Progress can feel backward at times: the non-linear journey of grief.
This week I reached out to my counsellor to book a block of sessions, having not had them for 7 or 8 months. It would seem that I have been reverting to type and that I'd stopped doing the things that had helped me to move forward previously, I've stopped talking, I've stopped writing (hence this blog), I've closed up, avoided situations and emotions that have felt challenging and it has heightened my awareness that progression in a post bereavement grief journey isn't linear.
In an ideal world the further we move away from a point of impact, in my case Lauren's death, the less it should influence us and to the outside world this may have appeared to be the case for me. But the reality is somewhat different.
I've written and spoken before about Tonkin's model of grief and how contrary to popular belief the size of your pain doesn't change or heal over time, that over time you just manage to build a bigger life around it, meaning that you don't experience the pain as frequently. However, when you do experience those grief related emotions, they hurt the same as they did at first and drag you back to the middle of the grief pool, treading water just to keep yourself afloat.
This model is the most accurate way I've found to explain my experiences of grief and bereavement. However, more recently I've been reverting to my typical pre-bereavement coping strategies and have been sub-consciously choosing not to feel or deal with the pain when it arrives. Allowing for it to build up like a rhythm beat of pressure without realising it was happening and moving further away from all of the things that had helped me to keep moving forward until now.
Allowing this to happen has in turn having a negative effect on my relationships, significantly reduced my patience, challenged my concentration span and ultimately led to me feeling like I'm not really doing very well in any aspect of my life at the moment. I have to caveat this with the fact that I am my own worse critic and so am generally much harsher on myself than others would be of me. However, as I sit and write this blog, I am not ok, I'm struggling with getting out of bed in the mornings, I'm not sleeping, I'm finding it difficult to get out of my head and process a significant flurry of emotions that have poured out in a concentrated attack on my ability to be my usual positive and upbeat self.
In itself this realisation has been surprising because at what feels like just a click of the fingers, I've gone from feeling like I was the master of my domain to realising, again, that we really have very little control over life, the directions it chooses to take us and our feelings. But, in the learning it has made me realise that progress isn't a guaranteed upward trend and that actually sometimes we take what feels like a backward momentum that actually builds our resilience and propels us on to take another set of steps away from the point of impact.
Much like the picture above, in a perfect world, we would move along the line of progress in a continual and very smooth journey toward our goal, or in my case re-building my life post bereavement. However, the reality is different and regardless of the fact that things feel heavier than they have for a while, that I'm clearly struggling with the weight of my emotions and that I've not dealt with this wave of strong feelings particularly well, I'm trying to remind myself that it's ok for that to happen. That actually Rome wasn't built in a day and that we can feel our grief, experience set backs and feel as though we're going backwards, but it doesn't mean that we haven't made any progress or that we won't continue to make progress.
Obviously I love and miss Lauren and that'll never go away, but I accept the reality of the situation, I have done for quite some time and although I need to be more open with these emotions, so much of what triggers me nowadays is related to Molly. Being the amazing little girl that she is, she continues to excel and thrive in a life that has been unfairly unkind to her and every little achievement, bit of praise from the her teachers, positive bit of feedback from friends, family and often passers by, creates the most of extreme dualities in me of pride and pain.
Unlike the picture above there is no finish line, I'll dip into the grief pool regularly for the rest of my life and the reality of the situation is that I cannot run away from the pain that I feel and, even though it has gotten me through 33 years of life so far, to the point where I don't even realise I'm doing it, I'm not able to shelve it or hide from it. I need to learn how to feel this pain and not run away from the things that trigger it, whilst re-building my life in the best way that I can, knowing that pain for what has been lost and happiness for what is to come are not mutually exclusive and can (and must) be experienced at the same time.
The overwhelming levels of stress, anxiety and emotion that I'm experiencing at the moment, has me feeling a real sense of escapism and is something that I'm still learning how to manage. The mental health struggles that I experience are something that I've only realised I battle with in the last 2 years and actually as a stereotypical man that likes to shoulder the responsibility of everybody elses feelings and stay strong, being this vulnerable is something that takes a lot for me to do. But one thing I have learnt is that talking, sharing, supporting and being vulnerable is what helped me at the start of this journey and is something that I need to get back to doing.
Thanks for reading and being a part of our journey!