The Swallowed Scream

By | Cancer, Humans of Wellbeing, Wellbeing, workplace | No Comments

Presence over pride

There is this stirring inside me that I’ve experienced for a few years now, it may have been there longer, just numbed or drowned out by the constant noise in my head and the distractions of the world we now live in.

I can’t even begin to describe what it is, yet I can tell you how it feels. It is an ache in my heart, a lump in my throat and a quickening of pace to get on with things. Yet, that quickening was also a longing for the person I lost along the way: for every time I said ’no’ inside, I said ‘yes’ out loud, in the moments I curled up, when I could have stayed open, for those times I went into hiding, when I could have shared the truth and all the times I ran away when I had the chance to stand still.


I’ve swallowed that lump too many times. You know that feeling you get at the back of your throat, the one ignored for politeness or personal pride. Except I got it wrong, rather than the lump, I should have swallowed my pride!

I’ve come from a strong line of women who’ve managed their difficult emotions, by concealing them. The overly used expressions I’ve grown up with “stop crying”, “don’t be a baby” and ones from the workplace over the years “you’re just too emotional”, “you need to toughen up to work here”, “can’t have you going off with stress”. These all had a significant influence on how I dealt with my emotions and continued to swallow and box them away.

Over the last few years I’ve had Acupuncture, Counselling, CBT, and Psychotherapy and it’s opened up places within me that have been locked tight for many years. I used CBT very successfully and yet the act of using a process also helped me distance myself from my emotional truth with remission. I continue to practice meditation and I’ve explored different techniques. I found myself in silence last August for 10-days wondering why the chaos inside ensued amidst the calm outside. Meditation showed me the truth inside and remains my cornerstone.

Then a day came, one I will remember for the rest of my life for truly practicing kindness to myself, within a coaching conversation. I was asked a powerful question that allowed me to honour the person I was during a terrifying time in my life. I had been sharing how my anxiety had been hustling me recently and how I had experienced panic attacks which had both surprised me and floored me after approx. 12 months without any. We explored why they and anxiety could be happening and we went deep into the discovery, rather than my own ability that kept me safe in the shallows. This is what I love and deeply appreciate about Danielle, my coach, I feel safe to go places within me, knowing that space is held safely.

Danielle had asked me a seemingly simple yet powerful question that I hadn’t even asked myself. Even as I write this now, I can feel the lump rising and the stalling as the words slip onto the keyboard “How did you feel when you were told you had cancer Ria?” I finally felt I acknowledged my whole feelings for the first time ever!

Soon after my diagnosis, I took to blogging as my therapy. The blogs were full of hope and were met with kind and well-intended comments that encouraged my inclination to silence the distressing feelings and share more about the other ones that were also present and positive — hope, mindfulness, and faith, with a more appealing picture to accompany it. At the time I recall a campaign #nomakeupselfie for cancer that also encouraged my desire to share my ‘I can beat this’ mantra I had in my head daily… it’s ultimately what got me through those the terrifying and awakening 3-weeks. The other distressing feelings were swallowed and squashed.

Those distressing feelings were deep deep shame, grief and painful loneliness which have all lingered at phases and stages since. As I sat there sharing those feelings with Danielle I felt my heart ache. It was and is time to honour those feelings and show one of the most important people in my life, my 5-year old daughter, that you can be brave and afraid at the same time. Feel it, not conceal it, as many of us learned during Frozen! It was time to swallow pride, not my own poison.

The day I was told that I had uterine cancer, changed me forever. I felt like I had been transported to another dimension, my own matrix and the loneliness ensued. I had no mother to turn to for the type of unconditional love only your mother can provide. I wanted to cry into her arms and hear her say “you will be okay”, but cancer had taken her many years previously.

I watched my daughter who was two years old at the time sleep that night. She had only just gone into a little cot bed and as I sat in the dark stroking her curly mass of blonde hair I wondered if I would ever share the moments my own mother had missed and more pressingly on my mind, would I still be here next month, next year. I so desperately wanted to cry in her room that night, but I didn’t know if the tears would end and the noise would wake her. I kept quiet and swallowed the tears inside.

When friends called to offer their support and say I would beat it, I really wanted to scream ”but what if I don’t. I’m so fucking petrified”. Instead, I showed my hopeful side. I preferred that part of me — it gave me strength. I swallowed the rest.

When I went for my MRI and CT scans I wanted to really slump by my dad’s knee and beg him not to let them take me. As the nurse walked me to the room, I turned to watch him walk in the other direction and the little girl in me wanted to scream “daddy please help me”. I was choked on my fear. I sat on that MRI machine and visualized those laser beams killing whatever cancer cells I had in me for the longest 30 minutes of my life. Thank goodness for my new practice, meditation and the words of Thich Nhat Hanh.

When I went in for life changing and saving surgery to remove cancer from my body I was wheeled down to the surgery room and all I wanted was a familiar hand to hold mine. I remember sobbing so hard because I knew what they were going to do would prevent any more chances to bring another baby into this world along with my own womanhood. I was deeply grateful for the gift I had with our own daughter and yet full of shame of what surgery meant for us all. I swallowed.

When I came around in recovery I was told I would enter menopause immediately. At that point of waking, I knew part of me had not returned. It was too painful to bear the reality of the situation. Anger took its place and started to grasp at me. I swallowed.

Months went by and I was told on many occasions how lucky I was. Lucky for not needing chemo, or radiotherapy, lucky to be here, lucky to catch it so soon. Told how women have hysterectomies every day and its common surgery. Reminded on many occasions that I cannot have children and my daughter will be an ‘only child’ and how challenging that must be. The guilt and shame piled on. I swallowed.

Those comments although meant well, were crushing. I didn’t feel lucky. I felt like something was out to get me. My scars were minor compared to the mental scars building inside me. I was crushed on the inside and the anger at times become too much to bear. I felt like I was burning inside, whilst wearing a smile on the outside.

For many months I went into hiding as much as possible from friends and family. My hiding came in many guises, from withdrawal, staying home, staying silent and also being a right little madam when that got boring. All of these versions of me was down to the shame, loneliness and grief I carried inside. I went through stages of wanting to physically run away and I found ways to make that happen in truth. When I realised I couldn’t run from it I started to punish my body by training hard, and withdrawing different food groups from my diet… anything that could give me control. That didn’t work either and the slippery slope continued until I started writing a suicide letter in my head on one too many occasions, putting the blame on people and places. I was petrified I would have such thoughts and more shame pilled up.

At that point, I couldn’t do it alone anymore and the Psychotherapy ramped up. I found myself in the woods, sat in my car trembling as I spoke to Jane a Mental Health Clinician. No one would hear me scream in the woods, but the scream was so big it was trapped within me. I will be eternally grateful to Jane and Munya, my Psychotherapists for their huge professional support at that time and to my husband, Gareth who has absolutely seen me at my worse and heard me say such heartbreaking words.

I feel grateful to have found a healthier lifestyle that continues to support me, because, despite all of those challenging emotions, I managed to hold down a job, functioned and at times flourished.

The return to work was a shock, post-surgery, the pace of work was like a constant sprint. The cultural norms of head down, back to back appointments/meetings, lunch on the run was prevalent then and still is now. After taking 7-months out earlier this year, to set up my own business, Well+, I’ve realised just how dangerous some of these ‘ways of working’ are to energy, creativity, flow, performance, relationships, and health.

We (Health and Wellbeing professionals) can all talk about what to do and why to do it… blah, blah, blah. The hard graft is showing up and practicing it. Leading the charge and going stealth with health by getting closer to the truth of what’s happening — sharing the good and challenging the bad, sad or mad practices.

This blog is wholeheartedly shared to acknowledge my own emotional story with a cancer diagnosis and remission, in addition to the change needed more than ever. More and more people are returning to work after illness, disease or loss and more needs to be done to support Leaders, Managers, HR Departments on how to support people back into all types of workplaces. I willingly will lead this charge! There is a mission in my remission after all!

Emotion is honest, raw and truthful — both the warm, fuzzy and dark and damp type. It needs motion, not stockpiling. What I know for sure and now finally accept is this is all ME — the light and dark. Without those lows, I wouldn’t recognize the highs. Without the pain, I wouldn’t recognize the joys. I am a human of wellbeing deep inside. We all are. It’s our natural state of being that we all deserve in work and life.

More than just the mind

By | Wellbeing | No Comments

A wholehearted ode for unity

 

In this world we live in today, our heads are often leading the way

Is there no wonder they spin and break when our whole approach is to segregate

Matters of the mind can be dealt with here and bodily parts form an orderly queue there.

With a fiery head and a deflated heart, why do we keep on talking about the parts

Let’s share an exchange, go on a discovery, our mind and body is our ultimate destiny

Buckle up tight, wait for the emotion, its all part of your grandest ocean

The rise and fall of the body breath dictates our journey on this quest

Now use your eyes, your ears, your sense of smell, remember, stay here, just for now

Watch and wait, observe the flow, integration is the way to go

The well within you is the well within me,

It is the sum of our eternity.

Humans of Wellbeing

By | Flow, Humans of Wellbeing, Pause, Wellbeing | No Comments

We relinquished the knots and unpicked the ties that bound us thread by thread, layer upon layer. Those knots, aches, and pains we felt often, the tension in the shoulders, the ache in the back and the neurotic tendencies to control and self-preserve with that nagging voice in our head telling us we are not enough. The one that told us to do more, get more, consume, buy, repeat, repeat, repeat.

We let go!

We realized those knots and ties were mythical in our mind. We fabricated layers to fill our gaps with momentary stuff. We got distracted.

We let go!

Well-being is personal to each and every one of us. In this short human race called life, we come to learn that we cannot buy it. We are it! Being well is a possibility, a perspective, a place within us all.

We take a momentary pause. It is always there, the rise and fall of our belly, the subtle sensation of our breath as it passes our nostrils, the desire for our body to move, explore, the mind to create and sense and our hearts to love and share.

The moment we look within, we will find it. What do I seek? How will I know? What do I need? Now is the time to be curious, patient and trust.

In this short human race called life, we let go, we find our flow in becoming a human of well-being.

When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be. When I let go of what I have, I receive what I need.
–Lao Tzu

The Wilds Ones

By | Flow, Nature, Pause, Wellbeing, Wild | No Comments

Nature lies within us all

The experience of being immersed in nature at its fullest is slowly beginning to teach me a lot about myself. The years of moving away from her, distancing and misaligning myself with the ebb and flow had taken its toll.

Over the last few years, following my ‘wake up’ call reminding me that life is not some dress rehearsal, or slumber to drift through, I’ve made some very different choices in life. The biggest decision came shortly after being diagnosed with cancer, within a few weeks our family home went up for sale. The practicalities of our decision made sense, yet it was the trees, golden fields, wild flowers and rolling hills that felt like a home that I needed to heal my sorrow and in time allow us all to flourish.

By the winter we were closing the door on one house and opening the door to the countryside and mother natures herself, who at that time had shed her leaves and settled into hibernation. I was starting to synchronise with her, without really knowing at the time.

What struck me in those early months was the sky by day and night! It looked so vast, and for the first time in my life, I noticed the sparkle of the stars in the dark sky, untouched by bright street lights. By day the birds would flutter and flap with intent, and as the evening drew closer, they would slow and quieten acknowledging day becoming night.

Over the course of those years, I have made unconscious choices that signalled to a more natural way of life. The garden was a blank canvas of grass, rolling into the surroundings of the rolling hills. We put up fences to give structure and boundaries, and I too started to recreate my own, when my mind was too loud, and darkness often graced it, I dug a garden path to help me find my way through. Chronic stress and anxiety plagued me in the summer, and I planted lavender to slow me down. I left the ‘corporate’ world in March of this year and started sowing seeds, seeds in my garden and new seeds that would help grow my own business.

Bare foot and bare faced a few months on, and the shock of coming out of the ‘corporate world’ that often dictates your rhythm of 9–5 was a shock to my system. For weeks I would sit at my kitchen table by 9 and work until 5. It was an interesting time for me to explore the pitfalls and positives of working in this way because now I had a choice: To work in the way I had always worked for 17 years or find a new way. I choose the latter with much resistance! I wanted a new rhythm and flow in the way of living and working and still, at this time I was unaware of how nature could guide me! I was drawn to the water, and for the first time in years, I started to swim. She works mysteriously, and I know now — I was finding my flow!

Each week I took to the water and swam up and down. In those moments I breathed deeper and made sense of what I wanted to do. Soon after I needed to find a new daily rhythm to compliment my flow, so I jumped on my bike and used the gears and pedals to guide me. My new working day started to unfold, and synchronicity emerged.

With a new rhythm and flow developing, I acknowledged the need to boost my inner belief and confidence that the work I am embarking on and dedicated to, like many others, is required by me too. There is room for us all.

As I begin to build a new a health movement in work and life for all those looking for another way, a healthier way, something bigger is needed to push me, support me and help me navigate how to land the change required.

The timing was perfect and over the course of a weekend I drove hours to the depths of Cornwall for a retreat ’The Wild Pause’ designed by Danielle Marchant, partnering with Ian Prickett, a well-respected Polar Explorer, who joined Sir Ranulph Fiennes, the world’s greatest living explorer, on the ‘Coldest Journey’ Expedition as the team’s engineer.

In my 38 years on this planet, I have never gone past my hips in the ocean — Yep that’s right! The deepest waters I have been in has been an indoor pool. As Danielle describes “… you will meet the wild one that lives inside of you. The silent risk taker, the inner rebel and the forgotten warrior”. I was ready to meet her (again) because now she was needed consistently and in a considerable way.

We ventured to the ocean, and for five hours we explored the coast line by Kayak and Stand Up Paddle (SUP) Boards. Being sat in a kayak felt relatively stable and comforting, yet the moment we were asked to switch over and head back, my legs trembled, and my body slumped. I choose the kneel down option initially while on the SUP board. Ian guided me and encouraged me to stand, and I realised my fear of standing in this vast ocean was no different to my fear of standing tall as a business owner and change-maker. Day one gave me perspective. The SUP was my stand point!

We gathered around the fire that evening, sharing stories and reflections of our day on the ocean and acknowledging the powerful lessons we learn in nature. Day two rolled in and we were all in for a surprise — two hours of coasteering. As we made our way to the rocks, I prayed my fingers and feet would always follow. Three-points of contact was the mantra in my head as we climbed, side stepped our way along. We got to our first ledge, and the height was relatively low, yet it was the depth of the ocean and the leap off that hustled my mind. I learned at that moment that when you take a leap, it is always more powerful to have cheerleaders and supportive faces around you. I looked down to see smiling faces beaming up and cheering me on, and I took my first leap!

Sinking, sinking, sinking in those few moments submerged in the unknown, not dissimilar to the feeling of following your heart and not knowing what will come of it. As I made my way back up to the water surface, I felt sheer exhilaration and pride. I can leap, and I will rise.

By complete immersion, I was beginning to tap into the wild one, the inner rebel, the forgotten warrior that Danielle had so eloquently described. Nature once again had supported me on a grand scale, and it does not surprise me to know that both earth and our bodies are approx. 70% water!

So if you have ventured this far in my blog and you too have lost your rhythm and flow and seeking to thrive, then turn to Mother Nature and let her guide you. Surround yourself with her and watch with care.

If you need flow, take to the water, if you are seeking rhythm, pay attention to the seasons, align to them and do something that has a rhythm. It may be playing music, banging a drum, taking a walk, bike ride, or a gentle run.

Be a wild one too!