Grief is the price we pay for love

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Sometimes it is something so tiny that sparks a memory that almost crushes me. A photo, a song, a TV clip, an innocent comment.

Yes, the anniversaries and birthdays are hard and poignant.  Each year they get a littler easier, and harder at the same time. Easier as I’m prepared for the emotions I feel.  Harder as I realise how long we’ve been without you, how many more memories we lost out on making.

But it’s the tiny moments, the middle of random day ones, the moments that take me unaware. They grip my chest. They are the moments that make me choke. They are the moments that reduce me to tears. Grief that feels as fresh as it was in those early days.

Those moments when I’m watching TV and it transports me back to childhood, both of us climbing rocks with Dad on a beach in Mallorca, we were fearless, sun tanned limbs, adventuring, amazed at everything the world was showing us and discovering it together. Whole days spent in the pool until we had earache. Eating the fruit from sangria, collecting paper umbrellas and postcards. Dancing to Agadoo.

Those moments when I hear that song on the radio that we made Mum listen too, all in hysterics as we tried to pin her down and she tickled us until we couldn’t breathe with laughter. The ski sunday theme tune, when we used to run around the house like nutters with tea towels on our heads. The photo that pops up of the time you came to visit me at uni and we drank all night, and danced to garage and ate kebabs. You tried to hit on my friends!

While I was still an immature student, you had already seen war. You were wise beyond your years and my protective little brother.

Those moments keep coming, yet they’ve started to recur. I guess there are no new memories to top up the pot. Life gets further from the life with you in it. And that in itself sends shivers. As time goes on, it’s sometimes memories of memories. I worry I will forget you. The sound of your voice already feels distant. I can’t conjure you up in my mind as easily. And that almost feels like I’m losing you again.

If you are struggling right now

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So, I realise that to many it will seem like I have a pretty good life. And I do. I’m happy.

But there was a time in my life where I couldn’t leave the house for weeks. I couldn’t go to work, I couldn’t shower, I could barely get out of bed, and I basically lived on a diet of pasta with cheese and copious amounts of biscuits, if I ate at all. There was a bit of depression in there, a whole heap of anxiety and serious bereavement issues. Low confidence, anger and jealousy. Lots of worry. Stress and overwhelm.  Moments where my addictions took over. I’ve had this happen during the festive period when everyone seems so happy, and I have just felt empty and lost or like my head is going to explode.

I lied a lot during this time. Lying to those close to me about how I was really feeling. Lying to my employer about what was going on. Lying to myself, thinking I could just snap myself out of it.

I had a few spells like this. And I had a few attempts to get myself out of the fog. I wouldn’t say the attempts failed, as each time they got me closer to a better place. But I was after a fix. One thing I could do to change. The secret to happiness.

I didn’t know what to do. Mental health didn’t have the exposure it has now. Even 6 years ago people didn’t really talk about it. I tried counselling a few times but couldn’t stick with it. I had tried to be positive, to exercise and relax, but I couldn’t shake it.

So, I pretty much bought every self-help book that I could. I was constantly researching how to be happy. I tried every therapy, I read blogs, I read articles, I followed inspirational people on social media. I was continuously starting the ‘one’ thing that was going to make me feel good and then quitting and continuing the search.

Most of my posts I’ve been writing recently are about what I find useful now. You may be able to relate if you’re just having a bit of a crappy day, or if you are just after a bit of motivation, or if you’ve ever been in a similar place.

That’s all good… but what if you are really struggling today? What if you’ve been really struggling for days, weeks, months, even years? An inspirational quote probably isn’t going to help you find happiness (not lasting happiness anyway)

Well I’ve been there, and I’ve pretty much tried everything out there.

So what clicked?

Well, there were two things that changed my life. I’m not exaggerating. Out of all of the books, blogs, tools and techniques I tried, these two things changed my life. Everything else I’ve achieved, the place I’ve got to now, being able to make peace with my past and even become a mum, has all been because of these two things,

And luckily, they are super simple.

Number 1

Every day, without fail, write down three things that you are grateful for. There are all sorts of fancy journals out there that will help you do it (and I’m sure they are great), but in reality all you need is a diary, or even just a plain notepad, or the notes app on your phone. Every day, wake up and make sure you write them down. Some people can naturally live their lives appreciating the small things and showing gratitude, and that is great. Stick with it. But I need to remind myself to do this every day. Commit to this practice daily and you’ll be amazed with the results.

Number 2

Be mindful. Live in the moment. Mindfulness helps you accept right now, noticing thoughts and feelings without becoming a slave to them.  The route to true happiness. I realise this is a daunting concept and a bit abstract. I started with 10 minutes of mindfulness meditation using an app called Headspace. I downloaded the app which gives you 10 free sessions. It’s simple and quick to use (there are loads of other similar apps out there too). At first it’s hard to sit with yourself for 10 minutes, hey it’s hard to even fit in 10 minutes sometimes, but after just a couple of days you will start to feel lighter, you will notice a shift. And it will lead to great things.

And that’s it. After years and years of failure and struggle, those two simple daily steps enabled me to complete much needed bereavement counselling, undertake cognitive behavioural therapy, and have underpinned all the other things that help me now – like getting outside, running, yoga, minimalism. None of these things would have been possible without those two important steps.

The other thing that’s important to note, is that you actually have to do them! I know that sounds like common sense but I spent ages reading about things that would help me, being motivated and inspired, feeling better and then not actually doing them. I know that sounds ridiculous but somehow I felt that because I’d bought into the concept, I didn’t actually need to do the work. I would plan the things I needed to do to be happy, and then stop there, because it would have already lifted my mood. Sounds crazy right, but it’s true!

So, you might think that I’m just in love with positive motivational quotes – and I am – but they are nothing without these daily practices.

I still do them now, and when I don’t, it’s not long before I notice the fog start to creep back in.

If you are struggling right now, I urge you to give them a try.  I know that you feel like you are in a deep hole that you can’t get out of but they don’t cost anything and you don’t need to leave your house to start. Start today, start right now. Don’t wait for motivation to strike. You have nothing to lose.

I’d love to hear from you if you do.

 

 

 

Escapism

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In August, I escaped to Cornwall with my boys. For the first time in a while I unplugged completely from social media and went off grid. It was our first holiday with O and we walked on beaches, we carried him along the coast path, we lay in the sunshine and took long lunches. It was bliss, yet I was also wracked with guilt.

I’ve escaped like this once before. In the autumn of 2010 we ran away to Snowdonia. We hid out in our cottage, climbed mountains by day, and got drunk every night. I didn’t post photos of what a great time we were having because in reality, I was broken inside.

Both these times left me ridden with guilt and shame.

On these occasions, I didn’t have a digital detox to consciously take care of myself. In reality I didn’t go on social media because I was too afraid of showing people what I was doing when I should have been grieving, when I should have been supporting my family.

The day we left for Cornwall was the day my mum had her operation to remove a brain tumour. She gave us her blessing to go on our first holiday together. We knew she’d be sedated for a few days and always planned to return after the long weekend, once she was awake. As it turned out she remained sedated over the course of the next few weeks.

When we ran away to Snowdonia in 2010, my little brother had just been killed. I’d stayed with my parents while his body was repatriated from Afghanistan, through the identification, the press intrusion, the post mortem, the funeral planning. But it was 4 long weeks before his funeral could take place. I felt close to breaking point, like I would struggle to carry on.

So I escaped.

Both times, I left my parents behind to face things. It’s something I’m not proud of. They probably needed me but I was selfish. All I could consider was how I was on the verge of collapse.

Escaping, being at one with nature, simple pleasures, helped me to reconnect. Removing myself from our normal day to day world helped me to come back, fresh and alive, ready to face what I needed to face.

It was therapy for me, there is no doubt about that, yet I’ve only just been able to be honest about this.

So now, I’m working through the guilt and the shame, I must make peace. This is my first step.

 

Loss – a new poignancy

100_0041This week it’s been 7 years since my brother was killed.

The pain is less raw now, but this year as the anniversary comes around, a new emotion is surfacing. It feels more poignant now that I’m a mother myself. I can feel more deeply how devastating it has been for my parents to have their child taken. Although I’ve witnessed their pain up close, there was no way I could empathise so clearly until I became a mother myself.

No one can prepare you for the torrent of emotions that come with becoming a mum. I now know how it feels to have a little piece of you, out in the big wide world. The emotions of the big milestones which overwhelm and excite, and the small day to day events that seem so insignificant but become your whole entire existence. The relentlessness, the hopes and fears, the blood sweat and tears that you put into making sure that a small person is alive at the end of the day, every single day. That’s what you live for, for their survival. And I’m only just getting started.

7 years ago when the pain was still raw and we were still in shock, I lamented all the things that I’d lost. I wouldn’t be an Auntie, he wouldn’t be in my kids’ lives, and we wouldn’t be raising little people together. For a while, there was so much fear in me that I wasn’t sure I was ever going to be ready to take such a leap anyway. It was a very personal grief, very much about ‘I’. As the years have passed my grief has softened around the edges, we found a new normal, a new existence. But it’s back with a new force.

It will always be different for me now. I cry for all the things I’ve lost, but more for what my parents have lost. I fear for the future, but not for mine, for my child’s. But at the same time, everything makes sense now. What it means to be human and to live fully in the face of fear. I’m not afraid any more to feel so intensely. As it’s only in the ups and downs of bringing life into the world that I’ve been able to truly understand the beautiful fragility of life and why it’s all worthwhile.