Stephanie's Story - 'Finding My Silver Lining'

Even from a young age I constantly struggled with a “dark cloud” around me. I struggled with Mental Health Issues and was diagnosed with “Bipolar Disorder” at a very young age.

Stephanie's Story - 'Finding My Silver Lining'

Finding My Silver Lining

Even from a young age I constantly struggled with a “dark cloud” around me. I struggled with Mental Health Issues and was diagnosed with “Bipolar Disorder” at a very young age.

I never did travel down the easy path and by the time I was 21 I had three children and was divorcing my then husband. As hard as I tried to get through each day, not only was I still struggling with my mental health, but I had developed an addiction to tablets. Soon enough my mental health hit an all-time low a few months after my daughter was born. Between post-natal depression and anxiety, I went to a place where I wasn’t just hopeless, but all out defeated. I dropped my daughter off with a friend and took a bottle of tablets. Thankfully I was taken to the hospital by my grandmother but after that it is a blur as I had a seizure from the overdose. Despite being admitted for an overdose I was discharged with the same medications and sent on my way. Thankfully I got involved with a rehabilitation programme which thankfully started me on my journey of sobriety.

About a year into my newfound sobriety, I made the decision to move from New York to Northern Ireland. Nothing could have prepared me for the struggles ahead. My husband thought it would be easy to have a visa sorted because I was married to someone from here and we even had children born here. I tried seeking out solicitors for help and got two responses back. The first solicitor took all my information, my payment and then called me two days before my tourist visa expired to tell me to collect my documents as they weren’t qualified to assist me. Now my anxiety was through the roof, and when things get tough, I dig my head in the sand and avoid everything, but I still tried. The next solicitor actually put in an application for a visa, but it was for the wrong visa type that I didn’t qualify for so now I was more frustrated than ever, and my passport was now confiscated by the Home Office. I just buried my head in the sand. I wouldn’t even talk about it as I felt so lost and a bit stupid that I couldn’t get this sorted. Because I had no visa I wasn’t eligible for my medication or seeing a Doctor or Psychiatrist. I was having to get my medication from the mental health social work team. As I was pregnant with twins at this time, neither they nor I were willing to see my mental health negatively affected. On top of supplying me with vital medication, they provided me with a lovely mental health social worker that was able to help me find a solicitor that was able to get my visa sorted. By now this visa meant so much more than just a piece of paper, but my peace of mind, my feeling of security and knowledge that I wouldn’t be parted from my children.

Thankfully I did my best to keep my mental health up, but life has thrown me many curveballs. Six months after my twins turned one, my mother-in-law passed away from lung cancer. Without my own family here, that hit me hard, but nothing prepared me for the turn my life would take soon after.

March 15th 2020 is the day I died. I will never be the same person again. There will always and forever be something missing in me and my life. I woke that morning like I did all usual Sundays and realised that my twin boys must have slept late as usually they woke me up every morning with their shouting and chatting together. I got up to bring them down and give them their breakfast and as soon as I opened the door something wasn’t right. I could see my son Weston, but my son Elijah was nowhere to be found. I called his name and looked at the windows, toy basket, anything and anywhere he could remotely be until I caught sight of the corner of his blanket over near the bed. All I could see when I looked over between the bed and the wall was a few blonde curls sticking out of his blanket that he went to bed with.

That was the start of my nightmare.

I pulled him out as fast as I could and screamed for my husband. I strongly remember that life seemed to go on around me while my life was falling apart. There were people outside taking a Sunday stroll or passing out flyers for the shop on the corner as I watched my son trying to be revived on my bedroom floor by paramedics, not knowing what to think, say or do, except cry quietly.

Everything happened so fast, I was in my pyjamas & slippers with the blue lights on speeding down the motorway to the Royal feeling absolutely surreal and devastated. As soon as we pulled up to the Children’s Hospital, Police were sitting there waiting for me. When a child passes away unexpectedly police have to investigate and they did just that. While the doctors and nurses worked on Elijah, I sat in a small room telling the police everything that happened from putting them to bed to waking up and finding them. Maybe only a minute or two later the doctor came in to say that they did all they could and wanted me to go in and hold him as he passed.

So as I brought Elijah into this world at the Royal in my arms, that day he died in my arms at the Royal. It wasn’t long after Elijah passed that I had to call my husband and tell him our baby boy had died. As if that isn’t enough, our house became evidence and my husband and our four other children were kicked out of the house shortly after I left in the ambulance. So between losing a child unexpectedly, being kicked out of our home, being interrogated by the police and Social Services now involved telling me that we can’t be alone with the other children until the autopsy confirms things. I knew in my heart that I was telling the truth and I understood the police and social workers had a job to do but it didn’t stop me feeling so frightened, alone and just like my life was crumbling before my eyes.

Almost a week later of living in my father-in-law’s bungalow with four kids and no access to their clothes or toys, the autopsy came back and confirmed our suspicions. They think that during the night he fell between the wall and the bed and got stuck in his blanket and couldn’t get out. When I found him that morning he had been in cardiac arrest and passed away from positional asphyxia. This all happened at the start of Covid and lockdown so we really had no one. Everything was closed and people locked down. We even had to fight to say goodbye one final time at the crematorium.

I couldn’t imagine my youngest 2-year-old child who developed and grew with his brother in my belly, from the time he was conceived till he left this Earth, he was never alone and so I couldn’t cope with him going to the crematorium alone. Thankfully the funeral home fought tooth and nail to allow us permission to ride up with him, say just a few words farewell and we had to leave immediately afterwards.

With everything I went through in my life, that really affected and changed me as a person, a woman, a wife, a mother. I always said to myself at night that my kids are safe, warm, fed, clothed and protected in their beds. I haven’t said or thought that once since. There were many times I felt ashamed because of the questions and sometimes almost accusations because of my history with my mental health and previous addiction problems. I honestly thought that if anything would break me this would absolutely be it. It is every parent’s worst nightmare especially when you struggle from anxiety and depression beforehand. Unfortunately, due to Covid there were no home visits or office appointments and with people confined to their houses, it was the most alone I ever felt. There were many times that I just laid in bed and cried because I felt so alone, low and lost. I was so grateful for the people that did check on me and do their absolute best to comfort and support me from afar.

On top of my grief, I was angry because I was so proud to be a mum of twins and considered it a bright spot in my life to be blessed watching their connection and their bond and love for one another. I felt like between Covid and being on lockdown with four special needs children that had just lost their own brother, all handling their grief in different ways and different needs, that I was totally alone and lost. As soon as Elijah passed away, benefits were quick to get in touch to tell us that now Elijah is deceased, he would be taken off our claim and our money would decrease, even though we only got for one of the twins anyway. I honestly couldn’t have cared less about the benefits and more how in the throes of my grief my son was being erased before my eyes. I struggled with how to carry on and I yearned for answers, questioning everything in my life and how I tried so hard to be a good mum and still ended up losing my baby.

Remembering him for the sweet and loving boy he was, I truly believe that he gave me a silver lining in what was the biggest most devastating experience of my life. I want him to be remembered and I want to honour that kindness and gentleness he had when he was on this earth. It catapulted me into a “life crisis” and really made me look at myself and what my purpose in life is.

A spiritual journey is not one of constant love and light especially when I’ve always struggled from mental health Issues. There were many days where I just didn’t have the strength, and the best I could do was move from the bed to the sofa. Days where the thought of taking a shower or doing the dishes might have been the same as asking me to climb Mount Everest. I struggled before and I will struggle again. But this time is different. Going through everything I’ve been through used to depress me thinking about it, but now I try to be grateful and find the beauty in the small things.

I struggled with a “main message” while writing my story and in honour of being difficult and never taking the easy path, there’s many messages I hope people take away from my story.

First and always is you never know what is going on behind closed doors so a bit of kindness really does go a long way. If it wasn’t for organisations like Quaker Cottage I would have been completely on my own, from antenatal appointments to family support to going out of their way to let me know I was thought of after Elijah. They played a massive role in making Elijah’s short two years of life on this Earth ones of love, kindness and togetherness. That’s why it is so important for these organisations to get funded and supported because I am proof that when you have no family in the country, they will go above and beyond to support, love and become family with you. More families need this kind of support. Life will always have its ups and downs, some worse and some better. Even if you have to take it hour by hour, life is always changing so you have to hope for a better tomorrow.

Healing has become such an integral part of my life and I am proud to say I am a Reiki Level 2 Practitioner. I want love, kindness and healing to be what comes out of his death, not my anger, resentment, depression or devastation. I never believed I could survive losing a child but it is in those really hard life experiences you find just how much inner strength you possess within yourself. I want to remind everyone else who is struggling to remember their own inner strength. It’s all about finding that silver lining, no matter how dark it is around you.

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