Love And Loss: I Am Not Okay, But Neuroscience Can Help

05/10/2015 11:38 BST | Updated 03/10/2016 10:12 BST

"You have to go; you'll miss your plane. Promise me you'll get on the plane."

These were some of the last words I said to my beautiful boyfriend on Thursday afternoon, eyes swollen and soaked with tears, as he seriously debated whether or not to get hit by a car so that he could stay with me in the UK instead of boarding his flight home to Brisbane, Australia.

We met seven months ago in Thailand. We were both living in a healing community of mindfulness not far from Chiang Rai in the rural north of the country, meditating, working and sharing together every day, taking a break from life to work on ourselves and regain a connection to something other than the internet. Falling in love was unexpected, and in my boyfriend's words, "it was magical."

Apart from the occasional 'hey' as we passed each other in our residential block, we didn't really talk until one Thursday community workshop when we had to partner up to do an exercise and - I'll never forget it - he made a beeline for me from the other side of the hall. A trained actor, he was right at home with the improvisation exercises we were given, and we quickly crafted a scenario whereby he was Cindy and I was Bob and we were selling a lawnmower on the shopping channel that watered your carpet rather than cutting your lawn.


After that, we became very close. He made me howl with laughter; we'd play table tennis in the evenings at the Foundation, and he'd play in the style of a tennis pro. I felt safe around him, and he had a 'lost boy' look that made me want to take care of him.

We took walks together down to where the water buffalo grazed, we lay together on my bed and talked about our lives before Thailand, we held hands and touched feet under the dinner table, because we didn't want anyone else in the community to know; it was innocent, it was careful and it was loving. When my great friend died and I was inconsolable, he was there. Worried that he'd find me less attractive in my grief, I told him I didn't want him to see me like that; he replied that I looked just the same to him.

It wasn't all roses, and we were tested several times, but the love and the support that permeated the fruit tree spotted grounds of that community held our relationship in a cradle of possibility and hope. We believed that anything was achievable; the overworked girl from the UK and the out of work actor from Brisbane could make this relationship work.

But London isn't like New Life Foundation; it's big and tough and cold, with sirens and stress. How do you protect such innocence amid such turmoil?

So now, he's gone. But life goes on, and I'm putting my faith in neuroscience to get me to a better place. According to this article, the four neuroscience-approved rituals to make you a happier person are:

  • Ask "What am I grateful for?" No answers? Doesn't matter. Just searching helps.
  • Label those negative emotions. Give it a name and your brain isn't so bothered by it.
  • Decide. Go for "good enough" instead of "best decision ever made on Earth."
  • Hugs, hugs, hugs. Don't text -- touch.

UCLA neuroscience researcher Alex Korb explains:

Everything is interconnected. Gratitude improves sleep. Sleep reduces pain. Reduced pain improves your mood. Improved mood reduces anxiety, which improves focus and planning. Focus and planning help with decision making. Decision making further reduces anxiety and improves enjoyment. Enjoyment gives you more to be grateful for, which keeps that loop of the upward spiral going. Enjoyment also makes it more likely you'll exercise and be social, which, in turn, will make you happier.

So, here goes:

  1. What am I grateful for? I'm so grateful that I met him, for the time we spent together, for the support he has given me and for showing me that I can love and be loved. I'm grateful for the much-maligned power of Facebook messenger, which means we can remain in contact, and I can talk to him whenever I want. I'm grateful for the friends that are here with me in London, and for my family who would do anything to see me happy.
  2. How am I feeling? Rubbish. I'm in a lot of pain; it knocks the air out of me every time I see something he gave me, go somewhere we went together, or remember his touch. I am very sad indeed; I feel a sense of failure and of loss. Everything is not okay.
  3. But I've decided to have faith. This is the best thing for the two of us right now, though it hurts like hell. We will talk, we will do our best and we will see each other again. In the meantime, I will go to work, I will exercise, I will live my life, and it will get better.
  4. Now that he's gone, I'm going to have to get my hugs from somewhere. Any takers?