Thursday, October 04 2018
Trigger warning: Talks of mental health, vulnerability
You: How are you?
You: Ok. What's up for today?
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I'm sure you would agree that this is, the normal greeting and conversation you would have with most people throughout your day. What purpose does it serve when it is offered by rote, and from both parties?
There are times when the question might be just a little different and if you stop to think about your response you can create change. Observe.
Y: How are you?
Y: Hmm... Do you want to talk?
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Hi everyone this is Russell, the Ostomistic Husband.
Recently, I had a bit of a breakdown at work. I got there to work okay, but then things just got just a bit too much for me. Luckily, we were made aware that there is easy access to a counselling service available to staff, through our EAP, so I had to sort of bite down on my pride and ask for help.... finally!
This was hard, but the hardest part of the day came next.
Next, was the call to the counselling service which led to even more of a breakdown, so obviously there was more to it than just a momentary lapse in willpower. Just talking to them about why I was feeling so teary led to finding I was truly angry on the inside, and I realised it was about time that I started opening up for real and sharing these feelings with someone before they became more harmful…. If not only to myself but to others too, and its the least I want.
The tears were because I was really worried about Talya’s declining health; your best friend dying before your eyes, is enough to jerk a tear from even the most hardened macho jerk. I'd gotten to a point where I had to really start opening myself up to someone and letting them in.
That hurt me because Talya is the most supportive and talkative person I know, yet, I was not letting her in. I know she only wants to get inside my mind further and help me work through this, but I think that I can’t talk to her about how I feel because that would not be me being strong for her. I also know that Talya doesn’t tell me how much pain she’s in all the time because that’s her being strong for me.
I am so tired of us pushing against each other when we really should be pulling each other closer, so we can rely on each other‘s strength to be able to help us in our time of perceived weakness. The time is now.
The anger itself, was mostly a due to the fact that I can't control everything. I was finding that the more stressed I was getting the more time I'd have to take off work. Missing out on income didn’t help things, we would have to tighten the purse-strings at home for the following weeks as only small paychecks came in. That made things even more stressful so on spiralled everything down towards chaos and I thought, "Enough is enough! I have to man up. I have to deal with what’s going on inside, uncomfortable as it is I must move forward".
I have autism, so it’s hard for me to talk about feelings that I don't fully understand. But, I have to find a way of communicating my internal workings to someone so that they might be able to give me some additional tools to better deal with those feelings. I don’t generally feel emotions all the time, and when I do get them they are usually overwhelming and too powerful and it scares me.
Unlike most people, I didn't get to learn how to deal with those feelings, in their varying degrees, when I was younger. So when I get some hot emotion it’s just like a huge slap in the face and I don’t know what to do. Actually I do know what to do; I do what most people in my position do, and that is retreat.
So usually I retreat inside myself rather than looking for outside help. I think it best to stop talking, I just want to be alone, I just want to suppress those feelings and hope that in time they go away. I need to learn to recognise there are times that I can self heal and there are times that I require external forces to help me to heal.
What I'd been doing up to now was no longer working, so I had to make a change, it was only inevitable. I think that having this counselling service available to me is a lifeline that has been there for me for years, had I just opened my eyes and pride to the service. I know it is going to be a huge benefit to me. I may have the secrets of the universe poured into my open and receptive mind or I may only learn relaxation techniques to help deal with my grief, not just loss but the anticipatory grief too.
Either way I will be in a better place than before simply because I answered a question posed to me in simple conversation honestly, not automatically.
So basically my message here is if you need help ask for it. If you can’t ask the people that are closest to you then for the sake of your sanity and health ask somebody else.
Just do yourself a favour and talk to someone, even if you do all the talking and you realise what you need to do without them saying a word. The fact that they’re there means you are not alone and that you’ve opened up to them means you are able to start healing.
I just want all the blokes out there who are carers to someone who is chronically or terminally unwell, that I see you, that I am you and that you are not alone in this brother. We are the forgotten brotherhood in this story but if anything we should rely on each other.
Let’s remove the stigma that it isn’t the blokey thing to speak up about our feelings, but we shouldn’t feel ashamed for when we do cry, it is better than bottling it all in and an avalanche of problems emerging.
Fellas, we need to be the best parts of ourselves so we can be the champions our women need us to be so lets make a pact that we will not go through this alone anymore. Yes, it isn’t us who are sick but we are the ones who are here holding their hand when they are crying, comforting them in their times of need, but we keep neglecting that this is all taking a toll on us too.
The pain at the thought of losing my beautiful wife is all to hard and real but I know I am not the only partner or husband out there who is feeling this anger and loss.
How about I start up a group called "The Ostomistic Husband brotherhood", where it is a fb group you’re welcome to join and share in the times you are struggling and need a little clarity or just need someone who gets it to know you aren’t alone, I won't be available to offer advice or act as a counsellor but should you need somehwere to ask for questions or need a safe space to open up, this will be it.
If you would find this group valuable comment yes under this blog. It is a safe space, men or partners or carers of someone ill or terminal.
I know there isn’t much support for the men and the carers but lets be in that change tonight.
It is only one day at a time that is given, but lets use that day to try and be the change we wish to see in the world.
Please don’t forget you’re not alone, I am you, I see you, I feel you.
About the Author:
Russell, a husband in his mid 30's, is a computer salesman by day and a unicorn husband by night*. He enjoys long walks on the beach, playing Pokemon Go, he loves lamp, and he loves all things nerdy! He hopes through his writing and sharing of his experiences of having a young and terminally ill wife, might help other men to understand what not to say (to avoid getting yelled at) or how they can better support their loved one. If you want to connect with Russ (or send him topics/questions or areas of concern you have) send him an email via russell @ feelingostomistic.com.au.
Saturday, April 21 2018
Disclaimer: This blog post contains spoiler alerts for Irreplacable You and discusses themes around Anticipatory Grief and cancer.
I spend a lot of my time watching TV shows or movies online via netflix, that it is often the only way I can try to escape my surroundings or my reality faced. Sometimes you come across a doozy of a show that has you wondering how you could get back those wasted 90 minutes of your life; other times you stumble across the goods.... but then there are times where you start to really get into a show only to learn that it is actually about cancer, and when you're trying to escape your cancer riddled reality, often these shows just aren't what the Doctor ordered when he said to "Netflix and chill".
Sometimes it could be handy if a show came with a disclaimer/warning, similar to that of the warnings put in place in Australian media when warning that there may be footage/images/voice recordings of deceased Indigenous Australians which may cause distress for viewers:
With this in mind, there should be something similar to be considered when it comes to TV shows or movies that involve cancer, especially to the point that it may cause distress to viewers with The Australian Cancer Research Foundation stating that "most Australian's will be exposed to cancer at some stage in their life either personally or through family or friends" as sourced from "Cancer in Australia in 2017". When you consider that the Australian Cancer Council state that "1 in 2 Australian Men or Women will be diagnosed with cancer in their life before they are 85", that is a HUGE portion of the population that are exposed to cancer either inadvertly or advertly.....
So surely a duress warning is warranted after all, due to the amount of population exposed?
When a show ends up revolving around cancer or the premise of dying, it can be rather emotional watching it and if you're in a bad headspace mentally like I have been lately, you just end up bawling for hours on end and can sometimes lead to feeling in a funk for days if not weeks and can even unravel how well you are indeed coping with life.
Very rarely however, I can find myself actually learning something from one of these movies or shows; which is rather surprising and unexpected when it does happens. I recently and surprisingly learned that how I have been feeling in regards to my prognosis, actually had a name!
Anticipatory Grief: The grief you experience without realising there's a name for it!
I recently stumbled upon a Netflix Original Rom-Com (romantic comedy, how it is a comedy is beyond me) called Irreplacable You, which introduced to me the term Anticipatory grief. Once I heard it, that this phrase actually had a name for it, I felt somewhat calmer about all the shit I had going on in my mind and started to get some clarity within myself. Choosing to read on may contain in spoilers of the movie, so spoiler alert friends.
But knowing about anticipatory grief made me feel normal in what I have been spending so long trying to process.
Anticipatory Grief, as presented in the movie, was in the way that Abbi (the lead, the protagonist of the story) was so caught up on being worried about how her partner (and fiance) Sam would cope after her death, that she created an online dating profile with the aim of seeking out "the right woman" whom she could ensure would have Sam's best interest at heart and that he would be okay and taken care of. Abbi was so focussed on making sure that everything was ready and prepared for that she had hoped this would make her anticipated death easier on herself and those around her.
It had the reverse effect as it made Abbi so focussed on life of her loved one's after she was gone that she lost sight of the living and the being present in the now. She alienated herself and by pushing Sam into another woman's arms, she lost him too. They did eventually rekindle their relationship and the day their wedding was planned for, it became her funeral, as she had died in the days prior.
But it really made me look long and hard at my own life.
I didn't know that there was such a term as anticipatory grief, and I hadn't realised that I had been living and navigating through it.
But once I knew that there was a name for a lot of what I have been trying to do, for the sole reason that I had died, such as:
There have been other moments I experienced Anticipatory Grief without realising it:
I remember breaking down crying at my mum's wedding February 2017, like I mean full on hysterical tears. Everyone (all my siblings) were dancing and my mum came and sat with me and hugged me. She asked what was wrong: that was when the tears started and they wouldn't stop. I felt so guilty that I was ruining her special night with my sadness and grief, I was just so sad at the thought of all future family events and milestones I was going to miss, such as the wedding's of my siblings, and it all just got too much for me. I apologised afterwards and the following day, mum said it was okay and she acknowledged that it must be hard.
★But I didn't know then that it was anticipatory grief, it also wasn't the only occasion that has thrown me for six either:
There are so many other times too, poor Russ has had to deal with me and the various stages of my grief for so long. He sees it all and knows this stage is hard for me.... it is hard knowing that life will go on and that I will miss out on things, but I am also worried my life would have meant nothing or I would be easily forgotten, so I am trying to do memorable stuff and make a difference as I don't want to be forgotten... which is another form of anticipatory grief.
I often break down at the thought that Russ and I won't get to live out our dream of sitting on our back verandahs in our matching rocking chairs just laughing and chatting together, or we often find ourselves talking about our 10 year plan and what we will be doing without thinking and then it hits us and one of us is crying. I get upset at the thought of missing out on having a career, missing the wedding of my best friend and siblings too. I was fortunate to live to see one friend get married last November, a day I didn't think I would live to see, and we both hugged and cried so much that day she just kept saying how happy it made her that I could be there and the feeling was mutual, gah - I am crying now just remembering that powerful and emotional moment.
I must admit the thought of Russ moving on and finding love after I've gone has been on my mind a lot, but not to the extent (yet?) that I would actively seek out my replacement and set him up before I had died (like Abbi, in Irreplacable You); I know I tend to do things a little pre-emptively, but that (seeking out my own replacement) for me is a little too much. I had considered writing a letter to whomever came after me, but trying to put that pen to paper was just far too difficult everytime I have tried. What do I say or how do I begin, "so you're banging my husband and could give him a life I couldn't because my body was too stupid go ahead and have fun kids"... nah, it is too much. I want him to be happy and hope he isn't alone but at the same time I often cry at the thought that he will have a life I won't be a part of and I won't be here and it hurts thinking of him having a family and having a relationship with someone who is normal and can do normal things like walk or shower without assistance, and who isn't such a burden. I do worry about him though, if someone takes advantage of him when he is vulnerable (such as take our house from him) or his next partner doesn't understand Autism, how his mind works and just how patient you need to be at times; he says he probably won't try dating again.
Noticing anticipatory grief in those around me:
Now that I know that it (anticipatory grief) exists and it has a name, I have been noticing it more and more in my own everyday life and pracitices. I have also been noticing the anticipatory grief that others have in their interactions or behaviours towards me.
Ways or some examples have been:
Time for change, let's talk about Anticipatory Grief to Normalise it:
For so long I have felt guilty or ashamed for feeling grief or grieving over the loss of something due to being terminal, such as: the loss of friendships or social relationships; loss of my independence and being so reliant on Russ; loss of my ability to do normal everyday tasks such as dressing myself, showering, even walking; I know I felt grief over the loss of my bowel; grieving the loss of my connectedness to my community and feeling like I don't offer a valuable contribution to society; loss of career prospects; loss of being able to have a family and fertility.
I wished I knew then that anticipatory grief was normal and that it was what I have been feeling for all this time, it might have made accepting and acknowledging these feelings easier, rather than bottling them up because I felt like something was wrong with me for feeling how I did and feeling like it was all trivial, not realising this is a totally normal process and grief to experience.
Perhaps if people read more about anticipatory grief, they might then know to speak with a mental health professional to help work through their issues, like I currently am.
But most importantly there is nothing to feel ashamed of for feeling this grief or for grieving the life you're going to lose, it is only natural, but finding the right counsellor to help you through your issues is key. If you don't feel they are a right fit, try and search for someone who is.
Know you aren't alone and what you're feeling is completley valid, important and worthy of being acknowledged.