I'm OK and Other Lies
I woke up one morning and my first thought was ‘what the flip OWW’. I tried to get up which caused more of the ‘OWWW’. My neck was stuck in one position and I was pretty sure that my right shoulder blade was on fire too. I’m not sure what I’d done, I couldn’t remember having injured it specifically, but I woke up and there it was.
Three days of this passed with my range of neck and arm motion varying constantly, the pain from the trapped nerve pretty unbearable, but I figured it would sort itself out. It was at this three day point that an avalanche of emotions hit. And I was not at all prepared.
Having It Together
It’s been three months since we lost our baby. I’ve Held Together for three months. Three months of appearing to be a fully functioning human being. Three months of thinking the worst is behind me. To be honest I’m surprised at how little it takes to appear to have it Together. Putting on a bit of makeup, making sure your toddler gets to school on time, doing some arts and crafts with him, making dinner. Having It Together.
How healthy of me, I thought, when I started writing about my experience so soon after we lost him. Though I was told that speaking to others is the healthier way of processing emotions, I struggle with this and tend to write my feelings down - preferring to express them to myself first. I’m practically my own therapist, I told myself.
I’m well on my way to healing myself aren’t I? I’m writing articles, I’m organising the house, I hosted Christmas for crying out loud! Hosting Christmas requires the ability to summon super-human levels of mental strength - fact. And I did it! That, right there is proof I’m OK.
What We Tell Ourselves
I’m OK. What most of us tell ourselves and the rest of the world. Because of course we don’t give ourselves permission to answer ‘how are you’ with anything other than ‘fine’.
But apparently I’m not and the feelings of not okay-ness hit me like a punch in the stomach.
I assumed the nerve pain had triggered them. The pain and not being able to do much of anything - my left arm, it turns out, is pretty useless. I saw a homeopath, an acupuncturist, an osteopath, a reiki healer - all in the space of a week. I wanted it gone, sorted. Each one told me the same - that I would need to be patient. That I wouldn’t be healed overnight. And I told them all the same - that I’m just not built that way. I called the ‘generation’ card. I swipe to ‘buy now’ and what I want arrives in no more than 2 hours because any longer than that would be Bad.
The thought of just having to Wait And See saw my initial frustration give way to a flood of everything else. Anxiety, rage, disappointment, deep sadness, which looked like me crying at least once a day for the next two and a half weeks and not wanting to see or talk to anyone outside of my house. It seemed all consuming, sapping every bit of strength and courage I had, poisoning any constructive thought. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so low. And incredulous. Who even are you right now? This is not you. Just snap yourself out of it! Help yourself out!
And then one morning I was looking through our post and there was a leaflet from a religious organisation advertising a talk titled ‘Despair - What Beliefs or Hopes Are Being Threatened or Reaffirmed in Your Life Today?’. It made me jolt. If I was going to get anywhere at all I needed to go beyond my initial response of fear and anger and thinking about it in terms of beliefs and hopes like this felt non-threatening. So I made a list.
Beliefs Reaffirmed: that life will never be the same; that there will always be an obstacle to me reaching my health goals; that bad things will keep happening; that I’m not keeping up with my life plans.
Hopes Threatened: getting going in life again; being physically and mentally strong; getting pregnant again; giving birth to a healthy child again.
And there it all was. Some felt reasonable and justified and some, seeing them written out like that, felt ridiculous. I’m not keeping up with my own life plans? Who am I keeping up for? Of course I’ll get my fitness back, this arm thing was just a tiny blip.
You Are The Easiest Person To Fool
Richard Feynman said ‘the first principle is that you must not fool yourself - and you are the easiest person to fool.’ Wow right? I think It’s totally normal to have disappointments and dashed hopes, and it can be perfectly healthy as long as we acknowledge when the pain we’re feeling is actually an indication of toxic attitudes that need to be addressed.
The need to keep up, the need to control what happens in life, the belief of what healthy looks like, the unrealistic completely unnecessary demands I’ve placed on myself. All things that I have control over. I’ve created this mental despair so I must have it in me to resolve it by expanding and adjusting my hopes and beliefs. I’m not kidding myself that doing any of this is easy - the weight of past experience, personal bias, a lifetime of conditioning is HEAVY. But somehow, just telling myself this was relievingly cathartic.
Make It Small
Patience has been my biggest takeaway from the past few weeks. When Big things in your life aren’t working out how you envisaged it is fucking frightening. It makes you question everything and I think a lot of the sadness that comes out of that is actually overwhelm in disguise. Overwhelm with the volume and weight of the decisions we have to make, with expectations, with the vastness of what we could be doing versus what we are actually doing. We are all living tired, strained lives and the quest to optimise our lives is never-ending. A long weekend becomes another opportunity to work instead of rest, evenings stop being time to spend with family and instead become the hours you spend on whatever side hustle (God I can’t stand that phrase) you’ve got going on and so on.
The world just seems really big sometimes, and so what I need in these moments is to make it small. To carve out my own little space, slow down, take a second and focus on what is right in front of me. Do one small thing. Make one small decision. And then make another one, and then another. And then one day you might find that you can say you’re ‘OK’ and mean it.