by Isabelle Baker, Caring Cradle
Working for Caring Cradle has been a personal privilege for me as I am a Rainbow Baby and my mother never recovered from the stillbirth of her first child. I will write more about that later, but because of how my mother was NOT cared for, because there was no community to support her, and because she did not receive the love and time she needed to say goodbye to her baby, she remained broken and unable to be the mother I can only believe she wanted to be at one time. In large part, my mother’s issues led to a difficult childhood for me.
For a good portion of my teenage and adult life, I’ve dealt with depression and anxiety. I’ve never lost a baby, but I have many years of dealing with hopelessness and loss.
I am so grateful that while we still have a long way to go, the subject of mental health is more normalized than it was 40 years ago. It’s much more accepted to speak about our mental health issues and that is what I am going to do here. It is my hope that perhaps something I share may help a reader.
While on the journey to restore and recover our mental health, familiar to those of us who struggle, it is our habit to look for healthy and proven ways to help us cope.
There were times I felt I was in a forest of darkness, a place without light.
However, I have learned through experience, that with patience, time, professional and community support, and doing what I can, albeit slowly and sometimes with great heaviness, light does return. At first, the light is but a glimmer. But soon it becomes more apparent. Its very presence will bring more of itself to lighten our load, our mood, and our landscape.
I wanted to share some things that I have learned about making space and time while waiting for the light.
One note: I sought and leaned into professional help for quite a few years. I took medication for some time. Both of those choices were necessary and possibly life-saving. There is no substitute for professional guidance when you need it.
Don’t put off professional support if you feel stuck, overwhelmed, or helpless. My suggestions are not intended as a substitute for professional help and attention, far from it.
Keeping in mind that there is a myriad of ways we can support ourselves during and outside of professional interventions, I share a few below:
Even as our minds and bodies may feel overwhelmed by emotion, we can take a moment to remember who we were before. A role we fill that is healthy and encourages us
Are we a daughter? Sister? Wife? Mother? Aunt? Friend?
Think of ways you have felt fulfilled in any of those roles. Consider ways you did this in the past and look for ways you could find connection again.
Familiarity can be very comforting. Maybe make that banana bread your sister likes, or call someone and tell them you appreciate them. Sometimes literally doing something for someone, or engaging with someone, will lighten our mental load.
Is there a beautiful public garden you can visit? A museum? A bookstore you would enjoy walking through? Maybe a university with grounds that you can explore. What is there in your neighborhood or community that would allow you to be a part of it while fostering simplicity and appreciation?
Ask a friend or family member to help you think of a few things you might do. Ask them if they would be willing to go with you. And if not, if you can’t find someone to go with you to do something, don’t be held back! This is your journey. Do not stop.
The action of going, being, and exploring while putting something into your mind that at least crowds the depression or anxiety can be very soothing and helpful.
Volunteering can offer a change of mood and venue. Being around others with simple responsibility while connecting can be helpful.
Do you like to walk, swim, jog? Are you a hiker? Do you live in an area where you ski or kayak, or canoe? Is there anything outdoors that could give you fresh air and sunshine?
Do you like to read? Do you enjoy audiobooks? Do you have a favorite funny movie? Do you love music? Can you flood your surroundings with beautiful music that resonates with you and is uplifting?
Do you pray? Meditate? Practice tapping? Deep breathing? A simple breathing practice can bring about a true sense of calm and peace.
“That’s too much! I can’t do people today!”
If the thought of “doing” is just too much right now, what about starting with being?
What about just being who you are for the day? What does it mean to be you?
What kind of things do you like to do? What kind of things do you appreciate?
If you are a writer or a painter, or a crafter, can you read your journals or look through your art? You may be inspired to do a little bit of one of those things? And these things do not have to be finished. If starting is all you can do, just start.
They don’t even have to be what you usually do. Just picking up that pencil or paintbrush or crayon to color, a familiarity can show up that can be more comforting than you imagine.
Remember to keep your expectations light and unassuming. Hold back expectations. Just explore how you feel. Be gentle with yourself.
Water can be soothing and relaxing. A shower, a bath, a swim – all ways to enjoy the water and relax your body.
Practice peaceful sleeping and napping without screens and disruptions.
Find Your Peace
Remember ways you have experienced peace in the past. What brought you peace and a sense of calm? If nothing more, try sitting outside and allowing the morning sun to warm your face and your chest. Closing your eyes and smiling into the sunshine will warm your thoughts and your body.
Breathe fresh air.
If you have pets, pets can be a significant source of comfort and peace.
We hear this over and over again, but that’s because it is true. Too much sugar, too many carbs, too much caffeine, while giving us a brief surge, will leave us feeling worse. Before you grab that bag of snacks, energy drink, or a bottle of soda, remember you will likely feel worse than you do at the moment.
Try to go for an apple, a baked sweet potato, healthy protein, or even just a balanced meal. There are healthy protein drinks to chose from. Drinking lots of water helps too. Hot herbal teas are often calming. Get a beautiful lovely mug for your hot tea for you to hold while enjoying the aroma and flavor.
On any level, moving your body will help you. It helps with digestion; it helps with energy; it helps with sleep. Moving helps to balance hormones and stress. There’s nothing that moving your body on any level won’t help. And that can include dancing, walking, running, rebounding, gym time, and everything in between.
Make your bed
Sounds boring and like lots of work, right? It may be, but it’s such a great feeling to return later and get into a made bed.
And if you make your bed, they say it gives us confidence for the day that we can get other things done.
Make a beautiful, calm space for you to return to rest. Make your bed. See how you feel. Add a diffuser and bathe your room in a scent that is soothing to you.
Clean your room, clear the floor of laundry, make your bedroom a sanctuary for your sleep time. For those of us working at home, the bedroom has sometimes ended up with work in it. Move your work out of your bedroom. Redefine boundaries. Make your bedroom a sweet, calm spot to invite you in. Making your bed can represent all the other small but meaningful ways to bring a bit of order into your day.
When we are sad or have a lot of anxiety, order may be sacrificed, and hard to recover. Routines are often what brings order, and they are hard to maintain during sadness. Where can you regain some sense of order while using minimal energy?
If you are a person of faith, we can sit with what we believe even when we don’t feel connected. Listening to music, going to a place of worship, even watching something online can be beneficial and uplifting.
I struggled with feeling joy, especially when those close to me had died. I felt alternatingly robbed of joy and guilty for enjoying it.
Shortly after a devastating loss, I was with a friend, and something completely unexpected happened. We found ourselves laughing, over laughing, if you know what I mean, where the tears start to flow, and you can’t catch a breath, and you know you’re just in the middle of laughing, and it felt soooooo good.
And we both looked at each other and said, “It feels GOOD to laugh, doesn’t it?”
While feelings of joy and laughter and happiness may feel fleeting early on, those good feelings will not elude us forever.
Welcome good feelings when they first return.
Appreciate them. It’s essential to embrace them.
Feel the good feelings, even if just for a moment. They are healing.
Joy is healing.
Laughter is a gift.
Happiness is refreshing.
Beauty is cleansing.
Make a list of small blessings.
To help you start: warm showers, clean clothes, beautiful flowers, ice in a drink, brushing your hair, brush your teeth, a satisfying dinner, a cup of cold water, the smell of coffee, the sound of the surf, the sound of songbirds, the feel of a familiar blanket against your face, fresh sheets.
These small blessings, and more, are tiny treasures throughout our day that can truly comfort us and guide us from one moment to the next. Sometimes that is what we need when we have a few hard days or hours.
Better days build on each other. Even when we have hard days between better ones, we continue along with slow improvements and more leisurely moments.
Along with the comfort and love and support of family and friends, and professional help when necessary, we can and will be better.
I will never be the same after the death of my brother, my best friend, my father, my dream. I will never be the same after devastating loss. But I discovered I will be OK.
I am OK. And I will continue to be.
My being will be different. And it is the same for you. It is the same for all of us. Different but OK.
We cannot escape the losses that will occur in life. However, if we will practice gentle intentions and small pleasures, we also will not be able to escape the healing and living that is waiting for us. And in time, we learn to adjust.
At first, this doesn’t make sense. How can time help us? Consider this: we are all subject to the same number of hours in a day. No one, regardless of circumstances, can change that. Time gives way to an opportunity to process and manage thoughts of loss and healing.
Time is helpful even when it feels like it is dragging; it is still serving us. Time is a friend.
Joy Will Return
Joy will show up in ways we don’t expect it. Understandably it may not be found in ways we wanted. But there is still much beauty to be seen, and there is still much joy to be experienced.
I invite you to recognize that you are a source of inspiration, education, and experience because of your trials and challenges.
Please take a moment and add your encouragement here in the comments.
I invite you to post small, even tiny ways you comfort yourself as you walk towards joy and beauty in your future after loss.
Remember, your words will often encourage those who remain silent.
You may never know the healing of your words of comfort.