The Fifth Stage of Grief

I saw my psychologist yesterday and she’s super impressed with how I’m going. We talked about how I’m using the Stop! technique and also about how I looked after real live patients on Sunday (including a pregnant woman). We talked about how I managed my colleague telling me to “just think positively” etc etc because you know, “you have a healthy baby” etc.

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Smile! You have a healthy baby!

Basically she’s really happy with how I’m traveling. So much so, that I canceled my appointment in two weeks and booked it for four weeks instead.

One thing that I have noticed is how I’m able to separate myself from work. It’s not withdrawing from my friends or family or anything bad, it’s a coping mechanism that all people working in emergency or care services such as nurses, doctors, police officers, ambulance officers and firefighters develop as a defence mechanism so they can finish work, go home and sleep at night. If we didn’t separate ourselves from the often tragic and distressed stories of our patients/clients, then we’d simply be unable to function ourselves.

Certainly some people touch us. I can still see the face of the man that I spent 35 minutes doing fruitless defibrillation and then CPR on, whose wife and children arrived shortly after we’d declared him deceased. I cried about him afterward. I grieved the life that he lost because I was unable to send him home to his family.

My grief response to him though, was very different to my grief response to what happened to me. Ultimately I was able to move on because I could rationalise his medical history. I was able to immediately process that even though he died, I and my colleagues did everything we could to fight it and it wasn’t enough. I could separate myself by recognising that his death was sad, but that people do die young and that’s just the way life is.

With my own trauma, I wasn’t able to process that immediately. I didn’t have anyone else to talk to about it. No colleagues in the tea room to have a cuppa with and go over the events. No ability to rationalise with facts and knowledge.

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I recall being in my hospital bed in the night when my daughter was a day or two old and I was on my mobile phone writing out my birth story to post on a popular Australian parenting website. The stories I had read on that website went into detail how the children were born. As I was typing the letters into words, I found myself starting to breathe quickly, my mouth going dry. I couldn’t say the words because they were just too hard to get out. If I wrote them or said them, then what I was writing, really happened. Surely something that bad didn’t happen! No, it must not have, because I’m ok, my baby is ok. We’re healthy. Surely if that had happened, both of us. One of us. We’d be sick! But we’re not and I’m grateful to have a baby who is ok. She’s healthy any that’s all that matters.

So my sanitised version went online. The responses I got were wonderful. So many people from the community of parents I had been apart of during my pregnancy were genuinely happy that my girl was finally born and that we had picked a beautiful name and that we were both healthy.

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Maybe if I had recognised the problem then and dealt with it immediately, I would not have had the grief that I’ve had?

Obviously I can’t change the past. I can’t go back to that week and deal with it, I can only acknowledge and accept that it happened and then move on. It’s taken me two years and nearly seven months, but I have accepted that it happened.

I’m so ready to move on. I’m so ready to have it all be gone.

The tools my dear psychologists have taught me, are absolutely invaluable. I asked my Magic Brain Lady yesterday about my fear. I’m feeling so good, but I’m constantly scared, terrified even. I’m so worried that this spell might break and I’ll end up right down at the very rock bottom again. I feel like I’m at about ninety percent well. I’m so conditioned to think that the ten percent of me that’s not well, will ruin me. Surely that life playing a cruel prank on me, because I’m one big shit magnet who doesn’t get ahead ever.

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Basically the outcome of that conversation is that now I can see the warning signs. I have the tools to cope with the shit or at least delegate the coping out to someone who can help. My defence mechanism means that I won’t let myself get that bad ever again because I can remember how bad it really was.

I did do something major today. I went back to the hospital. Yep the hospital. I vowed never to return after collecting my medical records, but life works in mysterious ways and I ended up needing to be there for a non-urgent matter. I did avoid people. I recognised faces, they probably hate me for it, but I ducked into corridors to avoid the inevitable “how have you been?”

I sat outside under the awning at the cafe, listening to the rain drizzle softly from the sky, while I watched people walk by with IV pumps and wheelchairs. Pregnant women. People with flowers. Elderly couples with rollator frames. Men in surgical scrubs. Nurse managers with pagers and clipboards. Doctors with stethoscopes and hot coffee in cardboard cups. Life was continuing on without a worry in the world. Even in this situation, I could still appreciate the world around me.

My husband, who I don’t blog about too often because I’m not sure how he feels about being the subject of my internet discussions, said something to me the other night. An off the cuff comment that I’m sure he’s forgotten about, but it has stayed with me. He said “Don’t be bitter because those people deserve good healthcare”. I was having one of my countless moments where I found myself spiraling down into despair. We were stopped at the traffic lights outside that hospital and I felt so immediately sad and said “I wish it would fall down”. It angers me that it’s me who went there to have a baby and left with the added bonus of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Post Natal Depression and Anxiety. I’m bitter that people I know and care for have walked away with nothing but a clean bill of health and good memories of kind nurses and doctors.

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His words. They’re true. I say that I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy, yet in a way, I wish it hadn’t happened to me. That it was someone else. I’ve spent the last two years (at least) directing so much anger and hatred into my circumstance that I clouded my vision completely. This isn’t me being a martyr by any means, but this happening to me, means that two friends who have also had babies safely there, came home ok. It means that another friend who has had major surgery there, came home ok. It means that my own husband who has also been a patient there, came home ok. I would be horrified if any of my loved ones had this happen to them.

So I accept that by happening to me, it hasn’t happened to the people I love. I accept that doctors and nurses do stuff up. I’m not the first patient and I won’t be the last. I accept that it happened because I do not have a time machine to go back and change the past. I’m not at the stage of forgiveness. I’m not sure I’ll ever be there. One shift at work for them, has essentially put my life and my families’ life on hold for two years.

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I feel weightless. PTSD happened to me. PTSD does not define me.

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My goodness, I had no idea I had all of this in me today. If you’re still here, thanks. Thank you for taking the time to read my thoughts, I hope you’re well.

Xx Clair

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20 thoughts on “The Fifth Stage of Grief

  1. I’ve been following you for a while on Twitter but had no idea of what you’d been through until just now when I read this post & then had a need to find out what happened. {Hugs}

      • That’s great you have a safe place. I used to blog too but sadly after one awful comment it was never the same for me and I couldn’t blog there any more. 😦 I’ve thought about starting up a new one because I did find writing cathartic but sadly I just lost my enthusiasm for it.

  2. Thank-you for this post – it resonates with me in a bunch of different ways. I do not know/do not think I will ever get to the forgiveness stage either. It is such an awful path to go down – it is incredibly lonely.

  3. Sweetie – this post actually made me breathe a small sigh of relief.
    “I won’t let myself get that bad ever again because I can remember how bad it really was.”

    Still take little steps though. just in case. XX

  4. I can’t even begin to imagine how hard it must be to have to work in the very environment which has caused you so much pain and trauma, even though it’s not the same hospital there must still be constant reminders 😦 What strength it takes to get up and face that every day!

    • Thanks πŸ™‚ it’s certainly been a huge challenge and I’m so fortunate to have really good support. Not many people at work know about my PTSD, so it’s been quite lonely too. Flaking out due to short term memory loss and not being able to physically do things has been the most challenging because it makes me look bad professionally. I actually told someone who I respect a great deal the other day and they responded in a less than ideal way, which was disappointing. That’s not my problem though, I’m not taking that on board.

  5. you’ll never be there again, I believe you and believe in you Clair.
    you’re strong enough, capable enough and certainly worthy of this version of you. the best is yet to come, keep on babe. so proud. so moved, I adore you,

    hebah xoxo

      • Thanks! It really is cathartic. Also, it’s so frustrating to find so much info on extreme points of view. Most of us fall in the middle. We should be more vocal. πŸ˜‰

      • I replied to this, but I’m not sure it worked. Thank you so much! It is cathartic. Also, there is so much info out there I extreme views. Us folks with other experiences need to be more vocal. πŸ˜‰

      • Hello πŸ™‚ it sure did work. Sorry I have moderation on for spammers, but since the iPhone app updated I no longer get notifications. I’m finding as I get more & more strength in my brain to cope, I’m getting more & more vocal about the people who just don’t get it. They don’t (& apparently can’t) understand that others can be traumatised by an experience that they sailed through with no dramas. Just this week I read an article on Kveller.com about a mum who wanted advice on a Jewish grief ritual for her to possibly heal from her birth. The comments were so terrible. The other mums replying were just revolting. We don’t need the extreme views, we also don’t need sunshine & roses, just some empathy & understanding would be good & a safe space to vent/discuss.

      • Really?? It’s so crazy. I have been appalled at the judgement of other moms. But…I also wonder if I would have been like that had everything gone as planned??

      • I don’t know, I have thought of that. I think that this experience changed me and for the better in a way because now I’m much more open to accepting that people can feel however they like as a result of their experiences.

  6. I was really happy to read this. I’m so glad CBT is working and that you know you will never be in that place again. This was the best thing I’ve read all year πŸ™‚ You’ve done an amazing amazing job. (sidebar: terrific writer)

  7. Pingback: Planning for the Future | Evie Meeny Miney Mo

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