Coping Challenge: Grief and the movie “Groundhog Day”

Disclaimer: this is a place of learning, safety, and hope. Take what you want from the post and forget the rest. Maybe this will help you. Maybe it won’t.

*Trigger Warning: This post may contain triggers; read at your own pace*

Grief

Every February – March, I experience crushing amounts of grief about my past. People who have died. People I’ve lost in other ways. People who lost me. Experiential loss – failed achievements, shameful experiences, guilt, and so on. It almost always happened between February and March; sometimes as late as April.

For many years (decades really), I would go through the year and do what was necessary or required of me; then wake up one morning and feel like a blank slate – happy and looking forward to life instead of sad and confused. I had a routine that did not change much. But anything new or interesting that happened before the “wake-up” was lost. I would make friends and forget them. I would make plans and not follow through because I didn’t remember making the plans. And I would learn skills, but then not remember how to use them months, weeks, years, or days/hours/minutes later.

It was scary and felt shameful – another secret to keep from everyone – not something I could explain to the adults in my life. But it did earn me a reputation with my teachers and lots of time with the special education department instructors.

Odd part about this: even though my mind and cognitive memory could not remember or do the tasks, my body and muscle memory did remember and could do the tasks as long as I used “instinct” instead of logic.

Later on as an adult in trauma-informed therapy, I realized that the “instinct” was actually letting my alter personalities take control of my body to accomplish the tasks. They remembered the lessons and the practice. They could do what I could not. In school, though, my alters rarely showed themselves or got involved in day-to-day activities. They understood their place much better than I did.

The sense of loss and failure combined with teasing from peers and instructors crushed me so often that I started to avoid competitions and learning anything interesting.

What was the point if I tried and tried only to forget and fail every time?

And so my teen and college years went through this cycle every year. The ignorance of this pattern continued until 2011/2012 when I decided to try working with a dog trainer to self train a service animal to help with the PTSD. You (and I thought so too) would think it’s hard to forget all the love, care, training, and work and time spent with a puppy over 4 months, yes?

Well I did forget. I literally woke up one Saturday morning and couldn’t remember anything the pup and I worked on together. I couldn’t remember his favorite treats or games. I couldn’t remember writing a blog or notes in a notebook. I am lucky I remembered the dog and his name; at one point I might have forgotten the pup’s name too.

And as I tried to remember working with the pup, I started to realize how much other stuff I had forgotten too. Work-related tasks and achievements. Bills to pay. Plans made. Grocery shopping. Appointments. Memories with friends and acquaintances. And how something similar happened every year and often caused problems at work that I couldn’t explain, especially in the last few years working for the same company with the same people.

It was one heck of a wake up call.

p.s. The pup ended up having serious digestive problems and was re-homed to a loving family with a large back yard and the time/money to give him the life he deserved. And I learned that it’s not safe to live with beings who depend on me until I get my s**t together.

Groundhog Day – the 1992 movie with Bill Murray

Hans Haase / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) from Wikimedia Commons

Back in 1992, when I was 10 years old, there was a time travel movie called “Groundhog Day”. It was a grown up drama/comedy that I didn’t really understand or remember; not even when I re-watched one weekend as a bored teen. Still don’t understand a lot and am not interested in re-watching to get all the details.

What I do remember (and this is why it sticks in my memory) is that the main character (played by Bill Murray) had an awful day – that just happened to be Groundhog Day – and went to bed wishing he could do it all over again. So he wakes up the next day. Starts his routine. And realizes part way through he is re-living the events of Groundhog Day. Over. And over. And over again. Until the main character gets frustrated enough to reflect on what could be keeping him locked in a time loop and how to get out of it.

Eventually, the main character resolves the conflict keeping him in the time loop by making changes in his life and interactions with the people around him. How he does it and what those changes are, I don’t remember. All I do remember is feeling queasy and anxious whenever I thought about the movie. That continued until I got really frustrated a few years ago and looked up the movie on the internet. Once I read the description and watched the preview, the connection clicked.

I finally had words to describe what I was feeling and going through to my counselor. And something concrete to use as an analogy for the counselor. And for me too. Some of my best coping strategies come from reading books and watching movies. Being 2013/2014 when I finally looked up the movie and shared it with the counselor, we had been working for about 3-4 years by then. She had observed this happening every year and waited for me to bring it up. Once I did, we began working together to create plans and strategies to manage this recurring event.

Hope Arrives in 2019; continues in 2020

2019 was the first year I did not wake up sometime between February and April with significant memory loss or some other manifestation of grief that left me injured, impaired, or triggered in some way. I experienced the grief and felt the depression that wasn’t really depression. Expressing it safely was not as easy, but no one got hurt either. I didn’t lose weight. My physical and emotional health stayed relatively stable.

Instead, my body memories erupted as a rash that lasted months. When not experiencing the rash, other parts of me stopped feeling numb. I looked fatter from bloating and puffiness around certain muscle groups, but did not gain weight from it. Pain increased. Energy and the need to move did too. Luckily, my current counselor, Chinese medicine practitioners, and primary health physician were/are aware of these changes and helped me cope.

Having my parents and other relatives back in my life and being supportive helped too. That continues to help in many different ways.

Now, in March 2020, I recognized the signs of grief when they started last weekend and have been doing my best to cope with them. So far the only major crisis was exploding the plastic lotion bottles when I tried to get soap (made myself and poured in) out of them multiple times in the week. That resulted in having to clean and rinse the pumps; then put them back together and onto the lotion bottles. Funny – yes. The next part, not so much.

Water got stuck in the pump parts and contaminated the soap blends I made. And since I made them with soap, essential oils, and aloe vera gel (a water-based carrier), mold and fungus grew at the bottom of both containers after 5 days. Yes 2 containers because I made a hand soap and a shower gel. So, after examining the bottoms of each container a few days ago and seeing the white strands floating up from the bottom, I dumped out the soap; rinsed the containers too.

Now, they are waiting to be recycled because I don’t trust myself using the containers again. Not after I caused the pumps to pop off and the pieces to come apart after trying to pump soap through the mechanism multiple times.

If that pump exploding experience is the worst that happens this year, I will be so grateful. If not, well, I’m trying not to fall into anticipation and catastrophic thinking. Not easy, mind you. But I’m trying. And succeeding sometimes.

Thanks for reading.