Dealing with grief

They say grief gets easier with time but I sometimes find that hard to believe. Four years ago to the day Sharon, one of my closest friends, died of cancer. This year has been particularly hard and my grief has at times felt as raw and emotional as in the days and weeks just after her passing. Huge feelings of sadness and loss and missed opportunities. So much has happened in the last four years, both good and bad and it’s been really tough not being able to share these moments with her. We used to message each other pretty much daily and although I don’t have that urge anymore to reach for my phone to send her a message, I do miss the closeness we had.

This post is in memory of Sharon. She was the most incredible person, so positive and caring, and always had a smile on her face. Nothing ever seemed to faze her; she would just soldier on despite the horrendous journey she was on.

We met at work seven years prior and hit it off straight away. We shared an office for most of that time so we got to know each other really well. We became good friends both inside and outside the office. We grew closer as the years passed. We told each other everything. When things got tough for one another within the office, we had each other’s backs. We understood why the other one was feeling pissed off or hard done by. We had so much fun together and despite being different in so many ways, we just connected.

I remember one time when I was going through a particularly difficult time and was in a very bad place mentally opening up to Sharon once again. A week or so later, she got the devastating news that her cancer had come back. I was so sad for her. I stopped confiding in her, after all how could I possibly tell her that all I wanted to do was end my life, when she was fighting to save hers. Not long passed when she asked me how I was. I tried to brush my feelings to one side and tell her I was fine but she was having none of it. I opened up to her and apologised for being so selfish but what she said took my breath away. She told me that mental health was an illness, like cancer or diabetes – you wouldn’t stop treatment for either disease and nor should you for mental health as those tablets were essentially keeping me alive. She was always so selfless and had the most caring heart.

The weekend before she passed, I had flown to England to go and see her as she had been having a tough time of it with her cancer and had spent considerable amounts of time in hospital. We had a blast together. She was her usual funny, positive and caring self. Even asking her husband to pull over the car so she could buy her weekly copy of The Big Issue and give the vendor some extra money for their child’s birthday. I thought about him/her for a long time after Sharon died wondering if anyone had told them what had happened. She touched so many people’s hearts.

The next morning, she was excitedly telling me their plans to go camping and the house renovations they were going to start in the summer so she could build her own holistic studio as she had been training in this new field. She didn’t want to just treat people, she wanted to teach people how they could heal themselves.

The following day I flew back to Spain and we texted back and forth over the next few days. On the Thursday she told me she had been admitted back to hospital and on the Friday came the devastating news that she was at the end. On the Saturday morning I got the call from her husband telling me she had died peacefully the night before. My world just crumbled. I was physically sick. How could she be dead, we had just been together not a week before.

The grief that followed in the following weeks was a pain I’ve never experienced before. It would hit me in waves when I would least expect it. I’d be riding my bike in Barcelona and the tears would just stream down my face> Or I’d be meeting with friends and feeling overcome with sadness. That summer we travelled around Greece and I would find myself bursting into tears randomly. I just felt so sad. When I found out I was pregnant with Amelia, my sadness turned to anger. Anger that she wasn’t around to share my news. She would have been so happy. That first year was intense with a mix of emotions running through me. The following years were easier except for when it was her birthday or the anniversary of her death. They’d be weeks of feeling sad and emotional until the event had passed and then I would breathe easy once again.

This year has been particularly tough and in many ways has felt like the first year of her leaving us. I have felt lots of sadness and pain and have cried so much. I have a photo of the two of us which never moves from its place and I often go and talk to her. My daughter has on a few occasions asked who she is and I have replied, “That’s Sharon, my special friend”. Thank you, Sharon, for being such an important person in my life. You will always be missed and I will always love you.          

The highs and lows of being a mum

Since I was a late teen, the one thing I knew with absolute certainty was that I wanted to be a mum. I adored children and had always had a special connection with them. I was in a constant state of broodiness. The years passed by and finally at the age of 36, I became a mum!

It was a long and traumatic birth and my little baby girl was rushed to intensive care as she wasn’t responding as a new born should. I barely got to see her, yet alone hold her as she was taken away. I was told I had to stay put as I had a raging fever, hadn’t eaten in over 24 hours and felt generally unwell.

It was the worst night of my life. Finally 13 hours after the birth, I got to see my precious baby. She was covered in tubes and hospital bandages and I managed to stroke her face and hold her hand through the gaps in the incubator.

I had first properly seen her thanks to some photos my partner had taken and she looked so long and big, but here she looked much smaller and so very vulnerable. It was a very surreal moment for me as here was the baby I had waited so long to have, yet I couldn’t hold her close to me.

All I could think was this baby is mine, she has come out of me but I don’t know who she is. A few hours later, I was finally able to hold her and that’s when the doubt began to creep in. I had no idea what the hell I was doing or how to hold her whilst maintaining that none of her tubes became loose.

My partner seemed so at ease with it all, deftly picking her up, changing her nappy, feeding her. I instantly felt inadequate and second guessing everything I was doing. That’s the shit thing about mental health, always feeling scrutinised and judged and caring more about what other people think rather than just being in and enjoying the moment.

That’s the first time I felt like a failure as a mother. This was my baby who I had carried to term and given birth to, so naturally I thought instinct would kick in and I would just know how to hold her and do basic tasks. I also felt a little jealous that my partner had got to spend the night by her side and had therefore bonded with her before I had.

The one thing that kept me going throughout the horrendous birth was the five glorious hours of skin on skin contact that the three of us would share broken by nobody. I felt so robbed and often wondered whether missing out on that, played a part in my plummeting mental health over the next twelve months. 

Prior to the birth, a close of friend of mine and the midwife doing the birthing preparation classes told me not to expect a sudden rush of love towards the baby as it very rarely happens. I felt so grateful for that. When I held her for the first time and drew her into me and breathed in her scent, I didn’t really feel anything apart from relief that she was okay. Mentally that saved me.

A week later, we were allowed to take Amèlia home and I remember feeling so grateful and happy and so, so immensely proud of her. We easily fell into a routine and were very fortunate that she was an easy baby up until around the six month mark.

I loved being around her, caring for her, interacting with her, bathing her, taking her out and introducing her to family and friends but all the while, I kept waiting for this sudden rush of love to hit me, to feel paralyzed by my love and fear of loving her and protecting her.

I felt like a failure for the second time, whilst also thinking what a terrible mother I must be. I remember searching for information online and coming across an article written by a first-time mum which struck a chord with me. She like me was convinced she was struggling with aspects of post-natal depression (PND) although it had never been formally diagnosed and also kept waiting to love her child like she should, she said this came to her at a pivotal moment just before the child’s first birthday. Looking back now, I can see I loved Amèlia very much but it didn’t hit me in the way other mum’s explained their experiences.

I struggled so much that first year; constantly doubting myself, crying, feeling incredibly overwhelmed and that I was failing as a mum. And I felt so much guilt, guilt that I couldn’t breastfeed, when everyone else around me had no problems in feeding their babies.

I felt terribly alone as I was in a new country whilst all my close friends were back in my home country. I knew some mums but didn’t yet have the language fluidity to express my feelings and worries. My emotions were all over the place, the relationship with my partner had become strained and I just felt like I was in a depth of despair – no one tells you just how difficult and mentally exhausting the first year is. All of this coupled with my very fragile state of mind and depression made for a long and incredibly tough year.

Eighteen months after that first year and I feel like I am losing my mind all over again. I feel like such a horrible and terrible person, guilty, distraught and so very ashamed at the thoughts that run through my mind on a daily basis. Why did I become a mother? What fresh hell awaits me today? How long until I explode at the relentless whining, shouting and crying? Why am I here? Why can’t you be patient for just one minute?

I mean what kind of a horrid person thinks these things, let alone says them out loud? How can these dark and ugly views cross my mind? Me who has always loved children, has always been patient and never once raised my voice at a child, me who wanted so desperately to become a mum?

I pretty much hate myself every single day. Yes, Amèlia can be very hard work and challenging and absolutely refuses to sleep through the night, but she’s also a toddler, surely the terrible two’s is a term made up for some reason, I know this but in the middle of an episode, I lose all logic and just see red.

I of all people know the damage being shouted at can cause, I grew up in a tense environment. I swore the same wouldn’t happen to any future children. Yet here I am losing my patience at the smallest things, wondering why everything has to be so damn hard. I feel so bad at my outbursts and yet I can’t seem to stop myself.

I constantly feel that I am failing her as a parent and because she doesn’t always listen, I have been too soft in putting boundaries in place. I wonder if it’s too late to re-establish those boundaries. I look at other parents and marvel at how quickly they can control their children, deep down I know I can too but in that midst of exasperation, hearing the impatience in my voice and the manic desperation that she needs to do what I am asking has the opposite effect.

Knowing and recognising where I am going wrong is the first step to changing my habits. I’m making a concerted effort to count to five and taking some deep breaths before reacting to what I perceive is a show of defiance. I’m trying very hard to explain my reasoning in a quiet and controlled manner.

This morning after a very testing episode at home, I told her I was sorry for becoming angry, why I became angry, the changes I will make and what I need from her. I don’t really think she understood much but we had a long cuddle after and I asked her if we could start again.

I know I have to change, I know I can’t blame my mental health on my outbursts and I certainly can’t let my need to maintain and have control of all situations affect the person she will become. She’s a beautiful, fun, loving, energetic and very independent little girl.

I must remember how she makes me feel so special and she melts my heart when she snuggles into me and tells me she loves me in two different languages and plants my face and head with the sweetest and most tender kisses. She’s a great girl and I’m working at becoming the best mum.

Socially distanced world

I went to a socially distanced concert last week with my partner of four years, only we’re taking some time out at the moment and for some reason it made me feel really awkward to be there with him. In some ways I was grateful for the social distancing as I felt more comfortable with their being physical space between us during this time of uncertainty. It was a strange sensation to watch everyone dancing and shouting whilst wearing their face masks and adhering to the 1.5 metre distancing rules.

I was also feeling out of place as I felt like an imposter. The song lyrics were in Catalan where I now live, though I have spent most of my life in England. I certainly feel more Catalan than Spanish but not as Catalan as I feel English. I had a huge identity crisis when I first moved back to my birth country but that’s another blog post.

At the concert, I felt how could I dance, or in my case sway along to the music when I’m not Catalan? I didn’t know any of the words of the songs which was laziness on my part as I could have learnt the words to some of the more famous ones but even then I don’t think it would have helped. I kept thinking there were probably hidden meanings and messages in the songs and that only real/true Catalans would understand having grown up here.

I was also suffering with severe self-esteem anxiety that day. It started earlier when I went for a walk into town and all I could think was that the people I was passing-by were thinking I shouldn’t be there, that I didn’t belong. At the concert, I needed to go to the toilet but doing so would mean having to walk down past everybody (not so bad) but then having to come up the same way facing everybody head on.

When I think about this out loud, it sounds so arrogant as if everyone is looking at me because I’m so important and not at the super famous singer up on stage but nothing could be further from the truth. I don’t mean or want it to sound arrogant, it’s not, it’s this fear that people will think you don’t belong, that you’re not dressed the right way, that you’re pretending to be something that you’re not.

I told myself I was being silly and I also really needed to go to the loo so I forced myself to walk down those steps and back up them again and the stupid thing is, it wasn’t so bad. That’s the shitty; crippling effect depression can have on you sometimes. Something so basic and so simple can have this debilitating effect on you.

Towards the end of the show (1 hour and 45 minutes later) I was feeling slightly more at ease with myself and where I was. I felt myself relaxing and let the music sway me rather than swaying robotically as that’s what I thought I had to do. I was happy I had gone as I love music and concerts but I wish my thoughts and emotions hadn’t got the better of me and I wish more than anything that my partner and I were in a happy and secure place.