Yesterday was my birthday. I'm 47 years old.
It is not lost on me that I am the age my brother was when he died. It's unnerving. We aren't supposed to be the same age. He was my older brother and I am forever supposed to be his younger sister. That's the way this works. That's the way it's always worked. I was the third of four. I'm not supposed to be the middle child, by myself. Alone. It was always the two of us in the middle and it's not right that now it's just me and I feel more alone than I've ever felt.
I spent a great deal of the day yesterday fighting back tears. Everything seemed hard.
I checked my phone a thousand times.
I know my brother wasn't going to text me. I know he is gone. There is no way I can pretend otherwise, ever.
I kept waiting for that text.
He never, ever forgot my birthday. No matter what was going on in his complicated, often messy life. He remembered. Every year.
He never forgot any of our birthdays.
Jason's birthday was the day before my brother took his own life. Literally hours before he died, he messaged my husband to wish him a Happy Birthday. He already knew what he had planned. He had already decided. He just loved Jason. He loved all of us. He couldn't let Jason's Birthday pass without letting him know he cared. THAT was who my brother was. THAT person. THAT man. Not any of the terrible things that people think about people who are addicts. Not any of the mean things people think about others who struggle with their mental health. He had a good heart and a bad brain and I know this. In my soul, I know.
It is so wrong that he's gone. It's the most wrong thing in the world.
I teach Zumba now at a couple of places and one of them, my favorite, is my Bootcamp. I love my Bootcamp. I love my coach. I love my friends. I love my workouts. I love Zumba. I love dancing. It's all really, really beautiful and having that outlet saved my sanity so many times over the past year.
I came into Zumba yesterday morning and my friends had cake and balloons and presents. It was a celebration and it was for me and it was the nicest thing that I've ever experienced in my life and oh. Oh my God. It made me so, so uncomfortable.
I don't feel worthy.
Not of any of it.
Not of the gifts or the cake or the balloons...or the friendship. Or the love. Or the care. Or the concern. None of it. Not any of it.
I am not a good friend. I know I am not.
I found out when I was 45 years old that I have ADHD and a lot of things started making sense in my life. I care, deeply, about other people, but sometimes my brain and my mouth just don't connect in the right ways and I end up talking a lot about myself and my life and things going on with me and not asking nearly enough about the people around me. I'm always baffled and embarrassed when I realize this because I DO care. I care SO much. I am just terrible. I am not even interesting and I just go on and on because I'm nervous and anxious and oh my good God, so very lonely and desperate for someone, anyone, to give a damn about what I have to say that it just pours out of me like fountains.
It got worse when my brother died. So much worse.
For so long I hid so many things about my life. I was ashamed. I couldn't figure out why it was all so abnormal. Why we were so weird. I was overweight for so long and then I lost weight and I could disappear and it was literally the best thing that ever happened to me. I could go through airports and no one would remember me. I was just another face in the crowd and completely unmemorable (my propensity to wear Lilly Pulitzer clothing notwithstanding). I didn't want to be remembered because people always remembered me because I was the "fat girl" and I just wanted to be a normal person. I didn't want people to remember me for the weird things or the things they considered bad.
I wanted my brother to be normal too.
I guess that was easier to hide. Most people I knew, aside from a few very, very close friends, had no idea how bad it was. Honestly, even with my best friends I didn't share the worst of it. Partially because I was afraid I would be judged for his addiction. Probably because I've judged people in the past because of addiction in their family (see also: I am terrible and stupid). Also, because I didn't want people to see an addict. I didn't want people to see someone who was mentally ill. I wanted them to see my funny, smart, creative, talented brother. The one who sent me funny jokes and always checked in on me. The one who taught both of my kids their first word (unsurprisingly, it was "Uncle"). The person who helped me hold on to my sanity throughout a really dark, troubling 2020 and 2021.
After he died, I just began to...spew. Fountains. I talked. Oh God, I talked. I said so much. Way too much. I couldn't stop. I know, for sure, I made a lot of people uncomfortable but it was impossible to control. I told stories. I cried...wept really. I was no holds barred, 100 percent honest. If it was a shit day, I said it was a shit day. If I had a chance to share, I shared. Good, bad, ugly, anything. It was coming out, period.
What I didn't do was remember other people's birthday. I didn't ask, nearly enough, how they were doing. I was...I AM so wrapped up in my own grief that I am positive, 100% sure, that I completely suck as a friend, an employee, a mom, a wife, an aunt, and probably a human being at this point.
I don't know what I've said and done the last eight months.
Today it's been exactly eight months.
Eight months and eight thousand lifetimes.
It is comforting in many ways to know that people still love and care about me even though I clearly am not hanging on very well right now.
It's also so, so hard.
It's so painful to feel like such an abject failure.
It hurts so much to wonder why anyone would care.
I relate to my brother in this way and I hate it so much. I hate that we have this in common. I hate that his feelings of unworthiness took his life. I hate that sometimes I understand it so deeply that it scares me. It terrifies me.
Not me. Never me.
We all think this, right? We hang on. We work through the hard feelings. We tell ourselves that depression is a liar and tomorrow will be a better day. We get up and try, over and over again. We go to therapy and counseling. We go outside and breathe in the clean air. We apologize. We start over. We do this every time. Every, every time.
My brother couldn't and I will never, ever judge him for that. I know how hard he tried. I know.
We had the same sense of humor. When he died he had a scar on his forehead and shortly after he died I got into a fight with a trampoline (don't ask) and I have a matching scar now. We had the same ideas about a lot of things. We had a lot of things in common. A lot.
Sometimes I wish we had less in common.
One of my sweetest friends loves Jesus so bad. She goes to church a lot and prays a lot and I know she prays a lot for me. I don't go to church anymore and I was afraid she wouldn't love me because of that. She's not like that though. She knows that I believe that Jesus doesn't have a building and she knows that the more I seek by myself, away from all the noise, the more I find what I've been looking for.
She gave me a card for my 47th birthday. The worst year of my life, by far.
On the front it said:
Some people make the goodness of God easy to see.
She was talking about me.
Not me. Never me.
It was me though. She meant me.
I don't know.
None of this makes sense to me. None of it. None at all.
I am taking it all in though. I am learning. I am listening. I am trying every day to be worthy.
Someday I'm going to be worthy.
Imposter syndrome and grief. You will never be the same. You aren't meant to be. You don't want to go on and celebrate because it feels wrong and that manifests in your self doubt. Through your words I have found inspiration and hope. Years of it. --Jill
Stephanie, we don't know each other in real life, but I want you to know that I 100% noticed when you disappeared from FB and Instagram and I have often wondered if you and your family are okay. I'm so sorry to hear about your brother. He sounds like a wonderful person. I hope you stay with your therapy and keep working on it. You are definitely worthy. Your Zumba class knows it. Jason and your kids know it too. Sending you virtual hugs from a corner of the internet.
This crushed me... first of all, happy belated birthday my beautiful friend... I'm so sorry that I missed it. Second, this grief is so complicated, so shaping, and so eternal. I both love and hate that about grief. It is clear your brother loved you, and you him. Please do not lose sign of the amazing light you are by comparing yourself to expectations that simply aren't who you can be. Maybe that's just who you can't be today... maybe it's not. Being honest about where you are at and how you are feeling IS being a good friend... It's being a good human. I love you!
I have also wondered how you are. We have known each other since my blogging days. I am saving a space for you my lovely friend.
I'm saving a space for you my lovely friend
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