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 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.