What I’ve learnt on my journey with grief

Grief journey

I have had several losses in my life and been through different journeys with grief. When grief first entered into my life,  it would have been helpful if someone explained the stages of grief to me.  It would’ve been good if someone just told me that grief was normal. I was doing alright. It was ok to feel all those bad feelings. I had to feel them. I tried to ignore them but i needed to go through them all – bad and good. Grief comes with no timetable. It differs from person to person. You have to be patient, and allow the journey unfold and go in whatever direction it takes you. 

So what did I learn from my journey with grief?

I learnt about myself and I changed. For the better. I’ve become empathetic and kinder. I learnt that as hard as it gets, it does get easier. You don’t forget but you do learn to live with the pain.

What are my tips to help others who are grieving? Here are a few points, I think are useful for anyone experiencing grief.

1. Walking

It saved me. I walked for miles. It was a time when I really let you in grief. I cried, I shouted. Every step helped. It got me out of the house and gave me exercise. It allowed me to be myself. Sometimes I stomped. Eventually my step came lighter. I now take this lesson into my work by offering walk/talk therapy.

2. Writing.

When I worked overseas, I wrote to a family member. Each evening I wrote for 10 minutes or so. At the time, I did not realise how therapeutic this was. Evenutally I turned this to writing to the deceased. When I felt lonely. I wrote and told them. It allowed me to share my feelings – anger one day, sadness the next. It helped me recognise what I was feeling. Knowing what I was feeling helped me feel better equipped to deal with the various feelings, especially through the depression stage.

3. Allow yourself to grieve.

I stayed in the numbness stage and managed to supress those feelings. I became an expert at burying them. I do wonder if I accepted those feelings sooner, perhaps I would’ve moved on quicker. It is important to acknowledge the pain. This will be the start of the healing process. It is good to read around and gain some understanding of the grieving cycle.

4. Lean on friends and family.

Friends were there to help. I rejected most help. You think they will be bored with your story but they are not. Embarrassment kept me to keep things to myself. If only I told some of the friends how lost I felt and how I was feeling. I had a lot of expectations from them without telling them what I really wanted from them. If you experience a traumatic death as we did as a family. Talk. Share. Work through that trauma together. Stop thinking you must protect each other.

5. Seek support.

Find a therapist. Counselling what helped me through the depression. Counselling helped me work through the intense emotions and identify the barriers to my grief. It also helped me learn how I react to my emotions.

6. Take care of yourself.

I was bad at this. I did not eat and as a result I had no energy. At times I became lethargic and those were the days when it was easy to do nothing. I slept the day away. I did not go out and hid away from people. I lost my confidence and self-esteem. Arrange times to meet up with friends.

7. Plan for the triggers.

Birthday’s, anniversaries, Christmas, Mother/Father day etc They are all triggers. Often the lead up to them are worse than the actual days. Each year it can still be painful but careful planning does help. You can find out more information here.

 

 

Dear Grief…….

Dear Grief,

Bang, you came knocking on the door one day. You swept in pushing me over, changing my life forever. The one thing certain in life is that we are going to die. We know this. Nothing can prepare us for the loss of a loved one to death when you enter into our lives grief. You are hard to describe grief especially as everyone experiences you differently.

I can’t remember what I ate yesterday yet I can remember word by word that phone call when I first met you 26 years ago. ‘Dead? No.’ I cried, slumping to the floor. At that moment my world stopped. A wall of fog came up in front of me. I felt lost, frightened, confused and lonely. I could not imagine my life going on.  On the journey home, we stopped at the services and I just starred in the mirror looking at myself. I had to tell my reflection what was happening. I just froze and numbness hit me. Once home, the practical side of things took over and it was easy to focus on that. I even remember us laughing as a family. Laughter as such a sad time. How irrational you can be grief!

The funeral. I think I was there. I can’t remember the day. I only remember how you felt grief. You hurt. I could not breath. The pain was unbearable. It was even worse that having cerebral malaria. And that hurt!

As I prepared to go back to University to sit my exams, denial hit me. I could not accept that the loss had occurred. You’re good at that grief. Letting us deny what has happened. I remember a friend asking me how I was. ‘Numb’ I said. ‘I cannot believe it has happened’. ‘You’ve said it enough times’ he replied. ‘You should know by now’. At that moment, I realised I was alone with you grief. I was surrounded by people my age who had not experienced loss. They did not understand. Their live’s went on.

I became a robot. I got up every day. Sat my exams. I functioned. Friends slipped away and I withdrew into myself. Days I could keep you at bay grief. Some days you hit me when I least expected you.  Throughout that time, I felt useless. Reflecting back it is amazing to how I managed to carry on. I got that Master’s and before I know it, I was on my way for my first overseas assignment. I threw myself into my work. I kept that denial up. I was ok. I was superwoman.

Until one day a monster took over me. I still remember that day. I cringe at the friend who the anger was directed at. An overwhelming rage overtook me. And that anger stayed. I did not realise at the time but that anger stayed with me for over a year. Nothing was right. I blamed everyone apart from myself. Everyone else was the problem. At one stage, I was even angry at the person who left me. How dare they? If only they stayed at home that day. You know the drill grief. And then came the anger at myself. If only I went home the weekend before the death. If only I was a better person. If only……

If only someone sat me down and explained you grief, to me. If only someone took the time to listen to me. I am sure the grief journey would have less bumpy if I shared my grief and worked my way through it. Rather than keep stabbing in the dark and resisting you grief.

Two years later, I sank into a deep pit of depression. I was swarmed. I crumbled. I slowly lost my friends. Sadly most friendships have not recovered. Luckily someone picked me up and gave me that hug, and put me in right direction of help. Six months of help helped me crawl through that depression and start believing in life again. I accepted the grief. I was ready to move on. I could see my future. I knew I could start living my life.

Grief, what a journey we’ve had together. I would give up everything to have stopped that journey. But I have to admit, grief, that I have grown from our journey together. I would not be the person I am today without that journey. Some of the opportunities that came knocking on my door would’ve not happened if I wasn’t on your journey. You and I have our distance now grief. But you come knocking on my door sometimes. The birth of my son – a happy moment which you pushed your way into. What’s different now grief, is I allow that moment of unhappiness. I then look at where I am and those who are around me. I can then sit with you and let the happy memories flood in.

In the next blog post, this will look at things that I have learnt from grief and useful tips to help anyone experiencing grief through a loss.

Stop drinking alcohol – mental health benefits and more

Decision to stop drinking

Nearly two years ago, I decided to stop drinking alcohol. I read about a friend who had given drinking (who I have had a few merry nights with) and the positive impact it had had on her life. From this I decided I would go a month without alcohol. I succeeded. That rolled on to another month. Then another month and another. And it still continues. 

Drinking socially and for the sake of it

I have to put my hands up. During my student years and as an aid worker, alcohol was a social part of my life. Watching Adrian Childs programme ‘Drinkers Like me’ reminded me how my own social life often circulated around drinking. Plans were made around meeting at pubs, picnics with wine, taking a bottle round to a friends. Many goods times were had. However, some times are fuzzy and some meant I did not enjoy the day after. Regrets, giving up? No. Regretting not giving up earlier? Yes. 

Reflecting on my life without alcohol has shown me that it has had a positive impact on my life, and in hindsight I wish I had not gone back to alcohol after the birth of my children. I thought I would share with you what I have learnt about myself and other things I have discovered since I gave up my relationship with alcohol.

Three main impacts of stopping drinking alcohol

  • I feel healthier. I no longer wake up to a hangover or feel not quite right. I am able to get up early and have more energy during the day. I feel less sluggish and less irritable during the day.
  • My sleep has improved. Years of having continuous sleepless nights has stopped. I now recognise that alcohol helped me get to sleep. However, I would always wake up, and struggle to get back to sleep. In the last 2 years, I have found I have deeper and less interruptive sleep. 
  • Improvement on my mental health. Looking back on my daily reflections, I notice that I have a more positive outlook on life and I have more motivation. I am able to look at issues more rationally and as a result my confidence has grown. I find myself getting less bothered about things.

Reflecting on what I have discovered

The three reasons above are good reasons for me not to pick up a glass of wine again. However, I have discovered other things. Not only about myself but also about others. I thought I would share these with you. 

Not drinking alcohol saves money. Going out with my friends is cheaper. Drinking socially is expensive. Food bills without alcohol is considerably cheaper.

Fun with drinking

I do not need to drink to have fun. Dry January –  I would hear people say that they could not go out during this month, or they could not wait until the end of January when the fun could start again. It resonated with me as I remember making similar comments. Yet here I am now. I am having same amount of fun (if not more) as before alcohol.

No hiding

I do not have to hide behind alcohol. I can be who I am. Confidence in myself has to come from me not from drinking. I am able to be myself in social or networking situations. I feel I come across as more confident and relaxed. I can be me. Being sober means I fully trust myself. I am in control of my emotions and actions.

More time

I have more time. This does not mean I am going out less. No. What I mean is my evenings at home are focused around spending time with the family or doing things for myself. Instead of sitting down with a glass of wine watching the television or hurrying bed time, I am valuing my time at home.

No drowning sorrow

Good and bad times can be felt. I do not need to drown my sorrows. I do not need celebrate my successes with a glass of champagne.  Instead feeling those strong emotions is good. There is no need to supress them. I can work through hard times by myself. I can feel happy and elated and enjoy that feeling. I can share it to. Feeling these good and bad times means I feel more alive.

Tackle problems rather than avoid them

Alcohol makes problems worse. How easy it was for me to drink to help me forget a bad day? The reason for bad day is still there tomorrow. Worse off if I was hungover, I was usually feeling irritable or tired, making the problem seem worse. Drinking does not make a problem go away. It only delays having to face it.

Enjoying sobriety

I’m enjoying sobriety. The longer I am sober, the more I want to be. I had to admit giving up drinking was not easy. The main battle was my mind. When I first gave up, I seemed to be thinking about drinking daily. However, like most habits, once I had got past the 30 days, I stopped thinking about it. My evenings are planned on what I want to do, rather whether I can drive or not. The longer sobriety lasts, the less I want a drink.

Judgement from others

Other people have problems with me giving up. Yes, it is true. People now comment on my lack of drinking (I never got comments that I drank too much!). People think I cannot walk into a pub without drinking (I can and do –  though pubs do need to improve their choice of teas though!). Giving up is my choice. I do not judge my friends or anyone else on whether they drink socially. That is there choice. I can still laugh and have fun with those who are drinking.

Enjoying more activities

I have a wider social circle and activities. Rather than arranging to go out with friends for a drink, I am discovering other things to do. Both on my own and with new friends. I am enjoying different activities. I feel some friendships have deepened. Without drinking, my conversations are meaningful and relaxed.

Where do you go?

It is hard to find a coffee/ tea shop open after the hours off 5pm (apart from the chain coffee shops). Since giving up, I have noticed there are not many non-alcoholic places to meet in the evenings in the centre of Sheffield. 

Role model for children

I am conscious on the positive role modelling I am having on my children. My children talk about not drinking when they are older. They are learning from me. They see fun can be had without alcohol. I am more even tempered so they are not seeing any cross words through alcohol or seeing me out of control. When I am with them I am just me.

In conclusion if I had to choose the one reason to stop drinking, it would be the improvement on my mental health. My mental wellbeing has improved immensely. 

Do you feel alcohol impacts your mental wellbeing? 

Grab a cup of tea and let’s talk about mental health

Jess Glynne inspiring me to write about mental health

Last year, it was This is me, I make no apologies song that inspired me for #timetotalkday. This year my inspiration is Jess Glynne’s song ‘Thursday’. Although it is a love song, some of the words struck a chord with me and seemed apt.

Often clients who have had time off work for anxiety, stress or depression, worry about returning to work. ‘What will people think of me?’ they ask me? ‘What will my colleagues say?’ ‘No-one will understand’? The stigma of mental health is something they fear. The importance of Time to Talk is to create conversation and discussion. This will help stop the stigma around mental health. Stop the fears that my clients and others who suffer from poor mental health.

I’m sick of covering up

Jess’s second line of the song says ‘I’m sick of covering up’. That is what #Timetotalk is saying. Let’s stop covering mental health up. Let’s talk.  We don’t need to hide or be ashamed if we have a mental health problem.

Jess’s second line of the song says ‘I’m sick of covering up’. That is what #Timetotalk is saying. Let’s stop covering mental health up. Let’s talk.  We don’t need to hide or be ashamed if we have a mental health problem.

I’m tired of feeling so broken

‘I’m tired of feeling so broken’ continues in the song.  Yes, those suffering mental health problems are exhausted from feeling broken. Many want to move on but don’t know how too or feel afraid too. It is isolating as people as people that they feel they are the only ones broken or depressed. Talking about mental health and their struggles, would help stop people feeling isolated. This can be achieved through talking to friends, sharing on social media or through a qualified counsellor.

‘I wanna love, I don’t wanna cry, don’t want those tears inside my eyes’

Jess’s song continues. Often clients who come to counselling sit embarrassed by their tears or will announce they will not cry today. They see tears as a sign of weakness. It is not. Crying is an emotion. Sometimes you cannot stop the tears falling. The emotions need to come out. Perhaps it comes from our childhood trying not to cry in front of others. I remember as a child being told to wipe away my tears or being called ‘cry baby’.  How shameful is that? In fact, all I just wanted was a hug and a chance to talk. So where is this going? Well, maybe next time you see someone crying, why not sit with them, and ask if there is anything you can do for them. Show them empathy.

‘I try to embrace all my insecurities’.

 Insecurities can cause highly emotional responses, and make us feel bad about ourselves. This in turn causes a lot of mental stress or anguish.  Embrace your insecurities and try to tackle them one by one. Notice it when feel an insecurity. Rather than react to it (for example, run away or ignore it) try to tackle it. Feel it. Look at where it comes from and think how you can change or build upon it. Don’t beat yourself up. Try to put positive words into your head and be rational. 

‘I was always taught to just be myself. Don’t change for anyone.

How inspirational these words in the song are? It important to have the confidence to be yourself. Believe in yourself. If you are going to change, only do it because you want too. If you notice a behaviour in yourself that does not help or makes you feel bad, then change it. Only make changes because you want to. It is helps you be happier. Remember to do it at your own pace. 

The song ends ‘I wanna to feel beautiful’. Yes! Learn to love yourself. Feel positive about who you are, and grow from your mistakes. Don’t struggle.

How would you continue the conversation of talking about mental health? #timetotalk

8 helpful ways to deal with stress

Deal with stress

 

Do you find you often feel stressed?

Are your nights disrupted with poor sleep?

Is your mind often thinking about too many things.

Then STOP.

 

It sounds as though you are stressed. Need to find ways of tackling your stress?

Below are eight helpful ways of dealing with stress. Active change can help you build a happier life for yourself. Continue reading

Therapeutic Journal – Journey to knowing yourself

Why write a therapeutic journal?

Therapeutic journal

 

Therapeutic journal is aimed at helping you, the writer, to understand yourself better. It can take you on a journey where you discover the ‘real’ you. It can help you to start understand how your think. It can help you learn to feel your emotions. It can help you unpick your problems. Through your therapeutic journey you can learn how to tackle your issues head-one. Continue reading

Working Therapeutically with Syrian Refugees

Working Therapeutically with Syrian Refugees

As part of Refugee Week,  I thought I would  share my experiences of working therapeutically with the Syrian Refugees on the Resettlement programme. This programme is based here in Sheffield with the Refugee Council.

When working as a humanitarian worker, I enjoyed working with different communities.  I worked with displaced people and refugees who had fled their homeland or country due to conflict.  I was installing emergency water and sanitation systems. During this work, I spent a lot of time listening to the communities, (especially women), as well as providing emotional support.  It was therefore exciting that this experience led me to have the opportunity to work therapeutically with the Syrian Refugees. It also fulfilled my silent ambition to be working again with refugees.  Continue reading

Working as a counsellor for Employment Assistant Programme.

A steady income for many private counsellors is being an affiliate to an Employment Assistant Programme (EAP). UK EAPA report that 50% of employers now have support through an Employment Assistant Programme. There are many companies in Sheffield who sign up to an EAP. That is a lot of counselling! But what is an EAP and what are the pros and cons of working for them?

Continue reading

Counsellors guide to online counselling

Counsellor Guide to online counsellingIn 2017, 90% of households in Great Britain had internet access, an increase from 89% in 2016 and 57% in 2006. We are beginning to rely on using the internet for our daily tasks – banking, music, communication etc. So why not finding support for mental health issues? You will see that they are various apps providing support – Headspace, Calm etc. This also extends to providing counselling online. Continue reading

6 ways to move on from bad news

6 ways to move on from bad newsWe’ve all been there. Being let down at the last minute or receiving news that is upsetting. How do you cope and move on from bad news?

I thought I would use my recent example of being let down by our builder to show you useful ways of moving on. Continue reading