“Don’t be so sensitive…”

I have found that life is full of ups and downs, tosses and turns. I have always been a person of “deep feelings”. “Don’t be so sensitive” they would say.  But being sensitive is what would make me be able to be good at my job I would say.  After all, I was working with people. People who needed to be listened to, people who were facing difficult circumstances, people who were searching for answers – pretty much like everyone at some point or other in their lives.

What’s wrong with being sensitive? Feeling things?  It can be such a roller coaster ride I know but even after all of these years, I have to believe it makes you a better person.  I have fought so hard against becoming one of those people who just turns off and gives up; becomes hardened to the disappointments and struggles of life.  I’ve seen the damage that can come from having the rug pulled out from under you or having expectations for a certain kind of life and not having it come to fruition.

And I’ve worked with many of the stereotypical callous public service worker, long removed emotionally from their job. While assisting a young woman desperately needing some help for her 3 young children, I sat across the desk from a man in a city welfare office feeling his venomous barbs spewing from his road weary soul after years of people just like her coming and going from his office. It’s hard not to give in and stay true to hope and good thoughts and feeling positive and “sensitive”.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said “I just can’t do this anymore, I just don’t have it in me anymore”.  I just want to give up and say I’m done.  But then, there’s something in me that remembers those people I’ve seen, and those people I meet who seem so unhappy, so, well, dead inside, and I think, no- I don’t want to be like that.  I swore I would never be like that.  No matter what happens.

I can look around me and see beautiful things – I live in a beautiful place.  I force myself to look beyond the things in my house that need fixing and look at the green of the trees and feel the breeze on my face.  And I can stop and look at the faces of my 2 beautiful boys (not kids now really) and remember how incredibly lucky I am to have them and I can remind myself how the most important thing to me is that I am here for them as I know what it’s like to not have that.

I am reminded of the television show Monk, one of the few shows that we ever watched regularly.  He was a detective who had a severe problem with an Obsessive/Compulsive Disorder which also made him incredibly great at solving crimes.  His favorite response to people when they commented on his “issue” was that it was a “blessing and a curse”.  Sometimes, I feel that way.  I think being “sensitive” and feeling things so much can make me able to empathize with people really well and understand what they need.  At the same time, it can be so very exhausting to feel so much to the point of driving myself to the edge and back.

The one thing I know for sure is that I never want to become one of those people who just gives up and gives in, hardening myself; someone who stops “feeling”. Or even worse, only feels the bad things. I know I will and have changed.  I’m still adjusting to that…but for today I will keep on keeping on, soaking in all the feeling I can, emphasis on the good ones, and I hope you will too.

“Never give up, Never Surrender”    from the movie Galaxy Quest

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5 in 1

I’ve been under the weather for a few days which brought on kind of a yucky mood which in turn made me revisit an “issue” that I ruminate over regarding my work choices.  It’s also why I haven’t posted for a bit.

After I struggled through that for a few hours and then moved on, it occurred to me that I had just experienced pretty much all of the “5 Stages of Grief” in one sitting. I won’t get into the specific issue I was dealing with but the process went something like this:

  1. Denial- I can’t believe this is happening again; I can’t believe I am going through this and questioning myself again and feeling bad all over again; this can’t be happening
  2. Anger– I am sooo sick of this; I feel like throwing my teacup against the wall and screaming at the top of my lungs, I am so frustrated with this; will there never be an end to this; why does this keep happening; I don’t deserve all of this
  3. Bargaining- I am a good person; I promise if you just show me the way that I will do it, whatever it takes; this is not just about me, it’s for my family too; think of all of the other people who will be impacted too
  4. Depression– I just can’t take this anymore; I keep trying and trying and getting nowhere; I’m just going to give up- there are just no answers; why bother; all I want to do is lay in my bed with the covers over my head and hope no one notices that I’m not there; what difference does it make anyway
  5. Acceptance- Ok, take a breath- it is what it is; you have been through this before and you have figured out how to get it together and move forward; you just have to put one foot in front of the other and regroup and remember what your original goals were and why you are doing this; this is not the end of the world, it just feels bad right now for some reason but it is just for this moment; it is really all right and you just need to take that first step, any step; find something positive to focus on

The “Stages” are real emotions or reactions that can occur in response to stressful situations.  They are ways that our body helps us to work through something painful and overwhelming when  the everyday more typical ways just won’t cut it.  The critical thing to remember is that they are not really stages in that they don’t happen in a neat little prescribed  sequence, one after the other, in a specific time frame never to be seen again once you’ve passed through them.

As my tiny example shows, you can experience these emotions all in 1 specific situation, working through 1 issue.  Obviously, this was not the same as a prolonged grief process. I have felt through my own grief experiences, and surely will feel again, all of these intense emotions as life brings on more major challenges.

My point is that when you hear about the “5 Stages of Grief”, don’t just accept that this is the exact way that grief occurs. There are a lot of people who refer to this model or theory when they talk about grief.  You even see it poked fun at on shows like “Family Guy” or “South Park” on tv.

Grief  is a very fluid process, moving in and out of varying intensities of different emotions.    The “Stages” Model provides some good basic information and understanding about what can happen when your are grieving but everyone’s path is different. You have a right to make your own.

Doing What Needs to Be Done

Today I finally went for a walk.  This is something I have been telling myself I was going to do every day for I don’t want to tell you how long.  I used to walk all the time.  It was my preferred mode of exercise and I loved getting out and getting a chance to clear my head and just breathe.

Somehow I got out of the habit and it became a chore.  I used to look forward to it; now it was just one more thing to do.  It’s funny how something that is so enjoyable and freeing one minute can feel so heavy and demanding the next.

If you are grieving, you probably know how that feels.  Even simple things can seem like complicated tasks.  Small problems become huge mountains.  As life keeps moving on all around you, you just want everything and everybody to slow down and give you a break.  Finding ways to keep up while keeping sane may feel almost impossible.  I know there were times I wasn’t so sure that I wasn’t losing my mind, running from home to job to kid stuff to other family things to home etc.

As hard as it may be to do, it’s critical that you allow yourself whatever time you need to get done what has to get done and let go of the rest.  The key is, you really have to be the one to be willing to let things go.  Maybe the house isn’t so clean or the lawn isn’t perfect or you don’t get to the gym as often or…. you fill it in.  I’m not talking about just not adding things to your “to do” list now but about taking stuff off the one you already have.  Ask for help, get off of committees, say no- all those things everyone always says to do but no one ever does.  If there was ever a time to do them, it’s now.

And just to be clear, I’m not just talking about in the first few months after you have lost someone.  That will probably happen naturally as you’re too upset or exhausted and people don’t really expect otherwise.  You need to continue to give yourself that “break” long after so you have the time and space you will need for your grief as time moves on.  You may be surprised at how quickly people will start expecting you to be back at it and you will need to set your own boundaries about what you will and won’t do.  Grieving takes a good amount of physical and emotional energy no matter how strong you are.  Give yourself the gift of time to make it a bit easier.  Remember, this is your life and your loss- you get to decide how you will handle it.

Looking “Out There”…

As I am sitting here drinking my morning tea, I am distracted by this show on the TV, the Nate Berkus Show.  It’s one of those morning shows where the host shows you how to decorate your home, cook the perfect meal, dress in style, do charitable works- the typical American morning show.

I don’t usually watch these things.  It’s on because my son, who of course has left the room, put the TV on and it landed on this channel.  I just haven’t bothered to turn it off.  Although I do find some parts interesting, especially the cooking, I am usually reminded by how obsessed we can get with “things”; how we are constantly looking for something “out there” that will make our lives better, more beautiful, happier because what we have already is not enough.  And how sad that is as any of us who has lost someone dear knows.

How many times do people look back after someone dies and wish they had spent less time working and more time talking and laughing with him or her?  And all the fretting and stress we cause ourselves about not being able to provide all these “things” for our loved ones, feeling like we are not striving hard enough or don’t care enough if we don’t.

In my worst of times, I have had to take time off from working so our income has been diminished and our home has been in disrepair. I allowed myself to fall victim to this sense of embarrassment, not wanting to let people see us not at our best, lest they think poorly of me.  I know all of the clichés that my true friends wouldn’t care but…I would not have thought that I would have let myself give in to this.  But grief attacks your self-confidence and can make you behave in ways you would not have thought possible.  At the very time I needed to invite people in, I shut people out.  In this case, due to my physical surroundings and succumbing to the societal pressures around me.

So forget the clichés and take it from the heart that people who love you don’t care if your house is a mess- they will help you clean it.  They don’t care if you look like a model- they will take you for a haircut.  They don’t care if you cook them dinner- they will cook for you.  Don’t be distracted by what you see on TV or in the magazines about who you are supposed to be.  Just be.

Frustration

I went to visit a friend the other day who has suffered a different but very significant kind of loss.  Last April she miraculously survived what is commonly referred to as the “flesh-eating bacteria” illness.  If you haven’t heard of it, it is a powerful bacteria that seems to come out of nowhere and very rapidly attacks the body, destroying muscles and organs, often claiming the lives of its victims within a few days.

My friend was a healthy, vibrant mother of three with a thriving home business one day and a month later woke up to find herself wheelchair bound and still struggling to survive.  You see, although she made it through the initial phase of the illness, it left her hands and lower legs needing to be amputated in order for her to live as they had “died”.  She made the choice to do that so she could stay and still be a mom to her kids.

I tell you this because I see her now struggle with grief.  It comes from a different source but I recognize so much that same sense of losing the life you once knew, not ever being the person you used to be as everything has changed.  I don’t presume to know what she is going through as obviously, it is a completely unique experience.

But the common thread that ran through our conversation was the frustration she feels with having to go through all of this sadness and grief over losing who she once was.  She just wants it to be over with.  How often have we all felt that way?  How I wished that I could have told her the magic date that she would feel ok again; that it would be “x” number of days till she would feel like jumping back into work.  She wants so badly to wake up each day with a sense of purpose.  And all I could do was to empathize with her and reassure her that the day would come.

So, I did my best to encourage her, as I do you, and to share that as icky as it feels, I have learned that the only way to the other side- to that better day, is through…you have to feel it all and let it out.  Don’t hold back, don’t shove it down deep and keep that stiff upper lip- it will only prolong the inevitable.    As for my friend, I will keep visiting her and we’ll keep talking.

I’m no hero…

Sometimes I feel like a complete failure.  I feel like I have let the the past and all those struggles with grief get the best of me.  After all, I am no shining light, out there in the world saying “Hey, look at me – I lost my dad when I was young and my baby died and I had all these miscarriages but I wrote this great inspirational book and I built this great foundation and…” well, you get the picture.  It seems like everybody who suffers some big tragedy today writes a book or starts a charity or does some big, incredible work as a result of it.  And I have just wondered all of these years, how do they do it?

When I think about how hard it can be just to get out of bed in the morning or to try to remember to keep smiling and really act like you want to play when your other child is tugging at your sleeve even years after your baby has died and someone just said “You’re so lucky you don’t have girls!”, how do they do it?

When I think about having to get 1 child to hockey practice at 5:00 in the morning in a town an hour away, another to a ski slope 2 hours in the other direction 3 hours later, and yet another to a birthday party 2 hours after that, all in a car that’s 10 years old and you are still trying to understand how someone suddenly dies at 45 years old from a heart attack, how do they do it?

When I know the realities of grieving and the powerful grip it has on your heart and soul and all the strength it takes to rise above it, how do they do it?

Our society loves heroes.  There can be great pressure to feel like you have to be one or that you are supposed to “do” something when you have experienced something bad or traumatic.  You don’t.  All you have to do is take care of yourself, then take care of those around you who you are responsible for, like your children and your pets.  That’s it.  You don’t have to be a hero and save the world.  Just by being a whole, healthy person again who can find some meaning and hope in life you will be saving a piece of it.

5 Stages of Grief

Most people have heard of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross‘ 5 Stage Model.  Although this was originally related to the experiences that people had who are dying, it quickly became attributed to the grieving as well.  During the 1960s, Ms. Kubler-Ross interviewed hundreds of dying people to see how they felt about their impending deaths.  What she found was that there were similarities between people depending upon where they were in relation to the timeline of their prognosis, for example, just having learned of their disease, close to death, etc. She based her 5 stage model on this: initial shock/denial, then anger, next bargaining- “if you let me live I’ll…”, depression, and finally acceptance.  She reported in her work that those caring for the loved one also experienced these stages, thus the relation to grieving.

Since K-R’s initial work, there have been other studies and of course, criticisms and disagreements.  I think her work is still very important simply because it got people talking about death and dying.  It made it ok for people to talk about how they feel about their own deaths and for people to admit that death is painful, life altering, depressing yet something everyone must face so not something to be shut away in the closet.  Whether her findings were 100% accurate or not, they started a movement that would offer great relief to many people.  There is still a  long way to go to where death and grief  are as freely and openly acknowledged as life in our society so that people don’t have to suffer so much in silence and go on after a respectable time as though nothing has happened.

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