“Give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning…”
When my kids were little and I was struggling with Postnatal Depression, sometimes it felt like every day was just another day to get through. My automatic response was to just suck it up and do whatever I had to do, to get through the day. Usually, that meant not feeling, just breathing. Not thinking, just doing. Not living, just surviving.
It sounds so dramatic when I read back through these words, but really it wasn’t. There was no drama. It was a stark and deliberate lack of drama. I kept each day as steady and manageable as I possibly could. Not feeling was my coping mechanism.
I look back now and see a new mum who was absolutely doing the best she could, with what she had. And I see a young woman who was desperately afraid to feel. Maybe it hurt too much or was too stressful. Maybe I just didn’t have the bandwidth to add the processing of my own feelings to an already overwhelming day-to-day.
But something beautiful happened along my journey of recovery. I started learning how to feel. I started learning that I didn’t need to be afraid of my feelings – that my feelings are actually there to help me through whatever situation I find myself in.
When I’m feeling anxious, I try to let myself feel it… and even ask myself: What I am feeling anxious about? I breathe it through, take a moment, and then decide on my next step.
When I’m feeling sad, again I ask myself why. What am I feeling sad about? I try to validate it: Yep, that’s fair enough. That is sad. Then I breathe it through, take a moment, and decide on my next step.
It’s the same with worry and stress: What am I feeling worried and stressed about? It’s valid. Now breathe, take moment, what’s my next step?
The beautiful thing is that I’ve learned that if I allow myself to feel and process the hard stuff, I’ll also feel the precious softness of gratitude, happiness and hope. The beauty of a warm morning hug from my daughter. The softness of mist as it curls across the valley. A friendly smile from a stranger. It’s joy that I feel in these moments. And because I’ve felt the difficult feelings, there’s now room for the lovely ones. It’s beauty for ashes.
Do I still fear my feelings? Sometimes, for sure. I’m not fearless when it comes to my emotions, but I’m fearing less. It’s beauty for ashes. I allow the ashes of sadness, loss and stress to be felt and acknowledged and when the ashes have been swept away by validation and process, beauty can take their place.
Be encouraged, beautiful friend. If there are hard and difficult things to feel, there will be beautiful, soft and lovely things too, just around the corner. Breathe through the hard moments, acknowledge and validate the difficult feelings… and allow them to leave room for beauty.
If you or someone you know is struggling with Postnatal Depression or any other mental illness, please seek help. Contact PANDA.org.au or LifeLine on 13 11 14.