I’ve just read one of those inspirational quote memes you see on social network news feeds. I was never a fan. I always used to laugh at them or roll my eyes whenever one popped up. There were so many of them that any meaning they might have had was lost on me. These days I seem to be increasingly drawn towards them. Like they have the answer to all my problems, or some such bollocks.
“It’s OK not to be OK” it beamed.
Is it really though?
Professionals, good friends, your partner, they all say it’s OK. But do they mean it? Like, properly?
You desperately want to be better, so you try and do what’s right by you because that’s what people tell you to do. You’re lead to believe that it is OK.
Your friends and family, if you’re one of the lucky ones, might extend an arm. Become a shoulder to cry on. They tell you they are there for you.
But what about those people who are not there for you? The ones who think you’re crazy, the ones who think you’re delusional and maybe even attention seeking? The ones who, when you do what you need to do for yourself, to get better, they berate you for not thinking of other people’s feelings. Other people who, actually, are not at rock bottom after losing a child or whatever it might be that pushed you to where you are now. What about those people? The very people you’d hoped would support you.
You feel hurt. Confused. You wonder why they are being so cruel. You wonder why they want you to hurt even more. You may even start to wonder if you really are crazy, selfish, and bitter.
But, I thought it was OK not to be OK… I didn’t mean to upset anyone….
You know, as I sit here on the train, typing this out, I imagine I’m at a party. It’s a shared birthday party. In fact, there are several birthday girls here. Maybe up to six or seven that I know.
My leg is broken. I broke it at my own birthday party last week. I was having way too much fun. Possibly a little too merry. It broke when I least expected. It hurt like nothing I have ever felt in my life.
It hurts when it’s knocked. It really hurts. I’m not sure why I’m at a party with a broken leg but, you know, can’t stop the fun can you. And maybe the alcohol will dull the pain…
As the party fills, the birthday girls start milling around and greeting their guests but they don’t notice my broken leg, to begin with, and keep bumping it. It is not their fault. They don’t see it, because they are busy enjoying the party. Why should they notice? I’m not even sure I would to be honest. Drinks are flowing and everyone’s having a great time. I’m perched on a stool at the time watching everyone enjoying the party. The music is really good, but I can’t quite get into the swing of things because of this bloody leg. All I want is to have a good time, how much longer will I have this cast on!? It irritates me all the time and I just want my leg to hurry the fuck up and mend. But I’m told nobody knows when it will be better as everyone heals in their own time and there is no time limit. It will mend eventually. Time and time again I start to hear people say it will heal at my next birthday. But they don’t know I won’t be getting another birthday.
I move to a quieter spot of the room, so I don’t get knocked into so much.
One by one, friends of mine see me there on my own with my broken leg. They come up to me to check how I’m doing.
“Do you want me to get you a drink?”
They know how I broke my leg. They understand that I have moved away so that people stop walking into me. They know it doesn’t stop me from wanting to talk to people and have a good time. They know I just need to take it really easy and sit out the way.
They grab a chair each and come and sit with me with a round of drinks. Some of them are the birthday girls. They don’t mind coming to sit with me and listen to my story of how I broke my leg. They tell me that they are pleased I came to the party and show a real interest in what happened. They empathise and tell me to rest and take as long as I need. That I can’t rush my leg to get better else I might never walk again.
Those birthday girls They know the statistics. 1 in 4 birthday girls break their leg. They know because you can’t miss a massive plaster cast can you. They’re everywhere. There’s even some others at this party.
Sometimes a really good song comes on and I’m desperate to get up and dance along with everyone else. It looks like so much fun. But I just watch and carry on drinking and talking to my friends. Sometimes they get up for a dance, but they soon come back.
I spot a group of people in the adjacent corner of the room. I can see them looking over in our direction. There is a birthday girl with them. One that hasn’t spoken to me tonight. She’s not someone I see very often so I do not know her terribly well, but I brought her a present and had fun choosing it too. Just like I did for the others. It actually gave me a bit of an emotional lift when I chose it. I was really looking forward to her opening it.
Her guests are all rallying around her. She is really enjoying her party and is happily opening her presents and having a wonderful time. I notice those guests take turns looking over at me. The friend who knows her comes over to me. She is upset with me, my friend says. She says I’m ruining her birthday. Upsetting her on her day. She says I shouldn’t be there with my broken leg as its inappropriate and she doesn’t like the look of it. She said I’m scaring her and making her worry.
I feel blindsided.
“Are you sure she said that?” I say to my friend. It just doesn’t sound like something anyone would say.
Then I’m told that her guests don’t understand why I’m sitting there, they think I’m being selfish and miserable not joining in. They wonder why I can’t get up and dance along with their birthday girl like everyone else. One of them comes over to me and tells me I don’t have a broken leg, it’s only sprained. Why can’t I just get up and stop complaining? That I’m causing trouble and, for god sake woman, pull yourself together. You’re upsetting the birthday girl. How selfish. Can you not see how much fun everyone is having while you’re stressing about a small sprain?
I am confused further.
“But my leg”
“It really hurts”
“and it keeps getting knocked. I’m much better out the way. I’m fine over here, really”
The birthday girl and her guests shake their heads disapprovingly.
I lower my head. I feel myself sink. My friends tell me not to let it bother me. That my pain is obvious and I must look after myself. Leave the party if it helps. Go and rest up and come back when I’m ready.
Back to reality and I’m not at a party and I do not have a broken leg. It’s not even my birthday for another 2.5 months. But I do have crippling anxiety due to the daily triggers, which are completely unavoidable. What I am trying to say is that mental health is just as valid as physical health. Grieving is like being physically broken. You physically ache all over. But there are no plaster casts for grief. No obvious signs of pain. No one knows how much of a struggle it is to face normal everyday things.
Sometimes I just need to put myself out of harms way. To avoid hurting. To have a break and a breather. Sometimes I have to hide the very things that are triggering me in order to mend and it is not a dig at anyone. If I have to hide you because you are pregnant or have a newborn, it is not because I don’t like you and it is not because of anything you have done. The only thing I ask is for you to say to me “Hey, no worries at all, it is understandable, and I hope you feel better soon” and carry on with your own joy in the way you should. That is all I ask.
Thing is, I’m currently trying to find my path and it’s very much hidden. Remember that film The Labyrinth? I’m Sarah, trying to reach baby Toby, but the route keeps changing. Just when I think I’ve worked it out, I fall down a hole or someone or something comes along and moves a wall. Or what seems like a through-route, isn’t. Nothing is what it seems.
Mostly I am OK. Not always. Sometimes I appear OK. But underneath, buried deep, is a grieving mummy. Every single night I plead with myself, with the cosmos, the stars, the universe, anything. I plead that all this is just a terrible nightmare. I plead that I will wake up with my hand on my growing bump or look over and see my sleeping baby asleep in her Moses basket. That I’ll wake with that beautiful glow again. That euphoria I had. The same one those birthday girls have.
But my wish never comes true. This nightmare is real and I must learn to ride it.
I have learnt an awful lot about human responses since we lost little Emily. I’ve discovered that, as hurtful as some people can be, it is actually society that has made them this way. We do not talk enough and, as a race, humans do not always have much patience for feelings and can often ignore the pain in others when we are too caught up in our own lives. Favouring to stick by those who are experiencing joy.
On the flip side, the majority of people have been awesome. This awful experience has brought me so much closer to so many people, and has taught me to think about what might be going on beneath their own smiles. To not leave it months and months before checking up on someone. To understand that it is OK not to be OK.
Pregnant friends even, (hi to those of you reading!) have completely understood my feelings and have allowed me to back off for a bit, they knew it wasn’t personal. They knew I just needed time and space to recover. It made me realise that I am surprisingly sometimes OK around pregnant friends. Those who are supportive and are interested in what has happened. These are the people who will ultimately help me to overcome my triggers. Their kindness, empathy and patience has helped me to realise that, actually, I can do this.
Is it OK not to be OK?
Yes. Keep sitting back and watching. Your broken leg will heal and, if you need to leave the party, leave the fucking party! And if you’re not welcome back, then grab your friends and find another party.
Then, one day you will realise that, actually, you are OK.