genuinely believe they’re our soul talking to us—all we need to do is listen.