One Year On!
It's been a year since I started writing this blog, and what a year it's been! When I started writing, I was in a really dark place. Life had lost all meaning for me and I really couldn't see a light at the end of a very long dark tunnel. We were just entering another lockdown, and I can honestly say I'd never felt quite so alone as I did back then. Writing the blog has been extremely cathartic and has helped me in many ways. Writing my feelings down has helped me to overcome the dark times. I've written more than I've submitted as some stuff is just too personal to put in the public domain, but for someone who has hidden her feelings for a long time, the release my writing has given me is huge.
I quite often read back over my previous ramblings, and I'm encouraged by how far I've come. With the help of the RTT hypnotherapy, learning to set boundaries, and practising mindfulness, my mental health has improved significantly. I still have dark moments, but they are no longer having the impact on my life like before. A few weeks after starting this blog I started my other "jokey" blog and my Facebook group which has given me so much pleasure and fun. I've made some amazing friendships and as I've said before I could never have imagined what I could have got from a daft Facebook group.
My group has just under 1200 members and still continues to grow. I'm still receiving messages to say how the group has helped so many people going through rough times, and the sense of achievement is fantastic. I've met with a few members already and have been invited to spend time in some amazing destinations like Australia, The Norfolk Islands and Florida with some members I've got to know well over the past 11 months. Maybe next year I'll get there. One of my members who lives 3800 miles away in Manitoba, Canada, is coming over to visit in the New Year and I can't wait to finally meet him in person after many months of messages and calls. These people, who I would never have met if not for the group, have helped me more than they will ever know.
We have just had the 5th anniversary of my husband's death, and last year was the hardest it had ever been. It's always a tough day and as it's bonfire night the sound of the fireworks for a couple of weeks before always seem to highlight the day. I was a little emotional on the day itself, but so much better than I was a year ago.
The following day, my friend came down from Cheshire, and we went to see Portsmouth play at Fratton. I hadn't seen him since August, and it was the first football match I've been to since the pandemic started. After that, we ventured into Southsea for drinks and a meal. We had such a great day and night. I seem to have done more since July than I had in the last 2 years. I went to Victorious a couple of months back and saw Madness. I've wanted to see them for years, and I was not disappointed. It was amazing and for me meant I could finally dance again. Well, I use the word dance lightly, I threw myself around like a Looney for hours and struggled to walk the next day, but it was worth it. I've been to a couple of belated birthday parties for friends who turned 50 during the pandemic and again danced, laughed and thoroughly enjoyed mixing. I've a concert on my birthday in a couple of weeks at the O2 in London, as a present from my daughter and her partner. It will be the farthest I've travelled in a long time, and I'm looking forward to spending the time with my daughter. One of my friends has organised a group of us to go out the day after to celebrate my birthday and I cannot wait as I did nothing for my birthday last year.
I'm a sociable person and finally feel like I'm getting my life back. Work is going well. I can now work from home 3 days a week and the office the other 2. This has helped give me a great work/life balance, and I've found at my age I appreciate that more than ever. I've started dating again and have met some nice guys and had some lovely days/evenings in good company. Only one has ticked all the boxes, but he lives 150 miles away. Typical! It's early days; I'm enjoying getting to know him, but I have found that I've built some pretty big walls up to protect me, and they are a little too solid at the moment, so for now I'm enjoying the single life. What is meant to be, will be.
A Huge Sense of Sadness
I wanted to write about the fantastic last 2 weeks I'd had, about the excitement and emotion of finally seeing my daughter. About the day I spent with my friend who I'd bumped into last year for the first time in 25 years and how we had a great day, and he had me laughing until my sides hurt. All of this happened and was amazing but from Friday until Monday it was overcast with sadness.
Easter Sunday would have been my husband's birthday. The fifth one since he passed away, so why did it feel like the first all over again?
I really was the happiest I've been in a long time but waking up on Good Friday I felt as flat as a pancake. It's quite normal for me to feel off, in the build up to an anniversary, but I'd not felt this flat in a long time. I found myself withdrawing. I stopped interacting with my group and stopped responding to friends. I was irritable and also worried my dark depressive period I'd suffered from October till January was returning.
I felt lost and a huge sense of sadness. I couldn't work out why the build up to this particular anniversary was hitting me harder than previously. Last year I was OK for his birthday. I was more than OK. Someone came to stay on that day for the first lockdown, so I was busy sorting and arranging the house. Easter fell later last year so by the time that came around I had company and was distracted. This year the birthday falling on Easter and being relatively alone hit me hard, a 16-year-old boy who is also grieving doesn't want to sit with his sad old mum, he wants to deal with things his way which is OK by me.
All day Friday and Saturday I felt on the brink of tears. I tried everything to lift my mood. I practised the mindfulness that has been working well for me, I tried to read, I certainly didn't want to listen to music as I knew that would start me off crying if certain songs played. I went for walks but all I saw were happy families and couples holding hands, that made me feel even worse. Even when my mental health has been at its worst I can usually fake it and portray to the outside world I'm fine, but I couldn't find the energy to do that.
Sunday came along and it was awful. I woke up crying. How bloody stupid! It's been 5 years since so why was I in this state. The more I cried, the more frustrated I got with myself. I had no motivation to do anything. My son had gone for a walk, he likes to act as if an anniversary is a normal day, so I was conscious of being upset in front of him. I did drag myself into the shower whilst he was out and just slumped to the floor in a ball and sobbed. The floodgates had opened and I couldn't stop. I knew I had to pull myself together for the sake of my son, so I got dried, put on some clothes but really couldn't face anything, so I climbed into bed. I must have cried myself to sleep. I woke up a couple of hours later feeling emotionally exhausted. I'd lost my appetite over the past couple of days and really couldn't stomach a meal. I cooked for my son crying the whole time. I hid away whilst he came down to eat, and when he went back up I came back down.
I've been a member of a group for young widows and widowers for quite a while and know that it is usually a great place to get some support or advice. Sometimes just chatting to someone who has experienced something similar is such a help. I chatted to a lady who was 10 years older than me but who had lost her partner at the same age I had. She got me completely. She said she had found the anniversaries since lockdown particularly difficult even though she's happily remarried for the past 5 years. This helped me to feel 'normal' and to stop beating myself up.
Grief is a peculiar thing. When Andy first passed away I was still trying to process his illness, but I went through the motions. I cried every morning on waking, on and off throughout the day and cried myself to sleep every night. There were many times I wished I wouldn't wake up, so I could be with him but knew I had to carry on as my kids needed me more than ever. Then after a few months I noticed I didn't wake up crying but then may do for another week or so. I laughed and felt guilty for doing so. Then I'd notice I didn't fall asleep crying and so on and so on until I realised it had been a week with no tears, then a month. Laughter comes easily and without guilt. Anniversaries come and go. The first ones are awful. The second ones are bad, the third a sadness. Each one becomes a little easier to live through. For the past 2 years I've been OK for most of the anniversaries except for the anniversary of his death last November when I was at a real low point and of course this weekend just gone.
There is no instruction manual on how to grieve. There is no timescale for how long it will last. Everybody grieves differently there is no right or wrong. Grief for me is like the sea. Like a tide, grief ebbs and flows. You can go months with a calm still sea then suddenly without warning a wave of sadness can hit. It can last moments it can last days but with each wave you know it won't last forever. It will subside until the next storm, or until a pebble causes a ripple effect. For me grief is not like depression, with depression you have no idea when 'normality' will ever return. Depression becomes your normality. Grief is different, it's a process. It is painful at times, but I believe it is healthy to grieve. You can only grieve for something or someone you have loved and lost. People always say time is a great healer. I agree to a certain extent, as time goes on you learn to live without that person. You learn a new way of life. I'm learning that it's OK to still grieve and that some years may be different to others and that too is OK. The strangest of years we've all had combined with the anniversary of a loved one has just been harder than normal to get through but unlike those early days of grieving where you never think you'll smile again you learn that you will and the memories of the past will once again give you pleasure not pain.
Today, apart from feeling unwell as a reaction to my COVID-19 jab 12 days ago, I'm OK. I have a temperature, ache all over, but the sadness has lifted (my lateral flow test was thankfully negative). I'm also prepared that future anniversaries will come and go without any sadness, but there could be that one in the future where it is difficult to get through and that is allowed. Grief is a perfectly normal part of life that I have to accept. I cannot control it. I just need to ride the waves when they appear and remember it does get easier again.
Fate and Serendipity!
Do you believe in fate? Do you believe in serendipitous events/encounters? That everything happens for a reason. I believe fate was the reason I met my husband. I'd been in a horrendous relationship and left my home town with my ex to go to work at Butlins. Whilst my ex was sacked for hospitalising me, I stayed. My husband came to Butlins a few months later. He was on his way home from work and walked past a job centre in London where he lived. It had a board outside advertising work on the South Coast, with accommodation provided. He told me he didn't know why he went inside as he had a really good job as a Carpenter and Joiner, but he was feeling very disillusioned with London and within 2 days he packed his belongings and moved to the sunny South Coast. We consequently met and he never moved back.
Had I not have been with the person I was with, however bad it was, I would never have met my husband. I would never have had my children. I've always struggled to find a reason as to how fate resulted in my husband being taken from us too soon. The disease that killed him (Mesothelioma) was a result of work he did with asbestos some 15 years before we met. It laid dormant until 2016. A couple of days before he passed away he said to me that he bet I regretted him turning up at Butlins as I was about to be made a widow at 41. I didn't and don't ever regret meeting him.
Since I was a child I have kept things that hold memories for me. Little trinkets and notes that I've bought or been given over the years that have sentimental value. I even have my school-leavers books signed by everyone from that year. To outsiders, it would be junk, to me incredibly precious. I have a box with cards, obituary notice, order of service and candle from my husband's funeral. The one and only letter he wrote me, our first valentines and Christmas cards. Other personal effects. Last year I took down most of the photos as it felt right to do so and they are safely in the box. I haven't been into the box other than adding the photos. That was until the day after I wrote my last post.
I was feeling very low. I sat at the PC when a large bang behind me made me jump out of my skin. I looked to see the box had fallen from where it always sits. I have no idea what caused it, but it landed with the lid open. I could see the pictures on the top were not damaged. I went to close the lid and put the box away but for some reason I had a sudden urge to go through it. Under the photos was a memory stick. I knew this held over 50 or so photos of my husband. I haven't looked at it since it was played at his funeral 4 years ago, afraid of how I would feel. I decided to play it.
I sat laughing as each image filled my TV screen. Smiling at the memories. I didn't cry once watching. I then carried on looking through the box and came across a disc. It was a recording of the coroner's court that I had to attend and give evidence at 2 months after he died. It was a blur at the time as I was still in shock. As he had passed away due to an industrial disease this was necessary but incredibly painful. I had to fight to stop an autopsy being performed as he had been through so much already. That may seem bizarre to some, but he had endured so many biopsies and procedures before he died I didn't want his body being cut any more. I won my fight and the coroner agreed biopsy results would be sufficient along with my evidence.
I have never listened to the recording and other than my dad, the coroner, the recorder and a journalist that was allowed to be present I actually have no memory of what was said. I decided to play that too. It was so difficult to listen to. I didn't sound like me. The pain in my voice came across so loudly. I did cry listening to it, but I am glad I did.
I put everything back in the box, but it got me thinking. Looking at the photos and memories were happy. The recording was hard to listen to but after doing so I felt calm and peaceful. I started to remember other conversations I'd had with my husband in the days before his death. Some were very amusing, others very deep. The last conversation we had he told me to go and live my life. Be happy. Find another love and that he had always loved me. He was unable to speak again after this due to sedation. At the time I really did not want to hear that, but I thought long and hard about that conversation.
I took a call a couple of hours later from a lady I have got to know over the past few months. She said she had a weird feeling and felt she needed to call me and was I OK. I told her what had happened with the box and what I had done. She said "that is serendipity". Serendipity is an unplanned fortunate discovery. We talked at length about it and how I believed fate bought my husband into my life, but I could not justify it taking him away. She went on to say that she believes people are brought to us for a reason. That every person we meet teaches us something whether that be a good, fun, sad, learning, loving or bad experience. She went on that my husband was a gift to me and that after 7 years of abuse I needed him and that he had done what he needed to by showing me how to love and be loved. Now whether you believe in that or not I felt for the first time since his death totally at peace with that. I do believe my husband was bought into my life by fate. I was lucky enough to have loved and been loved by him for 22 years.
My low mood I'd been having that day lifted after my call with her. I started to think of other people who have been in my life in the past 4 years and left an impact on it in some way. Every person I thought of I have learned from. Whether it be through inspiring me, educating me, introducing me to new experiences or opening my eyes to things I wanted to try but never had the courage too. Every person I thought of no matter if they are still in my life now or not I am grateful for what I have learnt and believe it was meant to be.
I slept really well that night. I woke the following morning feeling refreshed and determined. Determined to do what my husband had said. To live my life and be happy.
I have created a kind of bucket list. I've always had so many things in my head I want to do or experience but actually putting them into black and white, gives me something to aim for. I listed my career goals. I've always wanted to learn to play the drums. Places I want to travel to. New things I want to experience and much much more. I've already looked into drum lessons for when lockdown is over. Later that day my son told me of his plans to go travelling after college. A possibility of living abroad. He has a list too it would seem.
This announcement from him got me thinking again. I've toyed with the idea of selling up on and off for a couple of years now but always decided against it as it's my children's home. They have grown now. My daughter left home 18 months ago and is happy and settled with her partner. My son will carry out his plans as he is a focused and determined young man. So that leaves me no excuses. I have spoken to an estate agent and will be having a valuation carried out when allowed. There is nothing or no one currently in my life that warrants me needing to be in my house or even in the UK once my son goes in just over a year.
The days that followed I have been so busy with work, my group (that now has over 400 members and counting) and looking at my list and planning that I haven't had time to feel low or miserable. I'm sleeping well and have a new energy. Who knows what's ahead. I certainly don't but one thing I do know is I just want to be happy, have fun and live my life because life is short, life is precious and to be enjoyed. I want to make the most of mine not look back in twenty years full of regret.
It's funny how one thing can trigger something else. How one thought or action can lead you in one direction, and before you know it you are thinking or doing something completely different. I woke up this morning feeling quite good. I'd had a really positive chat with my boss yesterday. I've also had a few people suggest I write a book (I find that hilarious, but quite flattering). My group is growing rapidly, and I seem to have become a bit of a shoulder for several group members having a tough time. Ironic considering what's been going on with me.
I started work and I put my music on shuffle play. Random songs from my favourite playlist. I've said before I sometimes think my playlist knows my mood or likes to stir up emotions. It did again today. The music had been on for a couple of hours. I had just finished listening to Kate Bush and Peter Gabriel, Don't give up. A beautiful song that when I feel low gives me the kick up the arse I need. Then came another favourite of mine. Hedonism by Skunk Anansie. This song I have loved since it came out over 20 years ago. I've always loved the lyrics but listening to it today I sat and cried. In truth, I sobbed. The words resonated with me more than they ever have before. I packed up work for the day as I couldn't concentrate. I went to bed. I didn't want to deal with what was going on in my head. It didn't work, so I decided to write this.
Hedonism means pleasure and as they say there is a fine line between pleasure and pain. Today this song bought to the surface pain. A pain I've been trying to suppress, ignore, forget about. For the past couple of weeks I have tried really hard not to think about my feelings. I was worried that if I did a pandora's box would be opened, and I would be back to how I was feeling at the beginning of November. That thought scared me. I don't ever want to feel like that again.
Last week I was forced to think about my feelings and whilst I did not revert back to how I was in November I am still quite raw and there is something that is haunting me. Most of what happened in the build up to that point I have reconciled. I've tried many times to put what happened down on paper and each time I've discarded it. Writing my thoughts or ramblings as I like to call it has really helped, but I don't feel it will this time, but I don't know what else will. There is one event that took place at the end of October I still cannot put to rest. This is the one thing in my life I have torn myself apart over in the last few months. This is something I need to but cannot resolve.
I pride myself on having a great memory. Friends joke with me about the things I can recall. Conversations, events, drunken and random things from 30 years ago but for the life of me I have no clue as to what happened one night at the end of October. I have fragments of what happened, mostly what I was told. It's like a jigsaw puzzle with the major pieces missing showing the full picture.
At the end of what had been an awful week personally a friend suggested meeting for a drink after I had finished work. We got to the pub just after 5pm. By 7pm it would seem I was absolutely out of it. I still do not know after 3 glasses of wine how this happened. It has been suggested to me my drink was spiked. I remember feeling strange like I had been out all night on some kind of bender. I remember I just wanted to sleep. I remember bits and pieces of what occurred after I left the pub. I don't remember getting to the train station, but I remember being on the train and a man who had been in the pub talking to me was sitting opposite. I do not remember getting off the train, but I remember talking to a homeless guy by the station and giving him some money for food and the man from the pub and train was still there. I vaguely remember the homeless guy shouting at him, but I do not recall what was said. After that everything is a blur. What I was informed happened next is so unreal, so out of character to me and has caused me a huge amount of shame, embarrassment, hurt and anger. I have physical scars from that night but no understanding of how they got there.
I actually cannot put on paper what happened as it is so disjointed and seems so unreal to me. That night has far-reaching and ongoing consequences. I want to stand and shout from the rooftops that I am not that person. I want to put wrongs right. I want to know what the hell happened. I have never in my life deliberately hurt anyone. I've always put others' feelings and welfare above my own. I'm often told I care too much about others at the detriment to myself. So what happened to me in the space of 2 hours? This one night was the spark to the tinder keg that erupted in November. I don't know how to address this. I don't know how to stop feeling pain from it. I don't know how to move on from something I don't understand.
I've never pretended to be something I'm not. I've always had pride that I am an honest person with a good heart, morals and integrity. That has had a shadow cast over it, it has been questioned and is something I don't know how to live with. I just have to bury that pain again until the next time something triggers it and hope it doesn't drag me back down. In the meantime I'll go back to what I do best. Hide my true feelings and plod on with life and hope tomorrow is a better day.