What is Grief and the 5 Stages?
Do you remember when your doctor told you your pain was here to stay? All hope of permanent relief was gone.
Did it feel like you entered a dark tunnel?
Let’s listen to Sally’s conversation with her doctor…
Sally was sitting in her doctor’s office. She heard his voice and knew that he was explaining what was next after the diagnosis, but all she could do was feel the despair rising up in her. For the rest of her life, she would be doomed to live in pain! There was no way out! It wasn’t much of a conversation as she heard him talking but couldn’t seem to find the focus to respond, ask questions, or even nod her head.
Her thoughts were, “I will ALWAYS FEEL PAIN!”
She had no idea how she would even manage to get up from her chair and go home, let alone wake up tomorrow to face the first day of the rest of her life with the diagnosis of chronic pain. She was in deep sorrow.
It is at this point most practitioners will mention the words “Pain Management”.
They mention words like “coping”, “live with”, “move through”, and “adjust to”. What the doctor forgets to realize is that you haven’t yet moved into a place where you’re ready to accept that your pain is forever.
You’ve slipped into a place of grief.
A person cannot be ready to accommodate a new normal until they have processed the loss they have experienced. As your well-meaning doctor is readily prescribing you alternatives to treatment, you may be sitting stunned, shocked, and hopeless.
The dark tunnel that you have just entered – is called grief.
What is Grief?
Wikipedia says –
“Grief is the response to loss, particularly to the loss of someone or some living thing that has died, to which a bond or affection was formed.
Although conventionally focused on the emotional response to loss, grief also has physical, cognitive, behavioral, social, cultural, spiritual, and philosophical dimensions. While the terms are often used interchangeably, bereavement refers to the state of loss, while grief is the reaction to that loss.
The grief associated with death is familiar to most people, but individuals grieve in connection with a variety of losses throughout their lives, such as unemployment, ill health, or the end of a relationship.”
Loss can be categorized as either physical or abstract.
Physical loss is related to something that the individual can touch or measure, such as losing a spouse through death.
Abstract loss is more related to aspects of a person’s social interactions.
So, when I say grief, most people automatically think – but no one died!
However, it is equally important to process the grief from their own personal loss of ability, or comfort in their own bodies.
This is why we are going to discuss the stages of grief and how they relate to you grieving the loss of abilities, and the ability to be comfortable in your own body.
When people don’t grieve, it often places them in a state of anxiety.
We often see this when we observe loved ones who haven’t accepted the death of someone in their life. However, we don’t always equate grief to a “process” we need to go through when we lose something close to us.
The loss of hope is a sure recipe for depression.
Here we find ourselves in a cycle of overwhelming anxiety and depression… and all we hear from the voices around us is “get used to it.”
Although people are well-meaning, if they are not the ones going through the process, they have no clue. Their encouraging statements begin to sound harsh, cold, and insensitive. Even if there is any truth to what they are saying, you are left feeling misunderstood, and more alone…and deeper into the depression you sink.
Now you have permission to slow down and grieve.
Grief is part of the human experience and learning to grieve well is something that all of us will benefit from.
For one moment I would like for you to slow down a little and explore where you might be in your own grief process.
To do that, we are going to visit the 5 Stages of Grief.
(We will do this in more detail as we continue through this series of The Chronic Pain Experience).
Denial: This cannot be happening!
Often the first stage of grief is the thought that the information you received must not be true. Some of the symptoms of denial are:
Feeling numb and shocked
Being confused and disoriented
Shutting down and not being able to process emotions
Forgetting about the information you have received regarding your condition
Avoiding the reminders your pain is chronic. As in not telling your loved ones of the prognosis
Sleeping more than usual, or distracting yourself with media
Procrastination in dealing with the loss, such as not following the doctors’ suggestions
Anger: Why is this happening to me?
Feeling out of control
Being angry with your loved ones even though it’s not their fault
Becoming frustrated with daily activities
Feeling that your body has betrayed you
Expressing frustration in otherwise normal interactions
Placing blame on yourself or others for your pain
Bargaining: I will do anything to change this!
Creating a lot of “ What if” and “Only if” statements
Seeking miracle cures or faith healers
Making deals with God / the universe / higher power
Imagining if the pain would leave, you would be a better person from now on
Depression: What is the point of going on in this pain?
You feel frozen in your tracks
Lack of the energy or motivation to do daily activities
No joy in the things you once used to enjoy
Your personal hygiene suffers
Feelings of hopelessness dominate your thoughts and conversations
Acceptance: I know I cannot change this
I will find ways to live a fulfilling life with it
Courage to face the reality of your pain the way it is
Ability to validate yourself
Taking steps to live a fulfilling life
Compassion for your body
Being present in your body – how it feels right now
Feeling positive and hopeful
Engaging your new reality
Seeking out new meaning
Feeling secure and relaxed
Having tolerance for your vulnerabilities and limitations
Communicating in an honest and open manner
Understanding that you are not alone
It is important to understand that you are not alone. You may feel alone, however, as you work through your own individual grieving process, you will come to the realization that you are surrounded by caring people who are willing to help and encourage you along the way.
Let’s take a moment to set your self-judgment and self-criticism aside and see how Scripture views your current situation. The writer of Hebrews makes it very clear;
“Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses but – was in all points – tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us, therefore, come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
~ Hebrews 4:14–16
For a little added encouragement I have added a few other verses to illustrate just how much our loving Heavenly Father cares about our daily suffering.
Psalms 22:24 – For He has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one; He has not hidden his face from Him but has listened to His cry for help.
Psalms 46:1-2 – God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the Earth giveaway and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea.
Psalms 73:26 – My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
4 Things you Can do Today
Know that you can rely on yourself
Take a moment at the beginning of each day to reflect on your feelings and thoughts about your current pain condition. Looking at the descriptions above, can you assess where you are in your phase of grieving the loss of comfort and physical ability?
Understanding your physical limitations and being honest about your feelings, in the grieving process is the first step toward moving through it your grief process.
Know that you can rely on God
Next, I would like for you to look at the Bible verses above. Does any verse, in particular, stand out to you? Do you have a favorite Bible verse that you rely on? Take some time to write it out and read it carefully – several times. Spend a little time in prayer asking our gracious Savior to make the words even more real to you.
Understanding that He will help you so you will not feel alone on this journey of pain management is key in reliance.
Know that you can rely on others
Next, make a list of people in your life who you know you can rely on. It is important for you to know who your support group is. Send a little thank you note to those who are trying to help you understand your condition, or who are just there “hanging with you” through the tough times.
Understanding you are not alone and realizing there are people cheering you on is important for any struggle that we face, especially long-lasting struggles.
The long road of pain management
Regardless of your stage in pain management, whether it’s a brand new diagnosis or you have lived with it for years now, you must understand you are involved in a long process and not a quick cure.
If you find that you need help moving through a particular stage of grief, or if you are feeling that you can benefit from seeking professional help, reach out! You can find a variety of health practitioners who have experience with helping people living with chronic pain.
We began our discussion with an illustration. Remember our chronic pain patient, Sally? She was able to grasp these tangible four actions and implement them in her life. It took some trial and error, but in learning to grieve well Sally gained the courage to begin her pain management journey.
If you would like to learn more about clinical hypnosis to gain the skills to manage chronic pain, contact me here and we will strategize together to help you plan your path of pain management.