What I am learning about grief

We laid guka to rest on the 30th of August following an intense week – moments of great joy, and others of overwhelming sadness. A week that saw many people reach out, physically, emotionally, financially and spiritually. Our family is forever indebted to the amazing love we have received. The past few days or so have also been a learning lesson in grief and how to cope. Here’s what I am learning.

  1. Grief is not linear

I posted this on Instagram and as I pondered on this, I realized how often I overlooked this.

Grief is not a straight line, from point A to B. It is not something that you can deal with in a specified time period, or one to which you can attach a specific time frame. Some days you cope well, some days you are struggling to get through… Sometimes it feels like getting sucked up by rolling waves.

  1. Grief is personal

Coping with grief is a personal matter, that belongs to the griever. However you opt to cope is an individual choice. Over the years I have learnt my coping mechanisms, both good and bad, something which was highlighted during my sessions, and which I have blogged about here. Good coping mechanisms I am consistently reminding myself of include journaling, meditation, nature walks and adult coloring books.

In years gone by, I have realized the negative coping mechanism I have to unlearn is emotional eating and indulging in comfort food. In recent days,I have eaten more than my fair share of wheat and wheat products, which in all honesty I will deal with after this. Point is, however you’d love to deal with grief, do it your way. Be it painting. Coloring. Dancing. Watching ocean waves.

  1. Deal with your expectations

Grief will show you who your support system is, who is for you and who is present. I had to lower my expectations, because I am learning, quite a few of the people I thought would come through did not. And it is okay. Because the truth is I also have to deal with my expectations. I have to unlearn so much I thought I knew about grief – about how to process it, how to wade through it, how to relate to others.

 

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Grieving

Grief and loss – these are perhaps some of the most difficult emotions to capture in words. The past few days have been hazy at best. I remember vividly, seeing missed calls from my mom, aunt and sister, and the news I had been dreading all month was about to be broken. I could feel my heart get heavier, my stomach suddenly felt like it kept churning itself and my eyes got watery.

Guka rested,” my aunt said after pleasantries that cold Tuesday morning. The seconds that followed were a blurry moment. The tears came down hot and fast. Grandpa was gone, forever. My son was still asleep at the time, so I had a few moments to myself to let the news sink in. He had rested, he was no more.

His was a battle fought bravely, since 2003 when he suffered a stroke that left his speech slurred and somewhat incoherent to the casual observer. But he held on, for years. The effects of his stroke, coupled with diabetes complications meant his health status fluctuated over the years. He had to have one leg amputated, but this did not keep him from truly living. He would go for long walks (a kilometre plus) on his crutches, get back to play with his grandchildren – it encouraged and challenged as in equal measure.

Cucu was, and still remains a pillar of strength. She stood by him at his lowest points. She prayed for him. She cleaned after him. She spent sleepless nights taking care of him when his body got weary of holding on. She fed him. She was there all through, and she kept hope alive.

His last month was fraught with pain as his body fought on. He had to undergo a surgical procedure as a result of the complications. I remember my last hospital visit a day before he was discharged. He was frail, his eyes were sunken, and his hands pale. I looked at him and my mind could not reconcile the fact that this was the very man who regaled my sister and I with stories of his trips to Mombasa, his golfing days at Sigona Golf Club, the birth of his children. We knew trips to grandpa’s place would be filled with treats. Here he lay on a hospital bed, curled up in pain… He was a far cry from his former energetic self.

And so, when that phone call came, I knew the curtains had come down on guka. Rest well Guka, Rest. We loved you. And so begins a new norm, without you guka.

 

 

Suicide Crisis Helplines in Kenya (and parts of Africa)

Good afternoon everyone,

It feels good to be back, on here and online. I took a break last week even as the election season culminated in the voting process and tension in parts of the country. Over the years, I have learnt that staying plugged in during such times, or when there is a crisis, say a terror attack, always tips me over with anxiety. I start to feel helpless and worn out, partly because in many cases it may not be possible to help directly. If I don’t address it, I start to feel myself teetering on the edge of a depressive breakdown, and it is not pretty. So I guard my heart and my mental well-being, to ensure I can function, and take care of my son.

In recent times, I have had conversations with moms struggling with postpartum depression in different stages (Read more of that in this post), and it is always encouraging to see many moms share their stories. With the mention of suicide ideation and attempt (this mom did get help and made a recovery), I thought to put up  list of suicide crisis helplines in Kenya. A little while later, I got an email notification for a new post by Sitawa on the same. I asked her for permission to share the same on this blog, so credits go to MyMindMyFunk. Here is the link to the original post:

KENYA
  1. Befrienders Kenya +254736542304 +254722178177 (regular call charges apply) Formerly Samaritans offer free listening services to people who are in crisis and/or suicidal. https://www.befrienderskenya.org
  2. Niskize -‎ ‎0900620800 (Ksh 7 per minute) is a 24 hour counselling call centre that deals with relationship/marriage issues, trauma, grief, anxiety, depression. http://www.niskize.co.ke (currently down but check their Facebook page https://m.facebook.com/Niskize/)
  3. One2One by LCVT – 0800720121 (toll free) works on HIV related issues among young people including the psychological effects of those issues. ‎http://www.lvcthealth.org/one-2-one
  4. 1195 by HAK (toll free) works on Gender Based Violence and related issues, borrowing from my personal journey these issues can lead to psychological trauma if felt unchecked. http://hakgbv1195.org/
  5. Have to throw in 116 (toll free) for child abuse
ACROSS AFRICA (in Alphabetical Order)
Botswana
  • Lifeline Botswana – 3911270 is a national lifeline 24 hour service.https://m.facebook.com/Lifeline-Organisation-Botswana-798239733539364/
Ghana
  • Lifeline Ghana – +233244846701 or +2332 444 71279 (regular call charges apply) is a 24/7 suicide prevention counselling telephone line
  • Mental Health Authority Ghana – 050 991 4046 and 020 681 4666 dedicated lines for persons in need of psychological help or contemplating suicide.
Nigeria

  • MANI Distress Lifelines – 08060101157, 08136770508, 08093565520

South Africa

  • Lifeline South Africa – 0861 322 322 (toll-free) works 24/7 dealing with trauma, suicide and other psychological issues. http://lifelinesa.co.za
  • Crisis Team – +27 83 256 5993 is a 24 hour support service for those with suicidal thoughts and feelings, the bereavement of the loss of a loved one to suicide and other traumas. http://www.crisisteam.co.za/
Uganda
  • Befrienders Uganda – 0800200450 runs a crisis intervention center at Mulago national referral hospital. http://befriendersuganda.org/
Zimbabwe
  • Samaritans Bulawayo – +263965000 offers face to face counselling (walk ins and appointments) www.samariansbyo.co.zw

Feel free to share this post. Stick it up somewhere visible and most importantly, USE the information if need  be. Remember, there is NO SHAME in asking for help.

 

 

 

Taking care of my mental health during the school holiday

School holidays are usually a mixture of emotions for me: enthusiastic because there is more time to spend with the champ, and sometimes a little anxious because the very same holidays can be a crazy catalyst for a proper breakdown. The champ has been home for just about a week, and I have made conscious effort to take care of my mental health to avoid a breakdown/ anxiety attack like the one I had over the weekend – felt utterly overwhelmed by parenting duties and just the dynamics of a relationship. Doing so much better now – thanks to the lovelies who kept checking on me; Nzanga, Pat, Nyaguthii, Glenda, Begire and the seester 🙂

If there is one thing my Postpartum depression recovery journey has taught me, it is the need to be on guard as far as my mental health is concerned. It is so easy to think, ‘ain nothing can get me down’. I am talking about those incredibly high highs that have you feeling like you can take on the world, only to come crushing so bad after a proper breakdown (anyone else experienced this? Like sometimes so  so much happiness is almost always followed by life’s rough patches?)

Read More: I struggled during the last school holidays in April

So, for that reason I set out to place measures to guard my mental health wellbeing. Here’s how I am taking care of myself this holiday season.

  • Planning

I am been intentional in scheduling my work these school holidays. See, I work online, from home. My experience means I know how crazy it gets to work when staying with a rambunctious five year old with a yuuuuuge appetite. (Sidenote: I used to think my folks had a pet peeve back in the day because they kept saying how much the food budget goes up during school holidays… Now I know how real it is! LOL, this energetic boy has like 10 meals a day, eh).

That is why planning is important. I take a few minutes each evening to plan for the next day. I noticed it is best for me to work early mornings (5.30am thereabout) in order to make some progress before the champ awakes. So far, so good – I will also mention at this point that afternoon naps are gold.

  • Taking time for ME

This is sometimes difficult seeing as the dynamics of working at home and school holidays intersect at ‘minimal time to spend alone’. But seeing how important this is for my sanity, I try to make time for ME – no internet, no Whatsapp, no kid, no TV. I spend this time either journaling or meditating. Sometimes it is not possible to do this because the child can decide sleeptime will be at 10.30pm, in which case we get to colour together.

 

  • Spending time in the outdoors

There is something about spending time in the outdoors, that is as rejuvenating as it is exciting – away from the routines, away from the four walls. There’s something about natural light in the outdoors that works for mental well-being. I learnt this when I had postpartum depression, and I’d stay indoors for days, struggling to get outside. Only getting out of bed because I had a baby to take care of/ feed/ change/ bath… otherwise I’d want to remain in bed all day. Getting outdoors awakens the senses, allows you to see the living (even when you feel dead on the inside) and is a welcome change from the dreary enclosure of four walls. Sometimes the champ and I will go for a walk, some days we will spend time watching the sunset on the balcony and yet other days we will go visit his grandparents and enjoy the calm at cucu’s place.

Read More: My selfcare routine

  • Spending time together

My son loves all things art and craft, so I try as much as possible to be engaged when he is home for the holidays. We have made threaded bottles before in this post. Yesterday we began on a paper mache product. Remember that from primary school? Yes, he was excited, especially when I mixed the flour with water to prepare the ‘glue’. I am actually enjoying it. It is messy, and it is fun, and it allows me to listen to his heart in the middle of the mache process.

Yes, that’s an inflated balloon for the paper mache process. Got the link on Pinterest 🙂

And tea. It goes without saying, tea is part of my selfcare routine 🙂

How do you take care of your mental health during the school holidays with kids ?

Guest Post – Why I Think I Died In 2016

In this post, I made a call out for guest posts by moms who wanted to share their stories on Postpartum Depression (PPD). Today’s post is by Vicki K, a phenomenal lady who I met during the Mommy Conversations, a forum held by Amira Africa (and wrote about it here). Vicki is a mom to a handsome champ, and has struggled with PPD. She is on the road to recovery, and in this candid post, she shares her journey and the isolation that comes with been depressed as a new mom.

*****

In recent times, I have come to appreciate how amazing life is. Why, you ask?  Because as I look back at my past years I know, my lowest moment in life was in 2016. If there is a year I would have fit perfectly well as an actress on the series walking dead. 2016 is the year I ask myself severally:

“Why was I so uptight for most of the year? Why couldn’t I relate with anyone during this period? Why couldn’t anyone understand me? Why did I feel so utterly alone despite been surrounded by so much love?”

All this was because I had Postpartum depression (PPD). I knew all along I was suffering from PPD, and even did a Twitter thread on the same at some point. Knowing I was depressed, however, did not solve the problem. It could not. I shut it down most of the time all by myself, waiting for it to pass.

I was waiting, waiting for anyone to notice, waiting for a sign that my life is worth it.

I was waiting to be told I matter. I thought all this would solve my PPD.

 

Unfortunately, it is not as easy as these. I guess I was looking at it the wrong way for a whole year. I need not explain what PPD is as there is a lot of information on this website (Read a basic intro in plain and simple English here, the symptoms, stages and treatment options available for moms with PPD).Depression is depressing. Your mind is at play here and whatever you do, it’s is still right there with you. It keeps lying to you, “You do not matter, and you are not worth it. You are the only mom suffering. You are a bad mom, and your child does not deserve you.” And it goes on and on, the unrelenting negative thoughts.

My walking dead experience was filled with tormenting words my brain lied to me on a daily basis. Sometimes, I would just stare at nothingness, waiting for the days to pass. When I smiled, it was rarely genuine. I don’t remember being truly happy, unless I was far from my son which was not often. I always felt like I was on lock down. It was as if society had told me “No, you are not supposed to follow your dreams, you have to take care of your child or no one else well.” It started to become a reality. My mind was playing tricks on me all the time and winning.

Read More: My Postpartum Depression Made Me Wear a Mask

The worst part of all this, was that my son always faced the wrath that came with my PPD. He did not deserve it. All he was being was an infant – messy, loud, and demanding like all other infants are. He just wanted my attention. When my triggers surfaced, he never had it easy. Shouting and abandonment were part of it. In many situations where he needed love most, I just was never there enough. Do not get me wrong, I had a supportive family and close friends and I’m eternally grateful for their presence. Whatever I wanted I could have. I did not even have to stress on food, baby clothes, feeding utensils, and even diapers. I even had a 24-hour support system. (This is for the people who tell depressed individuals, ‘ooh, you should be grateful you have a child, so many couples want a child but cannot have them’. ‘You have everything, stop being ungrateful.’, ‘You are very selfish.’-the list goes on and on. This is a reminder, it isn’t that we are not grateful, or do not know all things. We do, we are struggling).

So, why then was I depressed most of the time? I always felt like I did not deserve it all, as if it was not fair for women to bear the entire burden all by themselves. (This, in itself declared that I’m a feminist) It didn’t’ make any sense to me, why couldn’t babies just take care of themselves and be quiet? Does my life even matter? On my hardest days with PPD, I would sleep hoping to die, hoping not to wake up. I did have suicidal thoughts, but I did not have the guts. I did not care whether I was going to heaven, hell or transition into something else in my next life, even a stone. Then morning would come repeatedly.

What was my turning point in all this?

I had many turning points that have made me who I am now. At one point, I had a huge fight with my cousin all because of cockroaches. Yes, cockroaches. The memory is still vivid. This was my first ever word fight and hopefully my last. I realized later maybe I was placing too much pressure on her and I’m the one on the wrong or maybe she is just having a hard time too. Secondly, after an event I had attended in September 2016, I decided to reach out on a blog where the writer was among the panelists, when my PPD got out of control. Getting help and having someone who related to what I was going through was amazing. I followed a platform on PPD and realizing I was not alone, again, gave me comfort.

Read More: I kept my Postpartum Depression a secret

At one point, I decided to reread the Harry Potter book Series. For two months, this was my go to book. I would itch to finish one book at a time. Fascinatingly, this time round, I read it with a different viewpoint to the extent I always noticed when the characters were depressed – how ironical. When you are going through something, you tend to notice others experiencing the same situation. This is for my friends who came before 2016 and wondered why I became excessively quiet in that year.  No, I am not yet fully recovered after PPD yet but life is a journey. So, as I continue to put my trust in the One who is not done with me yet, I begin to understand, I begin to find peace even when my now son who is approaching terrific two wants to ‘eat me alive’. I now speak more positivity into my life than I did in 2016. I believe now that nothing lasts forever and God’s timing is ideal.

*****

Thank you Vicki for sharing your story. It does take courage to open about one’s struggle, but I am realizing just how much one mom’s story is a voice for the many moms who may not be able to speak out. Vicki is passionate about wildlife conservation, and you can catch up with her on her blog here

Call Out.

Hi good people 🙂

Trust the new week and second half of 2017 is coming along well and that you are making progress, no matter how small the steps are – because sometimes you actually need to celebrate the small wins!

Dropping in real quick tonight. Lately, I have felt the need to add a series of guest posts from moms who have struggled with Postpartum Depression, and would love to share their story on the blog. Not only will this add diversity, it will also help speak up for moms who are struggling. It is okay for moms who do not want to reveal their identities as the posts will be uploaded anonymously. The idea is to speak out about #PPD in all its different struggles and to let moms know they are never alone.

Interested, or got questions? Please drop an email over at ppdisland@gmail.com

The Mom I Want To Be – Part I

We have had a couple of rough sleepless nights in this past week, thanks to an extremely high fever that saw mommy and son wake up at odd hours. At some point, I had to reduce the layers of cloths the champ had in order to keep the fever in check, plus of course, medication to reduce it – I always keep some medicine for the fever because it has a tendency to strike at the weirdest hours. We later attributed the fever to a stomach upset, from which the champ has since recovered.

The erratic nights made me a walking zombie in the days that followed. I kept dozing off at my work desk, and with this cold, it is not hard to see how I’d just take a few minutes and snooze away. Listening to his soft breathing last night had me thinking about a lot. It brought to memory how I really struggled with sleep deprivation in my son’s first months of life. It was crazy – I have mentioned before in this post, that first week after we were discharged, he slept for an average of 15 minutes. 15-freaking-minutes! It drove me nuts, literally.

Read More: I had uncontrollable anger with my Postpartum Depression

I knew we wouldn’t get much sleep with a newborn, but I just didn’t imagine it to that extent. I had not known just how much lack of sleep could turn me into a moron. I started to become extremely irritable. I would snap at the slightest provocation, which in this case could be something as significant as a sink full of dishes. Thinking about doing laundry was enough to turn me into a teary mess. I had many anger outbursts, angry because this is not what motherhood was meant to be like. I mean, where was all the bliss? I wasn’t enjoying it. I was a sleep-deprived mom at the brink of losing my sanity – and I felt so helpless.

Needless to say, after this recent bout of fever, we have resumed a normal sleeping pattern, which for my son, is 12 straight hours. Mulling over this had me thinking, whether I could manage another round of crazy sleep deprivation with Number Two. It is not something I am actively planning presently, but I couldn’t help but feel a sense of dread come upon me. I have a rambunctious five year old-going-fifteen, and it occurred to me just how much I have forgotten about the infancy stages.

Read More: Changes – Change is beautiful

My Postpartum Depression means I have a hazy recollection of my son’s first years. Sometimes I look at photos saved in my phone from 2011, and save for the familiarity of faces and places, I cannot quite tell what I felt. I was going through the motions, like a robot. I have what I like to call missed memories – I remember posting on Facebook about his first two teeth, but that’s just about it. These milestones were covered in a haze of depressive days. I have no idea what I felt when he first called me mom, what his first steps were like, what his weaning experience was all about. It is all very hazy.

I keep thinking to myself, I would want a different experience for my second when the time comes. I want to be the mother I always envisioned prepartum. I want to be the mother I envisioned myself as in my early 20’s – doting, caring and certainly not struggling with depression. I want to be a better mother than I am. I am well aware that postpartum depression (PPD) affects moms well into their second and third pregnancies as much as it affects first time moms. As a matter of fact, moms who have had PPD in their first pregnancy are at a higher risk of the same in subsequent pregnancies. It is a glaring fact, and I am only too aware of it.

Read More: #postpartumdepression – The conversation on Victoria’s Lounge

“Are you scared of having another child?”

It is a question I have been asked in a couple of media interviews, and my honest answer is, yes I am scared about a second one, scared at the thought of PPD all over again. But even in the face of this scare, I am well aware of the need to put up solid support systems before and after. I know that my family is present, that they are aware I struggled with PPD and are very supportive. I know I have contacts who I can call at 2am if need be. I am more conscious of what my triggers are, and cognizant of what red flags to be on the lookout for. There is the constant reminder that I was never a bad mom for suffering a mental health condition that affected my ability to love on, and bond with my son. From where I stand now, I am better placed, not because I am immune to PPD, but because I am informed and empowered.

Reminder: Postpartum Depression does not discriminate; it affects moms regardless of religion, social class, age, level of education and order of pregnancy. This is why it is important to raise awareness, get the society to know that there is such a thing as PPD, but most importantly, the fact that help is available. Please feel free to get in touch with me using the Contact page on the top menu if you need someone to talk to or are wondering where to start. I have a Facebook page where I share on PPD, and you can follow on Twitter too.

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Here is what inspired the name ‘PPDIsland’

Recently, I was thinking about the growth and progress of this blog, how it started. I started on a random domain name that I cannot even remember, after lots of persuasion to tell my story in the hopes that it would help another mom – thanks Ian for believing in me 🙂 – then I moved to my old website hosted on wordpress.com before finally getting on here.

It has been an amazing journey – there are many days I wanted to give up really, like that time I had a depressive episode in April, and I was struggling with parenting. At some point, I asked myself, what was the point of sharing and baring it all if I couldn’t hold myself together? And then I realized, there is subtle beauty in vulnerability that allows me to say, you know what, I am imperfect, I am struggling and I am not OK. It is OK not to be OK, and to reach out for help. I did reach out for help, and I am glad part of my inner circle came through.  I am in a beautiful phase of my life, gratefully.

Read More: The Place of Vulnerability

So, back to today’s post, I realized I have never shared why I settled on ‘PPD Island’ as the name of the blog. PPD, as you may have figured by now, stands for Postpartum Depression. For new readers on the blog, Postpartum Depression is a form of depression that affects moms up to one year after childbirth. You can read more about the symptoms and treatment options available.

I settled on Island because it is exactly how motherhood felt in those first few years. My son is now 5 going on 15 (what with the independence and assertion that he can make his own decisions? – welp!), and those first two years were incredibly lonely. I felt isolated from my circle of friends. I felt like I was the only one struggling with motherhood. Why did all those moms out there seem so happy and content with life while here I was clutching onto the hope that I could make it through the next hour? What was this dark phase that made it easy to have such intrusive and horrible thoughts of harming me and my son?

Read More: The hardest post I ever wrote

I sank into depression, slowly but surely. I didn’t understand why I couldn’t bond with my son. I would sit to nurse him and feel… nothing. Feel numb. I was only feeding because my boobs would ache, and well, I had to. But that special bond, was not there. He’d cry, I’d cry in frustration. I knew something was wrong the day I slapped him, and I wrote about that here.

Over the years, I eventually got help, so when I started this blog, there was no better name to give it than PPDIsland. The tag line for this blog is ‘…and why moms need not feel alone’. Islands are lonely, set out at sea, and that’s how PPD feels. I started this blog to speak up for struggling moms, to give a voice to moms who may not be in a position to talk about their dark days, and most of all, to reduce the stigma associated with PPD.

 

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#postpartumdepression: The conversation on Victoria’s Lounge

“I believe we need to get to a place where maternal mental health will not be stigmatized, and struggling moms can know that they are not alone, that help is available for them”

In my darkest days when I struggled with postpartum depression, this is the one thing I really wanted to hear, the one thing I really needed to hear: that I was not alone, that I could get help, that I was not a bad mother for my inability to bond with my son. Sometimes I wonder, what if I had heard about #postpartumdepression before? What if, by chance I saw someone tweet about it, or vent about their struggles on Facebook? Would that have made me better placed to handle it? I will never know. What I do know is that I would never want any other mom to go through PPD, yet the sad glaring truth is that 1 in 9 moms will experience PPD [source]

This is the reason I am glad to have been part of a panel on Victoria’s Lounge hosted by the ever graceful Victoria Rubadiri. Alongside these phenomenal ladies, the conversation centered on PPD. What are the risk factors associated with this form of depression? What are the symptoms you need to look out for? What treatment options are available? What does it feel like to be depressed when you just had a new baby?

The show airs on Thursday (22nd June 2017) on NTV at 8:00pm. Tune in and tell a friend to tell a friend.

 

Update: The wonderful team at Victoria’s Lounge put up the link on YouTube, so you might want to check that here

 

Changes

The only permanent thing in life is, change.

The first time I read this statement, I found it ironical, because changes are transient, yet the element of things changing is one of life’s permanent fixtures. The thing about change is that it upsets our norm, it gets us out of our comfort zones and projects us into the unknown. This is scary, but my friend Carol always tells me scary is good.

We are creatures of habit, who fall in love with routine and familiar places, familiar people and familiar territory. Anything that threatens to upset this balance is frowned upon, and certainly rubs us the wrong way. But, as I am realizing, there in the scare of change lies the opportunity to grow afresh. It is a chance to grow as an individual as well.

The past few weeks have been an incredible number of days, for many reasons, which I will not divulge on here, at least not now. It is a phase of transition that will upset our normal routine, for the better, thankfully. I am scared, I am uncertain, I am unsure – but what I know is that this is an answered prayer.

Read More: I remember

Looking back and realizing, depression, Postpartum depression included, takes away the ability to see life in all its fullness. It makes us doubt who we really are, how dare you dream that big? How dare you believe you deserve *that*? Who are you to ask as much of life? So what do we do, we stay masked, hidden behind a façade of IG posts and flowery FB updates while struggling to come to terms. It is dawning on me that, actually, who am I not to ask so much of life? Who am I not to dream big? Who am I not to be all that?

And so, in this, I am swimming with the waves of change, not against them, taking every ebb and flow in stride, because change is scary, but change is also good. I am incredibly grateful for the support system I have had in the past couple of days, the amazing friends who kept in touch and checked up on how we are holding up after that depressive episode, and to W for been an amazing pillar in our lives lately.

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