Self care September – To be honest, when I was set the task of writing about my own self care, I struggled to put pen to paper. I kept trying to think of different things that I’d done in the past that I could tell you about but I felt that I’d be a fraud if I claimed that what came to mind fell under the ‘self care’ bracket because actually, all they were were ways for me of just getting through the day, week, month or year. I was just doing what I had to do to feel I was succeeding in life with a little bit of control. I also can see now that a lot of what I did, that would appear to others as me taking care of myself, was in fact my way of keeping people at bay. By showing that I was ok on the outside, it would stop people from asking if I was ok on the inside. A camouflage.
You see, all challenges and goals that I set myself over the years since my loss, were me reassuring myself that I wasn’t going to die. My partner was taken so suddenly and in such a way that immediately after his death I thought that my time was up too. I was meant to go away with him that winter but due to not having enough annual leave left to take at work, I didn’t go. He did though….and never came back. I felt that I had swerved death and so initially I waited for my fate to happen. It started with me getting symptoms of a heart attack and I saw the doctor many times because I was convinced I was having one, had had one or was going to have one. My anxiety and panic attacks fed off that fear and that pain in my heart still happens to this day if I am anxious.
I discovered that I was pregnant a month after losing my partner at which point my self care kicked in for the protection of my unborn baby. I looked after myself better than I ever had done before. I ate healthy foods and made sure I walked each day, as well as rested. It was during that pregnancy that I started to set small tasks to test whether my body was strong enough to keep going. The tasks were only small, for example, I would go downstairs to make a cup of tea and tell myself that if I made it back upstairs I was ok or at work, a goal would be to make it to the ladies and back again without dying.
After my baby was born, I carried on walking each day but then with baby weight to lose I started to exercise each night after I’d put my baby to bed. I didn’t want to look a victim of my loss so I didn’t want to give other people any reason to think that I was. In my case, I believed that a sign of not coping was if I put on weight. Writing that all these years on makes me very sad. I guess that I was at least looking after myself physically although it didn’t feel like it to me. It was almost a way of covering everything up but to be fair I didn’t realise I was doing that at the time, not at all. So in a way it was my self care because I had to channel my energy somewhere. I couldn’t channel it into how I was feeling because that was too much to bare.
My realisation that I need to look after my whole self and the importance of it has only started in the last 6 months, 13 years on. I have got into some bad habits so it is taking time to retrain what I need to focus on. I’m not used to having the freedom to spend time on me, not all of me. For over a decade I didn’t have the space in my mind to deal with new tasks, I had to just be who I was able to be and so the loss of my partner was defining who I was. I’m having to learn what life is like again without the weight of my PTSD.
Writing these blogs is now part of my self care. With each one that I write I learn a little more about where I’ve been and where I am now. Writing this has helped me to see just how out of control I was which is ironic when my perception was that I was in total control. Up until just a few months ago if someone had asked me if I thought that the loss of my sons father had changed me I would have said, ‘No’. I was still me, right? Wrong, my actions and my emotions were 100% being controlled by what had happened and I was managing them in the best and the only way I knew how. All of the jigsaw pieces that made me were there but they weren’t connected together. Each piece of the jigsaw of me required my full attention and so I channeled my focus on one at a time in the hope it would hold me together. It also meant I could pay full attention to one piece whilst ignoring another without feeling that I was neglecting myself.
My self care starts here and I feel very positive about it now. I do however believe that grief is something that you can only deal with on an individual basis. There is no wrong and no right. I did what I had to do to just get through each day and would never judge someone for what they do.