One year later and I don’t even recognize myself. That person, that version of me feels so far away.

I’m just a shell of the man that I was back then. And yet, I am so so so much more than that too. In fact, some days, I feel like the man I was a year ago was nothing but a shell of a man. With no insides, no depth, no magnitude, no purpose or power.

Today, I feel like Joel. Some days that’s a good version of myself, others it’s a version of myself that I don’t like. But at least now, I know who I am and what I stand for, in a way that I’ve never felt until now.

A few months back, I heard someone say that pain fuels passion, and it struck a chord with me. It really hit me that my passion for mental health, advocacy, education, and social justice came from my direct experiences with pain. That pain came in the form of grief, loss, suicidality, depression, PTSD, and so much more. That pain also led me to find my passion, purpose, and voice.

I have a dear friend who also happens to be going through it right now. Facing her own loss, she told me that a friend told her she needs to look at her loss as being something of the past in order for her to be able to move on in the way that was healthiest for her. She asked for my advice and shared that she didn’t feel that she could view this loss as a past issue because it still felt very much so in the present for her. I feel the same way about my own grief. It’s present. It still sits with me every day. I carry it with me to bed, the bathroom, the grocery store, the brewery, the dinner table, and everywhere else.

My present sense of grief, however, is beginning to feel like passion, because I’ve been able to shape it as such with the help of my community of support, therapist, and medication. This is not to say, though, that my grief is something of the past.

I still have bad days. I still spiral. I still drink too much. I still sleep a lot. I still have little motivation or energy to do anything day to day. I still have nightmares. I still see Alex everywhere. And I still fight that feeling that I’d be better off as the one who was gone.

I’m working to channel my pain into passion in the present. My pain is not in the past. I don’t know that it ever will be. The only thing that is in the past is that moment of hurt. The aftermath is present and future and eternity. But it’s also mine. I name it as pain, loss, grief, depression, anxiety, fear, paranoia, sleeplessness, reckless behavior, and suicide. I claim it as my own. And I carry it with me.

Never forget, whether past or present. I can’t believe I lost you a year ago, Alex. I can’t believe the loss I’ve experienced before and since. I can’t breathe when I think about it, but I will continue to gasp for air because I do so in remembrance and memoriam.

Communicator. Educator. Empath. Survivor. Writer.