Wednesday, 26 June 2019

Post Grief Anxiety and PTSD...My Experience

I have always been a very calm person. Always the one to keep a clear head, reassure others and stay positive. I for sure didn't inherit this from my mum though, who was a little crazy (in the best way) and a definite worrier!
In my work as a hair and makeup artist, specialising in beauty and bridal currently, I pride myself on being a calming influence on a wedding morning. This is often a trait that I get thanked for afterwards, and booked partly for as well.

I mention this because I wanted to touch on the topic of anxiety. Something that has recently cropped up in my life, and has shocked me because I have never met said feeling this strongly before.

I first dealt with anxiety, not surprisingly, after my mum died. This energy was directed towards my dogs. I did, and still do, have a lot of fear surrounding my dogs health. I have mentioned in a previous post that my dogs lived with my mum and I, and this was my family. They are linked so closely and remind me so much of her, that it terrifies me when they show any sign of ill health.
This is of course very normal, and understandable, and is not always present.

Over the past few months though I have started to feel slightly anxious when I leave the house and have a long car journey/ train ride / event ahead.
This feeling isn't crippling, or stopping me from doing anything, but nonetheless it makes me feel very uneasy and isn't like me at all. It has been a really alien feeling.
I take a big sigh of relief when I reach my front door again, and it has been bothering me.
In an attempt to not let this anxious feeling get worse and take hold of me, I have been trying to work out why I may be feeling this way. (You can tell that I studied Psychology!)

After much self analysis and reflection I believe that these feelings do relate to my grief and potentially a touch of PTSD.
I have skimmed past the fact before that the week before my mum died I was not in the country.
I had a holiday booked to Cyprus with my boyfriend, which had been planned for a while.
My mum went downhill quite fast towards the end. When we first booked the trip she was well and stable, and then we later found out that she would be needing more chemotherapy.
As we lived with just each other I had arranged for my brother and auntie to come down and stay whilst I was away. Just to keep my mum company during one chemotherapy round.

As it turned out my mum never got around to having anymore chemo as she kept becoming very anaemic, and weak, and it wouldn't have been safe. But after a few stays in hospital and blood transfusions, we initially thought that she would pick up strength and be able to come home and start the treatment at a later date.

Instead, a few days before I was due to fly out to Cyprus, I was called for a meeting with my mum's oncologist at the hospital, where she was still staying.
I knew that she hadn't been great, sleeping more and more, and increasingly weak, but what I was met with shocked me to my core.
The oncologist was subtly suggesting that I consider whether I should go away on holiday, and that my mum would be referred to the palliative care team going forwards.
I could obviously sense that this was not good news, and outright asked him how long my mum had left. To which he responded probably only 3 months.

As I am sure everyone can imagine I was in total shock. We had options and then suddenly they were pulled from beneath us. Nothing had been mentioned to us that it was near the end.
In a haze of which I don't remember much at all, I chatted to the palliative care nurse, my mum and family, who all said that I should go on holiday still. I had family staying to look after my mum, and it was in reality going to be a very long and difficult few months ahead for me being my mum's primary carer when I got home, so the rest would be needed.

I agreed, still not knowing if it was the right choice, but remember desperately holding back tears on the plane.

It was a bizarre week. I had constant contact with my mum and family, checking in, and whenever I spoke to them she was ok. We had got her home luckily before I left, and the local nurses were popping in and being a support as well.
My mum even sounded fairly upbeat, and told me that she was happy I was having a break.

I think I flitted between utter denial and terror each day.

But to cut my very long story short, on the second to last day of the holiday I received a call around 9pm to say that I needed to come home straight away. My mum had been asleep pretty much all day and the nurses didn't think that she was ever going to wake up.

What followed over the next 20ish hours was a series of very traumatic events and despite me not thinking about this much, and probably having hidden this away somewhere dark and safe in my brain, I do think that it may be one of the root causes of this recent anxiety.

I can vividly remember being told the news and then making a mad dash to the airport to try to book a place on the last flight that day, due to leave around 11.30pm.
When we arrived to the airport however there was no such flight, even though it was showing up online, so I had to call home to tell them that I couldn't make it back until tomorrow afternoon.

I stood in a corner outside the airport, behind a trolley bay, on the phone for ages. Talking to the nurses who were trying to explain what was happening, and my family who were trying to console me, and then my mum with the phone being held up to her ear in a desperate attempt that she may still be able to hear me.

I was in shock, utter desperation and devastation, totally out of control, and I was inconsolable.

I felt so guilty for leaving her and like the worst person on the planet.

I felt sick with sadness and my whole body literally shook uncontrollably for hours.

Later that evening as you will have heard me mention before, a miracle happened and my mum woke up. I spoke to her on the phone and I was suddenly filled with hope that I may make it home in time.
And I did. I had a few days with her at home before she died, and I am so utterly grateful for this.

However those hours after she woke were equally as horrific. Spending a night and then a 5 hour flight not knowing whether your mother has died in that time or not, anxiously having to call home when I landed to find out.

My home is my safe place. I have my dogs here, who I can look after myself, I have my belongings and my literal home comforts.
I can control things when I am in my own space, and I feel calm.
I left once and my world almost collapsed around me, so do I subconsciously feel like things will be ok if I am here?

I think this experience, mixed with the fact that I fainted on a train not long after my mum's death too, have made me feel vulnerable in certain situations, and anxious.
I also spend a lot of time at home, as I am self-employed, and run my own skincare business by myself from my house, so I may have become accustomed to being here too.

I wanted to share this experience mainly because I actually feel a little better knowing that there is a potential cause behind my recent madness.
Our minds are incredibly complex, and there is generally a reason as to why we think the way we do.
Mine is trying to protect me, and understandably so, but instead of getting frustrated with myself I need to be kind.
We all need to nurture ourselves, and realise that it is ok if we feel anxious, but we are still safe. Just because something bad has happened, doesn't mean that it will keep happening.

So by understanding a little part as to why I may have become anxious sometimes, I can accept my minds reasoning and move forwards.

I think that I will always be more of a worrier now. I know what loss and grief feels like, and it is something that I want to avoid at all costs, but life will happen and I will have these feelings again.

If you are struggling with anxiety post grief, or PTSD then please do reach out and talk to someone. A partner, friend, family member or your GP. Don't suffer alone, and be kind to yourself.

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