It's OK to not be OK: dealing with grief

It's something I've read many times - ‘it’s ok to not be ok’

But do we really believe it?  Being ‘just fine’ seems like the polite option. We live in a society of ‘just fine’ people, moving along. 

Recently, I have not been just fine. Throughout the last year, I have learned that both sadness and happiness can exist in the same space. 

I want to share this story with you, in the hopes that it will make you realise that it truly is okay to not be okay. 


My story:

I didn't always want to be a mother but in recent years, the desire to have a baby has grown - so much so that my partner and I decided to start trying. 

At first it was more of a "let's just see what happens" and (funnily enough), at some point, it did! 

I was on holiday in Cyprus with my best friend when I found out. That summer my partner could not come with me, and I was away for 2 weeks.

I suddenly felt so tired and knew something was up. When I got a positive result, I still had a week left of my holiday. I decided to wait and tell him face to face when I returned home. It was a bit of a shock but such a pleasant surprise! 

"That's what I got you from Cyprus this year!" 

Definitely better than a novelty t-shirt.

However that happiness turned into the deepest sadness I've ever felt, when I experienced a silent miscarriage. 

This means that you're still pregnant, but the baby has stopped growing.. I was given the choice to miscarry naturally, which I did. I was 13 weeks pregnant by then.


Dealing with grief: 

And so came along probably the darkest time of my life. I was plagued with negative thoughts, and I kept on thinking my baby died inside of me - and I had let it go.

To say that the last year hasn’t been easy for me is an understatement. I experienced depression and anxiety, and later on decided to try therapy - which wasn’t easy.

And of course, throughout this time, life goes on - gotta work, gotta gym, gotta pay the bills. I was functioning, but I wasn’t okay.

That’s when the ‘just fine’ narrative took over. Normal etiquette in polite ‘how are you?’ conversation seems to be ‘yeah I’m fine!’ 

I didn’t feel like ‘terrible, thanks for asking!’ was an appropriate response. 

Perhaps my lowest point was Christmas time. Around one month prior to that, I was feeling good. I’d just had a great experience with my work teammates, who are also precious friends. We spent time in Bali and it was awesome! I relaxed and was feeling optimistic - I could see that I would finally be happy again. 

The thing that no one tells you about grief, is that it ebbs and flows - it’s not like a cut that gradually heals and then it’s gone. 

And something happened that triggered my depression to a deeper state - once again.

To put it bluntly, I remember Christmas time of 2019 really sucked. I put my Christmas tree up super early and ended up packing it away in tears the day after Christmas as I could not stand it anymore. 

I kept on thinking what could have been. The pain was so unbearable I had thoughts I'd never wish anyone to have.


And then 2020 hits: 

Flashforward to 2020, and there’s a national lockdown.

As many have, I was affected by it in many ways - but weirdly, being isolated actually helped my mental health 

There was just less noise.

Yep the usual phone and video calls for work had to be done, but when I felt blue, I could just be myself.  

I have been able to grieve and reflect on how far I’ve come. 

My partner and I decided to try again, and I eventually fell pregnant. My intuition told me something was wrong - and this time around, there was no joy, and no thrill.

I experience an ectopic pregnancy - where the embryo implants elsewhere rather than the uterus, usually in a tube. I was admitted to the hospital urgently for it to be removed. 

The feeling of loneliness was something I’ve never experienced before - the baby was removed from me. 

I can’t count how many times I’ve heard stories of people just asking - "Is it really a baby at that stage, though?"

All I can say is that for me, for the 20% of pregnant women who experience a miscarriage, and for that 1-2% that experience an ectopic pregnancy, these are our babies. Those beautiful babies that could have been.

Learning to live again: 

To be honest with you, I've been dreading Christmas this year again. But for some reason I've been thinking that things will be okay. Things are different this time.

This time I am more open about my situation.

This time I am able to talk about it.

This time I was able to see people who wanted to be there for me.

Don’t get me wrong - there are still lots of tears and bad days. 

But when I used to be blinded by pain, I had now managed to poke a tiny hole through it: just enough that I could see the light shining through.

I will have a Christmas tree up this year, and it will be as shiny and full of lights as ever. I can't promise I won't cry while putting it up or away.

So where am I now? "Okay" isn't the right word. "Fine" isn't either.

Things are going to happen and I’ll just go with the flow. I think of life as a little dance, and I’m just improvising, pretending I can actually remember the moves.

According to the stages of grief, I'll eventually accept it.

Most importantly, now I know that I can have happiness now, even if it’s hand in hand with sadness from time to time.

Christmas, Easter, a birthday, another day at work, a terribly targeted ad on an app on your phone and a lot of other things will happen that might take you to a place where you don't want to be. 

It will be overwhelming at times.

But please, breathe. 

And breathe again. 

It might not feel like it's getting easier, but know that you are getting stronger every day.

 

- Fed

Comments (3)

By Rebecca posted on November 23, 2020

Hey Fed,
I just wanted to thank you for your blog post on grief. It’s beautifully written and poignant especially as someone who lost their baby at 36 weeks gestation. I also had four ‘maybe babies’ through ivf prior to that pregnancy who never made it past the first few weeks and my son’s sibling who stopped growing between 5 and 6 weeks. No matter what stage a baby is lost it is still a profound loss. My heart goes out to you.

I personally found that by answering ‘it’s been a tough week but I’m surviving’ I left room for people who were not experiencing Compassion Fatigue to come around me whilst also giving other people a conversational ‘out’.

Sometimes it’s us who needs a break from talking about how we feel or it’s just not the right circumstances to be brutally honest about the level of pain we are experiencing.

When you break your leg, people see the cast and remember to support you or give you a little extra grace but with loss people not involved move on and forget far quicker than you can heal.

You also mentioned the standard pattern of grief, it’s a bugbear of mine so please indulge me – the Kübler-Ross model of 5 stages of grief was only ever intended to share her observations of what she saw happening to people. It was never intended as a guide or map to heal from grief. Some people experience several of her stages In parallel or in a different order.

I can highly recommend Kristie West a G.R.I.E.F. specialist and her blog on Healing from Grief. She has evolved her work over the last 10 years and has an empowering model of complete healing from the pain of grief which I can highly recommend to you.

God bless, Rebecca

By Steve Walker-Arends posted on November 23, 2020

Hi Fed

Thank you for your wonderfully honesty words. My wife and I have just been through a similar situation, it’s heartbreaking and will take time to process. Your piece really resonated with me. I wish you all the strength moving forward.

Love and best wishes

Stephen

By elizabeth posted on November 23, 2020

a beautiful and bravely written piece and so important in these testing times. thank you <3

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