No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing.
At other times it feels like being mildly drunk, or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says. Or perhaps, hard to want to take it in. It is so uninteresting. Yet I want the others to be about me. I dread the moments when the house is empty. If only they would talk to one another and not to me. – C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed
June brought relief. The initial buzz of leaving, a buzz which rang in my ears for weeks. Yeah I’m really good actually really good!!! Sometimes the buzz drowned out reality. I picture the month in purple, like the feeling before you’re about to faint, the sound of static interfering with what was going on. Fleeting moments of clarity, gone before I could catch them. Occasionally, the buzz took over, I couldn’t…quite….get… the words… out… that I needed to. Floundering. Panic. Overwhelm. Dulling the nerves at the weekend. I went hard. And slowly, in crept the anger…
Drowning in anger. I’ve written on this before. It took some amount of time to even realise what it was. Fury, signifying nothing. Anger made way for grief. Tears poured down my cheeks, involuntarily, lying in bed, looking at photographs, listening to music. Anxiety rung me out, tearing me apart. What if what if what if what if… I forced myself out the house, and always enjoyed myself, but in the days leading up I couldn’t get my head above water. And after, the guilt of having fun. Falling into social media pits, feeding my need to feel bad, another story, another story. Distracting myself with non-distractions, biting off more than I could chew.
Things coming to a head, no longer keeping it together. Exhaustion, fatigue, and you could see it in my eyes, although I finally forgave people for not getting it. A sudden flashback takes me into the middle of a brutal police clearance, my arm is getting twisted by an officer in dark glasses and I can see the boys, resigned and angry and tired, cold, wet, grey, bored, and I’m trying to focus but I’m there and I realise that something needs to change. Slow down, slow down. I slowly cut extraneous stuff out, testing the waters. I’m less exhausted, suddenly, like coming up for air.
Just in time. I volunteered for a week at Our Second Home, a summer camp for teenage asylum seekers in London, and beforehand I freaked out because I was worried that I was just draining my energy, avoiding, filling up my time. I almost didn’t go. I couldn’t be more glad that I did. Working with kids, where they got to just be kids, was just…incredible. Affirming. Beautiful, in a sense. Something which I thought would knock my recovery lifted me out of my funk. A month on, it still carries me. The happiness of that little bubble that we created from nothing, the singing of the boys; I teared up a few times, but only because they were suddenly all the boys, having the time of their lives, and everyone deserves that.
And then, I briefly returned to Calais. Not an obvious trajectory, but I was ready. Ready to say goodbye, privileged as that is. I took it easy, saw friends, had a few bittersweet reunions but stayed out of it as best I could, made myself useful, tried new things, and ultimately saw that I’d made the right decision for me. Forgave myself for leaving, and accepted that that was ok. I feel like me again, and have now consistently felt like me for longer than I have in quite some time. I won’t push it, but it is SO nice to be back.
I’m now working part-time as a coordinator at Glasgow Night Shelter, where we host around 15-25 destitute male refugees and asylum seekers and help them get back on their feet. It’s not without its challenges, and traumatic pasts don’t take long to come to the surface, but the guys who stay are a pleasure to know and being able to actually guarantee shelter every night, without fear of the authorities taking it away in the early hours, is definitely a plus.
Calais is very much still ongoing, of course. Whilst I was there, an eviction in Dunkirk saw people herded onto buses with numbers written on the back of their necks, driven around for hours without food or water and then dropped at the side of the road without their belongings. Tasers were used. In Calais, tents are cleared every single morning without fail. Winter is very much on its way again. The broken, decrepit cycle keeps on spinning, and whilst I may be slowly letting go of a lot of pain, I’m not switching off…
Grief can be the garden of compassion. If you keep your heart open through everything, your pain can become your greatest ally in your life’s search for love and wisdom. – Rumi