Here’s an honest truth: I can be downright mean sometimes.
I think probably the symptom of my grief that has been the hardest for my close family to be around is my irritability. It has partly come from feeling angry – as is normal in grief. The five stages of grief aren’t really stages, in my opinion, they are symptoms. Just like how cold symptoms all come at once, you can feel them all at once. I am just on the tail-end of a cold so I’m in the “clearing-out” phase. It’s the grossest phase. I have also felt run-down a couple of days this week, thinking I was better but then perhaps not fully. Some colds drag on and on and though at the start it may be a stuffy nose and sore throat that dominates, it can soon change to be a cough and headache that are the more prominent symptoms.
Sometimes anger feels rife in grief. It can last days or weeks and come alongside numbness or depression or shock. Then it can pass and numbness and denial reign for a time. Followed by a few days of raw crying, then some more numbness and perhaps what may feel like a brief wave of acceptance (not a common feature early on). This week I feel as though I have taken a bit of a nosedive and found myself feeling rather low, sad and at times, angry. Last weekend my husband and I went away for a weekend together, without our children. We had a wonderful time… though it didn’t start off well, which brings me to the second reason I can be an irritable witch at times.
My emotional health is suffering.
On the journey up I felt seriously… irritated. I was snappy and grumpy and we bickered as we drove off towards our idyllic weekend of romance and reflection… Hmm.
What was wrong with me?
Well, let me ask you this, how often do you practise emotional first aid?
As I reflected on my week, this is what I discovered:
- I hadn’t spent much quality time with my husband and I needed to offload.
On busy weeks I tend to have a list that mounts up of things I need to share with him, and I mean NEED to share. But they aren’t all necessarily heavy or emotional. Just that I have booked this into the diary, or we received this letter about our student finance, or this difficult experience occurred with child A when they cut their finger and bled all over my friend’s house (slight exaggeration) because of their compulsive need to rip off a plaster immediately after having it applied. I know this about myself, that I need this time to get it all out of my brain.
- I had had some weighty things shared with me.
Some weeks are like that, you hear more bad news than good. People are more needy than they are fun and refreshing. That’s all ok. I love being a listening ear and a support and don’t tend to buckle under it all. I think I just need my own offloading time even more on those weeks. When I say that, I don’t mean I then need to go and tell someone else about all these personal problems that have been shared with me, no. I just need to vent my own stuff perhaps more frequently and at least be able to share, that was a heavy evening.
- I had a terrifying experience.
My youngest got into a dangerous situation and I have never felt so terrified. Heart pounding, legs like jelly and it took a good hour or so to calm down. For the rest of the evening I felt anxious and very low. There’s nothing like those experiences to really bring home how close we can be to a devastating situation. We are living on a knife’s edge without being fully aware of it all the time, but it’s no wonder anxiety is so rife these days. Particularly in our culture where we put so much effort into avoiding suffering at all costs. And this feeling was exacerbated by my previous point. People around me experiencing loss and traumas – life as they know it turning upside down in an instant. Perhaps I was more likely to have an anxious response due to suffering a recent loss, who knows.
- I had a big to do list.
I had to get us ready to go away, we were looking at buying a new car, I had to ensure our house was tidy and the kids had everything they needed as their Nana was going to stay at ours with them. I felt drained and couldn’t be bothered to do any of it.
- I had hardly had time to write.
It’s hard to explain but as is probably obvious by now, I like to express myself and offload through this medium as well as face-to-face with someone close to me. But it’s not just that. Imagine if you really loved football or sewing or playing piano. It brings you pleasure as well as refreshes you… would you not get a bit twitchy if unable to partake in said favourite pastime for a few days straight?
So, Friday morning comes around and I go to work having not packed a thing. I finish and we go straight to look at a car. We get home with a short amount of time to spare and I’m cranky, not looking forward to rushing around the house slinging stuff in bags. I’m upsetting J and manage to apologise and explain I am just stressed about getting ready to go.
We are ready and leave and I expect the relief and calm to wash over me as I rest in the knowledge that I got everything done and we are on our way to a blissful weekend away… but, it doesn’t come, I’m STILL CRANKY. Deeply and profoundly angry, at nothing, it seems.
I start to express myself and list all the things that have bothered me/wound me up/put pressure on/made me scared or upset and how it has been hard not being able to share anything up until this point. As I did this the anger started to dissipate. It took an evening of switching off to fully relax and feel my normal self again.
I came across this transcript of a talk on Ted.com that is about how we are generally pretty poor at practicing emotional first aid. We know how to deal with our physical health, we maintain dental hygiene and put plasters on cuts, but wounds of loneliness, rejection or failure tend to be left well alone to fester nicely, until they all build up and explode into a big, pussy mess of anxiety, depression and/or destructive behaviour (please read the article for yourself, it’s so insightful).
I think personality definitely comes into this but at the end of the day, I think we all need to offload to a listening ear. Do you do this? I have been a listening ear for a friend for about five years now. You may think, well of course, I listen to loads of friends and they listen to me. But do they really? Do you, really just listen?
What actually happened is my friend said to me, I need someone to talk to about what I’m going through, please can I see you once a month to share. That’s what then took place – she talked, I listened. Sometimes when she’d finished, she’d invite me to comment.
Do you ever start trying to offload and find that the person you’re talking to starts talking about their own issues before you’ve had a chance to finish? Or starts giving you advice you don’t want? When this happens to me I can physically find it hard to keep talking as I feel stifled.
Perhaps we need to be more direct about things and we can find that hard. We don’t want to burden or appear self-centred. But emotional first aid is important. Very important. Male or female, young or old. We all need it, I think. Ask someone to be that listening ear, ask the right person who will be what you need, and specifically ask to meet up so YOU can share, so you both know what the purpose is.
I feel like I need some self-help guru tagline to sign off with…
(Ideas in comments…!)