This is a picture of Abi and me on holiday in about 2011. I love the health and happiness radiating from BOTH of us in this picture. Of course, there was never any sign that Abi would have a brain haemorrhage two years later but what struck me when I saw this was not Abi particularly, but me. This is how I remember Abi, but it’s not what I think of when I see me.
While I was never overweight, I had worked hard to get myself fit after having three children. I was caring about myself for the first time and it shows. I felt confident, happy in my own skin, mentally calm…
Since Abi died, I feel like a bleak shadow of that former me. My skin appears greyer, my eyes tired, my fingernails are chewed and sore, my body unfit and neglected…
I stopped exercising as it brought on palpations when my anxiety took over. I didn’t see the point in loving myself anymore. I failed my daughter, why should I care about myself?
I am now tied into a pattern of compulsive eating, because food is my only comfort. I’ve gained weight (obviously being pregnant twice in 3 years has something to do with that!). I’m not one to worry about my weight but I know my pattern of behaviour is not healthy, physically or mentally. It’s almost self-destructive. It’s a common trait of the bereaved.
I posted on my faith blog, By His Light, yesterday about how I mourn so much harder when life is tough. When there is illness, overwork, stress and anxiety. When parenting challenges me to my core and being fair or consistent goes out of the window. I feel more tearful as the pressures mount and miss Abi terribly.
I withdraw at times like this… because I need the solace. I want to build a wall around myself where I can just hide under a duvet and wallow… for a while, until it passes. I don’t want others to see this vulnerable me, I want them to see only the me I know… and like.
Of course, I can’t do that. I have three children to look after, a home and business to run. A husband who needs his wife to keep it together. A baby growing inside me who needs to be nurtured.
So I turn to food as my pick-me-up, several times a day. It helps for the briefest moment so I’m back again in an hour or so. I feel excited by food. Yet I’m starting to feel the discomfort of the weight (not least the baby pressing on my lungs)… I suppose it represents, physically, the emotional weight of grief.
I realise I’m at the familiarly vulnerable stage of my pregnancy as getting about proves harder and I get tired more quickly, but I also know I need to look after myself more, that long-term, my actions are a risk not just to myself but to my children. Yet it doesn’t matter. You simply can’t tell a bereaved parent to do it for someone else who needs you. Like a drug addict seeking the next fix, I seek solace in food like a drug.
Today, I turn 32 weeks pregnant yet have the stomach of a 37-week pregnant body (I have a tendency to carry large so I’m not too concerned). I’ve been tested for gestational diabetes and my baby has been measured and both tests were fine. I was actually quite disappointed by the negative results, as I knew the problem was me, not something out of my control. Yet that’s where it stops. No one has said ‘you’re simply eating too much’ (except my ever-honest children). Interestingly, in pregnancy I feel I have been encouraged to eat and certainly not to restrict myself. I expect there is a rise in women trying to keep their weight down, but what about overeating? Even after the tests, I’ve not been offered any advice about healthy eating during my pregnancy.
I almost laughed this morning as my pregnancy app flashed up that, now I’m 32 weeks pregnant, I need an extra 200 calories a day… I would eat that in a mouthful as I devour my second hot cross bun an hour after breakfast! On a bad day, I’m probably consuming double the daily recommended calories of an adult! But it also scares me as I know that it means that I’ll feel hungrier and crave more to combat the exhaustion this final trimester brings.
But I also know it’s not pregnancy’s fault entirely. If anything, pregnancy is an excuse for my ‘food demons’ to party! I use food to calm my mind when I’m sad, stressed, tired, lonely, fed up, anxious, happy, distracted… pretty much all day. When grief feels harder, I turn to my happy place. A treat. Something sweet and tasty. Something that is my own. Something that doesn’t demand time or energy and offers a quick fix to a seemingly impossible problem. But then there is always the guilt that follows anything we know is bad for us.
I plan to attempt fitness again when the baby arrives, I’m determined to conquer my fears, but I know it’ll be a long time yet as sleep deprivation and endless work get in the way. I hope one day my body will allow me to push through the palpations and anxiety to raise my heart rate again, to enjoy a run or a cardio workout, to rediscover the buzz that sweating and working out once gave me. Because I’m not good at dieting or restricting myself, I know getting my comfort from exercise will naturally turn me away from eating the wrong thing.
Through all this, I am OK. One good thing is that I don’t take myself so seriously anymore. I can laugh about my ‘cake baby’ and I’m hopeful that I can get back on top of this, through the occasional grief-related binge. I know my appearance isn’t all that important to others of course and in pregnancy I really do feel like a different person which doesn’t help my self-esteem. This baby is much loved already and I will sacrifice my self for her until a time when she doesn’t depend on my body.
Last night, I turned to Google (something I avoid when it comes to health) and quickly came across the book and website ‘Beyond Chocolate‘, which was written by two sisters who had suffered similar compulsive eating disorders. I have ordered the book and hope it can help guide me out of this rut. I’m really not into the ‘fads’ such as weightloss clubs or plans, but it promises not to be that. If anything, it might at least help me not feel so alone, which is often half the battle.
This isn’t a typical ‘complain about weight while doing nothing about it’ problem – no-one goes to their grave wishing they were thinner or better looking – this is about inner peace, which is very hard to find when your child has died. Talking about our weight is as taboo as talking about death, and this is a symptom of grief that needs an entirely different approach than ‘normal’ weight-control.
While I have exposed my vulnerable side to the world in this post (why do I feel so much shame?!), by doing so, I have also started to reclaim control of the ‘devil’ that wants to possess me. Mental strength (willpower) and grief do not sit comfortably together, but at least by recognising the problem I can begin the slow task of improving it.