It’s a fact, life gives us lemons.
Sometimes the bitter taste leaves us with a gaping hole in our hearts.
Other times, it’s a dissatisfaction – with our relationships, our careers or our lifestyles. How we deal with those challenges is largely up to us.
Surrounding ourselves with people we respect and admire, people who also support and inspire us, can make all the difference to how we choose to react to life’s challenges.
I’ve made it a conscious choice to surround myself with these kinds of women – ordinary women who are doing the extraordinary.
Each of these women has a story to tell. A story that inspires me to do better – to be better.
Do you have friends who are ordinary women doing the extraordinary?
They may not be famous. They may not even be leaders in the traditional sense. However, if their actions fill you with admiration, then you know these women.
This is part two of my celebration of ordinary women who are doing the extraordinary.
DOING THE EXTRAORDINARY – WALKING WITH YOU
I think most would agree that losing a child is the greatest pain of all. Something that will colour the way you see and do everything.
My friend Linda is an End of Life Doula. “What is that?” you might ask.
End of Life Doulas (EOLDs) provide support, options and education to assist a dying person and their friends and family so that their end of life unfolds in the way they want. Sometimes EOLDS work just with family members (and not the person who is dying) to give them support.
EOLDs offer a wide range of services, including funeral planning, ensuring legal issues (such as the will) are completed, and helping to navigate the medical system to better understand their choices as well as liaising with various services. They also provide emotional support and counselling.
Linda ‘walked with me’ decades ago when I had to have a beloved pet put down because of a tumour.
I will never forget her gentleness and kindness.
SOMETIMES HEARTBREAK LEADS YOU TO YOUR PATH
It was not until experiencing her own extreme grief that she chose this path as a profession.
Less than a week before Christmas in 2016, her son, Sean, took his own life.
It seems Sean’s journey in this life was destined to be difficult. Right from birth by emergency caesarean section after a 26-hour-labour. He just didn’t want to come into this world.
As young as three, Sean was having behavioural issues that even Linda’s extensive training and experience working with kids couldn’t help solve.
By the time he was seven, Sean had tried twice to kill himself, both times during a temper tantrum, but stating his intention.
MENTAL HEALTH AND HALLUCINATIONS
When Sean was 12, he took a knife to the soft furnishings in his room, claiming there were people looking at him through the window and telling him to do it. A paediatrician dismissed this as a story made up to avoid punishment. Later, a doctor would tell Linda he thought it was Sean’s first psychotic episode.
Whether a different diagnosis and treatment at that time could have changed the ending, we will never know.
When Linda’s marriage broke up, Sean was 14. It only served to increase his anger and frustration.
DOING THE EXTRAORDINARY – A MENTAL HEALTH ROLLER COASTER
He started using marijuana and by 16, he was using ecstasy and drinking and getting into fights. The next few years were filled with a roller coaster of highs and lows that included hallucinations. Sean was diagnosed with Bipolar 2 and prescribed medication which he quickly stopped taking as he said it ‘made him into a zombie’. He claimed he would control the illness through meditation and for a while, that seemed to work. His drinking and drug-taking lessened. By the end of 2011, he had a job that he loved as an engraver. He also fell in love.
Sadly, after two years, the relationship broke up and just a few months later, Sean lost his job when the company decided to franchise its shops.
A few years later, Sean lost a close friend and this resulted in a decline in his mental health.
His drug-taking escalated and he started taking ice. At one point Sean was picked up by the police for riding his pushbike in the middle of the street.
He was hallucinating and was admitted to Katoomba Hospital, where he was again diagnosed with Bipolar 2 and started on medication. Sean was there for two weeks and was still hallucinating when he was discharged.
He told Linda that he was being chased by a gang and that if he didn’t die before Christmas, they were going to kill her and his father and brother.
A NEW DIAGNOSIS
Two weeks after his discharge he disappeared. He was picked up by the Water Police after he jumped fully-clothed into the harbour at Circular Quay, near the ferries. He claimed he wasn’t trying to kill himself, but just wanted to swim. Sean ended up back in hospital and was this time diagnosed with Mixed Bipolar.
Mixed Bipolar is very difficult to treat. Generally people with bipolar experience moods that alternate between depression and elevation. In Mixed Bipolar they have both at the same time – either simultaneously or in extremely rapid sequence. This means that they are more likely to suicide as they are experiencing despair but have the energy and recklessness of the mania, and will act impulsively.
Sean was released from the hospital on a Thursday. Two days later, after a seemingly happy and relaxed day spent with his father, he took his own life.
He was airlifted to a hospital and placed on life support. His lungs were too badly damaged to absorb oxygen, even on life support and on the next day, he was taken off of it.
DOING THE EXTRAORDINARY – THE PROCESS OF GRIEF
When I asked Linda to describe her initial feelings, she said it was difficult to answer.
“I think there has long been a feeling of grief over Sean, even before his death. Grief that he had mental health issues, grief that his life was so hard,” she said.
There was, of course, shock and disbelief. And then guilt, anger and sorrow. At one point she thought briefly about joining him.
“The urge was so strong,” she said.
Then she thought about her other son and decided to fight on.
DOING THE EXTRAORDINARY – A NEW PATH
It was several months after Sean’s death that Linda first became aware of End of Life Doulas. When she heard the term, she was intrigued and started investigating. Then she decided to train as one.
“I had always been comfortable around death and dying,” she said.
“My grandmother and I shared a bedroom until I was eight. My mother nursed my gran through her final illness in that room. My gran died in that room.
“So death never scared me. It was always just a part of life and I had worked with bereaved people in Mind Mastery.
“When my dad was dying, I read his favourite poems to him. When Mum was dying, I sang to her. There is something about being able to do that last service for somebody – to help them transition in a way that is meaningful for them.
“I had done this for three people that I loved. I could do this for others.”
DOING THE EXTRAORDINARY – UNDERSTANDING GRIEF
Linda explained that the idea of stages of grief is no longer accepted as true. It is now recognized that grief is not linear and that everybody’s response to the death of a loved one is unique and different.
Fixation on stages of grief has caused many people to believe that what they were going through was abnormal or they were doing it wrong.
“Grieving people cycle through many emotions and they will go through many of these emotions multiple times. There is no right or wrong way to grieve,” she said.
It has now been shown that grief affects the brain itself, affecting cognitive tasks, such as concentration, memory, decision-making, organization, and planning. These effects often last for a year and, in some cases like the death of a child, for much longer.
“People in our society are not comfortable with death and dying. Having people around you that treat you with empathy but not pity is important, “she said.
“When you’re grieving, you want to talk about the person who has died. You are desperate that they are not forgotten. Often, though, other people cannot stand the sadness that these memories evoke in you so they don’t talk about the person or they change the subject when the person’s name is mentioned.
“So having somebody with you who is comfortable with how you want to be is important. Somebody who wants to look at the photos with you or listen to the stories and doesn’t mind if you cry. And also somebody who understands the legal processes around death and can help you through them.”
ADVICE FOR HANDLING GRIEF
I asked Linda for her most important advice to those who are grieving.
“Do whatever feels right for you and don’t listen to others who say you should be doing something else,” she said.
“The emotions are overwhelming, so be kind to yourself and do whatever you need to do to get through.
“Don’t listen to others when they tell you that life goes on or you’ll get over it. Yes, life does go on but grief changes you so much that it will feel like you are living a different life. There will forever be a space, a gap that nobody else will fill. Talk to your loved one and listen for answers. “
Linda has a Diploma in Clinical Hypnotherapy, Cert IV Neurolinguistics Programming, Certificate End of Life Doula, Graduate Certificate Health and Social Wellbeing. She is currently studying for an MA in Health and Social Wellbeing.
She also runs a mental health service, Mind Mastery, using hypnotherapy to help her clients.
You can find out more about her End of Life Doula services at Walking with You.
DOING THE EXTRAORDINARY – THE GRAND TRANSFORMATION
At a stage of life when many women settle for contentment, my friend Annette is doing the extraordinary with a grand transformation that has given her a whole new lease on life.
Annette, mother to three and grandmother to six, has lost 50 kg and is now a shining light helping others who want to transform their bodies and their lives.
When she lost the weight, Annette also lost the emotional shackles that kept her from enjoying life to the fullest.
She says the biggest gain since losing the weight has been freedom.
“Being overweight stops you in a lot of ways from enjoying life,” she said.
“You get embarrassed about how you look so you don’t want to join in with activities in front of other people. And, you don’t do things like swimming in public. You can’t join in with any physical activities or games – you sit on the side and watch life pass you by.”
Simple things that many take for granted proved difficult for Annette before she lost the weight.
“Even doing things like going on a plane flight and being able to fit into the seat comfortably and have the seat belt fit without struggling,” she said.
“Or being able to pull out the tray down in front of you to put your meal on and have room to move, it’s an amazing feeling.
“Something so simple, but something so liberating.”
DOING THE EXTRAORDINARY – SO MUCH GAINED FROM LOSS
Annette has struggled with weight issues for more than 30 years. At some point, she decided to give up on her passion for horse riding because she thought she was too heavy for the horses to carry.
She gave up on a lot of things.
“I was embarrassed a lot of times to be seen doing things,” she said.
“I did not like having my photo taken – I would always hide at the back. And I hated shopping for clothes and was always embarrassed when trying clothes on. I would often come home disheartened and not purchase anything.”
Annette had tried various weight loss programs but was unable to keep the weight off.
Then, in September 2017, she came across the PHATT weight loss program and decided to give that a try. She hasn’t looked back.
Annette said the program has worked for her because it is more about lifestyle change than just a diet.
The program teaches participants how to detox and heal their guts using everyday food they make themselves. It does not involve special shakes or fad diets.
DOING THE EXTRAORDINARY – HELPING OTHERS
When Annette started reaping the benefits of her lifestyle change, she was keen to help others and now mentors those who want to lose weight and achieve gut health.
“I am so much happier and so excited to be able to go out there and help others find the freedom I have now found,” she said.
“It’s great to be able to do what I want and not to feel embarrassed, not to be constantly thinking that someone is watching me and looking down on me because of my weight.
“I am now no longer embarrassed to go out and purchase new clothes, or ashamed to get dressed up and go out in public. I am no longer frightened of having my picture taken and I now stand at the front instead of hiding behind everyone else. And, I am now able to ride horses again – it has given me back the freedom I had lost over 30 years ago.”
Annette has a long history of helping others. She has worked in aged care for 17 years.
She says being able to comfort the elderly and their families is extremely rewarding.
“To be with them in their last minutes and hold their hand, to give them reassurance that everything is going to be alright when they are scared, gives me great pleasure,” she said.
“To ensure they are not alone or frightened when it matters most. To let them know that there is someone who does care, someone who is there to support them right up until the end, that is what caring for the elderly means to me.”
LEARN TO SMILE
Helping others ‘learn to smile again’ was an obvious step for Annette when she realised the success she was having with her lifestyle change.
“It gives you your confidence back,” she said.
“You can see it in the before and after photos. In the before photos, they look sad, they do not have confidence.
“In their after photos they are smiling, they hold their heads up high, they shine with confidence and a belief in themselves for what they have achieved. Often something they, like me, struggled with for half of their life.”
Annette’s big message is that it is never too late to reclaim your life. Being a grandparent doesn’t mean you have to settle.
“My nine-year-old grandson Orlando was looking at old pictures of me the other day and he said, “Grandma used to look old”.
“What better compliment could a grandma ask for?”
A huge thank you to Linda, Annette and Gill and Karen (from part one) for honouring me with their stories and allowing me to share them.
Here’s hoping you have the chance to know the stories of the ordinary women in your life who are doing the extraordinary and that those stories inspire and uplift you.
Have a gleeful week, Tamuria.