Welcome to my blog Wellness after Loss
“It is only in darkness that we can see stars”
This is the post excerpt.
Welcome to my blog Wellness after Loss
“It is only in darkness that we can see stars”
The Natural healing power of the Sea, and what it has taught me in the last four months is what I want to share with you. Nature is a power above and beyond us.
Before Christmas I decided to ditch my wetsuit and head to the beach in the middle of an Irish winter in a Bikini, with a towel, a hot flask of tea, and an open mind. I went to my local beach, to find others crazy Irish people there, with the same thing in mind as me, to breathe and then swim in the sea. We sat at dawn watching the sun rise, and we practised the Wim Hoff Method of breathing, I knew nothing of it then. But I was inspired, and when I entered the water, I understood what that inspiration was.
The door was now open, the horse had bolted! A few weeks later, on New Years Day 2019, I planned a non-wetsuit birthday swim, with hot flasks of tea, birthday cake and great friends. It was a cold winters day, it was dark and the dawn was breaking, my friends and I sat, practised our breathing, and then….jumped in. Since then I swim every weekend, and every weekend it gets better, the distance gets a little further, and I connect more and more to myself and to the sea.
When my sister and I were young, our parents took us travelling, we were blessed, we saw much of the world, we experienced diversity, wonders, cultures and adventures. We made friends on our travels, and our parents allowed us to explore. One day my sister, myself and our new local friend we were out swimming in the sea, in what used to be an old derelict harbour, we got into trouble, couldn’t swim properly and nearly drowned.
Grief, Loss & Trauma are all parts that make up who I am, but I am also made up of kindness, love and hope, with a little bit of chaos thrown in there! I’ve had many life changing events, that have proved to push me beyond the limits of hopelessness and fear, into a place of hope. Those events in life have shaped me today, although they instilled anxiety and fear within me, I have learnt appreciation, gratitude and most of all, how to love, and how to face my fears with shame never too far away. A childhood of let downs, abuse and neglect, yet sugar coated with privileges of a good school, riding horses in a middle class setting. I grew up with friends who appeared to ‘have it all’ good school, great secure families, self-esteem and security. I watched only in envy to have but a nugget of what they had. I felt I only had a heavy, lonely heart that had been left out to dry in the cold, and an empty void of loss which began with my mothers death at age eleven.
Trauma has sat patiently with me my whole life, it fluctuates regularly and my body holds the score. Like an engine that is not finely tuned, that requires care, maintenance, support, love, patience and repair. Thats where the sea swimming comes in, it re-regulates me, it re-aligns by nervous system, it balances my mental chatter and it brings me to the present moment. It shocks me into balance, it’s my natural healer.
Week after week my son and I wake early, make a hot flask of herbal tea, and we take to the sea, with our two small dogs, there we meet our regular sea swimming friends who have been with us since New Year, we meet, greet, strip down on the cold dark mornings, breathe then head for the water. This is what it is about, friendships, laughs, fears, unknowns, love and support. Before we enter the water, we breathe, we go silent, we listen to the sea as it moves, words are not needed, only presence. The presence of a friendship that has unspoken words, there is a stillness. Each of us has our pains in the body, some have migraines, some have injuries, some can’t swim well, and some feel sad from life’s troubles, but what brings us together is the water, it unites us, it holds us in a space of ‘here and now’ is allows our bodies to heal from the pain, it allows us to reset our minds, it brings us to the fore, for that moment of submersion we are at one with the sea, there is it and us, we are insignificant in the grandeur of the big sea. Silence becomes the group, we swim apart, and each search for whatever it is we are looking for. A relief, a release, a hope, a remedy, a calmness, a clearing out, but most of all, it brings us to love and it brings us to the now. We get out, dry off, warm up over a hot cup gently cradled in our cold hands, and we chat.
Is it that the sea is powerful and unforgiving, is it that it heals, is it the boldness of the untamed waters that we feel drawn to, or is it all of the above? Nobody really knows, all we know is it has a natural beauty that no man can create, it has a ruggedness that is un-tameable, its a power unto itself. Loss played a role in my life, I lost both my parents, and I lost a baby, the loss in my life has made me appreciate what I do have, and the sea has taught me to accept what is, and to be at one with my grief. To take on each day as a new day. To be bold. To love beyond limits, to listen, and to learn from others. It has taught me that there is much about life we cannot explain, that hope is everywhere. Nature is a healer in life and that there is great strength and power in the simple things.
Grief and loss are all consuming, grief is a powerful and painful emotion that after a loss is normal, we experience a deep sense of pain throughout our body, that is un-describable, there are no quick fixes to grief, no tablets to heal the sadness and no treatments to fix the gaping wound left after a loss, there no knowing when that grief may come back around, no time-lines and no preparation for when it comes back and give us a hard thump in the chest. Grief is grief. There is no way of teetering around it, it is a deep sense of loss.
I have been on a roller coaster of grief in my life, loss has hit me from many angles, from losing my mum, then my dad, losing my family home, then my baby. What it has taught me though and is still teaching me, is nothing is permanent, and nothing is secure, and there are certainly no guarantees in life.
For me nature is my healer, my grounding source and my strength. Nature is my go to, my drug of choice, and my friend. I have a need to be in nature, its a life source for me, it fills up my tanks when they are low, it re-calibrates my heart and my anxious body. It re-aligns me when I am at a loss and it guides me to a peaceful mind. In nature I can heal, I can be silent in my thoughts and my words, and it gives me so much yet expects nothing in return. The trees stand in silence, they do not judge, they do not comment, they do not resist, they stand and they let the wind, sun, rain, snow and ice spin around them without judgement, they do not weep, they do not feel resentment. They just are.
Nature is beautiful in all its forms, winter, summer, spring and autumn, there is no bad weather, just inappropriate clothing, I will go into the weather no matter the season, no matter the extreme, its all just weather. I find peace there, I find myself there, I find hope.
Hope is what we all search for in loss, my hope is that when I wake up in the morning and step outside that this will be a good day, and that I am open to all that may happen in this day, be it good or bad. Consider a walk today in nature, anywhere any time, nature is all around us, even in the concrete jungles of our cities, there is beauty, stop to pause, look up, listen to the birds, look for the beauty around you, it is there, we just have to tune into it, listen for the signs and be open to the stillness, be mindful where you go, feel your feet on the ground as you walk, if the body aches, be mindful of those aches, breathe into the body, and be at peace with your grief, your grief is there to help you heal, it is there to allow sorrow in our hearts, it is there for a reason, allow nature to walk with you in your grief and sorrow, allow nature to help you heal, allow nature to give you hope in your life…..
Sleep in our life is generally not focused on, yet its one of the most powerful, natural healers we have within us. In times of grief, sleep is even more integral in healing the body than any other times, yet can often be the hardest thing to do.
Grief is all encompassing, it takes over every cell in our body, leaving us depleted, anxious, and overwhelmed. When I came back from the maternity hospital I had spent two days in, I was completely lost, confused, and exhausted, more emotionally than physically, and that can be the worst kind of exhaustion, because the mind is so full and over worked, yet the body is on edge, hyper sensitive, and full of grief.
Sleep for me was a place I eventually went to when my body just gave up in the evenings, I would eventually fall into a sleep of confusion only to wake some hours later, in total emptiness for those first few minutes I had ‘forgotten’ my grief only to be flooded back with it some minutes into my wake, this was a pattern I had fallen into, I became asleep when awake and awake when asleep. Totally all over the place. Little did I know this was normal.
Sleep is needed for the body’s repair, without sleep we cannot recalibrate our body or our minds, we cannot re-charge, and our body’s homeostasis is out of balance. In grief our body holds the experiences of our grief deep in our cells, we are restless, unsettled, tired most of the time, yet awake for hours during the night, when our brain is in “chimp’ mode and overactive with thoughts of immense sadness.
What can we do to help ourselves, NOT ‘get over’ our grief, NOT ‘forget’ about it for a short time, but to move through our grief, feel it, allow it to be there, allow ourselves to feel sad.
Sleep is about quality not quantity, being kind to yourself, and allowing the grief, instead of pushing it away, if we push it away it goes ‘somewhere’ and comes back out time and time again.
Its January 2019, Winter in Ireland, and yes, I am sea swimming in a bikini. The journey of grief and loss has its place, and my journey is no more complicated, no sadder, no more tragic than another’s story, the only difference is, I write about it, and the reason I do, is because I hope my writings can inspire, help or motivate others to know there is life and hope after loss.
Why did I start swimming? My birthday is January 1st. Instead of a big party, a lunch out with friends, wine and the works, I sat for a while and thought, Ok Alannah you are turning 43, what is it that you love?
Easy answer for me…I love nature, I love the outdoors, I love breath in the body, I love early mornings, I love a challenge, I love my friends, I love my little family and I love simplicity…. so for me it was simple…A New Years Day Sunrise Swim!
I invited my friends, their kids & dogs, whoever! and those who came, came, it was perfect, It was cold but dry, dark turning light, exhilarating. Everyone arrived sleepy, solemn, shivery and unimpressed, a lot of huffs and puffs….we sat and faced the sea & the sunrise and practised our breathing, calmed the body and mind, silence befell, all you could hear was breath.
Then it was into the water, the cold Irish Sea, for a plunge, a dip, a swim, a whatever….This powerful natural resource we have at our finger tips gives us healing beyond any other. It offers increased energy, better sleep, heightened focus, improved circulation, increased willpower, reduced stress levels, greater tolerance, faster injury recovery, enhanced creativity, stronger immune system, control over mental chatter, inner strength and calmness. All from a natural resource available to all of us, all of my learning about the breath and the healing from the cold water have come from Wim Hof an extraordinary man known as the Ice Man, a Dutch extreme athlete noted for his ability to withstand cold and extreme temperatures, known as the Wim Hof Method of breathing techniques.
What I saw on the faces of my friends as they ran out, a look of pure delight shouting “I did it!” “Wow” “that was amazing…..etc” And that it is….we brought hot flasks of tea, we dressed and we chatted as the sun rose behind our backs, the dogs and kids ran around. It was a coming together, a belonging, a collectiveness of people brought together out doing something that made them feel empowered, alive and energised. I have since tried to swim most days, the days I can’t, I accept life gets in the way, the days I can, then I do. I am an ordinary person, who has been through hard times, I don’t claim to say anything is easy, I do however know the benefits of a healthy body, I do know what its like to feel so much grief in my body, that I can barely move, I know how long it took me to move through my grief and I know at times it felt too hard.
But I also know I am lucky to be alive, to have my breath, my little family, I am able to move my body with less pain and I have choices on this earth, choices to live life to the full and not to live my life in the past.
I read a lot about the ‘business’ of Christmas and the ‘how to guide to survive Christmas with your family’ all good intentions of course, and all tongue in cheek & humorous. Spare a thought however to the lonely folk, the ones who have nobody to call family. The children who have lost their parents, the elderly who have lost their lifelong love. And the parents who have lost their babies.
There are many who have tried for more babies after a loss, but were never blessed with live children. I come across these mums and I see broken hearts, broken dreams, broken ‘could be’s’. I see sadness in their eyes, lost hope and loss.
The loss of a baby is one that is not easy to explain, and for many mums, its a turn that took place in their lives that changed them forever. I dedicate this little piece of writing to those mums who’s babies never stayed, and who after losing a baby were never pregnant again, I dedicate this to their heavy hearts, their sad eyes, their empty cots and their Christmas without a little stocking under the tree.
I will start with my own story, I am blessed to have an 8 year old, then two years ago I lost my baby girl, I named her Sally, she is buried with my parents.
One question nobody ever asked me after her loss, or since, “Alannah would you ever like another baby” the reason is because I was a single mum. And only out of the goodness of peoples hearts, their thoughts instead were “phew isn’t that a relief, how could she have done that by herself” two children with no fathers.
Those words were never said, but thought, it was always and only meant out of the goodness of people that they felt this for me. What I did find disappointing is that nobody asked me whether I wanted more children, if you had have asked me, the answer was a screaming shouting YES! I love children, I would have loved a tribe of them. But that was not meant to be and I am in a place of acceptance, and peace that I will not have more children biologically, I am just about to turn 43, and I know my body it is changing…coming to the place acceptance was hard.
Christmas is not an easy time for loss mums, for those who lost babies around this time it brings up memories of Doctors appointments where they find no heart beat, waiting rooms of happy mums yet you know your baby has an illness that will not see them live past birth, devastating scans, grief and pain. It brings up a loss felt so deep its like somebody cut you open from the inside out and pulled out your heart. Every cell in your body aches, you feel pain where you never did before, the pain is the grief that sits in the body after a loss and has nowhere to go…..it builds up, it manifests, and it grabs onto the body to stay alive.
As a mum, I offer this to other mums who are in the midst of their grief and loss, grief does not end, does not go away, but you find a way to navigate through it, the early days of pain are intense but do ease. Its normal to not want to get out of bed, move or be social in every day life. Its normal to want to shy away from the “festivities” Christmas is hard, and you are going to struggle, but as every year carries forward, the pain becomes a little less intense.
If you are reading this as a friend of a mum who has lost a baby, perhaps a small bit of advise, check in with that friend, she may push you away (more than once) keep checking in, ask her her baby’s name, ask her would she like to talk about her pain, ask her would she like to take a walk with you, ask her is she ok……
Loneliness is real, it comes in the form of loss and grief, in these short cold days over Christmas I wish all mums and dads well, take walks in nature, breathe, eat healthy food, rest your tired body, talk to someone you can confide in and who will listen. Take a moment to pause and think of the parents who never had the opportunity to celebrate the birth of a live baby, to never put a small stocking under the tree at Christmas or to never write a letter to santa. Bare a thought to the parent who this Christmas Day will visit a small grave instead.
Ouch just writing it causes me to shift in my chair, SHAME is a word that has neon lights brighter than the moon glaring down on me…Shame is something I have carried with me for much of my life, in fact for as far back as I can remember. Nobody taught me shame, I created it within myself, I held it close and I owned it.
The shame of being the skinny kid, the non eater in our family, I drove my mum mad with my non-eating, yet I managed to live quite successfully on fresh air and sugar! growing up in Bath England, my memories are sweet a beautiful simple home, in a beautiful city. We moved and travelled around the world for two years when I was 7, this was when I had my first taste of travel, cultures beyond the streets of bath were upon us, adventures only seen in books, looking back it was the most influential experience my parents offered my sister and I, lucky us, because their lives were taken short, tragically, so I am lucky to have those memories.
My shame gremlins have been in my pocket my whole life, they make sure I know they are there, and they used to raise their heads often, it was only when I started my own personal work on myself later in life, and for the first time, started to face my life story, speak my story and own my story. I thought by speaking my story that was enough to face my shame gremlins, but I still get surprised how prevalent they are in situations I don’t expect. So by writing about my shame, my feelings of discomfort, and sharing it with others, I only hope it is helpful, and not a hindrance. Shame hit me hard after the loss of my baby, my body failed her, I let her down, I am not good enough, I didn’t deserve her, these were all ‘normal’ thoughts that swirled around my head for some months after the loss, I hated the discomfort I felt, I hated myself for what had happened, how it had happened, I blamed myself completely, I became lost in the confusion of the loss, I became angry, depressed, lost in my grief, and I felt alone. I know there were friends and family out there who tried to help, but my anger and personal disappointment pushed people away.
I have shame around my relationships, my choices and my actions, I am hard on myself, harder than I ever realised I was, I am my own worst critic, we all are. So, in working with my shame, staring it in the eye, and most of all, finding compassion within myself for the first time, has helped me to dim the neon light of shame, and expose it to the light, making it less intense and less powerful within my body. Bereavement trauma has been a theme in my life throughout, and I have often wondered why?….are we given situations because we can ‘handle’ them?…. no, life is life, and death is death. And on a very long, dirty, twisty road of confusion within myself, I have come back to the start of that road and realised that I am blessed, blessed for what I have experienced and blessed compared to so many others who’s lives have been devastating.
I face my fears every day, I wake up with a new attitude of hope and excitement that this will be a good day, I have a beautiful simple life, my shame sits patiently within me, always ready to jump out, when I least expect, its up to me to be ready for it, and my readiness is based around compassion, trusting myself, surrounding myself with those I trust and those I know care about me, I learnt to keep away from those who do not have my best interest at heart. I also learnt that the compassion comes from nobody other than myself, and my own ability to quieten my inner critic at times of shame, anxiety and worry, those are especially the times when I look for kindness within myself. The loss of my parents and baby have taught me many lessons, and one of those is to LIVE. They are not here, but I am, so what can I do to make a difference, albeit small.
I am not perfect, but a work in progress, my deepest enjoyment is to learn about life, be a mum, listen to others stories, respect nature and hopefully give a small nugget of hope as a Psychotherapist, back to those in the counselling room who see only darkness.
New Beginnings come in all shapes and sizes, my new beginnings have started from a place of loss, but were it not for the loss and sadness I am not sure would I be where I am today, so for that I am grateful. 2018 marks the beginning of my career as a Trainee Counsellor & Psychotherapist, incorporating body and mind health and wellness, Fit Body Fit Mind. My work with clients is a privilege one I do not take for granted. I hope with my life’s experiences I can help others face theirs.
My life, a little unconventional is how I ended up where I am today……
I was born into a family in Bath England with a big sister two years older than I, a simple, fun family not without its flaws, my adventurous parents sold all they had and took us both travelling around the world, my mother home schooled us while travelling. But what our education was, was the experience, we saw wonders beyond dreams and story books. We climbed mountains in the snow, wearing runners and ponchos well before there was ski trousers and ski jackets, we had sherpas carry our gear, and on the tricky slopes, (I was 8) I was carried on a sherpas back to stop me from falling off the mountain, we ate porridge in the evenings and slept in monasteries with barely any lighting and no heating. We were the only fair haired, pale skinned people on the mountain, to which we received much curiosity, I am still bought back to the smells, the cold, the wet feet and the ice cold finger tips. Although it feels like so long ago, my love for nature, snow, adventure, and the outdoors is still strong. My parents were brave, they took chances, they LIVED! As Elizabeth Kubler Ross says “Most of us fight and resist loss throughout our lives not understanding that life is loss, and loss is life”.
My mother died shortly after we arrived home from our big travels, tragically killed in a horse riding accident in the Royal Dublin Society Horse Show in 1986, I was there when it happened…… a ‘freak’ accident they called it. Many elders remember that day, none as clear as my sister and I, we followed her ambulance to the hospital, watched as we were told she would not survive. She died that day….I was eleven.
when I was 17 I was left homeless, and went to live with an old aunt in an old house, it was cold, damp, and lonely, but my aunt was a wonderful woman, and I knew I was safe, I finished school and packed my bags and headed for a warmer climate…Australia.
Years later I was awoken in the middle of the night by a call to say my father was in ICU…I arrived in Dublin early the next morning, and taken straight to my fathers bedside by my sister and uncle in time to turn off the life support machine…….it was 9am in the morning.
When I returned to my life, home, job in Australia, I finally realised I had been living in an unhealthy relationship, neither happy nor supportive, so I packed my bags left my life in Australia after 10 years behind, and moved home to Ireland with nothing except a suitcase and my self-esteem.
Since being home I was blessed with a baby boy, who is now eight, and two years ago a baby girl. My baby girl died. Sadness flooded back into my life, but I found peace by burying her in my mothers grave, with my fathers ashes, I knew my parents would take care of her.
My journey to now has been a bumpy, twisty, pot-holey road of chaos, sadness heartbreak and tears, but it has also been a journey of hope, inspiration, strength, learning, belief and new beginnings. If I can help just one person see the light where all there is, is darkness then thats my job well done. We all have choices in life, we don’t all choose what happens to us, but we get to choose how we respond to those life challenges.