how to be: what helped when nothing helps. (part two)

Part two of this post. Again, it’s not a checklist, but a list of offerings. Funnily enough, I wrote 95% of this post when I wrote part one. And yet it took over two months to come back and finish it. I was jolted to action after sharing some tips with a good friend (hi) and remembered I had written this whole thing. It’s good to share.

Self-care 102 – cozy self-care. Soft cozy blankets. Nice smelling candles. Incense sticks. Hand cream. Face masks. New socks. A cute toy. Some nice tea. The fancy cookies. Any small nice thing. Treat yourself or allow others to treat you. I have been very lucky and received a lot of thoughtful care packages over the last 2 years. And I haven’t hesitated to buy myself a fancy candle here and there. Now is the time.

Mindfulness. Practicing mindfulness and grounding yourself in the present moment can be really helpful. It’s hard because it doesn’t necessarily give an immediate payoff, but doing a little bit when I can has definitely helped me. I try and remind myself at various points throughout the day, particularly in moments of panic or overwhelm, but also in calm too. Finding stillness. Putting one hand on my belly and the other across my heart. Feeling the chair underneath my butt. Placing my hands on my thighs. Sipping something slowly and with intention. Feeling each step as I walk. Noticing the breath. Being in my body and becoming aware of sensations: temperatures, pressure, heaviness, tightness, numbness. Allowing whatever emotion I’ve been holding onto or resisting just to be. Feeling my feelings even though our culture deems them “negative” is the ultimate act of rebellion.  Noticing it. Naming it. Allowing it all to be.

Hands on heart – a loving kindness touch reminder I sometimes use.

Meditation. I didn’t do this for maybe the first year after Mike died as I found it too painful. But I’ve slowly come back to it and am leaning on it now. I like simple breathing exercises and body scans to get me into my body. I’ve tried a couple of apps and they all seem to offer versions as short as 5 min or less so you could start with those. I use an app called Insight Timer, it’s free and has thousands of meditations. I’ve also used Headspace in the past which has some great guided programs you can follow (after an initial trial it is a paid subscription). I also use another app called Anxiety Release which uses EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization & reprocessing) or bilateral stimulation to reduce anxiety (I think I paid a few bucks to download this – worth it for me). Here is a link so some loving kindness meditations for self-compassion. We can probably all use a bit of that.

Tell your story on your own terms. Coming from the perspective of a traumatic loss, I usually found the people who asked the most intrusive personal questions did NUT (callback) have a right to that information. In the early days someone asking me how Mike died would send me right back to the horror of that moment. Now, because it has happened so frequently, I expect it. And I can usually tell if they’re asking out of concern for me or more of a horror story porn situation (sadly it’s usually the latter). I got in the habit of saying “it’s very traumatic for me, I don’t want to discuss it” and ending the conversation and getting back to eating my lunch.

On the flip side, at times it’s been helpful for me to divulge. An example of this, I had been putting off getting a haircut because I was imagining the questions the stylist might ask me and worrying how I might react. After contemplating cutting my own hair, I knew I needed an alternative. I emailed her when I made the booking and explained my situation in a very top line way and said I’d prefer not to talk about it. I didn’t cut my own hair wonky and also didn’t fear being asked questions I didn’t want to be asked in that moment.

Self-expression. Grief needs an outlet. But that outlet will look different for everyone. For me, journaling and writing are an important tool, but in the early days I could barely put a sentence down. Eventually I took this Writing Your grief course which was hugely helpful (again from Megan Devine). Before I did that, I bought myself a sketch book and some pencils and that helped. Even just to colour the page completely black.

Here is one drawing from the early days:

If you need inspiration you could try wandering around a craft store and see if something jumps out at you. Or look for a class nearby that piques your interest – I’ve been meaning to try pottery.

Distraction. I found it impossible to feel every part of grief and exist in that space continually. It was overwhelming. Distractions were important for me, however it was hard to find one that didn’t trigger me. Everything is something in grief. Lean into anything that could provide any momentary distraction. And try to cut yourself slack if you immediately need to bail, or even find some joy there. Some of my favourite relatively healthy distractions: doggy hiking trips, talking dogs, doggy grooming, puppies, unlikely animal pairing like this magpie and… two dogs… Okay yes, there is a theme, dogs give me serotonin. I also like puzzles, audio books (e.g. Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, Harry Potter read by Stephen Fry, The Hidden Life of Trees) and podcasts (Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend, Office Ladies and Star Talk).

Tend or mend something. Caring for a pet or plant or tackling a small project can be a good way to channel energy. I have a collection of potted plants now that started with an orchid Mike had gifted me. It’s such a treat when it gets a new growth or flowers. Fixing something broken can also be satisfying. Start small though, I’m talking gluing two small things back together level. I won’t be ripping up the carpet to check for original floorboards anytime soon!

If you have any suggestions of things that helped you or your go-to distraction, feel free to share. Alternatively, feel free to ignore everything and just look at my silly drawing instead.

6 thoughts on “how to be: what helped when nothing helps. (part two)

  1. Such a useful list Maz – thanks for sharing. I too discovered indoor plants & gardening during my period of intense grief. I’m just starting a collection of indoor plants in London & it’s bringing me so much joy! I buy one each Saturday. Big hugs 🤗

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