Accepting the unacceptable

I may never be more than I am today.

Last weekend I sat in the mirror after putting an inch thick barrier of make-up on, removing the possibility of the postman having to face ‘the Real Steph’, and told myself that exact statement.

I may NEVER be more than I am today.

The inevitable internal questions followed, the main one being “Is that enough?” and for me the answer is “No”.

I always wanted more, I always believed in the tiniest cavern in my mind that one day, somehow, I would find myself able to, at a minimum, feel proud.

Proud of what?

Accepting the norm

Day-to-day our lives are constantly morphing, and most of those changes happen because of things outside of our control, whether good or bad.

***Trigger warning – brief comments in this paragraph covering baby loss and grief***

Looking back, it’s hard for me to pinpoint the exact moment that I subconsciously stopped feeling driven & ambitious and started feeling empty & useless. Having thought about it for years I think it happened when we were trying to have a baby. I’ve not been secretive about how difficult our parenthood journey was. After struggling to conceive for over a year, when we finally managed to get a positive test the first became a traumatic miscarriage due to infection. We had 2 more miscarriages and the 4th pregnancy (our daughter) was stillborn. I’m not going to go in to any detail about it here, although you will be able to find more in other posts if it’s something you need support with or want to know more about.

As those events unravelled I became wrapped up in the desperation to give me AND my partner a child, and over time that desperation turned to guilt. Guilt that I was failing my partner over and over again. Of course, he didn’t see it that way. In fact, he tried everything possible to tell me it wasn’t the case but, as many women will know it’s hard to change the notion that you’re culpable when you’ve somehow (often through no fault of your own) failed to carry a child full-term.

I can say from experience that each and every loss feels genuinely insurmountable.

Those grief events made my desperation sharper. I never thought for one second, even after 4 failures, that we would stop trying. I don’t think my partner did either. It didn’t cross our minds. In fact, it was mission critical – we were BOTH yearning. But for me that desperation became my lifes obsession. Test after test after test. I was buying them on ebay cheap and in bulk. This was 8 years ago, and I was working full-time back then, the impact on my mental health was going unnoticed by everyone, including me, so I continued trudging on.

Wake up, take a test, get dressed, go to work, get home, take a test, eat, talk, sleep…repeat. In between those mundane daily events I’d be regularly smacked across the face by my repeated failure to produce the child we both craved. Gradually the internal narrative got darker as I scolded myself for my failure to keep our few successes safe.

I was a mess.

I was no longer career minded, ambitious or driven. I lost most of my friends through disappointment that they offered little to no support or understanding at such a dark time in our lives. Losing 4 children overall, 4 dreams, 4 chances, 4 lives, it’s a terrible reality to endure. So around that time I became more reclusive, I’d work as best I could, but I rarely socialised. I lost my outgoing demeanour. I became a different version of ‘Steph’, because the one who failed repeatedly didn’t feel acceptable to anyone, including me.

In fact, I believed everyone agreed with my own evaluation of my existence. I was a disappointment.

I should be ashamed.

So when I talk about accepting ‘the norm’, I think ‘the norm’ is a moving target that no one can pinpoint or hit at bullseye. We’re all trying to find an ideal that doesn’t actually exist. It’s there in our heads, a dream of what we want our lives to be, what will make us happy, whether it’s money, love, material things, a bigger home, a better car, drink, drugs or, as in my case, a family.

My ‘norm’ for a long time was accepting that I couldn’t be anything or anyone until I’d given us the child we were hopeless for. I had to complete our family by any means possible.

And eventually, as many of you know, we were successful. Despite complications throughout the pregnancy, I finally safely carried a baby, our daughter, she was born in 2016. My ‘norm’ target immediately changed.

There was nothing to accept, no change to acknowledge or approve. My priorities shifted by default.

The journey to get us there, the internal torture I’d inflicted on myself and the way that manifested itself physically, changed me forever. Nearly 7 years on, despite having a wonderful daughter that we couldn’t possibly love more and are hugely proud of, I’ve never felt more broken, incapable, alone or troubled.

Do I accept it? No, I don’t think I do.

Unacceptable stresses

Although the grief I feel for our missing children is amongst the heaviest of my mental pain, experiencing that as a couple, mostly alone, made many of my unresolved issues bubble to the surface. Memories of past trauma, being forced to open boxes I’d packed away many years ago, completely altered the landscape of my thoughts and daily existence.

At that time, even during what was to be a successful pregnancy, I fully regressed and found myself unable to focus, unable to think with ANY clarity, unable to shake the constant ‘what’s missing?’ feeling, unable to pack things away again and take positive, family-driven steps forward.

I was living in the past.

And just to be clear, I realise everyone (even you, the lovely person reading this) has boxes in their mind that contain the events of their life that are difficult to come to terms with. Whether it’s death, trauma, pain, disabilities, accidents, abuse, divorce, loss, illness, anxiety…maybe it’s a mix of everything, maybe it’s one massive event you can’t shake. Those boxes are either open or closed. We’re either able to manage the past, or we aren’t.

I’m NOW the latter. I can’t handle anything because EVERY box in my head is permanently open. I live as a person in constant pain, reliving events of the past with unmistakable clarity. I exist in a time I’m hungry to forget. I don’t sleep because the flashbacks I experience are an augmented reality for me. I’m literally reliving the past every single day.

Will I ever be able to accept the unacceptable and move on? I don’t know. Possibly not.

Unacceptable me

Despite my brain forcing this life, there is a chunk of me that’s dying to be different. I don’t want this ‘brain pain’, the weight of the missing people in my life, the unanswered questions, the constant internal queries over my decisions in the past. Why? Why? Why? What did I do wrong? Could I have changed it?

I’d like to think I’m a pragmatic, level-headed woman, but the answers to those questions will never ever change, so why do I torture myself by continually asking them?

Why?

I won’t lie, I’ve spent many years looking for the version of me I wish I could be. The version of me that won’t just make ME proud, but my partner and daughter too. Around 3 years ago my physical and mental health collided and suddenly, on top of everything else I couldn’t accept, I was in physical pain and struggling to walk around our home without a stick or walking aid. Even worse, I now needed a wheelchair for longer, outside walks. It felt like the end of everything. The wheelchair is in the hallway of our home now and I HATE it’s existence. I don’t want it here. I wish I didn’t need it. In fact, I want it gone so much it’s part of the reason I won’t venture outside any more.

Knowing I was physically and mentally different to the version of ‘Steph’ most people thought they knew allowed my reclusiveness and paranoia to take the reigns. It seemed like the only way to go on. And now, today, I’ve been indoors for 10 months.

I’m yet to find a way to accept the past. I’m yet to find a way of managing the grief of those children and my parents. I’m yet to find a version of Steph I’m comfortable to show to the world.

I’m yet to move on.

Changing what I accept

But the story doesn’t really end there. There is a note of positivity and that’s the real reason I’m writing this post.

Although I do live in the past and I’m nowhere near fixed, I’ve found a way to do something useful and ambitious whilst letting my failures and quirks exist around me.

This website and the people I’ve met through writing and illustrating have been game-changing for me. Unconditional love, respect and care exists virtually in the fields I’m trying to enter. Whether it’s creativity or mental health related, people are open to communicating, understanding of my difficulties, and interested in my experiences and opinions. I feel exactly the same about everyone I’ve been lucky to meet. I never thought for a second that my painful existence could be the route to some success…the route to the pride I covet…but, unbelievably, here I am.

This wasn’t planned. I never intended to end up in a place where I wrote about my personal mental health issues and let them sit on a website where anyone could find them. But knowing that my story (even though it’s weird and my honesty can sometimes be diffcult to type out) has the potential to resonate with someone else, help an isolated person feel less alone, assist a couple grieving a child so they know it’s ok to cry together, help a child understand why their parent is sad or unwell, then I feel I’m doing something worthwhile.

I created a crappy quote to explain my current creative location – I call it “Working positively around my limitations”.

That’s exactly what I’ve been doing here. Despite being scared and isolated, despite anxiety making it hard to open the front door or answer the phone, despite being in pain and struggling to sleep, despite living in the past and being unable to pack away old trauma, despite being stuck indoors and afraid to even TRY venturing out again, I can sit right here, write a story or a blog post, and draw some pictures, sometimes even win a competition or receive a lovely comment from one of you. It’s a tiny thing to do, TINY, but you know what, it’s given me a purpose for the first time in years.

I accept there are things I can do that will help me feel better when the going gets tough.

I accept that good distractions can work, but it’s only a temporary fix.

I don’t accept the past, but I hope to find a way of accepting it in the future.

I have no plans to go out yet, but I’m hopeful I can be taught ways of managing the outside world one day.

I’m still paranoid, but I’m working with my Care Coordinator to find ways of talking myself down when paranoia takes over.

I’m incredibly lonely, but I hope one day the work I’m doing here will lead me to friends who accept ME for who I am today, troubles ‘n all.

Yes, more than ANYTHING, I am proud of my daughter and my partner, who’ve loved me unconditionally when I’ve never been able to love myself.

I’m thankful for them each and every day.

What do I accept then?

I accept that there is hope.

I accept that I am the way I am today because of the past and someone has the key to ending the control those events have over me. I accept that ‘someone’ is probably me.

I accept that I’ve found a distraction I adore in creativity and this website and I also accept my desire to continue to use my story positively in the hope that at some point, I might be part of the important change in the mental health narrative.

Most of all, I accept that one day I might look back and see that, although I was broken, I did my best to help others however I could. I accept that one day all of this might make me proud.

Support

If you need support for any of the issues I’ve mentioned there are many charities online who offer assistance through email, telephone, text and other routes. Visit my ‘Our Grief‘ page or the ‘Our Brains‘ page and scroll to the bottom to find some contact information. A Google search should also signpost you somewhere appropriate but, more than anything, consider talking to your GP about some strategies to start getting yourself back from your trauma. You are in there somewhere, but from time to time everyone needs help locating themselves again.

Picture

Well this was tricky. How do you depict accepting the unacceptable? I had to think long and hard about it. In the end I realise there are a few things I accept I will ALWAYS be, and they are…

  • A brownie lover
  • A vaper
  • A mum and partner
  • A griever
  • A writer
  • A chunk
  • A woman who uses hot chocolate to fix everything

So I chose to combine two by making a ‘freak-shake’ style hot chocolate with oozes of chocolate sauce, squirts galore of cream and an enormous hunk of gooey chocolate and caramel cake shoved on the top. To make the dream extra chocolatey I’ve added a brownie as a side order. The brownie also has caramel. 🍰

I may have an obsession with caramel.

I accept it would be unacceptable not to devour that snack (ok, meal) 😊.

Published by stephc2021

Hi! I'm Steph, an amateur writer and illustrator specialising in Mental Health and being a self-confessed Spoonie. My website is home to any successful fiction I create, with stories that have won so far covering difficult subjects such as baby loss and mental health in grief as well as some funny and heart-warming tales when I get the inspiration. Every drawing and picture on my website was created by me. I spend a lot of time coming up with illustrations to accompany all of my posts and pages. I try to create original content across all of my channels, whether I'm writing about my own fiction or just generally musing on mental health or my own issues. I want to be part of the change because I believe the understanding of MH in the UK is getting better, but has a very long way to go. By being honest about my own struggles and symptoms I think others will relate and hopefully it will encourage them to talk to someone and get the help and support they need. Long term my goal is to help children too, help them understand their own mental health and how to help with the mental health of those around them. I live in the UK with my partner, daughter and dog, I swear frequently and I adore a well made, traditional, gooey, chocolatey, delicious brownie.

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