We will all have experienced anxiety to some extent or another during our lives; it is very often a normal and expected reaction to a situation where the outcome is uncertain. Anxiety is a physiological, emotional and cognitive experience. It is evolutionary and has helped us as a species to survive – if we didn’t feel anxiety, we wouldn’t be aware of our surroundings and therefore wouldn’t respond to potential threats. Yet, whilst our brains are wonderful things, they have developed in ways that can cause us problems: we have evolved with the capacity to imagine, to remember back into the past and also to wonder about the future – and this means that we can ruminate, worry and predict, which can cause and perpetuate feelings of anxiety.
As a result, sometimes anxiety can become an unwelcome guest in our everyday lives. It can stop us from doing the things we want to, impact negatively on our wellbeing, relationships and overall quality of life. For some or us, it can start to feel as though it is a part of who we are. Yet it doesn’t have to be this way…..
Dawn Stone (@dawni3 on Instagram) works as a patient support officer at a blood cancer charity, having previously worked in the NHS as a maternity support worker and then as a midwife. Dawn decided to write this letter to talk more openly about anxiety, and hopefully help others to know there is nothing shameful about it or needing help to manage it. Dawn says:
‘No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing.
At other times it feels like being mildly drunk, or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says. Or perhaps, hard to want to take it in. It is so uninteresting. Yet I want the others to be about me. I dread the moments when the house is empty. If only they would talk to one another and not to me.’
C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed
Loss and mental health is something that people often ask me about: how does it impact? What help is available? Does it get better? I’ve researched academic articles and reflected on my own work and personal experiences and all I can say reliably is yes it does. But as with everything in life after loss, it is complex and completely individual.
Grief in itself is not a mental health problem (i.e. a diagnosable one) yet it impacts on our mental wellbeing considerably. It is a normal reaction to a painful, sometimes traumatic, event. A response that reflects the loss of someone or something meaningful. Someone we loved. Someone we will miss infinitely. We wouldn’t want to pathologise what is part of the human condition; to label it and to find ways in which to eradicate it. Grief is part of life and living as much as it is a response to death and dying.
I feel that this will be the first of a series of posts, since if I write about it all now, it could take days to read. There is so much swimming around in my head about my nine months of pregnancy after loss, and I want to give it the time and space it deserves. This is therefore a bit of an introduction for myself really – getting me in the headspace to pick apart what is ‘normal’ and expected and what I maybe need a bit more help with making sense of. And I find getting it out on paper (or virtual electronic paper) is the best way….
This diagram was something I sketched out at 4am on the day I went to hospital to be induced. Knowing that it was likely to be a long process, I had planned to spend the day writing a blog post on my reflections of pregnancy after loss, the sense I made of it from a mental health perspective, and how I had managed the relentless 37 weeks to that point. However, I ended up spending the day huffing, puffing and moaning about how slow induction was this time around, pounding the streets around Camberwell, climbing and descending the stairs of Kings College Hospital, bouncing on a ball, sniffing clarey sage and lavender, before finally flopping down with a book and a less than appetising hospital dinner. I am not very patient as my face below shows: Continue Reading
Looking back, the second trimester seemed to go on forever. Despite being incredibly busy in one way or another, the weeks felt long and the anxiety and worry seemed to gradually build. Whereas in the first trimester, I was able to adopt a more ‘whatever happens’ attitude (a sense that there was very little I could do apart from maintain good health), in the second, the sense of responsibility became heightened. I started to feel movements very early on, as early as 12 weeks, but this of course was intermittent and followed no pattern that would allow for reassurance. The familiarity of those flutters and pokes was simultaneously comforting and terrifying. Since the nausea and tiredness had subsided, this was the first sign that I really was pregnant – yet there was a sense that I couldn’t even trust my own judgements about this. How could I believe that what I was feeling was actually a baby? And when I couldn’t feel anything, what did this mean? Falling pregnant so soon after losing Orla meant that these feelings were so recognisable; having Orla safely cocooned inside of me was within touching distance and feeling the movements of her younger sibling brought me closer to her, yet also painfully further away. A physical reminder of everything we had lost, creating its own renewed wave of grief. Continue Reading
Looking back at my diary entries from this time seems like a lifetime ago; this pregnancy has moved incredibly slowly for me: each week, day, sometimes hour, feeling like a lifetime. However, what I do remember of the first trimester was the safety of the secret bubble. Only Andy, myself and our midwife knew that we were expecting baby number two, so the only pressure we felt was from ourselves and our own internal dialogues of anxiety. We were away in a foreign country, undertaking an epic adventure in Orla’s memory with Andy cycling the length of the Pacific Coast of America and me driving as his support vehicle. Each day was busy, offering much needed distraction and we had no one else to worry about.
However, I feel that I am also viewing this period with rose tinted spectacles, since as time has progressed, I have found pregnancy after loss to get harder and harder with each milestone reached and the next set in front of me. The first trimester was tough; for example, I wouldn’t recommend driving 4000 miles when suffering with pregnancy nausea and tiredness (there were lots of stop offs at scenic viewpoints for a bit of dry heaving and then napping over the steering wheel). I also found the lack of access to the food I wanted when I wanted, as well as the rest of my home comforts, incredibly difficult. Continue Reading