Thursday, February 11, 2016

We're not computers, Sebastian, we're physical

For 17 days now I’ve been looking at photographs. It has been wiping me out constantly and there has not been a day when I haven’t cried. I’ve tried to keep eating healthily but sometimes that’s difficult. In lieu of that I’ve bought stuff that’s easier to eat, but unhealthy. I need the energy for this. Even so, the physical toll is being paid as you can see below. The second paragraph of the article quoted I read after googling ‘physical effects of grief’ because I did think I was getting the flu.

Feb 10th
It is reassuring, again, to talk to a bereavement counsellor. It's nice to know that everything that has been happening to me is fairly common: the anxiety, panic attacks, depression, lack of interest, lack of trust and the feeling sometimes that you're going crazy. I've had times when I've looked back on how I've been thinking and not recognized myself. And it's not just mental, it's the whole body. It is also the case that it lasts longer than anyone, who has not experienced it, expects. 'Get over it man, smarten up!'

Also reassuring is to know that everything I am doing is right: the photographs, writing about it, talking about it - getting it OUT. Right. More of that 'getting it out' today. After I've checked back through my journal and to search for signs of progress. You know, there's a book in this. I think I might call it 'No Exploding Spaceships Here'.

The counsellor was right about it being the whole body. I've felt like I've been developing a cold for a few days, but it's not coming out. After the grief hitting me a couple of times today I feel freezing. The heating thermostat is fine maintaining 21C, it's mine that isn't working properly.

Yes and yes...
"A common feeling of people dealing with loss, is the feeling of going crazy. The emotions are so strong and intense; those grieving often think they are the only ones to feel that way or that their feelings are wrong. You're not crazy, and you're not alone. By understanding these emotions, we take the first step toward realization and thus our first step on the pathway of healing."

"Perhaps the most commonly reported symptom of grief is utter exhaustion and confusion. In her book, Surviving Grief, Dr. Catherine M. Sanders explains "we become so weak that we actually feel like we have the flu. Because of our lack of experience with energy depletion, this weakness frightens and perplexes us. Before the loss, it happened only when we were sick."

Later Still…
Bloody hell, four Cornish pasties, a packet of hobnobs, a packet of ocean sticks, two packs of pork scratchings and four cups of tea. This is what it has taken to give me enough energy to get my body temperature up, and to not stagger when I get out of the armchair.

One day last year I hiked 12k, kayaked 10k and swam about 2k and I did not feel anywhere near this exhausted. Today, as per an earlier post I felt like I was getting the flu. But then, that I ate so much tonight must mean the stress response eased off a bit.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The Waves

Here below is the my last week of posts on FB concerning ‘processing grief’. A couple of people have mentioned that it comes in waves and they are quite right, but to a limited extent. On a good day I feel it building up inside me and, as I noted in the posts below, my body tells me when it is time to go look at photos and bawl. On other days the slightest set-back, upset, or reminder can set it off. While something positive, and it doesn’t have to be much – an enjoyable conversation, getting some job done, a walk – can stave it off. The waves are there, certainly, but when they hit also involves a degree of emotional fragility.

Feb 3rd
Right, I'll try again. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross wrote a book about the terminally ill. In this she suggested that they go through five stages of 'grief' after being told they will die: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and then acceptance. She later wished people would not take these stages so literally. They were later applied generally by some to all forms of grief. My own experience, the experience of others, and what I have heard from bereavement counsellors and therapists, is that they are a nonsense. Yes, you may experience some of these, but mixed together, in no particular order, and not really in stages. A lot you may not experience. My wife died, where does bargaining come into that? No real anger either. I can't really be angry at cancer since it is just a thing, one might just as well shout at the wind. Denial, no, not really. She was undeniably dead. I ran away from the pain. I didn't deny it. And yeah I got depression because I did not grieve sufficiently. Still hoping for acceptance.

Feb 5th
Mm, getting annoyed now - I must be getting better. I just sent emails to those involved in my purchase of a place in Hastings. If I don't see some action, soon, I'm dropping out. I mean, by the end of this month it will be over three months since I stuck in an offer. All that's appeared is a draft contract. I have the money, the place is empty, so how fucking difficult can it be? Someone, somewhere needs a kick up the arse.

Feb 7th
Week 5 of my mindfulness course. For reasons that are obvious to those who have read my previous posts here, I've been struggling a bit and missed out a lot of the meditations. Now I'm back on track. I've had my doubts about the acceptance and do nothing mental attitude of all this, but my opinion is changing.

The previous 4 weeks just involved getting to grips with meditation itself. 'Exploring difficulty' in week 5 is a step up, and often where people fail. In this meditation you do allow 'difficulties' come up on the 'workbench' of the mind and just let them be there, accept them. You don't try to solve them, you turn your focus towards their physical effects inside you. Why? Because this short-circuits the downward spiral into negative thinking.
The whole ethos is to become a dispassionate observer of your own mind. You don't suppress things or push them away. My first instincts were to do that but, as I have learned with this 'delayed grief', suppressing stuff only allows it to fester and come out in some other way, and often a worse way.

Time to get moving...
"Mentally tough artists, writers, and employees deliver on a more consistent basis than most. They work on a schedule, not just when they feel motivated. They approach their work like a pro, not an amateur. They do the most important thing first and don’t shirk responsibilities."

 Feb 8th
Ah, the ups an downs of 'processing grief'. Yesterday I went out for a meal with Caroline's parents. I was okay for a while then could feel the fist growing inside me. I did not like lots of people around. On the drive back it hit me seeing a small garden area we used to walk around. I managed a cup of tea at the in-laws house, got back here, determinedly started looking at photographs and fell apart. Then in the evening I came up again and even did some weight training. This is good, thought I.
I went to bed but then woke with nightmares and anxiety at 2.30. An hour and a half later I managed to sleep again but woke to anxiety and panic. I walked to try and quell that but it didn't really work. The rest of the day has been misery. This is processing grief - no one said it would be easy. Sometime in the future things will improve, apparently. It does not feel that way now, though I accept it intellectually.

What a life it is when a period of feeling calm and just okay feels almost euphoric. If anything that'll give you a mindful appreciation of the 'now'. Good grief how much time and energy anxiety and misery wastes.

Feb 10th
Nope, I decided to give up on buying that place in Hastings. It was an extra stressor I really did not need. So today I've been unpacking all those boxes I packed a couple of weeks ago. On the bright side this did make me decorate the house and bin accumulations of crap.

As I was doing this I told myself I would look at the photos of Caroline when I had dealt with X number of boxes. It didn't work out that way because my body told me when. Was it the framed pictures of us together that initiated it? No, it was a 'Titanic' fridge magnet bought from an exhibition we went to. She liked the story, had a thing about big ship disasters, liked the story of the Hood and the Bismark too. Strange sometimes are the keys to memory.

Saturday, February 06, 2016

Subconscious Timings

I have now been looking at photographs of Caroline, and forcing myself to remember, for about two weeks. And I wonder about the workings of the human mind. On the first day I lost my depression and most of my anxiety. Morning panic attacks have been dying. As I have said before, yes, I feel shit – miserable – but the emotions are right back where they should be. My mind is working differently and I am doing things differently. Things that worried me before simply don’t now. I am getting out and seeing people and talking, and that helps.

However, all of this is detailed or implied if you read about ‘complex grief’ or ‘delayed grief’. All the stuff I was suffering before is there. The anxiety, depression and panics, the lack of interest in things, the avoidance behaviour (my walking), the lack of trust in people, the feeling that life has no meaning, the avoidance of people generally, and the times when I thought I was losing my mind. But implied in this stuff is that once you start ‘processing your grief’ these symptoms will start to go away, and so they are. But all this is not what makes me wonder about the workings of the human mind. The timings are.

My problems started worsening from the middle of last year, but only last month did I accept that those problems were due to that death and had been on-going since then. At no point was a really any less than depressed and disinterested. Yet, I start looking for and find this stuff about delayed grief almost two years to the day since that death. Back then I read that it generally takes two years to start getting over the death of a loved one. There are other measures but, for whatever reasons, that time stuck in my mind. Coincidence? Then, I start using pictures of our time together to open up the doors in my mind. I started that on the anniversary of her death. And my worst time with this has been until now, the anniversary of her cremation.

This is not supernatural, of course. It may be coincidence, but I am more inclined to think it is to do with the workings of the subconscious. There is an awful lot more going on deep inside our skulls than we are aware of or prepared to acknowledge.

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Tired of Delays...

Here’s an update on the last few days. I want out of this but when I look online and research the subjects of delayed grief and complicated grief there is no quantification. Be gentle with yourself, it will take as long as it takes, is the kind of advice from the counselling side. While from grievers themselves: it can keep coming back, it never goes away. I guess my wish and the wishes of others in my position is what led to all the nonsense about the stages of grief. But I guess the question to ask is, how long can the brain take to rewire itself? And can I force the issue? Fuck this ‘it takes as long as it takes’ and fuck this ‘be gentle with yourself’. This is giving up, opting out, saying don’t expect too much of me henceforth because I am a victim. In a similar respect I’m getting a little … tired of the meditation-speak. All this ‘let things be as they are’ accept and observe the thoughts passing through your brain, relax, do nothing.

Fuck off.    

Jan 30th
I guess one of my problems is that I always viewed emotional displays as self-indulgent. Often, when I would see someone miserable, I would feel that they are 'reveling in their misery'. They would be putting on an attention-seeking display. It's not just my attitude it is also a British attitude. You hear a Sergeant Major's voice, 'Smarten up there, don't be such a wimp, man.' It's different in other cultures where there is a lot of wailing and breast beating, and maybe they've got that right. If you don't let it out you don't heal.

Feeling a bit better today. I've written all I can about the death. Maybe I'll write more as it occurs to me but certainly not 2,000 words a day. The pictures still fuck me up but I'm getting longer periods of calm. I guess if I have any advice for anyone who is going through or who has gone through the same thing it is: don't do what I did. Don't run away. I did it by exercising to exhaustion and just shutting down my mind, for two years. Don't run away into a bottle. Don't run away into a packet of pills. In fact I have gone completely about face. My advice is 'revel in your misery', because you need to and you have to.

Jan 31st
Again today I am ‘processing my grief’ I am ‘dealing with my issues’. Basically looking at photographs and thinking. Whatever. I’m finding that now I’ve opened the box I get periods when I want to close it again. I’ll look at the pictures and find my eye straying away from Caroline or I want to stop thinking about the attached memories. I sometimes find myself trying to transfer the feelings and in that way escape their true source. But I force myself to look at Caroline and remember, and all the shit feelings are right back where they should be. A further result of this is, as I think I mentioned before, the grief, in the right place, is now hitting me outside of looking at the photos or writing about this.

Today I’m going to have dinner with Caroline’s parents. I wonder, now I’ve opened things up, how that will feel? I’ve eaten there before many times since her death but of course was practising avoidance. Now I will see the empty place at the table, the photographs there, the empty living room chair … all of it.

It has been a week now with the photographs. I will continue this, but I feel I need push myself back into my life. I know this sort of thing should have no time-table, but life must continue too. I have left jobs half-done, I really need to get the vacuum cleaner out and, since someone just collected my old freezer, I seriously need to clean the kitchen floor. And finally, and most importantly, I need to find out if there has been any mental change in my attitude to writing. Tomorrow I will sit down and read through the book I started writing back on Crete and, thereafter, I will see how it goes.

Later still…
First time I've REALLY talked with Caroline's parents about her death since she died. It was very hard sometimes, and it was also a relief. They did not know about the perpetual vomiting. I did not know that she asked her mother to hold her about an hour before she died. Went to pieces when I heard that. But it all has to come out: talked out, cried out, written out.

Feb 1st
I always look for answers to things and try to apply logic. This delayed grief or 'complicated grief', upon reading all the symptoms, seemed like the answer. It seemed like this was my problem. But I also like proof, empirical evidence of any theory. When I started looking at photographs and writing about Caroline my depression left me and my anxiety dropped away. The negative voice in my mind got quieter. Things that made me paranoid and a bit crazy lost their charge as my fucked up emotions returned to their real source. That's empirical evidence.

However, I was disappointed to still be waking up and having panic attacks if I stayed in bed too long. I noted that the more I thought about Caroline the less power they had, but they were still there. Now, this morning, after over a week of grieving and then after a kind of watershed in really talking to her parents about her death yesterday, I've woken up feeling okay. No panic attacks this morning. Now it is a case that I don't 'think' I'm on the right path, I know it.

Feb 2nd
I was very happy about the change in me after talking about Caroline to her parents, and the morning of the day after I was pretty good. However, I then found some old pictures of our first year together, and they hit me like a pile driver. Panic attacks back this morning and a general feeling of misery when I was first out of bed. However, I sat and thought for a while and realised that of course I shouldn’t expect an even and steady climb in mood, or a steady improvement in my state of mind. Inevitably there will be ups and downs. Yes, I was miserable, but that’s grieving, it’s not all about tears. And though I was miserable I wasn’t depressed and incapable and again I did not feel anxious. I pushed myself and got on with some jobs I had neglected and now feel myself coming back up.

One further note: I didn’t have much time yesterday to get on with some writing, just a few hours. Most of that time I spent reading what I had written before, but I did also manage 300 words of fiction. It’s not a lot for me, but it’s one of those positives I should process!


I spoke to a counsellor at Cruse Bereavement Care today. She'd heard it all before. People stop grieving and shut down on everything because it it hurts too much. But then the grief comes back and bites them. Depression and anxiety are the top signs, along with lack of interest in things, distrust of people, expectation that life will be shit, purposelessness, moments when you feel like you're going crazy because you can't shut down the negativity in your mind, oh, and panic attacks for good measure. Time to go and look at some more photos...

Saturday, January 30, 2016


I’ve been posting a lot on FB about what I’ve been going through, doing to myself, which is covered in this short piece by one Doctor Temes. Thereafter I’ve put the posts I put on FB because I want a more easily accessible record of this…

“The effects of unresolved grief can be serious and will prevent healing from taking place. Unresolved grief will turn into delayed grief. The absence of mourning symptoms is a warning signal. Denial is an unconscious psychological defense and everyone uses some denial during his or her lifetime. Denial acts like an aspirin, the ache is still there, but you do not experience it. When you use denial, danger is not overwhelming and reality is not painful. You cannot escape from your thoughts or your feelings, however, and they will stay with you until you work them through and release them. The effects of delayed grief can manifest into inappropriate grief reactions years later and it is likely that the person will not know what is happening to them. It is at that time that the delayed mourning process can begin.”

"Some individuals think they must always be strong and in control. Should you fall into this category of personality type, understand that in the grief situation it is actually a sign of strength to express your emotions. It is essential that emotions be released. Should your emotions not be released through words and tears, they will find expression in other ways. Sometimes serious illness can occur when the emotions and fears are not expressed."

Jan 24th
Right, it's nearly light enough now so I'm off for a walk shortly as doing that yesterday was the start of me feeling better then. When I get back I'll pummel my mind with some more photos prior to 2014, and I think I'll begin writing about all that happened then.

Jan 26th
Fucking hell, who would have thought making yourself feel so bad can make you feel so much better? I have always had a grimace on my face upon hearing phrases like 'processing your grief' because it sounds like psychobabble to me. My view has always been suck it up and grow a pair. But I am always prepared to learn and, logically, all my mental problems come from two years ago, and it appears likely that is because I locked it all down - I did not deal with things then.

I've been processing my grief. I have been sitting, going through old pictures of Caroline and our life together and trying to remember every detail. It's little things that get me. Seeing a picture of her face and remembering a small patch of thread veins there. Seeing her sitting in an armchair. On the table beside her is a pot of yogurt and two pills - ginger and turmeric. These are my attempt to DO something, because they're good for the guts and claimed to be in some way preventative of cancer. Pathetic really in the face of stage four bowel cancer.

I've smiled and laughed. I've cried and at one point ended up on my knees on the floor doing so. I feel a sad nostalgia, tears still waiting behind my eyes. But what I do not feel is depressed. Also, for now, the anxiety has gone - that tightness in my chest and stomach has gone. My mind seems to be working differently - things are falling into perspective.

On one of my recent posts someone put a little placard 'Unfuck Yourself'. I won't say that this is what I am doing because I've had too many failures thus far. But certainly something is happening and, as with the meditation, it feels like it might be good.

Okay, that's enough fucking catharsis for me today. With the photographs I took a trip down memory lane. It sometimes made me smile, mostly made me cry. Looking at video clips was a killer. Seeing her smiling at me as I took a picture, well... Feeling wrung out from that I turned to writing. No real structure, just stuff as it came to me about her death, circumstances leading up to it and the aftermath. 2400 words thus far. Maybe when I'm done I'll publish it on Kindle. Maybe it will be too personal.

Jan 27th
Okay, it seems that 'processing your grief' is an exhausting exercise. I slept for 9 hours last night and right now I feel like I've been put through a mangle. But it's cold and windy today so an hour and a half walking in that should clear out the cobwebs.

Today I will do more of the same. I'll look at photographs and I'll write 2,000 words about the lovely subject of watching someone die of bowel cancer. This latter exercise I plan to be my lead-in to getting back to writing fiction, if I don't fall apart first. I want my fucking life back.

Another 2,000 words done about what began 2 years and 7 months ago, ended for Caroline 2 years ago, but has continued for me since. I realise that with all the walking, kayaking and swimming since her death, and with other things occurring inside my head, this is something I have been running away from. I'm not any more. I'm exhausted now after another day trying to castrate my mental demons. But, again, I am neither depressed nor anxious. So the demons aren't fucking me quite so much.

Jan 28th
Definite changes going on in my mind. The looking at photographs and writing about Caroline's death and its aftermath leaves me exhausted. The last two nights I slept, respectively 9 and 8 hours, which is unusual for me. Last night nightmares woke me at midnight. No images and nothing to relate to, just fear my mind groped around to find reasons for. I was reminded of shortly after she died, when I had nightmares about losing her. I would wake up and dismiss the nightmare because, well, that's all it was, then a moment later would remember the reality. This morning I have the shakes, as if I downed a bottle of whisky yesterday, but I drank nothing but tea.

I believe all this is having a positive result. Still no depression or anxiety. I feel like shit but I think the positive here is that I am feeling like shit about the RIGHT things. My fucked up emotions are now back where they should be - not repressed or transferred.

I keep posting this stuff here because it is cathartic for me and maybe for others in similar situations. This is also a reflection of me not repressing things. I have had messages from people, including doctors and psychologists, saying I am doing a good thing by posting this. If any of you reading this find it uncomfortable - embarrassing - the answer is simple: don't read it. Or maybe take a closer look at what might be going on in your head...

I'm onto week 5 of my 8 week mindfulness course. The new meditation comes after setting yourself up with 2 previous meditations and is called 'exploring difficulty'. Apparently it is at this point that many give up the course. Anyway, I now know what my 'difficulty' is. However, in the meditation I focused on what I previously thought were my difficulties. They had some emotional weight and caused a physical reaction, which is what is explored in this.

Then bam, out of nowhere, an image of Caroline in my mind. The physical reaction was strong. I had a panic attack. It was as if some part of my mind got irritated by my procrastination and delivered a message: 'Wake up dickhead! This is your problem!'

Message received.

Jan 29th
Again I looked at photos last night and I finally wrote the death scene - Caroline's death. I had to stop halfway through because I could not see the screen. Thereafter I was in pieces for the rest of the evening. Changes are still ongoing. I am now remembering her outside of looking at photographs. Though I haven't felt depressed or anxious I have been having panic attacks in the morning, if I stay in bed too long However, when I remember her the attacks go away. This is a sign of ... something.

This morning I stood by the kitchen window remembering her going to smoke a cigarette there, while she could still walk, the tartan pattern 'comfy trousers' she wore doing nothing to hide her wasted legs. I wonder if she was looking out at the view and saying goodbye to it.

Guess who I found down at Asda today? It was Neal Asher, cynical and certain and ready to rip someone's head off. Apparently a phone call in the morning had confirmed everything he had thought was happening to him. Then, some straying from the other end of the line into raiki and spiritual healing, had an amazing supernatural effect, because it resurrected his inner bastard. I hope he sticks around.

And Later…

So anyway, I spoke to a grief counsellor and saw a therapist today who both confirmed my problem: too much loss for which I have not sufficiently grieved. There is no easy out, no way round it, no way to ease it - pills, drugs alcohol or whatever just hamper or stop the process. The way to stop suffering, is to suffer. I guess it can be equated to physiotherapy after breaking a leg or something. If you want this to work, mate, then there's a process, and it's gonna hurt. I am overjoyed ... no, really, well I will be when I don't feel so knackered. There have been times this last year when I felt, seriously, like I was going insane. Now I have the answer I have been looking for for months.

Monday, January 25, 2016

It's Complicated.

In about two weeks will come the date when, two years ago, I started walking. Prior to that I lost interest in reading, writing, TV and film … okay, let’s round that up: I lost interest in my life. I walked in desperation to keep depression at bay while I got over the death of my wife. Yes, I kept depression from crippling me by walking, but I wasn’t achieving much more than a holding action. When I stop walking it comes back, when there are extra stressors in my life it comes back. But is it depression? Is it really? Because I have now been reading about ‘complicated grief.

In psychiatry, complicated grief disorder (CGD) is a proposed disorder for those who are significantly and functionally impaired by prolonged grief symptoms for at least one month after six months of bereavement.

I thought I grieved and grieved enough. However, because of the circumstances of Caroline’s death I spent an awful lot of time suppressing the images, just shoving them out of my mind. I walked and exercised to the point of exhaustion. I cleared the house of items related to her – just retaining some keepsakes in a wardrobe, out of sight. I can hardly bear to look at pictures prior to 2014. Now, in just some brief exchanges with some therapists, I learn that maybe, despite all the crying, I have not processed my grief and it keeps coming back to bite me.

The symptoms are, apparently:

Intense sorrow and pain at the thought of your loved one
Focus on little else but your loved one's death
Extreme focus on reminders of the loved one or excessive avoidance of reminders
Intense and persistent longing or pining for the deceased
Problems accepting the death
Numbness or detachment
Bitterness about your loss
Feeling that life holds no meaning or purpose
Irritability or agitation
Lack of trust in others
Inability to enjoy life or think back on positive experiences with your loved one

A lot of these apply to me. However I don’t get intense sorrow at the thought of Caroline because I have quite effectively shut such thoughts down in my mind. Nor do I focus on the death or have intense longing, for the same reason. I shut it all down, zilch, nada, not going there. So is the reality with me ‘Complicated grief’, that all the stuff I locked away in rooms in my mind is festering? Is it the case that it is not depression as such, but time to house clean my mind?

I’m forever searching for answers. I’ve tried hypnosis, meditation, am learning mindfulness, positive thinking, forced laughter and smiles, processing my positives, positive visualisations … though the one thing I still don’t want to try again is the one provided by our pharmaceutical companies. Despite all this, last week I lost 5 - 6 days to ‘depression’. I was fighting it hard but then it fought back even harder. I crashed, completely. Nothing was any good, nothing would work, everything was shit. My weight dropped by 9lbs, I started smoking again (but with the ecig I am easily stopping again), I spent most of my time sitting in a chair staring into space, feeling like Hell. I started taking Citalopram, but I only took 2. This ‘depression’ came again these last two days. Despite my resolution not to I took a Citalopram – I felt it was my only option.

Time I think to try something else, as well. I’m now booked in for CBT, but that might take some time. I’ve contacted some local therapists and await their response. But I’m also going to try something else. I’m going to make myself remember. And that starts with the photographs you see here.

Wish me luck. 

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Two Years Today

Caroline Asher 
10/7/59 - 24/1/14

Having read many articles about grief I see that experts tell us two years is the average time it takes for one to get over the death of a loved one. These same experts will soon weigh a rainbow and tell us the length in metres of anger, or love, or will accurately measure the volume of creativity. Yes, memories might not hurt so much, but damage was done and though scar tissue forms, how well do things work underneath that?