Tag Archives: Fibromyalgia

The calling

By Canva.com

I’ve been quiet here for some time. I have been busy writing so I wanted to pop by and update you just in case you were missing me.

I started writing my memoirs approximately three years ago. I wanted to start writing them much before that but I believed that this was to be a project for retirement. I often visualised myself sitting on my balcony overlooking the ocean in Cyprus and penning my memories, my story. The motivating factor was to leave a legacy for my children, grandchildren and generations to come.

The problem is that this project, this calling, would not leave me alone. That’s the thing with a calling, it calls you! I would meet complete strangers and have a brief chat about this and that and they would exclaim “you need to write a book you know” much to my surprise. Why would they find it so interesting? I would meet friends for coffee and bring up memories of the past, connected to the lessons learned from loss, grief, abuse, pain and they would say “Michelle, you really need to tell your story, you must write a book”.

This went on for sometime and the idea started to take shape but it was to be for the future. Aside from the lack of time for such a project (I am a busy mum), there was also my struggle with chronic illness (fibromyalgia), memory problems and confusion (from trauma and fibromyalgia), and deep down the belief that no one would ever want to read my story and that I could not do it justice by trying to write it. It would be written when I had nothing else to occupy my time and then it would be for my close family members who wouldn’t judge the quality of my writing.

However, if I were to be honest, and I owe you this since you are giving up your time to read my thoughts, the predominant factor stopping me was fear. Fear of giving up precious time to a project that could be a failure when we need to put food on our table and keep a roof over our children’s heads. Fear of the book selling and extended family/acquaintances reading it and being disappointed in me. Fear of exposing my innermost secrets, mistakes, faults, opening up myself raw for the world to have an opinion without even knowing me as a person. Fear of those mentioned in the book in not such a good light, being upset and taking some kind of action. Fear of my own children growing up and wishing I had kept my mouth shut, being ashamed of me and what I have shared with the world. Fear on being judged on the quality of my writing.

So I did what I do best and kept myself busy with a myriad of other tasks, ideas, possibilities to make some money, all along neglecting the call. I even wrote a book but not THE book. I wrote a children’s story which I ended up placing on a shelf for future publication because something just didn’t fit, I had no peace about publishing that first.

Then something happened to nudge me. A very close friend, someone who was like a sister to me and with whom I had grown up, was diagnosed with an autoimmune illness called Scleroderma which over time causes a deterioration of the body, a hardening and tightening of the skin and connective tissue. She was a single mum and her struggle was painful to watch. If love could have healed her, I would have loved her healed.

At that time, I was in a season in my Christian faith where I believed that anyone can be healed with prayer if I just believed enough, prayed enough, trusted enough. I had been believing for my own healing from fibromyalgia but now this was more important. I sent her books on healing and eventually she asked me to stop sending her Christian material. Once, when I visited, she allowed me to pray for her healing and nothing happened. I was devastated. The truth is I was confused but also embarrassed. My God couldn’t or wouldn’t heal my precious friend. Why?

I went on to have words with God, frequently. Whether it’s appropriate or not, there were several one – way arguments with him. In the car, in the shower, in the sound of dishes being washed. Why are some people instantly healed through prayer and others aren’t? Was it the measure of my faith? A cruel calculating God? My unworthiness of such a miracle?

This sent me on a searching journey, digging deeper to understand who God is, why bad things happen to good people, and if God turns a blind eye to suffering in this world. Perhaps a post for another time, (or you can read my book lol) but for the sake of this piece, let’s just say it was a time of drawing in even closer to God, of trusting bigger even when the answer is no. One day however, as I was ironing, I cried out to God for my friend. I asked “I want to give her hope, I want to give her comfort, I want to give her reassurance, I want her to know you are with her no matter what, you see her, you see the suffering and you are present. How do I do that when she won’t discuss you, when she won’t read anything I send? What can I send that she will read”? And I heard a voice say “She will read your book”. That hope was all I needed to start and then, tragically, stop. The fears came at me like an avalanche as well as the financial problems that rendered my book a non-urgent priority and I gave up because it was just too difficult. My precious friend died a year later not having had the opportunity to read my book.

In June 2018, we became homeless and ended up staying with a friend on her farm in Wales, UK, for nine months. My husband used our only car for work and it was too complex to attempt the use of public transport to get anywhere, plus we were saving money. So once the children were happy occupying themselves each day, I began writing my story. I figured, I had nothing else to do with those couple of hours each day so why not pen down whatever came?

By the end of the nine months, we had finally found a home for our little family and life went back to it’s crazy speed. I jumped right back on the treadmill of wife-hood, mother-hood, friend-hood and life-hood. The book took a back seat once more as I focused any left over energy into another income earning idea that failed.

Then Covid 19 happened and in March 2020 the UK went into lock-down. I live in Wales which has its own rules and for us lock-down went on for several weeks, I lost count but it was something like 12 weeks. Twelve weeks of not driving anywhere, no extra-curricular activities for the children, no appointments to make, no organising the lives of five people and staying on that treadmill. Yes, it did mean that all five members of our family where together 24/7 but since we have home educated for the last 8-9 years, it wasn’t dramatically different if you take out the daily outings we enjoyed and my husband not working.

It took lock-down to finally pin me back down to picking up this book project but this time I became serious. What if I lose my life from Covid? What if I die and leave this unfinished book? How will my children know the ending? What if my book can impart hope to others who are struggling?

So I began again and this time I stuck to it even after lock-down. It has been five months of daily writing and I am close to the end of the first draft. Right now it is humongous. Most chapters are 20,000 words long! Clearly there will be much editing and cutting down but that’s the next part of the project. In the immediate, I am focused on the last 4 chapters, nearing the end of this race and feeling the effects of it all.

I still have no idea whether this book will sell, will be read, will help others or will simply be the legacy I leave my children, of their story through my story. But, regardless of that, let me tell you what this has done for me so far.

It has been a cathartic healing process. I don’t know if we ever fully heal from deep trauma but I believe we can heal enough to the point of the wound being cleaned out, closed and a scar being the reminder of what once was agony. The pain doesn’t fully go away. But we learn to manage it and not let it pull us under. I am astounded at how much I remembered once I began writing. In the process of writing or typing, my mind opened and events, feelings, thoughts all came back to me. At times I had to walk away from the laptop, take a breath, do something other than writing just to allow my body and mind and heart to process what I had just offloaded onto the screen that represents my life. I took on cooking as a meditation for that processing to take place and to the delight of my family they got to taste favourite foods from Cyprus that they have missed, foods only my mother in law would make for them at each visit. For me it was time uninterrupted, my hands busy creating while my mind processed and my heart came to terms with whatever I had just relived. I have had therapy (counselling) on at least three occasions in my life, but this process was the most thorough, cathartic, edifying and illuminating of all.

I have learned that I would love to train as a therapeutic writing counsellor, perhaps, one day. To help others walk the journey and clean their wounds, process and derive all the lessons life has taught them. To help them see how their story can turn their adversity into advantage, their test into a testimony, their mess into a message, their lessons into a legacy and their journey into an opportunity for the future.

I have learned to trust God in what He is doing and not in my own doing. This has been my biggest struggle in life, to trust anyone or anything outside of my self.

I have learned to discipline myself to write each day even if it is an hour. I write until I feel nauseous with pain to the point of almost passing out. My right hand and right shoulder take the brunt of it all and usually an hour in, I am in agony. Migraines are frequent visitors. Faith in the calling can propel you to push yourself harder knowing there is a reason for it, trusting that it is all for a purpose.

I have learned to prioritise that which tugs at my heart even if it doesn’t make sense and to set an example to my children to follow that call when it happens. To let go of my default analysis paralysis and just get on with it.

To pull myself up from the bottom of the pile. This exercise in writing my book has been also a work of building a relationship with myself, valuing me and who I am, appreciating the things about myself that others find strange, loving me as I am, not when I can…. or when I am …

I have learned to be grateful for everything including the suffering. A shocking statement I know and you would need to read the book to understand, I hope, but truly had it not been for the immense suffering in my life, I would not have the patience, determination, vision and passion to make a difference with my life. I would not have the insight and gained wisdom, the humility to trust and press through constantly learning, the obedience to apologise and recognise my mistakes, the ability to forgive my perpetrators as well as myself. I would not have a grateful heart in the little as well as in the much. I would not have learned to let go of pride and ego. I would not parent my children the way I do. Oh the lessons are many, many more. We don’t like suffering, we do not want to walk that path, but there is great gain in loss…

If ever I am grateful for the uncertainty, chaos and mess that Covid 19 has created, it will be for this reason. For gifting me the time and space to heed the call and write this book even though I don’t know what comes next. And perhaps this in itself is the biggest lesson of all. Trust and do it anyway.

canva.com

Losing my mother, the start of trauma.

January 2020.

I published the piece below around the 19th or 20th of November 2019. It was automatically sent out to the blog subscribers some of whom contacted me to comment, some posted their feedback on the site itself. Then, one day just like that, the post disappeared and in its place was an older draft unfinished version. What happened is as much your guess as mine and to make matters worse it was the second time in less than 4 months that this happened. WordPress tried to salvage it but like the time before, had absolutely no record of its existence. Strange but true.

Frustrated and demoralised, I decided to just let it be and leave it at that. The weeks that followed since then have marked a continuation of the journey that began back in August 2019, a critical piece of the puzzle that is my life. What started then and continues today, is the uncovering of the effect trauma had on my mind, brain, and body.

I realised that the blog has been part of this uncovering, as I process when I write and putting things out there publicly has helped me allow myself to be vulnerable as well as to receive feedback from others who identify with what I write, who have been or still are travelling their own trauma journey.

I decided to republish the post about my mother so for those who receive this twice, I apologise. Bear with me as I navigate the undesirable yet necessary tech world before me.

The 18th of November was the anniversary of my mother’s suicide.

I had no recollection of the date until I stumbled across an old notepad in which I’d written the date of her passing and the date of my father’s birthday (19th of November).

Some months before, my mother had lost her husband – my father – to a freak sea accident. Clearly, for her, the pain was intolerable. I was five years old when she died, and this was her third and final attempt to end her life.

Finding this date scribbled in the old notepad served to remind me of the season I’m in right now.

A few months ago, I started to become aware of feelings I had suppressed over the years but could no longer hide from. I say ‘suppressed’, but maybe it’s more accurate to describe these feelings as a force that was recognised but disconnected from me. It might be that I was in denial.

There were signs, of course, such as being overprotective of my kids. The truth is, I have lived in constant fear of anything happening to them; that they might be taken from me or they would somehow lose me, their mother. This was a very real fear and it triggered a serious bout of depression in me a few years ago. Living in a continuous, gruelling state of hyper vigilance, I would think of every possibility, at every moment, that could bring them to harm, and it was exhausting. Even sleep meant taking my eye off the ball; leaving them unprotected. So, I slept fitfully, semi-aware of every turn they made in bed because there was every possibility (in my mind) they may suffocate while sleeping.

Photo by Keenan Constance from Pexels

Clearly, something had to give and ultimately my body protested – leaving me screaming in agony from an old condition called fibromyalgia. This is a condition that can start after serious trauma and my symptoms started after my mother’s death, only it took 17 years to get the diagnosis and I still suffer the effects today, aged 45.

Other ‘milder’ impacts of my mother’s loss include being affected to the point of grief by any movies with orphans in it – Heidi, Annie, Storks, Ballerina – all of which means watching family movies with my kids can be a traumatic experience because I relive the loss and all its carnage as I battle silently with reawakening trauma.

As a child, it was not uncommon for me to get lost in daydreams, pretending my mother would suddenly turn up at school and knock on my classroom door. I also remember the hours I spent hidden in my grandparents’ wardrobe clutching my mother’s handbag and inhaling her smell that remained long after she had gone. I would wear her clothes and shoes and role play being her for hours. My grandparents didn’t protest. They were going through their own ravaging grief of losing their son months before and now their daughter in law.

But on the flip side, this trauma made me a very devoted, hands-on mother who has always been present for her children, helping them to make memories, allowing them to be themselves and offering hugs and kisses at every opportunity. The trauma has also seen my husband and I consciously craft our lives in such a way so as not to have any regrets later on. We will not be absent during our children’s growing years and we will be fully available to protect them and to fight their corner while equipping them with the agency to be themselves. This promise has led to us throwing out the rule book. In short, we will not allow others to tell us how to raise our kids. From sleeping techniques to potty training and schooling, we have done it our way and given them the freedom to grow at their own pace, in their own time, without anyone holding a yard stick against them. In some circles it is called unschooling, free range learning, gentle parenting, self-directed education. Whatever.

Of course, I make tons of mistakes, all the time. I’m absent minded, overloaded, fighting a chronic illness, forgetful, fatigued. I space out and dissociate frequently through my day and momentarily disengage or disconnect while still being aware of my surroundings. It’s almost a superpower, as if I’m there, but not there; detached.

I’ve taken the children for weekends with family members who live hours away only to find we’ve gone on the wrong weekend and we’ve had to drive all the way back again. I’ve taken them to birthday parties at the wrong venue or on the wrong day. I’ve shouted at them and then dropped to my knees apologising. I’ve raged at my husband, vile, frightening, out of control anger. And I’ve been so absorbed in surviving that I’ve not always noticed things. My forgetfulness due to PTSD and fibromyalgia means I don’t remember my children’s first words or accidents or illnesses they’ve suffered. If the memory isn’t written down, it’s gone. As a result, I constantly take pictures to capture as many moments as possible so that if my brain deletes it, I have evidence. The fear of losing the memory triggers anxiety attacks and on and on we go in a vicious unending cycle.

Currently, I’m studying for a counselling qualification at evening class. I’ve waited and waited for the right time, for when I am healed, for when there is more time, money, energy. In the end I realised that I don’t need to be in a perfect situation in order to live, to pursue dreams and to make a difference to others. So, I went for it and enrolled. It has been transformative.

During lessons, we take part in exercises designed to equip us with the skills to counsel others. These exercises have been paramount to my own journey of healing. I never planned it, I never even considered the fact that the course would inadvertently help me, but there you have it. God (or whatever higher power you believe in) knows what we need and when we need it. For me, it’s now. My time has come.

Each week I drive home from the class reflecting on the nugget of a revelation I have gained that evening. Every session brings something new – or rather, old – popping up, like toast waiting to be buttered while warm. And it’s while these memories are warm that I want to address the issues they represent. The realisation that I am still profoundly affected by the loss of my mother is one such prevalent issue.

During one class, I talked about the panic attacks I suffer whenever I’m faced with a child in distress. I spoke of the times I have abandoned my shopping in the middle of supermarkets because I could hear a child crying in a pram or having a meltdown or a tantrum. It’s the sound of distress that causes my panic attacks. Heart palpitations, cold sweats, strangling anxiety and a need to escape all surge through my body within seconds and I simply have to get out. Interestingly, I never named this reaction – a panic attack -because it didn’t fit the movie-like panic attacks I am aware of, hyperventilating and breathing in a paper bag. I don’t get that. I get every nerve in my body fully alert, every muscle, adrenaline, energy, pow. It was my fellow students who put a name to it and led me to an epiphany of what takes place.

Paradoxically, I had never made the connection that this behaviour might be connected to the loss of my mother. I never saw it from that perspective; that I feel what I perceive the child is experiencing, chiefly a need for comfort in their distress and a cuddle. When one of my fellow student counsellors pointed out the connection, the lightbulb came on. I realised that when the distressed child is being comforted by its mother, I don’t have a panic attack. I cope just fine. But when a child is distressed, kicking in their pram, crying to be let out or for attention and the mother ignores the child or shouts at it, I am completely overwhelmed, and I run for my life.

These moments of creeping connection all came to a head when I met a visiting Christian preacher working with a healing ministry a few months ago. She came from the USA, she was free, and many people were testifying to her prophetic insight and healing abilities. Never one to turn down a possibility for healing, I arranged to meet her. We had half an hour, that was all she could afford as her day was packed with others like me, eager for answers, insight, hope.

The preacher knew nothing about me, only my name. We sat down together, and she asked me to give her five minutes to pray. She then unfurled a roll of knowledge about me and my situation and I was so astounded I could hardly breathe. She said God had shown her two particular ages in my life where there was serious trauma and for which I still needed healing. Age 3-4 and age 15-16. As time was of the essence, we focused on me aged 3 to 4 and the loss of my parents. I immediately knew the trauma experienced at both those ages but as I said, we focused on age 3-4.

It was in the months between 3-4 that my father was killed (or disappeared after the accident), and my mother dived into depression. Over those months she made two suicide attempts, one landing her in the Aglantzia mental asylum, outside of Nicosia, Cyprus. An uncle would take me to visit and hold my hand while she stood on the other side of a chicken wire fence. He would say to her “Annette, look at her, look at your child, is she not worth living for?” She would reply that she wasn’t a good enough mother for me, she didn’t deserve me, and I didn’t deserve a mother like her. Despite the fact her third attempt at suicide was when I turned 5, the months between the age 3-4 were probably the most traumatic as I lost my father and was then brutally separated from my mother, often within inches from her yet unable to be held, comforted, reassured. The last memory of her – the only memory of her – is of me finding her dead after her third attempt.

 Linda (the healing minister), asked me a question that would reveal the true depth of this open, festering wound in my soul. She took two pillows and placed them in front of me. Pointing at each one she said.

“This is your mum, and this is your dad”. What would you like to say to them?

Ignoring ‘my dad’ I looked at the ‘mum’ colourful striped brushed cotton cushion and without even taking a second to consider or even process the question I blurted

“Why did you do it? Was I not worth living for?”

And with that I broke down. It was time.

It was time to recognise the pain I still felt – the rejection, the sense of abandonment and what it has meant throughout the decades of my life – and it was time to let that pain go. That question allowed me to fully see patterns in my behaviour that were borne from a place of insecurity, fear, abandonment and hurt.

Since then, I have welcomed every opportunity to allow the healing process to take place. And it is taking place. In the past, I would shut the process down, prioritising my duty to my marriage, my kids, the debts and all of life’s demands and expectations of me. Now I am openly allowing my healing to happen.

I mocked myself when I told my husband that here I was, 45 years old and aching for my mother. He looked at me with calm, serious eyes and said, “What does age have to do with it? Loss is loss.” He is right. There is no shame.

We need to open our hearts and receive that which will clean out the wound, disinfect it, pour medicine into it and allow it to heal, leaving a clean scar. The scar will then be a constant reminder of what was, but without the pus, the stink of death or the rotting flesh. All what will remain will be the result of the process, grace, love, acceptance, presence and healing.

This is the way to arrive at peace, a reclaiming of our identity and a certainty in who we are and our worth. Lessons are learned and our hearts are shaped softer, healthier and ready to extend the lessons to others who like me, like you, like us, have been wounded and are in need of healing and restoration.

Photo by luizclas from Pexels

So, with that, I mark this anniversary as a turning point; a new chapter. I am walking into new territory, carving a new path in my story; expanding my heart, allowing me to feel, to heal, to understand, to remember and celebrate what was, without collapsing under the weight of ‘what could have been’, clearing the way of what is to come.

I choose to forgive my mother and to love her knowing she had her reasons and she loved me. I choose to respect her journey and her battle without judgement or bitterness. I choose to forgive myself for feeling not good enough to live for and as a consequence, not good enough as a mother to my own children. I choose to make my choices and allow myself the grace to make mistakes. I choose to live free from the fear that controlled me. I choose to love unconditionally no matter what. We all have a choice. I choose to turn those wounds into lessons that bring forth wisdom.

I step forward in my quest for more answers and deeper understanding, my vessel is love, courage, vulnerability and gratitude. My torch is hope.