The loss of my bunny; Pixie (you can read more about her death here) has really shown me a lot more about grief and that has included recognising the importance of having help and support…
A huge motivation in me maintaining I’m NOT Disordered and my safety, is my hope that my experiences are helping others in some way. The notion that I didn’t go through all that I have for no reason has been massively reassuring and a positive step in my mental health recovery. It has given me hope. Hope that all those hard lessons I’ve had to learn, were worthwhile. Like they were thrown at me for a reason.
So, similarly to my mental health, I want to use my experiences around grief, loss, and bereavement to help others safely navigate (in my opinion) one of the most difficult emotions you can go through. Having lost Pixie almost two weeks ago, I’ve turned to numerous things to help and support me to cope with my grief in a healthy way, and I thought I’d share what I have found the most beneficial for my mental health:
So firstly, practical items – chosen from Etsy…
Learning the Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) skill of self-soothe in the section of the Therapy labelled ‘Distress Tolerance,’ I was initially kind of reluctant to tell people how helpful I found it because I was so worried it would give others selfish, materialistic connotations about me. As though hearing that washing my hair could help my mental health meant two things:
1. I can’t have been that unwell if something so simple could make a difference
2. I must be really shallow and self-obsessed if I felt I had to do something for me to help me
Gradually, though, I began to warm to the idea of telling others what I found helpful because I found that sometimes, when I was in a mental health crisis, I needed to be reminded by others of the coping skills and mechanisms that were helpful. As though my head was so focused on being unsafe that there was no room to entertain healthy thoughts like those around what I could be doing to keep myself safe. So, telling the hospital staff, and then the professionals who would continue my care in the community after being discharged, was pretty necessary and in recognizing that, I had to just swallow my pride and ignore any concerns as to what others would think of me.
Aside from that worry, I also had to battle thoughts and beliefs that I actually didn’t deserve to self-soothe because I didn’t deserve to feel any better than how I felt in my hardest moments. And overcoming this was so difficult, but the mindset which got me through was recognizing that whilst my life was in shreds and my emotional and physical (through self-harm) pain was high, my abuser was absolutely fine! He was still married, still have two children, still had his job where he was in a position to repeat his behaviours, and more than likely, wasn’t hurting himself or even feeling guilty for what he had done to me… This became motivation to take better care of myself because if anyone deserved to be unhappy; it’s him. Not me.
In losing my bunny, this method of self-soothing has been helpful because it’s given me the conviction that Pixie wouldn’t want me to be unhappy and that if having a lovely shower or doing my hair is helpful; she’d want me to go to town with it!
MOOD Shea Body Butter: £20.00
Lunar Dust Bath Brew: £9.94
Lavender Epsom Bath Salts: £6.50
Contemporary Collection: £2.95
Botanical Bath Bombs: £8.00
In my years of utilizing the DBT self-soothe skill, I’ve also come to learn that there’s another side to it: you can also self-soothe through your environment.
Having spent two and a half years as an inpatient of a psychiatric hospital, and numerous years in and out of medical hospitals, having a lovely, happy, environment means a lot to me. Sometimes, I look around my home and think ‘how did I basically live in one bedroom for two and a half years?!’ I mean, I’m definitely a fan of spending time by myself and yet I lived in a hospital where everywhere outside of my en suite bedroom was shared, communal space.
So, having an entire home for myself was initially – and still occasionally is – a shock to the system and a huge reason why I’ve been so skeptical and reluctant to have anyone e.g., a boyfriend, move in with me. Since moving into my home in December 2014, I’ve been very determined that I be happy with it; in terms of the decoration and furniture etc. I’ve had to save money on a few occasions to buy furniture that I’ve really wanted but couldn’t afford, and there’s two big things I’d still like to change (my settee and my bed) but having recently had all the interior doors replaced and a few painting projects in the kitchen and bedroom, it really feels like my home. Which, on my first viewing of the home, I didn’t think would be possible because the décor was so dated and there were so many adaptions for the physical disabilities the previous tenants have had.
Having self-harmed and been sectioned in my Mum’s home, I started to lose sight of it being my ‘safe place,’ and I think that’s a really important quality for your home to have – a sense of being happy and safe when you’re inside it. Obviously, I’ve self-harmed in my home too but adding my pets to the home and then as my mental health has improved, I’ve started to view it as my little haven and somewhere that I look forward to being in. If I’ve been to an event or a meeting or an appointment, I find myself excited to go home.
Feeling that way about little one-bedroom bungalow has meant that all the little bits and pieces matter to me and make a difference to my mental health…
In losing Pixie, I feel that the atmosphere in my home has been fairly erratic in terms of it being helpful sometimes and then, also, my least favourite place at other times! I think a big contribution to this has been the erratic grief that I and my cat (who was Pixie’s best-friend!) have been experiencing. Emmy (my cat) was initially very distressed and frantically trying to access the room Pixie’s things used to be, so on the advice of the Vets, I bought the Feliway plug-in and used an electrical socket next to the room she was upset around and within a day or two Emmy became much calmer, more relaxed, and less unsettled. Seeing that improvement in her, has obviously also had an impact on myself and how I view our home because in losing Pixie, it felt as though a piece was missing and it just wasn’t a happy household to be a part of. It’s meant that using products like the ones below, have been really beneficial…
Lavender Soy Candle - £10.99
Birth Flower Personalized Candle - £16.00
Aromatherapy Candles: £6.00
Grey Large Blanket: £34.99
Natural Sheep Wool Boots: £24.99
Finding a healthy outlet for my thoughts and feelings has been really monumental and essential in my mental health recovery because before discovering it, I turned to really unsafe and dangerous behaviours.
From a very young age, I’ve been creative and have always enjoyed writing in particular, so I don’t think it was a huge surprise to find that blogging has helped my mental health so much. I mean, the surprise component of it was probably that my blog is in the position it is today in terms of popularity and the opportunities it has afforded me. But those opportunities and that success and sense of achievement, have definitely added to my passion in using writing/blogging as an outlet.
I think I’ve found it particularly helpful in my difficulty around putting my thoughts and feelings into actual words that I could say out loud. Part of this was the notion of shame and embarrassment around mental health in general. Then, after talking about the hallucinations I’d be hospitalized so it became more about being worried that talking about my experiences, thoughts, and feelings would lead to that response from professionals.
After being in a psychiatric hospital for almost one year, I think I just sort of had the stark realization that I wouldn’t be discharged any time soon if I didn’t start opening up and talking to the staff. It was almost as though I had nothing to lose because I was already an inpatient, and then I found that writing and blogging was a sort of gentle introduction back into talking honestly and openly about my mental health.
In grieving for Pixie, writing/blogging has obviously been something I’ve turned to as an outlet and a means to try and make sense of the loss and to process it in a way that wasn’t overwhelming or hugely unproductive. I think that my mindset that talking about your own experiences can support others going through these things to feel less alone and to have hope, has helped in motivating me to write and blog in a more deep and meaningful way.
Personalized Notebook: £13.95
Recycled A5 Notebooks: £9.00
Starry Lined Notebook: £15.00
Eco Friendly Paper Pens: £6.99
Zebra Z-Grip Smooth Pastel - £2.99
Of course, there are so many other ways to be creative…
Paintbrush Holder: £9.99
Paint Your Own Bunny: £13.50
Candle Making Kit: £22.99
Beginners Cheese Making Kit: £7.99
In keeping with the creative activities, I learnt through my blogging that distracting myself was a helpful coping strategy for my thoughts and feelings of grief.
Whilst keeping busy or doing something enjoyable can sometimes take your focus from something upsetting, it has taken me a few years to really find the balance between distracting from things and just out-right avoiding them! One of the ‘five stages of grief’ is about acceptance and I guess that really comes into play here because being aware that I struggle with this has meant I’ve been very cautious when choosing activities and, in particular, when choosing how long to do them for (I’ve found that saying “I’ll watch one film on Netflix and then I’ll…” is more helpful than putting Netflix on and just getting lost in your Watchlist for hours!).
Accepting the loss (no matter what it may be because all grief is valid) is hugely important stage or process which may often feel like it’s ‘over’ before the challenging thoughts and feelings seem to return again! So I think experiencing something so difficult over and over again will very naturally and understandably leave you reluctant to continue to put any level of concentration into it.
I think another aspect of using distraction activities which I’ve struggled with since losing Pixie was the notion that I shouldn’t be doing something to purposely not think about her. I shouldn’t ever have a ‘break’ from thinking about her because in doing so, it’d be like saying that she wasn’t that important. I’ve learnt to tackle this difficulty by reminding myself that the distraction isn’t to forget about Pixie; it’s to allow me the best possible chance of not becoming overwhelmed, and not turning to unhealthy coping skills.
Being organized has always been something I’ve kind of excelled at! When I was younger it was about having different notebooks for different short stories and even more practical things like the fact that my bedroom was never a mess!
However, when my mental health deteriorated it felt as though my life just dissolved into chaos because my thoughts and feelings were so erratic and inconsistent that I couldn’t seem to bring any sense of order into things. I went through that for three years until the Community Mental Health Team took on the recommendation of a Psychiatrist, that I be admitted to a long-term, specialist, psychiatric hospital. I had one assessment for a nearby ward but they refused to accept my flight risk, so the Ward Manager and Charge Nurse from a hospital over 100 miles away came to see me…
They asked me questions and then – unlike the previous assessment – told me about the ward and the hospital and what I could expect from being an inpatient there. They told me of the locked doors, the timetabled days of therapeutic groups, Dialectical Behaviour Therapy 1:1 and group sessions, morning meetings and reflections with the entire ward, bedtimes, and the consequences if you manage to self-harm whilst an inpatient. The thought of having such a routine in my life was a little bit intimidating and scary after having gotten accustomed to my usual days of uncertainty and unpredictable experiences.
Of course, in the end, it was so beneficial for my mental health recovery. It began to feel refreshing and comforting to know what I would be doing every minute of the day. It seemed to really settle my emotions and leave me feeling literally incapable of self-harming because I just didn’t have the time to do it!
I think that being in that very regulated hospital for two and a half years, really put me in a better position for the organization it would take after moving into my own home in 2014.
In my grief for the loss of Pixie, I’ve found being organized and productive really helpful because similarly to when my mental health deteriorated, the grief has come in waves and having a level of structure to aspects of my life has been really stabilizing and reassuring.
Affirmation Desk Calendar: £10.00
Daily Agenda: £7.00
Weekly Planner Pad: £12.50
Weekly Meal Planner: £10.00
Dream Planner: £9.95
In looking through notebooks and planners, I found the thought that in addition to using them for general organization, you could also utilize them in recording any memories around the loss – obviously this is particularly relevant where the loss stems from a death.
I think that doing something like putting focus and attention on memories of a loved one is a bit of a debatable activity. For some people, consciously not thinking about happy times is a coping method and the thought of any memories surfacing feels overwhelming and upsetting. For others (including me!) talking and thinking about memories with that loved one is something that can actually make them smile.
I have so many lovely memories of Pixie running around the garden, being sat on by my cat; Emmy(!), following me down the long corridor in my house, and jumping on the bed to paw at my leg until I stroked her. Yes, thinking about these things can make me cry, but I’m also so grateful to have those memories and to be able to hold onto them to replace all of the ones when she was poorly.
One hugely beneficial resource in my mental health recovery and in my grief, has been having inspiration…
I think it’s fairly common for people to find it helpful, comforting, and reassuring to hear of someone else going through the same things as you, but who has made it out the other side. I know that whenever I’ve talked about the fact that two of my suicide attempts left me on life support, I’ve had a lot of messages from people saying it’s a relief to know – from seeing me – that you can come back from that. That you can feel better.
One challenge, I’ve found in looking for this sort of inspiration has been that it’s sometimes really upsetting to hear – or just to know – that someone else has gone through something you may deem to be the worst moments of your life. That there’s another person in the world who has experienced a pain similar to your own.
Another difficulty in looking for inspiration in others, is the danger of it becoming about comparison and that you start to use the experiences of others to determine just how important yours are. As though hearing someone who has experienced more ‘losses’ than yours suddenly means yours isn’t valid. As though you shouldn’t be so upset because there are people out there going through ‘worse.’ It’s such a common challenge in mental health because – especially as an inpatient – you’re likely to hear of some horrific experiences of others and perhaps it’s natural to use them as some sort of comparison, but it isn’t always healthy.
So, it’s really important that you find a balance in these things. That you use someone else’s story as to inspire hope rather a sadness that they’ve felt similar to you. That you use any comparison in a way that encourages you to put your experiences into some form of perspective rather than a reason to invalidate them.
Bereavement Poem Print: £9.99
Grief Support Gift: £4.50
With Sympathy Gift Box: £25.00
Loss Bracelet: £7.99
Grief and Loss Flower Essence: £12.00
SUPPORT FROM OTHERS:
The simple act of acknowledging that you need help or support from others can be challenging in itself; never mind having to try to find a person or an organization both willing and able to help you in the way you feel that you require.
Similarly, to accessing services to help and support your mental health in general, there are too few, too under-funded, and too over-subscribed services for help through loss and grief.
In losing Pixie, I was reluctant to talk to my GP or even a pet bereavement support service because of the fear that losing a bunny wouldn’t be deemed as significant enough to make me worthy of their help and support.
After speaking with my local Crisis Team, and my GP, I finally made the call to Talking Matters Northumberland and was very pleasantly relieved to find that the girl who answered the phone and took my details, actually had two house rabbits so she was really better placed in relating with what I was saying and how I was feeling. And it was honestly so overwhelming (in the best possible way!) to finally feel really understood by someone outside of my circle of family and friends.
That feeling, has really inspired me in creating the image below which contains so many useful contact details of UK helplines for someone grieving; I really hope it helps at least one person reading this…