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Grieving every day

As far back as I can remember I have experienced times of intense sadness. Feeling like a heavy weight is dropped into my solar plexus and at the same time as if some creature is clawing at my insides. It makes me feel exhausted and restless at the same time; exhausted with the unexplainable emotional pain and restless to make it shift. Mentally restless to understand it, figure it out and come up with a way forward. Physically restless because the pain is so uncomfortable; a sense of loss, violence and meaninglessness. As if I’m too empty and too full at once.

When I was younger the big question was always “why?”. 

Why am I feeling like this? What have I done? What have I not done? What have I done wrong? Is it me? Is there something wrong with me? Why would I be feeling like this unless I’ve done something wrong? 

I would be looking for what I might have missed. Scrutinise things I’d done, choices I’d made and how I’d treated people. 

As I grew older I became more aware of this individualised idea of happiness that seems to have rooted itself in our western minds. That we alone are responsible for our happiness; that happiness is something we can just choose, something that happens if we think the right thoughts or chant the right chants. Many seem obsessed with happiness and how it’s achieved and how to spread the happiness vibe. It’s a bestseller.

Grief, sadness and pain doesn’t seeem to have much value. They are responses to be gotten over or fixed. Find the cause and get it sorted. Pain is just a messenger about something you need to look at. Then you can be happy, be your true self free of pain. Happiness is the way and we can all be happy if we want to…

With all this in mind I kept scrutinising myself. What was I doing so very, very wrong? How to change my thoughts to change my world? Its just mind over matter, right?! 

I used to hide when I felt sad. Cause nobody wants to be around a buzz killer, a party pooper. I thought people didn’t like my philosophical questions, my ponderings about the point of it all, my quiet staring into space and unenthusiastic responses. Also I just felt too tired to face people. People often want to help and relieve pain and this would leave me with a choice between two evils; pretend people was helping me to make them feel better or be honest and make others feel restless and sad too… It can be a real dilemma so I chose to not be around people because I would feel responsible when my moods and behaviour made others feel powerless.

During me teenage years I was quite sure I wouldn’t be able to keep surviving my intense states of sadness and meaninglessness. But now I am 35 and I have made it through countless of these states. And I’ve started thinking differently about them. 

Realising I am not an island was one of the first big things to help me change my approach. I don’t know why we are being sold this idea that we a separate and disconnected. I know it feels like that at times and I know nobody is ever going to experience me or the world the way I do, but that doesn’t make me an isolated being. It just makes me unique. Like everybody are unique. But we are still made from the same matter – or clay as John O’Donohue calls it. We may be islands but we are all connected by water, by this world we are living in. Connected by our humanness; by bones, flesh and blood, by birth, illness and death. 

Once I realised this I started wondering whether this sadness was truly just mine…

The wonderful German word “Weltschmerz” can be understood in two ways. Either it could mean that you feel overwhelmed and dissatisfied with the world; that the world – or your view of the world – is causing you pain. Or it could mean that you are feeling the pain of the world. 

Believing that everything is interconnected and inter-existing makes my pain not just mine. My pain may not start with me. Sometimes it does yes, but more often than not the pain I feel comes from my relationships with people around me, from being aware of pain in their lives. And some states of sadness are about the world, about feeling the grief of living beings across the planet, the despair and vulnerability. Deeply sensing the frustration of people fighting for a fairer world or people trying to raise awareness about the impact we have on the environment. 

There is so much pain in the world. So much pain.

And many of us have lost the rituals and containers that could help us feel less overwhelmed in the face of this pain. Rather than thinking of us as interconnected and face the pain of the world, we think of pain as having an isolated cause that the individual needs to deal with… Or we simply try to distract and numb ourselves from the pain.

So what to do when one feels the pain of the world?

Probably this is one place where religions of different kinds have something to offer. Loving prayers and getting together with others to remind ourselves that there may be something bigger than us out there. Choosing to trust in a higher power can alleviate some of the overwhelm.

Or nurture a spiritual practice; some people find ways to protects themselves against feeling the pain and others find ways to bear it. 

Or become an activist. 

I don’t have a religion and I don’t have the discipline to uphold a spiritual practice. I can’t really see myself as an activist. 

So some years ago I decided to try and grieve everyday. To honour the pain and the sadness. Because what seemed to happen was, that I would be relieved when I didn’t feel the sadness and then feel resentment when it came back. So I thought that if I stayed in touch with it and felt it on a regular basis it might stop coming in these intense waves…

It sounds good in theory. But then life happens and I forget or I change my priorities. So sadness takes a backseat for a while but I can’t stop being who I am and I can’t stop feeling life so intensely. So sooner or later I am forced to feel the pain again. And I think to myself: What happened to grieving everyday? What happened to being in touch with the pain of the world and honouring it? 

I am coming through a time of business to more calm living and now sadness has hit me square in my belly. It’s so intense I forget all I’ve learned about this pain, I feel lost and overwhelmed. My mind gets restless but a voice inside says: Write about it. Write!

And I write and I remember. The pain, the many ways I’ve tried to deal with it throughout my life. I remember interconnectedness and I remember how much I feel everything. 

I remember how I’ve been wanting to write about grieving everyday for over a year.

And here I am writing. Grieving. And remembering why I believe in grieving everyday.

Some pain is personal and individual and recognising individual pain and it’s cause can be very important. But some pain might be universal and this kind of pain may need a different approach. Overall I believe we need to rethink our relationship with pain and sadness and not see them as villains to be conquered or avoided. 

The film “Inside Out” tells a story about how important sadness is for our humanness and how it can help us connect with each other. Being happy and enthusiastic is valuable but being in touch with pain and showing vulnerability is equally important.

We need to honour our shared pain, all that we’ve lost, all the hurt we’ve inflicted on each other and the planet. I believe that if we are in touch with pain and allow ourselves to grieve it can help us find ways to live more harmoniously in our communities…

When self-care bites

Yesterday self-care was like looking into the dark abyss – yesterday self-care meant making a painful decision. Only two-three options to choose from and they all sucked one way or the other… My head, heart and gut strongly disagreed on the way to go, so what to do?

When in doubt I listen to my gut.

Even though my head and heart make much better arguments, I have learned from experience that that wordless wrenching feeling in the pit of my stomach is the one to go with.

I cried and cried and cried last night, totally despairing that I had to make this decision. I wanted to stick my head in the sand AND soldier on pretending everything would be fine. But there was no way around it. While I was dissolving in tears I had moments of hoping that the crying would sort things out for me. Or that I would have some amzing insight into a way forward. But the crying didn’t change anything. I still had my crappy decision to make.

My back injury has flared up and it means that I am in pain from the chest down. Doesn’t matter if I stand, sit, lie or walk – it hurts all the time, just in different ways. Pain killers don’t make a difference and the pain affects my cognitive functioning leaving me in a bit of a haze. It also hurts emotionally because I’ve been doing well for more than a year now and been getting back into ballet, so it feels like a massive set back. And the uncertainty is painful as well; whether this will last for months or if it will get better within weeks. Once it took over a year and the fear is always that it won’t get better this time…

Thursday and Friday this week my partner and I have put on a two-day course in London on Compassionate Communication Skills in Mental Health Settings. We’ve been wanting to do this for a long time and was excited when a friend, who is a certified NVC trainer, was up for doing this with us.

I woke yesterday hoping my back might get better during the day but as the evening came nothing had changed. I was feeling sad and moody, annoyed with myself for not having done enough to prevent this flare up…  I’d sat down with my partner to find something to watch together when I suddenly found myself saying “I wish we weren’t going to London tomorrow.” Until that moment I had been in denial about the effect the pain had on me. And it wasn’t till the words came out of my mouth that I realised I had to decide whether to go to London or not.

My three choices were: 1) to go and do everything as planned 2)to go but be less involved in the training 3)stay at home.

My heart wanted to go. “Go!Go! Go!” It said. “Everything will be fine. You can’t miss out on this, there is so much to learn.”

My head wanted to go but take it easy. “You need to learn to be more resilient and this is a chance to thicken your skin a bit. You can’t keep bailing out when things get tough. You might always be in pain so you have to learn to deal with it”

And my gut… My gut was just full of this sinking, wrenching feeling at the thought of the long drive, sleeping in a different bed, being nice and sociable, facilitating training, negotiating space and roles with my co-facilitators and keeping my head focused while managing my pain.

I knew my heart and head were right. I could do it. But it would undoubtedly be at a cost. All three choices would have difficult consequences.

At the moment I feel like I am in shock from being in pain again and I know that I would have to dissociate in order to go and do the training. I dont mind dissociating – it is very useful at times like this – but then there is always an aftermath that I will have to take care of. Maybe if I had had a week to gather myself it would have been more manageable.

So for now I have chosen to go with my gut, stay at home and get reacquainted with my pain-managing skills…