Foreword: Whilst it is my intention to discuss the grieving process in “stages”, trying to write this has made me realise that the “stages” of grief are intertwined with each other in their own special relationship. I will write about this in a little more detail, but as you read, remember that for some, not all of the “stages” are needed or followed when grieving and they may occur in random orders, or even more than once. It’s all completely natural, my first tip is thus:
If you’re aware where the emotions are coming from, go with them. Its the best way to process what is happening.
I’ve known for over a year now that I’d be saying goodbye to Anna sooner than any of us should be saying it. It was blindingly obvious that Anna was dying: her diagnosis was a terminal one after all. The key word here though is blindingly. I was so blinded by the bright lights of hope that her prognosis could be defied and she’d have more than 3 years with us, that I developed a tunnel vision that wouldn’t allow the inevitable to enter my field of vision. I took no time to grieve the friend who wasn’t terminally ill when I heard about ‘Trev’, just as I’ve taken no time to grieve my life without Diabetes. As with most situations in my life, I have a tendency to just quietly get on with things, with what I need to do…..a falteringly British quality, that perhaps occasionally masks the symptoms of our emotional needs; in this case, denial.
I’m finding this really hard – I didn’t and I don’t want to think of her as going or gone….I still believed, hoped, prayed and screamed at the universe that she’d pull through this, that it was just taking her a little longer to recover from her surgery on 9th August, that she’d be able to marry Andy and they would have many years together. Maybe that was delusional, maybe it was unrealistic; but that was the only thought process my mind would allow. It just seems so unfair! Unfair.. a word that does the rounds often, especially during times of illness or grief. It’s a feeling that is inevitable when faced with something you don’t want to believe. If something is unfair, then there has been an injustice, and if there has been an injustice…..there can be an appeal and it won’t be true anymore. People often talk to me about my T1 diagnosis being so unfair, or about it being unfair that there are terrible people in the world and it’s always the good ones that get the horrid things happen to them. But doesn’t that all just further the denial of the situation?
When I heard that Anna’s condition had deteriorated, I went into some sort of autopilot. I put the pedal to the floor harder than Lewis revs his engine when Nico’s next to him on the grid and went full throttle in sharing Anna’s message. Every time I logged into social media I asked people to donate to her JustGiving page, begged people to share her blog and check out her Twitter and Facebook, implored them to send her healing energy and show support. I suspect this was in part under the misguided belief and hope that it would make a difference to what was happening to her, that it would somehow save her and buy her more time. More than anything though, I needed to feel like I was doing something to help, the logic to that being that as long as I was doing something to help, then it wasn’t happening at all.
I also had other types of sand to bury my head in, getting the house ready for a friend coming to stay turned into some kind of major renovation. I cleaned from top to bottom, had some major sort outs resulting in a visit to the tip or two and revived the grout on both the bathroom and kitchen tiles. Then came the weekend, Amber came to stay, we met some of the friends we’ve made in the GB Diabetes Online Community in person at the T1D London (set up by Bri & Ewelina) event. Then we met up with Laura, who is somewhat responsible for my discovering the #DOC, and had a lovely picnic a stones throw from where Anna lived and worked in Portsmouth – with the Spinnaker Tower in view. We talked about her, every single person I spoke to that weekend. They all asked about Anna, having taken her to their hearts: I was proud to have a friend who had such an inspiring reach, I was sad that she might never know it and I continued to believe that she might. Then the weekend was over – no more sand. The reality was stark, it was painful and so I slept to perpetuate the avoidance, “shouting” Anna’s message from the rooftops in my waking moments and pretty much only checking social media to see how Anna was doing. I walked with Ruby, I banished any thoughts about what was happening, they weren’t welcome and I wasn’t prepared to acknowledge them. They remained unprocessed. I existed on probably one small meal a day, copious cups of tea, maybe a bottle of fizzy water (which is a perfectly normal beverage, thank you very much) and nowhere near enough restful sleep.
It wasn’t just what was happening to Anna that I was in denial of during this time, my Diabetes took a mammoth back seat;
What happened to my Diabetes that was “different”?:
* I ended up having more hypo’s than usual. I can trace the low bg’s directly to my denial stage, based on the increased level of activity and reduced food intake.
* In addition, there is an inevitable stress response at any time of high emotion, even when we’re not acknowledging that emotion; I’ve not really noticed how this affects my BGs before, but during this time, my sensitivity seemed to increase, the amount of activity possibly a big contributor.
How did I react to this emotionally?:
*Despite my own lack of interest in anything that wasn’t spreading Anna’s message, having to “bother” with my Diabetes was so far from my mind, it was risky. Having so many low BG’s was alien for me, particularly as someone who’s BGs err on the side of high despite her best efforts. It became something else to deny, so I barely ate, because then I wouldn’t need insulin and the risk of Hypoglycaemia would decrease….
*To be completely honest, I was so irritated that I had to pay attention to myself, it felt wrong and selfish when compared to what my friend and her family were going through, that fingerprick testing was as minimal as my food intake, at one point I had a run of 2 tests a day!
What did I do to overcome this?:
* In the frustration of spending so much time feeling so out of control of my Diabetes, at a time when I wanted to focus my thoughts on my friend and her family, a moment of clarity that felt somewhat angelically ‘forced’, brought me to a complete standstill. I needed to rein this in before it became a problem, because if my diabetes knocked me off my feet; how could I help Anna? That old cliché of “You need to keep your strength up” absolutely applied. * To help me to help myself, I took stock. I made a list of what I was neglecting and what I needed to do to stay as well as possible – physically and emotionally.
* I needed to address my lack of testing, not knowing what my blood glucose levels are over the course of the day can be incredibly detrimental to both my physical and mental health, but I didn’t want to fingerprick, so what could I do? I whacked in a Libre sensor! (#LibsToTheRescue). This clever little device meant that I still needed to “engage” with my blood glucose levels, but because I could do it with the mere wave of my meter, I was more inclined to do it. Our brains don’t know we have Diabetes, and hypo awareness needs maintenance, I find regularly treating with glucose at 4.3 or below helps enormously. In addition, the Libre meant that, thanks to the time lag between sensor and capillary testing, I could anticipate if I needed to eat to prevent a low BG result.
* Next up, I was using all this energy, but it wasn’t being sufficiently fuelled. The last thing I wanted to do was traipse around a supermarket buying food; let alone have to prepare meals. So I raided my freezer and cupboards and, with a few ingredients purchased; I made stew! It was perfect, maybe not for the weather, which was still being incredibly kind for the most part, but in terms of something filling, easy, nutritious and there. I even had some unused takeaway containers I’d brought for a picnic, which meant I could portion the stew out, including the carb content of each meal. If you consider that slow cooking takes minimal effort, I already had the containers and working out the carb content was quite straightforward using Cook & Count; in total I spent roughly an hour and a half on something I didn’t want to be doing, but something that would pay dividends.
* All I then needed to do, was utilise all these things I’d put in place. Living alone, it’s easy for me to neglect to eat or sleep at sensible times; if at all and the animals aren’t particularly helpful. It was, as it always is, down to me. I keep lots of to do lists that seem to grow before the tasks get ticked off, so I chose to go digital. I created reminders in the calendar on my phone. They were easy to ignore at first, but eventually it became a game; could I complete the task before the reminder ‘ping’…turns out I’m a little more competitive than I ever admit to.
* Essentially, I used my Diabetes as another tool in my toolbox of denial. Which can’t be a bad thing, and is almost certainly what my amazing friend would have wanted.
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