I hesitated for a long time about writing this post. But as the summer is turning to autumn, the season for change, I thought it would be appropriate.
“Autumn is the eternal corrective. It is ripeness and color and a time of completion; but it is also breadth, and depth, and distance. What man can stand with Autumn on a hilltop and fail to see the span of his world and the substance of the rolling hills that reach to the far horizon?” -Hal Borland
I don’t know how to do anything but jump right into this.
Around this time last year, I lost both of my parents. And with them, my whole entire family.
Grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins. You get the idea. All gone with the loss of my parents. My family was my support. They were my best friends. And they were all gone in the blink of an eye. I felt scared and confused and so incredibly alone. A pain that nothing else has ever felt like. It created so many feelings that were hard to comprehend or understand. I attempted reaching out to a few people I thought might understand. But no one seemed to truly “get it” and it made me close off emotionally. I was newly married and so much had already changed, prior to this huge loss. I felt so empty and life was a fog. I began speaking with a therapist and I joined a support group. And what I learned is that I was not alone, not at all. And people do understand. The little secret is that most people don’t seem to talk about massive loss in a very open way. And like... no shit. It’s hard to be brave and it’s awkward to be vulnerable. It feels bad to grieve and it’s embarrassing to be estranged by the people who should love you.
If you’ve followed this blog from the beginning, you know that I used to post personal entries about love and life and thoughts and ideas. And all of that just sort of came to a stop. Because mentally, I was drained of everything. I was hanging on by this single thread that threatened to snap at any moment. My career of ten years also came crashing down. I had owned my own business and suddenly, I was working a job that I worked in high school just to help make ends meet. My husband began working upwards of 60 hours a week. Life was hard, every single day. The only relief were our quick adventures up north in the woods. And even those times of fresh air and solitude were not enough to ease the burden of my tired heart and broken spirit.
Talking to my therapist was helpful. She encouraged me to stay open. To talk about my feelings, no matter what they were. And friends, they were dark. I held on to the light as much as possible. But some days were immensely hard. Some days I didn’t get out of bed.
My support group told me everything I was feeling was normal. They told me stories of similar loss and stories of hope. Nothing helped much, other than knowing that I was not crazy and other people felt these feelings.
I guess there are some main messages I’d like to share with anyone reading this. Anyone who is going through loss or grief or pain. The few simple lessons it has taken me over a year to learn and honestly, am still learning.
You are not alone. You are not crazy. Your feelings are valid. There is no “right” way to feel.
If I could scream that across the world from the highest mountains I would.
Life is hard and messy and complicated. It is most certainly not black and white. So please never put yourself in a box of “should” or “can’t” or “fail”. In processing loss, there are ups and downs. Overcoming and backsliding and regretting and questioning. It’s NORMAL. I promise.
This was not my first enormous loss and it certainly will not be my last. But it was one of the hardest. And I didn’t talk about it with many people until now. Right now. Because I am finally at the point where I’m okay. It’s okay. It’s still something I think of each and every day. But it’s okay. And over the past bunch of months, I have figured out some things and found some coping strategies and am ready to be an open book. Someone who can shed a little light on the topic.
So with all of this being said, I’d like to share one of those coping strategies. It may sound strange. And it might feel selfish. It probably will feel impossible and some days you wont heed this advice. Maybe most days. But what I want to share is a really important tool when dealing with situations that make you want to give up.
You read that right, friend. You must take care of yourself when times are tough and there is no light left. Radical self love. Emergency level tenderness.
We all enjoy lists, yes? I think that may be the simplest way to go about sharing what I know about self care. Because it makes it actionable. Some days you will ignore the list, because you cannot handle it. Some days you’ll choose one or two bullet points. And some bright days, you may be able to implement all of it. And with time, that is the goal.
And just as an aside, before I start to list off these tips and tools for self care, I want to give a little warning for those going through some tough stuff. Expect a bit of judgement. Expect to be given advice that has nothing to do with your situation. People form these ideas of what should and shouldn’t be- we just talked about that, pertaining to feelings, right? No one means to judge and no one means you harm. We all go through various things in life that shape our ideas and opinions. These thoughts and opinions can hurt others, but overall, no one wants to hurt you or give bad advice. So do the best you can to listen to your heart and let the negative vibes roll off your back. There are no haters- some are just misguided or potentially unhappy in their own way.
On to the list!
DeDe’s top tips for radical, extreme and emergency-level self care.
- Journal. This could actually be one of the most difficult things on my list, but it’s also one of the most important. That’s why it’s at the top. By journal, I mean pen to paper. Not typing. Pen. To. Paper. By writing, you are connecting thought both physically and mentally and it is therapeutic. You can journal about anything under the sun. It does not have to be about what’s causing you pain, because fun fact, eventually it will be about that. If all you can write about is that you don’t know what to write about, that’s cool. That’s awesome. You’re doing it! The more you journal, the easier it will become and the more it will help. Journaling for me is usually hard to get going, but once I start, it flows. Emotions I didn’t even know I was feeling are poured onto the pages. And it helps. Because it gets those stuck thoughts unstuck.
- Go for walks. Any kind of walk will do. Long walks, short walks, city walks, a walk in the woods. Go at any pace. Just go. Walk all around. Don’t put pressure on the walk, just walk. Much like writing, this is therapeutic and meditative. You will think new thoughts and come to terms with some feelings. Make it a habit, even if it’s a walk down one single block. Wear your pajamas if that makes it easier. I’ve done that so many times, and you know what? No one even cares. Because we all love jammies. Walk, walk, walk.
- Positive affirmations. They work. They do. Google images of positive affirmations and write them down or print them out. Tape them around your home where you’ll often see them; bathroom mirrors, kitchen windows, doors, inside cupboards, etc. When you see one, say it out loud. No, really- out loud. For months I had an affirmation taped above my kitchen sink that said “I am worthy of love. I am loved.” And every day, anytime I washed dishes or it caught my eye, I had to say it out loud. It felt dumb at first, but after a while, not so dumb. Just normal. And after a couple months, I knew that I was loved and deserved love. There was no question. I’ve used positive affirmations for many things for many years. And whenever you need to do it the most, that’s when it’s the hardest. I know that it’s hard. And that’s normal. It seems silly and odd. Please give yourself positive affirmations. Do it many times per day.
- Take baths. Something about that hot water is healing. Not just relaxing. Add Epsom salts and essential oils if you can- that adds a lot to the time spent soaking. Put on a podcast you love, or some relaxing music. Or even watch Netflix on the laptop- a closed toilet makes an excellent laptop stand. Soak for as long as you want. Turn down the lights, light a candle. Make this time fancy as fuck. It’s your time.
- Workout. Make yourself sweat! Get that heart rate up! Pick up some heavy things. Run around the block or run for miles and miles. During hard times, working out is usually not on anyone’s radar and what happens is you get into a terrible rut. You don’t feel energetic and you may gain weight. You’ll lose endorphins when you need them most. Force yourself to workout at least a couple times per week. Fuck dudes, even once a week if that’s what you can make happen. But you must make it happen. Not working out causes a chain reaction of many negative things. So whatever “working out” means to you, please keep doing it. On my worst days, when I was refusing to get out of bed, I would sometimes muster myself to go to the gym and sprint one mile. Just one mile. Some days it made me feel better. Some days it didn’t. But at least at the end of the day, I could say I did a thing. And in the long run, those miles add up.
- Join a support group. There are people who are feeling what you’re feeling. There are people who’ve been there and gotten through it. These people have stories to share that will help you. They have advice and wisdom. And most importantly, they have listenening ears and they don’t judge. You can go in person or you can be a part of an online support group. The support group I was in was online. It was on Reddit in fact- and I bet you can find the exact support group you need on Reddit too. It was healing for me to get my story out there. Just to simply share it. What I didn’t expect was the outpouring of kindness and acknowledgement. I no longer have a mother to listen to me or to give me motherly advice. But in my support group, people took on that role and it was helpful in ways that I cannot even explain. It sucks the big one to feel alone. In a support group, you are never alone.
- Sleep. Don’t overlook the importance of sleep for both mental and physical health. Let yourself sleep more than usual. Try to get good quality sleep- maybe take some melatonin or magnesium an hour before bed. Keep your sheets clean- or at least switch out your pillowcase every week or so. If you’re having troubles sleeping, I suggest taking a hot bath before bed and sipping on some herbal tea. Sleep is nessesary for maintaining so many aspects of life. Shoot for 8 hours, but allow yourself more.
- Play with animals. It’s healing. Even if it’s for five minutes, for those five minutes you’ll forget your troubles. Especially if the animal you play with is a dog- they are nothing but love. Therapy dogs visit nursing homes, hospitals and prisons for a reason. They are a positive, loving and healing force. It is really super hard to think of loss and pain when you’re petting a pupper.
- Eat healthy foods. Fuel your body with nutritious things. Veggies and proteins and good fats. The things that you will probably not want to eat, to be honest. Indulge once in a while, but overall, try to eat healthy wholesome foods. A super easy thing to make, if you’re up to it, is an egg bake. Like a crustless quiche. You can even use frozen veggies and greens. A bag of chopped spinach, a stir fry blend and a dozen eggs. Mix it all together and bake it in a deep pan for about an hour. Nutrition for a few days, done in such a short time. Oatmeal is another really simple thing to have- especially if you crave something sweet. Add extra cinnamon. It’s good for you.
- Acknowledge your feelings. Even the feelings you think are nonsensical and wrong. This is one bullet point I feel I can speak on with great authority, as someone who spent 25 years suppressing every feeling... and then three more years suppressing most feelings. And then one more year learning to let that shit goooooo! I am not asking you to be cool with hard feelings and dark feelings and weird feelings. Just to acknowledge them and to let yourself feel them. To soak in them and say “hey brain, I don’t know what you’re doing, but I hear you.” By doing this you are being true to yourself and listening to your subconscious. The fact of the matter is that you’re feeling these things for a reason, and it doesn’t matter what that reason is. You are valid and your feelings are valid.
- Take time to breathe. I started having panic attacks somewhere along the journey of healing. There are multiple reasons for this, but at the end of the day, when I felt the most depressed and out of control, I wasn’t taking time to breathe. I mean “take time to breathe” literally. Just pause sometimes and breathe. Breathe deep. In for a count of five, through the nose! Hold it for a count of five. Exhale through the mouth for a count of five. Hold it out for a count of five. Do this for a couple minutes at least. Fill your belly with air. When you forget to breathe, you get into scary territory. If this is something you struggle with, they make timer apps for breathing. Sometimes I still forget to breathe. And that’s okay- I’m working on it. Work on it with me?
- Have adventures. As hard as it might seem, carve out some time when you can to see new things or visit places you love. This can be hard. This can be super fucking hard. But you need to breathe clean air and you need to see the sky and you need to find peace. Adventure is hands down the fastest way to accomplish this. My adventures are nature based. Yours might be shopping based or road trip based or any other thing. But when you can take a bit of time to get away, do so. A change of scenery can be a much needed break or give you a new perspective on stuff. Don’t stop living because you’re in so much pain. I promise it will get better.
- Try to be open with people. If someone asks why you seem sad or why you don’t want to come out with them, try honesty. You don’t need to go on about it, and you don’t need to go into details. But it might help in many ways to just be a liiiittle bit forthcoming about what burdens you. I mentioned earlier that I had to take a job I wouldn’t have normally worked after losing my business. This was a customer based job. And some days, I had to tell people “I am so sorry, I don’t think I heard you right. I lost my parents a little bit ago and I cant get it off my mind today.” That was never, ever met with anything but kindness. It was met usually with compassion and understanding. Yep- it was awkward sometimes. But life is awkward. People respond favorably to honesty.
- Wash your hair and brush your teeth. I’m serious. Do not stop taking care of your basic hygiene because you’re going through the worst things. At a minimum brush those chompers before bed. Hair can be washed weekly or bi-weekly. Doing these simple tasks may feel hard, I get it. But these simple tasks also take up some time and subconsciously or consciously, make you feel better.
- Reorganize your space. Move the couch. Move the bed. Arrange that shelf different. Organize a drawer. Clean the fridge. This tip is simply a means to get you out of bed or off the couch. It’s a means to fill a little bit of time with something that may make you happy. I’m always a big fan of moving books around from room to room. Or putting things in the freezer in a different order. This sounds dumb right? And it kind of is. But it truly does help to pass the time. Plus, I now know that I prefer my riced cauliflower in the door of the freezer. Life changing.
- Be patient. None of this is easy. You’re going through an earth shattering event. most likely, this trauma will take years to fully heal. And it may never fully heal. But it does get better. Bit by bit. Time heals so much. Time is the best teacher. Be patient with yourself as you would a small child. Go at your own pace and forgive backslides. You are doing the best you can with the tools you have.
In the past year, I have struggled. I have hit rock bottom twice at least. It’s been raw, terrifying and painful. But fuck... I have grown so much. What I’ve learned from losing my parents and the rest of my family is that I am a gritty, strong and compassionate woman who is ready for the world. I have now dealt with one of the biggest fears people have; losing parents, losing family. And here I am. On the other side. Still standing. Still adventuring and loving the world. It’s taken a lot of work and it is still so much work. But that’s okay. Because it’s a learning process and a healing process and there is no right way to deal with it.
If you are dealing with pain, loss, depression or anything else even remotely related, you are not alone. You are going to be okay. You are loved. There is support for you and there is a place for you. Every single feeling you have is valid and important. You are important.