There’s never a good time to have a melt-down in public, so how do we cope with all the triggers coming at us?

I’d love to be able to sit down and write a pithy one-liner in response to this question. I mean not only would it mean that there was a simple solution for us, but it would also mean I could spend significantly less time thinking about my own triggers. But, as you’re probably only too well aware yourself, there are no simple solutions to this problem, because like all things to do with childlessness, it’s complicated.

When I think about the last time I was triggered enough to feel the wave of sadness wash over me yet again, I think about the beer festival at the local pub. And I guess the starting place is that I didn’t think I needed to mentally prepare for going to the pub, because I assumed (wrongly) that a parent wouldn’t want to take babies and toddlers to a place where adults are ‘sampling’ a lot of different real ales, ciders and wines. How wrong I was!

So imagine my growing horror, as I sat with my selection of obscure beers, ready for an afternoon relaxing in adult company, and increasing numbers of people started turning up with more and more children. There’s nothing to describe the pain at seeing people sitting with their families, watching their children toddle about, while they laughed indulgently and then worse still, having a proud new parent (is there a worse sort of parent?) showing his new-born off right in front of me. All that success being paraded in front of me, just made my sadness at my own failure inflate beyond limits I could cope with. The final insult being that smile at me, as though I, a complete stranger, was meant to join in the ‘cooing’ and ‘aahing’, along with his nearest and dearest. Oh no Sunshine – I’m scowling and glaring right at you and my only consolation was seeing your face drop momentarily when you clocked mine.

Sound nasty? Yes, it does doesn’t it? But I imagine I’m not the only one that feels a huge stab to the heart and a welling up of the same old sadness when someone is happily showing off what I’ve not been able to achieve. And I’m really hoping that this is a side of me that reduces in time, because I don’t want to be that person that gets a reputation for bursting everybody else’s bubble because of my pain. But that sadness that makes my heart ache and my eyes sting can only be disguised as anger when I’m in public. It tells people to back off and it keeps me protected because having a melt-down comes later when I’m alone and I feel safe enough…

I have found as time has gone by, that I have less triggers. But those that remain, don’t seem to be going anywhere fast. And they’re the usual ones I would imagine from the Childless-not-by-choice perspective – babies, children and pregnant women. I would also need to add parents in here too, because they can quite often trigger our responses, with their bingo questions such as ‘do you have children?’ and then the conversation is shut down when you quickly response with ‘no’ and the inevitable chasm opens up between parent and non-parent. Or, even better, the comments such as ‘I didn’t know love until I became a parent’ or ‘my life is just so fulfilling now’, the inference being that life without children can’t be. *Cue the inevitable pain and ‘fuck you’ scowl, followed by angry silence that they can’t grasp. Send in the tumbleweed – stage left*.    

But, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, nothing will stop these triggering moments I’m afraid. We can only start to look at mechanisms that help us cope or survive and as time goes on, start to see what will help us thrive despite us not having the family we want. So here are my top tips, stuff that has helped me.

  • Boundaries a.k.a red lines in the sand and saying no – I can’t tell you how important it is that you learn to say no to things. Baby showers, christenings, naming ceremonies, family events etc…they all hurt like a bastard. But why is it that we feel we ‘should’ be there? Says who? If I know it’s going to make me feel like shit long after the event, then it’ll be a no I’m afraid. Yes, it might cause the person I’m saying no to a momentary pang of hurt, but compare that to my feeling like shit for days and possibly weeks afterwards along with being a miserable bastard at the event and we all know that it’s for the best…

 

  • Mentally preparing for the inevitable – this does kinda overlap with boundaries, but if you have no way of getting out of a social situation or it’s foisted on you last minute (like people leaving for maternity or paternity leave), then it’s about making sure you have your ‘thresholds’ sorted and your ‘exits covered’. What do I mean by this? I mean you have set yourself a time limit that you are able to cope for (be that five minutes or five hours, you set this and no-one else) and then you have your reasons for leaving. (‘I’ve got to go I have another appointment/meeting to attend’, ‘spacemen have landed in my garden and I’ve got to get home now to welcome them’ and you make your exit). No hand wringing, no apologies you just get your arse out of there pronto.

 

  • Non-negotiable me time – recovering your bouncebackability – This is for everyone – men, women, gender neutral because we all need recovery time. For me, when I’m feeling low and sad, nothing beats running. Reading, drawing and spending time on my own are also good, but running transforms my sadness into a better perspective. For me running isn’t just about knackering myself out, it’s about thinking things through and finding solutions. Running does that for me, but it won’t be for everyone, so it’s about finding something that helps you transform that sadness. Big hint – exercise and getting outside are amazing for this – don’t take my word, Google it.

As I say you won’t agree with all of these and yes, I’m well aware that avoidance in the long-term isn’t a solution, but we have to find things that work for us as we’re going through this stuff. I mean we’re in this unique position, where people can’t understand our emotions or our situation. It might be that you can explain it to them, or you can’t, but in any case, the fact that we’re living and breathing a taboo experience means we have to find the solutions that work for us until such time as we are able to find acceptance or at least be able to cope with what society has to throw at us. And until that time comes, I’m going to stick with the coping mechanisms.

I wish I had the magic wand to sort this out for us all, but finding ways to deal with triggers is something that'll pay dividends. Watch this space as I'll be sharing more strategies on Facebook and in this blog

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