#9 Emotional Self-Reflection
“You are so strong!”
“I don’t know how you do it…”
“I’d be a mess!”
I heard phrases like these a lot in the months after Ellis died. I still do occasionally, and I’ve never quite known how to respond. In those first few months I definitely didn’t feel strong, but I also wasn’t bawling my eyes out 24/7.
Looking back, I actually think that made me look heartless - not strong. I wasn’t openly showing much emotion, in fact I can only think of two people who actually saw me properly break down in tears and cry uncontrollably. Part of it is a pride thing; I’m not a “pretty” crier, and I’ve never liked crying in public. Think blotchy face and red eyes, usually accompanied with mascara smudged down my face. Another part of it though, is that I had to keep a hold on my emotions not just for myself, but also for Ruby. On more than one occasion I would be talking about Ellis, maybe for the first time to a friend, and they would start crying and I’d be the one comforting them. They’d be apologising to me saying that they shouldn’t be the ones crying, and that they were being selfish or silly. But I knew that simply was not the case; for most people I told it was the first time they’d heard such a heart-breaking story, but unfortunately for me this might have been the 100th time of telling the story. I was well-versed, and I don’t mean to dumb down the heartache or the seriousness of what had happened, but I think I’d just gone into auto pilot! I think I had to set myself up on auto pilot to just get through the day. I couldn’t afford to break. I felt if I broke then no one would be able to “fix” me, and I couldn’t do that to my family, to Ruby.
This feeling is something I’ve struggled with a lot, I still do. The feeling that I have to be ok, I have to carry on, that I won’t or don’t need help - it’s that pride again. Asking for, and accepting help for anything, for me, is hard. But asking for help with my mental health, something I’ve always felt I’ve had a good handle on, is unbelievable hard. Feeling helpless, pitied, like a charity case, or weak, are all things I am not good with and I’ll be honest in that I’m not sure why. Even when Ellis died - the worst thing that has ever happened to me - I still felt that I was somehow above help, that I didn’t need support from others. I felt I had it all under control, in my own way…
I was extremely, unforgivably rude to a very dear friend when she delivered a beautifully presented, and wonderfully thoughtful gift basket. It was filled with so many wonderful things that had been clearly researched and carefully chosen for us; everything from food vouchers so we wouldn’t have to cook, to little gifts for Ruby to keep her busy, to some beautiful keepsake gifts for Ellis. Surrounding the basket, were individual wooden hearts tied on with string. Each heart with a hand-written name on - the name of a friend, relative, or acquaintance who had contributed to the gifts inside. Unfortunately, it is only in hindsight that I can now see that this gift wasn’t the pity party, charity basket, I initially thought it was. But that in fact, it was just a true friend trying to do what she could to ease our pain. To say I was a bitch about the whole thing is possibly the understatement of the millennia! For some reason I put up a barrier, I wouldn’t let the help in. My family also offered to have Ruby for the weekend so we could have some time together, additionally offering to pay for a weekend away for us either as a two or three, so we could get away for a bit but I said no. Partly because I didn’t want to break Ruby’s routine, but mainly because I didn’t think it would help. In my mind, going away for a weekend break wasn’t suddenly going to make everything OK again, or bring Ellis back to us, so why bother trying? Being away from Ruby, quite frankly, was the last thing I wanted. I’d lost one child; I wanted to keep the other one as close to me as possible. I even had to sleep on the floor in her room quite a few times afterwards, needing to check on her and make sure she was ok.
I just really struggled with people trying to help… couldn’t they see that their gestures were pointless?
But the truth is, they weren’t pointless - they were just trying to show they cared in their own way.
Thinking back, I do remember these feelings rising up before losing Ellis. Being a first-time mum to Ruby turned me into a paranoid, anxious, depressed mess, and honestly, not many of my friends and family members know the true extent of it either, possibly not even my husband. I kept so many of my feelings behind closed doors, because I felt if I shared them with someone that they would think I was mad, or worst still, a bad mum. Rather than asking for help I would bury my feelings, which only resulted in unprovoked (most of the time), aggressive outbursts; including shouting matches, bundles of tears, and slamming of doors.
On one occasion when Ruby was just four months old, I went from normal to “crazy” in the blink of an eye after missing the last train home because of cancelled trains in London, on what was a very rare night out for me. The thought of not being able to get home to my daughter, and being stuck miles away from her, scared the absolute bejesus out of me – it was completely out of my control. Being able to look back now, outside of that emotional response, I know she was fine - she was with my mum and fast asleep. She was a baby, so likely wouldn’t have even known if I’d been away for an hour, day, night, week or even year – but in that moment my brain just flipped, and I panicked. My friends were trying to help me, and for a moment, I couldn’t accept that help. Once I was able to alleviate the panic slightly, everything worked out, and a friend’s husband was going to pick us up and drive me back to my parent’s house, where I’d be back for Ruby in the morning. All was fine.
What I can say now, is that looking back over my life in November of 2020, 16 months after losing Ellis, I am starting to become more aware of my own emotions and needs, how I feel about control and what that means for me, and how that all plays a part in my reactions and my own behaviour. I am definitely more willing to delve into these things now, where I may not have been before. And I think that’s because of timing, but also because of the wonderful community I found online who share their experiences and support one another. Though I’ve not spoken with a counsellor or therapist, I am speaking with an alternative therapist about my mind and body, and how everything is linked; placing an importance on emotional discovery and the impact on my body. It’s quite a big step for me - someone that has struggled to seek support from others, and having previously thought I was above any kind of help - but if there is anything my community and tribe has taught me, is that I am not alone, and I don’t need to struggle with my feelings, or in fact do everything by myself. It is OK to accept help. I’m just starting on this path, so it’s very new for me, but I will likely talk about the experience on here as and when it comes to me. What I do want to say to anyone else going through this, is that it’s about doing things in your own time. You will come to different stages in your grief, at different times, where you may want to explore these emotions. It might be 2 months after, it might be 12, or it might be 2 years. It is up to you, listen to your heart and you’ll know what you need. I know I now feel ready to do this, to seek out and accept external help, without the fear of “breaking” and affecting Ruby, or my husband, like I once feared. And that feels empowering to me now.
More recently I told a new group of friends, new work colleagues, all about Ellis. I took the opportunity of this year’s recent Baby Loss Awareness Week to tell them. I chose this week as I knew it would be a hard week for me, and felt they needed to know if I wasn’t quite feeling myself. It also helped that during that week there is was so much about baby loss on social media, TV, and radio that if they wanted to educate themselves they had much information at their fingertips. I feel more confident and so much stronger about talking about him now, and telling them all was quite easy in the grand scheme of things. To say they were lovely about it just doesn’t do them justice. They’ve all shown their support in their own way, and now I can talk freely about Ellis at work as much as I would talk freely about Ruby. Of course, they all said things like “You’re so strong…”, “You’re so brave…”, but this time around my brain didn’t turn those comments into negatives, I was able to take them for what they were. Yes, I am strong, I am brave. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t always feel those things, but to see where I am now to where I was, feels like I’ve come a long way. I am learning that it is OK to be the way I am. Ruby has and will continue to see me sad and cry about Ellis; I want her to learn that it’s OK to do that, and to have those emotions and express them when you need to, but equally, that it is also OK not to if you’re not ready.
Being able to speak freely about my son to so many people feels amazing and feels like we are breaking down the taboo of baby loss, tiny bit by tiny bit. If I have the courage to talk about the worst thing that has ever happened to me, and to try and help raise awareness around it, then so does everyone else. Life can be incredibly hard, and we all get dealt our different shares of shit, but if we are in it together, we have the tools we need to get through it and remember to try and start believing people when they tell you that YOU ARE STRONG!