Disability, Invisible illness, Mama mifsud blog, mental health

Loving yourself when life gets tough

I can’t even begin to explain the changes and upheavals my little family has gone through in the last few weeks. I planned my family so spectacularly brilliantly, that multiple major life events crashed their way through September one after another, like the worst kind of new rollercoaster built to challenge all your senses at once.

My final baby starts school. Bam.

Baby three starts secondary school. Bam.

Baby two starts college. Have another bam.

Baby one, my first born, flies the nest for university. Bam bam bam.

Well let’s move house too, there’s simply not quite enough emotional and physical upheaval going on right now.

And those divorce papers that have been sitting in a file for two years? yup it’s time to submit those too.

Yeah, it’s been a mental month. I use the word “mental”, quite deliberately. I’ve experienced challenges with my mental Heath quite unlike anything I ever have before. Severe anxiety, a constant state of high stress, mental exhaustion. Everyday has felt like dragging myself through sludge while on the run from a serial killer.

I’m not even, kidding.

I hit crisis point a week ago. I sat surrounded by boxes with an empty nest and a heart that was shattered into a million pieces.

I had no idea how to put myself back together. I hadn’t told anyone how I felt, I’d been too busy doing- giving pieces of myself away. My focus, as ever, had been on the children- getting them prepared for and through these huge life changes that each was managing. I had been so physically ill, that I’d been doing all I could to get myself quite literally back on my feet, but didn’t once stop and consider how my mental health was coping.

There was a moment there that I thought I was damaged for life and would never recover.

I didn’t want to feel so desperate and alone- rationally I could see how I got to where I was mental health wise: these are huge things: moving, divorce, your first child leaving home… to happen all within weeks, is a phenomenal responsibility for one person to take on. But I didn’t give myself a break, instead, I beat myself up… I’ve gotta do better, I need to be stronger, I need to cope and be there for my children. I simply can’t break.

But I did.

I sat and sobbed on my sister. I realised in that moment just how bad things had got. I began honestly explaining the thoughts rushing through my brain on a daily basis; Nightmares of being forced to move, accidents, terminal illness, my mind was jumping to the worst case scenario within seconds, I had become so accustomed to living in a high state of urgency and stress. My therapist later termed this “catastrophising”. Apparently it’s a common side effect when living through prolonged periods of high stress- your body becomes used to living in a state of high adrenaline, it forgets how to do “normal”. It forgets how to be just be ok.

So I stopped for a minute.

I let out a huge breath.

I picked up the phone to my therapist and booked an appointment.

That night I left the house for an hour and went alone to a new singing group and stood amongst strangers baring my soul through the melodies of the songs we sang.

The next morning I threw my kit in the bag and headed to the pool and let my mind go empty as my body found the rhythm of the water and I focused on breathing alone.

Just breathing. That’s it.

I picked up the phone to an old friend I’ve missed and reconnected.

The day after that, I saw my therapist and realised I’m normal. It’s normal to have crisis. It’s normal to sometimes struggle with life’s many and varied challenges.

I’m normal.

I just need to remember to love myself even when I’m not being the best I can be. To accept that it’s ok to love myself regardless. I am allowed to sometimes not be perfect. I am allowed to sometimes show cracks or perceived weakness.

In fact it’s a strength of character to be able to show your cracks right?

It’s braver to say I need help.

It’s harder to pick up the phone and ask for help, than to do nothing.

It’s a stronger person that admits their weakness and tries to help themselves get better, than pretends nothing’s wrong.

There is no shame. What I’ve learned lately is actually that even in periods of perceived weakness, it’s the actions that we take that decide our strength, not the amount of tears we shed, or panic attacks we have. Give yourself permission to love yourself in the darkness as well as the light- they are two sides of the whole world of you, after all.

Practise self care- I can not express strongly enough the importance of caring for yourself when in your darkest places. That simple shift of psyche to feel worthy of self love and not a failure has already set me back on the right path. Bubble baths, rest, a good book, fresh air, exercise, good food, laughter with friends or family, the feeling of someone’s arms to comfort you, a smile from a stranger, watching life go by- these things all ground us and give us a chance to breath again.

I found such joy this morning in the simplest of things- in a water exercise class I attend ( where the average age is 70), halfway through while splashing around, gradually the whole pool started singing along to Elvis, dancing and laughing- It gave me such joy and warmth to be part of a group of strangers thrown together by coincidence that in that moment were absolutely at peace with whatever battles they individually faced and were happy. Myself included.

Get out. Be brave. Ask for help. Try something new.

These are the things that determine our strength, not our ability to appear strong.

Who knew I could go from sobbing amongst boxes like my life was broken forever, to singing Elvis in a swimming pool with a bunch of strangers within days?

As a wise small green man once said, ” there is no try, only do”, so DO.

Pick up the phone, take that risk, be honest with yourself and others. Give yourself permission to do what you need to do to find your way again.

You’ll never know the wonderful places you might end up, if you don’t at least try.

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