Sleeping Beauty

I’ve dreamed about school over the past two nights. Strangely, about my primary school, not where I work. Or worked.

The first night, I dreamed I was helping out tidying, and I sneaked a look into the attic. Inside were boxes and boxes of memorabilia, items from the last. O couldn’t set foot in the attic because the floor was made of split bamboo canes so it was precarious to walk on. (Even in my dream I wondered how all the stuff was up there). I saw children’s ballet shoes and reminded myself about my little ballet bag as a child.

Last night I was back at the school again. This time, the school was renovating a classrroom/kitchen. I was helping to peel wallpaper. There was much discussion on how it should be decorated with people changing their minds. I carried on with what I had initially been asked to do. Then it was open evening and parents and small children were there. I walked around with my school ID and explained I was there to support the children.

I kept wanting to leave though as my dog was locked in my car. I had stayed longer than intended. I kept walking round the maze of the school, trying to find my handbag and keys. At one point, I was asked to help as a first aider- a woman had a hole to size of a ping-pong ball in her arm. There was no blood.

I eventually found my things and spoke to the new Headmistress of the school who congratulated me on my work stripping wallpaper. I toured th school with her, pointing out how it had been altered since my time there. I then let my dog out of the car, and walked him towards the school field where a carnival was starting. He turned into a pony, as things do in dreams, and some students of my current school petted him.

🕥

So it is 10.30am now. I’m still in bed. I haven’t walked or jogged or even had my coffee.

Yesterday after a really positive start, I slid into exhaustion. I couldn’t keep my eyes open. I waited patiently for my union rep to get in contact as he was making the first move to me leaving. He contacted me at 2.30 to say a meeting was planned for today. I then went back to sleep.

This morning, I slept through my alarm. I woke at 7.45am and hurriedly got my youngest ready for school. Once his dad had picked him up I went back to bed and to sleep. I woke again at 9.45 when Wildcard called me.

He knew something was wrong – when doesn’t he – but I didn’t want to talk as I’m not sure what is wrong myself. Only when he mentioned the meeting did tears suddenly appear.

I still haven’t got up.

My head is woozy and all I want to do is shut my eyes again. I’m thirsty and hungry and I know if I take the dog out I will feel better but I just can’t. My sadness is like a weight in my head, dragging me towards sleep. I’m tired of everything and everyone. Even Wildcard.

Will I wake from a long sleep, the worst over, beautiful and with a full and happy life ahead of me? My body clearly thinks so.

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

The seated man

He is taunting me. He sits there, smugly mimicking me with his expressionless, emotionless face.

Apart from getting up with my children and then later to check on my dad, I have been in bed all day. I told myself that I was just going back to ‘get warm’ (we have no heating until the fire is built) but each time I have found my eyes drooping and then have dozed.

I have ignored the vibrations of my activity tracker, the seated man taunting me repeatedly as I lay inactive in my bed.

Work has played on my mind most of all, but also the things that I had planned today. I have accomplished nothing.

As my sister said, in the short history of this depressive episode, this is the first time I have spent all day in bed. One day. Hopefully the last. And if it isn’t? This article may help:

https://www.blurtitout.org/2017/09/21/depression-wont-let-us-out-of-bed/

Tomorrow, I plan to laugh in the face of the seated man.

January blues

My doctor has signed me off for a month. Part of me felt relief – I’m not ready to face the world yet. I don’t feel like me. I told the doctor that I feel like I have lost myself somewhere: my strength and positivity. I don’t recognise myself. Another part of me wilted when he said a month. It’s confirmation that I’m not better yet. That I’ve failed to pull through. That I’m not strong enough. It moves a ‘blip’ into something else. Confused? Welcome to the inner workings of an anxious and depressed mind. The doctor has also changed my antidepressant and I didn’t even have to ask. So, I’m going to have two rough weeks whilst I switch over and deal with a whole new set of side effects but I’m so hopeful that this will signal the end of my breakdown/burnout. He has advised me to give myself time, to search out ways to relax and to go for walks to help clear my mind. I need to encourage myself to move more and hopefully the brighter days will encourage this also. It is a beautiful and bright frosty day today. Spring is not in the air yet but the sunlight offers promise of better days to come. In six weeks I am due to go away with friends to Prague. I’m not sure about going at the moment, but hopefully by then I will be more like myself. It could be a celebration of my return to normality. I’ve been looking a lot into ways to improve day-to-day. How I can be more efficient; how I can tip my life into ‘manageable’. The next few weeks will give me some time alone in order to really think and plan. ********* I started this post yesterday. I’ve been on my new tablets for three days now and I can’t believe the difference already. As expected, I am struggling to get to sleep and it is something I really need to work on because I can’t depend on the medication to do it for me. Despite this, this morning when I got up my mind was clearer. That exhausted mind numbing fog that has invaded my mind is now just a wispy mist; more dense in some places, but thin and threadbare in others. What it means, is that for periods of time this morning my head has been clear with the odd wave of tiredness and nausea. I’m hopeful that by the end of January, the blues will be over.