As a psychologist, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is the model I’m most drawn to professionally and there have been many aspects of it that I have used since losing Isobel.
Acceptance and Defusion
I have very much tried to notice my thoughts and feel whatever emotion it is that I’m experiencing and not try to push them away. Knowing that keeping feelings at bay is like keeping an inflatable ball under water – it takes a hell of a lot of effort and as soon as you rest for a second that ball is going to pop up and smack you in the face. If I’m having awful thoughts or feeling less noble emotions like jealousy or resentment, I try not to make the situation worse by judging myself harshly and then feeling guilty for thinking or feeling a certain way. I’ve found online support groups and chatting to baby loss friends great for acceptance as usually there is no awful thought of feeling that I’ve admitted to that someone else hasn’t felt too. I use the “I’m having the thought that…” distancing tool to remind myself that thoughts are just that, a string of words in my mind that I don’t have to let dictate my actions.
I drift in and out of formal mindfulness practice but I am conscious of trying to be in the present moment as much as possible and to notice when my mind is ‘time travelling’ to the past or worrying about the future. I focus on sensory information to help me with this. I also use the 54321 see hear feel technique for when I can’t sleep which is surprisingly often given that I have a five month old and am always exhausted.
Values and Committed Action
Doing difficult things is easier when you are following a direction that is really important to you. I think a lot of what I have done since losing Isobel has been in service of my value of living a full and meaningful life for her. I never wanted anyone to be able to say that she ruined my life. Doing things I knew would help myself in those early days even though they were things I didn’t want to do, getting up, washing, going out, seeing friends, running, these were all done in the spirit of having to survive this, having to begin to live again, for Isobel’s legacy. Facing triggers of babies the same age as Isobel should be on Facebook, going back to the maternity hospital to see the psychologist, going everywhere I had last been when I was pregnant – all these things done in my attempt not to avoid anything and make my life smaller and smaller with avoidance. Some of the hardest things have been done in the service of my value of being a good friend, going to see friends with their babies, listening to birth stories and talk of the challenges of parenting. Now actions are coming together in service of the value of creating meaning from Isobel’s short life, speaking out about stillbirth, starting a focus group in the maternity hospital to improve bereavement services, planning a retreat for bereaved parents. None of these things come easily but they are important and have value to me.
Dr Russ Harris explains ACT is a vastly superior way than I ever could. His book The Happiness Trap is a good start although I keep meaning to read The Reality Slap as that sounds pretty appropriate to my experiences. His website has a lot more information too https://www.thehappinesstrap.com/about_act