The idea for 31 Days of Mindfulness came from a dark place. All the excitement over Christmas was upsetting me – and it wasn’t even yet December. I needed something to help me keep my mind off my dread of my first baby loss Christmas – I felt I would have exploded with fury, frustration and sorrow otherwise.
One night, I turned off social media and spent time looking – really looking at photos of Hugo – and found this beautiful one of him that sums him up perfectly.
I was also trying to weed out unhelpful thoughts to replace them with more helpful ones, as well as trying to practice mindfulness. To me, mindfulness means being aware of my feelings, accepting them, and being more aware of the world around me.
So, I came up with an idea: I would post a photo on Instagram of something that represented how I was feeling, with the hashtag #31daysofmindfulness. You can read more about the background in this post.
I love pretty things, and I love taking photos of pretty things. Discovering Instagram last summer was very exciting for me. I’ve taken part in a couple of photo a day projects, but lost focus because they are prompt-driven, and there were so many days where I just couldn’t engage with the prompt.
So, no prompts in #31daysofmindfulness. Feel whatever I feel. Not judging those feelings.
Was it successful? It wasn’t about success or failure. #31daysofmindfulness was not a ‘cure’ for grief, nor was it intended to be. Basically because there is no cure for grief. It was about exploring different techniques to see what helps me work through my grief.
I have been so frightened of my dark feelings I have preferred to switch that part of my mind off, to ignore them. Ignoring them does not make them go away, sadly, so I needed to find a safe way to open myself up to them. Other parts of my brain are working overtime, trying to ignore the scary bits. It’s no wonder I am exhausted, and I know it is not a long-term strategy. Thinking about how I feel at that moment (rather than the whole day; like most people I have a variety of emotions throughout the day, whether or not they are bereaved) helped me open the lid of the scary box slightly and peek in to it.
When the thoughts do come to the fore, I judge them, telling them to go away, getting angry at them, and myself, creating a vicious circle. There is no right or wrong, here, but such a vicious circle fell in to the ‘unhelpful’ category, meaning I wanted to try to do something to change it. That is going to take an awful lot more time, effort and energy than taking one photo a day. However, recognising a feeling and representing it as a photo without further observation is a start.
Most of the photos relate to Hugo in some way, naturally. He is always on my mind. Missing him and feeling unbearably sad about not having him in my arms is foremost in my mind every day. There are many photos of Hugo stars!
This photo, of me having a TV day right at the beginning of the month reminded me that I need to do it more often. The TV day was the first time I had ‘allowed’ myself to sit and watch TV in the daytime (basically, to turn my brain off to relax), and it was good.
There are a few photos of the outside world. Recognising the beauty that can be found in the outside world.
This helped me find the beauty in Christmas, not least because everywhere was decorated in ‘Hugo stars’.
I was delighted that a number of other people joined in, each for their own reasons, and that they found it useful, too.
#31daysofmindfulness helped get me through a very tough month, and the Christmas/New Year season, in one piece.
I know it might not have been true mindfulness – accepting feelings for what they are, without judgement – one photo a day can’t achieve that – but even acknowledging the feelings has been an important step for me. I’ll carry on taking a photo every day detailing how I feel, for no better reason than it’s something I enjoy doing. They will be tagged #mindfulness – and as before, anyone is welcome to join in.