The last couple of years have been challenging. Mum was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer in September 2014 and died two months later. Her death revealed truths about our relationship that I am just coming to terms with. In the same period of time, I’ve become a carer for my Dad who has Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia.
Before I really knew what was happening I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression.
Life’s like that. You think you’ve pretty much got it covered until something happens that makes you realise how little control you really have.
As an (ex!) perfectionist with an anxiety disorder, I kept going to prove (to myself as much as anyone else) that I could manage it all. Eventually it became too much and I broke down one day after work. I was still crying when I walked into the Doctor’s office the next morning.
I’ve been getting the help I need and I feel so much better. I’m happier and feel grounded, stronger.
Life is not perfect. Dad is still ill, of course, and there are still a lot of unknowns. But somehow, with a little help, I’ve accepted that. And I’ve accepted that, even if I’m not perfect, I’m doing just fine.
I wish I could share some quick fixes with you, but the truth is that healing requires hard, and sometimes painful, work. You can’t stitch a wound while looking the other way.
- CBT – I would recommend this as a starting point for anyone going through a hard time. I would describe it this way: imagine you’re going on a walk through the woods. You’ve never been to these woods before, but your guide (your therapist) knows the woods like the back of their hands. You will have to do the hard work, but they can show you where to find the wood, or help you find water. Yes, you’ll probably make it on your own, but it will be harder and take a lot longer. If you think you need help, ask your GP for a referral.
- Write a journal – A bereavement therapist recommended this to me after Mum died and my CBT therapist recommended it again (although I’d already started because I know just how beneficial it is!). The process of having to pull your thoughts and feelings into a coherent sentence forces you to examine them in ways you otherwise wouldn’t. I gained a lot of insights simply by doing this.
- Nature – I honestly think nature is a great healer. There is nothing quite as soothing for the soul as getting outside. It brings a sense of peace that is hard to find anywhere else.
- Exercise – sometimes exercise is the last thing you want to do. Sometimes just getting out of bed is hard and the thought of anything more strenuous too much to bear. But exercise is so important to good physical and mental health. Make time to do something and you will feel better almost immediately, even if it’s just a walk around the block.
- Music – listening to music and going to gigs never fails to remind me of how awesome it is to be alive. If a band I like is playing, I try to go along. Simple and effective therapy.
- Gratitude – at difficult times, it can be hard to find things to be grateful for, but there always are. Even in the darkest times I know that I am lucky to be alive, to be healthy, to have a home, people who love me, food in the fridge, a future to plan for. Remembering those things is an instant pick-me-up.
- Meditation – this is one of those things I’ve always wanted to incorporate into my daily life, but have struggled to. If I find time, I often struggle to sit still. But when I do it, I am always so pleased that I have. It helps create space in your mind, but, more importantly, it teaches you that that space is there. It’s not about not thinking, but more about realising you’re more than your thoughts. This is invaluable if, like me, you suffer from anxiety. I’ve been using the Headspace app daily over the last two months, but there are lots of different books, programmes, classes out there.
- Creating meaning – On my worst days, I struggle to find meaning and that leaves me feeling lost. This is something I may always struggle with, it’s in my nature to ponder the big questions. Maybe there is no deep meaning in the sense we hope for, but we can still find purpose because we are alive. I can make a difference, even if it’s just by feeding the local wildlife or making someone laugh or making life slightly easier for my Dad. Maybe we have to create meaning for ourselves. Maybe we create meaning just by simply starting each day with the intention to be kind and be useful.
- Facing my fears – my anxiety can sometimes be vague, but sometimes it stems from something specific. Instead of letting it eat away at me, I now take time to work out what is bothering me and try to address it. I realise this may sound incredibly simplistic to some, but for those struggling with mental health issues solutions can feel out of reach, overwhelming or just non-existent.
- Getting some perspective – I am very prone to catastrophizing, black and white thinking etc. My therapist helped me to examine this habit and I think I’m finally breaking it. Now, when something seemingly negative happens, I take time to examine it realistically and inevitably come to the conclusion that it’s going to be just fine.
Life can be hard, but it can also be wonderful.
Grief is so painful because we know what is lost. We not only grieve for those we’ve lost or are losing, we grieve for the things they will never get to do again.
We owe it to them (and to ourselves!) to wring every last drop of happiness from our life.
This is how we heal, this is how we live.