When life gives you lemons and you can't make lemonade - my story of grief
I've taken a break from the blogging and promoting my business for the last 12 months or so and I thought it was time to explain why and share my story of grief.
At the beginning of August 2018, my little sister took her own life. When my brother phoned to break the news I instantly knew something wrong but I could not imagine the heart-wrenching agony that single phone call would unleash.
My little sister had been suffering with her mental health for a number of years; she'd had support of mental health professionals and had been in and out of hospital. For her that had not been enough to lift her out of her suffering and she felt the only way to help herself was to end her life.
The rest of the family? Well we are left with grief: with the sadness of a gaping great hole where once our sister stood; with anger and frustration that someone so young could leave this earth; with guilt and shame - could I have been a better sister? And a multitude of other emotions, too numerous to mention, that linger on and on.
Of course, my sister's case is the worst case scenario. Many of us suffer with milder mental health issues from grieving loss to more persistent depression and anxiety disorders. But no matter where we lie on the mental health scale there are few common things we can do to help ourselves.
Recognise your red flags
We all have little signs that show us our mental health is under strain. For me, the first one is usually working too much - it's amazing how much I have to do urgently, all of a sudden, when I have painful emotions that I would prefer not feel. Depression doesn't always show itself as crying all the time - it can equally be being too busy, particular if we are the sort of people that likes to achieve things.
When grief hit me this time, I found that I struggled to be able to think. My brain felt like I was wading through treacle - sticky and foggy. I felt tired all of the time and yet I was waking at 5am every morning (other people struggle to get to sleep). I noticed I was starting to crave carbohydrates - pasta, bread, cheesecake. My once healthy diet became one of comfort eating. Alcohol became a more regular feature. I'm not a big drinker but a glass of wine with dinner was increasingly becoming a habit.
And then anxiety hit. I've never really suffered with anxiety but as my ability to cope with normal life was becoming more and more challenging, I started to become more and more anxious until one night, I was lying in bed with palpitations so strong I thought I could be having a heart-attack. It was at that point I knew I needed more than just the support of friends but more on this later.
What are your red flags? When life starts to get a bit too stressful, what do you use as a crutch to help you get through?
Take Responsibility for Helping Yourself
Fairly quickly I noticed that I had developed some pretty unhealthy habitual patterns (including the aforementioned wine and cheesecake) and I knew that I needed to do something to get myself out of this downward spiral. Rest I took an extended break from work. I wasn't able to function very and allowing myself time off was essential. If you're anything like me, you will 'expect' to recover quickly and be back to normal in no time at all. Dealing with any sort of emotional trauma takes time (a lesson I am learning again and again) and it is so important to be patient with ourselves during this process. It's not going to happen overnight (I tell myself!)
A few years ago, I was part of a project called 100 happy days. This is where you take a photo of something that makes you happy every single day for 100 days. There is loads of scientific evidence that shows that having a daily gratitude practice makes us happier. I decided to do this again. For me, taking a photo a day was helped. It allowed me to really appreciate the amazing world around me and how lucky I am. Even on dark days I am able to find something to be grateful for.
I have the most amazing friends and I am so grateful for the support they offered - taking me out for lunch, driving a 100 mile round trip to give me a hug and let me cry in their arms - but I needed more.
Even in our modern world there is still a stigma about talking about talking. And yet, it is a powerful tool that can really help. Now not all therapists are alike but I am lucky enough to know a few amazing women and my weekly 'chat' really helps me to process the overwhelming collection of feelings.
Herbal medicine is not the most obvious solution to emotional trauma but actually it can really help. There's the lovely lemon balm that physically relaxes and aids sleep; rose which is specific for supporting the grieving process; and the adaptogens which allow our bodies to cope with the stress hormones circulating….. To name a few. It was the anxiety attack that made me wake up and ask one of my herbalist colleagues to prescribe me a medicine that would support me through this difficult time. Gone are my palpitations and boy do I get a good night's sleep.
No matter what our ailment, physical or emotional, healing takes time. It's so important to recognise that we will have up and down days. And that we may even have periods where we think we are fine and then suddenly something will happen (in my case a water leak) and we are flooded with sadness. And then all we can do is feel it, and know that it's ok to be sad and we'll get there.
Where to get more help
If you want to take part in the 100 happy days I mentioned, you can find out more information here: http://100happydays.com/ For well-respected counsellors, try the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy or the National Council of Psychotherapists. If you cannot afford a private counsellor then you can be referred by your GP or can find free help from the Samaritans. Finally, if you want more information about how herbal medicine can help you can book a free phone consultation with me here.
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