Last week I felt like I hadn't had enough vacation time even though I was just returning from the long holiday break. The fact that it was consistently less than 10 degrees outside certainly was a factor but another was my deep sense of fatigue. My spirits picked up some once in the office. Lots of self-care over time helped too – yoga, Zumba and sleep -- but I still felt tired.
Then Friday, on my Facebook page, one of those often annoying memory pop-ups appeared. My heart recognized the picture before my head. It jumped, I caught my breath and was stunned. There it was. It was a picture of a man in his 80's, slightly bent over, wearing a plaid shirt and suspenders with a shy smile. I was next to him, in a side-hug with a protective smile. The memory was of a post I made exactly 5 years ago to the day, January 6th, 2012. That was the day my dad died.
From my training to be a psychotherapist, intellectually I understand there are such things as anniversary reactions. As a regular person, I felt like: "Holy Cow, really? No... not me! Well, is that why I've felt so exhausted this week?"
An Anniversary Effect is often insidious, it creeps up on you with a boatload of feelings unrelated to what's happening in the present, other than it's around the time when the major loss or trauma happened. Consciously remembering the date and event is not required. I was not thinking about my dad's passing. I was just trying to find my way back into a work schedule after the holiday break, with 7 degree weather outside.
I posted on this to Facebook friends and got some insightful comments. Many of them are also psychotherapists, coaches or people who have lost key family members or friends. 'Do you believe there is such a thing as an Anniversary Effect?" Some responses:
This is profound.
Our bodies must know. Hearts connect perhaps at a different wave length, sort of on the same level of mystery that dogs can smell and hear with super powers. We have much to learn about core relationships, our senses and spirits.
Social media can be a great thing at times.
If you find yourself reacting in ways that don't quite feel like you--tired, irritable or sad-- consider this concept: we are connected to each other and those who came before us in ways we have yet to truly understand. In the meantime, here are some ways to deal with Anniversary Effects:
1. Acknowledge your feelings. What we resist will likely persist. The Zen Priest Thich Nhat Hanh says embrace difficult feelings like you would an upset baby. Hold her gently, cradle her until she calms down. When we try to ignore or deny feelings, they can resurface or come out in ways and times you don't expect. Therapists and coaches are taught the importance of understanding our own internal emotional geography so we can help our clients sort through theirs. Often in recognizing feelings, it's like a soap bubble you touch--it bursts and is instantly gone. I realized I wasn't deeply tired; I had a nice block of time off. Instead, I could see I was sad. Yes, I miss my dad. Once I could understand my reaction, I felt better. It also reconnected me to good feelings about my father. Everything teaches us something.
2. Practice "radical self-care." Commit to doing what makes you feel lighter and better. Physical exercise is a powerful antidote to depression. Don't let feelings get trapped in your body. Walk, run, stand up, move your arms over your head. I read once you cannot be depressed while raising your hands over your head and looking up. Hmm... just try it. Yoga is also great. Consider music and meditation.
3. Write. Putting your feelings down on paper helps you find a distance and often a new perspective. The process of formulating words to convey your experience and the act of writing or typing it out uses a different part of the brain than our emotions. I’m reminded of that as I write this.
I hope your New Year is off to a good start. Be well and be curious about your reactions to life.
Call yourself to your highest good this year. The world needs good.
PS: This is my dad.