Learning About Me

Ejo #112 – Dear Mum…

Sometime in mid-March I wrote a bunch of cards for friends and family around the world that would be celebrating their birthdays and anniversaries in April. One of those birthday cards was to my Mum. Sadly, I never got to give it to her. Not when she was alive, anyway. While I was enjoying a spur-of-the-moment long weekend in Tbilisi, my beautiful mother died in hospital, getting ready for emergency surgery. She’d been ill with an aortic aneurysm for a while but I guess I didn’t realise just how serious it was. Maybe she downplayed it, or maybe I just didn’t want to realise it. Whatever the case, her death hit me like a freight train.

This ejo is going to be a rambling rumination on the process of grief (mine anyway). As I said in my previous post, the last thing I feel like doing is writing and publishing my ejos, but I KNOW my Mum would have wanted me to keep doing it and so I will try. I can’t guarantee the next few will be any good, or that they’ll be about anything other than my deep love for my Mum and the profound feeling of loss I have now that she’s gone. But hey, it’s my blog and I’ll cry if I want to.

Grief is weird, it truly is. As most of you know, this isn’t my first rodeo. Oh yeah, grief and I go way back. I lost my Dad to cancer in 2003, so I’ve been around the block as far as losing a parent goes. But the thing you need to know about grief is that it isn’t an emotion, or a feeling. Grief is actually just a process. So you can’t define how it feels. It’s different for each person, and different each time. So yes, I was familiar with grief, but I wasn’t prepared for how I would feel when my Mum died. I actually had no fucking idea how much it would hurt. Losing my second parent has been exponentially more painful. I loved my parents equally, but in the fifteen and a half years since Dad died I’ve developed a deeper emotional relationship and bond with my Mum. Plus, she’s my Mum, you know. I still cannot fully comprehend what it means to be without the woman that gave birth to me (after 36 hours of labour – sorry!), the woman who gave me life and who loved me so fiercely, and so unconditionally. I still cannot really process a world in which that is a fact. I feel lost, and the feeling is awful and lonely and devastatingly sad.

Grief is weird. Part of the weirdness is that I judge myself quite harshly about how I’m actually grieving. Sometimes I feel like I’m not sad enough. I function enough to go to work (which requires a pretty high level of functioning) and I appear fine, but on the inside I am ashamed that I’m not a blubbering mess. I am ashamed that I am even able to function. Other times, it’s all I can do to remain standing when the waves of grief hit. And they hit hard. And I bawl and wail and curl up into a little ball and I miss my Mum so desperately that it physically hurts. It’s genuinely how I feel but part of me thinks that it’s all a bit melodramatic and over the top. That I should be better by now. That other people don’t carry on like little babies when their parents die. But you know what, maybe they should. And maybe we should expect them to. Because it sucks and it’s sad, and even though time heals, it doesn’t heal linearly. It heals like a fucking mess.

Capture1

 

Capture2

 

I’ve had some well-meaning people tell me to be strong. But I’ve never understood that. I’m strong the rest of the time. When my Mum dies, I’m going to be destroyed. I’m going to be confused and bewildered and emotional, and I’m going to cry myself to sleep. Every single night. And that’s OK. Because the fact that my beloved mother is dead is absolute fucking agony. I recently discovered that I was capable of sounding like an animal while crying. A wounded animal. I forgot how visceral and guttural grief can be. How your heart can physically ache, as though it’s been punched. Sometimes I cannot breathe from the pain. It’s so raw, so intense, so monstrous. My Mum was my favourite person in the world, and now there is a big empty hole in my heart and in my life, where she used to be.

Sadly, I have so many regrets. The two saddest words in the world are, “If only…”. I try not to beat myself about it but there are so many things I wish I had done, or said, or asked. I try to be gentle on myself, but it’s not always easy. Regrets are sneaky little fuckers. On the other hand, I am grateful for so many things, and I try to keep my focus on that. I am grateful that she knew how much I loved her (oh, she knew). And I’m so, so grateful that I got to spend some time with her in February. I’m grateful that my sisters were with her when she died. I’m grateful that in the last couple of years she taught me how to make some of my favourite meals. Her best recipes. I’m grateful to have a couple of her rings, which I wear every day. And I’m grateful that I brought back her pink jumper, infused with her Mum smell. She might be gone, but her essence is still here, for now. And so, a part of her is still here. With me. It’s weird to get so much pleasure from something that leaves you with so much pain but I’m grateful that my brain can be tricked into thinking she’s still alive, even for just a second. I bury my face in the soft, pink cotton, close my eyes and inhale deeply, and her scent just brings my Mum back and I am there, hugging her and smelling her, and being enveloped in her warm embrace. And then I open my eyes and the only thing I’m holding is her pink jumper.

 

Ejo #111 – No Ejo

I wasn’t even going to publish an ejo this month because my Mum unexpectedly died a few days ago and I am experiencing tsunami wave after wave of indescribable pain and grief.  I figured, if there was ever a good enough reason to not publish – this was it.  I am absolutely fucking grief stricken.  My heart is shattered into a million pieces and the last thing I feel like doing is publishing my 111th ejo.

But….

My Mum was my biggest fan.  Hands down.  Each and every month she would read my rants and take the time to write back to me and tell me what she liked about what I had written.  And sorry to the rest of you, but my Mum’s opinion was the only one that mattered.

I feel empty now, writing this from my Mum’s study, knowing she isn’t in the other room.  Knowing she won’t ever read it.  Knowing I won’t get a response this time.  But still, I’m doing it for her.  All of my future ejos will be for her.

I love you Mum.

29

Ejo #110 – The Happiness Project: Part 3

Well, we’ve reached the Happiness Project finale!  I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about some of the strategies available to all of us to increase our happiness levels.  When I first started the project I was already pretty happy thanks to my years of working closely with Zimmy (who David accurately refers to as my “guru”).  But the three months I spent closely monitoring the way I think, and the things I do, actually increased my happiness score significantly.  For some of us, constant vigilance and consistency is necessary in order to be happy.  For others, dipping in and out, as required is enough to do the trick.  Everyone is different, but we all deserve happiness, so read on to learn about the final seven rewirements of the project.

YOGA
Yoga is amazing because it ticks so many boxes on the path to happiness. Contrary to popular belief, the core purpose of yoga isn’t actually achieving pretzel pose perfection, but rather the accompanying breathing  (though the poses and stretches are a fantastic workout). I always walk away from a yoga session with a sense of euphoria, and the great thing is that almost anyone can do it. A simple series of movements called a sun salutation done first thing in the morning is a wonderful way to start your day. It gets the blood and energy in your body flowing, and it eases the transition from sleep to wakefulness for both the body and the mind.

sun

 

PERSONALITY RESHUFFLE
Zimmy considers that our personalities are actually a composite of beliefs, behaviours and habits that we develop to cope with previous traumas, or challenging events from our past. What she would like us to do is to ask ourselves who we are outside of our pain, anxiety, insecurities and fears. What would we be? How would we think, or feel, if we stopped living our lives as a product of the story we have created about ourselves? To be honest, I initially misinterpreted this rewirement as needing to change the way I viewed the world, and in particular my feelings towards Dubai. But when I discussed this with Zimmy during one of our in-person sessions, she pointed out that it wasn’t about affirming a new intention but actually adopting a whole new personality and then basically trying that new personality out, like in a role-playing game (kind of like faking it ‘til you make it). I totally understand how this rewirement has the potential to make me happier. By taking on a survivor mentality about living in Dubai, I’m creating that reality around me. This one isn’t easy – you have to first identify the obsolete dominating personality and then lovingly let it go, while supporting another, healthier personality to come forward.

PRACTISE FORGIVENESS
Forgiveness does not mean letting someone “get away with it”. It doesn’t mean that what they did is OK. What it does mean is that you release the burden of holding onto resentment and negativity because of what someone did to you. Isn’t it crazy that painfully holding onto that shit can sometimes seem easier than just letting it go? This rewirement is definitely one that requires you to put in the work, especially if you have something major you’d like to let go of. But when you can learn to forgive, easily and without feeling like you’re losing something in the process, you will feel a weight lift from your shoulders. You’ll be empowered because your well-being is no longer dependent on other people’s actions and words. And, as a bonus, you’ll also experience health benefits like a stronger immune system, heart health and self-esteem. Holding onto pain and resentment and anger only hurts you, not the other person. Even worse, it tethers you to them, and what they did. Forgiving is freeing. Let karma take care of the rest.

DECLUTTER
As I already mentioned in Part 1, stuff doesn’t make us happy. And research shows that it can actually make us stressed, anxious and unhappy. It’s human nature to gather stuff. If you’ve ever moved house you’ll know the shock of realising exactly how much shit you’ve accumulated over the years. What feels less natural is getting rid of it, but that’s exactly what you need to do in order to be happier. It might feel really difficult to let go of some things, but the catharsis you’ll feel by decluttering makes it worth the effort. I have a general rule of thumb whenever I get the urge to spring clean – if I haven’t used it or enjoyed it in over a year, I try to get rid of it. I’ll admit I’m not as brutal as I could be when it comes to throwing things out, but I do know I love to live in a minimal house that isn’t full of crap. The state of your home can have a real impact on the state of your mind, so see how it feels to start decluttering it.

BE MORE CHARITABLE
The benefits of being charitable are fairly well documented, and I’m proud to say that most of my friends are already pretty amazing in this regard. Every time David and I raise money for a food handout I’m always overwhelmed by the huge response. It’s funny when I thank my friends for donating, how many of them thank me back for actually doing the handout but really, that’s the most rewarding part of the experience. Seeing someone’s face express joy, gratitude or even just relief at receiving something given with no expectation of anything in return is an incredible feeling and I actually feel lucky that I can be so hands-on with making a difference. But there are so many other ways in which you can be charitable. Of course you can volunteer at an organisation that helps others. You can declutter your home and give your unwanted items to someone who needs them, or to a charity. You can donate blood, and hair (if it’s long enough), or the ultimate charitable act, your organs. You can help someone cross the street or carry their shopping to their car. You can foster an animal (or a child)! There are so many ways to help out our fellow humans, and in the process of making the world a better place, you also end up helping yourself.

PRACTICE KINDNESS
Think about the last time someone was kind to you. How did their act of compassion or generosity make you feel? I bet it was good. When you do something kind for someone, or when you’re the recipient of someone’s kindness, incredible things happen in your brain. A whole bunch of feel-good hormones get released into your body. Stuff like endorphins, which you also get after running a marathon. Serotonin, which is the hormone released when you take lots of ecstasy (though kindness has the benefit of being a lot less illegal, and a lot better for you). Dopamine, which is known as the reward hormone, and the reason some people become addicted to gambling (though I reckon kindness is a helluva nicer thing to be addicted to).  And finally, oxytocin, known as the “love” hormone, which also floods the body during orgasm.  I’ll just leave that there for you to think about. 😉

PLAY
So tell me guys, why do kids get to have all the fun? When did we, as grown ups, stop playing? And more importantly, why? It’s well known that kids need to play in order for their brains to develop empathy, communication and resilience. But adults can also benefit by incorporating some playtime into their day. Firstly, the act of playing releases dopamine, which makes you feel good. But more than that, it’s been proven to increase productivity, creativity and connection. Which is why the most progressive companies in the world factor playtime into their office design and schedules. Being playful doesn’t necessarily have to be a structured thing, either. Finding the humour in situations, being silly, making jokes, flirting, play-fighting and role-playing all contribute to our well-being, as well as making us healthier and happier. And isn’t that what we’re all looking for?!