After losing Ruby it took me an incredibly long time to realise what I had done to myself. When I lost her, I lost a huge part of myself as well. I shut down emotionally in order to protect myself from the pain I was feeling over losing her. But what I wasn't aware of then was that I was also withdrawing from the world and those around me.... including my kids. I was modelling for them the traits that I have always discouraged. I was teaching my boys that the best way to cope was to soldier on. That crying was a weakness and that talking about your problems did no good.
I experienced so much pain when Ruby died. I often compare it to the immense flooding sensations of love you have for your new child when it is born. Flip that completely on it's head and turn it into pain by the same strength... that's almost comparable to what I felt and do still feel some days.
Somehow though, I had to find a way to survive it. The only way I was able to cope was to shut it out and stay busy. For a very long time (8 years!) that worked. Well, worked is probably not the right word... it sufficed. I managed to wake up every morning and function to some degree.
I kept myself busy with work, the kids, the house, being a social butterfly. I couldn't stand silence and being alone. It left me with far too much time with my thoughts. And that scared me. Eventually the thought of having to deal with what I had locked away inside for so long terrified me so much that I refused to talk about any of it. Not just Ruby though, everything.
I lost the ability to voice my feelings and frustrations. I became completely dysfunctional in relationships I had had my entire life. Suddenly conversations with Family and Friends were strained because I didn't have the effort to make conversation, the effort to smile, the effort to pretend I was ok. I had become used to my solitude and fast paced manic lifestyle.
What resulted was my fall into a chronic depression. I began to experience things I never had before. Panic attacks, cold sweats, fits of rage and anger, crying for no reason at all, an inability to get out of bed or get motivated, the inability to connect with life and loved ones... Eventually I started to believe that the only way I would be rid of the prison I'd built for myself was to die and go and be with Ruby again. The only thing that stopped me each time was my boys.
I remember looking at Jack one day late last year and realising that he wasn't talking to me anymore. He wasn't as affectionate as he used to be. I felt like I was losing him.
It was then that I realised he was learning all the things I had been doing. That was the way he thought I expected him to cope.
The old "do as I say and not as I do" adage parents whip out every now and then does not work.... ever.
My gorgeous son was withdrawing from me and it killed me. I beat myself up for all the times I had snapped at him or Michael when they mentioned Ruby's name. I told myself I was a horrible mother for all the times I had given them an ipad to play with while we lay in bed because I couldn't bring myself to get out from under the covers. I told myself everything was my fault.
And then I realised... how, I still don't know, that I could change this.
I had to put in the hard work and get better. I couldn't be a good mum until I was ok within myself. So started my road to recovery which is a weekly battle still. At least not after six months though I can say that it is a weekly battle and not daily.
I began to talk, to a counselor. Not someone that knew me, that had expectations of me, or that I felt I would disappoint. Initially we talked about very little. I told her on the first session that there were places I was not prepared to go, she promised to hold my hand while we got to those places.
She explained to me that dealing with my grief was going to be like opening the lid of a coke bottle. I have shaken it up and kept the lid on tight for so long that if I ripped the lid of straight away I was going to explode... instead, we slowly twist the lid together, let a little air out at a time and then put the lid back on.
That is how I learnt to talk again, to cry again. I am not healed, I wouldn't even say that I am ok. Not yet. But I am trying, and I'll continue to try. Jack needs me too. My friends and family need me to. And I need to, I want to be happy again. I want all that hot fizzy air out of the coke bottle and to be able to enjoy my drink.
I want Jack to know that just because some things look hard or look as though they might be ruined, doesn't mean that they won't be amazing and worthwhile with some patience and persistence....
Jess Castree is a mother to two little boys and one angel little girl. She is the General Manager of a Plumbing Company in Melbourne. All round workaholic, perfectionist, over anxious, slightly neurotic woman trying to make it in the big bad world we live in today.