Breathe deeply in faith

I’ve realised that it doesn’t take much these days to break me. I always mourn my daughter harder when life feels tough…illness, sleep deprivation, anxieties, parenting challenges all set to chip away at my weary soul.

Women, mothers, hold up so much. We carry so much burden to alleviate the physical and emotional burden on others. We keep things ticking. Our minds work at a thousand paces. Yet we are human too.

I pray for patience then sin with words. I pray for peace then sin with angry thoughts. I feel I should be more. Be calmer, milder, more accepting but that only seems to create the opposite as I fail to live up to my own expectations. I’m not happy with my behaviour. I beat myself up. I’m irritable. And perhaps worst of all, I feel desperately alone. Pressures God knows I don’t need.

Today, I prayed a psalm of thanks which fell open in my Bible. I then prayed for God’s help, again. My prayers feel selfish but I poured it out to God in the brief moment I had without a child’s demands. I opened my Lent book, God on Mute, by Peter Greig, and read this quote…  Yet again I realise that, in prayer, I don’t need to search too far or for too long to find comfort and guidance just to…

…breathe deeply in faith.

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Dealing with my son’s sudden illness while grieving my daughter’s sudden death

Experiencing one of my children falling suddenly ill has revealed much about how grief has impacted me, as a mother who is grieving the sudden death of another of my children.

Last weekend, my son scared us. The anxiety and fear flooded back in and we fought with everything we had to hold it together.

Losing Abi was the worst thing imaginable

When we lost Abi, we were reassured by the doctors, as best they could, that her brain haemorrhage was a one-off, a rare and unpredictable bursting of blood vessels in her brain stem. There was nothing they or we could have done to detect it or prevent it.

It started on 6th February 2013. Abi blacked out at school momentarily and fell down against a handrail. She laughed it off initially, as she wasn’t a clumsy child, but she had hurt her back when she fell. I picked her up from school when she text me to tell me her back really hurt (she brushed off the faint as it was so short). It was unusual for her to complain about anything so I was happy to go and get her.

After an uneventful day at home, I just assumed she needed a day off school to get over any bruising. She seemed OK until about 8.30pm when she suddenly said she felt terrible, it was like she was coming down with ‘flu. By 9.30pm she was in a coma on our bed and we were performing CPR on her. Terrified. Four long days later we turned off her life support.

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The physical pains of grief

It’s been a while since I posted about my reluctant but important decision to take antidepressant (or rather anti-anxiety) medication. I have taken a break from writing for a while, to let life settle and see what comes of this new course of treatment. While at first the medicine seemed to exacerbate my symptoms, they did eventually settle and I began to feel much better – clearer in my head, more able to plan and focus on tasks. My anxiety symptoms not dissolved but greatly improved.

It was in fact a couple of months after starting the tablets that I discovered I was pregnant again – a side effect that certainly wasn’t on the instructions! It was both a shock and a worry at first, I can’t deny. Having been through so much and my mental health just about improving, and feeling stronger, I was worried I wouldn’t be able to cope with the emotional and physical demands that pregnancy inevitably brings. Worry upon worry upon worry.

But you know, when I’d got used to the idea, I realised this was an opportunity to celebrate. I’m now delighted to be expecting again – and while I have only natural concerns about managing a toddler and a newborn (again), I know these are just hurdles we’ll get through as a family, just like every other time. I don’t want to spend this pregnancy in fear of the worst, and dark thoughts do creep in from time to time, but I work hard to push them away. To keep my mind healthy I must do this with a strong attitude and remember that worrying won’t change anything. I have experienced already the worst imaginable losses for any mother, I feel ready for whatever is to come.
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The dark side of grief – craving escape from the mental and physical pain of loss

I recently went for my first month check-up at the doctors, to see how I’ve settled taking the antidepressants.

For anyone who has not taken antidepressants before, or who hasn’t experienced anxiety – and especially for those grieving mummas out there who are finding that anxiety and depression are adding to their grief, I wanted to share my experience.

Firstly though, I want to stress that feelings and emotions around anxiety and grief are different for everybody. I may know someone who feels similar things to me, but it will still be unique and personal to the individual. That’s why it’s so important to listen to your mind as well as your body and seek help.

Anxiety, however, is a mental illness, grief is not and it can be very hard to tell the difference especially when you are living it day in day out. A big problem for me about why I got to this point, was when I told anyone my story (ie, my daughter’s sudden death) and that I had anxiety they responded with ‘Of course you’re anxious, you’re grieving’ and then the anxiety was ignored because it was put down to grief. This created a build-up of symptoms that led me to the brink of breakdown –  I simply couldn’t cope if grief was going to be this horrible to me.

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A (grieving) mother’s little helper – will antidepressants numb the pain?

I’ve been sitting here staring at the packet for half an hour.

Antidepressants.

These little pills, I know, are offering me the chance to numb my mind for a while from the anxiety and depression that’s taken hold of me. I’ve resisted them for so long that it feels strange to finally be here. As I said in this post, I can’t help feel like I’m failing.

I wonder if I’m really depressed enough to take them. After all, I’m generally okay. I’m not walking the streets in my pyjamas. I don’t feel a black cloud above me all the time. I’m still functioning as I always do, albeit with my mood swinging on a pendulum. I can be switched on one day, enough to write posts like this, but the next I can only stare at the screen blankly, my mind a fog.

But is this enough to start these tablets? I’ve spent over two years avoiding using them. I know this is a last resort for me.

I’ve been here before you see.

Do I really want to go here, again?

The answer is no. I don’t want to go here again, but I feel I must. Continue reading

My failures as a grieving mum

I’ve failed.

Life seems fractured.

Daily events feel insurmountable.

Relationships are strained and unstable.

Work is challenging.

Motivation to care, about much, is gone.

I’m sharing this deeply personal post because I know for sure that I’m not alone. That out there are other mothers, in mourning, trying to hold it all together, being strong every second, achieving amazing things just by getting through a day but feeling like a failure throughout it all. I want to reassure those readers that they are not failures, but that the feeling of failure is normal living with what we do.

Failure is a cruel term. How can I possibly have failed at anything?

I am loved.

I am safe.

I am provided for.

I’ve read all the posts, seen all the ‘grief charts’, know the lingo of the phases and stages… but I’ve yet to see the word ‘failure’ mentioned.

As an independent and determined woman, I worked hard to carve out a career and a stable family home. Then death came knocking at my door and decided to pull the rug from under me.

The feeling of failure is huge, but in order to shrink it I’ve tried to consider exactly where and why I feel I’ve failed.

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Dreams of moving on

I wrote a post last September about how hard I found it to declutter our home. We were having a car boot sale and kept coming across things that brought back bittersweet memories. Abi’s belongings were still everywhere – a forgotten hairclip, a school pen – and I found the thought of getting rid of things we had ‘when Abi was alive’ (a new marker in our family timeline) too hard to bear. But, a year on, I’ve arrived at a very different place.

In my life, I’m beginning to make changes. Changes that mean I’m starting to move on.

It’s actually taken me a long time to want to write that in a post. ‘Moving on’ is one of the hardest terms I know relating to grief. It makes me feel physically sick and mentally stressed. I have a number of books that all offer ways to help ‘people move on’ that I avoid picking up because to wish it is to want to erase the memory of her. But, it’s essential that I at least try to come to accept it.

This hasn’t come about the easiest way. I haven’t just woken up and thought right, time to ‘get a grip’. The past year has been a huge struggle and I think in large part owing to the fact that, as time moves away from my last day with Abi, I am desperately trying to claw it back. ‘Moving on’ is so very hard when your child is dead.

I was able to realise that I was sinking further and further into depression. I felt like I was standing in sinking sand but had managed to hold on to a branch to stop me being fully submerged. Now, I’ve built up enough energy to try to pull myself out.

I’m looking at my life from the outside in, rather than in the self-absorption of grief. I see a woman who is tired, stressed and lethargic. I see a marriage that is strained. I see a home that is stuck in a time warp, reminding us constantly that we are living with trauma. I see a family suffocated by the memories all around them, in every face they see, every step they take.

Yet, as I try to bring some new order to our home and the daily changes are feeling somewhat positive, and right, I can’t escape the torment that this brings.

At night I dream of Abi and my dreams are stressful. I wake up often with palpitations, my broken heart tearing me from my rest.

I dreamt that my hubby and I had decided that Abi’s ashes needed to be moved. They were buried in our local churchyard and her stone was constantly hidden by mud and dead leaves, so much so it was almost sinking into the earth. So we asked the vicar and some close family to hold another service where we exhumed her box of ashes in order to move it to a nice place.

It was evening. The box was brought out. I held it. It was slightly shabby where it had been buried, the light oak was dark and beginning to rot. I held my girl’s remains and choked back tears.

I remember looking at my hubby and wondering what we were going to do with her ashes; now questioning why we had dug them up in the first place! It was a bit awkward as we realised we had nowhere to put them. I thought that we could put them in a pot and have them at home. I felt a yearning to have Abi close by. But I didn’t voice my thoughts as I knew it wasn’t right. We both knew that, really, she belonged back in the ground.

This dream struck me as my conflicting feelings of wanting to let go (not of Abi but of my grief) yet cling onto Abi and keep her close. I suppose my subconscious was telling me that I can’t bring her back. That the Abi we knew isn’t on Earth anymore, even if her remains are. That I could dig her up and rebury her a thousand times but it wouldn’t change a thing.

I feel, with help, that I can move on in grief. That I can create new memories, as our family is so different to what it was two years ago. I have to let go of a lot of the past. Not of Abi. I will never get over losing her; her life and her death are engraved on my heart. It’s the material and sentimental aspects of grief I feel need to change.

I have to put aside the many photos and mementos, replacing them with simpler versions that enhance rather than dominate our home. We have decided to stay in our house so we will need to completely transform our home into a new space where new memories are made. I want to create a new nest shaped around the remains of what we have. I want to find new interests and ways to use my mind, to spend my time wisely.

I can see, clearly, how in the first two years of grief I have clung to the familiar. Our home and its contents hasn’t changed much. We haven’t travelled far. We’ve stuck to our routines. The familiarity was my comfort blanket. But now that familiarity threatens to draw me into a downward spiral. By keeping things the same, by always everything ‘Abi’, I struggle to find the breathing space I need to live, and that which will allow my other children to just be. And living is what I want to do. I want to treasure this life I have and to live it for Abi as well as for me.

So, while it’ll take time to sort through the clutter that is spilled all over our home, clutter that shows I’ve been clinging onto the loss, and it’ll take money to pay for new carpets and furniture, it’s a transition I feel ready to take, and that’s the most important part. Knowing this feels good and my hope is lifted. I know the journey will be fraught with the guilt and grief that I must feel. I just have to let it be.

Postpartum oppression (or, how not to freak out a pregnant woman!)

Why is it that some people seem to enjoy scaring or putting down a pregnant woman?

At eight months pregnant I was entering the ‘anxious, this isn’t funny anymore stage’ – one minute looking at the pram with excitement, the next feeling terrified of how my son was going to arrive into this world. I was thinking of the birth and soaking up things to fret about, I didn’t want to but I couldn’t help it, and this was my fourth time! It should be like shelling peas!

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This girl can… can’t she?

Have you seen the This Girl Can advert? A celebration, if you like, of all the ‘normal’ girls out there making exercise a part of their life. It’s a positive look at real women exercising. It’s inclusive. There’s not a high-cut Lycra thong in sight! It’s great!

I’ve had a slow start to my New Year’s get fit resolution, and have felt a pang of envy as I’ve seen the streets full of runners and people sharing their achievements on social media. Unfortunately I’ve not felt well and it’s set me right back, but the air and the bugs have cleared and I’m feeling ready to get out there.

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I stopped watching the News … and got my life back!

Since my daughter’s death in February 2013, and Baby J’s birth in February 2014 (the significance of them being a year apart is not lost on me!), I’ve been suffering with anxiety. I talked a little about how this escalated after the birth of my son this year, and how with my weakened physical strength, my mental strength gave way to waves of anxiety that shook me and my hubby up for a while.

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