Good grief!

 

Yesterday’s visit with my therapist did not unfold as I thought it would.

I thought my therapist and I would talk about whether to accept the place I am in relation to low- to mid-level Anxiety on a daily basis. I have found ways to manage the Anxiety and have It occupy less of my days than before … and more days with low Anxiety, not mid- to high to panic attack-levels.

But that’s not what we talked about. We talked about identity change, loss, and grieving.

There are many ways your identity can change. You may become a parent. You may change jobs. You may be going through a divorce.

Some changes can be very positive. Others may fill you with an intense sense of loss.

Well, as I was describing my situation, it became clear that while Anxiety was still a problem, the major issue that I was talking about was that I’ve been experiencing a lot of sadness due to loss … the loss of my former self. And, thus, I am grieving.

I know I’ve written much about this before, but here’s a refresher: We all have to deal with loss and sometimes an identity change in the process.

For instance, you may experience a health problem which forces you to drastically change your diet and daily practices. Depending on the extent of changes, you may feel as if your identity has changed somewhat or even a lot. You may find yourself cut off from certain social ties because you can’t go out to eat with friends who regularly gather at your once-favorite restaurant. Perhaps you have to quit smoking because of this health issue. Again, in addition to that loss, you lose some of your social ties. On top of all that, you absolutely hate your new diet and the attention you have to place on certain daily practices.

Your identity has changed, and because of that you may grieve that loss. The grief may be most intense at the beginning. But that grief may be resurrected at certain times — when you walk by your once-favorite restaurant, when you smell the smoke of others smoking cigarettes. This grief may also come at you at truly unexpected times and for quite some time in the future.

The analogy is not perfect, but almost three years ago I had a major months’ long bout with serious Depression and Anxiety. All my meds changed. And the truly trauma-inducing experience changed my orientation to the world and my place in it. Some things I used to never be afraid of became major sources of Anxiety. Triggers turned on that I thought I had long healed myself of. I made it through, but Depression and Anxiety gave me a beating before They were forced to back off because of meds and brain tricks I’ve had to teach myself.

In the process part of my identity changed. Right now, I don’t feel comfortable just blurting out in this blog post all the ways I changed. But plenty of things are different about me. Many of the changes I am not pleased with. Some of the changes are even good … although that is hard to admit sometimes.

All this is to say, my therapist noticed I was talking more about acceptance of my Anxiety where it is at (at least for now). But what I was really talking about — grappling with — was loss, sadness, and grief.

We used my whole visit to talk about loss and grief and how natural that was. My therapist didn’t give me ways to escape that grief. She just noted it was natural and often healthy.

Good grief!

 

3 Comments

  1. Cori 4 February 2018 at 10:22 am

    Michael I can truly identify with this. all of the changes that I’m going through with moving and having Dave come back home.
    He’s been gone for 3 whole months. When he comes home he’ll be a different person. New surroundings to get used to. New habits to get used to. New routines to get used to.
    Everything will be different.
    As I prepare to move, I`m downsizing on a lot of our items. There is a certain sense of loss to some of them, there’s some grief, but also some hope in the new future.

     
  2. Tracey 16 February 2018 at 10:50 pm

    Thanks for this post Michael. I am rarely on facebook or any social media, but I always appreciate running across your posts and blogs. This one offers me some helpful perspective that I haven’t considered before.
    I think that some of your words struck a chord of familiarity. I started therapy for depression and anxiety 5 years ago now. Not long after that, I started trying different medications to help me along the way. (I acknowledge that this is a long story, and I hope it’s not sucking all the air out of the room.)

    A lot has happened over this time. I separated from my husband, went back to school, went through a number of psychiatrists (some of whom gave me bad medical advice with meds), and I subsequently became so fatigued and sedated from the drugs I was taking (strictly by a dr’s recommendations) that I flunked out of classes (there were other factors too), ran out of savings, and could no longer exercise and often couldn’t get up to go to work. I no longer had energy to cook for myself, to clean, or to do much anything else. I even spent a week mentally walking through all the financial and property arrangements I needed to make in order to kill myself properly. It’s been a little over a year since that time and I got a new psychiatrist (who has lasted me a year so far–she’s amazing) and am on drugs that have brought me to a substantially better place. I still don’t have a normal amount of energy, but it’s much more than last year at this time. I still don’t cook much for myself. I barely exercise. Cleaning…well…sometimes. I eat a lot of chocolate, and I gained weight. I just got divorced last month. I have a cat. I have my old last name back.

    All this time, I’ve been focused on what I used to do in my past–with the energy I had, the achievements I did make, expecting to get it back again. But it doesn’t come–when I get close to it (the idea of starting over and re-building), the energy is fleeting. It is changed by the season, by a cold, by a new job, by this, by that. It’s been a roller coaster. Everytime I get more energy, I think, “this is it. I finally get to return to who I was.”

    It’s also been a roller coaster of acceptance. Some days I know that today, this is who I am, and I don’t know what will happen tomorrow. Other days, my gaze is fixed tightly on what all I could do yesterday and if only I had my energy back, I could be that person again. I never considered that gaining acceptance is also part of the greiving process. I never thought of it as letting go of an old self who is now passed (or past). But this is helpful. In my continued effort to get to a “normal energy level” with drugs, I am trying to figure out ways I can improve the depression through things I do have the energy for. –things I’ve always taken for granted, and often not even considered as anything. I am finally accepting that I may never get my old energy back, so I have to focus on where I am today if I want to improve at all. I think I am getting closer to accepting. All this time, I thought of myself as just being in denial of my new reality, but I think that considering grief of loss is a bit of self compassion I haven’t thought to offer myself. Grief, a thing that likely adds to the weight of the depression and the fight against gravity. I learn more every day how important self compassion is to the healing process. And how hard self compassion can be to practice when you’re not in a healthy place. So thank you for that, Michael. I admire that you are so willing to share openly with people.

    I hope that in your own exploration of grief that you find pieces of fortitude and self-care that help bring you to closer to who you are today–and making you stronger and happier in the process too, of course. ;o) Take care.

     
    • Michael Dahl 17 February 2018 at 6:29 am

      Tracey:

      If ever you would like / need to talk, I am there for you. You are such an amazing person with incredible skills and talents as well as one of the best examples of how to truthfully express empathy.

      Thank you so much for sharing your story. Of course, I am so sad you had to live through it.

      Your friend.
      Michael

       

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