So we're 3 months into our new life. It's a very different life to what we had before, in many ways so much better. But let me tell you something - when they say moving is one of the five most stressful things you can do in your life, they're not bloody wrong. Everyone asks how we're liking it, whether we miss the city. No we don't miss the city and yes we're liking it. Waking up every morning to the birdsong of Tui's in the trees, looking at at a vast body of shimmering water, taking the dog for a walk past horses and cows and letting him adventure off lead, looking out at an uninterrupted night sky before bed - all these things are magic and have definitely helped our stress levels.
What doesn't help them is the constant assault of new experiences - meeting new people, finding new places to buy your favourite foods, finding someone reputable to groom the dog, cut my hair... there's so many new things! It's like when you start a new job and you feel stupid because you don't know anything - that has been my constant experience for the last 12 weeks. And the school stuff! It's ridiculously overwhelming. Don't get me wrong, we are super happy with Sam's school. He's so much happier, the school is amazing - well resourced, incredibly switched on staff who actually seem to enjoy their jobs. And for the most part people have been lovely. But they're also quite set in their ways, maybe you could even use the word 'cliquey'? It's not that they're intentionally being rude. It's that they've all either grown up together, living their whole lives here, or they have gone through the parenting journey together from the beginning. They all know each other & each other's kids and they forget that new people don't know what the status quo is. We've met some awesome people and I think we'll eventually make good friends. But it's hard! And me being me, feeling anxious in many social situations, well, it's not a great combo. I'm constantly exhausted, my nerves feel raw and exposed and I always feel like I have to present my best self or people will judge my child and he'll be excluded and rejected. I know it's slightly irrational, I know that. But I desperately want Sam to be settled and happy here and being accepted is a massive part of that.
We've signed him up to three after school activities and for the most part, it's going well. But it does put the pressure on. We live 20 minutes from town, so the nights where his activity finishes at 5pm we're realistically not getting home until 5.30 and then it's a crunch to get through dinner and bedtime - it's actually very familiar to the pressure we had in Auckland, except that in Auckland we didn't have such a full schedule. But encouraging supporting him in these activities is a big part of settling into his new community and making friends. And the pay off is that the evenings we are home, like Fridays, we can have better quality family time. Nick likes to joke that he has a massive commute - down the stairs. So now we can fit in an activity or a family movie night because when he finishes work he's right there, no hour-long bike ride putting his life on the line to get home. The bonus family time is amazing and we're all enjoying it.
But it's kind of a backwards joke about his massive commute because our new lifestyle relies on Nick being available in Auckland for one week every month - a 3-hour journey to work! So that week that he's away and I'm single parenting can be very isolating. It doesn't just mean that I'm alone at night and doing the solo Mum gig, but it means that all the effort of fronting Sam's schedule and connections falls to me. We signed up for this, and we love most things about the lifestyle. In time, I'll probably enjoy the "me time". But right now, at the beginning, while everything is still so exhausting and overwhelming, I've found myself resenting his job. Which is crazy, because it's our sole income at the moment, and I'm super grateful they let him have this flexible working situation. But even when you know what you're getting yourself in for, the reality can be hard to deal with.
And you know what? That's ok. Some people might think I need to suck it up, put things in perspective, be grateful for what I have. The old me would have done this, would have beaten myself up for feeling negative thoughts when I'm getting what I want. But beating myself up is not what I do now. Instead I tell myself it's ok to feel this way. Acceptance. Embracing the stress. It's definitely a healthier approach. It doesn't make the stress better but it makes easier to deal with myself and to continue putting my best foot forward every day,
So what have I learnt about this experience? Well, for a start, we all know change is hard. And changing the city you live in is bloody hard. And all the good things, they might outweigh the negative, but it's still ok to embrace how hard a stressful situation is, to feel those negative emotions. By accepting and experiencing the stress, rather than suppressing it, squeezing it in a little box because of what you feel you "should" be feeling, it allows you to be kind to yourself. And really, if you're not kind to yourself, how can you expect anyone else to?
We moved for a better lifestyle and we got it. But we got other stresses, you can never escape them. So the only thing you can do is embrace them. Be grateful for the good things and acknowledge and accept the bad things because if there's one thing you can expect in life, it's that there's always going to be something to stress about.
I was reading in an article recently about how stress makes you stronger. You stress your muscles, they grow. You stress your mind, you get smarter. You stress your emotions, you build resilience. These are things that I believe to be true, and I've seen evidence of them working in my own life. My body, mind and "soul" (or whatever you want to call it) are stronger for the experiences I've had over the past 6 years. These days I go into high pressure situations more confident, and usually come out the back of them more calm and having achieved (more or less) what I wanted out of it.
I sound pretty put together, right? But that's me now. Try me 2-3 months ago, or even a few weeks ago (hell, even a few moments ago) and it could have been a totally different story. Like, a story about a nervous, anxious, angry, tense wreck called Nick. Because this is the thing I have learned about stress and resilience - you might get stronger, your limits might extend, but once you reach those limits and try to push them further, it feels pretty much the same in the moment as the last time you did it. Pain, fear, self-doubt, constant worrying. If you've learned the tools (and you have the wits about you enough to use them), you can put these things into perspective (I think Annamarie has done that beautifully in her writing above). But you still have to feel the stuff. You lift the weight, your arms still hurt. You're thinking hard, you will probably still furrow your brow.
That has been my experience of the past few months - high stress, high risk, high uncertainty, high stakes decisions on a regular basis, while trying to settle into a new community, new home, new job, new working location and rhythm, new team, you get the idea. There is very little continuity and certainty to cling to. We know that's all part of it, that it's what we signed up for - and we know we are heading in the right direction for our family, and I guess that is what is helping us get through it. As my ever-insightful wife says, there is always going to be stress, but the "why" is what defines whether you can deal with it or not. Stress sucks in the moment, but it's useful if it is in service of a positive goal.
I am ready for a break from stress. I am looking forward to getting through the last few months of this year, settling ourselves in and having a good old kiwi Christmas holiday. But I know that, once we've gotten past that, we will probably going to tackle another big challenge next year (my wife knows this, and has already sent me a link to a local triathlon...). And so, I am grateful. Grateful for the stress, grateful that I am privileged enough to get a break from it, and grateful that I have an amazing family to share the ups and the downs with. When it comes down to it, life is pretty awesome really.
They say change is as good as a holiday. I find that so funny.... they. I was at a conference recently and it struck me how often the presenter said "they say...". No disrespect because it was a great conference, but littered with all these they's! And I found myself distracted with the thought of Who are they? Why do their opinions get dropped into daily conversation? Why does everyone care so much about them? It's one of those things that you're not aware of until you are and then it's everywhere. Just watch, now you too will notice how often "they say" is slipped into conversation.
And because Nick and I always do what "they" say, we're heading into a period of massive change. Ok, well, not actually, because if we listened to a lot of what "they" say we'd probably be continuing on our current treadmill because that's for sure the safer option. But that's not how we roll. Nick says to me all the time "if this was easy, everyone would be doing it". So we're doing it - we're throwing caution to the wind, packing up our entire lives and moving away from the big city. And we're doing it in less than 3 weeks!
Why? Why move away from everything we know, the community we've built, Sam's cousins, Aunts, Uncles & Grandparents, from our GP, hairdresser and quiet cul de sac street? Why do we want to risk starting over, building a new community and heaven forbid let someone else dye my hair? Well, from my perspective (and luckily I think we're pretty aligned on this as we're both jumping into this together) the main reason is... time. and the ability to have more of it outside the city. Following on from that, stress, and the reduction we'll have with lower living costs and wide open space. And finally simplicity. Having gone through this tumultuous journey over the past 3 years, I have a much better appreciation for the simple life - for having time in my day to think, meditate, create meals, do yoga, grow my own vegetables, have quality family time. Simple, but not boring. Nick and I have always been home bodies. We enjoy company, and we love hosting people, but we're not good at going out. And over the past 3 years, with my health going up & down, it's limited the energy both of us have for going out so we've appreciated more the joy of good company, of peace, of spontaneous family games and cuddles. And when you've faced some of the darkest places your mind can go and some patchy health you start to appreciate that life is more than money and possessions but about good quality time with quality people.
We've been contemplating a move away from the big smoke for years, looked a various locations. We were always nervous to move away from our support network and from the medical professionals I've relied on. And we've also been concerned about furthering Sam's relationships with his cousins, an important bond for an only child. But holding back on living our potential best life for a few concerns has seemed silly and for myself personally I've felt trapped, in limbo. for a long time. I have known strongly since we returned from Europe that I was unhappy in my current life but felt unable to change anything because of all our excuses. And after doing the My Good Life course last year I learnt some key things about myself - I thrive in wide open spaces, I can feel closeted and claustrophobic without being able to see the sky. I also need time in my day to be alone with my thoughts, a rushing busy job is not going to be for me, and I am not a morning person. Knowing these key traits were not being addressed and feeling trapped on a hamster wheel not moving forward had really got to me and I was frozen in a state of malaise. And similarly, for Nick, the traffic, the long cycle to work taking his life in his own hands, coming home stressed from work and not catching the best moments with Sam. It all added up to us being done. And as much as we love our quiet street and bush outlook, it actually feels a bit dark and depressing at times, dare I say claustrophobic even. And Sam's cousins are all so busy with their own lives it's hard to find free time in their schedule for play dates anyway. And my health is on an upward trajectory. I think the rest of my journey is really one only I can complete, so the need for professional intervention isn't really an issue any more. And grandparents will visit... so the excuses didn't really seem important anymore.
So with much soul searching we kept coming back to a special place for us - the Rotorua Lakes region. My Dad and Nick's Mum both grew up there and my family still have a property right on Lake Rotoiti, which is our spiritual home. We feel at peace when we're there, calmer and like everything is going to be ok. We both have family in the area and we like the pace of life and the ability to raise Sam more simply with a focus on outdoor pursuits.
So the decision made, we jumped right into finding the right school for Sam, knowing that would be the clincher. We visited 3 different schools and researched others. After a year and a term at school and we now know what we don't want in a school and we think we know what will make Sam finally thrive at school. So when we found a lovely school we took it as a sign that this was meant to be. And the reason we're moving so fast is that he has to take his place this term or lose his out of zone enrolment. So what was holding us back? Not Nick's work, they'd already approved a provisional flexible working plan. So we just jumped. We gave ourselves 6 weeks and we're going for it.
These past few weeks have been a blur of logistics and packing. There is so much to consider when moving, let alone moving 3 hours away! But we're going to get there. We're going to start a new chapter in our lives, one we're so excited about. One we believe will give our little trio, our triangle family, the best future. Sayonara City of Sails, we're out!
"What an awesome life change!" they all say. "You must be so excited!" they say. And I am those things, I really am. But right now, what I mainly am is stressed the hell out. We have a shade under 3 weeks to uproot our entire lives and shift them across the country (OK, it's not all the way across the country, but it's far enough). At the same time (of course) it's extremely busy at work - so all that adds up to having zero spare time, going to bed exhausted every night, and then waking up early with your mind swimming in all the things that need to get done, all the badly timed surprise maintenance bills that need to be paid, and all the things you're afraid you forgot to add to your list.
So right at this moment in time, I'm not really feeling the joy and excitement of a massive life change. I'm feeling the pressure and uncertainty of a life in frantic flux. And yet, even in these moments, I still recognise that we are so lucky. We have supportive family who are helping us out. Neither of us are (very) sick or injured at this time (ok, my wife is still struggling with her fatigue & a sudden unwanted shoulder pain, but still... compared to where we've come from - healthy). Sam is mostly rolling with it, which is amazing given what a giant change it is. And we are prepared for this. After everything we've been through, we have the tools to stay sane through a time like this. I still journal and meditate most mornings, and exercise regularly. Through her health journey Annamarie has learned to cook us clean and delicious food which is great fuel for our bodies. We still manage to find moments for each other in the madness. And we're embracing the stress, channelling it and being grateful for it because without it our bodies wouldn't be producing the adrenaline we need to get through this crazy time.
I know that all our struggles and challenges have led us to this moment and armed us with the right tools to get through it. I know this is the right move for us, in spite of the nervousness and cold feet. We are excited. We are terrified. We are crazy. We are certain. We. Are. Doing. This.
This is not strictly a post about pregnancy loss, or grief, or our recovery. However, I do feel like it's relevant to all of those things, because this post is about something that has an influence on all of us, whether it's directly part of your life or not - the shadow (and light) of it hangs over human society, subtly altering our experience just by existing. It also has a direct relevance to loss and grief, because often it is the place people turn in times of difficulty. And it has the potential to upset some people.
This post is about religion.
It's about my personal relationship with religion, and how it has figured into my grieving process. It's not intended to offend or upset anyone - it's just my view of the world. I want to state upfront that I don't have any issue with the practice of religion, providing it's not used as a stick to beat others with (and to me that is the fault of the person practising it, not the religion itself). I think "Faith", in it's many forms, can be a wonderful thing. That being said, here we go . . .
I was raised as a Christian, specifically Roman Catholic. I went to Christian schools. We went to church on Sundays. I studied religious education at school (I even took an advance university course on it for extra credit - what a nerd). I played in the church band. I was even an altar boy for a little while.
Somewhere around the age of 15 or 16, when my rebellious streak was at it's streakiest, I decided I didn't want to go to church any more. To me, it felt stale, repetitive. I'd sit in my pew and listen to the congregation mumble the words by rote. There was no feeling to it, no passion, and I thought - how can God be here? How can this be God? I found energy and passion, and love in other things - mainly music at that time, but also nature, and friendship, and (even though I was too cool for them at that age) family.
I remember the conversation with my parents. They understood my reasons, and they respected my opinion. They were not zealots, they were never going to disown me for giving up religion. They certainly weren't fundamentalist about scripture - if I'd told them I was gay, they would have been cool with that. But Church wasn't just a religious thing for them - it was a family activity. Every Sunday after mass we'd chat outside the Church with other families, and often a big group would meet at someone's place for morning tea. That was a big part of the weekend, and of my upbringing. I remember cream donuts from Mt Eden Bakery as a staple. Also, I had two younger brothers. If I was allowed to skip out on Church it would create issues with them. I could believe what I liked, they said - but while I lived in their house, I needed to continue to participate in this family routine.
As a parent, I get that instinct now, As a teenager, I wasn't having it. I was just at that age where rules of any sort felt like a righteous injustice that I had to battle with all the fire and brimstone of a civil rights activist (what do you mean I have to have wear a collared shirt for our family photo??! Form the picket lines!) and this was about my beliefs. It felt too important to let go. It also felt like a giant waste of time to sit in church for an hour and listen to something that I had no interest in. I could be doing better things with my time, like sleeping (hey, I was a teenager). I was also over the post-Church morning tea thing. Most of the other teens my age where no longer attending them, and even if they were, we were often from different schools or cliques, it's not like when you're 5 and everyone is your mate.
We argued. I shouted. They shouted. I reasoned, they reasoned. Things got emotional, then heated. In a typically teen melodramatic finish, I punctuated a final "NO!" by punching a hole in the living room wall. It was stupid, destructive, unnecessary. If my child ever does something like that, I'll be so pissed. Weirdly, it also worked. My parents eventually told me that, if I felt that strongly, I didn't have to go to Church, that they would explain it to my brothers. I had "won", but like a child who gets their way by throwing a tantrum (isn't that exactly what I'd done?) I felt a bit embarrassed by the whole thing. The outcome was right, I thought - but I didn't like how we'd got there. In a final flourish of irony, the hole in the wall was covered with a picture of Jesus (honestly I think it just fit the gap, it wasn't a veiled message. I think.).
Now that I had my spiritual freedom, of course I used it for very deep and enlightened things - video games, girls, sleep. I didn't think too deeply about religion or the existence of God for a long time. I suppose if you'd have asked me, I would have considered myself an agnostic - I felt there was some sort of higher presence there, and (maybe out of habit from childhood), at times of great need or sadness, I'd turn to It. It wasn't so much "praying" as a request for strength, a hail Mary pass when I really needed something to go right for me. So it was a pretty selfish view of "God" I guess.
My wife is not religious, and religion wasn't part of her upbringing. Her Dad is technically Anglican, but he doesn't practice, and her Mum has no religion I'm aware of. It just wasn't part of her life. She was fascinated by my history, in a "look at that weird fish, why does it have blue spots" kind of way. We talked about our beliefs, and agreed if we had kids, we didn't want them to be raised in any religion. We felt they should be able to make their own choices, and I thought from my experience that my early exposure to religion had taken away some of that choice - it was already in my head, before I truly had the ability to decide if I wanted it there (but then again, maybe the ethics and guiding principles of Christianity helped me to not grow up a jerk? OK not a total jerk . . .).
Although I am not religious, I remain intrigued and fascinated by faiths of all kind - Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist. In recent years, having done more thinking and some more reading on the subject of God (I can recommend this and this especially), and come to the conclusion that I'm definitely an atheist now. For me, there is just no good evidence of the existence of a Creator. I'm not ruling it out completely, but in order to function in the world, we all have to make some base assumptions about what is true - and I hold the non-existence of a God as one of those truths. You don't need to be 100% certain of these assumptions in order to act on them either - I also can't rule out the possibility that (as some scientists and Elon Musk apparently believe) all of reality is an illusion and we are in a Matrix-style simulation - but to be safe, I'm going to avoid jumping off roofs and trying to dodge bullets.
So, all this is to say that, when we had our annus horriblus in 2016, losing our baby, my wife's physical and mental well being, and almost losing ourselves along the way, we didn't have a religious life raft to cling to. We were on our own, in the real world, with our grief. We had to work through it ourselves, learning to swim together, keeping each other afloat. I can't speak to whether that is a good or a bad thing, whether having a religion would have grounded us in some way - or whether it would have made it even harder, whether the events of 2016 would have made us call our religion into question, and then you're adding a spiritual crossroads to everything else you've got going on.
I can say I've never been tempted (tempted? Isn't that a weirdly biblical choice of words?) to go back to Christianity, or any religion for that matter. I respect aspects of religious life - the community, the structure, the history, the rituals and the way they reflect meaning. I can honestly see benefits, right down to the physical - religion is calming, grounding, it gives you a platform to build off. I also find it limiting. It's prescriptive, and in my opinion the prescriptions are often not founded on any basis of fact or research.
I feel like I can get the same benefits from other forms of ritual - meditation, yoga, exercise, journaling - and I personally find meaning and connected-ness in nature more than any Church. When I'm rowing a boat at night on a glassy lake and I look up at the stars, the world is beautiful and wondrous enough for me without needing to bring God into it.
That's not to say you can't or shouldn't believe and still process your grief effectively. I guess one way religion could be useful in dealing with pregnancy loss is the practice of "faith" - that is, the ability to envision and believe in something that's not physically "there". I suppose my love for my daughter is really an act of faith - I've never met her, I never truly "saw" her or held her in my arms. I have various artefacts that provide some basis for belief (pictures of the scan, her ashes) and various symbols that represent a concept of her (rainbows, certain songs, a bracelet I wear with her and Sam's initials). These things, and what they prompt in my head, are my relationship with her, and, being a practical, physical person I struggle with that sometimes. Maybe having a religious practice would help me to hold her in my mind and heart in a more "real" way?
When I was very young, maybe 5 or 6, I can remember going to Church and thinking that the Priest actually was God. Like, God is up there on the altar, he's come here specifically for a chat with us. Which is weird, because we went to different churches sometimes, so I knew there were different priests. I guess the way I thought of it, God is magic, he can be who he wants, like a shapeshifter. And He was definitely a "he" in my mind - the idea of a female or even gender-neutral God hadn't crossed my mind. Which again, is silly - if there is a God, why would he/she have a gender? What possible purpose could that serve, beyond giving us a pronoun to call him/her by? But this is a good example of how even believing in what you see can deceive you. I genuinely thought I saw God, and all of the ritual and rhythm supported that belief, but in the end it was just some dude in a white robe.
I suppose it doesn't matter how silly or crazy your beliefs are. If they matter deeply to you, they are real - whether that's the existence of God, or whether you really lost a child. And if those beliefs enrich your life (and as long as they don't hurt anyone else), they're worth holding onto. If I have a "faith" these days, that's it - believe in what strengthens you - let the rest of it go. And of course, after recent devastating events in our country it's important that we see people's beliefs as being their own business. It's our job as human beings to accept everyone no matter what their faith, or lack thereof. We are all human, we are all alive, and life is precious.
So we've been a bit quiet for a while... because life, really. In the last quarter of last year I was doing a wellness course called My Good Life, and that took all my mental and physical energy to commit to. Plus, motherhood, seeing a few clients in my salon, helping at at Sam's school... and what was the other thing? Oh yeah. Being constantly fatigued.
We had a good summer. I should clarify that and say Sam had a great summer - he had an amazing adventure of camping, learning to ride his bike, swimming at the school pool, play dates, birthday parties, meeting some alpacas, lots of reading, bike riding, scooting and an awesome 6th birthday outing to Jump trampoline park. It was a long 7 weeks but it was only really in the last week that he started to get ratty with what I assume to be the lack of routine & need for more kid contact and I started to wish for school to start up again. We had a good time the two of us, he's now at an age where he's often self-sufficient so I was able to have time in my day for my mental wellness routine, to have easy starts to the day. The best part of the holiday for me other than spending more time with my number one boy was not having to battle to get him to school in the morning - anyone who has had challenges with a kid not wanting to go to school will know what I mean!
The other thing I enjoyed was the clear identity I had - I was his full-time mother & carer. I had a purpose, a defined role. Not once did I feel guilty or useless. I was exhausted sure, and I had to pace myself, but Sam was ok with slow starts, with long stretches playing Lego or board games, with only managing one activity every day, some days none. Plus, having a pool key meant I could take him there and sit on the sidelines while he tired himself out. It was the best summer weather-wise and mental-health-wise I've had in a long time.
Mentally, I had just finished this 9 week course where we'd done a lot of "mind-shift" stuff - re-learning ingrained behaviours, changing my internal voice from negative to positive, embracing the power of gratitude. It was powerful stuff and I think it helped me go into the festive season relatively emotionally stable. In the course we learnt that childhood rejection of some sort has shaped us to have certain beliefs about ourselves that frames how we see ourselves and how we relate to stress & trauma. That to move forward to be the healthier version of ourselves we had to dig deep into our sub-conscious to re-learn behaviour, correct those negative "truths".
For me, one of the first and most significant changes was my internal voice - my biggest critic. Now, I knew from my psychologist sessions that I "should" be talking to myself with kindness, the way I would talk to a best friend. But was I doing it? Well, clearly not. It was always easier to talk to myself in a negative critical way because I'd been doing it for so long. So I created a personality for my negative voice - I called her Joy, ironically. I would have conversations out loud with Joy - "Come on Joy, that's a bit harsh", "Joy, that's actually not true - you did your best", "Joy, it doesn't matter if that person thinks you're weird - that's their issue, why do you care?". Slowly I started to change my internal voice, and now, 3 months into 2019 it's not often that I have to tell Joy off. Amazingly I have employed this same strategy with Sam to try and give him a way to deal with moments he feels anxious, particularly about school to great success. His internal voice is called JT (?? Who knows where that name came from, but isn't it interesting that it's the reverse of T.J?) & he has conversations out loud to JT. Sometimes I remind him - "Remember, JT is just trying to protect you, that's his job, so you say "Thank you JT, but I'm safe right now"."
On this course we had weekly homework on our mind-shift stuff, and sometimes is was incredibly confronting. Sometimes enjoyable - like the gratitude ritual, which quite frankly, just makes sense. Apparently, if you're in a negative pattern of thinking, gratitude is one of the most powerful emotions to help you re-programme those negative neural pathways. Again, I had tried gratitude in the past. I had tried a daily gratitude journal but it hadn't stuck. Maybe it wasn't the right format for me, or maybe I just wasn't ready to embrace it until late last year. But once I added the gratitude ritual to my day, and once I was guided what I need to put into it to help change my beliefs - I started to feel lighter. The gratitude ritual is really simple, you do it every day for about 5 minutes. You think of something you're grateful for - say, your amazing husband. You visualize that person (or object) - what does it look like, what would it feel like to reach out & touch it, what does it smell like, taste like - whatever of the 6 senses are appropriate obviously. Then you imagine your gratitude getting bigger until it's bursting & then you let it go, thanking it. You do it with 3 things. Simple.
For me though, I was grateful for Nick, grateful for Sam, sometimes for Richie the dog, sometimes for the weather, sometimes for our house. But it wasn't until Morella, one of the coaches, made me see that my guilt & grief over having one child wouldn't change until I was grateful for only having one child - for the amazing life the 3 of us currently have and could have in the future. Being grateful for us a a trio has changed things dramatically for me. It took some tears, breaking down in front of the whole group, confronting some uneasy truths about why I've been holding onto my negative story, but I am starting to feel grateful and lucky for having an only child rather than lacking.
The other area I'm working on is being grateful for my body. That's a really challenging one as I felt it had let me down in the past. I didn't recognise it, couldn't connect with it. I still struggle daily with this as my health isn't where I want it to be. But I'm trying to be kind & accepting of my journey and my challenges rather than disconnecting from my body. It's bloody hard though!
So that brings me back to my current headspace and why I decided today was a good day to write a blog post. I realised that in the 5 or so weeks since Sam has gone back to school my mental energy has dipped down again. I now have uninterrupted time in my day to meditate, do my gratitude ritual and some yoga without having to remind a small human that slamming into the room isn't relaxing. But my internal value has dipped - my identity and self worth seem to be tied to how much I can achieve in one day. And right now my energy is still so low that the smallest things are exhausting. We're working on it physically, the Doctor & Naturopath have me on a regime to try and heal my Chronic Fatigue, but it's a slow process. In the meantime, having extra time in my day feels like a curse - if I fill it with activities and chores, I have nothing left for Sam & Nick. If I rest, I feel incredibly lazy and unproductive. I remind myself daily to treat myself with kindness and just accept the current situation. That working on my mental health is actually incredibly exhausting but so so important. But the best part of my day is 3pm when my role becomes clearly defined - mother, caregiver. And the best part is that Sam doesn't mind if I don't have a lot of energy as long as he's fed, paid attention to and cuddled (see, I'm so grateful for that one mostly well-behaved child, imagine me trying to cope with my current state with two kids?!).
So until 3pm my self-worth fluctuates and it's incredibly challenging. I think there is an ingrained view that women need to be copers - to be superwomen. Especially now when it's expected that mothers will work (and actually most need to to live in this expensive city). And while I do work, it's sporadic and I can't over-commit myself or risk letting people down or doing an average treatment when my energy runs out. But I'm also not a super house-wife either, with the house-husband doing the lion's share of the washing & vacuuming & 90% of the dishes. So what value do I add then? It's ridiculous in this society, where mental health problems and suicide are such an issue that I can't allow myself to have a simpler pace of life and embrace all the good things I'm doing because I don't fit into a category that can be explained. When people ask me what I do, it seems like a lie to say Beauty Therapist because it's so part-time, does it even count? And if your child is at school 6 hours a day, 5 days a week can you be a full-time mother? Is full-time Recovering-From-Trauma-and-Working-on-my-Wellness-to-be-the-Best-Mother-and-Wife-I-can-be a thing? Is Trying-to-get-my-Energy-up-so-I-can-Find-Some-Enjoyment-in-Life a role? And because the medical world - the public health system, the medical insurance companies - don't recognise my current state as actually being worth supporting, is it all in my head? I know it's not, I know that I can't get better without doing a heck of a lot of hard work. But in the meantime, it's not a recognised state of anything, by anyone other than the people close to me who love me and don't judge me for what I'm going through.
But because I know better and have the insight to see how ridiculous my guilt and lack of self-worth is, why can't I feel good about myself just the way I am? Life huh? Nick read over this post and told me he thought I should wrap this up, make it more hopeful at the end. But I think my exact words were: Nah, fuck that. This is where my life is and I don't have all the answers. I think those of you who have been reading from the beginning will know that we have always been honest, sometimes brutally so. So while I don't want to leave this post feeling helpless, because I'm actually not at the same levels of low I've been in the past, I also don't have a nice way to conclude this. I just hope that something in this resonates with someone - that they have that moment of "Yes, it's not all in my head!" or "I'm not alone!".... because truthfully, I think we all struggle sometimes with our identity and self-worth.
So we had a weekend away. It was something we both really needed and the timing couldn't have been better. We'd had a month of illness in our house in the weeks leading up to our mini break. First Sam had a week-long flu, then Nick & I caught a nasty virus that started as conjunctivitus and ended up with our bodies nearly shutting down. Then Sam got sick again, this time with a tummy bug while he was staying with his Grandparents (we quarantined ourselves away from him so he didn't get it too) and had to come home to have Mama-comfort. Then when we were all starting to get on the mend, I got had another gastro episode that knocked me for about 6 days. So the school holidays were a bit of a bust for poor Sammy.
And because we'd had weeks of either being sick or being caregivers, both Nick and I were burnt out & little niggles that had been bugging us recently became bigger and we both felt like we weren't connecting as we should be. So the opportunity to use some Airpoints and some money gifted to us by my in-laws for Christmas (thank you!) was extremely welcomed. And having two sets of Grandparents willing to have our little man for 3 nights meant that we could go on a real adventure.
We decided to make our way to the South Island, namely the Catlins, because it's a beautiful part of the country and somewhere we'd never been. And for us as a couple, going on an adventure together, experiencing new things is a great way to cement our bond. So the weekend was a great opportunity to re-affirm what we love about each other, our shared sense of humour and everything we have in common.
We went on a road trip exploring wild beaches, lighthouses and caves. We had a great time and came back this week feeling closer than we've been in a long time and more energised. However, it wasn't all happy-happy Instagram perfect. Because life isn't like that. I wrote a post about on Saturday. Basically, this is what I said:.
Sometimes you have to fake your energy to get your body to catch up to your mind. We're having a mini break away from the big city & our mini human, we're seeing some amazing parts of the Catlins in the South Island but it is still a challenge to feel the physical energy to enjoy our experience like the old versions of ourselves before trauma and PTSD came calling.
But you've got to keep faking it to tell your mind body & soul that it's going to be ok to live your life. One day it will get the message.
At the moment I'm doing a wellness course called My Good Life and a big part of the journey on this course is understanding what's going on in my mind and empowering myself through understanding, self compassion and gratitude. So understanding what really makes my heart sing, what makes me feel good, whether it be environment, relationships, exercise or food is basically what I'm spending my time doing. According to the PH360 study that we're using (which FYI is an eye opener so watch this space for me to talk about it more, because it's amazing!), wide open spaces and a cooler climate is the perfect getaway for me, so this couldn't have been set up better for me to enjoy myself.
And I absolutely did enjoy myself, it was the perfect environment, the perfect company and while my mind was happy and energised in a way it hasn't in a while, my body was still exhausted. And at times I felt frustrated and angry at my body for holding me back (like when Nick literally had to push me back 1.5kms up a hill). However, part of my journey is accepting my current situation and treating myself with kindness. My goal this week is to stop feeling bad about what I "should" be doing, stop comparing my journey to other people's or my own unrealistic expectation of what I'm supposed to be doing.
That's the thing about trauma, about PTSD, about grief. Your body and mind sometimes feel disjointed, especially in my case as my trauma is intricately wound up with illness and what my body has been through. So I'm learning to pace myself, to be okay with my own limitations and be okay with my current status. Small steps, day by day. I can't force my journey to go quicker than I want it to, I can only take on board all the tools I've been given and everything I've learnt and use them to take one day at a time
We are a family of 3. This blog is the story of how we almost became 4, why we didn’t, and what we are doing to recover from that experience.