The power of pain
It’s been a week of shocks.
A week of emotions.
A week where I really felt I lived most of its moments.
Some weeks can fly by so fast we just catch a blast of breeze as it speeds by us, and at the end, we look back a little dazed, wondering where we actually conscious for any of it at all? Weeks like that can disappear from our memories faster than a bar of chocolate in a house full of four females (or is that just in my home?).
Then there are weeks like the last one, where so much seems to happen, days leave imprints on our memories like feet on wet sand.
Two news events happened that had repercussions on my private life: Philip Scholfield coming out, and Caroline Flack’s suicide.
Last Friday morning, working away at my desk like an unsuspecting fly on a leaf, unaware of the lizard about to lash out its tongue, my phone pinged with a news notification that Philip Scholfield had come out live on his ITV This Morning programme.
It floored me as I watched the video over and over again. Not the news itself, but at the avalanche of feelings it released in me, memories of finding out my own husband was gay five years ago.
It’s been a long hard struggle to pick myself out of the rubble of that bombshell, and I’m so grateful I’m a better, stronger, much happier person now.
Still, Friday brought a lot of pain and difficult memories back to the fore, and five years on, I realised I’m now in a fit state to write about how it felt to be the ‘other story’, the story most often not told – the story of the wife who was the collateral damage in the story of a man who can finally come out into a society he once felt wasn’t safe enough to do so.
But it was a frightening prospect, to expose myself and my vulnerability. But I knew those feelings needed processing, and writing was the way I could do that.
Then on Saturday morning, I was in RTE studios to take part in a panel talking about the issue of the sandwich years in Weekend on One. I’d been asked on because of my book on the topic of caring for my lovely mum, and three small children from the moment she had a stroke just four days after my third baby was born, through the five years of subsequent 24 hour care she needed and it’s impact on my life.
It was a lively and often raw discussion but as I walked back to my car, I knew my gift is to now help other women who are struggling in that space, and remind them that amid childcare and parent-care, you have to remember self-care.
Tuesday just then happened to be my mum’s fourth anniversary, and it was a bittersweet day, mourning my loss, but also remembering how lucky I was to have had her at all, and all that I still have, because of her.
Wednesday was spent finalising my article, worrying about it’s impact, trusting my instinct that I was doing the right thing, but afraid all the same. I reached out to friends and family and they helped me feel strong.
When it was published on Thursday morning, I was terrified but proud, and completely unprepared for the reaction. More than 20 women have reached out to me to thank me for articulating their similar experiences, and I received hundreds and hundreds of messages, emails and comments of support. I’ve also been asked to speak at a couple of support groups. It’s not what I expected, but sharing that pain has meant something now.
Then on Saturday, as I was enjoying time with my three girls at the drive in, news came in of Caroline Flack’s tragic death. My girls – big Love Island fans – were horrified and I, as a parent of teens – had to find the right words to help them understand how a beautiful, vibrant woman could see no way out in life.
It’s been such an emotional week, but I am so grateful that I am in the position I am now, to be able to look back and use my experiences and training as a coach to help others.
One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned in the various challenges I’ve faced, is to ask for help and acknowledge when I’m hurting. It wasn’t in my repertoire for a very long time, because, like many women, I saw my role as the nurturer and the carer, and the supporter of other people. Yeah, well I can tell you, that burden nearly crushed me!
I learned the hard way to stop always pretending to be strong all the time, and to let your closest friends and family know when you need love and support.
Sometimes we just need extra help. Sometimes that’s a hug. Sometimes that’s guidance. Sometimes that’s a safe space to explore feelings and thoughts. Sometimes that’s just someone saying we’re doing ok.
Life throws curve balls. That’s just a foregone conclusion. What we often don’t realise is that they are as important to us as the rainbows and sunny days.
The thing to remember is that when life throws us that curve ball, we have to try and catch it or it will hit us on the head and knock us out.
I’ve learned to listen to my emotions, including the pain. We are hardwired to do anything to avoid it, but what I’ve realised is that there is actually something quite beautiful about pain. It comes from a deep place inside us, often masked by anger, or fear, and difficult as it is to get there, once you do, it is often with a seismic revelation that you can, in fact, survive this.
There is nothing to be afraid of. This has become my mantra.
We spend our lives trying to avoid pain, but pain is a gateway to a deeper version of ourselves, and often we need love and support to go there. We need to ask for help, to let ourselves be vulnerable, and then allow ourselves to be loved and cared for. Then what was once a terrible place to be, can become your best motivator.
Find the meaning in the pain, find the pain point like a Physio pressing down hard on the stress point in your shoulder, hurts; it really fucking hurts, but then it starts to ease. And you have movement again.
Pain can hold you back, depresses and suppress you,
or it can drive you, inspire you and make you something bigger and better.
There is far more growth in pain than in pleasure, and a full life, requires both.