Finding a happy place – Coping strategies

Since the miscarriage this blog has been silent. I have been active elsewhere and taking part in a number of great Twitter chats like #BabyLossHour, #FASTLossChat and the new #MaternalMinds #LetsGetTalking events. I’ve collected the tweets from these chats here if you want to catch up.

In doing so, it’s reinforced the need for me to look at effective coping strategies to handle my ongoing challenges to mental health that come with grief and bereavement. I’ve also been considering what it means to be happy and how to be happier.

This seems contradictory at first. After such a devastating loss how can someone ever be happy again.

I’d sell out everyone / if I could find such peace / See you on the other side

Part of this answer comes from the highly unlikely source of Derren Brown. The 89 or so readers of my post about finding comfort in distraction may remember how much of a comfort it was to work our way through his shows. In part it allowed us to inoculate ourselves against the siren call of psychics by seeing the various tricks used to offer false comfort and empty words of solace.

His book Happy starts off cheerfully dismantling the seemingly innocuous promises of self-help gurus while making the serious point that their message is counterproductive and even dangerous. If the universe will give you what you want simply because you ask it and you then don’t get what you want the message from these gurus is often that you didn’t want it enough or do enough to really deserve it. It’s not hard to see how devastating such a philosophy could be to the bereaved.

Derren Brown then spends a lot of time assessing what it means to be happy now and what we believe happiness to be. He rejects the value of a hedonistic treadmill where we are led to believe that the next shiny thing will be what brings us happiness and are encouraged to work to get that next thing, home, job…

Instead he explores the teachings of philosophy and stresses its value not as a dusty abstract academic exercise but as a practical toolkit for a way of living through changing our perspective on life and death. It’s a genuinely fascinating read but rather than ham-fist my way through summarising years of thought I want to share what I took from the book and how it may be able to help build better resilience in the face of grief and bereavement as well as some of the related issues around anger and anxiety.

My happy place

After reading the book I read it again, this time skimming over the anecdotes and history lessons and noting down the main lessons that I wanted to keep for reference. The result can be found here

Happy Screenshot

This is what I look at when I feel the need to step away from the intensity of a particular feeling or a maelstrom of useless psychodramas or an impending crash of confidence or esteem.

Much of these lessons are drawn from the Stoic school of thought. This is generally understood as being about a detached, aloof and stiff upper lip mentality but it isn’t that at all. It’s not about denying feelings more about not being pulled by them uncritically.

As I started to write I realised that this is a bigger piece than a single post can cover. Also as I use my own happy place to handle the facets of mental health and grief there are some ideas more helpful than others for a given situation or feeling.

This is not a one size fits all solution, each bereavement and grief will be different and our responses will change over time. Some of the ideas on the Happy Place board may work for you or they may be completely at odds with your own beliefs or philosophy or seem trite in the face of the rawness of grief. I write from the perspective of a father whose first born twins were stillborn nearly 7 years ago and someone whose wife recently miscarried and you may well be in a different place. It took me over 4 years to really explore my grief so I make no assumptions about what is right for you. All I can see is however you have come to this page, I hope that you can take at least one useful idea to help you.

Dealing with anger

Regrets not to have

Dealing with the past

Building Blocks

Mad, bad and sad