Living Truth with Charlie Mitchell
Taking Care of Ourselves First
As a mother of three children, aged 9, 5 and 1 years old, supporting them with their grief while being in the middle of my own has been one of the hardest things I have ever done. It has tested me in new and different ways that have just not come up before, and yet I believe our responses to our situation have made our family stronger as a result.
When my partner Jason died suddenly the shock was tremendous and very quickly I was unable to take care of myself, let alone my children. I was incredibly lucky to have family nearby who basically moved in with me for 3 weeks, putting food in front of me at meal times and topping up my water throughout the day.
Breastfeeding a then 10 week old baby and having 2 other children to look after was an extreme experience, while coming to terms with shock and immense grief. While Jason was step-dad to Ellie and Ali, and dad to tiny Thomas, losing him was horrific for us all. I couldn’t imagine how I was going to manage to do everything and the task of being a single parent while trying to heal was overwhelming.
And yet, it was clear to me very quickly how much all my children needed me. And not just needed me to be here, but to be functional, to take care of them and to have some semblance of normality in this extremely different and devastating situation. I was determined that my children would not lose another parent – I needed to find a way through this situation; for me and for them.
But where could I start? The exhaustion was a different level to anything I had experienced before. I was tired to my bones. The idea of being able to take good care of my children, looking after their individual physical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing seemed like an impossible task. I knew it was not going to be possible feeling as I felt.
I appreciate I had not long had a baby and all the hormones were still in full swing, as well as my body recovering from giving birth just a few short months before. I also noticed how my body did not bounce back with child number 3 as it had done 8 years before with child number one! And yet now was not the time to give up!
So I decided to look at my diet. What I was eating and drinking was at least something I could control. Well, I immediately noticed how I was surviving on caffeine and sugar, which was no good for me or Thomas, so that was a good place to start. I then looked at my food, and knew I could include more fruit and vegetables. There was something about raw, live food that seemed really important when I felt like a shadow of my former self. It was as if with each mouthful I was bringing myself back to life. Then I looked at what I loved to eat. I love curries and actually they are healthy and yummy, and can be straightforward to make. So I started making those for myself.
Having done a course on nutrition last year, I also knew that some supplements could help, so I looked at things I had bought previously and started to get back into the routine of having those again – making sure they were alright for Thomas obviously. (Get in touch if you’d like details of what I use)
The counselling I was having gave me an outlet to be able to cry and be sad without being worried about the impact I was having on the children. That’s not to say I don’t cry in front of them, because I do a lot! But that I had my outlet for some of the big stuff that I needed extra support with.
A friend of mine asked me if it was too soon to think about going to a dance class with her. It probably was, and yet I started anyway. And the movement started to make a difference. I started singing with another friend once a week, and we laughed and cried together.
Piece by piece, bit by bit, I started to breathe life back into my body. And it started to feel good. I lost excess weight and have been feeling like I have finally befriended my body, rather than it being a fight. I listen to it, and follow its whispers about what I need next.
Obviously, I did have to start looking after the children physically very quickly. I realised I could manage the day to day routine, and I adopted my friend’s saying: ‘everyone fed – no one dead’ – while it sounds morbid it has actually been strangely reassuring.
I also sought emotional support for the children, so they have outlets for them to express themselves. I have learned a lot about their experiences by listening them explain our situation to others. This has helped me to answer questions I did not know they had, and reassure them that we are all doing everything we can to live happy and healthy lives.
So now we can sing together, play together, laugh and cry together. We include Jason in our discussions and remember all our special times together. They know I am committed to helping them have enjoyable and fulfilling lives, in whatever way is best for them. I feel we have come through this year with a better understanding of our own and each other’s emotions.
And none of this would have happened if I had put them first. If I had prioritised them over me, sacrificed my life for them, given them more than I had to give, where would we be now? I would be even more exhausted, probably unwell and while I may have been able to support them physically, I would not be in any position to support them emotionally or spiritually.
Put your own oxygen mask on first. It has taken a very extreme situation for me to appreciate the importance of me being happy and healthy on my kids. Don’t wait until things go pear shaped to look after yourself. Our kids learn about loving themselves by watching us love ourselves. How can you be even more loving towards yourself today?
Due to the birth of her third child and untimely death of her partner, she has taken time out to grieve, heal and learn new ways of living. She is currently writing a book about surviving crisis and living bravely. She has a private Facebook group where she shares she skills and experience to help others use challenges as a catalyst for positive growth. She does live videos and webinars as part of the process.
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