Last night lying in bed late at night I said to Nick "It's been a helluva week". And then I corrected myself "Actually, it's been a shitty 6 weeks". And then Nick reminds me that the rest of the year and the one previous hasn't been a picnic ether. Sometimes it seems like we can't catch a break. I accepted that 2016 was our year from hell, but once it was over I really felt that it would be onwards and upwards for us.
Except it hasn't gone to plan. My health has continued to challenge me, Nick's managing some significant injuries and now we lose one of the most special people in the world to us. I mean, we knew my health wasn't great, but we were blindsided by my mental recovery - neither of us seeing how challenging and all-consuming it would be. Nick's injuries have been an unwelcome, untimely issue - causing him pain, of course, but also stopping him from doing the things he loves, things that provide him joy & stress relief. And then there's the loss. We knew that was coming too. In some ways it makes it easier to prepare. When a loved one has a terminal illness you start your grieving early. But when it finally happens you still feel shocked, how can this person, who has been such a big part of your life, suddenly be gone?
Last week Nick's Aunt passed away after a long drawn out illness. She had been battling like a champion for over a year and it was awful to see her constantly in pain. She was in hospital more times last year than I was (and that's a lot!) and each time it was another infection ravaging her system. Living in the same city we tried to be there as much as our schedules and health allowed. But the last few months, with her health potentially compromising my own health in the lead up to another significant surgical procedure, the risk of visiting seemed too high. But when it was clear her time was limited, no matter how uncomfortable I was post-operatively it was important that we go and visit, to talk to her one last time, touch her hand, stroke her hair and show her how much she meant to us. I felt a lot of guilt over the last few months for not being able to spend time with her, to make silly jokes like we used to and tell Sam stories to cheer her up. I also knew how Nick's Mum had put her whole life on hold to be her supporter, her constant advocate and companion. Both Nick and I wanted to do more to support her in her support role.
That's the thing about surviving trauma - you see someone else struggling through their own journey and you want to help to ease their burden. Ultimately though, it's important to put yourself first when you're in a low state yourself. When your health isn't at it's best and when (as my psychologist would say) "your tank is empty", you need to focus on yourself. It's a fine balance though because sometimes the guilt of not being there makes the stress worse. My biggest tool at the moment is acceptance. By accepting things are as they are I feel a heck of a lot less guilt. I don't think people are judging me for the things I'm unable to do (how can they if they know what I've been through and continue to go through?) And if they do, well, I accept that I can't change the fact that person is a douche.
I was talking to a very special lady last week who is on her own health journey, telling me how she'd gone for treatment on this particular day then forced herself to go visit her Mum in hospital, despite the fact she's immune-compromised herself, exhausted from her own treatment and that returning to the hospital she started her journey at triggered huge anxiety. Why did she do this? Because she felt she had to. She felt she needed to be there to support her Mum, that no one else could do it, so she put someone else's needs before her own. And this is part of the reason I keep going with this blog. Because that's exactly what I would have done too! It's so important to talk about putting your own needs first and normalise not coping.
The last 6 months has started to "re-frame" my thinking. Why do we insist on pushing ourselves when we're so low ourselves? Why can't we admit that we're not coping? Why is it so hard to ask for help? Why do we feel guilty saying "No"? We are a culture of copers. We solider on, but at what cost? Our health is paramount, and we don't appreciate it until we lose it. Putting our own needs first to preserve our mental and physical health is a constant battle, something that has to be done every day. But I believe that if I do that, if I put my own needs first then my whole family will be stronger. It makes sense that if I'm at my lowest then I'm not being a good mother or wife. Setting aside time every day for my own health is a habit I want to get into, something I'm starting to do, and something I believe will make me stronger, more resilient to trauma in the future. It's funny that it has to be a new habit I form though, that the idea of protecting my own needs is a foreign concept. Again, I think this is a failing of our society - that we push ourselves so much to cope with anything life throws at us.
(If you missed my post about what I'm doing to cope every day, go back & read it here)
So this latest loss, and it's a big one for our family, in some ways it seems unimaginable - how do we cope with it? Almost a year since my own Grandmother started her decline that ended in July last year, the echoes of Nick's Aunt's journey, particularly at the end, brought up many memories of supporting my beloved Grandmother in Hospice. Almost a year since we received the worst news possible, that our wee girl hadn't made it, that not only had she died, but that it was an extremely rare condition that would compromise my health for many months to come. Almost a year since these significant losses and now we have to go through it again? In another way though, I feel like my journey over the past year has made this current loss easier to cope with. I've survived some of the worst things that people will go through in their lives - months of sustained illness, losing a baby, the big "C" word, losing someone incredibly close to me, three traumatic surgeries - and if I can get through that, I can get through anything. I don't think I'm stronger because of what I went through, I don't think I'm more of a coper, but I know that I have the resilience to get through this. I accept that there will be down days, I'm already experiencing and coping with that. So while last week was incredibly difficult, filled with much sadness, many hugs, tears and lots of mud at the cemetery, I know that I survived that and I will continue to survive every day.
And to quote Sam's current favourite song, from the movie Sing (click on the link, it'll make you smile):
We fight sometimes. We always have, no doubt we always will. I don't know if we fight more now than before we lost our baby, but it feels like we do. And we fight about stupid little things, like whether I put the towels away in the right place (I didn't) or whether she loaded the dishwasher right (she didn't). And sometimes we fight about bigger things - whether we are supporting each other in the way the other person needs, the times I prioritise work over family, our approaches to parenting.
I'm not that worried about the fights though. We always resolve them, one way our another, and they never drag on for longer than a day (sometimes things fester overnight). Once we both get some time and space, we can usually both find the perspective to respect the other person's point of view, and forgive each other (because it's pretty rarely only one person's fault). I do worry about our relationship. I do worry about the toll this whole experience has taken on us, whether the ties that bind us together have frayed - but I guess I'd be more concerned if I didn't worry.
Our relationship has definitely changed over the past year and a bit, although I'm not sure I can put my finger on exactly how. I felt like in the immediate aftermath of our loss, we came together even more tightly, and we were closer than we've ever been - not happy, happy is the wrong word, but closer. Since then, it feels like the distance between us has ebbed and flowed - sometimes we're walking in lock-step, sometimes one of us is off in the distance while the other one shouts at them to wait up.
In our wedding vows, I called Annamarie my "partner in crime", which was a little in-joke between us, but also captured the essence of our relationship - we've always been partners, equals, best friends. I lean on her, she leans on me - sometimes at the same time. For us, this goes pretty deep. We got together at university, in our very early 20s, so we've grown together into the people we are. Our identities, in many ways, are fused with the other person. I owe my confidence to Annamarie. I owe her my ability to not live like a total slob. I even owe her my vision - I have congenital and extreme short-sightedness, and for years I had accepted my doctors' assurances that nothing could be done. Annamarie encouraged me to challenge that, we got some second opinions, and two surgeries later I can drive a car and not walk into random objects. I owe her that.
There were certainly times recently where I felt like I lost that partner. Not through anything Annamarie deliberately said or did - but when the person you respect most in the world becomes your 24/7 patient for 8-odd months out of a year, that's going to change the dynamic a bit. It's not that I'm angry with her. In fact, seeing what she went through and the dignity, love and just pure guts she brought to the table makes me love and respect her more than ever. But it can be frustrating. Sometimes I'm guilty of treating her requests as an annoyance, if she asks me to reshuffle my schedule last minute, or chop some vegetables when I'm in the middle of something trivial (but seemingly important to me). I will usually do as I'm asked, but sometimes I'm a dick about it. I try to keep that in check, but sometimes it comes out when I'm not thinking.
It's also difficult to judge where "we" are at sometimes - Annamarie is on the mend now physically and emotionally, and she's become much more of a partner again this year, but she is still struggling with a whole lot of stuff. That can be a tough tightrope to walk - I'm never sure whether I'm asking too much of her and she's just handling the jandal (because that's what she does), or whether she is actually OK. Get it wrong one way and I'm pushing her down a rough road, get it wrong the other and I'm babying her (and woe betide the foolish man who babies my wife, sir).
I suppose I am damaged too, and I wonder how much that is driving things in our relationship, whether I'd be stronger and more patient if I wasn't dealing with my own issues. I think I'm "on top of it" (whatever that means), but the thing about a sinking ship is that you often don't see the leak until it's too late. We watched "The Trolls" movie recently, and I got quite emotional. I mean, it was during the emotional bit, where you're supposed to feel sad and inspired by the sharing caring troll-love - but still, it's the Trolls Movie and I'm a 34-year-old man. There's being in touch with your sensitive side, but this was a bit much.
I guess the unpredictability is the hardest thing. We're both on our own journey of recovery, and in some senses discovery, finding out who we are now after all of this, and sometimes we find ourselves at completely different places, both of us needing support and love from the most important person in our lives, and neither of us able to give it. We both process in quite different ways. Annamarie likes to talk, re-tell the story of what happened, examine things from different sides, talk about the "what ifs" and "why fors". On the other hand, I process in silence - I potter around the house, do chores, listen to music, let things percolate away in my subconscious. Then, out of the blue, the pieces will "click" and I'll feel like I understand more, like I've taken a step forward. We both know this about each other, and we try to work around it - I am trying to talk more, and Annamarie is good at giving me space - but there are moments when it's a bit of a train wreck.
Ultimately, I guess we're like everyone - riding a bike, trying to stay in the saddle and constantly course correcting as we go. Sometimes we can coast and enjoy the ride, and sometimes it's an uphill slog, but I take comfort from the fact that we're always talking, always keeping our head up. I know my wife doesn't pull any punches with me (well, not when it counts), and I hope she could say the same of me. We are not perfect, we're not always happy, hell, we don't always like each other but we do have love. It's hard-fought, it's sometimes ugly, and it's not always what we want to be doing at 11pm on a Wednesday when we're both tired and grumpy, but it's there. We're still pedaling forward, and even if we lose our balance, I know I've got a partner to pick me back up again. And so does she.
I think I understand why some marriages don't survive significant loss or trauma. Because it's hard work. Managing the needs of your partner when you're barely managing your own needs is hard work. I know I don't do a very good job of being a supportive partner at the moment. I'm so focused on my own physical and emotional journey that it can be easy to neglect my husband. It's not because I don't care, but because I don't have the room to do anything about it, so it's easier to block it out. And to be honest, I think I have to.
It sounds incredibly selfish to myself as I write this, but the only way forward for me is if I put myself first in order to pull myself out. No one else can do this for me, it's my hard slog. I have a long journey ahead to become the healthy person I plan to become, and the only way I'll get there is if I prioritise myself above everyone else, including my husband and even my son. I think this is part of why I was drawn to the name of our blog. You take yourself with you, no matter what happens, where you go. You'll always be there, and you have to survive your own journey. Sure, sometimes people around you provide support, cheer from the sidelines, but they can't physically move your feet for you, you have to do it yourself.
The most important thing though is acceptance. This happened to us, and it sucks but it happened and we can't change the past, we can only change how we respond to our situation. Some days are good, some days are awful. Sometimes we snap at each other and don't support each others needs, sometimes we're stronger than we've ever been. It's our journey and it's ok for it to be how it is. Not being strong all the time is ok. Not being the perfect partner is ok. Admitting you're struggling is ok. And writing about all of this, while part of me cringes that so many people know some of our really personal thoughts & emotions, it's actually a really good thing. Because we all need to remind ourselves to accept our current situation, be ok with what we're going through, be ok if we're not coping. I look forward to the day that I sit here and think, wow, I haven't actually felt depressed in a while.
I think this article has some great advice, and sums it up better than I possibly could: Ten Tips for Dealing with Grief
Anyway, my profound thinking for this week - you can only be a good partner if you have the capacity to. If your tank is running on empty you need to refill it first, you are your number one priority when you're at your lowest (and in truth that's the time you feel least like putting yourself first). It's also important to communicate with each other and tell the other person your limits. And then just be ok with not being the perfect couple with the awesome marriage for a while. Take a turn into flat-mateville, as long as you don't stay there forever you'll come through it ok. I know we will.
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"Everything happens for a reason"
"At least you have one beautiful child, many people aren't that lucky"
"You can still try again"
"At least you have each other"
"It just wasn't meant to be"
"My sister had a miscarriage, you guys should get together and talk about it"
When you're grieving, people talk a lot of shit. I used to be one of them. I'd sit there with a friend or family member who was hurting, and I'd feel like I needed to say something, like I needed to cover the silence, fill in the empty space. So I'd say something, anything. I thought I was doing it for them, but I guess thinking about it now I was really doing it for myself - making myself feel more comfortable in the situation.
Having been on the other side of the table now, I don't hate or judge Past Nick for his efforts at comforting others. He was doing what he thought was best. He meant well. He was trying. He was also a dickhead, and he probably made things worse for whoever he was trying to help.
Because Annamarie was so sick through the early stages of our Partial Molar Pregnancy, we were forced to be very open with the people in our personal and professional lives. In some ways that was a blessing - when we lost our baby, we didn't have to make up lame excuses or pretend that we were OK. People were nice, they gave us time and space to process, to hurt, to start healing. Ultimately it's probably what led to us creating this blog - the cat was out of the bag, might as well let it run around a bit.
But there was a fiip side to this, of course. Because everyone knew, each new person we saw was like ripping off a Band Aid. We'd have to re-live the whole thing, explain the details all over again. It felt like going back to square one, every conversation. My first day back at work was like a form of emotional torture. Every time I thought I'd got on top of it and could function normally, someone else would appear who I hadn't seen, and my professional armour would be gone, I'd be right back in that hospital, lost, confused, worried, empty.
Everyone was very kind of course, and I know they were all trying to help. Some people would tell me they were really sorry, and then move on, not really knowing what to say. Those were probably the easiest - they let you know that they cared, and then they let you get on with living. No expectations, no strings. Others would tell us about similar experiences they'd had, that they'd had a miscarriage, or they knew someone who had, or they'd had trouble with conceiving / IVF and the emotional rollercoaster that entails. At the time, that was hard to hear - we didn't give a shit about other people's pain, we didn't have the space for that. We were hurting. That was what mattered. But on reflection, I'm grateful these people shared their stories - it helped me to realise just how common this sort of loss is, and how little people actually talk about it.
There were others conversations though, that I could easily have skipped. The ones that left me shaking with barely contained rage. The ones that made me want to punch people in their nosey fucking noses. The nurse who told my wife the day after her D&C that she was "so lucky to have one child" . The colleague who told me that God had a plan for all of us and that my dead baby was "part of His plan". The countless people who helpfully reminded me that we could "always have another go".
I should mention here that I am not good with advice at the best of times. As a general rule, if I feel like you're telling me what to do, you can be pretty well assured that I am either going to ignore the living shit out of you, or aggressively pursue the opposite course of action. I'm OK with information. I love information. Tell me an interesting fact, tell me a story about your experience, ask me a probing question - I'm right there with you. But instruct me, direct me to do something (especially if you've got limited information about the subject) and you're in for some Christian Bale type shit.
So, suffice to say that it took some Herculean self-control for me to not get locked up for assault while receiving "comfort" from some people. I mean really, read the room people. If you've just broken your leg, I don't wander up while you're writhing on the ground in agony and tell you that you're fortunate to have the other one. I don't tell you a story about my broken leg and how much it hurt. I call you a fucking doctor, and then I sit with you and make sure you're OK until the damn professionals show up.
I think it's a common misconception that you have to do something for people who are in emotional (or even physical) stress. I can't speak for everyone, but I have to say that isn't true for me. I don't need you to do anything. I need you to shut the fuck up and love me. That's it. Let me know you're there, let me know that you can see I'm hurting. Go ahead and ask if there is anything you can do - and when I tell you there isn't, listen to me. Don't disappear, but don't get in my face either. What I want is for this shitty thing not to have happened to me, What I want is to rewind the fucking clock and make it all better. What I want is my daughter back. You can't do that for me - but what you can do is just be there. If you're my friend, be my friend. If you're my well-intentioned work colleague, be that.
This can be hard for people to get, I think - that just being there makes a difference, and I suppose at the time it doesn't feel like it. It just feels terrible, and sad. But it would feel that way anyway - at least now I feel terrible and sad and not alone. I might not thank you for it at the time, because I might not have it in me just then, but in a few weeks when I am staring blankly at the ceiling unable to sleep and feeling like nobody gives a shit, I will remember that at least one person does. And that will make a difference.
I don't want to seem ungrateful. I'm really not. We've had incredible support from friends and family, and we're lucky enough to have a large network of people who live in the same city as us so that they can support us. Not everyone has that. But as someone who has been on the other side of the fence, I would have liked to be told the truth about what's helpful, and what is maybe less so. How can you do better without feedback? It's like if you see a mate with their fly down and you don't mention it - you're not helping them, you're just setting them up for more embarrassment later, maybe from someone who won't be quite as sensitive to the situation as you.
If you've read this far into our journey, I think we can probably consider you a mate (or at least an acquintance) by now. So let me tell you, as a mate - thank you, and shut up.
We both have different coping strategies, and I have to tell you that witnessing Nick's coping abilities has been amazing, I'm so proud of him. But there have been times when I've literally wanted to say "Oh, just fuck off already". It's seemed so easy for him, not to "move on", as that's a ridiculous saying - you always carry your grief with you - but because he's managed to throw himself into some physical strategies (exercise, breathing techniques etc) that have helped him to re-focus.
It's been more of a challenge for me. My physical recovery has been drawn out. I'm still not fully recovered from my pregnancy today, and as I write this it's been over a year since I conceived. So of course my journey has been slower. I've not had the same motivation Nick has had. But here are some things I have tried, my hit & miss guide to coping after your pregnancy loss, if you will.
In no particular order of success, here is my list of coping strategies:
1) Pregnancy Loss Counselling
The hospital gave me three counselling session funded by the public health system. Why it's assumed you'll be "healed" after 3 sessions I've no idea. We met our counselor the day after my surgery.
We were lucky to be assigned someone who was genuine, empathetic and, if I can get my description correct without coming across wrong - a little quirky. She always had a piece of jewellery or item of clothing that hinted at her alternative personality and I liked that about her - it indicated to me that she wasn't boxed into a specific way of thinking. She was great, we both met her that day after the surgery and again when we came in to have a de-brief session the MFM doctor 6 weeks after my surgery. I had a further 2 sessions with by myself (in this poky window-less consulting room!). She was comforting, she asked questions, let me talk through some things. But because of how few sessions I had and how soon after the loss it was I feel that these sessions may have helped me at the time but overall had little impact on my "recovery". They were too brief and too soon after my loss. I didn't feel like I could open up, I didn't let go, and there was so much in my head that needed to come out. I definitely think a consideration could be made to extend the number of sessions given to women in this situation. But perhaps for some this is enough. I know that some people don't even take up the offer of counselling.
Perhaps my mental recovery is more "involved" due to the other traumas I went through last year, namely caring for my Grandmother in hospice shortly after losing our girl, then losing my Grandmother, losing consciousness and cracking my eyebrow open, having wrist surgery - actually, I could go on, it was a shit year. I realise I've actually been incredibly unlucky, and other women may find a couple of sessions exactly right.
Ok, so this is the big one. Exercise releases endorphin's that make you feel good, we all know that. Exercise gets you up & about, off the couch. But exercise is a massive thing to motivate yourself to do when your emotions are controlling your life, when you're grieving. Hell, getting out of bed feels like exercise. And the thing is, YOU KNOW that if you do it you'll feel better. Of course you will. Getting fresh air, blood circulating, moving your muscles, releasing endorphin's. It all sounds so good. But how do you motivate yourself to start? Well, that's the $64,000 question. In my case I couldn't do anything for months. Didn't want to, didn't care. Then I had my wrist surgery and again, couldn't do it, didn't care. All the weight I lost in my pregnancy I gained back. As I got my appetite back and my hCG levels dropped, my nausea abated, I started to eat what I felt like. Months of disinterest in food meant that when I finally actually felt hungry, when I actually craved something - I ate it. I continued to gain weight and while I felt awful (and still do) about it, I literally could not be bothered moving.
Then when we finally reached the 1st of January it was like a mental reset button and I felt like now that that awful year was finally over I could manage a little exercise. Start small. And that's what I did. I started with 15 minute zumba-style YouTube videos like this one. And some days that's all I can manage. But other days I can manage something longer. Sometimes I actually leave the house for a walk! I'm averaging about 4 times a week and I'm good with that. I haven't lost any weight but I'm getting my muscle strength back and that's actually the most important thing for me right now - to feel in control of my body again.
3) Blessings Journal
I tried this for a month, and at the time it really worked. Then other things happened in my life and I let the grief take over so of course I stopped the habit. But what I've learnt is that moving forward, coping, surviving every day is about using a multitude of resources. There is no silver bullet.
In this instance, my journal was simple - every night I had to think of three great things that happened to me today and write them down. It meant I had to look for positivity every day, sometimes really stretching for it. I always managed three because that was my rule. We actually started talking at dinner most nights about "the best part of our day" and that was a good starting point for me for the journal. We still do the dinner thing (with Sam saying "And what was the best part of your day Mum?") One day I might revisit the journal idea.
4) Shakti Mat
I asked for this for Christmas after hearing about it from multiple sources. I decided being gifted something for my wellness was probably a good thing, so from Christmas Day 2016 I've been using this. To start with it was every day. But that's easier when you're on holiday. Now it's a few times a week. It's an acupressure mat and when you lie on it your body relaxes into the spikes (it's not actually painful) and you start to feel relaxed. It forces you to focus on your breathing and it's great for sore tired muscles. It's also meant to help with better sleep, I'm not sure on this one yet, but it does overall make me feel better when I use it. Read more here.
5) Eating right
I know what I should be eating. I'm not a nutritionist, but I do understand what your body needs to be healthy. The building blocks for great skin (my passion) are the same as for a healthy body - it's health on a cellular level. The Bestow Beauty products I use in my salon are about treating your skin from within. Using the Bestow Beauty Oil (my internal moisturiser) and Beauty from Beneath tablets (multi-vitamin) has been great for my overall health. They also have this amazing Be Cleansed powder which detoxifies. It has definitely helped with my gut health.
You probably read about my mental recovery already, but if you didn't you can read it here. It took me a long time to admit that I needed to see someone. It was in February this year when I realised that my down days weren't getting any less or any easier and that maybe I didn't have all the tools I needed to cope. Turns out I was right. I'm doing a lot of good things - eating better, exercising, writing etc but what I didn't understand was that I was making myself feel worse for being frustrated at how long my recovery was taking. I didn't realise that my subsconscious was so much in control of my emotions, that the tight stressed feeling I was having was normal and was something that needed time and a few strategies to get through. My psychologist has not only given me insight into what's physically happening in my brain, but she's given me tools to help to re-programme my brain. She also validates my emotions, is encouraging and supportive. Sure, we don't really have the money for these sessions, but as Nick says, we actually can't afford for me NOT to go. If I don't get better, our whole family is broken.
7) This blog
Writing about our journey has been cathartic. Emotional. Overwhelming. But largely positive. By sharing our journey and connecting with people I've been able to re-frame some of my traumatic experiences. I think this is because I feel that sharing my journey has some purpose. Not to wallow in my hardships but to acknowledge them. Educate people. Support people. If I reach one person that connects with one of our posts then it's been worth it.
8) Mindful Meditation
This has been one of the best things for my mental state. If you didn't read my post about my psychological preparation for surgery using mindful meditation, you can read it here. I have used a combination of the Headspace App & You Tube to find 10-15 minute meditations like this one, mainly body scans, that help me to relax my mental state and better deal with my anxiety. If I do this every day I find I am a much calmer, more centred person.
So there you have it - my coping strategies. They're not perfect, I know. They won't fix everything - in some ways every day is still a struggle - but for me, they helped. Maybe they'll help you, or maybe they'll give you some ideas of what might help you. Maybe they'll just let you know that it's OK to not cope for a little bit, and that you will eventually cope again, even if it doesn't feel like it just now.
Sometimes when you're at your lowest, the universe kicks you in the pants. It's funny isn't it? Just when you think you're making some headway. Two weeks ago I had surgery to remove some diseased bowel tissue, another remnant of my traumatic pregnancy. It's not something I really talked about - I mean, who really talks about that? The biggest thing for me was actually getting myself into the operating room without having a panic attack. My PTSD hovers over me in every aspect of my life, but the hardest thing I've had to tackle has been preparing for another surgical procedure. This is a massive trigger for me, bringing up all the traumatic visions of being in pre-op when I had surgery to remove my little girl from my body. I haven't been able to even write about that experience yet, I can't. I knew that if I had a panic attack having a gastroscopy - a simple quick procedure where I was be awake - then I would have to do some serious mental prep to get through a general anesthetic.
I have been preparing for months. I've talked to my psychologist who gave me some visualisation strategies. I've been doing mindful meditation. In the week leading up to the surgery I spent time every day doing my mindfulness exercises. Then while I was relaxed I would visualise myself entering the hospital. I would visualise the operating room and the doctors & nurses in their scrubs. The white walls, the surgical implements. On the morning before the surgery I did yoga, had a bath, did a couple of different meditations, including this awesome surgery preparation one. When Nick & I arrived, I sat in the waiting room with headphones on listening to calming music. When I met the anesthetist and talked about my PTSD she gave me some midazalam to calm my nerves and changed the order of surgeries so I was next on the list and didn't have to wait too long. After taking the tablet I lay on the bed, Nick lay behind me & we listening to some soothing ocean sounds. When it came time to go to the operating room I was calm. I hugged Nick Good Bye and walked into the operating room. I calmly got on the bed, my heart rate was under control. When they put the oxygen mask over my face and I started to feel claustrophobic they agreed to hold it to the side of my face. Then I don't remember anything until waking up in recovery. When I woke I was very very dozy. I couldn't open my eyes for a long time. But I was wheeled back to my room and Nick was there. It was ok. He stayed until about 10 o'clock, until I'd had a sleeping tablet and was as comfortable as I could be. So overall, the experience went as well as I could have expected. I was really proud of myself. I have managed to "re-frame" my experience. Having a positive surgical experience "should" re-programme my thoughts. But I still think that if/when I need to have another procedure I will still have to do all this mental preparation. I think this is just what I need to do to survive a trigger experience. But the main thing is, I know what to do now. I am empowered.
The bad news is that I was so focused on the actual surgery that I was completely unprepared for the realities of my recovery. And of course, being me, my recovery is on the severe side of what can be considered normal. My body is having an extreme inflammation response. I won't go into too much detail, because no one wants to hear that but I have been in excruciating agony for the past two weeks. I can't sit down, if I do walk (and it's only as far as the bathroom or kitchen) I shuffle around with my legs spread like I've just got off a horse. The first 5-6 days were a blur of vomiting & nausea. My body clearly hated the general anesthetic. It also hated the antibiotics and pain meds. The pain meds actually did nothing to stop the pain and I was in tears of pain, crying out like a wounded beast. Every day I get better, but I'm still unable to sit properly, so driving or leaving the house isn't an option. And when you can really only lie down you can't do any housework, any meal prep.
After last year with me being out of action for four months with an awful high risk pregnancy and then for two months in a cast after my wrist surgery, we pretty much have this down. Nick is amazing, he steps up and manages the whole household, caring for Sam, getting Sam to & from preschool (with the help of the grandmothers) all while working full time. In a job he's only just started might I add. Not to mention he cares for me. Attempts to feed me. He's been an amazing pillar of strength. He's basically my hero.
So then of course, because the universe seems to have a vendetta against us, something else went wrong. About a week into my recovery I got a call about 9.30 in the morning....
Nick: "Hi honey, how are you doing, are you ok?" (that was normal, he'd rung every day to check on me, no reason to be concerned)
Me (groggy, having just woken from a painkiller stupor): "M'ok"
Nick: "Ok, well, I'm an ambulance. I've been hit by a car"
Queue panic and realisation that there is absolutely no way I can be with him.
So yup, he got knocked off his bike on the way to work by some dozy cow who wasn't looking where she was going. The result is he's busted his shoulder. It could have been so much worse and that's such a scary thought. The ligaments are dislocated so the shoulder is just hanging there. It can't be put back in, he either has to wait & see if it heals or have it surgically repaired, we don't which yet because of course, he can't see a specialist for a few weeks. He's also bruised & scraped. He tore his ACL in his knee previously playing football (and he's waiting on surgery for that later in the month) so his whole left side is pretty messed up. I'm so mad that this happened to him. The last week has been so hard. He's understandably in a lot of pain - both his shoulder & his knee. He's still working full-time, but he can't really use his left arm. He can't drive, can't lift things. So having both of us out of action has meant the last week has been ummm, challenging.
After our awful year last year we realised that we need to ask for help. Asking for help is really hard, it doesn't come naturally to us. But we told each other that if there was any offer of help, we'd just say yes. So we've had a week of meals from some amazing friends and family. We've had other Mums take Sam to preschool, family members pick him up. Our mothers have helped with Sam & helped with washing, changing sheets. My mother in law is paying for someone to clean our house this weekend. It's been a really hard time but we are surviving. But we're letting a lot of things go because we have to, like attending my cousin's wedding this weekend in the South Island (completely gutted). We're both so wrecked that really all we can do is rest. So for everyone who has helped us over the past week, thank you. We so appreciate it.
What I've learnt about myself during this physically challenging time is that I'm not as broken as I thought I was. I will survive this. I have continued to do meditation every day, this time on healing my body. I've let everything go. I've enjoyed the small moments with Sam and relished when I was comfortable enough to resume our morning cuddles a few days ago. I have not let this spiral me down into a negative space, though at times I've really wanted to. Maybe I'm tougher than I think I am, or maybe having Nick be injured and vulnerable too has made me push through my own pain to support him, maybe not physically but emotionally.
We've had a terrible couple of weeks, hence it being a while since we have posted, but we are still coping. We may be broken physically but we are positive. We look forward to being physically able again. We have hope that things will get better. And hope is the most important thing.
Why is it that all the shit always comes at once? When one book falls off the shelf, the rest of them are sure to follow.
People ask me "how are you guys doing?", and how is the "recovery", and I always feel like a soppy dickhead answering them, because I've still got a laundry list of crap that's going wrong for us. Annamarie is still in the middle of a mental recovery and she's still physically very unwell. I'm dealing with my own mental crap as well as physically recovering from being Hit. By. A. Car, And of course I'm trying (and regularly failing) to support Annamarie through all of this and be a loving and calm father to Sam.
Recently I went to football and wrecked my knee. It swelled up like a balloon, making it hard for me to walk and generally putting me in a grump. I quickly discovered it was likely to be quite a serious problem, which could put me out of football for at least a few months (longer if surgery is needed, which it is), and potentially could spell the end of playing full stop. The prospect of having to give up a past time you have reveled in for most of your life is a pretty fucking bitter pill to swallow.
And then, as if on queue, Sam started it up. He's a great kid overall, apart from the occasional tantrum here and there, but he's just gone 4 and seems to have flipped a switch. He pulled his pants down in the butcher shop recently and told everyone to "look at this!". That might have been funny, but it was less so when he pulled them down again and peed in the middle of his Kindergarten. Not OK, bro. Apart from the public nudity and urination, he's just started to be (there's no other way to say it) a complete shit about some stuff for no reason at all. He refuses his dinner, and when given options or potential consequences he pouts and huffs. Then when he pushes us too far and we get a little grumpy he has a big cry about that. He spat at me the other day. Definitely not cool bro.
Now of course all of this is normal pre-schooler stuff, we know that. Every parent deals with similar behaviour at some point or other. I just find it absolutely typical that he would launch the new phase at the moment when we are both at our weakest - or maybe that's why? Maybe we have been distracted and not giving him the attention he needs, so his reaction is to play up in other ways? Either way, it's quite the bollocks.
Recovery from grief and trauma always seems to be talked about as this linear thing. You're taking it "step by step" as if you're walking in a straight line, or at least walking forward. The reality, for us at least, is more like flailing around in the dark - you're moving, you're taking action, but you're never quite sure if you're going on the right direction, sometimes you slip on something gross, and sometimes you stub your toe, and sometimes you think you see a sliver of light and it turns out to be nothing at all.
Even the word "recovery" doesn't feel right. It suggest putting things "back", a returning to the natural and original state, which is so far off what this journey has been like for us. "Moving on" is wrong too - that suggests a leaving-behind of things that never really happens either.
This isn't a cry for help. I've had a few people reach out to me since my last post, to ask if I'm OK, or if I need a hug. That's been amazing, and awesome. We often forget in our "real lives" that we're doing this blog, and that people actually read it and care. I'm really grateful to those who have checked in, but I'm not writing this as a beacon call for a friend. I'm writing it because I know that, right now, there's someone out there who feels like their whole life is one repetitive cycle of pain and hurt and unfairness. I feel that way too, in this moment. But, perhaps unlike that someone, I have been here before, and I know there is a way out. I know that things will get better. And then probably worse. But then better again.
If you are that someone, if you know us or not, if you have been following our journey or if this is the first time you've seen this blog, then I have something to tell you. I won't tell you you're not alone. People say that all the time, and I always want to reply that it fucking well feels like it. I won't tell you that it will get better. Hell, it might not for us (at least not as quickly or as easily as we'd like it to). But what I can offer you is something that I heard in a meditation from Pema Chodron, and which really resonated with me. That is, that "others feel this too". Whatever you are feeling right now, anger, hate, sadness, excrutiating pain, joy, laughter, arousal (OK, maybe not arousal, that's a little creepy) - other people feel this too. And probably, at the same time as you.
There are 7.5 billion people on this earth. Maybe none of them can reach you in the place you are now, but without a doubt there has to be one of those people who understands what you're going through, whatever that might be. If you fly in an airplane (chances of dying 1 in 11 million) or drive a car (1 in 5000) you bet on better odds than that every day. And yes, you might be the unlikely 1 - we are more than familiar with the unpleasant feeling of being in a statisically shitty minority - but you also might be in the other 7,499,999,999. Even we like those odds.
Remember, we have resources that we've found helpful on our journey listed here, and if you want to get in touch with us to let us know what you think of the blog, or even reach out if you need help, you can contact us here.
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.