In my book 'Without My Mum', I touched on the issues I faced and felt during the illness of my mother and subsequently after her death. Something that I am learning more and more, and especially from people who have also lost someone they loved, is that mental illness, struggles with grief, holding onto the feeling of devastating loss, the inability to share and talk about the loss of a loved one, the shame in feeling deeply sad for an ongoing time, the lack of belief in ones ability to overcome depression and so on; these are real experiences, felt by many, day in, day out and also felt by myself in one way or another over the course of my life.
I want to reach out to the many who are feeling these overwhelming and debilitating feelings and acknowledge you all and try to relate by saying 'I get it. I understand and I support your up's and down's and I have faith in you that you can live a happier life'.
I spent a lot of my younger years feeling as though life was some sort of fight and the fight was constantly me against life. To say that I had a negative approach and outlook on life would be an understatement. I really had no self-belief and basically gave up before even trying. It was as though I knew that I would fail and therefore what was the point in going forward.
When my mum was diagnosed with cancer, the first time, the fear that consumed me was unbearable. I was 29. A mum of 3 young boys. A wife. A very self-loathing woman and one who was just handed the biggest challenge of her life thus far. The one person who I solely relied on to lift me up, to show me the way forward, to inspire me as a woman had just been told that her life was under severe threat. Strangely, although I thought this would break me forever, it in turn eventually taught me a lot about my strengths.
The experience of watching my beautiful mother succumb to the dreaded disease that cancer is tore my heart out. It was a life event that led me to the darkest of places. It revealed to me that life was a precious thing that we have no control over. I cried bucketloads of tears. I screamed time and time again, I mentally spun out of control as the waves of anxiety would take hold and send me into states of uncontrollable fear, and then severe exhaustion days following. The rollercoaster ride went on and on and on and to some degree, almost 9 years after watching my mother take her last breath, I still fall victim to these old familiar feelings, if I allow them to rule...
The difference between then and now however, is my approach to my response. I have had my share of anti-depressants, counselling, searching for religion to help make sense of the loss, meditating, self-help books, group therapy... The list goes on and on as I have tried to seek out the 'right' way to 'make' me happy. By doing all of this though, I have had the opportunity to learn a lot about myself in the past 15 years. I know what triggers my moods, both good and bad. I am aware of when I am at my most vulnerable. I know my capabilities, both physically and mentally. I know what fills my soul with goodness. I have learned to say 'no' when I need to. I have gained the level of self-respect required that ensues that I am treated how I wish to be treated. I allow myself to grieve when necessary, even 9 years on. I understand that I am only human and I am unable to be the smiling, bouncy, positive, beaming Leigh each and every day. For me this is an impossible achievement. For most I believe it is also unattainable. Reality is, we have good and bad days. Some worse than others and for some people, really low and dark times. This is OK. This is reality. This is not something to be ashamed of. This is something that needs to be shared in order to find ways to be at peace with ourselves.
It was with watery eyes and such pride that I recently listened to Prince Harry speak of his experience with grief with Bryony Gordon. I can relate to it so much, as I am sure many would. I know that feeling of hatred towards the world. Feeling so let down by the way life works... I know all too well responding to people when they asked how I was, simply that word "fine". In fact I am positive it was one of the last words my mother used before her passing. As I have grown beyond her death I have realised that I no longer have to say that I am fine. Yes, to the cashier, I do, let's be honest, he or she really doesn't want to know what's going on in my world, but with those that I love and trust, I am completely honest. Why not? If they can't handle a relationship that involves a mixture of emotions then it's not really helping me is it?
There is no shame in honesty. Look for the people in your life who can handle your honesty. Open yourself up to people who you can trust with your emotions and feelings. Let the wall down, even just a little. Once you are honest with yourself and others, you can really begin to heal and open your heart to a much happier life. I do speak purely from my own experience of grief. I never claim to speak for everyone and I am more than aware that we are all very different but I do know sadness and I do know exhaustion and I do know depression and I do know pressure and I do know anxiety and I do know self-loathing and I do know doubt and I do know frustration and I do know failure. But I also thankfully do know about life lessons and I do know about medication and I do know about unconditional love and I do know about friendship and I do know about trust and I do know about listening and I do know about acceptance and I do know about relating and finally, thankfully, I do know about believing in myself...
If you are feeling heavy waves of sadness and defeat and you just can't seem to lift yourself out of the darkness, take the chance and share about it with a person you can trust. Seek out advice, however that may look to you. Visit your Doctor, Naturopath, Healer, Shaman, Yoga Teacher, best friend... Whoever you trust... One of the main reasons I created my private Facebook group for women who have lost their mothers was to offer a space to relate, therefore not feel alone in the sadness and pain... Take that first brave step and ask for help. There is NO shame in it. You do deserve to live a happy and hopeful life. One that see's you wake in the morning feeling excited about what the day might bring, not frightened...
I say this because I have been in the dark spaces. But I have also come out. And I am so grateful to be in a much more peaceful state of existence. I know life is not perfect but it is nice to enjoy it. It's worth a shot... Right? x