Staying Human Amongst the Pain

Every morning I wake up and there’s that few seconds before reality hits, where I think it’s just another normal day… but clearly it’s not. I’ve started wondering if that will change… if I’ll wake up one day soon, and know instantly that life is a little different now and this is the new normal for who knows how long. Time will tell.

I’ve been thinking about resilience a lot these past few weeks. I’m really struggling at the moment, with the constantly moving goal posts and the ability to stay on top of my emotions has completely gone AWOL. I’m a feeler, I tend to absorb the emotions of those around me and right now in this information overload environment, it’s exhausting. And this is all coming off the back-end of my family’s close calls with the recent fires and the constant adrenaline and fear filled weeks we all endured as our country burned.

I haven’t always been a feeler though…

Back in January I was bestowed with honour of being the City of Newcastle’s Citizen of the Year 2020 at the Australia Day Citizenship Awards Ceremony. It was such a wonderful and inspiring event, watching so many people receive their certificates to call this beautiful country their own. A positive future lay ahead for all in that moment.

Little did we know back then, that we’d be facing a short (or possibly long) term future with isolation, fear and heartbreak for many. Little did I understand what kind of ‘memorable’ year this was going to be. Perhaps there should be an amendment of the title to Citizen of the most Challenging Year in History 2020. I’ll post an update on the journey that was, in December…

Anyway, back to resilience… just a few short weeks ago, when we were all still able to gather in groups, I was invited to speak at an International Women’s Day event, on a subject relating to health and wellbeing. I decided to talk about my life story and the many opportunities I’ve had over the years, to build on resilience.

I say ‘opportunities’, because that’s exactly what they were. But they were also the times in my life where I experienced loss. The loss of my hometown of Darwin in 1974 as a ten year old child, the loss of my four month old daughter Jessica when I was 23, the loss of my 16 year marriage, the loss of two jobs that I loved through redundancy within a four year period, the loss of feeling like a connected and purpose driven member of the community through long periods of unemployment and not ever knowing where the next dollar was coming from.

When we experience loss… as human beings, we’re supposed to grieve. We’re supposed to sit in that grief and feel it. We’re supposed to give ourselves time… time to release, time to adapt and to adjust. Often we don’t, because it’s too hard. We either push it aside, or mask it.

I did both… and I paid for it with my physical, emotional and mental health.

I pushed aside my grief after Jessica died, because I fell pregnant with my second daughter, Renee, just before she passed. The pregnancy wasn’t planned, but Renee was such a blessing. I cannot imagine life without my beautiful girl and I am so grateful.

At the time, the last thing I wanted to do was ‘prepare’ for another baby… I couldn’t bear to see mothers walking down the street with prams, I couldn’t face friends who had babies around the time Jessica was born. I was filled with envy, anger, sadness and grief, but I pushed it all aside and focused on the tasks ahead. It’s what you do…

Some years later, I’d been experiencing an array of abdominal issues that doctors couldn’t come up with an answer for. I was in and out of hospital for a while and had been prescribed with Panadeine Forte to get me through the ‘pain’. To this day, I’m not sure whether that pain came from something physical, or whether it was my emotional pain coming to the surface.

I don’t talk about this next period in my life much, mainly because I’ve never really thought it was relevant to bring up in everyday conversation. I’m also not ashamed of it… In fact I’m proud to be able to say that I got through it.

Burying my grief and pain, saw me rely on that Panadeine Forte over time, and before I knew it, I was addicted to the codeine. It was six years before I reached a point where I had the courage to tell someone and to break the insidious grip this drug had on my life. I hid it from friends and family for a very long time and it was all consuming – financially, emotionally and physically. It really is a story in itself… ending with an horrific detox program at Lorna House at the Mater here in Newcastle, that went on for many weeks. I’d only just moved to Newcastle, and had started a new job. I will be forever grateful to my employer at the time, for their kindness, patience and faith in me.

The reason I’m talking about this now, is that I think this current situation we’re all finding ourselves in, is conducive to the deterioration of our mental health. We’re all experiencing loss.

Loss of income, livelihoods, physical connection and even life.

So much has changed and will continue to change. We’re grieving for the life we thought we were going to have. It’s a very real and physical loss and although we’re all trying to make light of the situation with our traditional Aussie humour, it’s really not that funny. We need to talk, and to reach out. We need to sit in our feelings and give ourselves the space to really feel them. It’s hard, but it’s necessary.

Once again in my career, my job is also at risk. Being an event manager in a world where I can’t do what I do best in the usual format, and that is to bring people together, to connect them for a purpose, is fast becoming difficult and probably won’t be seen as ‘essential business’ in terms of the organisation’s core focus. I’m dealing with the emotions of that. The potential loss of the perfect job I had finally landed after all these years, and the fear of potentially not having an income again for an unknown period of time.

Living alone and being physically disconnected from family is also a tough gig, but I know I’m not alone here. I’m relying on my experience with loss and resilience right now, to get me through another dark period. I know I will survive. Just not the way I thought I would.

So you see, I haven’t always been a feeler… there was a long period in my life where I built up the walls, pushed people and emotions away, masked the pain with substance. I did whatever it took to avoid grieving. But in the long run it didn’t help me. It caught up with me and I was forced to deal with all of it as I unravelled every essence of who I was as I withdrew from that horrendous drug. The floodgates opened then and haven’t ever closed again. I’m grateful for that.

So my message here is, from me to you… we ARE all in this together.

We don’t have to be strong and carry on as normal. This situation is far from normal, and as human beings, we’re not always strong. We need to respond to the loss we’re feeling right now and in the coming months in the most human of ways. Let the emotions flow, give yourself space to do it and don’t be afraid to reach out.

Just don’t bury that grief… it comes back to bite you when you least expect it.

In three words, I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on. Robert Frost

  One thought on “Staying Human Amongst the Pain

  1. March 29, 2020 at 3:05 pm

    Thankyou for sharing your beautiful heart and soul
    You truly are a lighthouse for so many
    These tough times will bring many of our emotions to the surface that we have buried
    As painful as it will be to us all, it’s these times in isolation and sitting with ourselves we can work through theses emotions We are all in this together
    Blessings gorgeous lady 🙏💗

  2. Mark
    March 29, 2020 at 10:30 pm

    Oh Michelle, thank you for sharing another chapter of your story so openly again. We are all dealing with the fear of the unknown at present, I know I am. But my hope is that even though we are about to face further restrictions and quarantine edicts from the Government
    that will have an impact on all of us as we deal with this that if we do what we have to do for each other, all will be well, in time. Please try not to feel alone, as difficult as I know that can be, because I’m sure you have the love and respect of so many.

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