Grief~ Denial, Bargaining, and Guilt

As promised this is the first of my grief counseling for survivors. Not all the stages occur in order within your life and you may experience several at the same time. The order is just a guideline.

Today is about denial, bargaining and guilt. Now don't say you are not going through this because you are. You are just in denial. <G>

At first denial is easy. I spent my first 24-hours in denial. I still go to sleep each night, after a year, hoping to wake up in the morning and finding this has been a bad dream similar to "Dallas." If you are not familiar with this old television show, a whole season was choked up up a bad dream sequence. Well, I can hope can't I. But the next morning I awake and find it wasn't a bad dream. I could deny it all day long if I could lie in bed not moving, thinking, or speaking not that it happens that way. I can only play Ostrich with my head buried in the sand so long before I have to roll over to shift positions or have to pee and then reality sets in. The empty side of the bed or chair.

Eventually nature will call and I'll have to put my AFO and shoes on to toddle off to the toilet. It only works for the short term, but may be intermittent and come and go. Something will always smack you in the face with the reality of the situation.

 "No, I can do it myself!" This statement is a form of denial. In reality, I can't do it myself, but I've got to prove it to me. A painful thing for caregivers to watch. It's a doubled edged sword which often has me in tears of frustration when I finally get it through my thick skull that I can't do it myself. I need the help of another soul to get through this. This has worked for me and against me.

"I'm not listening! LaLaLa!" and "Talk to the hand." When we refuse to listen to others we only hurt ourselves. Sure they might not have the answers either, but if all else fails, they are a sounding board. Granted if you are in depression nobody can stand listening to grunt and groan on the pity pot, but more on that later. Just know that denial is a short protective mechanism of the mind. Realize this. Accept this. Sometimes everyone needs small breaks from reality. Now if your denial lasts for a prolonged period, professional help is advised.

Bargaining- "Lord, please take this burden from me. I'll do this or that better from now on." Or something along these lines, is another natural stage of grief. If you will do this, I'll do that. "I'll stop smoking, lose weight, eat right, do what my doctor says, (insert your own bargaining chip here) from now on, but just make it better."

Honestly we may mean them when we say them, but life has a way of interjecting them back into our lives no matter how hard we try. It's an Indian Giver's promise at best.

After my stroke I promised to stop smoking and then I was discharged home to a house full of nicotine. I was almost violently ill just walking into it. All my clothes, bedding, curtains, carpets, furniture, painted surfaces etc are drenched with the stuff accumulated over the past fifteen years. So I puffed and coughed through a cigarette to just be able to live in my house. I haven't put them away yet.

I started losing weight in the hospital and continued after I got home. I was very incapable of doing much besides the basics of self care. Meals were the TV dinner types. The nuke and eat. Of course with all that processed food entering my body, the weight inched back up. Having a bad heart doesn't help when you can hold thirteen pounds of just extra fluids in your body at any given time. It was frustrating at best. I zigzagged on the scales not knowing if it was fluids or fat. I finally gave up. My allergies went haywire during this time and I couldn't do anything about it.

Starting this Spring brought about better changes. I started gardening again to reduce my allergens. But still my weight was at issue due to my heart. Try as I might and with three cholesterol medicine I couldn't lower my LDLs more than 50 points. I swore off red meats and eating animal based protiens twice a week substituting bean curd, vegetables, and ate rich HDL foods to no avail. It's heredity for me to have high bad cholesterol.

So all in all bargaining and begging doesn't work. No amount of bargaining will change the outcome.

That brings us to guilt. The what-ifs. Now I'm big on what-ifs as a writer. Some of my best stories start off this way. Of course, we are our own worse critics. Nobody can be as hard on themselves as I can be. That's part of my stubborn nature. But all of us have a stubborn streak. It's part of being human, but I got a triple helping when God was handing out this one. I'm worse than a Jewish and Catholic mother combined when it comes to guilt trips and I do it to myself.

If I had done this or that, this would not have happened to me. The fact is, it probably would have. Guilt leads to depression. Guilt leads to low self worth. Guilt leads to you not fighting to get better. Guilt is the root of all evil thoughts and actions.

I had a physical therapist (not my regular one) ask me this week if I did everything in my power to prevent this stroke. I looked at her in shock. Now I had worked through my guilt ridden stage before now so needless to say I didn't need an additional thing to feel guilty about. She said I smoked so I didn't do everything in my power to prevent a stroke. Did the woman fall off the sensitivity truck? But like I always do, I pondered her words.

I thought back to my cousin Ricky who recently died from a stroke. He lived a healthy life style. The number of babies die yearly. They are innocents. Others who have no bad health habits who die young or old each year. No, I'm not helping my body by smoking. Yes, it is a big no-no for people susceptible to stroke or had a stroke.  I accept that risk factor. We all make choices. Accept the choices you made and move on.

I'm fond of saying, "Don't borrow trouble." Until the doctor pronounces the big "C" word, don't worry the whole time while waiting for the results for it to be cancer and how you will react. I got news for you. It won't change the outcome. Guilt is an indicator that you've done something wrong and deserve what is happening to you. Unless you've gotten behind the wheel intoxicated, hit and harmed someone else, it just ain't your fault! Yes, you could have done this or that differently but does it really change what you are going through now? No, not a lick. This is almost a part of bargaining.

It's time to move on. Accept what has happened as an unchangeable fact and go on from here. Because in the grand scheme of your life, this is a small segment. It's what you do from here on out that counts.

Next Sunday is about Anger.

Grief Counseling with a Twist

Any time you suffer a significant loss or have a devastating event happen to you there is a sense of grief. It is not only a death. It can be a mini death of sorts.  For me, the latest besides bereavement for a close cousin, Ricky, and has been an ongoing struggle with grief because of my stroke. And yes, it has been over a year since my stroke. I am doing a similar blog on my writer's blog for stroke survivors on Sundays. For here it's for survivors.

I've actually mentioned the stages of grief in various blogs but I don't think I've ever broken it down like this before. I do know that I charged $100 for grief counseling sessions that lasted twelve weeks in my ministry profession. This is a gimme course that is free so take advantage of it.

So over the next five weeks I'm going to explain to you the stages as it pertains to your recovery. I will give real world examples of what I've gone through, coping skills, and exercises for you to do to gain a level of acceptance in conquering each step. After all, knowledge is power and control. It is something we as survivors rarely feel until we work through the process. Understanding is the key. Think you've mastered it all? You've been a survivor for multiple years and this doesn't pertain to you, think again. I've met dozen of survivors still grappling with these after ten or twenty years. Am I through it all? Yes and no. I'm still bouncing around the steps taking victories where I can as a stroke survivor. There is no quick or easy fix.

I've spent years in grief counseling both as a grief stricken person and as a counselor. So needless to say, I recognized it in my own stroke recovery as well. Grief is an individual process. Your success depends on you.

The Stages

And if you want to carry it farther into seven steps, you can.

Both apply in a case like a stroke. I usually combine Shock and Denial, and Bargaining and Guilt, the Upturn, Reconstruction with Acceptance. So my version is five steps while taking the seven into consideration. Now with death this process takes roughly a year to complete or maybe a little longer. With stroke recovery it may takes years! You may bounce between levels or be on multiple levels at the same time and you may gain acceptance in certain areas faster than others. It is not a linear thing or happen within the order given.

Why should survivors care about this? The ultimate of ultimates of recovery is to be...
  •  the best you can be given the circumstances
  • a more proactive survivor
  • aware that this is going on and it's normal. Isn't it nice to be considered normal. <g>
  • forewarned is forearmed
Knowledge is power. Foresight is awesome. Being prepared is everything. Tune in next week for the first installment...Shock and Denial. These will appear Sunday morning as well here.

Keeping faith and sharing the blessings.