It's very easy to avoid answering the question ‘how are you?’ - and to be honest, how many of us ask this question out of habit, not really expecting an honest answer? I know that I sometimes do and would be quite surprised if someone said, ‘I feel pretty rubbish actually’.
I know that I avoid being honest when someone asks me this question as I'm worried that others are not really interested, that I’m boring and that I may be perceived as weak and unable to ‘cope’. I blame my childhood and the fact that we had to display ‘a stiff upper lip’ and just ‘get on with it’.
When our son died unexpectedly on 31 December 2010, I maintained the ‘stiff upper lip’ partly because I was in shock but also I had just started a new job at the beginning of December. I didn’t want to take any time off or show any weakness or that I couldn’t cope. I was also scared that if I did start to show any emotion, that I wouldn’t be able to stop.
All I wanted to do was take to my bed and never get up, but I forced myself to get into work at 7am every morning with a smile on my face. For a while it was all going swimmingly; I managed to kid, not only myself, but all my colleagues!
I finally started to unravel almost a year later, when we were coming up to the first anniversary of Simon’s death. I started to panic when I went into work, aware that my emotions were high and that anything could tip me over the edge, and I would either walk out of work or I’d insult everyone and sit down on the floor to cry! Not a good state to be in!
I have since been on anti-depressants and had counselling. Most days I feel much better. There are days still when I do struggle, and I might not want to say much to anyone, but it’s now easier to say that I feel a little delicate today.
Looking back on my most anxious times, I don’t think I did myself or anyone else any favours by ‘putting a brave face’ on. I feel that I made it more difficult for people to be around me and by not showing any vulnerability, it meant that others were worried to show any emotion and probably thought that they couldn’t talk to me. If I had been honest, then perhaps I wouldn’t have reached the point where I thought that I would flip!
In terms of where I am now, 8 years later, it helps that I'm now in a more supportive work environment and that there are people who I can talk to. I have learned to recognise the times when I am less able to cope and at those times, I make a conscious effort to do the things that I know help me. Normally this means going out for a run or a long walk as these get the natural endorphins moving again and I can clear my head.
I've learned that it’s important to talk even though it can be difficult; that it’s ok to be honest and that if by being like this, people think that I’m weak, then it really doesn’t matter. My experiences have made me the person that I am, and although I wouldn’t want Simon to have died, I am what I am because of him - and that is OK.