Negotiating and Navigating

“If you can see your path laid out in front of you step by step, you know it's not your path. Your own path you make with every step you take. That's why it's your path.” - Joseph Campbell

In searching to find my path in this new and strange journey through grief, my life has become a constant emotional negotiation and and mental navigation. Negotiations and navigations that confront me each day, that are impossible to predict let alone prepare for.

They range from the simplest things - such as saying yes or no to catch up with as friend, choosing what bill do I pay and what bill do I neglect to pay this week, how do I deal my kid’s unsympathetic school teacher, how can I tell this person not to pray for me to find another husband - to really big things - who do I ask to look after me after my surgery, what can I do when I am in the middle of an intense panic attack, how do I support ourselves financially on a single income, what do I do when my child’s mental wellbeing is in jeopardy…

Come to think of it, most of my life has been a series of unpredictable, unpreparable, uninvited and often unfair negotiations and navigations, I just wasn’t as aware of it before as I am now.

The trauma of my husband’s death and the aftermath consequences I have had to face ever since have left me hyper-sensitised - everything affects me more intensely and I feel I have no choice other than to be more intentional about how I engage with people, with circumstances, with my own internal struggles. Intentional engagement is hard at the best of times, let alone when sadness and anxieties about the present and the future weigh down the heart and cloud the vision.

Exactly 2 years and 3 months. That’s how long it's been since Jason died. That’s how long it's been since I was thrusted into a path I have not chosen, in to a life I didn’t ask for, into a journey that requires constant redirecting, recalibrating, reorganising, rebuilding. And with that negotiating and navigating have been a daily effort for me.

Most days I don’t know the direction of my life. Most days I don’t even know how to make it through the day, let alone how to plan for the future. Most days I feel lost. Most days I feel alone. Most days I feel demotivated, fatigued, worried, stuck, disempowered. Most days I struggle with physical pain. Most days I cry (yes, I still cry a lot 2 years and 3 months later). Most days I feel unproductive and unfocused. Most days I feel like a failure. And most days I have some sort of human interaction that, in tiny ways, wounds me, disappoints me, makes me feel even more alone, let down, misunderstood, or worse off all, invisible.

How is it even possible to be interacting with someone and feel invisible?

I feel invisible when a person talks at me and not with me. When they give me unsolicited advice based on their perception of what I should or shouldn’t be doing. When they ask how I am but then shut me down with empty platitudes, tough love, or making it all about them. When they don’t really listen because they are too busy talking, when they don’t validate my experience but judge the ways I am trying to cope, when they minimise my struggle, when they try to help me in ways I never asked, needed nor wanted but leave no room for me to confidently ask them for what I truly need. When they want to fix things that are unfixable. When they behave and talk as if they were the experts on my grief. When they brush me off if I tell them how I truly feel, or what I really think. When they feel offended that I didn’t heed their advice. the list goes on…

Whenever these types of interactions happen to me (and they do happen more often than they should) I have to negotiate my trigged emotions and navigate the potential relational minefields. I have to decide at that particular moment, under those particular circumstances, with this particular person, if what I need most is to speak my truth, or if I will shut my mouth. Either way, I am the one who have to do the hard work and use the little energy I have to engage compassionately and truthfully or to restart the process of letting go, of forgiving them for they know not what they do.

Make no mistake, either choice comes with its own challenges and consequences, and both of them are taxing to say the least.

At times this constant negotiating and navigating becomes so exhausting and so agonising that I retreat. I literally hide from people as much I can, making my life even smaller than what it has already become. During those times, which can last from a few hours to a few weeks, the negotiating and navigating don't stop completely, they are simply contained into a less overwhelming amount. I still have to deal with my own shit, but for a little while it's only my shit and no one else’s.

Because in all honesty, it's tricky enough to navigate the minefields and sharp turns of my own mind, it’s complex enough to negotiate the distresses of my life and of the inner turmoil of my own grief. No grieving person needs the added stress of having to deal with people’s unconscious expectations, biases or impositions on top of what they are already going through. The internal negotiation and navigation must have precedence, and yet we can get sucked into other people’s demands and dramas that finding our own path becomes the foggiest of endeavours.

No wonder grief makes you isolate yourself from others. No wonder the weight of grief forces you to strip down all the other weights and focus on putting one step in front of the other. No wonder grief also brings more clarity about what is essentials to survive.

Joseph Campbell wisely wrote "If you can see your path laid out in front of you step by step, you know it's not your path. Your own path you make with every step you take. That’s your path." But I will go one further from dear Joseph’s insight and frankly say if you think you can see someone’s path, it doesn’t necessarily means that you are right or that you have the right to tell them to go on that direction. Odds are you are well intentioned but deeply mistaken.

People must find their paths for themselves, we cannot rob them of that right nor allow anyone to rob us and that process takes a lot of negotiating and navigating, and making mistakes, and trying again.

As I write these words I have just realised that all the times of frustrating and heart breaking negotiating and navigating I have had to face in the last 2 year and 3 months of my life may have been my training ground and led me to acquire negotiating and navigating skills I would not have otherwise. At this very moment I have come to the realisation that I am no longer willing to allow anyone else to dictate my path, to manipulate my choices or to judge my actions. I am the only one entrusted with taking care of me. Therefore my opinion and my decisions about my own path are the one that matter the most.

Even when I make a mess out of it, even when I have to face my worse fears, even when I may be invisible to others, even when they fail to see me - the real me, the me now, the me who I have become through this harsh journey, the me that is sadder, lonelier, angrier, softer, messier, deeper, wiser. The me who still here, who has survived and still courageously carrying on in spite of everything - I will not fail to see myself.

I am my own witness, I am my own compass. I am completely responsible to be the negotiator and the navigator of my own path. It's scary, uncomfortable and often discombobulating. It's lonely and fatiguing, but it’s my path, no one else's. And I am the one who must forge it, in my own time, in my own rhythm, with my own flavour, under my own terms. And that is un-negotiable!

Tatiana Hotere