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Grief, Growth and Getting My Groove Back

A year ago my best friend moved home after living on the other side of Australia for a decade.

Despite having maintained a thrice-a-day phone habit, those first few times we caught up with each other, we sat there in a stunned sort of awkwardness – we were the same, but different.

That’s exactly how I feel sitting here typing on my blog again. It’s lovely and strange and  I am the same but different since the last time I wrote, almost a year ago. Something that hasn’t changed is my need to write to figure out what is happening in this ol’ noggin of mine. Joan Didion said it best: 

I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.

You may also  notice that the blog has had a facelift (hope you like it!) and instead of the messy splash of colours, it is now infinitely more simple. This decision goes deeper than design. You see, last year life got really complicated and I developed a new love and respect for simplicity.

But design aside, let me tell you where I’ve been and how I got there.

 

A Brief Summary of The Shitfulness of 2016

 

I know I’m not alone in saying that 2016 was a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Year. It just didn’t seem fair that in the same short timeframe that we would lose Alan Rickman, David Bowie and Carrie Fisher that we would gain a President Trump.

Pretty much everyone around me went through what can officially be termed: heavy shit.

My year was no exception.

There were illnesses, breakups, best friends moving away and financial hiccups that felt more like vurps (you know, that delightful burning sensation where you expect a burp but get a vomit).

The shitfulness was so frequent that it became unsurprising and almost comical. Case in point: we were sitting at the breakfast table in our lovely rental home (that we had not long lived in but absolutely adored) when my husband was delivered with some news – we were being evicted from said dream home so the owner could renovate it. We both simultaneously broke out into uncontrollable fits of laughter. Evicted? Of course we were.

During this time my mantra became the Pema Chodron-ism “you are the sky, the rest is just the weather”. I would repeat it to myself like a parrot (by which I mean – with an unnatural tone and crazed eyes).

All this seems trivial or maybe would have been easier to bear  though had we not been handed a trump card that, in terms of bad news, even trumped Trump.

 

Losing Lou

In 2015 my mother-in-law had an unexplained seizure. What we didn’t know at the time that it was not to be an isolated incident, rather a warning signal fired off by an absolute prick that was about to sit – uninvited – at our family table for the next 14 months.

Turns out the most glamorous woman I knew, who could delight you and have you pulling your hair out in the same breath, had a brain tumour.

It’s hard to describe what it’s like to support a loved one through long-term illness.

The only way I can is to say it is like a really awful game of tenpin bowling. Our family were the skittles and we’d all stand like soldiers together. Then all of a sudden, this big, dark, heavy thing would crash into us and we’d all be sent flying. 

We’d ricochet off each other at awkward angles; some of us would be sent straight to the gutter, others would manage to stay standing and sometimes we’d teeter for a while before unintentionally knocking each other over. Eventually though, no matter how hard we tried, something would always manage to sweep through and floor us all. 

Then – just as we would gather ourselves up, regroup and get back to our feet – BOOM! The next bowling ball would hit and send us all flying again.

This happened over and over, whether a bad scan result or a bad turn or just a bad dream. It was unrelenting, unpredictable and utterly exhausting for everyone involved.

We were stuck in a limbo between hope and acceptance. It was new territory and relationships were tested and twisted. We were all trying to support each other at the same time as needing support ourselves.

But by Christmas there was a big, ugly elephant in the room that we were all too scared to acknowledge. By March we could no longer squeeze past it and get on with our daily lives. By April everything changed. By August we had lost her.

When it happened, even though by that stage it was expected, it was like a sledgehammer hit us. In fact the shock itself was the most shocking part.

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A Surprise

 

Now usually when a difficult-to-process life event would occur I, like most of us, have a few defense mechanisms I like to lean on; distractions that allow brief reprieves from thinking about things that hurt to think about.

My favorite would have to be Chardonnay, however I can choose from any of the following – manic busyness, mindless marathons of crap TV, excessive exercise or disordered eating (the latter, an oscillating pair).

But there was a surprise waiting in the wings that was about to thwart all my aspirations of oblivion…

3 weeks after Louises funeral I found out I was pregnant with our second child.  

Lovely news? Of course – a welcome change in the category of “news delivered by doctors”. #blessed? No doubt. Part of the plan? Eventually (though I was enjoying the procrastination).

BUT regardless of all those things you are meant to feel, it doesn’t change the fact that when I saw those two pink lines squinting up at me from that test  – I was terrified.

Historically speaking, I am not one of those pregnant goddesses. I do not glow – I vomit. Relentlessly. I simply did not know if I had the energy, physically or emotionally, to go through that process at this time – with the added layer of grief and without any vices to help me through. But it was what it was.

Like clockwork, Week 8/40 came and brought with it an unholy nausea that transformed me into a couch-ridden slug with all the energy of a sloth on Valium. For the next few months I was “gifted” with a mind that wouldn’t stop and a body that wouldn’t start.

One evening, while reading Lucy a book (that had been a present from Nanny Lou herself) I saw exactly what I needed to do;

Uh-oh! A snowstorm!

A swirling whirling snowstorm.

We can’t go over it.

We can’t go under it.

Oh no!

We’ve got to go through it!

I had no choice but to slow down, sit with it all and deal with my grief in a completely healthy – albeit nauseous – way.

And so I did. It was bitter medicine that did a world of good.

 

And now?

Well, It’s 6 months later. My belly is rounded, my energy returned and I’ve got back to running my business (which I had also taken a break from). My husband has colour in his cheeks again and my daughter is determined that her little brother will be called Eggs (she will be disappointed). We live in a new house which is more perfect than the perfect house that we were evicted from – it’s on the beach, is smaller and more manageable and we don’t have rental inspections (#winning). Later this year we’ll be packing ourselves into a caravan – even the mutts – and travelling around Australia on a new slightly-insane adventure.

I feel happy and hopeful and a cosmic galaxy away from the strung out mess I was last year.

Hard times, and the shift in perspective they catalyse, are rites of passage that we all experience at some point, and as much as they hurt at the time – and as trite as this sounds – they are also opportunities for change. Rockbottom is a vantage point to reassess what matters to you and what doesn’t and, if you’re lucky, it won’t be too late to adjust your life accordingly.

I learnt that life – in all it’s complexity – is really quite simple. You’re born and you die and there is a space in the middle and you get to choose how you’re going to fill it.

That’s not a revolutionary concept by any means, but it revolutionized my life.

It created within me a hyper-awareness of time and energy – and how I spend both – and it has changed everything. Of course I can’t sum up all the ways, but here are a few;

I’ve placed all the people and priorities that I care about most back where they belong – at the top of my pile. I’ve stopped caring about what others think of me and instead focus on what I want for my life. As such, I’m learning that it’s okay to not be liked. I’ve stopped seeking the approval or company of people that make me feel that I am not liked. This has created a gap and I’ve been filling it with “my people”. I’ve stopped caring about the size of my arse. I’ve stopped reading magazines that encourage me I should care about the size of my arse. I’ve let go of things that make me feel tired and i’m relishing the space that has opened up behind them. I’m filling those spaces with adventures and outdoor movies and dancing in the kitchen.

I’m writing again. Oh – this does feel good. I’m writing on this blog about things that matter to me – like sustainability, creativity and self-care. I’m writing for clients. I’m writing children’s books in my spare time. I’m sketching, i’m scribbling poems and I’m filling my journals again. Basically – I’m back to doing what makes me feel whole.

The new credo I live by is, simply, to do more of the things that matter, less of the things that don’t – and that seems to be working just fine.

And needless to say – I am so excited to be back here and sharing all the mess and magic and madness with you. I hope that if you have hit your own rock bottom or are currently pushing back up, that this helped in some way. 

Thanks for being here,

Love Em

 

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