It took me 30 years to realise that the death of my teenage brother had shaped my attitude to life and the choices I made, and another 4 years to work out what that meant!
Hi, I’m Juliette Chan, founder of Altered Dawn. I know from experience that after a life-changing event, we just don’t feel the same way about things as we used to before. Our dawns are forever altered. I’ve experienced this after several bereavements, relationship break-ups and cancer.
At the age of 13, I didn’t know what I was supposed to do when my brother collapsed during an asthma attack and died. So I did what everyone around me was doing – I kept busy and just got on with life. Being busy meant I didn’t have to think about the sadness and the pain.
In general, life was good and I was happy; but there was always something not quite right and a part of me was empty. I felt lost, I wasn’t quite whole and I was always restless. I had low expectations of myself because I thought I’d be dead by 21! So there was no point in planning the future; I was all about having fun and having a shallow life. I didn’t ‘do’ emotions or deep connections; emotional and vulnerable people made me uneasy and I avoided them. I struggled to settle down, and the idea of committing to a career or relationship would freak me out. My solution was always to leave and do something new – I craved change; it was my release.
In my 20s and 30s, I experienced more significant and sudden deaths, including that of my school friend, my grandmother who brought me up, my father, and the suicides of my cousin and a childhood friend. I also had a few major relationship breakdowns and countless career changes. Unsurprisingly, at 43, I found myself exhausted, frustrated and unsettled; I was also broke and miserable company. I didn’t like myself and felt “out of sorts” but didn’t know why. Then, I read these words and something clicked:
“If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you got.”
I finally realised that if I wanted my life to be different, I had to change my behaviour and choices. Obvious – but not when you’re living life on auto-pilot. I’d spent so long acting ‘fine’, acting happy and ‘being positive’ that it was really hard work figuring out what was the fake ‘me’ and what was genuine. Over the next four years, I spent thousands of pounds and hundreds of hours learning about grief and how to support grievers, human psychology, and how to change my mindset. Reviewing and discovering the unhelpful patterns that I’d been relying on helped me to understand the beliefs that underpinned the life choices I had made. These beliefs were formed by the 13-year-old me who needed to act OK – and it was time to get rid of them. So I worked on changing them. It was really difficult at times and took a lot of courage and perseverance, but I knew it was what I needed to do.
Being trained by Cruse Bereavement Care to work as a volunteer on their Helpline and their Ongoing Telephone Support programme helped me to gain a really in-depth understanding of grief. I’ve helped hundreds of grievers to be OK with their grief and to work out the best way forward for them as an individual. The other thing that stood out for me during my search for a solution was The Grief Recovery Handbook®. Finally, I was reading something that described how I’d been feeling for 34 years and there were actions I could take. It confirmed what I’d realised four years earlier – that my life choices were directly influenced by my ignorance of grief and my suppression of grief. Again, obvious – but not when you’re on auto-pilot. The Handbook’s teachings resonated and made sense to me. The key lessons for me were:
society focuses on and teaches us to build our lives (get qualifications, get a job, get a place to live, meet the person of your dreams get married, have kids…) but not what to do when we lose any of these.
we intellectualise grief which is a normal and natural emotional response to loss. We suppress our emotions in favour of fixing our broken hearts with our heads. That’s why it doesn’t work.
unresolved grief doesn’t go away just by itself and is cumulatively negative.
each unresolved loss had left a hole in my heart and to protect myself from getting further holes, I’d closed myself off.
what I’d considered to be normal behaviour – like binge drinking and eating, spending all my money and being emotionally cold, was in fact “short term energy relieving behaviours” that had stretched over 34 years.
I then applied the Grief Recovery Method® tools and these finally helped me to face the major losses in my life until I was finally free to move forward. The key was to heal the holes in my heart so that I could find peace of mind and the freedom to live well. This is why I’m such an advocate of The Grief Recovery Method® and why I trained to be a Grief Recovery Specialist® so that I could help others discover and face their losses – hopefully sooner than the 34 years it took me to figure out!
Following my treatment for bowel cancer in 2016, I realised that I was experiencing grief. I’d lost my sense of identity as a “fairly fit” person, I’d lost my confidence in my body, I’d lost my ability to focus, and I was overwhelmed by the question “What if it comes back?”. Fortunately, using my expertise in handling grief over the last 5 years, I was soon able to make peace with my cancer, review my priorities and function fully. My 5-step system helps people to find peace of mind after cancer and is based on my own cancer experience and from helping others cope with life-changing events since 2012.
With over ten years’ experience of training in the corporate, public and voluntary sectors, and six years as a business-owner, I’m excited to now be in a position to work with individuals, parents, professionals and companies who recognise the importance of dealing with the emotional and mental impacts of illness, bereavement, relationship break-ups, job loss, etc.
Why is this important? Because ignoring the emotional and mental impact of life-changing events is not only costly to you, but also to your family, friends, colleagues, employers and wider community. Grief is a natural and everyday experience in our lives; it’s time for us to learn how to handle it and how to move beyond the pain. I know it can be done because I’ve done it and I’ve helped lots of people do it.
My mission is to help you be OK with life-changing events so that you can move forward and adjust to your new situation. Suffering is part of life – learn how to handle suffering so that it does not overwhelm your life and you’re free to live well.
Book a free 20-minute chat with me to discuss your situation.