Grief. What comes to mind when you think of that word? Losing a parent? Saying goodby to someone too soon? The loss of a loved one? That's what quickly comes to my mind. Grief, to me, has always been the emotional suffering I experience because someone has been taken away.
But did you know that grief can also occur after the loss of something? Even subtle losses in life can trigger a grief response. In fact, any loss - that's personal to you in some way - can trigger emotional suffering and pain.
I never really gave this much thought up until a week ago. It all started with a therapy session (oh boy, here we go). I started seeing a grief counsellor after my brother Kevin died. It's been over two years now and I still go to therapy. Because, yes, I'm still learning to cope with the loss of my brother but also because there are other areas of my life in which I experience trauma and/or loss and need the guidance of a mental health professional to, in essence, sort my shit out.
We talk about all sorts of things like how sadness doesn't have to be a bad thing and how joy isn't something I need to constantly express to those around me, or how maybe I should get better at expressing anger once in awhile instead of suppressing my emotions...all that typical therapy stuff. But we also talk about my job, Patrick's job, finances, what our life goals are, how Patrick and I can effectively communicate with each other given our different attachment styles, my disordered eating brain and how that impacts my body and my brain today, even after six years of being in recovery.
It's because we talk about these things that I have a better understanding of just how closely my identity is connected to my ability to perform. Academically, occupationally, but also recreationally with tasks like staying fit and healthy, being active and eating well. For many reasons, this isn't ideal. Sure, it's okay to prioritise these things and value them, but who I am shouldn't be all about what I do or don't do. I learned this lesson back in 2012 with a fractured hip but apparently I didn't learn it well enough because here I am again in 2017 relearning the same lesson only this time with a fractured spine.
When asked how I was doing in regard to my injury my response was, "I think I'm under functioning as a result of my depression" (clearly someone is a psych undergrad). Stephanie, my therapist, smiled and said, "Nicole, I know you well enough to know that you don't ever under function. Why do you think that?" I explained that I've been suffering with this debilitating back pain for over a year now and there doesn't seem to be any concrete guidance as to what I can do in order to relieve it and get back to my normal life. So instead of being proactive I feel like I've just given up and given in to being depressed about it. "I'm tired of talking about it. I'm tired of waking up in pain and going to bed in pain. I'm tired of doing half workouts. I'm tired of not being able to do all the things I want to do, so, I think I've just resigned to being depressed and dealing with chronic back pain for the rest of my life..."
You know what she said? "It sounds like you're grieving". Ha! As if. How can she say that? How can a back fracture cause grief similar to that of a lost loved one? That's ridiculous...isn't it? She went on to explain that just like after losing Kevin I had to grieve the loss of him but also the loss of my identity as a sister, the loss of a family of four, the loss of not only who he was but also who I was with him. I'm still learning all of that, only today, I am also learning to grieve the loss of the life I want to live/should be living/could be living. Instead of losing a someone I have lost a something. Both can push us into a grief response.
Whether it's an injury or a miscarriage. Losing a job or losing a pet. The loss of a cherished dream or the loss of a relationship. Loss of health or loss of safety. Any loss can cause grief. The more significant the loss, the more intense your grief may be, but whatever your loss, it’s personal to you, so don’t feel ashamed about how you feel, or believe that it’s somehow only appropriate to grieve for certain things.
So, while the purpose of this blog post is ambiguous I want to invite you to join me in taking a look at your life and identifying areas of loss that might need healing. Be gentle with yourself as the stress of a loss can quickly deplete your energy and emotional reserves. Look after your physical and emotional needs, and remember:
- Trying to avoid feelings of sadness and loss only prolongs the grieving process. Unresolved grief can also lead to complications such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and health problems.
- Express your feelings in a tangible or creative way. Write about your loss in a journal or get involved with a cause or organization that was important to your loved one.
- Look after your physical health. When you feel healthy physically, you’ll be better able to cope emotionally. Combat stress and fatigue by getting enough sleep, eating right, and exercising (but for those of you who are like me, remember not to over train or under eat).
- There's comfort in routine and getting back to the activities that bring you joy and connect you closer to others can help you come to terms with your loss and aid the grieving process.
- Don’t let anyone tell you how to feel, and don’t tell yourself how to feel either. Your grief is your own, and no one else can tell you when it’s time to “move on” or “get over it.” Let yourself feel whatever you feel without embarrassment or judgment.