Losing two siblings within a week led Leah Sian Davies on a journey to find happiness and inner peace.
She realised that dealing with the mental ill health of her elder brother and sister had caused her to bury the good things about her own life, and had made her feel lonely as she avoiding sharing details of their struggles with her own networks.
In March 2014 her brother took his own life, and just a week later her sister died of alcoholic liver disease. Leah, now a coach, speaker and podcaster, experienced a “traumatic and complex grief” which she acknowledges had started many years before.
“The ten years leading up to their deaths was pretty lonely, because there is a lot of stigma attached to alcohol problems and mental health problems,” she said. “I would go into work and maybe I had been to visit my sister in rehab, and I didn’t talk to anyone about it. It wasn’t because I was ashamed of them. I was afraid of the reaction - I thought other people wouldn’t know how to react. It was very secretive.”
Finding your self-worth.
The biggest challenge arising from her grief was working on her own self-worth, said Leah. She recognised that her siblings had essentially “died of unhappiness” and that they had been unable to accept who they were.
“I had to learn how to make myself happy and to help other people to experience joy and happiness in their lives,” said Leah. She has learned to give herself permission to be happy, to enjoy life and not to be shy about it.
Leah described how facing her bereavements had allowed her to be brave, honest, resilient and strong - and had given her a “massive dose of perspective” on what really matters. The journey taught her to trust herself, to know herself, and to have empathy.
“What I have learned overall is life is a miracle,” said Leah. “It is tragic that my siblings couldn’t bear to be themselves, so I really see my life as a gift.”
Dealing with guilt.
Having self-compassion and kindness is key to dealing with some of the feelings which arise from bereavement, including guilt, said Leah. Her tips on this are:
• Write things down. Consider using journalling to get down all your thoughts on to paper. You don’t necessarily have to read them back, but doing a’brain dump’ of what you are thinking can be really useful in helping you see whether your thoughts are based on fact or whether they are just thoughts.
• Work on managing your inner critic. Leah used meditation, saying: “It enabled me to sit with that inner dialogue so I knew it wasn’t me, it was just a dialogue.”
• Remember that stress takes its toll on your body so take the time to take care of yourself physically. This could be a relaxing bath, yoga, or going for a run.
To hear more inspirational speakers like Leah, join The Social Medicine free on Sunday at 18:00 GMT.