how to be: what helped when nothing helps

The past few months I was starting to feel the ground beneath my feet again. It felt nice.

And now I’m facing down another setback and have been feeling defeated and disorientated. I’ve noticed I’ve been reaching into my grief survival toolkit, searching for any small thing to help me feel grounded and resist overwhelm.

So I wanted to share them with you. On the caveat that it’s not used as a to do list, if you’re suffering you don’t need more things you feel you’re failing at, instead think of it as an offering of possibilities. I squirrelled these away nut by nut. Do NUT attempt to eat them all in one go! (Wee bit o’ nut humour for you.)  

Some of these helped me in the earlier days and some came months or over a year later so not all will be applicable at any one time. My needs and capabilities changed as I moved through my grief. And it’s not linear, I still regularly need to remind myself about the basics. Being kind to yourself and is the number one thing to do, and perhaps the last thing you want to do. And here are some things that helped me do that, when not much seemed to help at all.

Self Care 101 – Basic needs. Caring for yourself can seem pointless, but do it anyway, if not for you, for those around you. Start with your basic needs. Figuring out what you need is hard and energy consuming. So start small. Drink a glass of water, or if that’s too much, have one sip. Take a shower, or if that’s too hard, splash your face or brush your teeth. Eat something, healthy if you can muster it, but anything will do if you can’t. (I like cheese sticks or avocado and crackers for an easyish snack ). Or if you’re eating everything that’s okay too – kindness to yourself is key here. Doing any small thing you can for yourself is better than nothing and if something seems too hard break it down into manageable chunks. One thing at a time. One foot out of bed. One arm in a tee shirt. One step. One breath.

Breathing. I used to roll my eyes a little when this was recommended as a tool. But utilising it truly has helped. Grief is a full mind and body experience. I’ve learned our breath is the only way we can control our nervous system. Focusing on breathing through the nose and having a longer out breath is key as it helps support the vagus nerve which directs the parasympathetic nervous system (because *science*). My favourite technique in moments of stress is to breathe in for four, hold for six, and out for eight. There are heaps of breathing techniques out there you could try. I like to keep it simple with this one as my go-to if I’m freaking out.

Movement. Anything. A short walk. A yoga class from home. A stretch on the couch. My policy is anything more than zero is good. If I really don’t feel like getting outside I cut myself a deal and say I can turnaround in five minutes if I want. Usually I feel better once I’m out there moving.

If I stayed inside I would nut have seen this cute red squirrel!

Nature. Get into it if you can. The trees don’t care if you ugly cry and the wind won’t judge your sobs. The rocks? They don’t care for nobody and nothing (they’re rocks). Go look at some, sit on one, find a good one to chuck into a body of water. Put your feet on some grass or sand. I love the sounds of waves crashing or lapping on the shore. Walking alongside it provides a path to follow and the meditative sounds help centre me. If you can’t get out into it, bring it inside – open a window! I love my window hummingbird feeders – they bring me so much joy.

Henrietta dropping some joy in trade for sugar water!

Therapy. A kind ear to listen to your problems, validate your concerns, and helps you feel better? What’s not to love! But I understand it’s hard to get one and can be scary to talk to a stranger about your deepest fears, pain and weirdness. It’s got to be a good fit between you, so finding one can be the hardest part. My best therapists over the years have been from recommendations, so if you’re comfortable speaking with your network you could start there. I’ve also searched online and met therapists that way. Search and check out their websites and listen to your instincts when you read their descriptions about themselves and their style. If you get an “ugh” feeling or a “gimme a break” they might not be the right fit for you (I’ve made that mistake). Once you’ve found someone who doesn’t make you recoil, email or call them to check their capacity sharing as much as you’re comfortable. In Canada they offer a free initial chat to see if you’re a good fit. Start there and be honest with yourself and with them. In my search I met a nice one but as he was talking he was reminding me of Mike I knew right away it wouldn’t work, so I told him. He was able to recommend me to one of his colleagues and I’ve been seeing her ever since.

Ask for help. Do you ever find yourself giving advice and it’s the exact thing you need to do yourself? Neither. *cough cough* This is something I still struggle with every day, but you absolutely need help from other people. I understand the energy required to first know what you need and then ask for help can be too much, but try if you can. If you’re like me and feel like an inconvenience a lot of the time you could try TaskRabbit or Airtasker (like Uber, but for building Ikea furniture). I found this a helpful tool when I moved shortly after Mike died.

Start with any task causing you stress right now, and think is there someone who might be able to take this on. You likely have people around you desperate to help, but they probably have no clue how to do that. If there is paperwork troubling you or you need something picked up, think who might be capable of assisting and send that text (be brave).

Allow others to help. Saying this one for myself mostly. I’m still working on it. I try to remind myself I would want to help them if it was reversed.

Maybe you wanna ignore everything I just said and scream into your pillow. That’s fine too!

For someone who doesn’t want unsolicited advice, I sure appear to like dishing it out. Part 2 to come!