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Who do you confide in when everyone around you is suffering?

Submitted by Safia Yallaoui

I’d always felt fortunate that I’d gone my whole life without having to deal with a major trauma. I’d lost my granddad, but we weren’t close, so although it was sad it wasn’t devastating. Growing up, I knew people who’d gone through a trauma such as parents’ divorcing or the loss of a loved one. I was also someone who liked to watch or read the news most days, and I’d usually come across a story of someone who’d experienced unimaginable suffering. My heart broke for them, and it made me even more grateful for the lovely life I was living.

I was the friend that others would confide in with their problems and I was happy to be a shoulder to cry on. I loved, and still love, being a supportive friend because I just want to help them. I considered myself lucky that I had a stable home, had wonderful family and friends, and hadn’t dealt with anything remotely traumatic.

That is, until I was 29 and my beloved grandma, my mum’s mum, passed away from cancer on 5th June 2021. As soon as we found out she only had a matter of months to live, I didn’t know how to cope with knowing my world would soon be changing in a devastating way. I didn’t have the mental equipment to know what to do, and so I tried to ignore it.

But when she did pass away, I couldn’t ignore it anymore. The day she died I knew I’d never be the same person again. Trauma changes you. Me and my Nan had always been close, and we’d done so much together. She was the matriarch of the family, and I have countless fond memories of her. She made me laugh, she was kind, gentle, caring and she was so supportive of everything I did. She was the best grandma I could’ve asked for and the thought of living without her was impossible to wrap my head around.

Opening up

But while I was dealing with the difficult early stages of grief, I tried to bury my head in the sand. I had to get on with work and I told myself that sitting around crying wasn’t going to help anyone. Looking back, that’s exactly what my body and brain probably needed as an outlet.

As the weeks and months went by, I slowly started to open up to my mum about how I was feeling. She’d lost her mum and was understandably struggling a lot, so who better to talk to about my grief than her? We confided in each other. But there were times I didn’t want to bring up the subject in case I upset her, so I started confiding in my friends.

I was also lucky to have met my boyfriend soon after my Nan’s passing. I’d talk about my fond memories of her without even realising and he was a great listener. Just talking about her helped me feel like I was wading through the waters of grief, even if it was very slowly.

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Comparison and the guilt of trauma

My friends were great at asking me how I was and encouraging me to open up to them, but soon that came to a standstill by no fault of their own. Suddenly, they were all going through a traumatic time in their own lives, and they understandably became distanced. I didn’t blame them, and my heart really went out to them. I made sure to send them regular texts to see how they were doing, especially as our in-person catch ups became few and far between.

I found myself stuck once again with my grief, unable to offload it. I would talk to Mum and my boyfriend now and again, but everyone needs friends to lean on. Even on the occasions where me and my friends were able to meet up, I didn’t want to burden them with my trauma. I started comparing our traumas and I decided that theirs trumped mine. In my mind, what they were going through was even worse than what I was, so the last thing I wanted to do was talk about how sad I was feeling. So, I decided whenever I was with them that I’d do the decent thing and let them do the talking, because I wanted to continue to be the caring, supportive friend I’d always been.

What helped me

If any of my friends are reading this, please don’t feel guilty, because it wasn’t your fault that you weren’t in a position to be a support system for me. Besides, I found other small ways of opening up about my feelings that I hope will help others too:

  • Journaling – On the days that I wrote down how I was feeling, it really helped. I’d also advise writing letters to the loved one you’ve lost, if it’s grief you’re suffering with, to tell them how you’re feeling about their death.

  • Find workplace support – I’m lucky that my workplace offers mental health resources, but many other companies do too, so it’s worth checking if yours does. I discovered a virtual talk at work about how to cope with grief and it was useful.

  • Charity helplines – Lots of charities offer amazing support services so that you can talk to someone. They’re not always there to give advice, they’re usually just there to listen. I found that the cancer charity Marie Claire has a free bereavement support service phone number, which you can find here:

Remember, one trauma does not trump another

I’ve since come to the important realisation that traumas aren’t comparable. It’s not a game of top trumps and all our traumas are valid. No matter what others around you are going through, you deserve help too. Keeping your feelings bottled up because you don’t want to burden others isn’t fair on you. Looking after your mental health is the best and most important form of self-care.


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