A whole lotta grief

GRIEF!! That word should be writ large with exclamation marks permanently attached.

That’s how it feels when it hits you.

Actually, grief is complex. Studies have been made to try to understand it in greater depth. There’s even a model postulating that there are five identifiable stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. I’m not sure that I can put myself firmly at any of those stages right now, but I suspect that I’m somewhere between depression and acceptance. I’m feeling the pain of grief – and boy, does it take your breath away – but, after last weekend, I’m not feeling so hopeless about it.

Why am I grieving?

I’m tempted to call mine Uber or Ultra-Grief because I’m not grieving for a single loss rather multiple (mostly major) losses and because the process feels akin to attempting a hardcore endurance event, like the Marathon de Sables (If you’ve never heard of it, do read about it and let your mind, like mine, boggle over who would want to attempt such a thing :-D). I think I’ll go with Ultra-Grief, like my Ultra-Jigsaw, it seems a good fit … ha! See what I did there? Jigsaw … pieces … fit … oh, never mind.

How the flip do you even begin to recover and rebuild yourself and your life, when you’ve lost so much, let alone begin to grieve when you’re busy enough trying to survive?

Well … if you’re determined, proactive, resourceful, able to be gutsy and have words that help you to achieve many things … you think yourself damn lucky, for a start. At least, that’s how I look at it.

I lost all my family, all my close friends – they had either upped and left or I’d put huge distance between us, my much beloved and hard won career, my self esteem, confidence, my health and my fitness, my marriage, the chance to have children, my smile and even a lot of my hair (more on the latter two in the post The Creature from the Black Lagoon) and I’d found myself in poverty, having lost any element of financial security. Make no mistake, I was lucky, I didn’t lose the roof over my head as others have, but at worst I couldn’t afford food and had to rely on the charity of strangers, likewise I couldn’t afford to heat my home and wore many multiple layers indoors that winter, including hat, scarf and gloves, and retreated to bed when that wasn’t enough.

Leaving my marriage gave me a certain amount of ‘head space’ – as once things were straightened out I was no longer being impacted by its dysfunction. I felt stirrings of grief when my marriage ended but I had to throw myself into finding somewhere to live and all manner of other vital stuff. Grief hit me like a train when a loved one – not a relative but the closest I had to it – died a few months later after a six week illness. Suddenly, I was alone in the world.

It was early last year on a remote ‘retreat’ for a convalescence break that I started to realise that I couldn’t ‘feel’. I’d found this wonderful wee place run by a psychotherapist for incredibly small prices and managed to save a bit from back-dated benefits and obtain a small grant from a charity, in order to go for five days. I ate simple but delicious home cooked food, slept well, walked in ancient woodland, worked in my art journal and undertook some therapy and related exercises. (As an aside, I am hoping to go again later this year.)

As I’ve often said on here I’m a natural ‘Tigger’. I’ve boundless enthusiasm and I freely enthuse about all manner of things –  nature, architecture, art, theatre, and people, to name but a few. Yet, I began to realise that, for the most part, I couldn’t feel my pain, despite the enormity of it. There had been so much that I’d unconsciously shut it down in order to keep putting one foot in front of the other. I’d begun by discussing with the therapist how I longed to be able to cry. It upset me (not that I could show it) that I couldn’t cry and I felt like a cold fish as a result, something which is very much at odds with my character. I could, at a push, shed a couple of tears. My eyes did ‘fill up’ sometimes, but to sob was pretty much beyond me. I came to realise that through all the therapy I’d undertaken, and which I credit with saving my life after my initial disclosure, and also getting me through my marriage and to such a place that I was able to leave it, despite having no money and nowhere to go; I had never cried. I could discuss the darkest of experiences, detail abuse after abuse, and traumatic events such as my father’s suicide and his violence towards my mother, but I couldn’t ‘feel’ them. I intellectualised my way through therapy and I did learn a great deal and make a lot of progress. But, what I learned late last year is that, in the words of my current therapist: If you can feel, you can heal. 

Two things happened in the weeks immediately after my time at the retreat. My GP of a couple of years, with whom I’d developed a solid relationship, particularly in the preceding six months, relocated to a new area. Two weeks later, the support I’d been receiving for six months from a housing support officer was cut overnight. It’s a short term service and was put in place when I was at risk of losing my home. Having that consistent support for the first time in my life, going on retreat and feeling ‘peace’ for the first time in my life, and having the realisation about ‘needing to feel’, all seemed to instigate an ‘unlocking’ in my mind.

I welcomed this at first, I was ready to take this on, and work through whatever was to come. Until suddenly, I was again without support …

Since then I’ve been increasingly feeling grief, but without support and in very difficult circumstances, I wasn’t able to cope with it. A close friend died just before Christmas. She had been ill but was expected to recover, she was only in her late forties. She was the best friend I’d made since my moving to my adopted home city six years earlier. Other friendships were made, but when I ignored my ‘gut feeling’ again feeling that this ‘beggar’ could not be choosy and should take what was offered. My late friend and I knew each other for a little over two years. The time we could spend together was curtailed by our respective illnesses. In some ways I hardly knew her but we connected and there was great deal of potential in the friendship. I’ll always remember her sitting for me as I was teaching myself to draw (she was a talented and exhibited artist), my first life model. Alas, I was so nervous, it wasn’t my best work! Discovering that she’d remembered me in her will, floored me. I genuinely miss her terribly. I’m not one to bemoan ‘Why me?’ Stuff happens. Still, I found myself asking why, if I had to lose a friend, it had to be her. I don’t feel comfortable admitting that, I wasn’t really wishing someone other dead, was I?

I cried at her memorial service, more freely than before. This was because I know how much of a loss she is and how much she could still have lived. It was also because of my own grief at losing her from my life. What I didn’t expect as I sat in the large city centre church, which was packed, and listened to all the wonderful words and memories that were being said and shared about her, and as I met and spoke with several members of her family afterwards, was the barrage of grief of a different kind that assailed me. My friend had faced many challenges in her life. She was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, which had a huge impact on her life, medication used to treat it ultimately caused kidney failure which contributed to her death.

That day I saw what you can achieve, despite challenges, when you are loved or more specifically when you grow up in and continue to be enveloped by a loving family. It was wonderful to behold … and it was also agony. It took my breath away. After spending around 90 minutes at the small gathering for family and close friends after the service, I realised that I really didn’t feel right. I felt ‘spacey’ and had a nebulous sort of sense that I wasn’t OK, that I was no longer coping. Leaving some time later I set off for home. I intended to pick up a few errands en route before catching a bus the rest of the way. I was aware of the first few minutes of the walk and then arriving at the mini supermarket where I intended to shop, but not the 10 minutes in between. In the shop I wandered and wandered aimlessly, returning again and again to stare at the same things but I couldn’t seem to process or complete the task. I remember seeing a Big Issue seller outside the store and rummaging for change in order to buy one, only for him to have completely disappeared a moment later. I wondered if he’d even been there in the first place. The bus stop was close by but I had to cross two busy roads to reach it. I remember waiting to cross the first and there was a bus about to pass in front of me. I remember seeing it and seeing myself, in my mind’s eye, going under its wheels, although I had no thoughts of suicide at the time. Although in my mind, it was vividly real. I felt shaken, dazed and disorientated. I know I caught a bus and got home, but I don’t know how. It took me four days to re-orientate myself.

Seeing my dear friend on Saturday after so many years and feeling such connection is SUCH a happy thing. I’m loathe to describe it as bittersweet, because it was SWEET. SWEET, SWEET but challenges did arise from it. I feel grief that so many years were wasted when we could have been closer. I feel grief that I wasted time on some other friendships where there was no real connection. I feel grief that the memory of her knowing that I was unhappy as a teenager and was there for me and hurt for me, was somehow lost. I feel grief that I wasn’t able to confide in her – and through her, her lovely Mum – to greater depth. The past is the past and cannot be changed so there is no point in dwelling on it, still the sadness demands to be acknowledged and that perhaps if I had, I might have recognised that I was being abused and found a way out of my family much earlier, instead of in my thirties, by which time much more damage had been done.

Despite the grief, I am not AT ALL sorry that she and I discussed these things, and I hope in time that we’ll discuss more, because it is validating, it is helpful for me, and it is something that has the power to help me to heal.

Before the State of the Heart address (thanks you know who, for that inspired phrasing) that was Heart Set on Dying?, grief, when it hit, was unbearable and I shut down as far as possible in order to cope and keep myself safe. It was unbearable because I was alone with it and had no sense of belonging anywhere or being ‘tethered’ in any way. I’ve felt it in a big way once since Saturday, it was undeniably very hard but I went through it WITHOUT shutting down. I truly hope that those of you who read this who have stepped up for me in recent days can understand just what a difference you make.

I don’t know yet what the future holds in terms of dealing with this grief. I don’t know whether I’ll be doing it with my current therapist (voluntary sector) or whether if NHS trauma therapy is offered, now that I’ve reached the top of the 18 month waiting list and am due to assessed next month, that will be the place to do it, or whether I’ll seek out specialist grief services such as those offered by Cruse. I’m still finding my grieving feet …

Thank you for reading. This is waaaaaaaaaaaaay longer than I had intended.

Heart

x

 

 

 

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Jack Monroe has given me, as a survivor of abuse, a freedom from fear and I really want to thank her.

I have never wanted to devour a recipe book. I don’t suppose they taste too good, do they? I have owned and perused many a cook book from slim guides to hefty tomes, by the lesser known and the ‘celebrity’ chef, offering everything from simple suppers, one pot dinners, veggie delights, vegan cooking made easy, low fat, low stress … low fun. No matter the brilliance within those pages, those books couldn’t excite me.

I’ve never found cooking in any way thrilling despite being far from devoid of enthusiasm generally (I’m something of a jump up and down, beam broadly and talk the hind legs off a donkey with great passion on many topics, type. Enthusiastic hardly covers it.). I do enjoy food. I’m mindful of the importance of healthy eating. I don’t want to rely on processed foods and have often wished I had a love of cooking from scratch.

My lack of excitement for cooking, stems from a lack of confidence rooted in an old fear. I recall the swipes, slaps, pokes, verbal batterings and other punishments that accompanied the cooking of my upbringing. Nothing I did, in learning to cook or otherwise, was ever deemed acceptable. I’ve worked hard to build self esteem and confidence, but my relationship with cooking remained affected. Perhaps because it’s such a fundamental skill, and I was for so long deemed incapable of even that. I instilled my ex-husband with the confidence to learn to cook, and mentored his efforts – planning menus, gathering ingredients and lovingly encouraging. Still I cooked without enjoyment, with a lot of fear and to no more than a basic level.

The blog, devotedly largely to cooking on an impossibly tight budget, I found at agirlcalledJack.com caused something of a stir. I refer not to the stir in the media or in a bowl filled with a magical mix of low cost kidney beans, a square of dark chocolate, tomato puree and a pinch of cumin. This was the makings of a stirring deep inside of me (ooer – I have heard tell that food can do that to some folks).  Instead of wishing that I could tackle these recipes, that I found I was avidly reading, or feeling that I ought to tackle them; I started to find that I wanted to tackle them. Soon I found that not only did I want to tackle one or two basic budget recipes, I wanted to tackle quite a few. Then came my first encounter with A Girl Called Jackthe book* …

I devoured it in one huge gulp, reading from cover to cover with mounting EXCITEMENT. I wanted to make these things, because they excited me and because, finally, I felt I could. Then, after cooking one day, I found myself thinking I enjoyed that, then it happened again … and again. Now I look forward to cooking and it seems I enjoy it every time and best of all the fear has gone and in its place is a growing confidence.

Jack, I can’t thank you enough for that.

I’m never going to be contestant on the Great British Bake Off. I haven’t baked consistently since the cookery lessons of my school days of the 70s and 80s. I have baked since then but with fear, little success and more than a dollop of self-judgement. Last week * wait for it * I made a banana loaf. No, really, I really did … and bloody good it was too! I searched the terms ‘easy low fat banana loaf’ and came to this recipe from the BBC Good Food website – a site I believe also inspired you, Jack. I have to say that if I can successfully complete this recipe, anyone could, but boy did I enjoy making it. I positively revelled in it. By the end I might as well have conquered Everest, such was my sense of accomplishment and new found baking confidence. I’ve made it twice more since and, thanks to a gift of some apples, next week plan to bake Jack’s Apple and Cinnamon loaf.

A slice of MY banana loaf to sustain me as I write

As someone who lives with a number of diagnoses of chronic illness and is a ‘spoonie’, the amount of energy required to make a meal is of real importance. Before Jack, for two years (trying not to eat rubbish) I relied largely on expensive ready meals and ultimately, so burnt out was I, ended up living by snacking, not healthy, not good for the waistline and not at all satisfying or sustaining. My dysfunctional marriage had ended, I was continuing my extensive efforts to rebuild my life post-abuse disclosure and subsequent serious illness. I was dealing with the sudden terminal illness then death of the last person I had left who could be termed a ‘loved one’. I was studying, volunteering, making plans for self employment to revive the hard won and much beloved career stolen by the effects of abuse … and a whole lot more. Then after a final piece of devastating news it all stopped.The words straw and camel come to mind. I saw no light this summer. I stopped going out and my world closed down. Suicidal thoughts raged aplenty.

Now in dire straits financially, as a result of my marriage ending, and illness, I need Jack’s recipes all the more. My grocery shopping of late has almost entirely comprised products from the supermarket’s ‘basic range’, thanks to Jack encouraging me to try more than one or two. I’ve found I didn’t have enough money to buy tampons and put back food items to pay for them. Now I no longer have money to shop. Last week I was referred to a local food bank – a surreal moment and one that I’m still finding difficult to process. My first food parcel will arrive on Thursday.

My new found cooking confidence is helping to sustain me in more ways than one at this terribly difficult time. I’m sure I’ve cooked more in recent weeks than in the rest of my adult life and I’m using cooking implements that have long languished in boredom. I have a history of mental illness because of the trauma and abuse I have experienced. Reactive depression has returned with a vengeance, that alone makes me feel like I’m wading through treacle. It feels good to know that I am sustaining myself with good home cooked food. A bit of weighing, chopping and stirring goes some way to distracting my troubled mind.

I fear turning on lights and as colder days approach, I know that I can no longer afford to heat my home, despite the fact that the cold exacerbates my chronic pain. At risk of homelessness, I know that without a roof over my head, cooking will be the least of my worries. I hope there is a way I can be supported to stay in the one-bed rented flat I found last year and have grown to love so much, and keep on cooking and growing.

Thank you Jack for your brilliant recipes delivered in a gentle easy manner that means even the most ‘culinarily-challenged’ like me can be engaged.

I thought there could be no greater surprise than when I took up running last year (I am far from an athlete) but now … now I find I’ve added the category Food and Cooking to my blog :))) !

I still can’t make an omelette, despite Jack’s gentle instruction I still end up with scrambled egg. One day  …

With love and many grateful thanks to you Jack xx

*Thanks also to Jack for the introduction to the Hive, buy books online and support vital independent booksellers at the same time. Click here to buy any of Jack’s books – no, I’m not on commission 😉 !

After a not inconsiderable delay …

I’m baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaack!!

And I have a lot to say 🙂 .

 

***** I was about to try to rewrite this post after WordPress ate it. I was actually doing quite well considering my memory can be dodgy these days and my tiredness – but hallelujah, marvellous beetleypete saved the day having received it as an email subscriber, so I can now cut and paste. If you also subscribe by email you’ll have received it, but clicking through to the site delivers the message ‘Page Not Found’. The post I published soon after appears to have overwritten it – on publishing both times I received the message you’ve published your 31st post. THIS POST SHOULD HAVE APPEARED BEFORE THE POSTS Dancing to the tune of the spoon and Feeling a tad frustrated with WordPress … *****

***

Last year, as I’ve previously said, was especially difficult. I am still grieving after a sudden and major bereavement three months ago. Before that my marriage had broken down, I’d had to find and move to a new home. I’d faced a barrage of tests as a new chronic condition sprang forth bringing with it concerns of an underlying connective tissue disorder. I was studying, volunteering, continuing excessive efforts to rebuild my life post-abuse and subsequent illness … and more. Too much … I know that now. By November I was on my knees entirely burnt out. Only in January did I really begin to recover myself, having learned many more lessons (by now that’ll be half a dozen books I could write).

***

I’ve added many more blogs to my WordPress reader in recent months and reading entries is a daily habit for the most part. I’ve longed to write my own but have lack the spoons (see next entry for definition).I’m very happy to be back.

I’d like to share some of my favourite blogs – perhaps they will be new to you, perhaps they will appeal to you. Just three for now – in no particularly order …

http://arneamputated.com/ Arne, amputated – from amputation to first day back at work. I love reading Arne’s words and I’m learning much from his story. I’ll be starting a petition if he stops writing when he goes back to work 😉 .
https://beetleypete.wordpress.com/ The musings of a Londoner now living in Norfolk – great writing with such warmth, great storytelling and a cornucopia of topics. (I think I found Pete’s blog via Twitter and through Pete I found Arne’s blog)
https://diddispatches.wordpress.com/ A personal perspective on living with Dissociative Identity Disorder. What can I say about this blog that doesn’t sound trite? It’s brilliant. It’s raw, it’s gutsy, it’s a profound reflection of life as an adult following childhood abuse. The public so rarely see what can and what does happen to many of those children. There are so many potential consequences of abuse, DID is just one. DID Dispatches is honest, courageous, inspiring and full of hope.
TTFN x

Return to regular blogging imminent

It’s been SO long since my last post but I am soon to return.  This has been a huge year. Pressed for time doesn’t begin to cover it. In just over 10 months I have:

* ended my marriage
* moved home
* been bereaved
* started a major work project
* continued to deal with chronic illness
* made huge strides on the road to rebuilding my life following trauma and serious illness
* made new friends
* developed my first ever support network
* and much MUCH more

It is such hard work. I’ve fallen over many times … and feared I couldn’t get up again. Still, it IS worth it. I am no longer existing; I am living. As the blog says, I have survived and now I plan to thrive. I’m not there yet but I can see it.