When my mother died, last November 16, I wrote an obituary for her, which I was then asked (unexpectedly) to read at her funeral, as one of two eulogies. This was one of the most difficult things I have ever done, but writing it did help me (somewhat) with the immediate problem I was having dealing with grief.
After the funeral, I felt numb much of the time, for months, until May 16 arrived — exactly six months after she died — at which point my tightly-controlled emotional state shattered, leaving me in worse shape (in some ways) than I was on, say, November 17 of last year. This was unexpected, and caused significant problems, including the development of monthly hexakaidekaphobia, a morbid dread and fear of the 16th day of every month. (The word is a modification of “triskaidekaphobia,” an irrational fear of the number thirteen).
June 16 was worse than May 16 — absolutely full of PTSD attacks. (I’ve had PTSD for most of my life; my mother’s death made it worse.) Fortunately, I don’t try to hide mental health problems, as I once did — I try to find the help I need, from physicians, to deal with such problems, and, when I find things that help me, I write about them. I also have long used recreational mathematics to help me feel better when depressed.
It was in this context that mid-July arrived. I went to sleep on July 15th with the knowledge that it was extremely important for me to find better coping mechanisms before the start of school in August. When I woke up on July 16, which could have been another horrific day of severe depression, anxiety, and other problems, I did not feel those negative emotions. This does not mean I had “gotten over” the facts that my mother did die, and that I miss her terribly. However, it did mean I was experiencing grief differently: I was feeling grief, rather than letting feelings of grief control me — and there is a huge difference between the two.
That morning, July 16, I knew what I needed to do as soon as I woke up: I needed to write. For me, that generally means blogging, and that’s what happened. This “therapeutic writing,” as I call it, was helpful enough on July 16 that I continued it the next day. When I next spoke to my doctors, I told them I was doing this, and why, and they agreed that such writing (like the “mathematical therapy” I have done for years) was an excellent, helpful activity. (This “check with professionals” step is essential, and I do not recommend attempting mental health therapy without the help of at least one licensed, qualified psychiatrist, and/or other type of therapist, such as a clinical psychologist.)
Of course, I could do this therapeutic writing in a spiral notebook, and keep it private; no writing has to go on the Internet. Why, then, do I choose to post such material where anyone can see it? I first explained why I blog about mental health issues in this post, but the short version is this: I hope that my openness on this subject can help reduce the social stigma which, unfortunately, still surrounds topics related mental health. This stigma is harmful because it keeps millions of people from seeking the professional help they need. I have also found it a personally liberating experience to come out of the “closet” on such issues, for, as with other metaphorical “closets,” it is the truth that closets are not good places for people to live their lives.
School starts on August 15 — only four days from now — and I’m going to do everything I can to make that day, the next day (the formerly-dreaded 16th of the month), and the rest of the days in the school year as good as they can possibly be for my students, as well as myself. I could tell I was on the right track when I decided to write about monthly hexakaidekaphobia early this morning, but in the past tense. Before I started writing, I “warmed up” by constructing the geometric art at the top of this post, which, if you examine carefully, you will see is based on — what else? — the number sixteen. In my case, at least, mathematical therapy and therapeutic writing go hand-in-hand, and this is what I am doing to try to leave my monthly hexakaidecaphobia in the past, where it belongs.
I still miss my mother. She was once, as I am, a science teacher, and was also involved in education in many other ways. She would want me to have good school days on August 16th, September 16th, and so on, as well as the days in-between — and, to properly honor her memory, and give my students the education they deserve, I am determined to do my best to do exactly that.