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Good Grief

With a title like that, you might be expecting anything. Maybe you are a Charlie Brown fan and thought I was going to write something about the Peanuts or maybe you are grieving a loss and wonder what is good about it. I’m here today to talk about self grief.

I can see the wheels turning in some of your heads. Yes, I can se you scratching your head and asking, “What?” In our world, grief is often defined as a deep sorrow caused by one’s death. Given that definition, one might be tempted to argue that self grief is impossible because you cannot mourn your own death. For purposes of this post, we are going to define grief as a deep sorrow caused by loss.

There are many things in life that can be lost. You can lose your family member, your best friend, your house, your car, your job, your spouse, your health, your phone, your keys… I think you get the point. The list of things you can lose is nearly endless. Somethings we think are lost, but we quickly find them and realize they were just misplaced… keys… phone…tv remote. Other things are lost never to be found. How we deal with these losses varies from person to person.

Over the years, I’ve grieved the loss of several close family members. However, I just recently realized I’ve been grieving the loss of myself, without even realizing it. When diagnosed with CRPS in 1996 and gastroparesis two years ago, I didn’t understand what was happening to me. With CRPS, I was a happy healthy teenager. I was hiking, playing volleyball, and dancing one day. Then, suddenly I was in pain and it all came to an end. Gastroparesis was a little more subtle. I started out with not being able to eat meats. Slowly other foods were added to the list I couldn’t tolerate until I reached the point where I was vomiting everything I ate.

According to my research, grief counselors typically list five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and grief. Everyone may not go through all these stages or they might go through them in a different order. Looking back, I can clearly see where I’ve gone through all these stages.

I definitely started with denial. I put on a smiley face and tried to pretend nothing had changed. When asked how I was, I told everyone I was okay, even though I really wasn’t. I guess it was just easier to say and pretend everything was okay than to face the fact that my pain was being caused by an incurable chronic illness known as CRPS. With gastroparesis, looking back, the denial phase isn’t as obvious to me. I couldn’t ignore or hide the fact that I was vomiting every time I ate and it was causing me to shed pounds really fast. I’m sure there was a period of denial, I just can’t see it.

Then, along came anger. At the time I was facing it, I didn’t really know why I was angry. I was just angry. It seemed as though even the most simple things made me angry. It felt as though I was angry at everyone and everything. Looking back, I realize what I was actually angry at was my situation. Due to my chronic illness, my life had quickly become a mess and I felt as though I had no control. I was angry that my life had changed. I was angry that I could no longer do the things I once enjoyed. I was angry because I didn’t want to adapt to my new life.

Bargaining… did I ever bargain. I bargained with myself and I bargained with God. I made promises that if this happened I would do that. I think this stage and anger overlapped for me. I found myself calling out to God in anger and asking why? Why did I have to be in pain? What did I do? Why does my life have to be this way?

After a while, depression began to set in. My new life wasn’t accepted by many. I was no longer the person I used to be and my friends began to disappear one by one, until it seemed as though I didn’t have any friends. For me, anger and depression also went hand in hand. My anger was often followed by crying and wanting to shut myself up in a dark room, alone away from the rest of the world. I just needed alone time to sort through my emotions, my feelings. While facing depression, I denied being depressed and tried to tell people I was fine, but the best decision I ever made was to see a psychologist.

Acceptance. This is a fairly new stage for me. I only came to accept my chronic illnesses recently. I’ve realized that even though my life seems like it’s been tossed in a bag and shaken up at times, it’s still my life and I have to make the most of it. I’ve made that choice. I’ve realized my life is a work in progress. I must choose to make the most of even the smallest accomplishment and tiniest moments of happiness. Some days just getting out of bed is like climbing a mountain. On those days, I have to remind myself that I’ve accomplished something big, just by getting up. Other days, I may walk six feet with my walker or go several hours without vomiting. While these may seem like baby steps to the healthy person, they are giant leaps for those of us with chronic illness.

Looking back, I can see where I grieved losing myself. Looking forward, I know some of these steps may come back. I’m sure there’s going to be days that I get angry because my illnesses keep me from being able to do things I really want to do. However, I now see how it all comes together in the end. If you are grieving yourself because of a chronic illnesses, I assure you that your feelings, whether it be denial, anger, bargaining, depression, or acceptance, are normal. I also encourage you to join a support group. Meeting people with similar struggles, who seem to truly understand what I am going through, has really helped me accept the situation I am in. And remember that even in your darkest moments, when you feel like no one cares, there is someone out there who needs you and loves you.

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