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.

Gratitude on the sh*t days

IMG_6455.JPGWhen I originally set up a blog and Instagram account I was coming out the other side of a lengthy battle with anxiety. I was in a good place and my demons had been put to bed (for a while).   I wanted to help others find the happiness I knew they could through the tools I used.

It’s easy to be grateful on the good days. On the gin-drinking, sun-bathing, holidaying, morning-running, cute baby-wearing days. It’s fun to post photos of the good times. I like nothing more than showing off being out in amazing places and enjoying the little moments of joy in the every day. I stick to my daily gratitude practice and life feels abundant.

It’s much harder to talk honestly about the bad days. The days where every single thing feels like it’s falling apart. The days when you wonder ‘why me?’ The days that are just a pile of sh*t.

I thought our tiny weeny family had been dealt a fair share of the difficult traumatic times. When my little brother was killed in 2010 it broke us, it tested us, and I did some idiotic things on the way to rebuilding strength and living a full life again. But I got there.

It’s felt however like there has been very little to be grateful for over the last month or so. Mum’s health declined rapidly over the last few months and she was finally and suddenly diagnosed with a huge brain tumour. Life continues to consist of daily 2-3 hour round trips to an intensive care unit, breast feeding in pret-a-manger and then handing my baby over to be looked after by my Dad or my husband while we do visiting shifts, making acquaintance with nurse after nurse after nurse. Hand sanitizer, plastic gloves, deciphering medical terminology, googling diagnoses and procedures. Sedation, ventilators, tracheotomies, sutures and feeding tubes. Seeing mum suffer pain, trauma, indignity and fear. Feeling fear myself.

And then I have an almost 4 month old baby boy – the lost evenings, the sleepless nights, the inability to leave the house or do anything quickly but having to eat food at the speed of light with one hand. The post-partum problems, no-money problems, messy-house problems, not-having-enough-time-to-cook-so-eating-like-crap problems. It would probably scare you to see the inside of my fucked up head on the bad days.

I have to admit that I’ve wallowed. I’ve wallowed in self-pity for a while and my gratitude practice has been non-existent. Slowly but surely my old demons have crept back up on me and wham – I’m back in the grips of anxiety once again. In pure melt-down mode. I have a default setting that leads me to focus on the negatives, what could happen, all the things big and small that are going wrong. The ‘why is this happening to me?’ question. The feeling that life has to kick you when you are already down.

Gratitude does not come easy during these times.

So this morning I had reached a low point. I went out for a walk with my baby. In my head I was fuming that it was my turn to try to enforce his nap (again), annoyed that I’d miss the sunshine today because I had to make a trip to the hospital (again). Scared because my mum had had a bad day yesterday and is still in intensive care 3 fucking weeks later. My to-do list was running through my head on an endless loop and I felt trapped.

It might sound cheesy but in that moment I realised that Orson was holding my fingers and had just dropped off to sleep. It reminded me of the gratitude practice that I hold so dear but that comes so much more easily when life is good and tends to slip away when life gets tough.

I have my health, I’m incredibly lucky to be a mother to a healthy baby boy, the sun is shining right now at this moment and I’m outside in the countryside. I can breathe in this moment and just be.

When the days are sh*t – that’s when I need to practice gratitude the most. I commit now to honour my gratitude practice on all days, as when I’m rock-bottom, that’s when I need it the most.