Sick with grief

No one ever told me that my grief would make me feel so ill.

As they broke the news to us that Abi was going to die, I thought of only her, then our family… and everything about how we’d live without her.

I was prepared – and expected – to feel depressed, but the physical symptoms that gradually took hold were more of a shock.

I shared this link about how grief affects us physically on my Facebook page, and wasn’t too surprised to find many of you have felt similar symptoms – some debilitating, some mild, but all as a result of the grief. These symptoms, however, are mostly during the early weeks and months after the loss. I didn’t really notice anything until about a year after and they got worse…

I developed a weird thing with my heart – in that I have noticeable ectopic beats and a type of tachycardia that causes palpitations. (Part of me thinks I am so aware of my body now that I’m conscious of my heartbeats, I probably wouldn’t have  noticed this a few years ago.) It’s not bad enough to have me on medication, but it is bad enough to make me anxious to the point where I’ve been scared to go out or be alone. It has greatly improved now I’ve lost some weight, am more active and eating better, and I think was made worse by the pregnancies, but while I’m now able to function again, I’m nervous (make that terrified) about exercising. I’m scared that raising my heart rate will trigger palpations, and then a heart attack. It’s so bad that I almost have a panic attack just thinking about it. There are countless stories of people dropping dead when running or exercising, usually fit and healthy people, and this only adds to my worries and my excuses not to do anything. 

But I’m so tired of being scared. I’m so tired of saying to the children ‘be careful’, or of saying to myself ‘you’d better not’. Of living in fear. I ran half marathons and 10ks with relative ease before Abi died, I got such a buzz from being fit! But every one of my symptoms – however real they were (as they were genuine medical things, not ‘imagined’) – have been brought on by grief. 

It’s commonly believed in the medical profession that 90% of illness is caused by stress, and grief is just a form of stress. I didn’t take myself to the doctor at the slightest thing before Abi died. I didn’t worry about exercise or food. I didn’t worry that putting butter on my toast would kill me, or that if I ran I might keel over…  I miss that me, the me that worried about obvious stuff but didn’t let it stop me.
But I still have a bit of that old me left. The me that refuses to quit. The devil is telling me to stay down, God is telling me to get back up!

In January, I wrote this post about easing myself back into exercise, by going for gentle walks and getting outdoors more. Doing this, when I can and when my mind allows me, has been beneficial.

So I have taken the next step and started looking into exercise, raising my heart rate. I signed up for a local netball group but I was too scared to put pressure on myself, so I went out for a run. At least on a run if I wanted to stop and go home I could. After months of procrastination, talking myself out of it, crying, fear, anxiety, another bar of chocolate, I put my trainers on and went.

It felt good. I ran for 15 minutes and didn’t collapse or struggle. I went at a gentle pace but was surprised how good it felt to be back out and having that mental space while my body felt energized. It’s a far cry from the hours of running I was capable of before Abi died, but I have a new agenda now. To build up my confidence to enjoy exercise for what it is, not what it might do to me. We’re all going to die, so I may as well live!

I don’t know if I’ll do another run. I might, I don’t want to put this out there and feel I have to now commit to it, but it’s a start.

It’s all about putting one foot in front of the other.

From cradle to grave

Today, I took my 9-year-old son to his football match. It’s normally Dad who does the football matches, but it had been almost a year since I’d seen my son play due to having the new baby and he asked if I’d go and watch him. He’s been appreciating some one-to-one time with me of late, which of course I love too.

While he was warming up, I automatically joined the other waiting parents by scrolling on my phone, but as I’m trying to be more active I realized I could use this as an opportunity to go for a walk, get my own blood circulating a bit. I wasn’t in an area I knew very well so I just walked out down the road and after about ten minutes I came across a small church.

I thought it would be good to have a little look around. There was a small graveyard just in front of the church, hidden by tall hedges. The graves looked old and weather-beaten, and I’m sure it had long since closed to new burials.

I first noticed five cross-shaped gravestones, lying flat in a line on the ground. On them were the details of men – figures in the community as their job titles were also engraved under their names, each from the 1800s, early 1900s.

The book of Ecclesiastes came to mind. (I’ve been reading over it this month.) In it, Solomon – the king – writes about accomplishments and the work we do, the things we put our effort into, the dreams we chase, and reflects how all of it is pointless once we’re dead. Not in the immediate years following our death, but the hundreds of years that see us but a distant memory, if that.

There can be great meaning to what we do, if through doing it we help others, but equally we spend a great deal of time doing or worrying about things that have no meaning.

Then I took a good look at everything I’d done, looked at all the sweat and hard work. But when I looked, I saw nothing but smoke. Smoke and spitting into the wind. There was nothing to any of it. Nothing. (Ecclesiastes 2:11)

I thought of these men in the ground. Long gone. They probably were highly regarded in their day around the area, but who remembers them, or what they did today?

I then saw a small, quite beautiful, cherub angel gravestone. It was to mark the grave of a baby. I couldn’t tell how old the baby was as the dates had worn away. A little baby without its mother, a mother without her child. I thought of the mother having to put her newborn child into the ground here, the tears that must have been shed, nearly 100 years ago. Yet so many more have been born since – life has moved on at an extraordinary rate but this baby was here once, briefly. This baby’s short life mattered.

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I saw other graves. Some in fairly good condition, others nothing more than a nub of stone sticking out of the ground. No matter what condition the stone, what the status was of the person buried there, or what age or situation they died, they were united by sharing this space. They had once breathed and created memories, but they all ended up as dust and mud, under a gravestone, forgotten or barely remembered.

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I was struck by this stone of a weeping angel.

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It was of two sisters, buried together. One had passed away at age 19, the other had died later age 35. I thought of the parents having to cope with two of their children dying, having perhaps adjusted to the loss of one daughter, only to lose another. Or perhaps they had died too? Who knows the story behind this family’s plot. Who even cares?

There was a striking stone marking the grave of a toddler. Clearly the child of someone of some wealth or importance at the time to afford such a memorial.

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Of course, 100 years ago infant mortality was high so child burials would have been common, but the diversity of the graves in this one tiny patch of churchyard just seemed so poignant to me. Those who lived long, buried next to those who never grew up.

Each one would have been mourned, by wives, husbands, mothers, fathers, friends and relatives… who now themselves may have departed. How did they live out their lives – happy, depressed, lonely, content…? How did grief shape their futures?

In Ecclesiastes, Solomon sees that bad things happen to good people, good things happen to bad people, the wise know more and die, just like fools who don’t know anything and die too. Life is for living he concludes, we shouldn’t take ourselves too seriously, we can chase any number of dreams but without God there isn’t much point to life at all.

As I headed back to watch my son’s football match, I considered today, this next hour, my ‘work’ was to be there for him. To see him smile at having Mum watching from the sidelines. This memory would stay between us two. And when I’m dead and gone, and he’s dead and gone, this moment will be forever gone too.

But, today, it mattered.

 

Mindful steps to better health

It’s still January… having consumed our body weights in rich/sugary/fatty foods in December, we now have the guilt trip for said festive indulgence as fitness gurus and media know-it-alls show off their fit-ness or sell us the latest diet that will make us ‘beach ready’ by summer.

We know the rules around this, it’s okay to put on half a stone at Christmas because we’ll burn it off in the new year. But there’s actually a far more important side to this whole ‘health’ circus… mental health. 

We’re usually too busy to stop and consider that the manufacturers of the food and fitness gear know as well as us that those DVDs and smoothie makers will be gathering dust in a few weeks.

Many of us feel like we are skating on the edge of sanity, holding down busy jobs, bringing up children, keeping the house going and the bills paid, dealing with some really traumatic stuff, let alone making sure we’re blimin’ ‘beach ready’.

Most of us are dealing with so much stress that food (or drink) has become a comforter. When I’m stressed I find myself reaching for the biscuit barrel. In the evenings, I sit down in front of the TV after a tiring day and often snack a bit more (I don’t drink so food is my ‘treat’).

Many people started the month alcohol-free or ‘on a diet’. After the Christmas binge, this is fine for the first two weeks but then it soon gets dull. Most of us give up when we restrict ourselves (or feel we are being restricted), which then ends in more binges and guilt.

Nine months ago, I was about to have my fifth baby and I had no energy to care for myself. Pregnancy, grief and hormones resulted in an addiction to food.

I didn’t have the willpower to consider what I was putting into my body. I could barely put a meal together and shopping was a challenge. I opted for quick and easy options. Fast food and takeaways added to the mix.

I felt hungry from the baby (and children) sapping my energy… So I ate.
I felt peckish because I was bored stiff sitting around unable to move far… So I ate.
I felt I needed something to fill the void in my stomach when I felt low and confused about life… So I ate.

Seeing the superfit on TV only played on my inadequacies further.

Are you having twins?! Nope just a massive cream bun!
Are you having twins?! Nope just a massive cheesecake!

There was the time I ate an entire cheesecake (not an isolated incident!)… a full-size one with the red warning nutritional label shouting at me to stop. There was not one thing good about it, yet down it went. I felt terrible. I vowed that the next day I’d avoid any sugar or processed foods… but if course I didn’t. In any case, I was so confused by the conflicting health advice I didn’t know where to start!

I was a perfect candidate for a January ‘lose weight in a week with a superfood, superburn diet plan’. However…

…the last three months I’ve been intentionally looking after myself, mentally and physically. I’ve taken a daily multivitamin and probiotic, cut right back on processed sugar, fat and wheat. I eat more vegetables and mostly cook from scratch. I’ve established a better bedtime routine. I’ve started reading books again. I already feel much better for it.

Looking after yourself starts in your head; train your brain to love yourself for being alive rather than punish yourself for eating foods that you enjoyed. What we eat and how we exercise are directly controlled by our mental health. Get mentally well and you’ll eat better and want to move more. I’m all for improving our health (with the dramatic increase in diabetes we need to do something), but it’s about taking small steps to make big changes: moving more, getting outside, eating well, reading a book, doing absolutely nothing once in a while…

Now that I have the food side of things pretty much under control, I plan to get back into exercise. But I’m not going to join a gym, get a personal trainer, or run a marathon… (not yet anyway), I’m going to go for a walk, and that walk will become another and another, and then I may want to walk a bit further or possibly jog. Either way, it will be a slow but positive progression to find a pace and an activity that suits me and my life at the moment.

My 90-year-old grandma is old but she is mentally alert and still has a job! Her secret isn’t kale, or smoothies, tracking her heart rate, or busting a gut in circuit training… it’s real food, sensible portions, daily physical activity, friends and family, reading and crosswords.

If you’re feeling like you’ve failed before you’ve started, keep going at your own pace and remember, even if you’re tiptoeing you’re still going in the right direction.

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If you enjoyed this post, why not see what else I’m talking about:

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Update on this blog

I have decided that the time is right to merge my blogs together. I currently run a few blogs (this one about my grief, a parenting and lifestyle blog, and a book club blog). Phew! The two main blog sites, this one and ‘Mummy Writes…’, my lifestyle blog, have always run separately.

In the early months and years after Abi’s death I needed to write about grief and this blog was the focus, but as time has passed I have had two more children, I still work, I still have opinions, and life carries on. Life is very different in many ways and my perspective has changed, but there is also much that continues as before.

I felt a separate blog was more appropriate at first as I was mindful of my readers and that they wouldn’t want to read about the mountains of nappies or family outings, especially if they’ve just found my blog having been recently bereaved.

I was also mindful of my children and their friends reading my hard posts about grief so I set up a blog which was something I wouldn’t mind them reading. Yet now, Abi’s friends are older and while I would not have wanted them to read about the details surrounding her death when they were age 12, if they read these posts today they may well gain a lot from them in terms of dealing with their own thoughts about losing her.

By combining my blogs, I feel it might help those going through loss to read that life can and will be ‘normal’ (to a degree) again. That it’s okay to complain about the washing piling up or to celebrate the things we manage to do (I wrote a post about how excited I was to go shopping alone!). I am ready to show now that life and grief can exist together.

We are all still very much on our ‘journey’ (gah!) to better days but it’s one I hope you’ll join me on.  Thank you for reading so far, I have truly valued your support. There are lots of new old posts added to the site so do have a browse around.

The fine line between love and hate

Shocking celebrity deaths, Brexit and now Donald Trump… if anything, you can’t say 2016 has been boring!

Trump is not a man I like, his views worry me and the fact he now is one of the most powerful men in the world worries me even more. However, through the how’s and why’s, I’m trying to believe that much of what he has said in his campaign is hype, to attract attention, to get people engaged in whatever shape it takes – a bit like a child being told off for being naughty because negative attention is better than none.

Seeing the news about violent protests and lives lost following the election of Trump, I was reminded of this post I wrote 18 months ago, after the Conservatives got into power. Yes, I’m afraid nothing changes, and we are just as sore losers when things don’t go our way.

Whether someone throws a stone at someone who doesn’t agree with them, sends angry messages online, or gossips behind their back, the physical impact might be different but the basic emotion is still the same – hate.

Trump hate. Political hated. Social hatred. Many of us wonder where this comes from. Why, when we all want to live, prosper and be happy, do we end up caught up in these vicious battles?

I wonder if it is because hatred starts at home. Hatred starts with just two people.

Continue reading “The fine line between love and hate”

Social media – the friend I hate to love

I was desperate for a break. What with a new baby, my hubby having a miserable time and facing a tonsillectomy, and changing my teen daughter’s school, the last few months have been a tad stressful to say the least. I’d booked us a week in Cornwall with my two sisters and their families about six months ago and I couldn’t wait.

The run up to a holiday is always stressful, sometimes I wonder why we bother as the sheer effort of packing a family of six seems too much. It was even harder this time with everything that’s been going on as well as end-of-school-year activities and work deadlines to get on top of…blahhh! I felt like I was drowning in things to do. My phone has been permanently in my hand as I use it to manage so much of my life, but I had begun to resent the way it also saps my attention.

I’m in demand from all corners. While each member of the family constantly need me in some physical or emotional capacity, I also have a home to run, clients making demands and bills to pay. I also have a whole other life’s worth of demands on social media making me feel compelled to comment on or like posts (even though I know I don’t have to). I know I’m all too guilty of letting this bad friend distract me from all the other crap that I should really be thinking about.

So, as well as getting to spend some quality time with my sisters and their husbands and children, I really looked forward to taking a break from the social media life, in fact the entire internet! Keeping up with my stresses as well as, it feels, the stresses of masses of friends and acquaintances has not been doing me any good at all.
Continue reading “Social media – the friend I hate to love”

Keeping perspective in blogging

I had a rare moment of ranting yesterday. I suddenly realised I felt irritated. Irritated by people I don’t know talking about emotions I no longer understand. And I again doubted whether this blogging world was something I could be part of.

(For readers who aren’t bloggers, blogging behind the scenes is a community of people who connect on social media to read and share each other’s posts. It’s a supportive community, but like any large gathering there are always people you relate to more than others.)

I try hard not to let my grief cloud my judgement of people’s opinions, but sometimes it sneaks up and catches me unawares.

I’d been catching up on some blog reading. I read lots of the big professional parenting and lifestyle blogs as well as plenty of what I call ‘normal’ blogs, of all sizes. I’m not saying the big blogs aren’t normal, they’re just in a different league.

I came across yet another post where the writer was expressing emotion at blogging. Stressing about upcoming awards. Crying over it. Seeking love. Wanting reassurance. (I’m not naming names, this isn’t what this is about.)

Continue reading “Keeping perspective in blogging”

Is healthy eating doing us more harm than good?

Do you worry about how much healthy food you’re eating?

Yes, you read that correctly!

Not bad food, good food!

My relationship with food is far from healthy but as I sat reading yet another magazine article that warned me of the dangers of my tuna pasta salad and skinny latte, I realised that I was feeling stressed about some of the choices I make.

It didn’t then surprise me to read that there’s been a significant rise in a new eating phobia.

A phobia of not eating healthily enough. It’s called orthorexia.

Continue reading “Is healthy eating doing us more harm than good?”

Honestly, do we not care about other people’s feelings anymore?!

In the media, everything is scrutinized: how we look, what we do with our time, what we eat, what we wear. And any significant event has people posting in droves on social media.

The General Election is over. Conservatives won.

And boy, do we know about it!

Social media went crazy with opinion from dawn to dusk on the day the result was announced. The outcome was bound to spark debate, but it seemed that suddenly people found the need, or confidence, to voice their opinions about the result, telling others how they voted (having been silent about their views prior to that), and putting down, either directly or indirectly, other people for their choice.

It was a contrast to the positive vibe the day before (polling day) with people encouraging each other not to waste their vote, and use it! The aftermath felt like a public strop!

Continue reading “Honestly, do we not care about other people’s feelings anymore?!”

When perfect isn’t perfect enough

(Warning: this post contains a rant that makes me sound very much like ‘my mother’!)

I was at the hairdressers at the weekend, getting my locks revived and tidied. I go every 6-8 weeks and it’s a real treat. I get to sit down for three hours and chat to my hairdresser (who’s become a friend now), have a cappuccino and flick through the women’s mags. Bliss.

I don’t buy mags or look at them much anymore, other than in the hairdresser’s.  I was given a copy of OK with a pregnant woman on the front, who I thought at first glance was Natalie Imbruglia. I realised it wasn’t quite right but when I saw that it was in fact Corrie starlet Helen Flanagan I was amazed and kind of horrified.
Continue reading “When perfect isn’t perfect enough”