Grief, Two Years On

I can’t quite believe it’s been two years since Mum died. In some ways, her death feels like it happened yesterday. In many ways, it feels as though it happened a lifetime ago.

Is it getting easier? Maybe.

I’ve always believed that you don’t get over grief, you get along with it. You rub along with it as best you can. Two years on and I still hold this belief. I’m not over grief, I haven’t come through it, but I’m learning to live life alongside it.

I no longer burst into tears when I see a Mum-aged person chomping on a cheese straw. Or when I see a cancer-ridden-body making their way around the supermarket. The grief attacks are becoming further apart. There aren’t as many times that I pick up my phone to text or call Mum, before remembering I can’t.

But that doesn’t mean it’s gone away.

I still cried when I found out that Dad had donated one of her favourite Christmas cookbooks to a charity shop (thankfully I have a wonderful auntie who replaced it within a week – queue more tears!). I still sobbed when I had some significant health challenges recently and wanted nothing more than a Mum hug. I still struggled when faced with a stranger receiving a cancer diagnosis right in front of me.

Mum hasn’t disappeared from my life. She has become part of it.

She’s part of the Christmas cake I baked a few weeks ago. She’s part of the bread I’ve made the last few weeks. She’s part of the birthday food package delivered to my brother. I see her in the crunchy leaves – remembering walks we had and the time we played football one October half term. I hear her steady advice in my ear when I’m faced with horrible life challenges. I feel how proud she is, through the pride I feel for my brothers and all they are achieving.

She’s everywhere.

Life changed when Mum was diagnosed. In some ways, the five years since her original diagnosis have been the worst five years of my life. However, they’ve also been the best five years. I’ve become closer with my brothers. My life has been propelled in a completely different direction – but despite the agonising decisions at times, I firmly believe that it was the right thing. I’ve met some amazing people. I’ve inherited many Mum figures. My outlook on life has changed. I have fallen back in love with art. I’ve been through tears, sobs, sleepless nights, medications, therapy, major health challenges, jobs, houses, flatmates, long phone calls, dog walks, driving tests, exams, panic attacks, laughter… the list goes on.

I’ve learned what’s important. I’ve learned how much I love my family, but that they’re not always right. I’ve learned that family aren’t necessarily those you’re related to. I’ve learned that I am stronger than I ever imagined – however much I don’t believe it at times. I’ve learned that crying is okay. I’ve learned that people can be amazing. I’ve learned that some people are not amazing, and you have to let them go. I’ve learned that it’s okay to let people in. I’ve learned that every emotion is okay, you just have to learn how to manage them. I’ve learned that you have to do a job that makes you happy, even if it doesn’t pay as well as other jobs, or doesn’t live up to other’s expectations. And that’s only the start.

I don’t have anything profound to write to mark these two years. I can’t tell that grieving ever goes away. You probably don’t want to hear yet another ‘it gets better’ platitude, but I can tell you that it becomes cope-able-with. I can tell you that however you feel is absolutely okay. I can tell you that your grief is your own, to cope with as best you know how. As my Mum always said: be kind to yourself

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Two Years. Sleep well, Mum. ❤

 

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A Huge Thank You

Yesterday was Mum’s birthday.

A year ago, we started fundraising for Martin House Children’s Hospice in Mum’s memory, as she used to work there.

I am delighted to say that a year on we have absolutely smashed the target (it doesn’t all show on Just Giving as some donations went straight to the hospice). The money was originally going on lighting, but due to planning changes we have had a bit of a change of plan. It’s now going towards a music, art, and animation suite which is so perfect.

Mum brought joy to many people’s lives and hopefully this room will bring joy to the lives of many young people on their families. Mum was also a saxophone (foghorn) player and loved music. We would often dance around the kitchen to various CDs and blast them out in the car whilst we sang along.

We want to say a HUGE thank you to everyone who has helped us to reach this target – and there have been a lot of you! It was a fun thing to do, and a lovely way to remember Mum, and now she can live on through this room and all that it will provide.

You Are Succeeding By Surviving

It’s that time of year again where people happily share their incredible uni results, graduation photos are imminent, GCSE and A-Level results are just around the corner, everyone seems to be passing their driving tests, getting new jobs, getting promotions, getting engaged, moving house, and digging wells in African villages, all at the same time.

For some of us, none of these things are true.

Some of us are trying our best to stay alive, and that’s pretty much all we can manage. Many of us have dropped out of university degrees (if we ever got there in the first places). Lots of us have had to put our GCSEs or A-Levels on hold (or if we do manage to sit them, we don’t achieve anything close to our potential). Some of us are unable to drive until our medication settles and/or our health improves. Lots of us aren’t able to hold down a job, or if we can, we’re on reduced hours. If we do have a job, it might be miles away from our dream job – we’re just not well enough to even apply for those kinds of jobs. Many of us struggle to maintain friendships, never mind even attempting a relationship. A lot of us are still living with our parents or other family members, because we need them to help care for us. Many of us can’t travel further than the end of our garden without a panic attack, if we can move ourselves at all.

Being in our late teens/early twenties, we’re expected to be carefree. We often don’t have responsibilities for anyone other than ourselves. We’re expected to spend time having fun, going out, working out who we are and what we enjoy, and generally making the most of life.

But that’s not always the case. Sometimes we don’t have that luxury, because we’re simply not well enough. Life can play a cruel hand at times.

It doesn’t mean that we’re not achieving and succeeding, though. Our success might just look a little different to others.

Sometimes success is taking PRN, even if you feel like we are ‘giving in’ by doing so. Sometimes it’s getting to bed by 10pm each night, even if it makes us feel like a granny. Sometimes success is learning how to say ‘no’ to things that hurt us. Sometimes success is forcing down 3 meals and 3 snacks a day, however loud our heads scream. Sometimes success is getting our notifications down to zero. Sometimes, success is taking our meds as prescribed. Sometimes success is dragging ourselves down to the GP even if we feel we don’t deserve it, or we’re wasting their time. Sometimes success is making it into town alone. Sometimes success is letting our family members and carers help us. Sometimes success is navigating the benefits system. Sometimes success is just showing up – whether it be to school, to work, to a class, or somewhere else. Sometimes, success is allowing ourselves to do the things that we enjoy.

Sometimes success is simply doing what’s best for us. It’s taking care of ourselves. It’s continuing to stay alive, whatever is thrown our way.

To all of you who are feeling pretty rubbish at the moment because everyone seems to be succeeding and progressing, and you feel like a sad, stuck, blob… I want to remind you how wonderful you are. Continuing to wake up every day despite all the setbacks you encounter is so brave. It’s so admirable. It’s so incredibly strong. You are succeeding by waking up every day, by showing up, by never ever giving up. You are awesome.

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To Those Of You Who’ve Lost All Hope

Sometimes, life does everything within its power to tear us down. It throws everything it’s got at us. It can be exhausting and can leave us lying there on the floor, with all of the energy drained from our bodies.

Everything becomes black – although black doesn’t seem dark enough, or all-encompassing enough to describe the thick fog that smothers everything and makes it so hard to breathe.

Moving becomes hard. Moving hurts, it really hurts. It’s exhausting and it hurts. Reaching to take a sip of a cup of tea can feel as energy-consuming as going on a 10-mile run. So we don’t.

We can’t face going to bed, because going to bed means waking up, and waking up means doing another day. We can’t see any light. We can’t see any future. We have no hope.

I’m not going to sit here and tell you that ‘it gets better’, because it’s probably the last thing you want to hear. It can feel really frustrating when people keep saying that it gets better, because when things are that dark, we can’t see it, and we can’t believe it. It can almost feel like everyone’s just saying it so that they don’t have to talk to us about how crap things are any more. Sometimes we just want to shout ‘when?!’. ‘When is it going to get better? Because it’s been really rubbish for a really long time and I’m tired and I don’t have the strength to fight this anymore’.

When we can no longer carry some hope, we have to let others carry it for us for a little while.

We have to let others carry it for us, until a time when we can pick it back up again.

This can come in the form of colleagues telling us they’re looking forward to us returning to work. It could be a boss reminding us that we have skills and talents. A GP saying ‘see you next week’ or a health care assistant telling us about their weekend. It can be a friend hugging us while we cry and cry, or another friend who spends their Friday evening helping us to write a list of ‘30 reasons to stay alive until Saturday’. It can be a family member inviting us over in a few days time. It can be literally anyone at all who refuses to believe that we might not be able to recover from this.

We need these people to keep believing in us. We need these people who can see us having a future. We need these people who refuse to let us die.

Eventually, in time, we will find glimmers of hope again. We will find cracks of light. We will begin find things to believe in, and our little pile of good things will grow. We might find them in the most unexpected of places – a podcast that speaks to us, the ability to read a page of text, or the joy of being able to taste a cup of tea again. It might take weeks, it might take months, it might even take years, but it will happen.

Until it does happen, until we can carry our own hope again, we have to let others carry it for us.

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Mother’s Day Fundraising

Mother’s Day is next Sunday – last year we did some fundraising for Yorkshire Cancer research. This year we are continuing our fundraising for Martin House Children’s Hospice. Mum worked there for many years before later becoming a trustee. We are trying to raise £5000 to restore the lighting in the corridor of the children’s bedrooms which will not only brighten it up for them, and highlight the incredible artwork on the walls, but also reflects Mum’s light and bright personality.

This Mother’s Day we’re asking you to donate the cost of a card in memory of all the Mums who can’t share Mother’s Day with us this year.

To donate, please text ‘LOVM53’ followed by your donation amount to 70070 or visit our Just Giving page.

 

Art Journaling

A few months ago, I started art journaling. I now journal most days, and I absolutely love it.

I’ve decided that one of my new life goals is to be one of those people who always has some paint somewhere on their body/hair/clothes. I do it for myself, not others but I’ve started to post some of my pages on 04.jpgInstagram, and sometimes also share them on Twitter and Project 365. People often thank me for sharing them, comment that they can relate, tell me I’ve inspired them to start journaling and share their journal pages with me. I absolutely love hearing from all of these people, it’s wonderful. I’ve shared it with my GP, and other health professionals a few times, which I’ve found to be really useful because sometimes I struggle to communicate with words, so paint can help. The response I’ve received, coupled with the amount I felt it was helping, but also challenging me, and some great sessions doing it alongside a friend, have inspired me to keep going.

Quite a number of people have asked me how they could start art journaling. I am by no means an expert on the subject (I make it up as I go along to be honest), but I thought I’d attempt to write some tips on how you could get started, and to answer some of the questions that people have asked me, so here goes…

What is art journaling?

According to Wikepedia, art journaling is ‘a daily journal kept by artists, often containing both words and sketches, and occasionally including mixed media elements such as collages.’. I wouldn’t really say I was an artist… to me art journaling is expressing myself in a vaguely arty way, in the form of a book, so I suppose the whole concept of ‘keeping a vaguely arty journal’ is open to interpretation, and up to you to make it what you want it to be.

The Book

However you decide to journal, you’re going to need to start with a book in some form. For17270804_1159074677538533_1120881872_n some this could be a lined notebook, or a book with black or coloured pages, others might like to do an altered book. You’ll also need to decide what size you want it to be, and what sort of binding. I personally use an artist sketchbook because the pages are a bit thicker, and I tend to use a lot of paint/glue/things, mine is A5 because I felt like I’d get overwhelmed with anything bigger, and smaller would be too fiddly, and mine is casebound but if I was buying a new one I think I’d get a spiralbound one because it’s exploding a little at this point.

Equipment

05.jpgOnce you’ve got a book, you need some things to help you fill it. I’m a big fan of paint – it features on most of my pages. I personally use acrylics, but I’m not really bothered about brand or anything like that. Sometimes I add water to it, sometimes I use it in a thicker form, I often paint over other things. You don’t need to use acrylics, though, you could use poster paint (which is usually cheaper) or any other paints that take your fancy.

A printer can be useful to print your own photos, or letters, or anything else you fancy popping in. Magazines can be good for those sort of things as well – free campus newspapers are a good start, or I often use the Aldi specialbuy magazines. You can always pick up gossip magazines pretty cheaply (or if you’re feeling brave enough to ask, you might be able to inherit some from a doctor’s surgery).

Wallpaper can be great for different textures and patterns. I’ve never actually bought any, I just collect samples from B&Q, Wilkos, Homebase, and The Range.

27.JPGIn terms of a hierarchy of journal needs, I’d put some form of marker/pen near to the top. This can be sharpies or felt tips… anything you fancy writing with. I started with some glittery gel pens which I picked up from Morrisons which are good because they wrote over paint. As time’s gone one, I’ve picked up sharpies in different colours and thicknesses, some metallic markers, and a white pen.

You’re likely to need some sort of glue – pritt stick for paper things, PVA for tissue paper, cocktail sticks, or bits of sponge, and bostik if you need something a bit more hardcore for sticking bits of CD or things like that. I also have Mod Podge, but I’m still a little undecided on whether I’m a modpodge fan or not.

You might like to use some other art things like chalk, pastels, pencils, colouring pencils, ink, graphite pencils, watercolour pencils, or anything else you might associate with ‘art’, but they’re not essential, it just depends on the sort of thing you want to create.

If you want to do more mixed media type things, it can be good to pick up random bits and bobs. I use a17092837_1151419201637414_765826869_o lot of found objects like sponges, cut up CDs, cocktail sticks or toilet roll – I just collect them when I find them and keep them in my ‘box of stuff’. I have other things in there that I’ve bought specifically, too, like ice lolly sticks, tissue paper, and string. Personally, I also love polyfiller – it’s not made specifically for art purposes, it’s for fixing hole in walls among other things, but it’s really good for creating different textures.

Another thing you might want to buy is some form of plastic sheet (if you’re like me and tend to journal on the floor…). I just picked up a kid’s party tablecloth from the 05.jpgsupermarket for a couple of pounds which does the job and makes it easier to clean up.

If you don’t feel like using a lot of stuff, or getting much out, then that’s okay, too! Do a sketch page, draw something and colour it in, print a few pictures and write something over them. I love messy journaling, but I know lots of others don’t, and that’s absolutely okay.

Where to buy stuff

A lot of people art put off starting a journal because of cost, but it really, really doesn’t need to be expensive. Personally, I do own a fair amount of artycrafty stuff, but I’ve been collecting it for about ten years. You really, really do not need to break the bank. You also don’t need to go out and 10.jpgbuy everything all at once, I tend to just pick up little bits as and when I feel like it (or as and when I have money…), and have built up my collection that way.

The Works is good for cheaper art bits. They also often have mixed media bits for a pretty good price.

As well as having wallpaper samples, The Range do a lot of art bits, normally at a pretty decent price.

Supermarkets often have a stationary/kids craft section now and I often find things there, whether it be pens/markers, or fun things to stick in. They also often sell glue and string.

Poundland sometimes do acrylic paint and often do washi tape or other things you can stick on.

WH Smith do a lot of traditional art things, sketch books, and some children’s art things which are sometimes cheaper and can often be quite fun.17236856_1159084200870914_1478726121_o.jpg

Hobbycraft is heaven in craft form. They don’t tend to do things quite as cheaply as The Range or The Works but they have some wonderful and exciting things which you can treat yourself to.

B&Q sell polyfiller, and have wallpaper samples. They also have lots of paint chips which you could use for the names or the colours.

I live in York, so I’m lucky that we have a lot of local independent shops. But there may well be some in your area so it can be good to have a potter. They often have owners who will chat to you and offer advice and tips, they might even know of local art/craft groups you could go to which can be great for meeting others and finding inspiration.

Inspiration

I am constantly inspired by those around me. There are some fantastic art journals on Instagram and Tumblr. Some of us have started using the tag #journalthefeels, but there are loads of other tags out there that people are using such as #artjournal, #arttherapy and 16990766_1147368452042489_1259755976_o.jpg#journalpages.

Whenever I find a quote or lyric that I relate to, I copy and paste it into a word document. It’s an ongoing thing, about four pages long now – others might write them in a book or something, I just find a word document easier because I can delete them when I’ve done them. I tend to find the quotes/lyrics on the usual social media sites (pinterest, tumblr etc.), through books that I read, or through songs that pop up on the radio or my Spotify discover.

Pinterest has a lot of journal prompts, too, if you’re struggling for ideas.

Top Tips

As I said before, I’m by no means an expert on all of this, but I’ve come up with a few top tips which are hopefully helpful:

  • Let your book evolve with you. When I started, my book was a bit more ‘formal’. The front page is my safety plan and there are other pages in there like ‘Coping With Flashbacks’, but as time’s gone on I’ve done it in a much ‘looser’ way. I don’t tend to do specifically therapy-type pages and just go with how I feel in07.jpgstead, because I find it works better for me. Others will be different though and will prefer the more ‘formal’ type of approach. You might start your book one way and then move in a different direction and that’s okay! Let it grow with you.
  • Do it for you, first and foremost. We spend so much of our lives trying to please other people, or trying to do what we think others want us to do. If you start posting photos of your work online, especially, it’s very easy to fall into the trap of trying to do pages you think others would like to see, or ones you think will get you the most ‘likes’. It can also feel like once you’ve started posting, you have to post every page. You don’t. This book it yours, not anyone else’s. Hate paint? Don’t use it. Not a fan of quotes? Don’t use them. Want to just paint a page black? Go for it. It’s your book.
  • Just start. Staring at a blank page or a blank book is super hard. If you’re anything like me, a white page invokes fear and ‘argh’ feelings. Get rid of the white, even if you don’t know what you want to put on the page.
  • Everyone is creative, and you’re not bad at art. So what if your school art teacher never gave you a decent mark? Who cares if the arty mess that you make on a page doesn’t fit your traditional perception of ‘art’? If you enjoy it then it doesn’t matter. If you find it to be a helpful way of expressing yourself, who cares what it looks like? I personally don’t believe that there is a single person on this planet who ‘has no creativity’, it’s just that everyone’s creativity looks different.
  • It’s never going to be perfect, so don’t even try to make it that way. I really, really struggle with this and it challenges me daily. I can always see ways I could improve things, or just think things are rubbish, but perfection is an impossible goal, so there’s no point even attempting it.

This has become incredible long, but hopefully it’s readable and helpful. I absolutely love seeing other people’s journals and hearing their ideas, so if you journal too, or this has inspired you to start – please share it with me if you feel up to it!

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Toast Didn’t Kill My Mum

It’s rare that I write a blog post directly in response to things I see on my Twitter feed. A lot happens in the news every day, and there are many people, far more qualified than me, who write articles informing us, explaining things to us, and offering up their opinions on the various things happening in the world.

However, I’ve decided to make an exception this week, because I am fed up of seeing articles pop up telling me that if I eat a certain food, it could lead to cancer.

My Mum had cancer. My Mum died from cancer. Mum was a normal weight, she didn’t have the ‘cancer gene’, she never smoked, never got drunk, ate relatively healthily (she was fairly convinced chocolate could cure all of life’s problems, but balanced it out with all the other major food groups so it was all good), she exercised, wasn’t overly sleep-deprived the majority of the time, she never used sun beds, rarely got sunburned (not content with suncream, we went one-step further in our family and wore long-sleeved tops when it was particularly hot (ginger genes!)), she never used drugs, in fact I don’t think pre-cancer she was even on any prescriptions bar an inhaler. She still developed cancer aged 49. It still came back aged 51. She still died aged 53.

Mum was obviously unlucky, and I’m not saying that all of the science linking various cancers to various lifestyle factors is wrong – far from it. There are clear links between sun damage and skin cancer, alcohol and liver cancer, smoking and lung cancer etc. (for more on scientifically proven links, check out the cancer research ‘causes’ page). Most weeks Mum, a palliative medicine consultant, would come home from work and tell us smoking horror stories – I think if any of us had ever come home with a whiff of smoke on us, she would probably have temporarily disowned us.

That being said, there are some, quite frankly, bizarre claims flying around at the moment, and they’re just not helpful.

The three I’ve seen this week are: burned toast can cause cancer, potatoes can cause cancer, and toothpaste can cause cancer. All have some scientific link between food item (for the purposes of this blog, toothpaste is a food), and cancer. None have proven the link in humans.

There are so many food controversies surrounding cancer; often the same food is listed as a cure and a cause, depending on the study. It’s just not helpful.

Perhaps there is a very, very small link between an ingredient in toothpaste and cancer (in rats) – but I’d go out on a limb and say that it’s probably more damaging to your health to never clean your teeth, than to use a blob of toothpaste twice a day. (After all, unhealthy gums has been linked to heart disease, so we’re clearly all stuffed either way, and might as well die with nice teeth than no teeth!).

We’re all going to die of something at some point. As someone said to me on Twitter the other day: life causes cancer. None of us are going to live forever. Every single one of us is going to die at some point, of something, or in the words of John Cleese: ‘life is a terminal disease’.

Mum died, arguably, before her time, and I clearly remember asking her once she was diagnosed as terminal whether she was angry that it was happening. Her response? God had given her so many days, and she’d lived those days to the full. (She was religious, but change ‘God’ for ‘life’, or the religious figure of your choice, and it still works). She was definitely stronger and more dignified than I think I’d be in that situation – I think I’d be annoyed, upset, and pretty angry – but Mum was right, she really did live every day to the full.

Which would you rather – surviving until 103 but never really living, being scared of everything you touch (and never having crispy potatoes or slightly over-done hot-cross buns), or dying at 53 having lived a full and happy life? I know which one I’d choose.

Until there is solid evidence that burning your toast, cleaning your teeth, and having some gravy-drowned roast potatoes with your Sunday dinner causes cancer, I suggest you take these articles (and any others with equally tenuous links) with a pinch of salt and carry on living your life. Life is short – make sure you live it, don’t just survive it.

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