The RADNUT team prides itself on its bright, positive outlook and core belief that any person can make changes in their lives to optimize their health. Health is not limited to physical function, so today we’re focusing on a psychological battle many of us fight in secrecy.
This year our life became more complicated than the perfect picture of a high fiber diet, eating vegetables, being physically active and cooking wholesome meals at home. Reality is nowhere near this picture for many of us, especially when traumatic and shocking loss hits you like a bus, leaving you broken and changed.
Dr. Craig Miller of Harvard Medical School states “grief is a shared part of the human experience.” Over the past year, we’ve learned that grief can take many forms. It may drape our souls through the diagnosis of an illness, through an injury, the loss of a bodily function with minimal chance of recovery, the loss of a future we had pictured in our minds, or through the loss of an irreplaceable loved one.
“Grief is different for every person and every loss.” We each have our own way of working through it, and that is what’s best for us. Psychologist Guy Winch states “the best course of action we can take in the aftermath of tragic events is to do exactly as our feelings dictate. Those who feel the need to share thoughts and feelings should do so, and those who need to remove themselves from such discussions should avoid them as best they can.”
Our grief created dark moments of loss and unimaginable pain. We were paralyzed by questions, countless flashbacks to the doctor’s wide, bright blue eyes when she gave us the news, and nightmares of these traumatic events recurring. Initially bathing, cooking, eating and waking up each morning realizing what we had lost all seemed impossible. For months we lacked clarity in our thoughts and had trouble forming sentences when speaking to others.
8 months later we’ve rebuilt a new version of our-self. We thankfully and proudly retain similarities to our old selves, but we’ve gained harsh differences that did not exist before. We know there are others who share a similar experience, so we’re coming out of hiding to share our journey in hopes of holding your hand along yours.
1. There is no fix.
We’ve slowly learned that there is no “fix”, there is no “going back to normal.” We are forever changed and have finally decided to stop trying to fix it. We are accepting this new normal, seeking out our light and letting it slowly guide us through.
2. Where Is Your Light?
You may think it’s gone. It is not. It takes time to find again. We discovered our “light” through spending time with family, open and honest friends, walks in nature, getting enough sleep, forcing ourselves to engage in activities we used to enjoy (which we did not enjoy initially but do now), and sharing our truest, deepest emotions with a journal and a few amazing, special, possibly non-human people.
3. Find heart work.
It took us months to figure this out- we decided to spend more time on “heart work.” If your situation allows, following your heart’s passion when your heart is broken will be easier than spending 40 hours a week at a job that makes you miserable. When you feel no passion because you are broken, try to recall what energized and fueled you in the past. Pieces of that old version of you are still in there somewhere and may respond to what you used to love to do.
Melt downs, uncontrollable tears, shaking and panic attacks consumed us when we were exhausted or had suppressed our emotions. Giving ourselves a time out to recognize, label and acknowledge emotions, getting to bed by 9:30pm and knowing we can try again tomorrow is part of trying to feel less crazy!
5. Throw away your phone.
well, not really, but kind of. Pictures of beautiful, perfect, unreal reality do not help us accept our own reality. Real life is messy, nobody shares these real moments, maybe we should start to?
You’ve heard “time will help you heal.” Our view is that time makes pain tolerable. Even months later there are days we’re hit with grief and we fear we’re back at square one. We’ve discovered this is normal. Special dates, significant events, or stress can trigger such a response. What helps us is knowing that it won’t feel this intense forever. The pain and loss are always a part of us, but this won’t be the permanent state you are in.
7. Faking it.
“Faking” trying to be our old selves led to extreme exhaustion and feeling like we were never good enough because we could no longer function the way we used to. We were freed from this through the wise words of a special woman “you’re just going to have to be good with good enough.” Now we try to spend time in environments that bring out our natural enthusiasm and happiness. We have accepted that some days we will excel and function at optimal capacity and other days we’re going to need to be okay with “good enough.” Yes, this may be shocking to those who set unrealistic standards for themselves, but maybe it’s time for a reality check and to show yourself some kindness and compassion?
8. When will this go away.
It will probably never completely go away. It takes as long as it takes, but it gets easier.
9. Feeling like something is always missing and not knowing how to live without it.
Initially we felt this every minute of everyday; now it pops up around holidays, when we have a moment alone to brush our teeth, or maybe when we walk to the train. The reality is that something or someone, maybe the most important someone to you, IS always missing. It or they cannot come back, no matter how many times we play it over in our minds, no matter how many questions we ask, no matter the fact that it makes no sense, it cannot be the same. For that, we are so so sorry. We hope that in time you find ways to allow your mind to rest. Music, deep breathing, positive mantras, distraction, being creative, and spending time with our beautiful nephew and niece has been our medicine.
Words are hard. There are no words to explain feeling completely incomplete and empty. We felt this way for a long time. When the words and pain are suppressed, it may be disguised as irritability or anger towards family or friends, isolation, exploding tears at random times, or feeling like nothing brings us true joy. We hope you can find a therapeutic outlet for your emotions. It could be dance, drawing, creating something, hiking, journaling, emailing someone you trust (preferably something unique to you). We stole an idea from artist Mari Andrew where we draw a large heart on a page, labeling the page “My September Heart” and creatively write down all our emotions and experiences, positive and negative, from the previous month. We continue this practice to reflect on what we’ve been through and how the positives are now slowly outnumbering the negatives.
When you think that people think you should be “over” your trauma and you are not. If you bring it up they become awkward or silent because they have no idea what to say and then you feel ignored or insignificant. Many will not understand your pain, many will not know how to respond to it; It does not mean that they do not care for you. There is a stigma associated with discussing grief and loss in our society. But, simply because it is difficult for someone to support you in this situation does not mean they do not care. After recurrent cycles of suppressed emotions followed by exploding emotions we understood that we needed to implement some strategies. At times we bring up the topic, trying to normalize it and show we still need to talk about it. Alternatively, we’ve written out our emotions in our cell phone, taken 5 minute time outs for a walk or a cry, or sent a message to a good friend to find relief and move forward, instead of stewing in our grief.
12. Thinking you’re alone.
You are not, we are here with you, we may even pass you on the street, we have felt your excruciating pain in our heart, we share our strength with you and we fight this hidden battle with you.
The best thing we learned was that our happiness does not need to solely be linked to what we have lost. It does not need to depend upon another. We are allowed to seek happiness in other parts of life and this is what helps us to feel human and alive again.
Guy Winch. 2013. Emotional First Aid. Amazon.ca
To the one who cannot be with us. We love you. We will forever keep you in our heart where you will always represent true love, simplicity, amazement, and purity.