Thursday, June 28, 2012

Cheap Therapy

When Ella died, I didn’t want to talk to anyone.  Wait.  Scratch that.  I didn’t want to talk to anyone professional – doctor, therapist, counselor.  I didn’t see how it could help.  I barely wanted to talk to family and friends, so I certainly wasn’t going to open up to a complete stranger.  I also didn’t feel like talking to other bereaved parents in group settings.  It just didn’t seem like a comforting idea to me, and my logic, however faulty or flawed, was that talking wasn’t going to bring my daughter back, so why “waste” my time?

I’m still on the fence with regard to talking to a grief counselor or going to a support group.  I’m not ruling those out as possibilities in the future, but for now, I’m sort of using some cheap therapy to help me.  No, I’m not talking about beer.  It’s cheap to be sure and super dooper tasty, but I don’t think being in a drunken stupor would be that therapeutic.  Yummy, but not therapeutic.  The perfect accompaniment to chips and salsa, but not therapeutic.

Nope.  My cheap therapies are pretty basic, run of the mill, routine activities that have helped me in the months since my sweet girl died.  While I don’t discount the good work that therapists, counselors, and support groups do by any means, I’ve found my own brand of therapy that’s working for now.

Walking – Initially, the idea of taking long walks through my neighborhood depressed the ever loving crap out of me.  I had always imagined taking my daughter on walks, pushing her in the stroller and enjoying that outside time together.  That small dream was no longer, so why leave the house at all?

Well, the boys were in school.  Family had all gone home after the funeral.  I was alone and lonely at home, and sitting on my butt just wasn’t cutting it anymore.  So I got up and out.  I started walking for about an hour a day – long, fast walks that made me sweat.  Long walks during which I cried at random intervals, muttered a lot, prayed even more, talked to God and yelled at Him, and thought about my sweet baby.  I walked through the mourning and sweated out the grief. 

There are still days when I just don’t want to get off my hind end to leave the house.  Those are the days when my husband gently reminds me that “once you get out the door and get started, you’ll be fine.  (You) just have to get out the door.”  He’s so wise.  And hot.  ;) 

So many times I think what I want to hear is an affirmation of my own lazy lack of motivation, but what I need to hear is the encouragement that he gives me.  And he’s right.  I always feel much better after a walk than I did when I started it.

Watching what I eat – Weird one, huh?  There’s a crazy logic to it, though.  I could have very easily let myself go, so to speak, once I got back home from the hospital and made it through the funeral.  I could have eaten crap all day, gained weight like it was nobody’s business and been fat and happy.  Or at least fat.

But I didn’t do that.  Once I got back and lived in my own home again, I could better control what I ate.  No more hospital fast food, no more “guess who’s coming to make dinner?” meals at the RMH, no more day-old Starbucks pastries for breakfast.  Being home meant that I could take control of my diet and my health and that I had no more excuses for not eating healthier foods.  It helped that I recently got an iPad and began using a very helpful app that helps me track my food intake and exercise.  It’s really just a glorified food diary that keeps me accountable for everything I eat and drink and for everything I do or don’t do physically.  Because of that, I’m eating healthier foods, drinking way less soda, and becoming more aware of how “diet” and exercise affect me positively. 

It’s one thing to hear all of that on TV or to read it in a magazine, but it’s an entirely different thing to actually do it yourself.  I’ve lost a bit of weight, and I feel better about what I’m eating.  I actually crave fruits and healthy proteins over sugary sweets…who knew?! 

That I haven’t “let myself go” both surprises me and pleases me about how I’m coping with my daughter’s death.

Listening to Christian music – I was so angry – livid, furious, freaking ANGRY – with God in the time immediately following my baby’s death that it kind of surprised me how much I listened to the Christian radio station.  I won’t go into too much with regard to particulars because that’s a whole other long post, but I truly believe that the music and the lyrics were ways that God used to reach me even in the depths of my sorrow and to remind me that He was with me through the pain, the tears and the heartache.

Texting – Thank you, Jesus, for the person who invented texting!  When I say that I really and truly did NOT want to talk to anyone following Ella’s death, I mean it.  I was never much of a phone talker when times were good, so you can imagine how much I wanted to avoid it when times were at their worst.  After making the worst calls of my entire life to tell family of Ella’s passing, I wasn’t feeling too amped about using the phone again.  I let both my cell phone and my home answering machines get full, and then I let them stay full for months.  I talked to very few people, but I let them know that I would reply to texts.

Texting was really a godsend when I was at the hospital with my daughter.  I couldn’t have my annoying ringtone go and risk waking a sick baby, so I turned off my ringer and resorted to quick texts to keep in touch with people.  When Ella’s health deteriorated further and it became too painful for me to talk about, I relied almost solely on texting to communicate with family and friends.

I still hate talking on the phone.  I’m still not quite in control of my moods or of when the sorrow will surface.  I mean, it’s always there, but sometimes the pain is so close to the surface as to overwhelm.  At those times, I am grateful that I can fall back on texting.

Writing – I’ve only began writing down my thoughts a few months back, but just that quickly I noticed a difference in myself.  When I write, I feel a bit lighter, as though a small load has been lifted because I finally got the words out of my jumbled mess of a brain and onto the screen.  Even if no one reads these words, I know they’ve done some good for at least one person in the world:  me. 

The children’s hospital where Ella was a patient has been good about providing reading material and coping ideas regarding grieving after child death.  One of their suggestions was to keep a journal.  They say that “a journal can be like a best friend you can confide in.  It can be a way to share your feelings without fear of being judged….It can be a way to ‘let off steam.’”

I have to agree.  Though I’m sharing my thoughts with you all, I’m writing them down for me.

Peanut Butter – Oh, peanut butter…sweet, peanuty nectar of the monkey gods.  I have no idea why I lovelovelove the smell of peanut butter so much, but I do.  Thank God I’m not allergic to it!  That wonderful scent from heaven has a physically calming effect on me.  A few years ago I started “sneaking” into the pantry to take a sniff of it during those times when the boys were tap dancing on my very last nerve.  I would just twist open the can of Skippy [though I’m not brand loyal…a good smell is a good smell no matter the label] and inhale to my heart’s content.  Call me crazy, but Yankee Candle and traditional aromatherapy have got nothing on the soothing scent of peanut butter.  I highly recommend it.  Get it?  Highly?  Get it?  Moving on ;)

Hugs – I’m a hugger.  I’ve always been a hugger.  I like hugs.  And by saying that I like hugs, I mean that I love hugs.  I love ‘em, I love ‘em, I love ‘em!  I can’t remember when I started saying this, but I frequently walk up to my husband and say, “you look like I need a hug.”  After almost 15 years of marriage, he knows that a hug keeps the crazy at bay, so he’s better off assuming the position and hugging until I’m done hugging!  My boys know that I love a good hug in the morning.  And one of the things I loved most about caring for Ella and being with her every day was that I got to hold and hug her sweet little self a lot.  She had leads, oxygen and med lines attached to her, but do you really think I’d let a few lines come between us?  She got hugs and lots of them.

Hugs have restorative powers.  Honest to pete, there’s nothing like a good hug to lift the spirits.  And they’re FREE!  Take a break from reading this, and go hug someone.  I’ll be here when you get back.

The Sacrament of Reconciliation – I was really hesitant about including a Sacrament in a blog post called “Cheap Therapy”.  I don’t consider confession a form of therapy, and I certainly don’t want to come off as flippant about something as important as a Sacrament.  That said, I can’t deny that my first confession after my daughter passed away was very therapeutic for me.

I am so thankful that my first confession after Ella died was with a kindly, old, Irish priest.  I cried almost immediately as I told him that this was my first confession since my baby died.  He was patient and understanding.  He let me talk and he listened, and then he offered wise counsel in return.  It was in the confessional that I realized how intensely angry I was with God, and telling that to the priest – actually saying that out loud in the confessional - unleashed even more tears.

But the suffering I felt before going into the confessional that evening was nothing compared to the freedom I felt coming out of it.  My walk the next day was lighter.  My prayers still full of pain but free from anger.  It was at that point that I could quit screaming at God and just talk to Him and cry on His shoulder.  If anyone knows the intense sorrow of watching a child die, it’s our Heavenly Father.

That wasn’t my last trip to the confessional by a long shot (ha!!), and the anger still rears up every now and again.  But I’m thankful that the Sacrament of Reconciliation served to remind me of the healing grace that only God can offer when we come to him truly contrite and truly sorrowful for the ways we’ve damaged our relationship with Him.

So there you have it – eight run of the mill, fairly routine things that have helped me survive life post-Ella thus far.  I can’t guarantee that the same activities will help others, especially if they’re allergic to peanuts, and I would never presume to suggest that others might not truly need to talk to a professional to help them through the hard times.  But I can attest to the fact that these routine things have helped me immensely. 

Let me ask you something - what have you done to get through tough times?  What routines or things have you clung to when it seems like everything around you is falling apart?  What cheap therapy have you relied on to cope with the crap that life throws at you? 

When you weren’t in the mood for lemonade, what did you do with all of life’s lemons?

St. Ella, pray for us!


Anonymous said...

I clean. I dust, scrub, sweep, mop, throw things away. I may not be able to control *this thing that is making me crazy* but I can control my physical space.

And now, in the last 18 months, I run. Well, jog-walk. But I call it running. Because it's me doing it, and I'll call it what I want. I don't get answers to my troubles, but I do get to stop thinking for awhile, and that is a blessed peace of its own.

A. again for not-so-anonymously Aliesha

Ann Marie said...

When our baby girl died, I was just so very sad. The word bereft fits well. I had to keep up some degree of functioning for our seven living children, when all I wantd to do was crawl in a cave and weep.
What helped?
I'd already been seeing a therapist prior to Gianna's birth, for other reasons, and when we got her diagnosis, I was very relieved to already be "plugged in" to that resource. It was an hour carved out of my week JUST FOR ME. She helped me when I was reeling from the confirmation of Trisomy 18, she walked with me in the days and weeks leading up to labor and birth, then she grieved with me after Gianna's death. So, for me, that was a huge help.
Second was a rosary app...for me it was like your peanut butter...listening to it was instant calm and peace, even amidst the turmoil and tumult of grief.
Third, talking to Ray over and over about the choices we made...seeking affirmation and reassurance.
Forth, realizing that God chose Gianna for us and us for Gianna, that all she knew was love, and that He had not abandoned us.

With much love,

dottie said...

I organize. It could be anything from computer files, library books or pots and pans.

Laurie said...

I clean, tidy, and pray! Really, though, what has helped me through really rough stuff was a holy hour in front of the Blessed Sacrament (exposed). It's the only time I can sit at peace and tell Jesus all that is in my heart, and saying the Rosary in that hour as well.

Marcy K. said...

Very powerful post, thank you for sharing that. When things get crazy I pace. It is hard for me to sit down. I don't walk the neighborhood, I walk the house and think and plan and pray. Not very constructive I'm afraid but it is what I do.

Joe Flatley said...

I thought for sure you were going to list Bacon some where in there...

Concerning Reconciliation: It's when we kneel with loving words for Jesus Christ that we stand on our demons and allow God to turn this world into our foot stool.

Donika said...

Ok. I have to watch where I read your blog. You had me crying in The Corner Bakery today. As for how I've dealt with my lemons... When my brother passed away, a year and a half ago, I felt flat and numb. I went on with life with 3 kids a husband and a dog (you don't really have a choice to stop when the rest of your life keeps on going) but for a while it felt like I was watching it, not living it. To get through, I didn't hold back the tears... I cried while driving, shopping, cleaning, watching tv and movies... ever notice how many brothers die in tv and movies? A Lot! I talked about him to anyone who would listen. I felt it kept him with me to talk about him. I also wear a bracelet to feel closer to him. He was an organ donor and a local organization gave us bracelets (like the livestrong ones) and wearing it, to me, is an outward sign that I'm thinking of him and it makes me feel closer to him. I pray for him, his wife and kids regularly. If I hurt this bad from losing him, how badly did they hurt? Hearing his name read at mass was comforting, knowing all the people in my parish were praying for him too. His death was so sudden and very unexpected so I think it was the shock that I'd never see him again that had me feeling so numb. But eventually things made me laugh (usually a memory of something crazy he had done). Spending time with my family and being silly helped. My brother was always one to make everyone laugh, so laughter seems to be the best way to honor his memory. Weather regaling my kids with funny stories about him, or seeing their budding senses of humor, laughter truly is great medicine. My big brother is still missed dearly, especially at every family function. I think we've turned a corner though, my mom recently pointed out how much fun he would have had making fun of something that went wrong at one of my parties and it made us laugh instead of cry. I wish that for you... to smile when you think of Ella and not hurt. Yes the hole is still there in all our hearts, but now it's a reminder how lucky we are that he was in our lives. It's like he took a piece of each of us up to heaven with him when he left. I wish you peace and healing, <3<3<3 and (((huggs)))!

Colleen said...

Bridget...I love reading your blog. I am so sorry for your grief, and the loss of your daughter, Ella. Your writing will not only help you but many others.

When I have experienced loss and death, I am very much like you...I hate the phone, talking...but love the long walks. I wish I would have tried smelling peanut butter instead of roses! :)

The only friend with such a deep loss is time...and lots of it. The loss never goes away, but it changes and your angel daughter will become more and more present.

St. Ella pray for your beautiful and strong mommy!

Missing you, praying for you and admiring you, Colleen

Anonymous said...

Books, always fiction, sometimes not escapist (went through a period of reading about Nazi era ... incredible how my problems could disappear as I considered the brutality that others suffered). I realize as I get older that God speaks to me through characters, real or imagined. Truly great books are not the bestsellers or classic literature. Truly great books are the ones that I read when I was deep in a pit and trying to climb out. I sincerely believe that when I needed to deal with tough times, the good Lord who loves me unconditionally put a book in my path.

Anonymous said...

I talk to God, with my big dog who tries to lay on my lap like a little dog (5 x too big, btw). Funny, I think my dog is a good listener, too. Especially when he moons at me with his big brown eyes as I'm talking out loud. :)