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.

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The physical pains of grief

It’s been a while since I posted about my reluctant but important decision to take antidepressant (or rather anti-anxiety) medication. I have taken a break from writing for a while, to let life settle and see what comes of this new course of treatment. While at first the medicine seemed to exacerbate my symptoms, they did eventually settle and I began to feel much better – clearer in my head, more able to plan and focus on tasks. My anxiety symptoms not dissolved but greatly improved.

It was in fact a couple of months after starting the tablets that I discovered I was pregnant again – a side effect that certainly wasn’t on the instructions! It was both a shock and a worry at first, I can’t deny. Having been through so much and my mental health just about improving, and feeling stronger, I was worried I wouldn’t be able to cope with the emotional and physical demands that pregnancy inevitably brings. Worry upon worry upon worry.

But you know, when I’d got used to the idea, I realised this was an opportunity to celebrate. I’m now delighted to be expecting again – and while I have only natural concerns about managing a toddler and a newborn (again), I know these are just hurdles we’ll get through as a family, just like every other time. I don’t want to spend this pregnancy in fear of the worst, and dark thoughts do creep in from time to time, but I work hard to push them away. To keep my mind healthy I must do this with a strong attitude and remember that worrying won’t change anything. I have experienced already the worst imaginable losses for any mother, I feel ready for whatever is to come.
Continue reading “The physical pains of grief”

The dark side of grief – craving escape from the mental and physical pain of loss

I recently went for my first month check-up at the doctors, to see how I’ve settled taking the antidepressants.

For anyone who has not taken antidepressants before, or who hasn’t experienced anxiety – and especially for those grieving mummas out there who are finding that anxiety and depression are adding to their grief, I wanted to share my experience.

Firstly though, I want to stress that feelings and emotions around anxiety and grief are different for everybody. I may know someone who feels similar things to me, but it will still be unique and personal to the individual. That’s why it’s so important to listen to your mind as well as your body and seek help.

Anxiety, however, is a mental illness, grief is not and it can be very hard to tell the difference especially when you are living it day in day out. A big problem for me about why I got to this point, was when I told anyone my story (ie, my daughter’s sudden death) and that I had anxiety they responded with ‘Of course you’re anxious, you’re grieving’ and then the anxiety was ignored because it was put down to grief. This created a build-up of symptoms that led me to the brink of breakdown –  I simply couldn’t cope if grief was going to be this horrible to me.

Continue reading “The dark side of grief – craving escape from the mental and physical pain of loss”

A (grieving) mother’s little helper – will antidepressants numb the pain?

I’ve been sitting here staring at the packet for half an hour.

Antidepressants.

These little pills, I know, are offering me the chance to numb my mind for a while from the anxiety and depression that’s taken hold of me. I’ve resisted them for so long that it feels strange to finally be here. As I said in this post, I can’t help feel like I’m failing.

I wonder if I’m really depressed enough to take them. After all, I’m generally okay. I’m not walking the streets in my pyjamas. I don’t feel a black cloud above me all the time. I’m still functioning as I always do, albeit with my mood swinging on a pendulum. I can be switched on one day, enough to write posts like this, but the next I can only stare at the screen blankly, my mind a fog.

But is this enough to start these tablets? I’ve spent over two years avoiding using them. I know this is a last resort for me.

I’ve been here before you see.

Do I really want to go here, again?

The answer is no. I don’t want to go here again, but I feel I must. Continue reading “A (grieving) mother’s little helper – will antidepressants numb the pain?”

My failures as a grieving mum

I’ve failed.

Life seems fractured.

Daily events feel insurmountable.

Relationships are strained and unstable.

Work is challenging.

Motivation to care, about much, is gone.

I’m sharing this deeply personal post because I know for sure that I’m not alone. That out there are other mothers, in mourning, trying to hold it all together, being strong every second, achieving amazing things just by getting through a day but feeling like a failure throughout it all. I want to reassure those readers that they are not failures, but that the feeling of failure is normal living with what we do.

Failure is a cruel term. How can I possibly have failed at anything?

I am loved.

I am safe.

I am provided for.

I’ve read all the posts, seen all the ‘grief charts’, know the lingo of the phases and stages… but I’ve yet to see the word ‘failure’ mentioned.

As an independent and determined woman, I worked hard to carve out a career and a stable family home. Then death came knocking at my door and decided to pull the rug from under me.

The feeling of failure is huge, but in order to shrink it I’ve tried to consider exactly where and why I feel I’ve failed.

Continue reading “My failures as a grieving mum”

Dreams of moving on

I wrote a post last September about how hard I found it to declutter our home. We were having a car boot sale and kept coming across things that brought back bittersweet memories. Abi’s belongings were still everywhere – a forgotten hairclip, a school pen – and I found the thought of getting rid of things we had ‘when Abi was alive’ (a new marker in our family timeline) too hard to bear. But, a year on, I’ve arrived at a very different place.

In my life, I’m beginning to make changes. Changes that mean I’m starting to move on.

It’s actually taken me a long time to want to write that in a post. ‘Moving on’ is one of the hardest terms I know relating to grief. It makes me feel physically sick and mentally stressed. I have a number of books that all offer ways to help ‘people move on’ that I avoid picking up because to wish it is to want to erase the memory of her. But, it’s essential that I at least try to come to accept it.

This hasn’t come about the easiest way. I haven’t just woken up and thought right, time to ‘get a grip’. The past year has been a huge struggle and I think in large part owing to the fact that, as time moves away from my last day with Abi, I am desperately trying to claw it back. ‘Moving on’ is so very hard when your child is dead.

I was able to realise that I was sinking further and further into depression. I felt like I was standing in sinking sand but had managed to hold on to a branch to stop me being fully submerged. Now, I’ve built up enough energy to try to pull myself out.

I’m looking at my life from the outside in, rather than in the self-absorption of grief. I see a woman who is tired, stressed and lethargic. I see a marriage that is strained. I see a home that is stuck in a time warp, reminding us constantly that we are living with trauma. I see a family suffocated by the memories all around them, in every face they see, every step they take.

Yet, as I try to bring some new order to our home and the daily changes are feeling somewhat positive, and right, I can’t escape the torment that this brings.

At night I dream of Abi and my dreams are stressful. I wake up often with palpitations, my broken heart tearing me from my rest.

I dreamt that my hubby and I had decided that Abi’s ashes needed to be moved. They were buried in our local churchyard and her stone was constantly hidden by mud and dead leaves, so much so it was almost sinking into the earth. So we asked the vicar and some close family to hold another service where we exhumed her box of ashes in order to move it to a nice place.

It was evening. The box was brought out. I held it. It was slightly shabby where it had been buried, the light oak was dark and beginning to rot. I held my girl’s remains and choked back tears.

I remember looking at my hubby and wondering what we were going to do with her ashes; now questioning why we had dug them up in the first place! It was a bit awkward as we realised we had nowhere to put them. I thought that we could put them in a pot and have them at home. I felt a yearning to have Abi close by. But I didn’t voice my thoughts as I knew it wasn’t right. We both knew that, really, she belonged back in the ground.

This dream struck me as my conflicting feelings of wanting to let go (not of Abi but of my grief) yet cling onto Abi and keep her close. I suppose my subconscious was telling me that I can’t bring her back. That the Abi we knew isn’t on Earth anymore, even if her remains are. That I could dig her up and rebury her a thousand times but it wouldn’t change a thing.

I feel, with help, that I can move on in grief. That I can create new memories, as our family is so different to what it was two years ago. I have to let go of a lot of the past. Not of Abi. I will never get over losing her; her life and her death are engraved on my heart. It’s the material and sentimental aspects of grief I feel need to change.

I have to put aside the many photos and mementos, replacing them with simpler versions that enhance rather than dominate our home. We have decided to stay in our house so we will need to completely transform our home into a new space where new memories are made. I want to create a new nest shaped around the remains of what we have. I want to find new interests and ways to use my mind, to spend my time wisely.

I can see, clearly, how in the first two years of grief I have clung to the familiar. Our home and its contents hasn’t changed much. We haven’t travelled far. We’ve stuck to our routines. The familiarity was my comfort blanket. But now that familiarity threatens to draw me into a downward spiral. By keeping things the same, by always everything ‘Abi’, I struggle to find the breathing space I need to live, and that which will allow my other children to just be. And living is what I want to do. I want to treasure this life I have and to live it for Abi as well as for me.

So, while it’ll take time to sort through the clutter that is spilled all over our home, clutter that shows I’ve been clinging onto the loss, and it’ll take money to pay for new carpets and furniture, it’s a transition I feel ready to take, and that’s the most important part. Knowing this feels good and my hope is lifted. I know the journey will be fraught with the guilt and grief that I must feel. I just have to let it be.

Never mind the birth plan, it’s after care you need to plan for

Last month, I decided to get my six-month-old baby weighed at my local mother and baby clinic. The clinic runs 11-12.30pm every Thursday out of the local community centre. I wasn’t particularly concerned about Monkey 4’s weight, but as he had reflux and hadn’t been weighed for a while I wanted to make sure he was still on track.

Wanting to miss the rush, I arrived at 12pm and there were two health visitors, both dealing with mums and their babies at the two weighing scales. One health visitor was in deep conversation with her mum, so I waited next to the other health visitor who appeared to be finishing with the mum and baby with her.

Continue reading “Never mind the birth plan, it’s after care you need to plan for”