Saturday, 21 February 2015

The Sandwich Filler

In the beginning, all I wanted was for time to be behind me. I read with such envy, the accounts of other widows who were 3,6 or 12 months down the line. I was desperate for time to pass and for me to somehow emerge through the pain and enter into the light of the other side of the tunnel I was in.

I am ashamed to say that I was envious - after all, these people whom I had met in the new normal, all had their own heartbreaking and tragic stories of loss but I couldn't help but be jealous that they had survived and gotten to a place where I could not imagine.

That early grief was so intensely raw for me, that every minute - literally every minute, passed by so very slowly that I honestly do not know how I got to the place where I am today.

I wanted to believe others when they offered the advice to take one moment at a time, but the moments brought such extreme emotional pain that I feared I could not take it anymore.

My grief also manifested itself with hideous symptoms of anxiety that came with physical pain and frightening sensations. I actually convinced myself that I was unable to swallow and could not raise myself to stand up because my legs were numb and the more I thought about it, the worse it got.

And nearly always, this would happen in the middle of the night when the rest of the world was asleep and I was in the depth of despair, all alone. It is difficult to explain to the uninitiated, just what that level of terror can do to your psyche but I learned that grieving is as hard physically as it is emotionally.

During those earliest days and weeks, I had an overwhelming fear that I would be feeling this depth of pain - in my heart and my body - for eternity. I voiced my fears to those to whom I was closest, that Bebe's pain had ceased but I now lived in a world where my pain would last forever. It is no wonder that so many people - catapulted into this frightening early stages of the new world, consider wanting to end their life. Suicidal thoughts are common amongst new widows it seems and I was no exception.

I explored the idea that I may be depressed. I read up on it and sought advice from 'google'. The information on grief and the link with depression threw back more than a million pages for me to ponder, all with a hefty dose of inconsistency.

From the highest order of academic dissertations on the subject to the gutter press accounts of 'How I nearly topped myself', I wasn't short of information to self diagnose. Google may not always be the most helpful of friends when you are wracked with anxiety but is is however, a friend that is available at 4am when the rest of the world is sleeping.

I was living on a diet of prawn mayonnaise sandwich fillers at the time. It is funny the things that you remember looking back but as I scooped out the pot with a teaspoon, wondering how to end it all, I suddenly had a streak of black humour that this couldn't surely be all there was to my 'last supper'.

I had consulted my doctor already about my mental state. He was sensitive and showed great empathy fortunately and primarily because he had followed my journey at close quarters from Bebe's diagnosis, last days at home and in the aftermath of his passing. He had attended our house on several occasions and was first on the scene to confirm the finality of death.

He listened to me. He carried out basic blood tests. He took my blood pressure and also tested my reflexes. His diagnosis was anxiety caused by grief. And he refused to prescribe me anything but asked me to return everyday to give him an update.

I asked him for a cure. I pleaded that surely there was something he could do to take my pain away. 'I can't swallow',  I told him. 'I can't feel my hands!'

Yet I trusted what he said. 'The only cure for grief, is grieving', he said. Now I know that he was right.

I turned again to the stories of those virtual friends from my new normal world. The widows that were further down the line from me. The people that I had envied.

Some of them really had experienced depression. They spoke openly about what their depression felt like and how they had taken medication. For some people, medication was the only way that they had got through their journey to date and I was grateful to hear their honesty.

Others had been on medication and had stopped taking it because it either had not worked or for some reason, it hadn't agreed with them.

And then there were other widows who had, for their own personal reasons and circumstances, decided that they were not going to accept any pharmaceutical help.

I realised that it didn't matter what other people had done or chosen. It soon became apparent that like the Google search, the experiences returned to me were potentially a million fold and all relative to the individual situation.  I had to make a choice about my situation.

I am not playing things down here. I wanted to die. I had told my mother this - much to her distress. You see, with Bebe gone and no children to care for, I thought in the drowsy depths of despair that I 'may as well go out on a high'.

I told my Dad 'if this was a film, then now would be an ideal time for an ice-cream and an interval'. What I meant was, 'I'm done with it - and to make this a happy ending then I will go with Bebe'.

I am sorry if this sounds tough to hear. But this is where I was.

I am not there now. Thankfully.

Maybe it was the family members on 'suicide watch' or the stories I had read from people further down the line that life did get easier if I just clung on, I don't know.

Maybe it was the thought that Bebe had been determined to live and fight the final curtain despite the odds that he was dealt.

Maybe it was the memory of him fighting for every last breath and his words to me that I must carry on and live the life that he would have appreciated.

In truth, it was most likely a combination of them all that led me to fight for myself and my own life now.

I will be honest, those dark thoughts did not lift over night. It took a while - a couple of months at least before the fog began to clear. I did as I was told. I kept breathing, I kept taking each moment as it arrived and I kept connected with the people who were further on than me.

If you want to survive, then surround yourself with survivors. Believe what they say. 
I don't envy them now. I am so very thankful that they are there.

For Bebe: Your biggest fear for me was that I would lose my spark for life as a result of you leaving. I cannot pretend that in the early days, I did not fear that spark was extinguished and I know that this would have deeply upset you. I will strive to be a credit to you by appreciating that I am living and make an effort to appreciate the world around me, knowing how much you loved life. I have come this far and I resolve to go further in your memory.

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