On the same day I was booked to do seventeen TV and radio interviews promoting the BBC TV show The Apprentice, I had to go and identify my little brother’s body.
A few months earlier, the previous season of The Apprentice had been in full swing, and the candidates were attempting each weekly task with hilarious results. Sat in my pyjamas with a huge bag of Haribo and in full ‘Armchair Expert’ mode, I alternated between shouting at the screen and listing the ways that I could do sooo much better to my fellow viewer – Houdini, my son’s hamster.
After a Google search revealed the lack of teachers appearing as contestants, I developed a confident hypothesis that my participation on the show would absolutely, definitely, probably, result in complete victory. Taking Houdini’s silence as a sign of solid agreement I clicked ‘send’ and submitted an online application offering my services as the winner of series nine.
What people often mistake as confidence is my dissatisfaction with discomfort. Confidence is a mixture of belief and trust. It took me years of repair work to even begin to engage with that (in myself or in others) without a little bit of sick coming up in the back of my throat. I was compelled by the real possibility of things being better, just enough to get past my all encompassing fear of actually doing the work to bring about change.
Today, I’m a ‘Seasoned Chaos Navigator’ and have the t-shirt to prove it! I have become genuinely comfortable with failure which removes the fear that used to hold me back. The thing I am confident in is my ability to reframe and go again when adversity leaps out at me from a three-layer Victoria Sponge.
When someone you love dies, your world comes to an immediate and crashing halt. The force of the momentum alone is enough to yank your heart right out of your chest. At the same time the rest of the world, life around you, continues. It carries on in some rude refusal to even pass a glance of acknowledgement that everything in your world has ceased.
Lockdown was the same – but in reverse. The world literally stopped quicker than we could process and the momentum of our own everyday life carried forward. In both cases, momentum can be used as a resource.
Whatever your relationship with the monarchy, if you are in the UK right now you are experiencing the impact of a ‘greive-athon’. Nationwide momentum has a real force and pulls you along whether you’re anti, pro or ambivalent. During this time you may experience disbelief, anger and sadness (all stages of grief) even if you never met The Queen. That’s the momentum of today connecting with the momentum of your past losses. The ones you have processed and the ones you haven’t.
- The terrifying discovery that a sibling has breast cancer.
- The heartbreaking anguish of parenting a child addicted to drugs.
- The trauma you were subjected to as a child that you have pushed down deep inside but the pain of which surges to the surface unexpectedly with the passing comment of a friend, an article in a magazine or a storyline in a soap.
As humans we want things to be better, but we are also afraid of change. We avoid change in case it’s not as good as what we have now. That’s the beauty of loss. “What if it all goes wrong?” is a moot point when you’re standing in the middle of the worst that could happen.
During grief, choose discomfort. At this time, fear of change holds no power over you. Be uncomfortable with that all-engulfing feeling that your old life has been stolen from you. The truth is that you’ve never been in more control of your next chapter. When the time comes to choose bitterness or belief in better, you can use that discomfort of facing a lifelong semi-skimmed future to steer yourself down the more fulfilling road of full-fatness.
The week of my brother’s death was one of the most challenging I’ve ever navigated and all I had to do was arrange a view a body, arrange a funeral while navigating years of family feuds, and sit opposite Dara Ó Briain and Katherine Ryan while they found the funny in my failure to sell 500 lucky cats. What I didn’t have to do was sit through massive pomp and ceremony in Westminster Abbey with the eyes of the world on me while heavily brocaded fellas gave speeches about my brother three days after he died.
You are not alone. Other people might not have the same journey as you but we all experience grief. We have all lost. We have all struggled with pain, fought back tears and wanted better for those we love than we had for ourselves.
Your agility has helped you to survive 100% of your crappiest days. You’ve learned that there are several ways through, round, over and under your current pain. The trick is not to go it alone. Reframing takes more than courage alone, so find a human who has a track record of fighting for your highest good and let them stand shoulder to shoulder in the chaotic fire of your current reality.
What you’re feeling right now is not the end. It’s not even a semi-colon, let alone a full stop. It’s one moment in your story when you have everything to gain and nothing to lose by choosing to take the next step.
Oh and if you need a laugh, click here or the image below to see out Dara ripping me a new one!