Hello Dear Friends,
It has been quite some time since I’ve written, since November. It has been a busy time with trips during the holidays, and some unexpected deaths in my family, a cousin and one of my dogs.
My husband and I, along with our other two dogs, have been actively grieving the loss of my dog, Pearl. She was one of the sweetest dogs I’d ever met, coming to our family on July 9, 2012. She was six years old at the time. And, oh, was she cute! Her hair was so smooth and the little curls made it feel bouncy. Pearl was warm and loving; cuddling and gazing at you were her favorite
A long time ago, I suffered the death of a significant relationship, a breakup. It ripped the ground right out from under me. My therapist gave me a book, How to Survive the Loss of a Love by Melba Colgrove, Ph.D., Harold H. Bloomfield, M.D., and Peter McWilliams.
I was a bit confused. No one had died, except me – inside. My therapist explained that there are all kinds of losses, death, divorce, loss of a relationship, a belief, a cherished animal, or even a lifestyle.
When I got fibromyalgia, I felt lost and depressed, like all the light had left the Universe, leaving behind pain and fatigue, and dark loneliness. The person I knew as myself had died. I went to see another therapist. I didn’t know what to do to recover some semblance of my life. What my therapist saw was a woman who felt confined to a wheelchair, but no one could see the wheelchair or the fact that my body didn’t work the same as it had before. Those were my therapist’s words. That was it; I had lost the body and the life I’d had just weeks before. She offered me a book I’d read before, How to Survive the Loss of a Love.
If you have chronic pain, you have likely suffered the loss of your lifestyle, your life, your health — your “normal self.” Though you may feel like you have, you haven’t lost who you really are.
It was as if all the bright, shiny and good things about my life had vanished. Never again would I feel joy. My emotional state was a black pit. How would I ever clear away all the darkness?
Through reading the book, and a great amount of work with and without my therapist, I regained my joy and created a new “normal self.” I had always been Type A, driven, ambitious, goal-oriented. Now I didn’t know what goals to strive toward. I couldn’t work. I was stuck in bed most of the day. Just going to the bathroom was a major event. Confusion had drawn around me and my heart like the darkness of a closed tomb.
When we are amid grief, our body and mind start a natural repairing process, but in our culture, we tend to fight such things. We put on the face of “oh, no, I’m fine.” As we speak those words, we know it feels like a lie. We aren’t fine, but we can be fine again. In grief, many things happen to our mind and heart while we are suffering a loss. For example, other than sadness or depression, we may be angry, fearful, apathetic, or pessimistic. We may lose our appetite, hope, ability to sleep or concentrate, or sex drive. We may be more clumsy than usual, drop things, or we may speak or move more slowly.
To recover, or heal, from a loss, there are three natural and necessary parts of the healing process.
Shock, Denial, and Numbness
At this point, you may not want to believe the diagnosis or how you are feeling physically or emotionally. You may think it can’t possibly be true. How can you live like this for the rest of your life
This is the time to concentrate on survival. Three suggestions from the book that helped me the most were the following.
- I had to remember that this wouldn’t kill me. I would survive the grief I felt at losing the life and body I’d known.
- If you need help, get help right away, as I did. I believe there are times (many times) when we all need a therapist. It’s likely this is one of those times for most of us.
- The book suggests reaffirming your beliefs. As a Buddhist, we believe nothing stays the same. Change is inevitable. I read a few books and followed some suggestions for meditation during chronic pain. I found that the places I felt the most pain changed immediately on discovery. I learned that the worst pain isn’t always the worst pain. Even pain changes. That gave me hope!
Fear, Anger, and Depression
This stage is the time to concentrate on mourning and healing. It isn’t the time to resist, this is a time of emotional work. If you step on a nail, you might go to the hospital to get the wound treated, you might even get a tetanus shot. In any case, you have to do something about it or you may interfere with the healing of the wound. An emotional wound is the same as a physical wound. The body has a natural sense of what is needed to heal grief. The three most helpful suggestions are as follows.
- There is no hurry. Let nature takes its course and be patient with yourself and the process. There is no timeline for healing grief. There will be steps forward and steps backward. You need to care for yourself as you would a dear friend who needed care. Nothing was more important than self-care for my healing process. I would expect that to be true for you.
- Feelings are normal, so expect to have feelings. Feelings are a part of life, and they are definitely part of the healing process. I was sad, fearful, depressed, and pissed off at the world and myself. I had myself a nice, long pity party. I remember lying in bed, tears pouring down my face, running into my ears and hair. I often said out loud, “God if you exist, I will be okay if you let me die in my sleep.” Though I meant it at the time, I wouldn’t have done it myself. One more thing here, don’t allow the expectations of another person to guide any aspect of how you feel.
- Pamper yourself and find some ways to reintroduce joy. Go to dinner and a movie with a close friend. Cuddle with your cat or dog. Get a manicure and pedicure. Take a nice bubble bath. Meditate or pray. Move your body in a way you find pleasurable. Buy flowers for your kitchen table. By pampering yourself, you remember the things that bring joy to you and your body.
Understanding, Acceptance, and Moving On
This is the time when you realize you have survived a great loss, you have changed during the healing, you know the emotional pain has lessened. You have a new understanding upon which you can build a new life.
- You are now stronger than you ever thought you could be. There is a feeling of empowerment that can come as a result of doing something you never thought you could do. I see it as a yoga teacher when someone goes upside down and into a headstand for the first time.
They stand taller, are sporting a huge smile, and the light in their eyes shines like someone put LED bulbs into their eye sockets. Although, healing from a loss takes much longer,
emotionally,than the physical demands of going upside down. You may well have that same smile and lit-up eyes. Celebrate your new, stronger, braver, badass self!
- Praise yourself for your courage. You are a different person now than you were. It’s time to see what lessons you may have learned from the loss of your “normal life.” One thing you have now is the ability to relate to those suffering the same grief you have suffered. This is a good thing! I promise. For me, I knew I could be a better, more compassionate yoga teacher. When I began doing yoga again, I started moving
myselfinto poses on the bed, then the floor, then I did yoga standing up. I learnedhow to use blocks, straps, blankets and bolsters and other yoga props in new ways to help my new body do yoga poses. I can almost feel another’s physical pain when I look at a person’s body or face. With that information, I can help a person be comfortable and get the most out of the pose by working with their body and different props. When a person is able to relax into a yoga pose, I see the transformation they feel.
- You have the choice of what your new life will be. Try some new hobbies, travel if you feel like it, discover new people, rekindle friendships you may have let dangle in the breeze. Have healthy conversations. Enjoy the freedom to choose, you are in control of how you live this new life. I know there will be limitations. Everyone’s life has some limitations, be it from the country in which you live, financial, or because of illness. But maybe there is a way to work around even those limitations. Try. Ask questions. Go out there and discover your new world.
One thing I would offer from my own experience is to get support from anyone you can find going through a similar trial in life. Those of us with chronic pain are going through something no one else understands. Find someone who does understand. But this support is not to have a bitch session. Yes, talk about how you feel, then move on to something positive. This support is to brainstorm solutions, to share what helps each of you so you may feel better and gain a greater understanding of yourself and your body.
This brings me to the purpose of The Pain Guru and this website. I am here to support you in the grieving process, and, eventually, to assist you in finding support partners, so you don’t feel alone in grieving the loss of the life you once had because you aren’t alone. There are millions of us with chronic pain. In this new world of the internet and social media, we can find one another and support each other in finding new joy in life.
One place to find others is The Pain Guru Tribe group Facebook page. We also have a Pain Guru Instagram account, @thepaingurujulie.
If you need help with chronic pain, disability or some kind of illness that causes pain, let me know. I will soon be doing remote private yoga and meditation sessions over the internet. Help is available.
And please, if you feel you cannot go on any longer, call the NATIONAL SUICIDE PREVENTION LIFELINE at 1 (800) 273-8255. For more information go to http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.
Wishing all the best!
Julie, The Pain Guru