Dancing on feet.
Dancing on feet.
Growing up I had a beautiful relationship with my dad. He was my best friend, who taught me to ride my bike, to look out for 'Jaws' in the swimming baths, to discover metallic treasure, to dance on his feet and to never give up on my dreams. I felt strong knowing that my mum and dad would always support me to accomplish my goals, whilst keeping me ever-safe in this world. Every night, we would say the same three phrases to my each other, like a mantra that sent me to bed happily.
I'd then go upstairs and quietly busy myself with playing with teddies and toys, until teddies and toys became doing my homework and chatting to boys, that is.
By the age of 15, I'd cracked the system, and knew exactly when to hop into bed, pinch my eyes closed, leave one arm dangling, so that my dad assumed nothing but sweet dreams when he kissed my sleeping head, goodnight.
Even as a teen, our routine gave me a sense of security. And although I knew that I'd one day grow up and my dad wouldn't kiss my sleeping head each night forever, I had never quite considered what might happen if I didn't have him to say goodnight to.
When devotion met darkness
On June 15th 2007, devastation struck, when we heard the news that my dad had suffered a heart attack inside a gym. My whole family was broken, my mum’s heart was torn in two, and my brother and I were filled with silence. I found myself in a pit of darkness, not knowing that pain like this could exist.
Over the next 12 months, family and friends pulled together to help fill the gaping hole that my dad’s passing had left us with. Somedays, the heartache felt as if any happiness we once had, had died with dad.
For weeks, my brother, mum and I curled up in one bed, often lying awake at night, when the world was fast asleep. We’d take a walk down memory lane, trying to find goodness in our tears. Remembering dad was easy to, but finding a way to remember him without feeling heartache was never easy.
Years went by and a mixture of teenage turmoil had me in real ups and downs. My relationships with my family were changeable and challenging. And when my mum was seemingly finding light in new chapters, a resentment had started to take over me. My sadness and shock had made me angry and rigid, unsure of what to believe in and unsure of who I should be without the reaffirmation I was so used to and the stability and routine my mum and dad had created.
Everything had changed. Every time I saw myself in the mirror, I saw someone different, trying to find the person I wanted to be. And trying to find the person my dad would have wanted me to be.
A few years later, I woke up one morning, hungover in my uni digs, to find an abundance of missed calls on my phone. My friend Zara had died from a heart failure. All of sudden the grief I had felt from the passing of my dad overcame me, in a wave of emotion. I was distraught to have lost a friend, and it opened up a lot of ignored feelings that I hadn’t properly dealt with after the passing of my dad.
I missed my dad, but perhaps – worse, I felt like I had lost site of him and of what he knew I wanted to achieve. I had forgotten that life is so short, and that if I didn’t take this moment to grieve Zara’s death and work towards a better headspace completely, that soon, death would come for my life, because I was forgetting to truly live.
I tried to get some support from on campus counsellors, but I was disappointed by the lack of support I received. I didn’t want to be labelled as depressed, yet I knew that nights spent drowning my sorrows in drinks and then laying intoxicated in a bath full of mascara, were not a way of living any longer.
I started by making the decision to accept my mum’s decisions to move on with love. And instead of refusing the change, like I had done in the past, I welcomed her new partner (and now husband) as warmly as I could manage. This was a huge turning point for me, from resentment I had found some form of understanding.
In the same year I decided to audit my decisions, to really understand what was going on for myself. I wasn’t studying as much as could have been, I was in £2000 worth of debt, nights out were a blur, I wasn’t dancing, acting or moving anymore, unless it was on the dance floor, my eczema was always flared, I ate takeaways most nights of the week and I was in a relationship with a boy who didn’t think I was good enough. After realising all this, all I could think of, was what would my dad think of me?
The fight began.
I had rebelled, without knowing it, I had rebelled against the beautiful upbringing that God had given me, because he had so abruptly taken away the life I knew in a single moment.
Struck with the reality that I was my worst enemy, I turned to solutions and to new coping mechanisms, to make my self healthy and well again. Instead of being afraid of the gym, and allowing my dad’s death to fill me with fear and sadness, the gym became a sanctuary. I took control of my fear and challenged myself to master the gym, in the knowledge that it would never be my nemesis or my killer.
With fitness, came good food and an enjoyment for health and wellness. My mindset transformed, and slowly I was able to feel like my dad would be proud of this new, happy, healthy me.
Prioritising my physical health, has meant that my mental health is stronger. It’s an everyday battle, but it’s been a game changer for my career, my relationships, my dreams and for my enjoyment of life.
Through darkness came light.
I am not completely ‘fixed’, but my faith in life and dreams and love, has been restored. I know why I am here, and I know what I want to do in this world. And that was only possible because I’ve realised that I am not the only one who has gone through such grief, and who has fought for a well headspace every minute of their adult life.
I’d like to share my story, not for sympathy or fame, but for my fellow strong ones, who are trying to find the good out of grief. If that is you, then I hope you realise that you are not alone. There is no cure, but there is a silver lining in your story, and that silver lining is you.
My experience has helped me find purpose. Let me help you find yours.