Dealing with Grief Caused by Disability
From the first diagnosis of disease or disability to the loss of a physical function or independence, we feel grief. We may experience anticipatory grief when thinking out the longterm effects of our disability or upcoming medical procedures. Grief is a natural process in response to loss, including the loss of a healthy body or mind.
Rather than buck up or move on right away, it is important to allow these emotions to flow. Being aware of what you need emotionally and physically will ease the process.
“While the experience of grief is a very individual process depending on many factors, certain commonalities are often reported. Nightmares, appetite problems, dryness of mouth, shortness of breath, sleep disorders, and repetitive motions to avoid pain are often reported by people experiencing normal grief. Even hallucinatory experiences may be normal early in grief.” Wikipedia
Elizabeth Kübler-Ross was a Swedish doctor who broke the mold of ignoring terminal patients. Instead she spent time comforting and studying them. Her book ‘On Death and Dying’ included a cycle of emotional states that is often referred to as the Grief Cycle. Her work prompted the medical field to study the emotional cycles of people experiencing other types of loss.
- Shock stage: Initial paralysis at hearing the bad news.
- Denial stage: Trying to avoid the inevitable.
- Anger stage: Frustrated outpouring of bottled-up emotion.
- Bargaining stage: Seeking in vain for a way out.
- Depression stage: Final realization of the inevitable.
- Testing stage: Seeking realistic solutions.
- Acceptance stage: Finally finding the way forward.
This model is extended original Kubler-Ross model, which didn’t include the Shock and Testing stages. They have been added as the nature of grief has been explored.
Sometimes there is pressure from ourselves or perhaps friends or family to quickly get to acceptance. When we pretend to be fine and happy, it is another form of denial and we can get trapped in the grief cycle. When we don’t take steps to heal, we may develop prolonged grief.
“There is a clinical problem of becoming “identified” with the grief. In this situation, mourners are reluctant to release the grief because grieving has been integrated as part of their identity. Reporting in the journal NeuroImage (May 10, 2008, online), scientists suggest that complicated grief activates neurons in the reward centers of the brain, possibly giving these memories addiction-like properties. The authors found activity in the nucleus accumbens, a region of the brain most commonly associated with reward. It is one that has also been shown to play a role in social attachment, such as sibling and maternal affiliation.” (Wikipedia)
Because of childhood traumatic events, Turner Mosaic which causes chemical imbalances and infertility. I am also Bipolar. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/bipolar-disorder/DS00356 My symptoms are similar to prolonged grief and include audio and visual hallucinations when I am distressed, mood swings, sleep disorder and nightmares.
The first step to healing our pain is to never give up. I have been to therapy, I have read articles on grief, stress, and attended groups and workshops. In July 2010, I became suicidal and was admitted to a stress unit for five days. At first I felt like a failure. As a priestess and person who not only practiced but taught meditation, why couldn’t I heal? From my time in the unit, I learned that healing is a daily process. At least I took steps when I knew my mental state was unsafe. I had to continue practicing my mantras, meditation, and exercise daily.
If you are new to this path, the first step is to find positive coping mechanisms: adaptation and behavioral changes. For a more detailed article on positive and negative cooping methods read http://changingminds.org/explanations/behaviors/coping/coping.htm.
An example of positive and negative cooping is in the story of the Greek god, Hephaestus, a god with twisted legs. Basically he was disabled.“Hephaestus married Aphrodite, but it was not an ordinary arrangement. Hephaestus was not physically attractive and wanted a marriage. He was still mad because he was not accepted and decided to seek revenge. It is said that he built a throne for his mother Hera, and she sat down on the throne and eventually realized she was stuck. Hephaestus captured his mother using the chair and would not let her go. Even though Dionysus got Hephaestus drunk, Hephaestus would not let Hera go until he got his way by marrying Athena or Aphrodite. He ended up married to Aphrodite and was not happy. She cheated on him and he ended up publicly humiliating her.”
“He was given the chance to supervise Cyclopes. He took the offer and watched over what they did. He was said to have made Zeus’ (his father’s) lightening bolts. Because he was such a gifted craftsman and knew his way around blacksmithing, he was given the task of making many things for Olympus. He made everything from his father’s thunderbolts to signs. He got his recognition (and ticket back into Olympus) after he proved his skills by working as a blacksmith underwater. His mother saw the things he created and wanted to take him back as her son. When his mother threw him from Olympus, he landed in a sea and was rescued by two goddesses. They taught him how to make things and he eventually created “beautiful” things.
He was not a mean or cruel god. He was sweet and kept to himself. Even though he trapped his mother for revenge, he was a genuinely good god.
He was a very strong god, even with his bad legs. He had a lot of physical strength. He needed to be strong in order to be a blacksmith.”
Many of the activities used to deal with stress can be used for grief management.
Find a therapist or group you are comfortable with so you can share your thoughts. Once feelings and ideas are spoken you loose the pressure of keeping them inside and they are less overwhelming.
Meditate or chant. Chanting from any culture or faith is good for your health according to a study published in the British Journal of Medicine. Chanting a short pray or mantra about 100 times (or less if you have difficulty with concentration) will synchronize calm breath with slower heart rate. This reduces stress. You can use traditional chants from your preferred culture or create your own. Keep it short, easy to say, and rhythmic. Prayer beads will help you keep count.
Build a social support group of doctors you are comfortable with and compassionate friends, family, and community members. For Pagans with disabilities, we may feel forced into solitary practice if we have mobility difficulties or are in a smaller community that doesn’t have gatherings. It is up to each individual to decide if they want to visit another faith community, hopefully one that offers messages of hope during their service. Sharing these ideas with other living breathing beings can be a great comfort.
Journal your thoughts. You’ll find insight into why you feel the way you do. It is a great way to vent and note down moments of laughter or happiness to look at later. When we grieve for prolonged periods of times, years even, it can be difficult to be in the present moment and find something beautiful in our life. Journaling is one way to begin a positive mind set.
Blessings to you all on your journey.
“Om Gaia Shanti Shanti”
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, On Death and Dying, Macmillan, NY, 1969
Bernardi L, Sleight P, Bandinelli G, Cencetti S, Fattorini L,
autonomic cardiovascular rhythms: comparative study. British Medical