Auto-pilot grief.

This is unfiltered word vomit. I don’t know how this post is going to end, or what the function of this monologue is, apart from catharsis.

I’ve got 59 songs from Coldplay’s first six albums on loop in shuffle mode. Don’t Panic is now playing. I will need to acquire Ghost Stories to complete my CD collection. (I still have a functioning discman from Sony. It was a gift from the father when I kicked butt in Primary Two. Not sure if I’m a super cool nostalgic or a super hoarder.)

I am a hoarder of words. Of diaries from when I was seven, of eleven blogs, of three notebooks for different archives that follow me to every city, and of a few secret Tumblrs for reflexive monologuing. This is a bit of public monologuing for a change.

I feel a bit clingwrapped, like I have mobility and some extent of agility and visual transparency, but yet am unable to completely feel because my feelings have not been socially validated. I’ve always been told I’m melodramatic, melancholic, and perpetually depressing – I like to think I’m simply hyper-aware and intimate with my insides. But hey, I think I’ve made it through. Maybe by now, I’d have accumulated sufficient distance and perspective to process all this shenanigans to clear some emotional space inside my head.

I’ve spent the last ten weeks in much grief, and while I grieve a lot, I grieve alone.

My sister fell critically ill in early November. We’d been living apart for close to four years since I moved to Perth with my partner. Some of us see our siblings over Christmas. Some of us like our siblings a little more. Some of us are inseparable from our siblings. My sister and I are the sort siblings who understand each other inside out because we’ve endured two decades of very trying times where all we had was each other. I quite like her and she’s pretty cool.

The night she told me, I was laying in bed in Cait’s guest room in Osaka, where I was meant to be presenting a conference paper the very next morning. I think I blanked out for a while and went about my night on auto-pilot mode, waiting for grief to hit me. But two hours in and nothing. I was honestly waiting for the news to sink in, to pain me, to come like a rushing wind; my body just wasn’t processing.

I spent most of the ten weeks telling myself to BRACE BRACE BRACE. I also gradually grew really fragile and vulnerable, and simultaneously grossed out by this fragility and vulnerability. (I am a machine! I will not falter! Beep beep beep!) To bear grief; to be completely engulfed and irrevocably enveloped by a piercing agony for which there is no respite. Many waking moments later, I attribute my halplessness to three simple things:

1) that I am unable to fully share in her suffering or commiserate in the leveling empathy that I am conditioned to

2) that I am incapable of shielding my sister, aiding her, alleviating her agony, or being in place of her

3) that I will risk losing my understanding of us as a unit

I don’t want to act tough and claim that I was holding fort the whole time, because I was secretly dying inside. But much of this time was also spent being hyper-productive with my academic work. I don’t know if pain activates the workaholic parts of my brain, or if I was simply refusing to let the busy lapse for fear of crumbling into a weeping mess. I mean, I was writing (the good stuff) for nights on end like a rabid rabbit (four papers, one chapter) and conference-hopping (coherently), yet the little things in life like showering and feeding myself were just too difficult. This is the part I don’t understand. Maybe my body was on auto-pilot grief?

I had to juggle close to ten different medical screens in two countries over eight weeks as a result of her probable-congenital illness. The operations and mechanics of medical negotiations are so awkward. Hi. You are identified by a string of officious numbers. Here is the test. Here are your results. Here’s a bunch of good news. Here’s a bunch of bad news. Here’s a little more good news because this is the formulaic rhetorical sandwich. Here is your bill. Here are important insurance matters. Okay good luck and all the best. The break between the inside of the consultation room with a doctor, and the outside of it with the administrative staff is just so jarring, so bizarre, so quick, so disorienting, so mechanist, so cold.

My closest of friends have been champions. They shower me with time, and attention, and handholding, and hugs. But I know not how to respond to this sort of affect. I slip into some unfounded emotional paralysis and am unable to find the words. I crave a different kind of affect. I think I just want to share in my headspace, to sit by the river or lay in the grass with someone sans verbal contact, to not be alone inside up there. I am failing to express this; I wish I was more eloquent.

I am beginning to learn that grief is more social and performative than personal and cathartic. The people around my sister and I seem to be waiting for us to have a massive meltdown or to be depressed all the time, but really, we’re just trying to live life as regularly scheduled as before. Isn’t that interesting? It is as if our coping mechanisms aren’t socially appropriate because our reactions don’t validate the severity of events.

The sister is being a trooper and recovering, slowly but surely. I am getting over the serial health scares and letting go of all the premature loss. Now I just want to make sense of the ten-week rabbit hole, and work out if I’m a sociopath or simply a master of compartmentalization.

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