Guest Post: Kelly from ‘This is Only my Opinion’ on Surviving Grief

‘I don’t know how you do it?’

This is a phrase I hear quite often. I suppose it’s because I don’t keep Louis, Corey and Elliot a sordid secret. I speak their names as I would my living children and this then triggers curiosity and subtle questioning about what happened to these three little boys I speak so highly of.

‘I don’t know how you do it?’ makes it sound like something I’ve strived to achieve an accolade for when this path was not a choice I would willingly take. It’s the cards I’ve been dealt. Surviving the journey of stillbirth and neonatal death has been one hell of a ride!

When someone dies you pretty much expect to be upset. You expect to cry, and you expect to feel sad. But what is difficult to compute and unexpected is that sometimes these emotions don’t happen or display themselves the way we predict them to and then you start wondering ‘what’s wrong with me?’and the answer is ABSOLUTELY NOTHING.

The days after Elliot’s death and the run-up to his funeral, I did nothing but cry. I cried so many god damn tears I am sure my tears had tears. But then something happened and I just stopped. I didn’t cry at the funeral. I didn’t cry at all for weeks after and I would look at myself and get angry, willing myself to cry because my heart ached and I wasn’t ready to stop crying. When I am crying the world knows I am breaking, people can see my anguish and they can see from the tears that I’m crying, that I am still grieving.

The parts of grief that you don’t foresee and often don’t anticipate when your child dies is the anger, guilt, blame, bitterness, hatred, the failure, self-persecution and the time.

Grief needs to be treated with respect, and grief requires patience from the person grieving but equally from those around you. It is in times of great hardship that friendships and relationships are challenged to the brink. Those that fall short ‘unfriend’ from Facebook, ‘evict’ from your insta, and ‘abolish’ from your twitter. You need to make life easy for yourself because you have been thrown one of the ultimate tests and the deadwood will only drag you down. Don’t be scared of what they might say when they’ve realised you aren’t popping up in their news feed because believe me, they won’t say a thing because people really don’t like to confront a grieving mother, and that’s because they never know what face they’ll be greeted with. They might get ‘sobbing and bawling uncontrollably face’, or ‘knock your fecking teeth out’ face!

When my twins died in the neonatal unit, I felt the most extreme level of failure, my body had failed them. I had failed them.

They died because my body rejected them in their prematurity, blaming myself stifled any grief I felt. I was angry and bitter. This surge of anger and bitterness was ‘silently’ directed at any other woman that had children, was carrying children and if the children happened to be twins, my anger and bitterness would be elevated to levels where anxiety would take over and my breathing would be erratic. My stomach would hurt, and I would begin to panic and sweat and start looking for the nearest brown paper bag that I could breathe into to stop me passing out into a heap in the middle of the frozen isle.

I dealt with losing my twin boys by getting pregnant as quickly as possible. There are no hard fast rules about when to have another baby after loss. You just have to trust your body and do what is best for you. Hindsight tells me now that maybe it was a little too soon because upon reflection I can now see that all I did was metaphorically cover my grief with a plaster, and a plaster doesn’t stay stuck forever.

The plaster came unstuck when in 2012 I found out Elliot had grown his wings at 38 weeks gestation. My world crashed into 1000 pieces. Elliot had exposed an old wound and their names were Louis and Corey. Not only was I grieving for my stillborn son but for my premature twins that had passed 7 years before. I had no idea what was ahead of me, but I knew I had to be strong for my other children and for my husband. But by being strong and maintaining a stoic stance I masked my own grief.

It took months of people telling me I needed some help, that I might benefit from counselling. Sadly I am one of those people that find it very hard to listen to other people telling me what to do, this trait has followed me since school to my detriment.

Everything had finally snowballed and I was treading water and slowly drowning in a sea of grief.

I had denied myself grief; I had hidden my emotions and suppressed my feelings because I wanted to be strong for everyone else.

I hated myself and I loathed every part of my person, I did not feel worthy to have my husband or my living children. I thought they would be happier without me. I believed that I was a tainted and if people got close to me bad things would happen. Only now I am accepting of my grief and I understand and respect that grief is part of me now. I also realise how utterly absurd it was to think my children would be better off without me, they are my kids and I am their mum, and as nutty, crazy and broken I am they love me, and I love them, warts and all and that includes my ever so slightly grumpy, kind, sometimes funny husband! There is no replacement for ME to them. (Even if Rachel Weisz came along singing nursery rhymes by day and wearing a ‘sexy nurse maids’ outfit by night ….I HOPE!)

My husband is such an important part of my story and every time we lost and buried a child I felt completely and utterly responsible for his pain and my failure to yet provide him with another son and this manifested itself in blame. I would blame him for loving me, blame him for marrying me and blame him for choosing me to have children with, because if none of that happened, he wouldn’t have a life filled with grief and disappointment because his wife failed to do the most natural thing in the world. If he didn’t choose me maybe I would have been liberated from this feeling of failure and self-loathing too.  His grief displayed itself the polar opposite to mine and his continual effort to tell me he loved me and needed me, and that he doesn’t blame me just suffocated me.

We were like two magnets trying to be together but repelling against each other’s energy.

My grief engulfed me and it affected my marriage, my children, my family and my life. I almost lost everything!

So my message for surviving grief after a loss is to not fight against it. Let it do its job, be led by grief and feel the emotions as they come because resistance is futile and detrimental to the survival of bereavement.

I have accessed a great deal of counselling to get where I am today and one of the most helpful things I ever did as part of my therapy was writing. It’s helped me in so many ways. One day I wrote a letter to my guilt because guilt was draining my soul. This letter encompasses everything I felt.

Like me, want to read more, or share my opinions, follow me here : This Is Only My Opinion

A Weekend in Brighton

I’m back!

As you may have realised, I took a long break from blogging before Christmas. Not intentionally. I started a new marketing position last month and I’ve got some side projects on the go (But no side chicks sadly… which reminds me, what IS the male equivalent to a side chick?) so it’s been a bit hectic.

But I’m back to blogging again so it is all good!

The weekend just gone was pretty awesome, so I thought I’d write a post about it.

I’d decided last year that I’d go out and plan more trips in 2016.

I had a list of gigs I wanted to go to and places I wanted to visit that I hadn’t been to yet. Brighton was one of them. So when I saw that an artist I’d be listening to for a while (and was desperate to see live) had a gig in Brighton this month, I couldn’t not buy a ticket and plan a weekend away.

So my friend Grace and I went up on Sunday, ready to explore the seaside town where everyone is as cool as a cucumber (It must be difficult being that cool).

First up, I won’t lie to you. The weather was (insert emoji poo here)💩

I’ve always wanted to be swept off of my feet but the wind in Brighton was taking the mick. At one point my glasses were literally swept straight off my head. And then there was the rain. If rain were a person, it’d be the worse kind of person.

So I had planned to get some really inspiring and artistic photos of the pier and some really nice looking fish and chips but snap chat quality photography was the reality of the situation.

We did shop! Now I’m not a massive shopper (unless is online) but there is definitely a better selection of retail in Brighton then there is in my hometown, where you’d be lucky to find a shop that doesn’t sell either phones or anything that cost more than a pound. So the retail therapy did commence. Thankfully my bank account didn’t take too much of a beating.

Later that evening we then headed down to KO Media, an amazing little venue, to see Gavin James. First of all, this venue is so much like Luton’s Hat Factory it’s unreal. I’m willing to bet money that one’s design was based on the other. Just like Hat Factory, it looks like a little café but when you walk through to the back of the building, the stairs lead you down to a basement style room. I’m pretty sure these are my favourite type of venues for gigs.

You can’t beat the acoustics you get in a room of that size and it always feels so much more special. I literally felt like I was down the pub, having a pint.

Interesting story (disclaimer, I will not be held responsible if you don’t find this extract interesting), I found out about Gavin James purely by accident when I tried to Youtube Gavin Clark who featured on ‘This is England’s’ soundtrack and forgot his last name! So thank you, Gavin Clark.

Gavin Jame’s was as amazing live as I’d hoped he’d be. I’d listened to ‘Live at Whelans’ on repeat so I knew he’d be fantastic anyway but it’s always great when an artist is as good live, if not better, then recorded.

The support acts were also super talented and were amazing warm ups to the show.

Check them out.

Craig Gallagher Music

Orla Gartland

So yes, probably one of the best gigs I’ve been to! (The Cure being another!)

I got one picture of the venue itself.

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As you can see, it’s really clear and gives some great detail into what the hell is going on… 😳#sodarkyoucantflash

That was taken before the gig even started because, I will say this honestly, am I the only person in the entire world who thinks it EXTREAMLY rude to be on your phone during shows?

I get recording a single song or even a segment of it, but if you are on your phone for the entirety of a show, it looks really rude.

Also, people who talk through people’s performances? Is that considered OK now? Maybe I’m just old fashion but last time I checked if you’ve paid to see an artist/performer live you should at least pay some attention to what’s going on around you. Especially when Gavin’s signing Nervous because that is literally my favourite song ever.

Rant over.

So yes, it was a pretty amazing weekend, bar the weather. I’m definitely thinking of revisiting Brighton in the summer. Actually, sod that, who wants’ to come live there with me!?

Oh yeah and when we arrived at the train station after lunch, our train was delayed by a fallen tree but once I’d settled myself down for the most expensive hot chocolate I’d ever brought (even if it was the nicest), we realised the train to Bedford was in fact leaving in 10 seconds.

MAD RUN to the platform where once you’ve jumped on the train, you become very upset with just how un-fit you are and how much money you just wasted on half of a hot chocolate.

But sod it because the gig alone was worth it!

G

(P.S. I’ve got some really exciting projects coming up which I’ll keep you all updated on!)

Also, I’m on Twitter!

And here are some pictures from my weekend away. Not actually of Brighton but ah well.

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Top 5 Apps for Managing Anxiety

Calm

Free

This mindfulness meditation app is a great introduction for beginners of meditation techniques. It’s a popular app, which allows for guided meditation programs alongside peaceful background noise of your choosing.

Its features include:

A personal profile.

This includes a calendar to track your recent meditation sessions and compare your progression.

Customisable scenes for your background noise.

There are a few that come as default on the app, but you can download more depending on what you find most relaxing. All are free. This is a newer update, which was added so that you can whittle down your favourite scenes, and access them easily from your home page without flicking through a number of scenes before you find the one that works best for you.

Guided Meditation

If you choose to use the guided meditation you can pick a specific program. The default one is called 7 days of Calm. Using the app for seven consecutive days will allow you to see any changes in your mood and find out if this app works for you.

There are also two default-guided meditations for the app. These are Calm and Body Scan. If you pay for Calm Pro, either monthly or annually, you can access meditation for specific issues or areas of your life you wish to improve. These include problems with sleep, concentration, commuting and confidence.

Timer

Allows you to have control over how long your meditation sessions last. They can last from 1 minute up to 240 minutes. You also have the option to change the sound that plays when your session has ended (so don’t pick anything that sounds like an alarm bell or it may wake you abruptly!)

Panic Attack Aid (P.A.A)

£2.99

A helpful app for anyone who suffers from Panic Attack Disorder or frequent panic attacks with his or her anxiety. This app features a number of activities to ease symptoms during a panic attack and calm the mind.

These include:

A Breathing Exercise

This uses the movement of a circle to regulate and slow breathing. We often over breath during a panic attack which causes hyperventilation. This exercise allows you to relax your breathing and also gives positive, calming mantras to read and repeat to yourself.

Reassurance

This part of the app includes explanations for symptoms of panic attacks, helping to reassure your racing mind and calm your thoughts. The reassuring explanations are also tailored to your location.

Distraction Exercises

This is my favourite section of the app. This section features exercises and games, which should allow you to focus your mind and therefore, be distracted from your panic attack.

MindShift

Free

This app gives some great insight into anxiety and is laid out like a journal.

This app includes strategies for most anxiety disorders (including Social Anxiety) but would also be helpful for those looking for tools to manage:

  • Test Anxiety (Driving test or exams)
  • Performance Anxiety
  • General Worry and Panic
  • Dealing with Conflict

Its features include:

Anxiety 101

These are clear explanations to why we suffer from anxiety and why it makes us react the way we do (for example, it explains what the ‘fight or flight’ mechanism is as well as where our anxiety comes from)

This feature is helpful for anyone who wants more insight into anxiety and may not have had the chance to do his or her own research yet. It is easily explained and to the point.

Situations

This allows you to address situations you would like help with such as ‘taking charge of panic’.

Check Yourself

Allows you to recognise what issues you may have with your anxiety and how it can affect you.

Thinking Right

Allows you to identify more positive and helpful thoughts, which you can favourite, making them more easily accessible from the main page.

Chill Out Tools which include:

Relaxation Exercises (Calm Breathing and ‘Tense and Release’ for tension caused by Anxiety)

Visualization (Mental Vacation)

Mindfulness strategies (Body Scan and Mindful Breathing)

Active Steps

Gives you strategies you can use in everyday life to overcome your anxiety or panic attacks. These include exposure and coping techniques.

The app also has an inspiration section, which gives you a selection of positive quotes to reflect upon and read when needed.

Anxiety UK

Free

The charity, which helps to support people with Anxiety Disorders, has a very helpful app for those looking for advice from other people diagnosed with anxiety.

It allows you to take a questionnaire to better understand what may be causing your anxiety. I do recommend that people visit their GP before self-diagnosing though to make sure they are not suffering from other medical issues.

You can hear helpful tips from other members of the Anxiety UK community as well as professionals in the mental health sector as well as create your own tips for other users.

This app also includes some links for more information on all anxiety disorders as well as personal experiences from members of the charity.

Pacifica

Free

This app allows you to track your mood as well as your health. This is a helpful way to check how your daily activities may be affecting your mental health such as your diet, water intake and exercise.

You can also check your progress through a graph to check how your mood changes according to changes in your daily activities and using the apps features.

Each day you can update the app with your mood. The app will then give you access to a selection of activates which could improve your mood and help you manage your stress or anxiety.

These include:

  • Meditations
  • Relaxation Techniques
  • Daily Challenges (Small, achievable goals for that day)
  • Thoughts Journal
  • Community (discussions by other app users)

*Not SPR

Topshop: STOP glamorising self-harm!

TRIGGER WARNING

Self-harm is a serious symptom of mental health issues and low self-esteem.

It is not a fashion statement.

So why is Topshop currently selling temporary metallic tattoos that appear to depict self-mutilation as if they are the ‘next big fashion trend’.

The golden scar tattoos were created in conjunction with a new range of accessories the popular retail store have created to encourage and celebrate loving ones self. The temp tattoos, which have become a popular accessories for the summer festivalgoer for the last few years, were designed in collaboration with a jewellery design student from Central State Martins and currently retail at £8.50 a pack. The packaging also shows the slogan ‘Scars worth fighting for’.

Topshop Tattoos Gold

But rather then being met with the positive and empowering response the fashion brand had hoped for, the tattoos have been met with distain and disgust by many people across the net.

This isn’t the first time Topshop have come under fire for their ‘distasteful’ and inappropriate use of mental health issues to promote fashion.

Last year the British retailers were selling clutch bags with the slogan ‘Stressed, depressed but well dressed’ which they soon pulled from their stories after receiving backlash.

Using mental health problems to create ‘fashion statements’ seems to be a worrying and ever popular technique of selling clothes and accessories for a number of high street stores. One of the most high profile being Urban Outfitters, who have produced various garments in the last few years which openly glamorize mental health issues, such as their ‘Eat Less’ t-shirt and the ‘Depression’ crop top.

So let me jump straight into it. There is no doubt in my mind that the products I’ve just mentioned were created and sold to cause offense and upset. Unless you are a child under the age of eight who can’t use their own initiative or intelligence to understand that a t-shirt that read’s ‘Eat less’ is most definitely glamorizing anorexia, then there is no excuse to produce clothing which has such a message.

But I could, in some way, understand where Topshop might have been coming from with these metallic temporary tattoos. Celebrating our flaws and our ‘scars’ rather than being ashamed of our personal struggles is an ideology our society should aspire to and any public figure that encourages this is doing right in my book. Yet, there is no doubt that Topshop have gone about this in the completely wrong way.

The official target market for Topshop is currently 15 to 30 years old.

When I was a youngster, wearing Topshop clothing was something to aspire to. Although pricey, young people are drawn to the shop for its catwalk inspired couture and on-trend statement pieces. The popular vloggers are all wearing it, so why shouldn’t they?

And this is exactly why these temporary tattoos, regardless of the innocent intention of their creation, need to be taken down from Topshop shelves.

Just like the current trend of denim dungarees, there is always the concern that these fashionable accessories could become of ‘aspiration’ to young people who may see the stick-on scars as a ‘fashionable craze’ they should all join.

It all links into the misconception self-harm is often tainted with; that harming one’s self is a form of ‘attention seeking’ or a ‘teenage craze’.

Mental health charities and ambassadors are still finding they come across this misunderstanding in today’s society.

They have spent much time trying to raise awareness and educate people on the truth about self-harm yet actions such as the one’s taken by Topshop completely undermine their efforts.

Fashion and self-harm should never have to be in the same sentence.

The seriousness of self-harm has been completely misjudged by Topshop.

Over half of people who die due to suicide will have previously self-harmed. 1 in 5 young people will suffer from mental health issues.

These statistics are often forgotten by retailers who create such products purely for profit, a profit which even when argued ‘holds a positive message’ will not go towards charities or organisations which work to help the very people who have to ‘fight their flaws’.

Stop glamorizing self-harm. No amount of gold metallic paint will cover the pain and darkness that hides within self-harm. A transferable sticker isn’t going to raise awareness of mental health. If anything it will belittle the many people who struggle with it day in, day out. It’s not a trend and it certainly isn’t a fashion statement that should be encouraged in young, impressionable people.

Education is key and the misuse of an issue as serious as mental health for brand promotion is both wrong and exploitative.

If you know someone who self-harms or you personally have been affected by this story, please seek help and professional guidance. There are a number of organisations out there that can help and support young people and adults struggling with mental health issues.

If you are looking to help a friend who is self-harming, remember that it’s important to listen and leave judgement at the door. When someone is struggling with mental health issues as well as self-harm, they will feel alone and isolated. They may not want to speak to anyone about it.

Self-harm and mental illness should NEVER be seen as shameful as many people suffer alone when they shouldn’t have to.

You can visit these sites to get more information and advice;

http://www.nshn.co.uk/

http://www.harmless.org.uk/

http://www.mind.org.uk/

G

The Facts About GAD

When you wake up every morning, you feel sick to the very pit of your stomach.

Your appetite is dwindled, with even your favourite foods no longer attracting you.

When you stand you feel dizzy. Your head often feels heavy and your legs like jelly, barely holding you up.

You cry all the time and constantly feel as though you are in one of those haunted house attractions, waiting for an actor dressed as some grizzly creature to jump out at you from behind the next wall.

You are living on the edge but you aren’t any racing fast cars. This adrenaline is certainly not the same as when you’re queuing for the biggest roller coaster at Alton Towers either. It’s always there. And you don’t really know why.

This is Generalized Anxiety Disorder, also known as GAD.

GAD is a physiological disorder that is often diagnosed in people who suffer from an excessive or unreasonable anxiety within everyday life. This level of ‘extreme worry’ can be extremely debilitating and disruptive to an individual’s life.

Everybody at one stage in their lives will suffer from Anxiety about certain aspects of their life. This can include worries about school or a job, a relationship and finances. But when that worry consumes a person to the point of causing them ill health and prevents them from living a healthy, happy life, it is often Generalised Anxiety Disorder that is orchestrating it.

You may just think you are ill or stressed out.

When I was diagnosed with GAD a few years back I just thought I had the flu but anxiety can make you feel like you are unwell.

So I thought some bite size information on GAD might help a few people looking for information.

 So, what causes GAD?

 Abnormal neurotransmitter levels within our brain are the reason for many anxiety disorders. They cause the brain to behave inappropriately as they control the nervous system. Neurotransmitters affect our mood, our concentration as well as our sleep and weight and when their levels are unbalanced, they can cause the number of anxiety related symptoms.

When it all boils down to it, our Brain Chemistry is the prime reason for Anxiety and Stress related illness.

But of course, Anxiety can be triggered or caused by a number of different factors. These can include:

Trauma

Stress

Side effects of certain medications

Genetics

Medical Conditions (This is why you should always have your GP diagnose Anxiety rather then assume that is what you have, just to make sure you are not suffering from a medical illness)

What are the symptoms of GAD?

There are a number of mental symptoms, which will lead to the diagnosis of GAD.

These, of course, will include excessive worry and anxious thoughts.

But many people find themselves confused by the other symptoms of Generalised Anxiety Disorder.

Here I’ll explain the science behind the most common GAD symptoms.

Headaches

An anxiety headache will most likely be caused by muscle tension. We have a number of different muscles not only in our head but our neck that we tense when anxious or under stress. This muscle tension can lead to muscle fatigue and aches. Your headache may also be caused by dehydration, as when we are suffering from anxiety, we tend to forget to stay hydrated and healthy.

High levels of stress and anxiety can also cause migraines. Remember to take the time to look after your health and keep hydrated! You can also use techniques such as mindfulness meditation to relax yourself, relieving headaches caused by tension and stress.

Nausea/Digestive Upsets (includes Acid Reflux, IBS etc)

High stress biology will cause the production of extra stomach acid as well as tension within the stomach muscles, which can throw your digestive system out of check and balance.

You can deal with this by eating little and often. You could also try taking a pro-biotic to maintain healthy bacteria within your digestive system.

Dizziness and Shaking

These symptoms are often caused by hyperventilation. People with anxiety will commonly over breath which means they will take in to much oxygen. This is also common with panic attacks. The best way to deal with this is to take deep, slow breaths in through the nose and slowly breath out through pursed lips as though you are blowing a dandelion. This will regulate your breaths and help you to calm down, therefore stopping you over breathing.

Depersonalization

This is often described as being in a dream like state. People with GAD will often feel detached from their own thoughts and wonder if they are going insane. This is purely because of anxiety causing an erratic nervous system. Using breathing techniques and grounding (I’ll do a blog post all about this) will really help you to relax and have a calmer mindset.

Easily tired/Insomnia

With anxiety, our brain is always on high alert and acts inappropriately to everyday worries. The best way to describe it is watching Horror films constantly. Your brain and nerves are on edge like some crazed, masked man called Mike Myers is going to jump out and chase you down the street. Because of this, people will anxiety disorders like GAD will feel emotionally exhausted. They may also find it hard to keep a regular sleep pattern or ‘wind down’, in turn leading to Insomnia.

Check my blog post on Insomnia to learn more about this and how to better deal with sleep disorders.

Other symptoms of GAD can include;

General Tension

Difficulty concentrating

Irritability

Being easily startled.

These are all caused by high stress biology.

If you or someone you know is suffering from GAD, share this post and encourage them to see their GP for a general health check and a proper diagnosis. This will also allow you to access various services, which could help you to deal with the disorder.

I really hope this blog post has helped anyone looking for more information and insight on GAD or anxiety in general.