Who, what, where?

So, what life do I want? Who do I want to be?

Is this a midlife crisis – is that what it is? Or is this normal?

Let me take you back 5 years.

In 2016 I was 36 years old. My youngest child was 2. I was still married and my Dad was still alive. I had been promoted to Assistant Headteacher a year before and a new Headteacher was just starting at my school, bring anticipation for good things to come. But…

I was very, very unhappy in my marriage and had been since we had got back together. By the end of October we would have separated for good. My Dad was ill. We knew that we were lucky he was still with us but didn’t know how long we would have with him. Work held promise but was a very negative place. Soon, I would have a burnout from the pressure and stress of my life.

A lot can change in five years. Unexpected things happen. Planned things don’t happen. So much is out of our control but then a lot is in our control, but we don’t realise until it is too late.

In my first 40 years, what did I achieve?

I’m proud of my education and career and how hard I worked.

I’m happy that I was able to support my parents financially

I’m happy about the wonderful home I have and have given my children.

I’m proud of myself for being brave and getting out of an unhappy marriage and surviving.

I’m happy I finally managed to lose weight and keep some off.

I’m proud that I was able to look after my Dad and be there for my sisters.

I’m proud that I was brave enough to look for love again.

I’m proud that I have travelled, and even more so that I have travelled alone.

But what have I not achieved? What dreams and goals and aspirations are outstanding? What have I always wanted to do but not managed? In 40 years time, what do I want my achievements to be?

In five years time, where and who do I want to be?

Time to think.

Advertisement

Grass

Pexels

I’m watching far too many videos on Facebook. I like the mind numbing quality of them – they help me forget. Forget that I’m in no man’s land with no sense of direction, stood on a muddy patch of nothing with no sense of belonging but I’m surrounded by grass. Which way do I go?

I watched one particular video yesterday that struck home. It was a clip from ‘Miranda’, a show I’ve never watched because I have no sense of humour and don’t like comedy sketches or comedy dramas. It is hugely popular over here in the UK. The protagonist is an average woman – one of us, an every day girl – who wants so much more from her life. But she’s clumsy and unlucky which is where the hilarity comes from. In the clip, Miranda describes the woman she wants to be – the type that spring out of bed and look beautiful. The ones who eat perfectly, dress amazingly and have the kind of life us normal folk dream of – literally.

What stops us from having that life?

Genetics? Luck? Intelligence? Habits? Education?

Or is it just ourselves? We feel average so we live an average life. What a waste. I mean really, what a waste. We have one life, just one. And sorry of us waste it, weighed down by our self imposed inadequacies.

Yes, the grass is always greener. There are always ways to improve your life and explore positive change. Learn.

Maybe that bare soil I’m currently standing on isn’t so bad. It’s rich earth, waiting to be seeded, ready to support and sustain new life.

My problem is, I’m still not sure what seeds to sow. I need to do a Miranda – I need to dream the life I truly want. Not the one I think I should have. Not the one I relegate myself to when I’m filled with self hatred. The one I want. Then I need to invest in the soil, plant the seeds and nurture them, every day until what grows is strong and beautiful and healthy.

I’ve bought Mel Robbins new book and going to start reading it tonight. She is inspirational and honest and I’m hoping this will help me choose, plant and nurture my new life.

Return to the doghouse, or, rejection.

I’ve been home a few days now. I did start to write a post about my final day but didn’t know how to finish it.

I slept the majority of the two days I’ve been home so far. I don’t know why. Sure, travel tires you but I don’t normally feel this tired. I hurt my neck in the journey home- my back pack was far too heavy and I felt it pull. Since then I have limited motion to the right and felt sick with the pain. Maybe that’s what is wrong.

And maybe it is a lot of things.

Perhaps it is the state of the house. I left my 17 year old, seemingly mature daughter to take care of the pets. She had friends round and her Dad and aunties checked on her. The house was a mess. Think: sour milk that never got to the fridge, pizza boxes with mouldy pizza in and enough empty soft drink bottles to make a raft. Oh and she hasn’t washed a towel in two weeks. However, the pets are all well and alive so that is something. I’ve never left her alone before so maybe this is typical.

Maybe it is that I now need to think seriously about my future. I need to find a job or start my business. My hope of coming home with a sense of the future was dashed – I know that I must plan for myself alone.

Maybe it is the fact that my ex is barely speaking to me for going to see Wildcard and Wildcard is now barely speaking to me because he found out that my ex and daughter ended up getting me from the airport when my sister let me down. Yep, figure that one out.

And then this morning I was woken by my nearly 50 year old half sister – the one I haven’t spoken to for three years – at 6.30am crying and hammering on the door. She was drunk, in distress, and had fallen out with my even more aggressive half brother who had pushed her over. I have lots and lots of bad history with her, but I have good also. She is very much alone – a fact she is aware of as much as her blame for that. My Dad would be heartbroken to see her like that. She is involved with a man who is no good and as I sat there and watched her I just felt awful. She has told me some of the things he has said to her, apparently in jest, and I could see how this has made her change her appearance. His drinking and drug use have clearly increased her own drinking. But most of all, I just saw someone who was lost. Missing her Dad (she has no mum) and just craving love and attention to the point of changing herself. I saw me. And I didn’t like it.

How much of what I feel for Wildcard comes from that loneliness, that desperation for love and acceptance? I have lived a life rejected by my half siblings, simply for being born. In turn they have marginalised me from the rest of my dad’s family- only the ones who don’t get on with them, get on with me.

However much they chased me afterwards, my ex husband, my first boyfriend and Lost Soul played with my feelings enough and let me down to the point of rejection. I forgave and accepted and tried, but in the end gave up on them. Once I’d given all I had, there was no more going back – regardless of their promises and pain and love.

I’ve had issues with friends – the one who rejected me because of my relationship with Wildcard for example. And now there is work. Rejection if ever I’ve felt it. I’m not wanted.

So what if, my desperation for a life with Wildcard comes from that? He has shown me undue attention in two years. He is deliciously handsome and funny and knows me like no other. What if my desire to run away from the rejection here is a key incentive in my commitment to him? I would be lying if I told you I hadn’t thought of starting a new life there.

And he does hurt me, from time to time. He says things to make me nervous. He can be childish and maybe even a little spiteful – he’s angry with me now (even though he says he isnt) so his response to my ‘I love you’ is ‘I know’. Oddly, it hasn’t affected me like it usually does. I know him well enough to know why this has put him on edge. I know how he behaves when he feels this way. And I know, usually, it will blow over. He is still calling me and answering my calls and texts. He will stew, he may discuss, he will forget. Maybe.

But no matter which way you look at it, I was desiring more ‘finality’ in our relationship than he was. And that feels like rejection too. Maybe he isn’t ready. Maybe it is finances. Maybe he wants to meet my children. Maybe it is too soon for his parents. Maybe my behaviour freaked him out. Maybe I want too much, too soon. Maybe it is not meant to be.

And this, then, is my problem. I’ve lost all faith in my own judgement and thinking. The more I think, the less I know. The more I think, the more possibilities my stupid brain comes up with. So many, that I can reject and accept everyone with no clear decision on which is most likely.

So, I’m in the doghouse. And I’ve a feeling that I am the only one who can get myself out.

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.

The beech tree

I am living in the same house that I was brought up in although it is somewhat altered. I’ve lived here for 38 of my 40 years.

I bought the house from my parents 14 years ago and extended it. The garden is huge but not as big as it was when I was a child as it was then a small holding.

Before the extension was built, there was a line of beech hedging that ran along the side of the house and drive, separating the farm. The hedge was tall and my dad cut a walk way through it so we could access the caravan-come-play den. Even when the caravan was gone, the archway was an entrance to a magical world or a great escape route for hide and seek. In spring I loved to touch the slightly furry unopened leaves.

When the extension was built, the hedge came down – all except one lone bush. That bush became a tree.

Over the years I’ve had a few rows with my dad about this tree and others. Whilst I love trees, I’m not sure they should be that big and so close to the house. I also believe in some strategic pruning to help them retain a good shape. My dad disagreed. He loved trees and didn’t believe in pruning.

Dad died, but the tree still stands. In spring and summer, I love sitting back in my chair and gazing up at the patterned leaves against the blue sky.

This summer, I moved my seating area to under this tree and fought with dead leaves and bugs to wrap fairy lights around it.

And now, in autumn, I love gazing at the changing colours and tactfully ignore the thousands of leaves I should be brushing up.

Life changes. We change, we shift. We can be quick to dismiss something, lodged in a mindset that ends up being the wrong one. We should pause, reflect , and see things for what they truly are – not what we suppose them to be.

Three – 19th April, 2020

Three things I have learnt about life by the age of 40:

  1. It is never too late to start looking after yourself. And when you do, you’ll wonder why you didn’t do it sooner.
  2. Learning to put myself first sometimes was one of the hardest but most rewarding lessons I’ve had to learn, particularly not feeling guilty when I do it.
  3. You have the life you have by choice. You choose who to love and how to live. You choose what to accept and what to change.

Three things that I have learnt about love by the age of 40:

  1. At 40, you can love as passionately as a teenager and behave the same way.
  2. There truly is someone out there who will light up your soul, challenge your thinking and make you grow, and know you better than you know yourself. Don’t settle.
  3. Loving yourself is the most important love you will ever give and receive. It makes you a better person.

Three things I have learnt about happiness by the age of 40:

  1. You are responsible for your own happiness, no one else. It is the choices you make, ever day.
  2. Being content is not the same as being happy.
  3. Do things that make you happy every day. Why not? The cleaning will be there again tomorrow.

A life lived without happiness is not a life lived.

Readjustment to reality: Feast and Famine

After a romantic and fun filled week, then a weekend being apart but crammed with ‘I love you, I miss you’ and multiple video chats, the last two days have been really tough.

As I explained in my last post, Wild Card and his family made an 8 hour car journey on Monday as they were going on holiday.

I had a few messages throughout the day – he was driving after all – and he messaged when he arrived.

Later, we had a very brief video chat whilst he was out at a cafe with his family and then we had a couple of longer text conversations throughout the evening, including one late at night whilst we were both in bed.

I should be happy with that, shouldn’t I? But, I’m not. He preoccupied. He is in another place which means he is not free to talk. He’s with extended family so needs to respect that. So whilst my heart is still aching in the missing of him and my words have expressed that, his have not.

If anything he was in a weird mood Monday night and I have to keep reminding myself that an 8 hour drive as the sole driver will do that for you. I kept trying to end the conversation with an excuse of going to sleep but I just didn’t like the way I was feeling. He wouldn’t let me though and would ask me a question to keep me talking.

Yesterday I messaged in the morning to wish him a good day. Before his extended holiday, this was always his routine. I took over when he finished work. He replied, and we had a brief chat, but then I had a meeting. By the time I got back to my phone he had gone out. I told him I would speak to him later and I got a kiss in return.

I waited all day. I didn’t message him and he didn’t message me. He is on holiday!!!! My rational mind would tell me. How quickly he has forgotten you, my irrational mind would counter.

By 6pm I was in an anxious state. My sister told me to stop being stupid and just message him. An hour later I had a brief reply. Then nothing again. Anxiety overdrive.

Eventually, at around 9pm he messaged. He sent a picture of him sat at the table with all his family, I guess as reassurance and explanation. It was needed – the conversation was stilted and difficult. And yes, I know that was because he was sit sat with his family and was in effect disrespecting them by continuing to message me, no matter how disatisfying the conversation.

At one point, I sent the following due to a conversation I’d had with my sister where she said she wants to talk to him more:

His reaction to that made me feel a little better but I just felt dissatisfied at the end of the conversation, despite the amount of time and superficial conversation we’d had.

Four days ago I was on cloud nine. It’s not realistic that our communications would remain the same. It was my first time being with him, the first time of leaving him. It’s natural that this was going to be difficult to readjust.

And then, it’s how I feel about him. Not to mention my natural tendancy to be anxious anyway. My friend, a trained counsellor, summed it up for me. From his knowledge of me and my previous relationships, this is the first time that I have truly ‘matched’ with someone on every level. Every other relationship I have had has involved some sort of ‘settling’.

It was like a smack in the face because it was so true and I hadn’t thought of it like that before. Whilst wanting to believe that my true match was out there somewhere, I’ve been of the opinion that you find a good man, you love each other, you accept the faults and flaws and work hard to make it work. My impending divorce perhaps suggests the flaws in that plan.

I’ve met someone who makes me happy (when I’m not being an anxious freak), who challenges and inspires me, who cares for me and (usually) makes me the centre of his attention, and who I am wholly and physically attracted too. When with him, I felt the heady mix of being completely comfortable and settled as well as being excited and ‘alive’.

Is there any surprise that I am scared of losing this?

In my late night angst, I searched for some online advice and found a psychologist and relationship expert which has directed my thinking today.

Over the past few days, I’ve made it clear how I feel. He can be in no doubt of the depth of my love and how much I am missing him. But him being preoccupied is accentuating my natural tendancy to be anxious. This means that I am acting differently. I am being clingy and snippy and needy. He’s just trying to enjoy his holiday with his family. If I want him to miss me again, I need to stop creating this negative atmosphere when he messages in the only way I can.

So today I have not messaged him, as instructed by the psychologist. I’m giving him space to enjoy his holiday, not bombard him with my neediness, and therefore to miss me.

It’s so hard. It’s nearly 11am, 12MD where he is, and I haven’t heard from him.

The other advice, sound advice from what I can see, is that I need to renegage my social life: keep busy. Be happy. Be the person he fell for, not this needy, whiney, anxiety ridden nag. I need to take care of myself and be the best I can be.

And then, when he comes back to me and things go back to normal, then I can discuss how hard this week has been for me.

My dad used to say, you only know if something is truly yours if it comes back to you when you let it go.

To quell my considerable anxiety at this situation, I am trying my best to logically think of the positives of this situation if it all goes wrong.

If he doesn’t come back, if things don’t return, then he wasn’t right for me anyway. There’s no reason for this to happen unless I do something wrong. His words, remember?

My experience of travelling alone has been inspirational and life changing. I can do more than I think I can.

I’ve learnt so much about the prejudices of others but also the goodness of people: being open to that, not biased.

I’ve learnt that you cannot always accept the judgements of others, even when you trust them. Everyone has biased and flawed thinking.

Actions speak louder than words.

I’m worthy of love. Men find me attractive. I am liked. I don’t need to settle.

Whilst I’ve found love across the seas, I’m pretty sure that somewhere, probably closer to home, there will be someone else who would equally make me happy. (I didn’t like writing this one)

You’ve got to be open to love. Open to risks. Live life as it is supposed to be lived. Not just exist.

My previous relationships have caused some real hang-ups for me, more than I realised.

It’s dangerous to accept your first thoughts in a situation. Initial reactions are emotion and anxiety driven. It’s important to pause and reflect and think.

No matter how important he is to me, I have a life here. I have children, family, friends and a career. Those are some of the things he loves about me. Ignoring them over him is counterintuitive, however you think about it.

Live in this moment. I can’t always have control of the future.

I can’t make him love me or want me. But I can make him fall out of love with me by being stupid. I just need to be the best I can be. His words.

So there we have it. I’ll let you know how I get on.

Brief interlude

I will get back to my summer update shortly. I’m currently on a train to Italy, music playing, periodically gazing at the majestic mountains, trees and rivers and desperately trying to ignore the annoying Austrian couple sat beside us.

A journey like this gives you time to think.

Without going into it too much – detail will be in my next post – this has been an awe-inspiring trip. I’ve done things I never thought I would do. My travel buddy and I get on like a house on fire, and with similar tastes, have thoroughly enjoyed our trip so far.

But. I’m not sure it’s really a but because I’m not sure how much I’m truly thinking or feeling this. Maybe it’s just a fleeting thought that I’m allowing myself to dwell on..

This trip has consolidated what I have known since Dad died. You’ve got to make the most of your life because you don’t know how long you’ve got it for. The experiences I have had this past week have added so much weight to that argument. I’ve loved every minute of expanding my world, my experience. I’ve read and sketched, visited museums and climbed mountains.

Is this enough?

I can’t even believe I’m saying this really. Like I said, it’s a fleeting thought really but one I need to process.

Tourists are a plenty where I am, and one thing I’ve noticed is that the whole world seems coupled up. Young couples, older couples with children, old couples. Sure there are some groups, but these consist of travelling teens usually.

I didn’t come here to meet someone – that’s not the purpose of this trip. But as we are two single women on holiday: I’m keeping an eye out.

I may as well not bother. The pool of eligible single men seems non existent. There aren’t any, it seems.

Which make me feel… Eurgh.

Do I really need someone? I’ve had a great time travelling without a man.

But it would be nice to share something like this with someone.

Maybe I am just reminiscent of my trips with my ex. We always enjoyed them.

I feel old and fat and unattractive. And lonely. A lonely spinster. Even though I’m not lonely as I’m with my friend. Romantically lonely then.

Could I continue like this, exploring the world and life with friends and family? Would this be enough? I’ve had my share of romance, love and heartache. I’ve got three beautiful children. Who says I have to meet someone? Society’s constructs dictate I should have a partner. Who says I do?

So that then just leaves the physical part of it.

Why can’t I just be someone who freely and knowingly enjoys physical intimacy for what it is. It’s a modern world, so many people do this now. Would this be enough for me? Would this fulfil whatever seems to be missing? Would anyone want me?

Is this what a midlife crisis feels like? Not quite a crisis but a disquieting thought which trickles through my mind.

As always, my motivation is to lead a good life and experience what I can, while I can. I’ll just have to let the fates decide whether that is as a single woman or not.

Silence and solitude, or, walls.

It goes without saying that I miss Dad every day. It’s a steady constant most of the time, a stream that runs through me and fuels my thoughts and feelings.

From pexels

And, just like a stream, there are times when the missing-him swells, just a little. Or other times when it cascades over rapids and I can’t breath with the force of it.

Today was a little swell.

It’s been a busy day. A busy couple of days really. My sister and her family have carried on staying here since my trip to France and whilst I love them being here it is hard work. Three adults, two teens and two fives and under, as well as two large dogs and a clutch of cute puppies, sure know how to destroy a house. Having gone on holiday quite quick into the Easter break, I haven’t done my usual holiday cleaning, tidying and sorting. I’m fighting a losing battle. Extra effort is not making a blind bit of difference. I can’t keep it clean and I can’t keep it tidy. Today my mum visited which was lovely, but it added two more adults and another under five for the day.

I walked into the utility room and folded some clothes, just to get a breather. I checked myself – what the hell was wrong with me? A week ago I was desperately missing my sisters et Al, but today I’m screaming inside for silence. I then thought of Dad and how he would completely understand this sentiment. He loved his family being around him, hated any of us being away, but he also loved his quiet time too. I smiled to myself as I imagined us sitting together talking about it. Like father, like daughter. It’s why we got on so well.

Part of my break-down recovery involved that quiet time for myself. I’d sit with a coffee and my cat and stare out the living room window. It was peaceful and I allowed my thoughts to flow. It became a ritual, a habit and one that I quickly saw the benefits of when overcoming burn out.

I know I’m needing a bit of that me-time at the moment. I’m craving the silence and the solitude. It sounds awful, I know, but I figure I’m allowed to be selfish sometimes. There’s no one else to look after me, so I need to look after myself.

However, this quiet time is not really happening at the moment and won’t for a few days. I’ve broken the norm and have ran myself an early bath in the hope of stealing a few moments respite from the bustle of my family. I’ve been disturbed three times already. Bless them. For now though, early baths and clothes folding will have to do.

Catching up with my sister and brother in law has been enlightening anyway. It was unfortunate that they were unable to come to France with us (and our other sister) but I think they have enjoyed the little holiday of living in my home for the week.

As life has it sometimes, there has been much discussion about Lost Soul but not involving me as such. It seems that my brother in law has fallen out with him a little and although my sister went out with Lost Soul and other friends in the week, he is clearly up to his old games and tricks. And like the scene from Pride and Prejudice, it is amazing how many people are now claiming they are not that keen on him. Move over Mr Wickham.

It has done me some good though. Following the ‘dear friends’ incident, I am trying to process and work through any remaining feelings or thoughts that stubbornly remain. I’m half convinced they are a habit more than anything now – I still haven’t cried over him and that for me says a lot. The idea of him remains appealing but it’s the thought of him that his games have given hints of and my romantic mind has elaborated upon. It’s not the truth and I am finally, finally, accepting that now. I did what I could to start what I hoped was there. It wasn’t and it didn’t and am truly coming to terms with that.

I’m not lonely. I have lots of people around me. I miss the mental and physical intimacy of a true relationship but I am beginning to think that is a part of my imagination also. I’m beginning to emerge from this stage of my life, slowly and surely. I’m not sure what path I will take or how the next part of my life will turn out, but emerging within me is a determination to enjoy my life whatever happens.

I have accepted that I may not have everything I’ve wanted and dreamed of. That there are so many things in this life that are beyond my control. I’ve accepted that I will hurt because of people and events that I can’t change. I may end up on my own and I actually think I’m at peace with that now.

The death of someone who was your rock, your foundation, initially threatens to unbalance and destroy you. Everything you thought you knew is false, everything you thought you wanted is tasteless. For a while you flit around, searching for something – anything – to prop up those failing foundations and the walls you have built to help you reach your goals. Then you realise that nothing can.

But then, suddenly, that’s OK too. The foundations are being rebuilt by me. I am my father’s daughter and I have strength because of him. My life has changed and although I would give anything to have him back, I’ve accepted that my life is different now and that I have the power to rebuild my life a different way. Most important, is to enjoy the building of it.

So, I’m going to enjoy my crazy house full of family and not feel guilty when I need my silence and solitude. I not going to let my ideals dictate my life but instead enjoy what I have and be open to whatever comes along. These new walls are strong but flexible and living – I’ve learnt they have to be.

From pexels

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