My last panic attack was four days after I buried my Grandma. Four days after I had to watch my favorite person in the entire world be lowered into the ground, white roses and dirt thrown on top of her casket as a final farewell. September 1st, 2021 was the worst day of my life because that was the day my Grandma left her earthly body and ascended to Heaven.
I am no stranger to anxiety attacks and panic attacks. I began having them eight years ago, and since my diagnosis I have adopted a lot of coping mechanisms and tools to use in the event that I feel an attack coming on. I’ve done such significant work on myself to get to the place that I am currently in regarding my mental health, and I am so proud of myself for that. But every now and then, even the most seasoned vet gets knocked completely off balance by unexpected triggers. Boundaries can be pushed and broken with little or no warning, and you are left wondering how the hell it all happened. Well, this is what happened to me four days after my Grandma’s funeral.
My Mom and I were at my Grandma’s apartment one evening, spending time with her precious energy and all of her possessions. We were silently grieving alongside one other; I was in my Grandma’s room smelling her perfume and the cardigans she always wore, and my Mom was in the other room doing something very similar. We are deeply sentimental, and it’s always the little things that mean the absolute most to us, and having this time in her apartment—just the two of us—was very special. So we were both very taken aback when a family member who I am estranged from walked into my Grandma’s apartment. She was the last person I wanted to see in that moment; I was in an incredibly vulnerable state, and so I could not have been more susceptible to her icy demeanor and her controlling, toxic nature.
What happened next is a traumatic memory for me, and it is a memory that I have yet to fully process. I have been taking small steps to recover from the events that took place that night, but I am still in a fragile state and I believe a part of me always will be. That night, I was caught off-guard and my boundaries were pushed to their very limits, and it resulted in a severe panic attack that left me sobbing and shaking uncontrollably and fearing for my safety and security. I do not have a malicious bone in my body, and I am at peace with this pillow-soft heart of mine. I am fiercely protective of my safe space, and this body that I have fought so hard to keep here, this heart that I have convinced to continue beating. I would never want to walk around with anything other than deep empathy and big feelings inside my chest. I am proud to be a highly empathetic human; I have done the inner work, and I’ve grown to love those tender parts of me.
The specificities of that night in my Grandma’s apartment are not the most important part of the story. Believe it or not, in the weeks following this incident, I have learned to look at it all through a different lens. I learned that hurt people hurt people. I learned that sharing blood and DNA with another person truly doesn’t mean shit; they are often the ones that will betray you and cause you the most pain. I learned that it is so important to keep my circle very, very small, and that ‘chosen family’ is a gift from above. I learned that defamation of character and accusatory actions will not break me. I learned that people will hit below the belt, and just when you think they can’t go any lower, they absolutely will. I learned that strangers will surprise you with their kindness, and you’ll be even more surprised if those strangers are wearing police uniforms and they suddenly arrive at your doorstep while you’re stress-cooking chocolate chip pancakes. I learned that not everyone you lose is a loss, and I learned to let go of anyone that doesn’t love me unconditionally.
Losing my Grandma has taken the air right out of my lungs. The past eight weeks of missing her have been excruciating in a way I didn’t even know my body could feel and experience; the depth of this loss is difficult to put into words. Since my Grandma passed, I have shifted into a different person. I wouldn’t say that I changed entirely; I believe human beings exist in a continuous state of growth and becoming. I believe that losing her propelled me forward in an intentional way that is both forceful and gentle at once. It’s a welcome shift, a beautiful becoming that is pushing me closer to the woman I have always wanted to be—a young woman that my Grandma can look down on from above and swell with pride at the sight of me. As Ruby Steffan’s granddaughter, I know I have impossibly big shoes to fill. But with a little help from my newest guardian angel, continuous inner work, bi-weekly therapy, processing my traumas, and all of the cycles I am breaking just by existing, I think I’ll be okay. I will be okay.