grief = malaria
Living with grief is like having malaria.
I have had malaria a few times in Haiti and it’s pretty freaking miserable. It feels like the flu—headaches, body aches, nausea sometimes. And it gets worse at night when the fevers spike and there are these violent shakes and sweats.
I hate it.
That’s what grief feels like to me. It’s bad overall, but when the fevers spike, the symptoms feel unmanageable.
I was 21 years old, 4 months, and 15 days old the day I met Nick. There was an instant connection and we would be best friends for the next 24 years, 4 months, and 7 days. Not every minute of those days, months, and years were good. But most of them were. We were good together. And that’s not just some hindsight bullshit. We genuinely were. And I think that those who knew us during those decades would agree.
And then that would end.
And I would be alone for the first time in my life.
I have been without my best friend for 4 months and 2 days. That’s 123 days. Or 2,952 hours. Or 177,120 minutes.
Here’s what you need when you have malaria—you need chloroquine (or another anti-malarial medication). You need hydration. You need Tylenol. And you need rest. And also, a fan (and electricity) for those fever sweats.
The only thing that’s going to kill the parasites is the anti-malarial medication. Until that part is done, it doesn’t matter how much Tylonel you take, or how rested/hydrated you are. For sure, it will help the symptoms, but until you take the meds, it’s not going to actually get better.
At the same time, any time someone in our family got malaria, it was sort of a relief because we knew what we were dealing with and how to treat it. And for the most part, it was an easy treatment—psychedelic dreams aside.
The difference between malaria and grief is that there’s no easy fix. There’s no chloroquine for grief. There’s no way to make it stop. Time might make it less acute, but anyone who has been through big grief will remind you that it never leaves.
But sure, there are things you can do to ease the symptoms.
I had the realization this morning that since I have come out, dating for me has sort of been like taking Tylonel when you have malaria. It has eased the symptoms of my grief. It has made the passage of time manageable, and even really enjoyable. And you can give your time and attention and love to someone else. And you can really mean it. And those can be beautiful and real experiences. And you can feel pleasure and feel hope again.
But you still have malaria.
And some nights, the fevers come back. And you’re drenched in sweat and your body is wracked with sobs.
During the last couple of weeks with my most recent dating partner it became clear to me that things would most likely be ending—or at least transitioning from a romantic standpoint. It should not have been surprising, then, that during the past couple of weeks my grief has intensified. But here I am again, somehow surprised by the intensity of my grief, wading through the middle of it and just struggling to keep my head above the water.
People keep telling me to lean into the pain. To make friends with my pain. To stop fighting the pain. And yeah, sure. That sounds like a good idea.
But practically speaking, how?
Tears have taken up permanent residence in the corner of my eyes since December.
How do you stop fighting against the pain? I feel like most moments of my days lately require intense effort and that fighting is how I stay alive. I feel like it’s a fight to get out of bed. I feel like it’s a fight to drive into work. I feel like it’s a fight to try enjoy spending time with my children. It’s a fight to make myself eat. I feel like it’s a fight to make plans with friends because I know I need comfort and support. It’s an even bigger fight to follow through on those plans.
This post is not a cry for help. I am okay. I really am. I have all the tools I need to keep myself safe and a couple of close friends who are walking me through the really rough, moment-by-moment visceral grief. (I joked with them yesterday that I need to start paying them a copay). Rather, this post is just an acknowledgement that there are no shortcuts on the road to becoming. That there are a lot of moments that just fucking suck.
Glennon says, “First the pain, then the rising.”
I hope she’s right.