Disclaimer: Whilst this is a clear representation of my own methods used and encouraged to aid my progression, it is not written in order to counteract emotions of others/methods of dealing with loss. Please understand and appreciate that everyone deals with this in their own way. It is simply a list of tasks that may help alleviate self doubt, anxiety or guilt that follows. I am in no way trained towards professional help.
Well you lovely folks, isn’t this a topic you are all so keen to be reading about? (I can already tell by the resounding head tilts that your a little sad you even have a reason to be here). Perhaps like me, you have gone through the unimaginable and need someone to tell you that you might just be ok if you follow a few key steps? Or, perhaps you are on the other side – a friend, a relative or an acquaintance who’s opinion and even presence may not be welcomed by the affected person you are so worried about? If your neither of them and just someone who happens to have stumbled by this page, then take a peek for just 5 minutes. I’d hate to say you’ll never need to read this, but this is life – the unexpected stories that pan out in front of each of our eyes and no matter how long you try to avoid the unwanted, sometimes the unwanted doesn’t avoid you. Its light-hearted, I promise.
The picture above is of me at Fearn Cotton’s Happy Place Festival this weekend, reading a couple of motivational quotes on some ribbon tied around a tree. The particular one I am reading at the time of this photo stated: ‘In my autobiography, you’d be the funniest chapter’ and I’m smiling because one day I truly do want to write a book and I first remember saying this to myself when I was about 12 or 13, but knew I was too squeaky clean and the only traumatising thing I’d experienced by that point was having a period. I have always been good at English, it was the only A grade GCSE that I ever obtained (My career is in Science and for that I got a DD, but at university I got a 1st Class Honours Degree in Radiotherapy and Oncology Practice ((Suck on that high school!))- FYI), and I love words. I’d rather have the most random of words printed around my house than any cute animation or intricate detailed image (but I do love photo’s too – obviously!). So by surrounding myself with this influence, it had me asking myself the actual question of ‘What makes me happy?’, especially during a time of something that has made me so sad.
Now that the initial shock of losing our daughter has faded, its left a rawness underneath – like a snail without it’s protective shell. I am a vulnerable person at the moment and sometimes that reality is really hard to accept. We build confidence from our experiences, usually we believe it to be the kind whereby we have achieved something, or worked really hard in order to deserve it. I’ll be honest in thinking that after I had worked so incredibly hard persisting towards a promotion and spending night after night studying on top of a full time job, whilst dealing with a few family issues, that life would actually give me a break and a chance to enjoy myself, I thought that was how it worked. I wasn’t prepared to face a loss like this less than a year later.
So how do you build self-confidence? The type whereby it doesn’t matter if other people don’t see it, but which keeps that spark within our own heart, actually believing in it yourself, when you feel like you’ve been hit by a train and your breath sometimes feels too much for your own body? I don’t know is the honest answer, but I am trying every day to figure out ways that introduce elements of it back. So I’ve compiled a list of the 11 things I have noticed myself doing since Maddison died, which I know has had a positive impact on my well being and the people I love around me, perhaps even those not so close to me, but who still care. Don’t misunderstand this however, there are many aspects of ‘life’ now that I am still trying to work out and it’s a whole new adaptation. Tomorrow is my first day back at work since the 12th April and it’s unnerving. Not only do I feel for an entire force of people who have to face me, attempting to remember the pure basics of my job. I ask myself the same questions all the time such as; will they be afraid to tell me if i’ve made a mistake for fear of upsetting me more than I already am? It’s a cruel world when you lose a bit of your confidence, yet its also very powerful how much humans really can cope with. At some point, life will teach you one lesson: YOU are the only person than can change the way you live it, that you feel your emotions, but you are not your emotions.
So as promised, these are the steps that I’m taking, slowly but surely.
1. Writing down your thoughts and feelings, helps to make sense of them. Its a form of self-therapy and you don’t have to be articulate to write down whether you are happy or sad. The biggest drawback we as people make when dealing with something upsetting, traumatic or emotional is defeating the real feelings we are having and hiding behind personas. I don’t for one minute think that my friends and family think it’s wrong that I’m being so honest about my experience, but I know that a lot of people do feel so and as a result will fake a pretence that they believe the other person wants to hear. Writing down your emotions or even something you want to say but don’t want anyone to hear can help create space in your mind that lets the ‘persona’ slowly turn more into reality because you will begin to find out that you actually are ok deep down. Fearne Cotton, Katie Piper and Julianne Hough are amongst those that practice this act on a regular basis whereby nobody will ever know what was written on those pieces of paper.
2. Yoga. I believe in it – it’s not just for the hippies. I grew up never truly believing in self-healing and my job is treating cancer with high powered x-rays so you know, I do still have my boundaries in how far I believe self-healing to go. But… I never really understood how movement of my own body in conjunction with meditation would affect my mental health and finding the ability to create power through the pure energies released during exercise. Its obvious really, we know that endorphins are released after a gym class that makes us feel good but personally, I needed to find a form of exercise that was focused more on the mind using the body as a tool to activate it. You can spend as little or as much time on yoga as you wish and the impact can still be the same if practiced regularly.
3. Gossip. We are all guilty of a bit of gossip every now and then. Usually a bottle of wine down and we are trying to analyse everyones lives with the sentence that followed ‘If that was me….’. When in actual fact we would have absolutely no idea what we would do if we were in their shoes. By thinking it, we believe it gives us hierarchy that we are more clued up than them. Now, I am not saying that I don’t ever gossip, sometimes you need to get something off your chest. It’s clear that I have an opinion otherwise I wouldn’t have a blog in the first place, but I will admit that gossip makes me feel really guilty. If I think I have said something to someone else that I wouldn’t be prepared to say to that exact person, then I swallow guilt that I should never have said it at all. Having gone through something that a lot of people could potentially gossip about, I’ve become more sensitive to other peoples feelings. Towards the end of my life, I would like to reflect back and say that I tried to help the ones I love around me to be the best version of themselves, even if it takes a lifetime to achieve, rather than belittle them for the things they just haven’t figured out or noticed yet (which is still only in my opinion – I’d never truly know what they have or haven’t figured out). & for the people that I truly couldn’t support, who may cause hurt, whether it is intentional or unintentional and who’s views were so opposing to my own, I accept that it’s ok to let them go. We don’t need to hold on to everyone if its using up energy to do so.
4. Beth’s Book Club. This is something that came as an unexpected surprise for me. I started following this girl called Beth Sandland (check out her inviting travel blog here) on Instagram after carrying out a rampage of unfollowing anything that was going to fill my feed with sponsored ad’s for nappies or cute baby grows and instead, swap it for idyllic travel destinations or motivational quotes. I couldn’t actually believe I hadn’t found her until this year and I quickly saw that she ran her own online book club (want to join?) from whichever destination her feet found her in that month (I will be following her tips on travelling around NZ in January!). At this point, I spent most of the early days crying and feeling at a total loss of what to do with myself, even what room to sit in. It was after about a week that I made the decision to join the club. After 3 books, I can say it was one of the best distractions that I totally didn’t realise I needed. Each month Beth updates us on the chosen book, or provides us with a vote between 2 or 3 which we leaves us with an entire month to read at our leisure. At the end of each, we all check in online at the same time from different corners of the world and discuss our opinions on different aspects of the book. This ranges from question’s about a characters behaviour, our outlook on how we think we would have coped, how we interpret a specific scene and even explores visions on the narrative used and the way in which the author chose to write. It’s a little piece of escapism for me and there’s nothing better than to be able to actually discuss something that a little group of you have all read in your own way and time. Through it, you can be yourself again without having to worry about how you are perceived in the early stages of grief whereby your emotions are all over the place and you are so unsure of what the future holds. It’s a place to be free’d from it for a while.
5. Booking a Trip to New Zealand. Ok, so NZ isn’t your thing? That’s cool, find somewhere that is and book it. We always feel at our most relaxed whilst exploring somewhere new, or purely doing nothing in a place that differs from home every once in a while and we are at our most excited when planning for the upcoming trip. It’s an obvious act but a required one. If your like me and you’ve experienced the loss of a child, then there’s no question you were going to have to find some pennies from somewhere to clothe, feed and carry your newborn, so use the money wisely and give yourself a break. If you don’t have any money saved up and there’s no way you can afford to jump on a plane, camping will take you back to your roots and whats even better, distract you from screen time.
6. Figure out a way to be honest. In many ways, trauma and loss is visible to the outside world even though you are the one that its happened too and you might find it difficult to pretend everything is ok without the fear of breaking. Introducing friends round one at a time over a long period can help break down the barriers. They say money can’t buy you happiness but I recently had a conversation with a friend about how much it meant that two of them decided to head out and fill up a hamper of goods, homemade brownies, pj’s and slippers etc. to show me how much they were thinking of me when they couldn’t find the words to say. It’s a big thing for immediate friends and family who know they need to face you soon and it helps if you are honest with them so that they know how to be around you. It’s one of those very few situations where even the closest of people to you will feel awkward in your presence and the ball is unfortunately in your court. Therefore, it is crucial to take all the time needed to spend on your own or just with a few select people until you are ready to open yourself up to the others that care.
7. Stop asking questions. For me, I lost a child. So you can imagine the thousands of questions I asked myself daily relating to her death. I quickly learnt that repeating those unanswerable questions to myself over and over was only bringing me extreme guilt. I feared that those questions would one day be answered and it would prove that I did in fact do something within my pregnancy that led to the loss of Maddison. However, that is not the case. I have been told many a time by professionals and family alike, that nothing I did or could have done would have prevented this outcome. Do I agree? Not necessarily, I believe that had I have been tested for an issue in my placenta or bloods earlier on during the pregnancy then would it have led to a possible problem and therefore caused some action to prevent her dying – possibly? But that is an extreme way to think and I have had to adapt to a different mentality when it comes to reasons of why Maddison died. I know in my heart that I did everything I possibly could to protect myself from this disaster, to give her the best possible start in life. But then theres addicts that cannot forgo their addictions during pregnancy who go on to deliver healthy babies, so where’s the catch? We cannot torment ourselves for matters outside of our control and I refuse to believe that this was my fault, so therefore I try my hardest to avoid asking myself those questions and I follow my gut.
8. Surround yourself with positivity in the form of podcasts, real-life experiences and music. This one is really key in feeling like your experience is shared. For someone that feeds of other peoples emotions, I gain a lot from listening to the ins and outs of someone else’s mind. For a few years I have listened to Fearne Cotton’s podcast ‘Happy Place’, Giovanna Fletchers ‘Happy Mum, Happy Baby’ and ‘Woman’s Hour’ on BBC Radio 4. All of which focus on different topics but are more or less a collection of shared experiences and usually uncover the glamour-less side of them. If you ever get the opportunity to listen to live-talks I would highly recommend it for a more intimate setting. This weekend I sat cross-legged in a tipi tent listening to the interviews of Rylan Clarke, Russell Brand and Katie Piper, who in just a few hours helped me to make sense of a lot of emotions.
9. Spend more of your time outdoors, but don’t ignore the desire to keep yourself locked away. Let the outside in before the inside becomes too comfortable and suffocating all at the same time. The biggest thing to accept during grief is that life goes on around you. Whatever it is you have lost or are losing, you will be so much more heightened to that particular thing that suddenly it is everywhere. By going outside, you are allowing yourself to come face to face with it, so do so when you feel you have a handle on at least one emotion, whatever that emotion is. If it’s feeling a little happier that day, don’t let the fact that heading out could cause you upset, just be proud that you followed that happiness and tried it. It takes a lot of effort to keep getting back up after a fall, but its something you will face throughout life, no matter how much time passes so getting outside will slowly help you feel like you fit back into life again.
10. Have somewhere you can go to communicate with the one you’ve lost. This doesn’t have to be a graveside or a place where ashes are buried/scattered. In all honesty, when I go to Maddison’s graveside, its usually a time that I end up feeling a little sad, but I like being there. Then there’s her room in our home – where I am currently writing this. It was supposed to be hers, so rather it be a shrine or place of what should have been, it is somewhere I sit and ‘be’ to feel closer to her. Its got memories of her all around it but its a fully functioning quite space to read, write and I find myself practising yoga in it. I think these spaces are important to maintain a connection as time and life moves forward.
11. Love & don’t be afraid to ask for help. Consider the people’s feelings around you that you care for. Try to understand how this must be hurting them too and begin to understand that you can share your pain. Nobody can alleviate it, for everyones pain is different, yet communication can take you through milestones. Lastly, don’t be afraid to seek professional help if its needed. Sometimes the fear of burdening those close to you can cause you to hide some emotions from them, in a bid to protect them but forsake all else. It’d not healthy and there are people who want to, who have studied for and are volunteering to be there for you when you need it. You don’t even have to leave the house if you can’t. If this sounds like you then consider reaching out to one of the following: SANDS, TimeNorfolk, Miscarriage Association, Samaritans, Mind, Young Minds.