Last Summer I died

Surviving Grief and Embracing Life Again: My Story of Loss, Resilience, and Pleasure

· Mental Health,Grief,Pleasure,Emotional Resilience

This last summer I died. Sort of.

My father died, and immediately after (I mean four days after) my mother had a stroke. And in the weeks leading up to my father’s passing my child’s already tenuous mental health was tanking. I was doing the best I could within my abilities to keep their head above water - and keep the suicidal ideation at merely ideation - while we waited for a spot to open up in a partial hospitalization program.

The quiet and stillness that descended upon me during these weeks is hard to describe.

I’ve had moments in my life previously where I experienced something like it, but not quite to this degree. For months as I recovered from Covid during the first weeks of the pandemic in spring of 2020. And once something similar during my semester abroad in college when, rather than my mind switching over to Spanish, I just stopped thinking in language altogether. That was also a very quiet time. There are other dark, quiet moments as well.

This last summer everything was quiet and everything took effort.


Moving my body. Getting out of bed. All interactions with people that required anything from me.

I couldn’t even scroll mindlessly on Instagram or tiktok for months.

My friends who do not live nearby didn’t hear from me for months. I will forever send infinite blessings to the ones who checked in with me with a simple string of emoji hearts, the kind of contact that made no demands but invited, wordlessly, my response if I had the energy to give one. I answered in a string of hearts back and that was communication enough.

I couldn’t bear interactions that required anything from me. I couldn’t tolerate small talk. I couldn’t summon a smile to put other people at ease. I couldn’t, and so I didn’t.

All I could do was be very still.

It was so quiet.

I was able to muster the energy for a walk on the beach with a friend who will never ask of me what I cannot give. I remember describing to her what it felt like, the stillness. She said, with a question in her voice, that it sounded peaceful.

I answered: “Not peaceful, quiet. Not flat, still.”


And it was scary. The things that make me feel like me were temporarily (at least I hoped it was temporary) gone. I checked for Pleasure and it was also gone.

I waited and allowed myself to be buried. I surrendered to the nothingness and it was terrifying.

And there was pain too. My body hurt everywhere, my flesh taking on the emotional weight because there was too much for my mind to sort alone. The first few steps out of bed every morning hurt; everywhere hurt. My body felt heavy and over-sensitized.

I did not have much in the way of emotion, which was also difficult. I am a virtual tilt-a-whirl of feeling. My normal is to feel a broad smattering of emotions daily. Checking and feeling nothing other than weariness was alarming. There was some anger, and I had a few moments of yelling at my father while treading water in the ocean at my favorite beach. Yelling at and making demands of him in The Beyond (this did give me a little giggle. One is not supposed to make demands of the Dearly Departed). I yelled and then cried and had my tears mix with the salt water and that seemed like a good thing.

Anyone familiar with clinical depression will probably recognize some symptoms. And it’s very possible that’s what was happening. If it had lasted much longer I would absolutely have sought out medication.

I checked in with myself all the time. Sending little tendrils of curiosity to see what was happening. Noticing there weren’t any changes I’d cautiously retreat with an “ok, but I’m watching you.”

But hindsight has benefits. Because there IS hindsight. I did emerge after a few months, crawling out of the dirt like a seedling. Or out of the ashes like a pheonix. That cycle of transformation is one I’m intimately familiar with, but I’d never felt like it had taken this long before. The moment it began to shift was when I remembered that I had been in places that felt similarly hopeless and helpless and that every time previously I had come out. And not only come out…not only SURVIVED…but, each time, I had come out with some newly rich and deepened sense of myself and the human struggle. Remembering that it had happened before and therefore was likely to happen again (I am a scientist after all) was the foothold I needed. The rest took care of itself. Trust helped.

And part of me (only a very tiny part) felt like a fraud. Noticing that Pleasure wasn’t anywhere to be found, and noticing the pain that I felt in my body and how little delight there was even in the smallest moments… How could it be? Small moments of pleasure are my jam!

They are what I turn to when things feel like too much. They are what I help other people turn to! And they are where so much emotional alchemy becomes possible. And emotional alchemy is a huge part of the pleasure work I do. But not here.


What is the Pleasure Queen to do when there is no pleasure?? What good advice could I possibly give others if it wasn’t working for me??

And here’s the thing. This pleasure work is actually about tuning into your yes and no.


And no was all I was getting. No, I can’t talk to people. No, I can’t make them feel better or reassured about how I’m doing. No, I can’t spend time with anyone. No, I can’t respond to emails or texts. No, I can’t even go on Facebook or Instagram. No.

“No” is a protection. My “no” stood in for me when I had nothing to give. My “no” was mostly silent because - while I often didn’t have the energy to SAY it - I had the energy to act on it. By turning away from conversations even if that might be confusing to others. Even if that might be problematic. Even if that might fly in the face of what would be socially acceptable.

I was a yes to rest. I was a yes to silently treading water at my favorite beach and feeling the salt on my skin. I was a yes to more rest. I was a yes to talking for hours (but only in person) with people who could hold space and didn’t demand that I receive reassurance or sympathy in order to make them feel better. And then stopping when I couldn’t anymore.

All of this work in following my yes and no prepared me for last summer, for dying. It prepared me to hold fast to my limits and not be swayed no matter how powerfully I could sense the expectations from others. And it made it possible to protect myself from the assault of forcing myself to do or be anything that wasn’t ready for doing or being.

Babies gestate for 9 months. I can’t remember what it’s like being in a womb. Dark, quiet. Muffled probably. Maybe still. I assume there is comfort there also.

I had to bury myself deep. And my “no” stood guard while the rest of me was gestating.


It’s been 8 months since the Summer of My Discontent. I emerged a while ago, at some point in October. There is freshness and newness again. There is also a more direct experience of pleasure. There are a lot more “yeses.”

And my “no” is even more resolute. It’s been honed.


So, I don’t really know how to wrap this up into a tidy call-to-action. But I thought I should tell you the truth. The truth about pleasure. Which is really the truth of following your yes and no. And how it can save your life while you’re dying.


Now is a good time to sign up for the Pleasure Challenge. If you feel like it.The Great Pleasure Challenge