Is this helping or harming?

3 year old Hazel with Mackenzie’s Huggable Heart

When shitty things happen you have no choice but be brave, or strong. You have no choice but to pick yourself up and find your way forward – although life can at times feel impossible. Most of the time I find it really nice to have the fact that I have chosen to live my life as fully as possible, even after Mackenzie died, acknowledged. Because the truth is that that is one of the strongest and bravest things I’ve ever done. It didn’t (and still doesn’t) feel brave most of the time. But when I look back, I remember the terror I felt in mundane and every day situations. I never said a word to anyone – I don’t think I would have been able to articulate it at the time.

Walking into my place of work after 6 months of maternity leave, without dropping my baby at daycare – because we held her funeral months earlier. The terror of being asked about how she was doing battled with the terror of not being asked. The thing is, no-one ever knows the right thing to say. But being on the other side of the equation – I don’t even know what I wanted to hear. I needed her life acknowledged and talked about as deeply as I needed to not talk, and keep everything in the tightly wrapped boxes in my mind. One day, a while after I returned to work and walked through the staff cafe as I did every morning to drop my lunch in the fridge, I saw a donation box for Huggable Hearts, a charity we had used after Mackenzie died. A really beautiful charity that aims to fill the ’empty arms’ feeling of losing a child. They fill a material heart with rice – to the weight of the baby you have lost. Mackenzie’s was rather large – she weighed over 4kgs when she passed away. The moment I saw the donation box, my carefully constructed ‘work Sarah’ crumbled and threatened to overlap with ‘bereaved mother Sarah’. Was this about me? Did every one know? It wasn’t about me. I’m certainly not the only one to go through baby or child loss. There are so many more of us than we all like to think. But that day made me realise how carefully I kept work and home separated, and the boxes I maintain in my head.

I developed some healthy and some not so healthy coping mechanisms. I know now that I’m really really good at putting things in boxes, but not so good at bringing them out again. Which in some instances are fine – somethings don’t need to be intruding into every day thoughts constantly. However its a relatively tricky balance to find when it happens to be your baby in one of those boxes. To honour her, I can’t leave her in a box. The only place she can live now is in my mind and the minds of others who know/love her. It took Mackenzie dying to understand that I am an anxious person, and have been my whole life. It took her dying to be able to acknowledge that the ‘episode’ I had in 2012 in which I underwent cardiac investigation after was actually a panic attack.

I know I tidy/organise/minimise when I can’t deal or am avoiding things . It’s a running joke that I took all the doors off in our house in the midst of a minimising rampage that lasted days. I thought if I got rid of excess stuff, I could be calmer. It didn’t really work, but the doors are still gone, and I still find myself doing it fairly frequently. My house is never tidy because I’m ‘good’. The tidier it is, the more avoiding/ignoring I’m doing.

I’ve found myself obsessively tidying and organising since I’ve been home from hospital. I knew what I was doing and I couldn’t stop myself from doing it. There was a driving need for things to be in their homes, the places where they lived. I always feel that satisfaction of tidying the house and then feeling like I’ve controlled something. Unfortunately my time tidying and sorting meant that I caused my wound to weep again post surgery. I’ve had times where I’m completely incapable of making an incredibly simple decision. I’ve gone to bed the second Greg gets home from work as I can’t do one second more of parenting. Most recently I’ve had a huge run of being incredibly scatterbrained. What can only be referred to as ‘The Shower Saga’, where I’ve been so preoccupied it took me 3 showers (one after the other) to manage to shave my armpits and legs. The next day I refolded and rearranged all our towels and bathmat on the heated towel rail to dry my towel (after drying myself 3 times in quick succession after failing to complete the basic task of shaving myself 3 times) then didn’t switch it on. My towel was still soaking wet the following night. Today, I boiled the jug and put the water in my plunger, left it for 5 minutes, poured the water into my cup and then realised I never added the coffee.

I’ve cried 3 times since I found my lump. When I coughed and vomited post surgery, when my pain meds weren’t controlling the pain a few days after surgery, and once, in the early days after I got home. I hadn’t had the results back yet to say it was cancer, but I was feeling vulnerable and scared. I think I needed a cry next to Greg instead of alone in a hospital bed. I didn’t cry when I found out I would need major surgery, or would be going through surgical menopause. I didn’t cry when I found out how widespread the disease was, or how much bigger the surgery was than I expected. I didn’t cry when the recovery from surgery was so much harder than I anticipated. I didn’t cry when I found out it was cancer, or that it was stage 4. I didn’t cry when I found out that I was being recommended to have chemo.

But I’ve got to the point where I want that dam to break.

I’m now at the stage where I need to ask myself – is this helping or harming me? My boxes and my tidying, my avoidance and optimistic nature definitely have a place in my life and can be incredibly useful at times. However as I get older/ gone through tougher shit in life I have learned to realise not only what my coping mechanisms are, but when they aren’t helping anymore. When they are starting to harm. I think it’s time to unpack the boxes, and sit with the thoughts and emotions, despite how uncomfortable they are.

I have my oncology appointment on the 16th December, and have been told I will ‘get going’ with chemo prior to Christmas. Which by my calculations mean I should lose my hair very early into the new year. I’m hoping that I can have a good cry before then as I think the longer I leave it the messier it will be when it happens.

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