Tuesday, 19 April 2022

How I got through the hardest year of my life.

Cast your mind back to November 2020, we were still in the midst of a global pandemic, my husband was very stressed in his job and we were living in an overcrowded house with three lively little boys.  My husband was searching for a new job and we were trying to find a way to move to a bigger house, little did I know that our prayers for a new job, house and a desire to move west would be answered.  But God answers prayers in strange ways sometimes.  Who knew that with the gifts of a new job and house would come the hardest year of my life. The Bible says that hard times are like a refiners fire, like metal after it's been refined we come out the other side more pure, stronger, and the last year has certainly been like a fire, it remains to be seen if I have been refined by it yet!

The whirlwind began when my husband accepted a job offer in Gloucestershire and we got our house on the market.  It is a commonly known fact that moving house is one of the most stressful of life experiences and our experience was no exception.  To begin with15 years’ worth of possessions belonging to five people in a tiny two bed semi had to be packed, sold, given away and otherwise hidden to make our house presentable for sale.  We must have done a good job because we sold in the first week it was on the market, then began a fast furious house hunt.  We began making the two hour journey to the West Midlands for several weekends in a row to visit up 5 five houses at a time.  We saw a total of 16 houses, but house buying is never easy and even after finding the right place it was a bumpy and extremely rough road to completion.  We finally moved into our new home on 1st April 2021, three months after my husband started his new job.  

Everything was looking pretty rosy, we now had four bedrooms, one for us and one each for our children, a big garden and enough money to refurbish, then to all of our surprise I found out I was pregnant! After the initial shock I was pleased but then followed 3 months of appalling sickness, this was hard to manage on top of refurbishing a home and trying to continue home educating. The pregnancy was by far the hardest I have experienced, the sickness continued the entire pregnancy and I was beyond uncomfortable by the end.  

Then at the end of May we thought it would be fun to add a dog to our family.  It was not fun.  She is lovely now, but at the time getting a dog felt like the biggest mistake ever, the hair, the barking, the biting, and pooping and weeing everywhere was immensely stressful.  In June my eldest son fell down the stairs, bumped his head and got a concussion which resulted in a 999 call and another hospital visit, he was thankfully, fine, but stress levels were increased yet again.  In July my second son was very ill and was hospitalised with Asthma which was a slow recovery.  At the same time I came down with a bad chest infection which put me out of service for a large proportion of the summer.  All this happened under the umbrella of covid which as I am sure you can imagine heightened the anxiety around socialising, our health and the many hospital visits.

Still on a back foot from the chest infection our whole family then did go on to catch covid (not the watered down version, but the nasty Delta version) in September.  Both my husband and I realised quite quickly that we weren't going to be getting an easy ride. He had to go into hospital and the next day so did I.  I had to drop my children off with a new friend who I didn't know well, and they stayed with her for 5 days (along with her own 6 children!!).  The next day my husband caught sepsis from the covid infection and I spent one long night not knowing if he would still be alive the next morning.  He came out of hospital on his 40th birthday, but we were still both too ill to look after the children so they had to stay with my parents for another week. 

Thankfully we didn't die from covid and in December I gave birth to my beautiful baby boy, of course not without drama, he was born into the hands of my husband at home before the midwife or paramedics arrived.  Unfortunately there were concerns about the baby so we had to spend three days in hospital.  

After coming out of hospital I developed terrible allergies and a wheeze, I was diagnosed with asthma.  Then in March we call caught covid again. My chest was still in recovery and a few weeks later I ended up being diagnosed with a bad chest infection (but not before a hospital visit with a suspected blood clot on my lung).

At the end of March, I looked back over the past year since we moved to The Forest of Dean and couldn't really believe the year we had had, it was certainly not what I had expected.  But we had got through it, I had got through it, it hadn't broken me.  It would be understandable if I had plunged into depression.  In her book "The Wild Remedy"  Emma Mitchell talks about her experience with depression saying:

"...the shift in GABA receptor expression and activity [a possible cause of severe depression] is caused by our environment influencing the way in which our genes are expressed, which in turn influences our neuronal activity.  Which in essence means that suicidal thoughts might be caused by a series of difficult circumstances or life events.  The GABA-focused research hints at mechanisms that lead to the most severe cases of depression...)

Of course there are many causes of depression, and much more research needs to be done into why some people get depressed and others don't when placed under severe pressure from their circumstances.  The reasons why my circumstances over the last year did not cause depression in me probably go deeper than the things I am about to share, but perhaps they will give insight and encouragement for others going through a hard time.  This is not however a guide to preventing or overcoming depression and if you are feeling depressed I would urge you to seek medical advice. I have included a few phone numbers at the bottom of this post.

We will all, throughout our lives, encounter hard times and I am acutely aware that some peoples hard times are far more sever than mine, but all things are relative which is why depression is indiscriminate. My tips here will hopefully offer suggestions for ways to boost morale, ease stress and encourage positivity when we are faced with the sort of hard times that we are all likely to encounter throughout our lives, but they are not quick fixes for mental illness or extreme circumstances.    


It would have been easy to feel lonely during all the troubles we experienced over the past year, but not only did I stay in contact with a couple of friends from our old area whom I met up with regularly and who cheered me immensely, but I also got in touch with the local communities in our new area.  Seeing other people gives us a reason to laugh, occasions to have fun and share experiences. Our neighbours, the home education community and the Christian community have all been really welcoming and friendly and even brought us food when we were ill and again after having our baby and have looked after our children when we needed it. Sometimes it can feel hard to insert yourself into an already established community, but I think more often than not people are happy to include new faces and it just takes a bit of time and effort to make new, and perhaps even lifelong friends. I think that being in need of help and support actually brings out the good in people, it gives people a reason to do a good deed (which in turn makes them feel good) and although it might feel like we are being an inconvenience and it can be hard to ask for help sometimes, people do like to help others.  A friend in need is a friend indeed as they say. Having a community around you helps so much when you are going through hard times, it’s not just the practical support friends can offer, but perhaps more importantly a listening ear, having someone who you can share your troubles with is invaluable as well as giving you a reason to laugh.  What is even more valuable that having beautiful hearted people around you to help you and listen to you is being able to offer help and a listening ear to others.  The more time you spend helping others, the less time you spend on worrying about your own troubles, and somehow your own troubles seem smaller and smaller.


One of the things that kept me going through covid, when I could have spent every day of those five days that I was home all alone, my husband in hospital and my children staying with a friend, feeling sad, was getting up every day, dry brushing my skin and getting dressed.  I did this without fail every day.  It would have been very easy to just stay in bed every day and feel sorry for myself (and completely understandable), but I made the decision to get up and complete these simple routines and I found they kept me going.  Other little jobs like letting the dog out and feeding her, and taking my medication also helped provide consistency and predictability to my day at a time in my life when things felt very chaotic. Little jobs that needed doing each day, the regularity, the rhythm, helped me to feel calm and added an element of normalcy to each day.  Creating a rhythm of activities to keep you occupied and keep your mind busy helps immensely when going through hard times, the soothing folding of freshly washed laundry, the satisfaction of a swept floor, a regular phone call with a family member, time set aside to read or watch a TV show are all things you can do to preserve your mental health through challenges. They helped me get through the hardest time of my life and they might just help you too.

Self care:

Much can be said about the benefits of self care, we all know it’s important to keep your own cup filled so that we can pour from it to help others, but when we are going through a hard time it can feel insurmountable to do anything kind to ourselves, and yet it remains essential.  If we can create small spaces of time, little actions to care for ourselves we will be able to face challenges a little more easily.  The hard times are when we need a full cup more than ever.  Here are a few things I have done to look after myself in the last year:  Although I have often belaughed the humble bath I am realising the benefits of half an hour to soak in the tub, it’s time to yourself and healing for your body.  I know I always feel better after a bath, although I get them so rarely. Going to the doctors when there are small problems may seem frivolous but it’s really important to get small things looked at, they can prevent further problems developing and have a psychological effect of telling your body you care about it (not to mention the few minutes peace you get in the waiting room before an appointment!). After giving birth I found I really needed to wear very soft and comfortable clothes, I couldn’t bear a bra or jeans, I needed soft things against my body.  I also stopped removing body hair as inflicting pain on my body was something I couldn’t perceive at that time.  I needed to give my body time to heal and be kind and gentle with it, give it soft things and avoid causing harm. Being kind to my body in this way helped me to heal, maybe this will help you if you have had medical challenges.

Getting into nature:

Being in nature can have a wonderfully healing effect on our minds bodies and souls. I believe one of the reasons I didn’t drown over this past year was because I had regular exposure to the natural world.  This of course was made much easier by virtue of the fact we had moved to The Forest of Dean where we are surrounded by an abundance of beautiful flora and fauna.  But getting out into nature doesn’t necessarily mean you have to travel for miles to be out in the countryside.  A walk around a local park, a sit under a tree, a dig in a small patch of earth to plant a seed can all help improve our mental health and get us through difficult times.  The beauty of the natural world calms our minds, it allows for space in our spirits to reflect, in contrast to the busyness of modern life with all its distracting technology.  In hard times take a moment to meditate on the beauty of a bunch of flowers, sniff some soil or find a place to watch the clouds.  You will notice a positive effect on your mind and wellbeing.


Finally, as many of you know I am a Christian, so I talk frequently on God in times of trouble.  We want to desperately to be in control of everything in our earthly lives, if we feel in control we can feel some sense of power over our destiny.  But I have come to learn that so much is out of our control and attempts to control those things that are out of our power are futile and end up causing a lot of stress, worry and anxiety.  I place my troubles in the hands of God knowing he sees the intimate details of my life, hears my worries and cares about me and my experiences.  We might not always get the outcome we hope for but we can always trust that God has our best interest at heart. Of course there is always an element of fear in knowing that God’s way might not always be my way, but praying in the hard times has given me so much peace over circumstances out of my control. When you are facing troubling times in your life I would encourage you to reach out to the higher power and hand over your troubles to him.

This life on earth is fraught with vulnerabilities, dangers and challenges that we will all need to face and have to overcome at times, I hope that all of the above will give you a little store of ideas to relieve some of life’s stresses and make hard times more manageable.  We cannot avoid hard times but we can find ways to get through them with a little more peace a little less harm and with a bit of luck we will come out the other side wiser and stronger to face the next challenge to come.

Samaritans: 116123,

National suicide prevention helpline UK: 0800 689 5652,

SANEline: 0300 304 7000,

MIND: 0300 123 3393

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