Irony

The irony of this blog has not been lost on me. I started it when I separated from my husband in an attempt to see this as a positive chance to start my life again.

The irony of course, comes from what happened afterwards. Seems like Life wanted to change anyway, regardless of my marital status.

In November last year I had a ‘breakdown’, although I much prefer the Teaching Unions’ labelling of ‘burnout’. I was mentally, emotionally and physically exhausted. Once the tiredness had finally ebbed, I was left with a numbing darkness: a malevolent emptiness which reeked on my own self-dissatisfaction and sense of failure. In those burned out eyes of mine, I had failed at my marriage, failed to keep my Dad well, failed at my job because I wasn’t strong enough, and failed as a mother because I was weak and a mess.

Months later, sedated by antidepressants and the memories of counselling, I returned to work. The phased return helped and soon I was feeling like the old me again. Not the new me my blog had promised to recount, but the old me.

And then, only a couple of months later, Dad deteriorated further. We thought we were losing him in April but he survived somehow and we were told that he was at the end of his life and we should prepare that he would have about twelve months with us. I believed we would be lucky to have another Christmas with him, but I hoped. He was a strong man despite his illness.

He returned home frail and didn’t seem to recover the way we had hoped. There were more tests, doctor’s appointments, carers… And then the ambulance calls in the middle of the night, only for him to be sent home days later with more medication.

Then in May he was admitted again with severe anaemia. Within days, a chest infection started. Then a little heart attack. And still we had hope. We had til Christmas, didn’t we? We had a year! He’d pulled through before.

After a week we started to doubt. He was not getting better. The hospital were not giving up, but our hope was fading. Our handsome, strong Dad was pale and weak and sleepy. He was black and blue from blood tests and transfusions.

And then, on June 6th, after discussion with the doctors, we made the decision to withdraw treatment – Dad’s non-invasive ventilator – the thing that was keeping him alive. He wasn’t getting better and we couldn’t see him suffer any longer.

Dad died less than twelve hours later with me and my two sisters by his side. And my life as I knew it ended.

I’m not the same person without my Dad. I’ve lost what little strength I had recovered after my ‘burnout’. A colleague has described me as a ‘broken woman’ and its stark accuracy startled me. I feel broken.

The clichés – a ‘part of me is missing’, ‘something has died inside me’ – how I wish they were metaphorical! I always thought they were but then I had never experienced grief like this before.

I write about my grief to cope with it. To remember it. Because it, in a slightly strange way, is also a part of Dad and I don’t want to forget this part either. And I hope these honest reflections can help someone too. Help them realise that they are not going mad, that these tumultuous feelings are a normal part of grief. Grief is not just crippling sadness – something I didn’t know until now. Grief is a very lonely place.

Change was a positive aspiration two years ago. It’s now a source of anxiety and pain.

My counsellor tells me that my grief is ‘healthy’. I’m told that it’s ‘selfless’ which is a good thing apparently. These are just words to me. I’m glad I’m not dipping back into depression again but these words mean nothing. I’m still grieving.

For six months I have tried to do what is expected of me. Carry on with my life. Keep being a mum and a teacher, a sister and a homeowner. As each month has passed, I’ve tried to hide the grief which is still as strong as it has ever been. (Maybe that’s it – you never get over it, you just learn to hide it better? ) Apparently, I’m not doing very well at this.

Last Sunday, after some Christmas shopping, I returned home and cried and cried and cried. I went into work Monday morning, frog-eyed and raw, to speak to HR in the hope they’d let me hide myself away in my office and work. Carry on, the way I’m supposed to.

An hour later, I’d let out my grief again. I’d discussed my pain, my fear about Christmas. My fear that people saw through my very carefully constructed facade of being OK.

My fears were well founded. My colleagues say that I am not the same, that I don’t have the same ‘gumption’ I once had.

How hard I have tried to hide this! I know I don’t have the same strength, but I didn’t want everyone else to see this. It was OK in the beginning, people expect you to be that way. But after a time, I believed that I should be back to myself, externally at least.

Although I feel like a failure, I’ve been told that I’m not and people don’t see me as one. I’m not sure I agree on either count.

Day to day, most days, my grief is a burning ember inside me. It’s a gossamer veil that covers me. Change is a catalyst though. It stokes the embers and the grief burns in my chest. Like today – simply preparing for Christmas with final shopping and cleaning and tidying has caused anxiety all day. Such a strange emotion as I’m not sure why it’s anxiety, but that is what I have felt and what I always feel when I experience change since Dad has died.

I know Christmas will be hard. Its a change. I’ve never had a Christmas before without my Dad: now I will never have one again with him. My anxiety is a symptom of this knowledge.

But somehow, this week’s grief and work revelations have created something new in me. I don’t want to fail. I don’t want people to see me as weak. How can I find myself again? I haven’t created these changes but I need to embrace them somehow. Use them as a catalyst for positivity if that is at all possible. That determination, the strength that has been bred in me, encouraged in me, from my Dad, is wanting to fight back. It was fine for me to pretend to be OK if I thought no one realised. Now I know that I have failed to hide it, I’m even more determined.

I can’t change my grief. I can’t erase it or end it. It’s there because I loved my Dad and will always love my Dad so it will always be there too.

I have no answers to this. It’s another irony. I share my grief in this blog because I believe that grief is personal but should not be private. And yet, I’m determined to find a way to hide it.

I’m shaking my head at myself as I write this.

So, to all of you that are missing someone this Christmas, I know how hard this is. I’m with you. We are not alone. I will be sending a prayer to you all, as I pray to my Dad, asking him to send a little bit more of his strength my way.

Merry Christmas xx

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Guilt

I had my second counselling session today. There is not enough time to write down all that we spoke about but a couple of things resonated with me which I would like to share.

The first was acceptance that my life is challenging and that it probably will be for the foreseeable future. And whilst I should look at little ways of easing the pressure in each area of my life, I also need to be proud of the way that I have managed. Moreover, I also need to look at ways of coping when ‘life happens’: you know, those extra things that happen in life that threaten to just tip you over the edge. This is the life I have and I need it to work for me instead of me always working so hard to please others first. In essence, by putting myself first I will be stronger in my responsibilities for them.

The second was guilt. My counsellor said that guilt was ‘like Marley’ s chain’ and that if we are not careful, we can feel the weight of that guilt all the time, dragging us down. I can’t tell you how much guilt I have, over so many things! The more I thought about it, the more if felt like that scene in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone where the letters starts whooshing through the Dursley’s letterbox – unwanted and plaguing Mr Dursley. The things I feel guilt about or bad about kept coming to me, one after the other. I’m so negative about myself. I don’t believe I’m negative by nature: when myself I believe anything can be worked out if you try hard enough. But I am so negative towards me that it is no wonder I am what I have become.

I think I’ve spoken before about a working mother’s guilt and that has been with me for nearly fourteen years. That’s one very long, heavy chain to drag round. And as I have moved on in my career, it has added a few hefty padlocks too. A few more chains for not helping my kids more with homework (because we only get in at six and there is tea to make, housework to do, three year old to play with/bathe and then bedtime routine); guilt over the housework that I never finish… Forgetting people’s birthdays…. I could go on, and on. I am utterly weighed down by my constant guilt – guilt that I can’t be the person I think I should be. And if honest, this is also the reason why I haven’t tried to find someone new: I don’t believe I’m worthy to find anyone yet. I’m not good enough: I’m not managing my life the way I think I should.

More thinking to do then. 😊

One year on.

A year today I started this blog. Madness. At first I was pretty proud of myself for posting for a whole year, but then I realised it was more than that.

This blog has got me through some really tough times this year. It’s been a friend, a sounding post, a crutch.

Without a shadow of a doubt, on my second and final separation from my husband a year ago, I felt the absence of utter misery and stress would leave me feeling a lot happier. Surprisingly, it didn’t.

My circumstances are a lot different from the first time. I’m older (obviously), have three children (not two), and a more demanding and high pressured job.

I’ve found my separated life to be quite lonely. I’ve gone through dark clouds of depression to euphoric bliss and the boredom of monotony in between:

Dates – nope.

Rooms redecorated – half (don’t ask).

New hobbies – one.

Weight lost – none.

Evaluation of creation of new life? Poor.

But (and there is always a but)..

I HAVE MADE IT!

I have been a single parent to three gorgeous but highly demanding children whilst holding down a career and attempting to keep my house from looking (and smelling) like a dump.

So my advice to you, ‘newly separated and hopeful’ is:

Don’t put so much pressure on yourself to make big changes. Let the dust settle.

Accept that it will take a while for the dust to settle.

Don’t think that the big hole left (however desired) by your ex leaving/getting kicked out is going to be filled with love and wonder and happiness. Not at first anyway. You need to explore every inch of that crater to process what happened: how you feel about it and what you truly want now your dream of night long sex with [insert sexy movie star here] is no longer needed to get you through the pain of a dissolving marriage.

Be kind to yourself. You are going to emote in ways you didn’t know possible. You may even miss him a little. Doesn’t mean you want him back or that you should backtrack on your decision, necessarily. It’s OK to mourn what once was and what could have been.

Give yourself the gift of time. Go out with the girls. Get out in the fresh air whenever you can. Laugh, cook, dance. You don’t need a replacement to make you happy.

Take stock of your achievements regularly. This is a big change to your life. It’s not easy to go it alone.

Don’t be afraid of asking for or accepting help. It doesn’t make you weak. Just reminds you that you are not Wonder Woman. (More’s the pity).

Don’t settle for mediocrity. You’re better than that. You deserve more than that. There’s no rush – get it right this time.

Thank you to all the people who have read my blog and the two special ladies who regularly comment. It is always appreciated. 😊

Here’ s to Year 2 and all that may bring.

Happy Blogging!

Xx

Emptiness 

Believe it or not, depression is not one emotion. It is a rollercoaster of emotions that leave you feeling out of control. Most of the time, you have no real understanding of why you feel that way. That then adds a huge dollop of hopelessness on top to weigh you down further. 

Emptiness is the one I hate the most. It signifies resignation to the fact that I can’t change anything so I may as well not (allow myself to) feel anything. 

You trudge through the day world-weary and heavy limbed. The world is grey. You notice only that still greyness around you- nothing else catches your interest or imagination. You’re too tired to get angry or upset. You just plod on. 

Having successfully completed my CBT, I understand now that emptiness is both an avoidance and a coping mechanism. My mind, protecting my body from the ill effects of stress and anxiety, turns the switch to nought. 

I’m crying inside for the loss of him that never was. I’m so angry with myself for being so pathetic and weak and powerless. I’m frustrated that I can’t create a version on myself that I am proud of and that helps me get the life that I want. 

Seven months ago, I would have sank lower and lower into that emptiness: the sinkhole of empty emotions and avoidance. 

Today, I hide behind the emptiness, skirting around its depths,  because it makes those around me think that I am OK.  In being able to list how I feel, for you, I am showing that I have made some progress at least. 

The grey is swirling, showing glimpses of colours so iridescent that I cannot look. They dance in and out of sight, taunting me, teasing me, showing me that there is another way to live. I just need to learn how to reach out and touch them, allowing the colours to swirl and spread over me: a life of light and beauty and excitement that can be mine. I’m going to take my children with me. 

Thank you for listening.