Journey Through Illness

April 6, 2014

The Long Goodbye..

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , — Frances Chamberlain @ 4:32 am

Alzheimers..The Long Goodbye

 

My siblings and I have been coping with my Dad’s long goodbye since he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease in  January, 2011, about 3 1/2 years ago.  Actually, we noticed signs for about a year prior to the formal diagnosis but they were transient at first and could be chalked up to “normal aging”.  In December of 2010, he and I went cross country skiing together.  That would be the last time he was on skis. There have been several “last times”, and I’m sure there will be more.  There was the “last time” he drove his car, the “last time” he played a round of golf; the “last time” he lived by himself; to name a few.  Each stage has been like a death in itself.  The first year, I was able to go to visit on weekends, and take care of things like bills, errands, etc..Then in the summer of 2012, he moved in with my sister in Florida.  He now has in-home nursing care, and needs assistance with most things.  He still recognizes me when I call, but the calls are getting shorter, and the conversations are disjointed and disoriented.  Once in a while, it feels like “he” pops back in for a brief bit and he will remember something from the past; but now our connection is more about just connecting. There is so much non-verbally that can and does still get communicated between the words.

 

My mother had passed away in 2003 from ovarian cancer. They were married for 43 years.  My mother was quite a character, sometimes you weren’t quite sure if she even knew how funny she actually was.  She also could stir things up around our family home, while my Dad was more quiet and reserved.  While there are many ways in which I am like my mother, for better or worse; there are many unmistakable ways in which I am more like my dad.

 

Toward the end of High School, and the beginning of college things changed in our family when my father’s steady place of employment closed after he had worked there for almost 30 years.  This affected him greatly, being as he is of the depression era generation, who counted on loyalty to the company, in exchange for stability, raises, pensions, etc..  He had just fallen short in some way that wasn’t clear to me at the time, but I know that he lost a lot as a result of this.  If diagnosed, I’m sure he would have met criteria for depression and/or generalized anxiety disorder at this time but of course, mental health assistance was not something he or probably anyone of his generation would have considered if he could still function and work.  My mother’s cancer diagnosis hit him very hard.  My dad, having been an only child, relied on my mother for making the social plans for them.  The two relied on each other greatly.

 

What’s true for me is that I was and still am a “Daddy’s Girl”.  He was the first man I ever loved, and it was pretty darn hard to find anyone that could measure up to him.  He was my hero.  I liked the way he smelled, and would pick me up and put me on his shoulders when he got home from work.  He always read stories to us and sometimes made up his own.  He helped coach my brother’s ball teams when he was little, and my sister’s softball teams.  I was a “girly girl”, and he would pick me up from my dance classes, calling me his “Tina Marie”.  When I was upset, he could calm me down, and make me feel like everything was always going to be alright.  I’m so grateful for having had that sense of stability early on.  I have to say that this experience has kept me feeling a bit unbalanced much of the time.

 

I learned a lot from my dad.  He and his parents valued education, and definitely valued hard work and honesty.   A couple other things about my Dad are:  his love for nature, and his continued belief in getting exercise.  When I was younger, I remember going on many hikes with my dad and brother.  My sister, being a few years older, usually had some extra curricular activity going on, so I remember many Saturdays where we would walk and pack something to eat; and he would point out different things along the way, different types of birds, trees, stories about camping.  As a teenager these walks stopped, but they resumed again when I would be on break from college, and way into my adulthood when we would get together.  I love hiking today as a result.  My dad also got each of us involved in sports.  My brother and sister played various team sports, while I opted for dancing and tennis.  He took an interest in our activities growing up.  Our house was the house where most of the kids in the neighborhood hung out.  We had a lot of fun much of the time.  I think that having two parents in the home provided me with a strong foundation.   Being relational, girls learn a lot from how parents interact together  (meaning both same sex couples and heterosexual couples) and with us.

 

I treasure the memories I have of my Dad and our walks/talks and trips.  It has been such a difficult process to see his slow and steady decline.  Some of the difficulty is due to the lack of being able to process with him about what is happening to him, because he will forget that he forgets.  When someone has dementia in the family the family members carry the emotions, whether or not they are the actual caretakers.  Someone has to hold the emotional content of what is going on.  Sometimes people use food or substances to cope and self soothe; other times, stress induced illnesses in other family members surface.  My siblings and I bicker at times in our helplessness, and frustration.  I feel tired a lot even though my Dad is in a different state.  I worry, and fret, and miss him.  I miss him – his self, and his physical self.

 

It’s hard to take care of yourself when you add sick parents to your plate at mid-life.  sleeping continues to be difficult.  Late to bed, Late to Rise…stressed, heavy, and burdened by grief.

 

March 15, 2014

H.O.P.E. = Hang On, Pain Ends.

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , , — Frances Chamberlain @ 5:07 pm

Image Everything is a process, so while the title of this post says “Pain Ends”, I am humbly aware and conscious enough to know that not only does “Pain End”, but it begins again, and ends again, and so on and so forth.  And, what also happens is that compassion, forgiveness, kindness, joy, and light occur, and they too end and begin again.  The cool thing that has led to my own positive shift is the acceptance I feel for the flow of life, today.  

Acceptance for where you are is what enables you to become unstuck.

When you are feeling vulnerable for whatever reason, it doesn’t take much to get you hooked into the “I’m not enough”, “There is something wrong with me” blues.  It can be a criticism, comparing yourself with others, even perceived disapproval from an inquisitive look.  If you are already depressed, grieving, or anxious this can be enough to tip the emotion scales into “I’m not okay” territory.  Then comes the self judgment, and criticism, and the…suffering.  Most people don’t want to face the pain of this suffering, (myself included at times), and so here comes the compensation behaviors:  trying to be perfect, people pleasing, addiction, etc..   Today, I’m grateful for the knowledge that running from the shame and pain of feeling “less than” is not going to allow me or anyone else to become free.  It is only with courage to face your emotions, and self limiting thoughts and behaviors, that you can start the process toward acceptance.  

Then, in addition to the courage peace.. you have to through in some compassion and forgiveness.  Remember what Jack Kornfield and others teach about your “Buddha Nature”, that is, your innate goodness and your ability to live with a clear mind, and open and kind heart.

Now, we are getting somewhere.  Here’s what else this recipe for acceptance needs:  supportive people who function as your own “believable mirrors”.  A “Believable Mirror” is a person who can see the whole you.  Someone or even a group of someones who validate you.  This is where psychotherapy is successful in helping others heal – the relationship piece (more on this on a later post).  You need forgiveness and loving kindness from others just as you need to begin to cultivate this for yourself.  Isolation keeps people stuck in suffering.

Hope enables one to begin to generate agency thoughts.  Agency thoughts are those that start to find pathways to feeling better and doing better.  Hope is a byproduct of acceptance.

March 4, 2014

Emergency Rooms

Filed under: Aha's, Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , — Frances Chamberlain @ 5:45 am

Saturday, I went to the Emergency Room.  (Apparently there is this thing called, “Urgent Care” that you can visit instead of the emergency room, which is supposed to be a somewhat nicer experience and less crowded.  How did I not know this?!  Good to know for future reference.)

I had a sinus infection that got outta hand, and one side of my face puffed up.  My one eye was completely red and painful when I woke up.  Shit, this is not how the weekend was supposed to go.  Before the age of 37, the only time I had gone to the hospital was when I was 9 and had a similar thing happen.  I ended up having to have my sinuses drained.  I swore I would try to wait it out and not go anywhere, because my emergency room co-pay is crazy given the amount I pay for health insurance.  But, by lunch time, I had had enough, and I worried I wouldn’t be able to tolerate the pain until Monday morning.  I tried calling my doctor first, and was told, “If you feel you need to go to the emergency room, go to the emergency room”.  Thanks.  I just wanted it acknowledged that I made an attempt to do something at a “lower level of care”.

Here’s the thing.  I haven’t been to that emergency room since my last heart event in 2010.  (Thank God.) I soon realized that this was sort of like “exposure” therapy in that I was re-visiting the scene where I had been escorted there via ambulance on several occasions during my “heart attack years”.   I noted the difference between going there this time vs. those.  This time I drove myself, parked in the garage, and walked in without assistance – a much better sign that this was going to be something that could be fixed.  At first, I didn’t want to have to deal with any “heavy duty” emotions from the past.

I wanted to just go back home, but the pain reminded me that I have to see this thing through.  I started remembering my past more intense trips to the emergency room; I did a lot of breathwork as I remembered each time I arrived via ambulance.  One time, I was being removed from the ambulance by two female EMT’s.  My husband had arrived just behind us, and they said to me, “You didn’t tell us, your husband was “drop dead” gorgeous!  The irony that I was (um) having a heart attack and didn’t give them a “heads up” that an attractive man was going to be on the scene… hello?!  Get your head in the game, bitches, I don’t want to “drop dead” while you’re flirting.  That was classic.  Then there was the time when I was given a lot of morphine and was having a conversation with the attendant about the difference between midgets and dwarfs; because I suppose I just thought he needed to know.  Ah, the embarrassing babbling that occurs sometimes.

The wait was excruciating, but I was grateful to be upright, conscious, and have my own transportation.  I soon realized that being made to wait was actually a good thing, as it just meant, you can wait.  There was the wait to get the paperwork to fill out, the wait to be seen by the person verifying your insurance, the wait to get to a waiting room inside the emergency room, the wait after finally being escorted to the small exam room, the wait for the CT scan that was ordered after the brief exam, the wait in the hall outside the CT scanning room, the wait in the waiting area after the scan, the wait to see the attending physician, then finally…the prescriptions and the eye drops.  That was it.  In my head, I had assumed that every trip there ended with being admitted, waiting to have surgery, some life threatening situation, etc.. I was “geared up” for a bigger “to-do”.

And yet, I was completely relieved when it sank in.  That I wasn’t critically ill anymore.  I’m not sick.  I’m a pretty healthy (sans pink eye, sinus infection) middle aged woman.  Those days are behind me, now.  I made it through.  It was just an infection that will get better and clear up.  That’s it.

God I was grateful to get home, and get comfortable.  I don’t need to go back there.  I really felt the shift.  The shift from being a patient to being recovered;  sick to healthy.   I only see the cardiologist once every 6 months now.  Soon, it will be just once a year.

I looked over at my husband who had picked us up Chinese food on his way home.  He ended up meeting me there about half way through the waiting.  Yes, he is not a stranger to hospitals either.  There we were, just the two of us, enjoying our dinner, at home, watching tv, with our kitty.   I smiled at him, and laughed to myself as I went into the kitchen to cut my hospital bracelet off into the trash.

February 28, 2014

Activating Your Watcher and a view of Life after Loss.

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , — Frances Chamberlain @ 10:16 pm

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“Activating your Watcher” is an exercise from the book, Second Firsts by Christina Rasmussen.  In the book, Christina refers to your “Watcher” or that part of yourself that is watching your process.  In psychology, we often refer to this concept as your “observing ego”, or your “Wise Mind”.  Your wise mind is essential for being able to watch and observe your thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and the events in your life.  In Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, wise mind is the integration of rational mind and emotional mind.  Using wise mind, you can make connections between your thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and events.   Through awareness of these patterns, you can begin to make adaptive changes so you can create a “life worth living”.  Mindful awareness nurtures Wise Mind.

So what is mindfulness?  Mindfulness is observing, describing, attending to your mind without judgment.  It doesn’t mean that your mind doesn’t wander; but for example, if you are doing a meditation that asks that you focus your attention on your breath, you become mindful when you notice your focus begin to drift  and then re-direct focus back without judgment (so without thinking to yourself, “God, I’m such a shit because I can’t keep focusing on my breath”).  So just to clarify, sometimes people hear the word “mindfulness” and they think it means “meditation”.

There are several types of meditations:  breath, mantra, progress relaxation, guided imagery, etc.. Many types asked you to concentrate,  You are being asked to focus on  breath, body part, phrase, or the particular imagery.  You use mindfulness to bring your mind back to the particular focus when your mind wanders.

So, In Chapter 3 of Second Firsts, “Life Re-entry – stage 1″, you are asked to mindfully take a look at your current life and how it differs from your life before loss.  For example, What did you used to do that you are no longer doing?  and What is different about you and those around you?

For me, my life before loss seems so long ago.  I feel like my losses have aged me beyond my years.  When I look back at those early years of our marriage, it feels like we were kids, even though we were in our 30’s.  Some of things that are different are that we don’t “party” much now.  And I don’t just mean drinking alcohol (although neither of us do much of this at all now).  We did lose a lot of friends with our multiple losses.  After my first miscarriage, like my first heart attack, our living room was filled with casseroles, flowers, cards, and visitors.  But as I guess it is to be expected, by the time you are on your third miscarriage, and your fourth heart surgery..people just get too tired to hang in there.  I joked to my husband that when I finally had bypass surgery in 2010, one small dish garden arrived from my mother-in-law, bless her heart.  But I really have to say that there were an incredible few that have stuck by me through everything, and for whom I am forever grateful.

So some of what’s different:  less parties and socializing; a closer knit small support network; less optimism, more depression; I don’t make long term plans;  it feels like we’ve aged more than our chronological years; I stopped dancing and going to the gym and took up yoga instead; less money- I lost a lot of work time, racked up a lot of bills from being in and out of the hospital, and cardiac rehab, and I had to change jobs; I used to be really into “my career” and would go to conferences, facilitate more workshops, speak at events – now I work and come home; I used to pay more attention to my hygiene, wear makeup, get my nails done sometimes; now I rarely shower; I spend more time on the computer; my family fell apart when my mom passed away during this time- she truly held us together at least for holidays- now it’s “every man for him/herself”; A couple things that have changed in a positive direction:  my marriage has come through this stage stronger; and there are times when I can truly connect with spirit and have a profound sense of gratitude for simple things when I am rested, and not overwhelmed; I found a wonderful support network on-line that I recently got connected to.

February 20, 2014

Grief Cleanse Part V

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , , — Frances Chamberlain @ 5:38 am

Hello Grief?  Can you come out tonight to talk?

Yes, I’m here; Where else would I be?

I was half hoping, you wouldn’t answer.

Well, I’m still here, you won’t be able to get rid of me by doing “exercises” from a little book.

Like I said, I was half hoping.  Half hoping that this shit was working.  That if I do the exercises in the book that I would feel better.  I would have some room, space to create a new life.  And, actually, there have been a few days when I’ve felt a little bit..free; a little bit free to begin to stretch my mind, and begin to think differently; begin to think that sometimes things may work out.

I appreciate that you have been letting me out a bit.  But you will not be “getting rid of me” anytime soon.  The losses you’ve incurred happened, and they have had a profound effect upon your life.  Let me let you in on a few things.. First:  I don’t enjoy weighing you down.  I don’t have these devious plans to ruin you and leave you lobotomized.  I don’t receive any pleasure in this process.  1.    I just, “am”.  I’m a complex set of feelings:  sadness, fear, and anger.  If you need to break me down, then these are my major components.  Sure, there are many other words to describe these main feelings, and sometimes a few choice expletives help to emphasize the intensity level of the pain.  2.  The trauma of the past is over.  And you survived.  3.  The “grief cleanse” is just an exercise to begin to look honestly at what you’re been hiding from for the past couple years.  4.  Sometimes people need a few years when having been through multiple losses in a relatively short period of time; A few years, in the “waiting room” – to use the phrase from the book, Second Firsts.  5.  You have been strengthening your ego by being able to “get shit done”, while putting me away.  That process was valuable because it bred courage and resilience.  6.  However, it splits you in two, and continues to break your heart.  When you consciously face me, and you begin to process these complex feelings (i.e. grief), you do have space, energy, time to begin to create your new life.

 

Last night, I was enjoying the Olympic ice dancing and watching this prompted me to begin reviewing past Olympic performances; first reading and watching about the Usova/Gritchuk/Platov/Zhulin love triangle years…(What an intriguing soap opera that produced fierce rivalries, and wonderful performances!).  This led to watching several performances of my favorite pair skaters, Ekaterina Gordeeva and Sergei Grinkov.  They were exceptional and won gold medals in pair skating in two Olympics – I believe it was 1988 and 1994.  In between that time, they got married, had a beautiful daughter, and continued to give figure skating some of the most incredible performances ever seen.  “G and G” as they were known were a beloved couple.  They shared their love of sport, and their love for each other in their skating.  In November, 1995, Sergei, suddenly died of a heart attack during a practice session on the ice in Lake Placid, NY.  Gordeeva, his widow, along with an all-star cast, skated a tribute in his honor titled “Celebration of a Life” in February 1996, which was later televised.  Thanks to “youtube”, I was able to watch much of this tribute.  Watching Gordeeva’s skate in memory of her husband moved me to tears and reminded how incredibly fragile live can be.   It was such a poignant story – their love, their passion, his untimely death, and her courage to begin again; starting a solo skating career.  Initially she looked so small and fragile without Sergei, but she got stronger each year and a few years later, she created a new life with a new family.  It’s truly an inspirational story; that allowed me to feel some of my own complex feelings related to my heart attacks and losses.

Working my way through my anxious feelings related to cheating death on several occasions, I begin to feel this underlying theme of gratitude.  Gratitude is something I can count on to shift and transform negativity toward appreciation and love.  I am grateful that I am here today.  I am grateful for my health, my loving relationship with my husband, my wonderful friends, my home, job, …many, many things.

That’s what this “grief cleanse” is doing for me…allowing me to work through some long held pain to get to a better place.  I can see where I seem to have a bit more of the psychic space available when I attend to my “stuff”.  I can breathe slower, deeper, more consistently; and dare I say..I can begin to feel calm and peaceful.

February 15, 2014

Grief Cleanse – Part IV

Filed under: Uncategorized — Frances Chamberlain @ 6:03 am

And on the fourth day, there were tears… I guess that’s what happens when you continue to knock upon “Grief’s door”.  Hot streaming tears that kept coming and the more they did, the more I felt my heart chakra close up even tighter.  I thought crying would “clear the channel” so to speak, but nope, in an attempt to shield against more loss, pain, and disappointment, I felt that part of my body tighten up even more.  I read somewhere that sometimes this sort of thing happens.  The fear of risking future loss keeps you trapped in the “waiting room” – the place between lives; the life you had before the loss (es), and the new life after loss.  After what feels like hours of sobbing, I finally stop.  I didn’t think I would.  But I did stop.

The dam broke, and finally my heart did soften.

I know that my thoughts are not productive at times.  I recite the litany of losses..Suffering multiple losses for several years in a row, I reinforce how these experiences have obliterated my faith in the future.  Heart attacks, miscarriages, my mother’s death, my father’s decline.. and ongoing financial/job/career struggle..it is just too much.  I feel like giving up, but have no idea what that means.  I know this happens, I know I do this…I fall into my own trap of the infinite loop of loss, reciting the events to myself, remembering the times I kept getting up, trying again, truly using all the resources at my disposal, only to be knocked down once again.  I want to step outside of this whole thing.  I wish I could rewind the clock and start again. Many days,  I don’t know how I will ever get over not being able to become a mother.  Losing my mother,  my babies,  my ability to carry a pregnancy because of my heart condition.   Losing my health, and coming so close to death on several occasions; I try to find meaning in this whole “journey”.   When I was younger, I spent years trying to repair and heal my heart, and get out of the  loop of “stents, and cracks, and heart attacks, bypass surgery.  I couldn’t think about adopting when I honestly didn’t think that I would live long.  I didn’t think it would be fair to do this at the time.  And now the years have gone by, and my past has aged me, made me weary, and depressed.  It’s not a consideration now.  I have to let go of this.  It’s so hard to do.  I feel cheated.  The unfairness is appalling to me; but life isn’t fair.  I know this.  I try to accept this.  Some days I’m better at pretending than others.

That last paragraph right there…that is some of the ongoing commentary that plays along with the ever present, “Why do people have to suffer, if God is a loving and forgiving God?”  I don’t have answers.  It’s best not to go there.  I have to jump any negative cognitive loops – the litany of loss, the “why, why, why questions”, and I also have to be mindful of the negative thought spirals…the “this sucks, that sucks….everything sucks” spiral for example.  Yeh, I know the pitfalls.  I’m not dumb.  I’m not dumb.  I’m not dumb.

I’m depressed.  I want to scream this sometimes.  I feel sensitive.  Everything hurts.  Criticism, joking around, small talk..ouch!  It all bites.

But…eventually with the tears… my heart did soften for a bit.  A small reprieve.  I think to myself, I have to remember this.  Allowing myself to move through this stuff, all the way to the other side of it, helps me to feel some relief.

The “Intervention”..

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — Frances Chamberlain @ 6:01 am

I think I mentioned the whole..difficulty with showering thing.. you know, “even the water hurts”… Well on the tearful day, two of my work friends confronted me about needing to “step it up” in the self care department.  F..U..C..K.. Really? My immediate reaction…defensive, and irritated; then I just wanted to fall on the floor and give up right there… “Do you have any idea how hard it is for me to even keep going?”, I want to scream.  But I was able to really see that you know, they were right.. I’ve never been quite so neglectful of my own hygiene.  I want to roll around in my own shit, and be buried in it.  Many days I don’t have the strength to get up… and yet, I do.  Because I do.  So, I begrudgingly make a pact to get my ass in gear in the mornings.  Step one.  Talk about getting “Back to Basics”.  I swear I have to come to terms with the fact, that if it is truly time to start moving forward again, then I have to recognize that my new life is not going to be like my old life.  I have been changed over time, with the events, circumstances, and experiences that have occurred the past several years.  

I get home after this day of tears and confrontation, to have my husband also jump on the bandwagon.. well, look it, he says, “I wasn’t sure how to say this but I’m glad it was brought up today… apparently he also has been noticing my disheveled appearance lately, my closet emptied cause all my clothes are lying in piles on the floor;  He says he will help me to “get moving” in the mornings.  Part of me wants to kick his ass, and the other part feels like “I get it”.  I can at least begin to do this with regularity…personal hygiene.  It’s time to step outside the comfort zone of bit; get out of the sweats, and get clean.  Step one.  That’s where I am today.  Fuck.

February 1, 2014

Grief Cleanse – part III

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — Frances Chamberlain @ 5:52 am

Grief, Will you come out to speak?

Grief:  I am here with you.  I saw you watching Martha Graham’s dance, “Lamentation”, and I said, “Yes, Yes, Yes”; She – (you, Frances) is allowing herself to feel the sorrow and anguish.   I’m glad that you watched the piece tonight because in that piece, Martha is grief.  She is.. Me.  The feeling communicated through that dance is me.  I know that you know this.  I’m angst ridden, I spin my wheels, I push against boundaries, I make it hard for you to contain yourself.  I want to jump out of your skin.  I want to be set free, but by my very nature, I get no ultimate release.  There is no catharsis.  I’m screaming muffled screams.  I want you to stop what you are doing, stop acting like you have it all together, stop it.  I want you to pay attention to me.  You were tired today.   I know I had kept you up last night.  I wanted you to stay home with me today.  I needed the day.  A personal grief day.  But of course you didn’t, couldn’t, whatever your excuse is; I didn’t get my way…my time and space, and so I jumped on your back, and made you carry me around all day while I put my feet up.  I know that sometimes you “get it”.  That you have to listen to me, validate me.  Haven’t we already gone over this?  But you keep saying, we have to do this, and this, and this.  Just one more thing, one more phone call, meeting, group, report.  I make you tired.  I know you say you want it to be easier, but then you keep up your bullshit.  And yes, Frances, you have a lot of bullshit, even though you often accuse everyone else of being full of it.  

Here’s tip:  Learn to say no more often.  No maybe bullshit either.  “NO!”, Get it?!  NO, NO, NO, NO, NO.  Say it loud and proud, Frances and quit wasting your time and energy on bullshit.  You’ve got pretty damn good radar now, and so anytime you can’t say a definite and enthusiastic “Yes!” to something; then it’s a “No!”.

What’s the one thing you want people to know about your losses today?

Grief:  That I need breaks.  That I’m taking care of myself by saying no.  That it’s not personal.

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(photograph from google images)

January 31, 2014

Day 2 of the Grief Cleanse

Grief, Will you come out to speak?

I do notice resistance when I ask this question, I want to distract with games, and nonsense; anything not to think and feel about loss, but I have to remind myself that I need to do this because I’m tired of living in the “waiting room”  — a term coined by Christina Rasmussen for the space between your old life, and the new life after loss..it’s kind of purgatory of “getting through your days”, feeling overwhelmed, exhausted, and distressed because of the difference between your outward appearance, and your internal feeling state.  I’ve lived there now for a long time and sometimes people never come out of it.  They settle for this “half-life” because to truly move forward would mean risking loss again, and/or letting go of some part of their old life that they are hanging onto.

The other day I read this quote, “”The phrase “broken” is a good one to start from. When the stresses of life build up to a certain point, whether it’s the loss of someone you love or the loss of a job or a divorce, we all would understand when you say, “That really broke me down,” meaning it was a change that ended in making us a little more cynical or scared or unable to cope. But there is this other possibility that after the breaking, we can open up more into who are supposed to be, in the way that a flower breaks out of the confines of a bud into its full blossoming.” -From Broken Open by Elizabeth Lesser

I want to do the work I need to do to move forward in my life; to find out what moving forward would look like.  I am willing to risk losing again, getting sick again.  What is that phrase?..the one about it being better to have loved and lost rather than to have never known love..?  something like that.  Well, I’m ready to find out what the next step is in my life path.  It’s not what I had planned.  I had wanted children, I didn’t want to have a heart condition, I didn’t want my mom to die too young or my dad to have Alzheimer’s, or my extended family members to be distant, not get along, have the difficulties that they do.  I think of the one legged bird that my husband and I found on vacation that spent time with us two summers in a row.  It was so symbolic.  That bird could fly.  He still could fly and do just about everything that all his friends could do, he just had the one leg.  When you think about it almost everyone has “something”, some kind of handicap or stressor that hinders them.  At least I know what mine are, and I survived.  I’m here, so I’m ready, God, to move forward, and so I will move past this resistance regarding this exercise and ask again, “Grief, will you come out to speak tonight?”

Grief:  Hello, I wasn’t quite sure it was you the first time you asked.  I’m not used to being asked “out”.  I definitely didn’t think you would ask me two nights in a row.  Perhaps this is some sort of courting attempt?  Huh?  An attempt to get to know me, Your Grief, better,  to try and be ok with everything?  I have to tell you that I am still a little resentful at how you’ve cast me aside for so long, but I will RSVP, because I do have things to say.  First of all, I was impressed today how you handled the stress at work.  I notice you being kinder to yourself, and that is a relief to me.  Like I said before, it is not my intention to make you miserable, but I need some time and space, and attention, or else I get really cramped, and irritable that there is no room for me to breathe, and be able to integrate into your life in a way that is meaningful.  This is really what I want to do.  We.. (and I say “we” because Grief is not one thing, it is a cluster of pain, sorrow, anger, fear, and more) only want for you to learn the lessons that you can from your losses so that you can start to get out of the “waiting room”.  See?  We want the same thing as you, but you don’t get to do this without taking us with you.  When you do this, and integrate the pain and loss, the shit acts as fertilizer for your tremendous growth.  It can serve you.  So pay attention, and thank you again for your invite tonight.  I wanted to point out that it appeared as though you had a very calm, productive, and manageable day today as a result of letting me out to express myself yesterday.  This grounded sense of self, and the peacefulness that came with it, can be more than a rare occurrence.  Just take time to check in, in an authentic way each day; make time to acknowledge your feelings which are valuable for you, in that they are an emotional guidance system, that gives you important information that together provide you wisdom and grace.  My message for tonight to you, Frances, is that you being sick, poor, angry, sad, tired, and berating yourself will not help others to be well, rich, happy, rested, and feel good about themselves.   Check in with your feelings tomorrow several times throughout the day and see where you can turn toward what would make you feel better, more happy, free, loved, and at peace.  I think you’ll find that this will help you take your own health, happiness, and freedom more seriously; meaning, that these are things that will help you feel better…turning toward happiness, letting me out to speak so that I can begin to reduce the intensity level of distress that I seem to cause only when I’m hidden, tucked away.

What is the one thing that I wish others would acknowledge about your losses?

I guess this would be that “I’m doing the best I can”.

January 30, 2014

Grief Cleanse

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — Frances Chamberlain @ 4:57 am

I took about a week or so away from the computer, but wanted to write tonight, because I am reading, “Second Firsts” by Christina Rasmussen; and am really resonating with this book.  I am doing the exercises too.  In a nutshell, the book is about life after loss; In it, she gives you a good map for making small shifts toward moving out of grief, and into your new life.  After loss, your life is not the same.  This new life doesn’t have anything to do with your old life.

I feel comforted by her words, and the book really validates my own experience.   After I lost my mother to ovarian cancer, nothing was the same.  Our family split apart.  I had 3 miscarriages, my husband and I both lost our jobs, and found new ones.  I had 3 heart attacks, 9 stents, and heart bypass surgery.  With each loss, or heart event,  I thought, “Ok, this is bottom.  This is the worst.” , then another trap door would open.

She describes the “silence” of grief, and the “heaviness”; as well as how loss ages you- physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.  One line in the first chapter, the author states, “Even the water running in the shower is painful”, after her husband’s death.  That is it, exactly!  I have always been pretty meticulous regarding my own personal hygiene, but quite honestly, the thought of the energy it takes to go through the process of showering in the morning is prohibitive.  Being cold, the noise and force of the water, it all feels like too much most days.  But I digress… anyhow, the book is good; I believe the author knows what she is talking about, and is honest in her accounting of her own story of loss, and learning to live again.

So, the first technique mentioned is called, “The Grief Cleanse”.  For a whole week, you are asked to block out 30 minutes to give your grief the attention it wants, so that you can begin to move through it.

You ask your grief to come out and speak.  You notice your resistance to this request, and to the notion of letting your grief free.  When you notice resistance, you are asked to remind yourself why you need to do this exercise, and give your own meaningful reasons for wanting to move through this.  Ask the question again, if needed.  Write for 30 minutes stream of consciousness writing, becoming aware of body sensations, patterns of words and feelings that repeat themselves, noticing any surprises about the writing.

And then at the end of the time, you ask yourself, “What is the one thing today that I wish people would acknowledge about my loss (es)?

In doing this, you take charge of your grieving and properly acknowledge it, and experience it so that you can make room for yourself to imagine a “time after loss”.

It’s taken me some time to do this, I’ve felt much resistance.  I had to keep working, and paying bills, and doing, doing, doing after each thing that knocked the wind out of me.  I started to go through the process of healing on all levels for a couple months, right after the final heart surgery.  I felt great, and had a bit of consolidated time to recover, rehab, journal, and rest, but once those few weeks were up, after years of devastating setbacks, I had to get “back in the saddle again”, and deal with all the “stuff”–the part of life that doesn’t stop to wait until you feel better.

I’ve been exhausted on all levels trying to do this..this living duality, of fully functioning woman who is carrying a backpack of grief, sadness, fear, etc..For the past two years, I’ve been living in the “gap between two lives”.  The life I had before all the losses, and the life “after loss”.  According to the book, Second Firsts, there is a name for this place, called “The Waiting Room”.  I’ve stayed here long enough.  I have to say that I’ve done this because I am afraid.  I am afraid of risking more loss, getting sick again, something or someone else being taken from me.

So, Part I:  Ok Grief, Will you come out to speak?

Grief:  For so long you have kept me locked up inside that I’ve had no where to go, no space to breath so I’ve had to find times when you were overwhelmed, vulnerable, irritated, tired, to leak out; making your emotional responses to things feel out of control at times.  Like for example when you lose your shit, if someone cuts you off in traffic, isn’t moving fast enough; or you dissolve into tears if someone asks you to do something, and you can’t answer the phone because making excuses is too much to bear.  When you blow up at your husband for commenting on your appearance when he is meaning to compliment you but you automatically assume it is a criticism…”Don’t look at me”, “Don’t judge me!”  When you have others walking on egg shells around you because they know you look like a ticking time bomb so they keep their distance, and step lightly.  Then you get pissed off at people for not having balls enough to be more direct, if something is bothering them.  Yes, all the times your have been such a joy to live with, that was me, Grief, leaking out, getting you flustered, panicked, but mostly irritated at the least little thing.  LIke, Glenn Close, in fatal attraction, “I won’t be ignored”.  I don’t want to make things miserable for you but you have to validate and acknowledge me.  Make some room for me, stop pushing yourself so much.  If you don’t, I’m afraid you will get sick again.  Self care is not an option, it has to be mandatory or you will die.  It’s ok to acknowledge me, if you let  me out, the intensity level of resistance and stress will decrease.  No one else is going to to care for you but you.  I could repeat this, but I think you have got the message.  Most people won’t get it.  The people in your life today weren’t there for all the heartbreak.  They don’t know what you’ve gone through.  After all, you do clean up pretty well, and no one would guess that you had been critically ill, that you’ve been devastated by loss and not being able to have children, that you’ve lost your mom, and that your dad is dying.  That is a lot to deal with.  That is a lot to deal with.  You have done the best you could.  And now it is time to get ready to leave the waiting room, and prepare for your life after loss.  You can’t keep falling into old routines of just getting through your days, staying up too late, spending time distracting with the stupid computer or mindless t.v.  Although I do like your choices of shows lately..and Downton Abbey is a good one.  You can’t keep isolating, and picking up old clothes from the floor each day, throwing up your hair in a knot at the last minute, and adding more stress to your life…hurrying, driving too fast, multi-tasking; You can’t keep over compensating at work for fear of being laid off, or trying to figure out the politics, driving yourself nuts with idiotic people pleasing behaviors to try and hide the fact that you are seething with resentment that you need more time to yourself.  These are some of the things you can’t afford to do anymore.  And here’s what you can do.. cultivate silence and stillness; meditate, get some light, sun on your face, take breaks; do what you’re expected to and no more.  Set healthy boundaries, get to bed at a regular time.  That’s enough for now.  Thank you for allowing me to speak tonight.  You have lost a lot.  You lost a big part of the life you had intended for yourself.  But, you have demonstrated great courage, tenacity, resilience, and have genuine desire to make the most out of the life you’ve been given.  If you take care of your breath, then the breath will take care of everything else.  Breathe, deeper, slower, consistently, fully.

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