August 17th 2006
This week in the Yoga for Grief Support class our topic was understanding the physical symptoms of grief.
From what I have learnt in my own journey and through yoga and grief training, I have come to understand that the body experiences grief in its own way. It has its own way of talking and of expressing the hurt and pain of grief. It's the body saying "I'm hurt."
These physical symptoms of grief are just like the symptoms of a cold (a sore throat and runny nose) telling your body that it needs special attention. When you get a cold, you rest more, drink more fluids and take the time to get well. The same is true with the body in grief. It's wisdom is telling you to take special care of yourself...Our practice is one of learning to listen.
Some physical symptoms of grief include:
I can list some general symptoms of how the body experiences grief, but beyond that it becomes a personal journey of paying attention, listening and having compassion towards your hurting body. Every body is different. Every loss is different. Every individual journey is different. These symptoms cannot be prescribed to anyone. It is a matter of feeling your own body and being curious about what you feel and why.
I came across the journal excerpt above this afternoon. It is an excellent example of making my own meaning from my experience...from feeling my body, and relating it to how I was feeling in a broad, all encompassing sense - difficulty and strain in "holding myself up." I truly believe that we all have our own answers, and given the time and space to explore we can make our own movement, and find our own way. Sometimes all we need is to know that our bodies have something to say, and that it is OK to listen. In fact, more than listen...we can trust that our bodies know what to do.
So, if you pay attention and notice how and where your body hurts, then you can decide how to take care of it. In hindsight (things are always SO clear in hindsight) I would have listened to my aching body and my sore legs. I would have had more baths, said NO to more commitments that made me uncomfortable and caused cramping in my guts. I would have rested more...slowed down. But, hindsight is hindsight....I did the best I could at the time with what I knew and I love myself for that....
Something very important is happening.
Anyone who ever has lost someone, or who will lose someone has to know.
That's everyone. That's me, and you and someone you know.
There are changes coming to the DSM-V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders).
Which, to make a long story short, will make it easier for people who are grieving to be diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder. Basically, if you are experiencing symptoms such as sadness, altered sleep patterns and changes in appetite, for longer than two weeks (2 WEEKS?!) after the death of a loved one, you meet the criteria for depression.
2 weeks? Are we human? Or are we robots?
I recognize that the above description is over-simplified. I recognize that in some cases, people who are grieving can, and are, diagnosed with depression and prescribed medication. I also HOPE with every fiber of my being that the decision to do so is made by a clinician who has a firm grounding and understanding in what it means as a human being to experience and live through loss as a natural and normal part of life, and NOT a pathology that can be SOLVED by medication. In some cases I'm sure medication can help, but to have a 2 week limit on a human experience like grief is scary and irresponsible, in my humble opinion.
Six months after Cam's sudden and tragic death a medical professional asked me if I had a good Christmas.
I didn't. It was horrible. It was excruciating. It was hell for me and for his family.
Christmas wasn't a celebration that year. Nor the next. Nor the one after that, if the truth be known.
Next comment made (without further conversation or acknowledgment of my reality):
"You sound depressed, you need medication."
Actually, what I needed was someone to acknowledge that feeling sad after the death of my loved one was normal. That feeling a loss of joy and lightness is a natural response to devastation. That the symptoms of grief are a wise and organic response to the fact that I had something that I loved be taken from me. That not feeling like celebrating Christmas 6 months after his death was completely congruent with my life experience and that what I needed was people to sit with me there in darkness, not fix the unfixable.
Heart to heart, another human being should understand that grief is painful, messy and life changing. AND, that it is OK...more than OK, it's part of healing a grieving heart.
A hug would have been nice as well.
Ted Gup has this to say, in an article written in the NY Times called Diagnosis: Human
"I fear that being human is itself fast becoming a condition. It’s as if we are trying to contain grief, and the absolute pain of a loss like mine. We have become increasingly disassociated and estranged from the patterns of life and death, uncomfortable with the messiness of our own humanity, aging and, ultimately, mortality.
Challenge and hardship have become pathologized and monetized. Instead of enhancing our coping skills, we undermine them and seek shortcuts where there are none, eroding the resilience upon which each of us, at some point in our lives, must rely. Diagnosing grief as a part of depression runs the very real risk of delegitimizing that which is most human — the bonds of our love and attachment to one another. The new entry in the D.S.M. cannot tame grief by giving it a name or a subsection, nor render it less frightening or more manageable.
The D.S.M. would do well to recognize that a broken heart is not a medical condition, and that medication is ill-suited to repair some tears. Time does not heal all wounds, closure is a fiction, and so too is the notion that God never asks of us more than we can bear. Enduring the unbearable is sometimes exactly what life asks of us.
But there is a sweetness even to the intensity of this pain I feel. It is the thing that holds me still to my son. And yes, there is a balm even in the pain. I shall let it go when it is time, without reference to the D.S.M., and without the aid of a pill."
Well said Ted.
I feel SO passionate about being a voice speaking out for and standing up for being human. For compassion, understanding, and vulnerability in all our hurts, griefs and frailty. As Mother Teresa said, "I have found the paradox that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love."
Let's love, people.
Of course, this is only MY opinion.
I invite you to listen to a podcast done by the BBC called Medicalising Grief. It is only available for 4 more days, so please listen soon. It is a well done, and well rounded look at the issues around the changes coming to the DSM-V and what it mean to stakeholders (drug companies...yes, interesting indeed), clinicians, you and me.
If you love someone. If you've lost someone. If you will lose someone - please listen.
Knowledge is power. Inform yourself now, so when the inevitable happens you can direct your own care and be informed about who you let into your grief to help you make decisions about your care.