As I sit here and write this blog I’m waiting in Sydney airport to fly to the States. I feel paralysed with anxiety and fear and I cannot explain why. Travelling is one of my favourite things in life. Normally I would be sitting here restless with excitement at the thought of exploring somewhere new. Instead I want to turn around and go home. The only thing that stops me is the disappointment I know it would cause for those waiting for me on the other end.
This is what I have come to live with since losing Benjamin, a non-specific feeling of impending doom. Anxiety has dug her claws in and does not want to let go of me. Any semblance of the old me feels like it is slowly being destroyed each day. One of my strengths used to be my ability to talk to anyone. While some people would be nervous approaching a new person it just wouldn’t faze me. It made me pretty effective at achieving my goals on both a personal and professional level. But now I struggle entering into conversations with strangers and try, where possible, to avoid it. Whether I’m at the butchers or the grocery store it’s the same story – look down and avoid eye contact. What if they ask me something personal? Like why am I not at work during the day? Or my favourite, do I have any kids? I am so afraid that they will look into my eyes and see the awful pain and emptiness that is so obvious to me when I look in the mirror.
It is not just the here and now that is causing me anxiety. The future, which promises so much for so many people, looms over me like a threatening thunderstorm. Even though it is much too soon to try and get pregnant again I want to know how a subsequent pregnancy would be managed and what the likelihood of a repeat stillbirth would be. While the odds of losing Benjamin were similar to being hit by lightning, the sad reality is that our chances of having a repeat stillbirth are now much higher than before. I was booked in to meet with a high-risk specialist in the coming months but found out during the week that he is closing down his practice, effective immediately. In the space of a few minutes, it felt like my whole world had fallen apart, again. I convinced myself, rather quickly, that this cancelled appointment now meant that any future babies of ours would almost certainly die. Anxiety had clearly taken over from any type of rational thought.
So at this point I’m a little sick of it all. Everything feels so hard. The perseverance required to push through every day like this is exhausting. I’ve decided that enough is enough. I want to stop being a victim of anxiety. I want to stop it ruling my life and destroying the essence of who I am. I refuse to melt into the background, too afraid to talk to people.
But how do I change? How do I overcome this awful anxiety that plagues not only me but so many other bereaved parents too? The truthful answer is that I’m not really sure…yet. I have just started reading a new book called The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. In it she wants to spend a year trying to increase the happiness in her life by finding joy in her day-to-day activities. She sets goals for each month, based on simple achievable tasks. This idea has inspired me to start a project of my own, “The Anxiety Project”. Each time I feel myself overcome with anxiety I am going to explore ways to tackle it and then write about my successes and my failures. It is unrealistic to think that I can eliminate my anxiety altogether but instead I want to find ways in which I can still live side by side with it, without it ruling my life. I am hoping to gather together a lifeline of tricks and tools for the bereaved parent based on my experience. Surviving a traumatic grief means going back to basics. As bereaved parents we have no choice, but we need help and ideas on how to rebuild our lives and get through each day.
This project will be underpinned by one fundamental principle – that we cannot control everything in our lives. I want you to stop for a minute and really absorb this – we cannot control everything in our lives. If you are on a similar journey to me you need to embrace this fact. Without embracing it we are all just setting ourselves up for unnecessary heartache and anxiety. For years I meticulously planned everything in my life only for it to all come crashing down around me once Benjamin died. I thought that if I worked hard enough and planned hard enough that everything would work out as I wanted it to. Unfortunately this is not the case for most people. As Al Gore said “I had a detailed plan for my life but my life had a different plan for me”. I’m going to start embracing the different plan that my life has for me.
To kick off The Anxiety Project my first challenge is one that I can scarcely avoid – being anxious and doing it anyway. In a few hours I am going to step off this plane at LAX. I will be at the start of my three-week trip to the States to visit my sisters. I am anxious as hell but I need to try and find a way to enjoy it. It is not lost on me that I had always intended to do this trip with Benjamin. But that was my old plan and this is my new one. With Benjamin in my heart and Donkey* by my side let’s see what happens.
Stay tuned xx
* Donkey is the first teddy that I bought for Benjamin. I didn’t buy him many things before he was born (that amazing superstition that clearly doesn’t make a difference!) but I just couldn’t resist Donkey. He is a last minute substitution to keep me company on this trip.