Expressing Grief

I’ve been wanting to write about grief and crying for awhile now. Since I wrote about emotions last week I figured it was time to talk more about this feeling. Yes, part of dealing with depression is talking about these uncomfortable feelings. : /

One of the therapists I first saw shared an observation I’d never noticed in myself. My body was visibly showing my unexpressed grief. My shoulders were leaning in towards my chest. She said it was my body’s attempt to physically protect my heart. You may have seen an exaggeration of this in cartoon drawings of characters who are sad. They’re practically leaning forward, with their arms hanging in front of them, and their head down. I’ve seen people do this, my youngest son included (this is in response to not getting what he wants!). Unfortunately with some it’s become a permanent way of carrying themselves, they don’t straighten up anymore.

This was eye opening for me. I’d never linked the action of bringing in the shoulders with grief or sadness. I associated it with insecurity. Okay, so why am I mentioning this? It has to do with how our body starts to physically change when there’s a prolonged emotion we don’t address nor express. It’s like we become that feeling and we see life through that emotion. In the case of grief, everything looks gloomy. I, for example, gravitated toward sad songs. Anything with a sad theme, actually. I was doing with my grief what I had done with my anger. I was suppressing and channeling it the wrong way. Sometimes I just wanted to cry and cry, but didn’t know the reason behind it. When there wasn’t a valid reason to cry I resisted the tears, and when there was, I felt too ashamed to give myself permission.

Crying is our first non verbal way of telling others we’re uncomfortable and need attention. As we grow and learn to speak, this way of communicating is used less often. In some cultures crying is viewed as a sign of weakness and is discouraged. If you grew up around adults who were emotionally unavailable because of their own issues, crying was enough to incite their anger and frustration. We quickly learned to suppress this way of venting our sadness, especially so if we are people pleasers. What we fail to recognize is what this does to our bodies.

I did research on this because I was curious about why we feel better after crying. I found that emotional crying is the body’s way of restoring balance. Although it’s not fully understood, the theory is that hormones in our body “stimulate” crying, thus releasing a buildup of substances that can be harmful to us. These tears have a higher protein content than those produced to keep our eyes moist.

What I wanna get across here is that crying is part of the grieving process. We may be grieving over the loss of a loved one; through death, separation, divorce, breakup. Maybe our life hasn’t gone in the direction we wanted it to. For some of us it’s dealing with painful trauma. Whatever it is, you need to allow yourself to vent that emotion. Grieve over what was lost (that’s us channeling it appropriately), without feeling shame or a sense of weakness. Think of it like a river that gets dammed up*. After a strong rainfall the accumulated water becomes so overwhelming that it breaks the dam. Our emotions can be likened to rivers. Sometimes they swell, but then they go down. Our “putting a dam”, so to speak, to repress them may seem like a good idea, but in the long run does more harm than good.

*A river fulfills its purpose when it’s allowed to flow. Grief fulfills its purpose when we let it run its course, and that is to help us move forward.(12/7/14)

Things will, and do get better.

Love you guys ; )

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Letting Myself Feel

Ahhh emotions! Where do I begin with emotions? I’ve touched on how I’ve avoided them, repressed them, denied them and lost touch with them. At one point I totally disconnected myself from my feelings so that I could cope with living another day.

I honestly believed they were my enemy. These crazy out of control emotions were the reason I was so miserable! Then came the day I realized I could no longer ignore them. Not if I wanted to regain my sanity! But saying you’re gonna face them and actually doing it, is like saying you’re gonna run a marathon, then actually putting forth that effort. It’s involving a lot of work and pain.

To say that my emotions were my enemy, was me not taking responsibility for them. Everybody has them, but not everyone is controlled by them. As we grow into adulthood, we learn how to manage and deal with them. If we don’t learn this we become emotionally unstable adults. We can’t deal with life’s challenges successfully and our way of coping is to take up an addiction, or we simply disconnect and sink ourselves in depression. Neither one is good, they’re both destructive.

What makes feelings so scary to us? Maybe because they can be disguised, and to a certain extent faked. Or is it because we can’t touch them? One thing is certain though, when they’re ignored they don’t go away. Think of it like a sink of dirty dishes, the longer you let them sit, the filthier they get! My pile of dishes had waited long enough.

For example, I’ve carried a lot of anger with me through the years. It was justifiable to a certain extent. I was angry with the people who had harmed me when I was defenseless. I never used that anger to face them and call them out, exposing their shamelessness. Instead I took it out on my loved ones who had nothing to do with that part of my life. I also took it out on myself. In facing that part of my life and “allowing” myself to be upset at the ones responsible, I’ve released a lot of anger. It’s no longer festering within me creating rage. Anger is beneficial when it moves us to action, to right the wrong, but rage is destructive. Nothing good comes out of it.

We don’t have to let anger become rage, sadness become depression, happiness become mania, fear become anxiety. If we become angry at a person or situation, voice it and do what you can to make things right. If we’re sad; grieve, cry your eyes out and let others comfort you. When we’re happy, share it with others including those who aren’t so fortunate. This can help us stay balanced. When we’re fearful, we should ask ourselves “what do I need to do to feel safe?”. If it’s fear that stems from thoughts, what is the likelihood of them becoming a reality? Take a deep breath and release them, they serve no useful purpose in your mind. Or better yet write them down. Share them with someone you trust, or read them over when you have calmed down and relaxed. They won’t have the same power over you as when you felt fearful, and it’s easier to get to the root of what brought up that feeling.

Emotions aren’t our enemy. We don’t need to fear them, but we shouldn’t ignore them either. When we let them flow and deal with them accordingly, they make life enjoyable. When we bottle them up they stagnate and we become emotionally sick.

Its ok to feel your feelings!

Love you guys ; )

Keeping it Together

A few weeks ago a good friend asked me, “how do you keep it all together?” I was taken aback by this question. I never thought that I gave that impression to others! I always felt that if they looked close enough, they could see my mental chaos. What I’ve recently accepted, is that I’m never gonna be in total control of anything or anyone, except myself. Why have I come to this conclusion?

Being the oldest in a family of four siblings, I often ended up looking after them. That feeling of responsibility never really went away, but instead grew to include anyone I came to care about. I became obsessed with their well being, and their problems became my problems. I thought that by doing this I was actually being helpful to them. “Who doesn’t want to feel cared for”, I thought?

The sad thing, is that I couldn’t see what it was doing to me! I was a mess. I was anxious all the time (now it’s down to half). I often felt like I was riding an emotional roller coaster. My loved ones’ emotions influenced mine. I was already carrying a heavy emotional load of my own, but I felt like I also had to carry theirs. No, they weren’t asking me to do this. I took it upon myself. I thought it was my duty! Isn’t that what a good wife, mother, sister, daughter, friend would do?! Yes, on the surface I appeared to be in control of things, holding it all together, but I was falling apart.

It took the pain of falling apart to see that that behavior was doing more harm than good. I wasn’t taking care of “me”. Why would my loved ones believe that I cared for them if I was neglecting myself? Whose problems did I want to help fix, if I couldn’t even solve my own? How could I help my children grow up to be stable, both emotionally and mentally, if I myself wasn’t?

I got a mental picture of a car. If we have one, we’re well aware they need maintenance, fuel and cleaning. If I was the one who made sure to fill up my son’s gas tank, took his car to get oil changes, and cleaned it out when it got dirty, wouldn’t he soon become irresponsible for doing these things himself? For how long would he be grateful that I’m taking care of “his” car? When things are often done for us we easily take it for granted. So would it make sense for us to do this to everyone else’s car but our own, to the point that it brakes down?

So the sum of all of this is: being a good friend, wife, husband, mother, father, etc., doesn’t mean you need to solve their problems or worry about them to the point of anxiety. Doing these things won’t control their behavior (ok it will, but it won’t be good), and we will burn out under the stress. When we stop, they may at first be confused, but then they start stepping up to “their” responsibility (or they may find another person who is willing to worry about them).

To my friend: No, I don’t have it all together, and that is okay. Who of all of us on this earth does? We don’t expect you to either. That’s too much pressure for anyone. Take time to take care of you, so that you will have the energy to help those you love.
Help, not control.

Love you guys ; )

A Loser

These past few days have been rough. I’ve had sadness, a feeling of failure and a sense of loss. Sadness this time of year is nothing new for me. The shorter days and longer nights, along with the freezing temperatures, are enough to make some people suffer from SAD (seasonal affective disorder), me included. : (

The feeling of failure comes and goes, but not with the seasons. It comes on when my connection with my family suffers. My communication skills aren’t the best, which is why I’m working on it, but in the meantime we’re all suffering the consequences of my handicap.

My feeling of loss is what’s getting me. I’m not sure why it’s there. Maybe it’s due to me not feeling close to my kids. Yes, teenagers need their space and privacy, but I miss the days when they would crowd around me just to snuggle. No reason was needed to give a hug. On weekends any one of them would come cozy up in my bed and we’d talk or they’d fall asleep. Our outings always used to be as a family. Now, only our four year old accompanies us wherever we go, and that’s because he has no choice!

Yes, I miss my kids. I feel like the last few years that I was sunk in depression I lost them. I can’t make up for those years, but neither do I want them to continue drawing away emotionally. I could lose everything of value, but if my relationship with them remained, I wouldn’t have lost a thing. How superficial possessions become when compared to loved ones you can’t replace.

It made me think of how losing made me feel when I was a kid. Incompetent. Not having a good line of communication with them makes me feel the same way, like an incompetent loser. The difference here is that it makes me want to fight harder to overcome this, instead of thinking I can’t do any better, or that I’ve given all I can.

Effective communication is a skill. If we didn’t learn it at home, it’s worth the effort to acquire and master. It’s like learning a new language that lets you understand others on a new level. Misunderstandings will not escalate, anger will not turn to rage, if assumptions are made they will be cleared, and feelings will be expressed without fear or shame. It helps create the kind of environment children flourish in. Actually everyone does!

Sometimes it seems like we’re out to complicate our lives. I see it as, we haven’t been taught how to use our tools. And if we carry around a wound, it will take longer for us to “get it” and learn. Don’t compare your speed or ability to that of others. You are doing awesome as long as you don’t stop progressing. It’s when we decide to quit that we lose.

 

Love you guys ; )