grief · Uncategorized

Grief: A black hole or a challenging journey?

So, yeah. My first blog was about my weight struggles and my second blog is about grief! I promise I am actually a happy little soul and don’t wander through life like a black cloud looming on the horizon!

Grief is a subject that I think isn’t talked about enough, a bit like the subject of death itself really. And, I suppose if we’re honest, our experience of grief is greatly influenced by the way we view death.

I’ve been inspired to write about grief by recent events. One of my friends (who I don’t see anywhere near enough!) has recently lost her beloved Dad. There has been a myriad of ramifications of this, not only has this amazing woman had to deal with the emotional effects of losing her father, she also was responsible for nursing him in the last days of his life (she is a palliative care nurse). In the last two years she has had multiple surgeries and is continuing to battle Crohn’s disease and everything that comes with it. In the last 2 years, her life has been turned upside down……..and now she’s lost her Dad. One of her best friends. She isn’t sleeping and her Crohn’s has kicked off in a massive way. It’s hard to imagine how she must be feeling at the moment, but I should imagine that “Desolate” is probably a good word to use!

My first real experience of ‘grief’ was when I was 11 years old. It was the school summer holidays before I started secondary school and my Uncle died suddenly. At that age, it was impossible to comprehend the enormity of what had happened. All I really understood was that everyone was sad, I wouldn’t be seeing my favourite Uncle again…..and that made me feel very sad.

On the 17th December 2010 my Dad passed away after 10 days in hospital. He was 70 years old. I’m not going to waffle on about his medical history or what happened in those days that he was in hospital. All I will say is that Dad did have health problems, but in no way was his death expected. Right up until the moment the ITU nurse sat us in the relatives room and told us that Dad’s heart had stopped and they were attempting to resuscitate him, I had totally believed that he would pull through. At that second, it felt like my heart dropped into the souls of my feet……….and that’s where it seemed to stay for a good few years afterwards.

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It’s so hard to explain how grief can impact on your life and I realise that everyone must have a unique experience. What I would say is that I found that it permeated into every aspect of my life.

I was in my second year of my nursing degree when Dad passed away. In the days after my Dad’s death, the absolute feeling of shock was replaced with an overbearing feeling of guilt. I felt that I had let Dad down and that, in some bizarre way, I should have been able to save him. I took an initial break for a few months and then went back to my studies. I found myself sitting in lectures listening to descriptions of pathophysiology that Dad had experienced during his time in hospital. I wouldn’t be able to focus and I would have flash backs to traumatic moments prior to Dad passing. On placements on wards I would feel vulnerable and extremely nervous, especially when dealing with ‘poorly patients’.

In the first 6 months after his passing, I would wake up every morning and for a split second I would have forgotten that he wasn’t here anymore……….that was so hard. I actually felt like I had lost part of myself.

The guilt aspect of grief was one that I struggled with for months. Not only did I feel guilt over Dad’s treatment, but I felt guilt that he perhaps didn’t know how much I loved him. That was what truly broke me. I’d always been a Daddy’s girl, but our relationship hadn’t been fantastic in the 5 years leading up to losing him……..you know the old saying “you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone”. My Dad hadn’t lived to see me get married, have children, see me settled and winning at life. I felt a failure, like I’d let him down.

For a time, it’s hard to say how long. But, for a time, it felt as if life was very dark. I’m not ashamed to say that I eventually went to my GP for some help with my mental health as it was obvious I was slipping into a deep depression.

I would have dreams and nightmares about him and his passing. The nightmares were always about the time he was in hospital and were particularly harrowing.

All of this dark stuff was going on in my mind, but I dealt with it in the best way I could. I like to think I have a reasonably good sense of humour and I found and still find laughter to be extremely therapeutic. However, I think sometimes my humour acted as a bit of a mask for how I was really feeling.

Immediately after my Dad’s passing we were surrounded by friends who were supportive and helped us through the funeral. However, I noticed how awkward and difficult people seemed to find it to speak to me about my Dad’s death. I would try to talk to friends about how I was feeling, but I sensed that they were struggling to know how to respond to me. It got to the stage that I didn’t want to make other people feel uncomfortable by talking about it.

Emotionally, I was in a very bad place. I had lost one of my best friends, someone who had always been such a support to me, who I shared a lot of interests with, someone I spent time with every day. Inevitably, this emotional vulnerability, over time, started to impact on my physical health. So much so that, just over 2 years after losing my Dad, I ended up in hospital. I won’t bore you with detail, but I now have health problems that I believe were initially triggered by the loss of my Dad.

My illness was a massive wake up call to me. I could not carry on the way I was and I desperately needed to change the way things were. I had to improve my emotional wellbeing and my physical health. It dawned on me how sad my Dad would have been to see me suffering. It was time for a bit of positivity. I started to think about the lovely times that we, as a family, had shared together……..I drew so much from this. How massively lucky had I been to have this wonderful man as a father.

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I had several lovely dreams in which I would be meeting him in beautiful garden or on a train and he would have to go by saying “sorry I can’t come back with you”. I continue to have dreams like this and now I take great comfort from them. It’s as if it’s my Dads way of popping into my mind to say hi!

My Dad was a Christian and myself and my brother were raised as Christians. I wouldn’t necessarily describe myself as religious these days, I don’t subscribe to a particular religion. However, I would say I have faith and spirituality. I realise that there are majorly differing views on what happens when we ‘die’. My personal belief is that our energy continues to exist in a different (I’m hoping better) place. Once I had come to this conclusion in my own mind, I started to see signs that my Dad was still around me…….I don’t mean him popping up behind me in the mirror or anything horrendous like that! Just subtle signs, things only I would understand, like a particular song on the radio at a moment that I was thinking of a memory. At this point some of you are probably thinking I’m mad, but these ‘signs’ have made me feel like I continue to have a connection with my Dad. They may well all be purely co-incidental, and I’m fine with that……but the comfort they bring is real.

I know this probably sounds totally weird, but I started to notice things around me that I had never noticed before. I could appreciate the sun shining through the trees and hearing the leaves rustling in the wind. I would notice birds flying in the sky and would love getting outside and going for walks. I started to do a lot more people watching when out and about, noticing interactions between loved ones. I now it sounds a bit bonkers, but it felt like I started to see the beauty in the world that I had taken for granted up until that point.

I’ve always been a bit of an anxious person. I’m a bit OCD about being organised and if things throw my plans out, I’ve always found it a bit of a struggle to deal with this. But, I think, because I was becoming less blinkered to the realities of life, I started to calm down……a lot. Yes, I’m still a freak about being organised….but I get less stressed over things, perhaps because I’ve realised what is important and what isn’t!

A few days before my Dad passed away, following some scans, I was told that I would struggle to conceive children naturally. In September 2013, I found out I was pregnant. As I tried not to slide off the toilet in shock upon reading the test result, the first thing I did was think how unimpressed my Dad would have been about my situation………however, in time I realised that Dad would have been supportive of me and I know he would have done everything he could have to help me. So, it didn’t take much for me to decide that if I was having a little boy, I would name him after my Dad. James was born in May 2014 and becoming a Mummy is most definitely the best thing that has ever happened to me. The joy I have experienced due to my son is impossible to quantify. I have photos of myself and Dad in my living room and James points at them and says “Grandad and Mummy” and has done since he could speak. I’ve never told him who the man in the photos was, he just seemed to know. I know my Dad would be so amazingly proud of James, sometimes I feel sad that Dad has missed out on him.

I get married next year to the love of my life. I do feel sad that my Dad won’t be there, but when I think about how far I have come in the last 3 years, I know how proud he would be of me.

So, I suppose what all this rambling is leading to is this: Initially grief seems like a black hole that is going to swallow you up in your entirety. It can permeate every fibre of your life and being. BUT, as time goes on, grief can help you to see the precious nature of life and the world we live in. I have found grief to be a challenging journey, but a journey that has helped mould me into the person I am today. As hard as it may sound, life goes on and the people we lose would want us to live our lives in happiness and to the full.

Charlie, this blog is dedicated to you with lots of love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Uncategorized

A Weighty Issue

I’ve been racking my brains for the past few weeks as to what to write for my first blog post. I have so much that I’d like to get down in writing that it’s taken a while to make a decision!

Today I settled on what this first blog would be about, something that has been a constant pretty much through my entire life as I remember it. My weight. 

I started puberty at quite a young age, starting my periods at 11 years old. While other girls my age were still shopping in Tammy Girl, I was having to wear women’s clothes because…..well, I was turning into a woman. I was gently teased about my weight  and size towards the end of primary school, but never anything terrible and I was always able to let it go over my head. I was taller and broader than a lot of the boys in my class by the time I went to secondary school. I went to school out of our catchment area and only knew two other boys from my old school. Again, I experienced some gentle teasing, but I made friends and settled in and found my little niche as a bit of a swot. I wasn’t particularly bright, but I always tried (who doesn’t love a tryer?). I was as happy as any teenage girl going through puberty ever is!!!!! Secondary school is my first memory of experiencing real anxiety, feeling physically ill from it at times.

Little did I realise, that the gentle teasing I was experiencing would plant a tiny seed that would continue to grow and grow throughout my life.

On leaving secondary school and starting Sixth Form College I was already a size 18/20. That summer I had my first experience of male attention……one lad that I was particularly ‘sweet’ on commented “You’d be really pretty……if you were a bit thinner”. I remember feeling absolutely gutted, although I continued to put on a brave face.

Once college got into full swing, I started to lose weight. I’d started smoking (sorry Mum!), so wasn’t eating that much apart from in the evening at home. I started going out to nightclubs, socialising with a wide circle of friends. I even bagged myself my first boyfriend. I dropped several dress sizes and really grew in confidence.

However, going into my late teens and early twenties my weight started to creep back up. I had some emotional experiences that seemed to send me to a dark place that I had never been before. I felt slightly overwhelmed by adult life and I think that this may have been my first experience of depression.

I had a boyfriend who had messed me around in the early stages of the relationship. We had broken up and he had proceeded to chase after one of my close friends, a girl who I perceived to be prettier and slimmer than me. This massively knocked my confidence. However, eventually we got back together but the damage had been done and I could never forget that he had wanted someone else. I used to find comfort in food and alcohol. Alcohol would give me an immediate lift by having fun whilst out partying, then food would ease my hangover the following day! A dangerous cycle to be in, but in my early twenties, I had yet to make the link between my emotions, behaviours and weight.

As I put on weight, I couldn’t buy clothes from the same shops as my friends as they didn’t have clothes in my size. I couldn’t wear the more fashionable stuff, and by this stage I wouldn’t have had the confidence to either.

Rather than talking to people about how I was feeling about myself or problems that I was experiencing, I would bottle it all up and try and deal with it myself. I felt embarrassed, even ashamed of myself. Ashamed of how I looked, ashamed about who I was and ashamed about my lack of coping with life.

Eating was a massive crutch at this time. I would always find a way to justify it to myself, usually by thinking “it’ll make you feel better”…….then end up feeling totally overwhelmed with guilt and self loathing. The way I felt about myself was reflected in what I accepted in relationships. Being cheated on, walked all over, stolen from, verbally abused about my size. It was just one massively vicious cycle leading to me having zero self esteem and no confidence in myself.

I hated myself, I really did. It got to the stage where I didn’t care that I was fat because that was what I deserved as far I was concerned. I went through a bit of a “Fat and Proud” stage for a while, but it was a complete load of bollocks. I was certainly fat, but I wasn’t proud!

In the last five years my weight has continued to fluctuate, partly due to pregnancy, partly due to emotional eating, partly due to physical health issues and partly due to depression. However, The last 5 and a bit years have been very different for several reasons. Firstly, I’ve started to understand and attempt to curb my emotional eating habits……..this is so incredibly tough and is a massive work in progress, but I am getting there. Secondly, I am learning to love myself and realise that my body is amazing…….I have grown a human being, my body certainly deserves to be looked after and I owe it to myself to love myself and accept who I am and what I’m capable of. Thirdly, I have realised that rightly or wrongly, some people will always think they have a right to make comments like “you’re a big girl aren’t you” or “you’re pretty for a big girl”…………but it says so much more about them than it does about me.

I deserve to feel comfortable in my own skin, in order to do this I am having to make some massive changes in my life. One of them is accepting that how I feel about myself is NOT the way that others feel about me. I have an amazing fiance who is my absolute rock and sometimes I panic that I don’t deserve to have him in my life. I have found it hard to understand how someone can find me attractive, but this is starting to change and I’m feeling better about myself every day. It’s hard not to impose your own insecurities onto someone else and I know I have done this at times, but I think I’m getting past that now.

Yesterday I joined a gym (not for the first time I hasten to add!). A nerve wracking experience when you have zero body confidence. I’ve not got a goal weight or anything, but it would be so lovely to get to a point where I feel more confident and comfortable. I’m never going to fit into other people’s definition of “slim” but I have learnt that other people’s expectations mean nothing. It’s how I feel that is important.