Category Archives: Health

Feeling Vulnerable

My back hadn’t felt good since a recent trip.  I’d lugged heavy luggage up and down way too many flights of stairs, and although the shoes I’d worn – with my orthotics! – were good solid shoes, they perhaps hadn’t been right for so much walking.  But I figured that things would sort themselves out after a few weeks back home in my normal routine again.

Wrong.

I was in my apartment one Saturday morning, bending down to pick something up, when my back ‘went’.  I sank to the floor, the pain so intense that I struggled to catch my breath.  My legs tingled and I felt panic rising.  Was this a stroke?  Was I going to be paralyzed?

I was at the farthest point in the house from a phone and I couldn’t move for the pain.  I waited about 10 minutes, trying to calm myself with deep breaths, then managed to shuffle on my butt down the hallway towards the kitchen and found my cell phone.  With that in my hand, I hauled myself on to a chair and sat trying to work out what to do. I didn’t need an ambulance, but I wanted someone to know what was going on, so I called my daughter.

“Do you want me to come over, Mum?”

“No.”  She had a one-year-old to look after.  “I just need you to know I’m not feeling too great.”

And then I started crying.

“Seriously, Mum, are you okay?  Do you want me to come over?”

I couldn’t answer.

And then she asked…”Are you feeling very vulnerable?”

Bingo. She’d hit the nail on the head.

Sprawled out there on the floor, in pain, unable to reach my phone, alone and frightened, that’s exactly what I’d felt.  And angry too.  After years and years of nursing my ex-husband through all his emergencies, the one time I could have done with someone there to help me, I was on my own.

To cut a long story short, although I got treatment for my back, I have been left with some issues, and those issues have forced me to face my vulnerabilities head on and deal with them.

My personal vulnerability, for now, is a health issue. Yours may be financial, for another person it could be safety or security, someone else’s may be loss of family, loneliness, depression.  You name them, our vulnerabilities are out there.

So, from someone who has no expertise, except having experienced one particular vulnerability myself, here are my thoughts to best protect yourself.

1) If it’s an emergency, don’t mess around. Call 911/999 if it’s a life-threatening health or safety issue.  If it’s still a crisis – not a life-threatening one, but you still need help – reach out to family, friends or other professional organisations that can help in that crisis moment.

2) Once the immediate crisis is over and has been dealt with, face your vulnerability straight on.  Can you give it a name? What steps can you take to stop/prevent/reduce the risk of it happening again?

Given that mine was a health crisis, but not life-threatening, I rested over the weekend, then made appointments to see my doctor and physio as soon as I could.  (I’m very lucky, living in a country with free health care, as I know this isn’t an option for everyone.) I got appropriate treatment, continue to do daily exercises to strengthen my back muscles, ensure I have over-the-counter pain medications in the house should I need them, always wear decent supportive shoes when I go out, have cut my luggage down to the bare minimum when I travel, check in with a friend via e-mail, and text my daughter, every morning, just to make sure we’re all okay, etc.  If yours is a financial, physical, or emotional vulnerability, list the steps you can take to better protect yourself in the future. Ask a professional for advice. Talk it over with someone who has been in a similar situation.

3) We’re all getting older and the reality is that this vulnerability – or another one – could strike at any time.  There are no guarantees in life, but remember this – you got through this crisis, you can do it again.  You’re stronger than you think. Trust in yourself, try to find people who can support you, be prepared, keep your attitude as positive as you can… and it should all work out.

1,000 Days

On Friday January 19th, 2018, it will be 1,000 days since April 25th, 2015, when my husband ended our marriage.  A marriage that lasted 13,688 days – or thirty-seven years, five months and twenty-three days. (Not including how long we knew each other before then.)

1,000 days seems a good time to stop and take stock.  Where am I at this point in my life?  What have I come through?  Where am I going?

I’ll be honest, the first four hundred days were sheer hell.  About 150 days in, I can remember sitting in my rental apartment, wondering how much longer I could survive the emotional pain. I wasn’t sleeping, had no appetite, and the weight was dropping off me. How long until I started feeling normal again?  I asked friends who’d been through something similar.  They couldn’t – or wouldn’t – give me a time frame, but assured me I would get through it.  My grief was so overwhelming I wasn’t sure I could cope with such uncertainty. But I just kept putting one foot in front of the other, and chose a place in the river if the pain became intolerable.

And yet… and yet… some amazing things happened to me in those 150 days. I discovered a strength I didn’t know I had.  I found myself a lawyer and apartment, and my friends and family rallied around me in ways I couldn’t have imagined. It was spring, so I was able to walk in the fresh air every day and watch nature turn into summer. (The dramatic weight loss might not have been healthy, but it looked good!) 

I reckon I had a nervous breakdown about 300 days in. My brother and sister opened their homes to me, fed me, talked to me, walked with me and let me cry. That was probably my lowest point.  I’d experienced my 60th birthday, 38th wedding anniversary, Christmas and New Year without him. This was real.  There was no going back.  The ugly truth of my husband’s lies and deceit had been revealed.  The settlement was dragging on and I was lost in a fog of despair.

And yet… during those 300 days, I concentrated hard on eating well and walking at least 10,000 steps every day, so I was physically healthier than I had been in decades.  I’d given a workshop at a conference that was so well received, someone tweeted that my workshop alone was worth the whole conference fee. I’d started travelling, and attended a wonderful music festival where I stood under a night sky blazing with stars while a friend commented how blessed we were to experience such beauty. She was right.

Most importantly,  my daughter had a gorgeous baby boy.

Days 400-700 were a little easier, but still held challenges.  I was fortunate enough to be able to take another couple of holidays with a good friend. I decided to say ‘yes’ to every invitation I got, as long as it was safe and I could afford it. That attitude resulted in me having some great experiences and making new friends.  I bought an apartment, and after almost 40 years of not making any major financial decisions, discovered the process wasn’t so intimidating. Not when you’ve got great people helping you. 

Day 468, we signed the settlement papers. 

Day 681, the divorced was finalized. 

Days 700 -1,000  – I started to find my new normal.  I was sleeping.  The weight was creeping back on – sigh.  I was still travelling.  Although I continue to have fears about my financial future – who doesn’t – if I’m careful, I reckon I should be okay. My concentration isn’t fully back, so I can’t indulge my previous passion for reading, but I’ve been to the theatre more in the past 3 years than for a long time. My friends and family have stuck with me, and they are amazing.  

On the days I pass my ‘spot’ on the river, I feel a huge relief that it never came to that, but also anger that the man I loved could hurt me so badly I would even consider taking my life.  Three years on, I now know he would not have been worth it.

Moving forward,  I need to concentrate on my health, my family and friends, more travelling and get my career going again.  

I need to accept that I may never totally get over the sense of loss… and that’s okay. It means I cared. My marriage was important to me. I loved my husband deeply, and though I may have been somewhat naive, love is nothing to feel ashamed about.

I believe I am through the worst of it.  Way back at the beginning of all this, I never thought I would have a good day again, but my current reality is…I have way more good days than bad ones.  So my friends were right.  It takes time. No-one can give you a schedule to heal to… but you’ll get there.

Starting on Day 1,015, I have an adventure planned that I have dreamed about since I was 15 years old. It’s something I never could have done in my ‘old’ married life.  I’m excited about it, terrified too – as I’ll be doing it on my own – but trying to focus on being excited.  

If I pull it off, I’ll let you know!

Moving forward into the New Year.

Way back at the beginning, after my husband left me, one of the things that helped me get through that first awful year was keeping a gratitude journal. No matter how bad things got – his bullying, my grief, arguments with lawyers, concerns over money, sense of worthlessness, dealing with the bank; finding somewhere to live; going into social situations on my own for the first time – I decided that if I could find 3-5 positive things each day, then I had to class it as having been a good day.

They didn’t have to be big things:  a nice cup of coffee; only crying 3 times in a day instead of 5; hanging out with a friend or friends; walking a dog; finding a nice e-mail in my inbox; my granddaughter hugging me; the sun shining; my favourite song playing on the radio; the first snowfall; leaves crunching beneath my feet: hitting 10,000 steps on my Fitbit; a hot shower, a good movie or programme on TV; chocolate. 

Such a simple thing, but believe it or not, it helped.

Isobel and I are now entering our 6th and 3rd years alone.  On the whole, life is better than we could have imagined it in those early days.  There are still some rough times  – the Christmas season brought heightened emotions and a few tears – but on the whole, we’re both in a better place.

So we’ve decided to conduct an experiment this year.  We’ve both chosen two empty jars.  We’ll label one jar, ‘good day’ and the other, ‘bad day’. At the end of each day, we’ll decide what kind of day it has been and drop 10 cents into the relevant jar. Visually, it will be interesting to see what they look like, and if nothing else we’ll have $36.50 to spend on a meal out, new book or whatever.

Isobel’s jars

Please join us in this experiment. We’d love to know how you fare.

We would caution, however, that if you are still in that first horrible year, perhaps the gratitude journal idea might be a better idea for you.  And if your ‘bad’ day jar fills more rapidly than your ‘good’ day, please think about seeking out professional help.

Vhairi’s jars

May 2018 ease your pain and bring you hope for a healthy, positive future.

Our very best wishes – Isobel and Vhairi.

P.S.  I’m adding this paragraph on January 7th.  I hope your year is going well so far, but if you’ve had to add a penny to the ‘bad’ jar, perhaps add a little note with it, saying what happened and why.  Then, at the end of the year, you can look back on those days, examine why they were bad, and judge how well you are moving on.

Signs and Baby Steps

Sun field

I’ve always loved travelling; from my first sight of the sea when I was a wee girl, to that first train trip down to London, to my first sight of Venice when backpacking around Europe as a teenager, to that first transatlantic flight.

I know my way around airports and train stations, and am pretty comfortable hiring cars and booking hotels. But – apart from a few flights – I’ve never actually travelled on my own. It’s always been with people, or on my way to see friends and family.

Now that the divorce process is over, I have this fancy that one day I’ll spend time in countries I’ve always wanted to visit – which means I may have to do it on my own. So… I took some baby steps towards that recently. Forget about two weeks or one month travelling on my own. Could I do it for one day?

To be honest, I was really nervous when I picked up my car rental. I had decided to spend one day and one night on my own visiting a historical attraction I’ve always wanted to see, then stay overnight in a private hotel in a small village, rather than the airport hotels I’m more used to. How would it go?

Well… it didn’t start well. The weather was appalling – bucketing rain and gale force winds. To top if off, I dropped a bottle of cordial on my way to pick up the car, which meant that everything I was carrying – and wearing – got splattered in sticky. Sigh! Was it a ‘sign’ I wondered, that I shouldn’t be doing this? (I’m a great one for signs.)

But the rental went smoothly, as did the drive. I got lost only once – despite my sat nav. The historical attraction was great, I joined a tour, and when it was over, a woman kindly offered to drive me back up the very steep hill to where I’d parked my car.

All that was left was the drive to the hotel – across 10 miles of deserted countryside. I only passed two cars en route and my imagination ran riot. What if I broke down out here? What if I ran off the road and no-one found me for a day… or a week… or… ever???? What if…?! What if…?!!

And then I saw the view in front of me. On one side of the road was an ugly clear-cut, with only a few remaining dead trees scarring the hill. On the other? A serene landscape highlighted by a tiny burst of sunshine on a very grey day. I stopped the car and took a picture, imagining the clear-cut represented the death of my marriage and ugliness of the divorce process. The other side of the road? Hopefully the promise of a golden-ish future.

And you know what? When I arrived the hotel, the owner and his wife were wonderful. They helped me with my bags, and provided me with books on the area when they heard I had old family connections in the neighbourhood. I sat in front of a wood fire in the cosy lounge writing e-mails for an hour, and then had the most delicious dinner.

Next morning, after a fabulous breakfast and leisurely walk around the village, I headed home. I’d managed one day travelling completely on my own.

Baby steps!

Baby steps.

We’ll get there.

Fall Down Seven Times, Get Up Eight.

Two days ago, Isobel and I were discussing whether we should continue with this blog. We’re not getting a lot of traction on it, and after almost 3 and 5 years since our husbands walked out on us, we’ve been through hell, come out the other side, and are happier that we’ve probably been in years.

We’re happy.

Is that what someone going through the early stages of one of the worst experiences of their life wants to hear?

Only days ago I played a ‘game’ with myself where I took my ex and a friend, or family member, and said to myself, “If I could only see one of these people once more in my life, who would it be?” I went through a whole list of almost 30 people lining up each one against my ex. Not one of my choices turned out to be him, and oh… did I feel smug.

And then…

I knew my husband was remarrying this month, but it’s one thing intellectually knowing it’s going to happen. Hearing from someone that it had actually happened was something else. And then to check out her Facebook page – I know, I know. It was mad thing to do – and see her looking so young, pretty and deliriously happy…

All that pain came rushing back. I know in my head that after years and years of having to deal with his infidelity and chronic illness I am better off now than I was with him, but inside…

You can’t turn off 37+ years of loving someone just like that. Despite the divorce papers tucked away in my fire safe, despite everything, it hadn’t felt ‘real’.

And now?

All those feelings of inadequacy, hurt, pain, betrayal and loss came rushing back. Hadn’t I been the one to pick him up off the floor in the middle of the night when he’d passed out after his blood pressure dropped so low? Hadn’t I been the one to move our family, not once, but 3 times across the Pond so he could follow his dreams? Hadn’t he told me every day of our married lives that he loved me? What is so wrong with me that he left me?

Once again I thought about that spot in the river where I had decided that, if the pain got so excruciating that I couldn’t stand it any more, I would walk in and it would all be over.

You know something? This whole divorce shit sucks. It sucks big time. It messes with your brain, with your heart and with your whole sense of yourself. You look at yourself and the choices you made with your life and marriage and wonder – if this was how it was going to end up – how you could have been so f—ing stupid as to have stood beside him and supported him for so long?

And yet…

I was a good wife. I am a good person. When I heard the news of his marriage I was on one of the best holidays I’ve ever had in my life.

I was devastated. I wanted to crawl in a hole and weep.

But…

I will survive.

I will thrive.

And so will you.

There will be days when the pain and loss overwhelms you…

… but then you’ll wake up next morning and get on with your life.

Gaslighting

When someone you love deeply treats you as if you were nothing, it’s nearly impossible not to feel like you are truly nothing.

The term Gaslighting comes from the 1944 movie Gaslight, starring Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman, in which a ‘loving husband’ tries to convince his wife, and others, that she is going mad. Of course she’s not – he’s manipulating her through lies and deceit to get something he wants.

Sadly – very sadly – it’s a technique many men use when ending (or sometimes within) a relationship.

Truth and lies become fluid. If you are the victim of this behaviour, you will probably find yourself questioning your own sanity. And even when your husband is caught out in a lie, he may continue to argue it’s not something he would ever say or do. And because you love him you’ll want to believe him.

So how can you protect yourself against being gaslit?

Firstly, listen to your gut. If you sense there’s a disconnect between what you’re being told and what you feel, there probably is.

Take some time to think back on your relationship.  Are you aware this has ever happened before?  If he’s ever done it once before – even on something minor – he has the capacity to do it again.

Try and protect yourself from being taken in again either before, during or after the divorce. This might involve writing down things he says or does that don’t sound correct to you – and perhaps even e-mailing them to a friend.  If/when he denies he ever said or did them, you have the proof that you are not mad.

And if he does still try, or manage, to gaslight you… do NOT be hard on yourself.  You are NOT gullible. You are a good, trusting and trustworthy person – qualities you do not want to lose.

 

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/here-there-and-everywhere/201701/11-signs-gaslighting-in-relationship

 

Attitude and Gratitude

Healing from an emotional avalanche is a long, long journey, often beset by many setbacks. For me, the early days were the baby steps of putting one foot in front of the other in the hope of simply making it through the day – and night – before waking up and starting all over again.

I’ve talked before about the things that helped – family, friends, walking, eating properly, starting a gratitude journal, but there was something else that helped me a lot when mind was unable to focus on reading anything longer than a paragraph. Pinterest.

Yes, you read it right.

Pinterest.

Specifically the thousands and thousands of inspiring and motivational quotes you can find there.

These and many others helped me see I was not alone in my grief and that there was hope out there.

Only as my concentration and focus started to slowly return (it took over a year year) was I able to try to read some of the books recommended by friends and family. Vikki Stark’s Runaway Husbands. Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, Eckhardt Tolle’s The Power of Now, Brene Brown’s Rising Strong.

I still love Pinterest for its quotes and check it out every few days.

But there’s also one video I return to that is inspiring and humbling. Maybe you’ve seen it already – Randy Pausch’s Last Lecture. (Click here to view.) I saw him first on Oprah and then watched his Last Lecture in its entirety on Youtube before buying his book.

The lessons he teaches are simple yet profound. My body might not take too well to bouncing anymore, but I’m going to work hard at following his example and be a Tigger rather than an Eyeore.