A young widowed father opening up about living with loss
I’ve been going to counselling on and off for about two and a half years now. It’s not for everyone but I really value it. My experience of it now makes me believe that it’s something that needs time. It’s a bit like making bread. If you just threw all the ingredients in a bowl and then ate the dough immediately expecting it to satisfy you, you’d be bitterly disappointed – repulsed even. You might judge it on that one experience and, as a result, decide never to try it again. If you persevered and let it breathe a little and then ate it, it might be a little lighter and slightly easier to stomach, yet still barely more satisfying. If you were patient and followed the advice you were given on how to get the best results, however, you might finally get a taste of what you were hoping for.
That’s where I am now. After skipping my regular sessions for several weeks, I paid my counsellor a visit on Thursday morning. Having got used to laying its emotions bare regularly, my mind seems to get a little confused when it doesn’t get its weekly workout. This is going to be epic, it says as I make my way into the building after a few weeks off. It never is, though. The time out from any kind of mental analysis – the formal kind at least – seems to allow me to take stock.
To go back to the baking analogy, the therapy is like kneading – the tiring but necessary part that takes it out of you. The time out from it, however, is like letting the dough rise – the break in the task that gets the results you want despite complete inaction on your own part.
In this modern world where we’re always ‘on’, sometimes we need to switch off to achieve our goals. I’ve worked as a creative director in PR agencies for the last few years and I can honestly say I’ve never had an idea while staring at a computer screen. It would be a tough sell to my employers, but I think they would get a much higher return on investment from my salary if I simply sat on a bus thinking for eight hours a day. In fact, as I write this blog post I’m sitting in seat 23A on a return flight to Gatwick and this is only the second time I’ve had the headspace and time to pen my thoughts this year.
I’ve got a hangover the size and shape of Barcelona so I’m rambling more than usual, but all this musing about my mental needs (and baking kneads) does actually have direction. When I sat in my therapist’s leather armchair in her attic office in Marylebone on Thursday this week, I found myself contentedly talking about how I am beginning to appreciate my own sense of happiness. I don’t believe that ‘counting your blessings’ in a time of crisis is a tonic for your pain, but in a time of calm an unprompted acknowledgment of fortune can be a gift from the mind – a cognitive voice that whispers, ‘You’re doing alright, mate.’
I would, of course, like to be living the life I expected when my son was born five and a half years ago and when his mum and I walked down the aisle together ten months later, but life isn’t interested in our hopes or expectations. Ironically, acknowledging the fact that life is disappointing has made me more content than I’ve been in years.
Idly waiting for fortune to come your way is a foolish in-endeavour. Using fortune as a medicine for the pain, in my experience at least, is about as effective as using sellotape to heal a wound. But being able to see the abundance of your own life, however diminished it may be, is an incredibly telling sign of recovery.
And now tears have come from nowhere. I guess that embracing disappointment, rejecting happiness as life’s only aspirational emotion and being open to what life has to throw at me has made me rather unfamiliar with myself. It’s quite exciting not knowing exactly where your day is heading, though.
It’s a bit like homemade bread – it can be unbelievably shit or the best thing you’ve ever tried. One thing’s for sure though: it’s not going to bake itself.