Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Not One More Thing

"When the dam breaks"
I have sat across from many individuals who exemplify someone who "stuffs their grief."  When faced with the difficulties and challenges in life a grief stuffer might head in the opposite direction of the pain, avoid any reminders and push down feelings associated with the loss.  When I sat with someone who stuffed their grief they would usually describe a series of illnesses, difficult relationships, employment problems and tell me they were coping "fine" with their grief. 
If I asked for examples of coping strategies I would likely meet defence mechanisms such as humour or deflection. If I asked about the rituals or ways of memorializing that had taken place following the death of their loved one, I might hear about ceremonies planned for the public and see very few representations of personal moments.
Stuffing grief is a coping mechanism and I felt comfortable sitting with someone who stuffed their grief and discussing strategies of self-care and supports that would help if stuffing no longer worked.  Moreover, through these conversations of self-compassion the grief would start to surface and we might begin to unpack the loss and its impact on the person's life.

I am illustrating my experience of the grief stuffer because I have not known one who looks like this:

Yep, that is me. I look oblivious to my own compacting patterns and defence mechanisms that have been slowly accumulating the grief under my surface and getting ready to erupt. Stuffing grief felt like the antithesis to my life, after all I write about living with grief. Up until very recently, I believed that I was among the first in my social network to acknowledge that loss exists and to face it.  In reality, I acknowledged that death is a part of life and something that we will all face.  Death will represent loss in our lives and we will grieve loved ones whom we miss.  However, I was not facing the multitude of losses that I have experienced in the past year or the impact that they were having.  Each individual experience may not have represented much and possibly I recognized some form of hurt but then I moved forward. In my mind I envision a path of bread crumbs and I am picking them up one at a time eating them, not thinking about how much I have eaten as I continue forward (and since I am gluten free you can see how this vision would lead to pain for me).

So here I am writing this blog about the person who stuffs their grief.  I didn't think it was me but this year has been filled with little BIG things.  They were not all deaths but they were all significant losses for me or people I loved.  There was an impact on me and I did little to face that.
Here are a few examples of how I have been affected:
  • My education has been filled with losses - my expectations have not been met or I have not gotten the level of learning I was hoping for.
  • Financial independence - I did not realize that my core beliefs would be challenged by not working and having my "own earnings."
  • Health - the diagnosis of Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome changed my physical and mental health (most likely forever).
  • Relationships - I just cannot give what I want to, to the people I care about.
  • Friendships - some survive the complexity of graduate school commitments/stress and some don't. That translates into a level of isolation and loneliness that I was not prepared for
  • Family - Diagnosis has changed our worldview and while it isn't my health, it is still my heart that hurts knowing that we are left to our faith in medicine combined with a helpless positivity.
Each one in isolation is manageable and that is how I have been coping, picking up each piece as I encounter it, never looking at the entirety of it all together, stuffing it you might say!  Last week I was forced to step back and take in the whole picture of this year's losses.  I could not hold onto one more thing and as a future therapist, I was responsible to more than just myself.  Furthermore, I believe in the role of modelling behaviours that you wish to see in others, with the help of another student I could finally let go.

The first thing I did - sob.  Not for everyone, I recognize.  Let's face it - the gut wrenching, back heaving crying that contorts your face and hurls primitive sounds from your guts is few people's first choice at coping, but it was a start and that was more than I had given myself in a year.  I am only beginning to figure out how to cope and allow for these losses.  Stay tuned as I continue on this journey into self-awareness.

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