‘Knock knock. Who’s there?’ The conundrum ‘knock knock’ usually prepares us for what might be a session of good old laughter. But I’m afraid what is knocking on the door this time is far from a mere innocent joke. So bear me as I tell my unfunny joke.
‘You know, the one who causes the deepest sorrow ever and leaves you crippled mentally, to a point where you no longer recognise your own personality or actions’.
I’m happy to be back on my blog after a long crippling silence. I’ve contemplated a lot about sharing my experience but I’ve come to a decision that sharing is caring and if my revelations could help in any way then I’ve done a great job. We hold such a stigma when it comes to talking about misfortunes, so I refuse to be locked in that box. Underneath it all though, putting this in writing is a big step towards healing.
Like many troubles which strike us at some point in life, grief might also come knocking on the door. If you have been unfortunate enough to experience grief, you may have gone through the five stages renowned including denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. As the experts say, you may well go through all of these stages or perhaps only some of them, and not necessarily in that order. Everybody is different.
We grieve as a result of the loss of a loved one, a loving relationship etc. Following the loss, the pandora’s box of the grieving process opens up. Having lost both parents before the age of 24, I should have been able to recognise the fact that my recent emotions were all due to me grieving. But I didn’t. I blamed myself profoundly for not being able to control my feelings. Why can’t I just snap out of it? I hated myself for the pain that I caused my loved ones. I felt so angry, guilty, useless and frankly, quite unworthy. It didn’t occur to me that this was a natural human way of coping with my loss. Coping with grief.
As mentioned, grieving should have been a normal process (although this never gets normal) for me. However, when my parents passed away in Tanzania, nobody ever talked about grief or what one might experience following the death of such important figures in one’s life. Where I come from in Africa, we are better prepared when it comes to dealing with physical health problems (it’s obvious when someone is bleeding due to a car accident) but quite backwards when faced with problems related to the state of the mind. Prayers and other traditional practices would be solicited instead of western medicine. Services such as ‘counselling’ or ‘seeing a shrink’ as our friends the Americans call them, are almost non-existent. Things might start to change now but it was certainly not the case in my era. It is not a big surprise that we are left to our own devices when it comes to coping with matters of the heart. After all, all the tears (buckets of it, there is no holding back at funerals in my country) have been cried and dried, so there shouldn’t be any ‘reserved feelings’, according to them, I suppose.
You never really understand a problem until it IS your problem
I remember consoling a colleague years ago when I worked in Biochemistry, who came into work in tears, unable to contain herself. She’d just been to the emergency department and was told that she’d suffered a miscarriage. Not knowing what to say, I found myself saying to her that, ‘perhaps the womb is just like our machines, they need calibrating before they could work properly. Perhaps the first pregnancy was only a means to pave the way for the next one, which will be a success’. My colleague went on to have a gorgeous healthy baby. I consoled myself with the same story when the same thing happened to me the first time. I was almost sure that the second time I fell pregnant, I would have a baby in nine months. It wasn’t the case then and nor was it for the subsequent pregnancy. The last miscarriage was somewhat complicated and warranted a medical intervention where I was placed in a unit where other moms were going to have their babies – not ideal to say the least. After the procedure, I played my usual strong self for a while. I busied myself with work and other projects. A typical denial stage I would come to recognise. Just like the way I thought they’d made a mistake years ago, when they told me that my father had died, ‘he could never die, there’d been a mix-up!’ I protested. Meanwhile, my grieving process continued. I was pretty angry with myself and even with my husband for not being able to stop the loss our baby, not that he could have done! I was fighting a non-winning battle within myself. ‘If only I hadn’t gone to yoga’ or ‘perhaps it was the green tea that caused it?’. The blame-list was endless. The emptiness or rather the depression as I’ve come to learn it – was undeniable. You just couldn’t shake it off. I would not wish it on anybody.
My point is, nobody can take away any of the grieving stages. But what helps in a way is to actually recognise that, ‘I’m not going insane’ and that ‘the way I feel is quite normal’. Everybody is different though. I praise myself for being a tough cookie but I don’t think playing tough would fix it. However, I found these simple things quite useful:
Talk about it – I find it quite difficult to express myself, especially verbally. But I must admit that talking out problems does create a sort of release. Once I mentioned my problem, I found that others had experienced the same thing. Just knowing that this has happened to others and seeing them in a ‘well state’ made me feel that there is hope of getting back to normal.
Stop the blame game – Accepting that ‘it is not my fault’ can be difficult. But it’s worth accepting that nature plays a part and medical abnormalities do happen. In this case the weak/abnormal is naturally eliminated. So no, it’s not your fault.
Support network – I’ve never tried a support group but I imagine it would be so helpful to be among others who have walked the same path. Although I did not join a physical group, I did read a lot of forums online. Some stories were pretty sad but in the end they did find solutions.
Physical exercise – this is always my big help and there is some truth to it. When we exercise, we release some natural ‘feel good hormones’. But there is no need to force it, again everybody is different.
And finally, my biggest help through this process was my husband. It’s so important to go through it together. There were some moments where I couldn’t talk about it but my rock just gave me the space and waited patiently. One day I just felt like the cloud just vanished and I saw things as I did before. Thank you my love.
I’ve learned that we might not be able to keep the door closed when grief comes knocking but it is reassuring to know that all the unpleasant feelings that we go through are just a normal coping mechanism.
Feel free to share with me your stories or any of your coping tips. Thanks in advance.
Until soon – with a happy post, promise!