Tag Archives: grief

the cult of positivity

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I’m sure I’ve blogged about this topic before, or carried on about it on Facebook.

I see constant anecdotes and photos reprimanding us…

…that if we were grateful enough, we would never be lacking for anything

…that while we are blowing hot air about our particular misery du jour, others are taking their last breath

…that were we to count our blessings, we’d realize how damned lucky we are and stop that complaining shit stat

And I get it. Some people never stop complaining, even when every little thing in their lives is the way you or I would wish ours to be – they are still snivelling bags of misery (and that does, in fact, get old).

There are times, though, that even if you are fully cognizant of the fact that people are starving in Africa and you happen to be fortunate enough to have sufficient food in your pantry to feed a whole small third world village for a month, you still feel pretty down about the things that are happening in your life and being reminded of that tidbit of information does nothing to spike up your happy meter.

Instead you feel even shittier for having your “first world problems” in the first place, and feel guilty for being so (apparently) ungrateful for what you have.

Here’s the thing. Inner unrest is almost always a signal that your intuition is trying to tell you something.

Sometimes it’s because you have stopped listening somewhere along the way and are functioning on auto pilot without really paying attention to what you are doing.

Inner unrest niggles when the situation you are choosing to engage in goes against the grain of your fundamental values and principles, and you are choosing to ignore the little red flags that are popping up as you are going along because you’ve gotten so used to being comfortable in your discomfort.

Then there are times when we go through some major transitions in life, and while we humans are certainly equipped to deal with transitions (seriously… we would have died out millennia ago had we not been an adaptable species), our instant-presto society expects us to pop up like a freshly thawed toaster pastry mere days after something life-altering has occurred.

That can be even the good stuff… a promotion, a newly-tied knot, a long-desired move to a new place, the purchase of a new home… or the obviously less positive stuff… like losing a job, having to move without notice, the end of a relationship, health challenges, children moving out (i.e., an empty nest), the loss of a loved one (whether expected or not).

All change, to some degree, causes an anxiety reflex. Some of it merely heightens our awareness so that while we are in a new situation we adapt as quickly as possible – but it is exhausting, even if it is exhilarating.

The more painful sort of change grinds us into the ground and pulls us along by the ankles through the raw and painful grieving process. There is much out there on the different stages of grieving, so I won’t discuss it in detail here, but what I do want to note is that the process takes inordinately longer than any amount of time typically allotted for it by our western society.

People are patient for a week or two (if that), but after that if your performance isn’t back up to pre-trauma speed, patience with your process starts to dwindle and whatever progress you might have made in the interim is largely interrupted by the added pressure that is now placed upon you to be back to “normal” again. Many people either have never experienced grief before, or have conveniently forgotten what it was like to be in its throes – sort of like the purported denial of remembering childbearing pain.

The key to survival is to seek out qualified support to help you over that hump, because once the funeral is over, and the condolence notes stop coming in, or you are two months in to flying solo after a twenty year marriage, people forget that things were ever different, and that can be hugely difficult to deal with on top of the ongoing grieving.

Whether the life change is big or small (and it’s all individually relative), self-care becomes primordial to the survival of our hurting soul bits. In the end, these very same things are what help me keep my sanity even when shit isn’t hitting the fan.

So… what to do?

1. Schedule in time for your Self.
Learn to gauge to what point you can push yourself before a melt-down is impending. It will change over time, and it will be a trial and error process for a while. If you feel that once a month you need to work in a mental health day just to stay sane, plan it ahead of time. It will be something to look forward to and the break in your normal routine something that will be akin to that light at the end of the tunnel when you start down sliding. The waiting between breaks will help you build up resilience and allow for the incorporation of healthy coping mechanisms in the meantime, which will make everything go more smoothly. Determine what your daily, weekly, monthly needs are, and have an action plan.

2. Practice radical self-compassion.
Like it or not, things will not always go according to plan. Something might happen that will throw you off kilter despite your best efforts. You may not, on a daily basis, be functioning at 100%. One of the best takeaways for me from The Four Agreements (if you haven’t read it yet, I recommend it) is to do your best, whatever best means on any given day. On some days your best may just be to roll out of bed, get dressed and make it in to the office, while other days it will be to blaze through a week’s worth of work in a single afternoon. It may vary that drastically. Respect the variance. Respect your willingness to show up, in whatever capacity that you are able. Be gentle with yourself. Afford yourself the same compassion as you would extend to another in your situation. You deserve to be treated kindly, even by yourself.

3. Establish good boundaries.
People mean well… they do… but sometimes their “help” does more harm than good. Learn to be specific about your needs, if you ask for help with them, as well as to gracefully express when someone is triggering all of your defence mechanisms. Deftly extricate yourself from the situation or the ministrations and be sure to let them know to be more mindful of the way in which they communicate with you going forward. Relentlessly cut ties if they have a track record of not positively supporting you.

4. Have a support system in place.
Know who you can call on when you are on the verge of a melt-down. Have an escape route in place so that you can go some place private. If you are seeking the help of a professional counsellor, have your appointments set up on a regular basis in accordance with their advised schedule and make additional appointments if you feel you need them. If you need to be assisted chemically to find better balance, explore the most personally comfortable way in which to achieve it.

5. Spend some time, daily, checking in with yourself.
Whether that means doing it while sitting on a meditation cushion, as you move through the asanas in yoga class, during a walk around the block, while soaking in the tub or lathering up in a shower, when putting in miles on the treadmill at the gym, or at the table with your journal or art supplies. Make real or mental notes on how you feel, how you’ve improved in the last while and think about how you want to feel. Danielle Laporte’s The Desire Map helps siphon down our focus to what she calls our Core Desired Feelings and keeping those in mind while we do our inventory check can pull us back to center even when we’ve skidded off the road.

6. Nourish yourself.
That means feeding the body, mind and spirit, daily. Plan meals ahead so that you take the guess work out of daily cooking chores – chances are you will be eating more healthfully or regularly. Take vitamins and minerals as recommended by your physician. Spend some down time with a book, crossword puzzle or other mind-feeding endeavour. Honour and connect with your spirit, in whichever way you feel most comfortable.

7. Move.
Spend some time getting physical. I have found that when I’m hurting emotionally my tendency is to avoid being embodied. I become this untethered soul hanging on to my bodily connections by mere shreds. Exercise gets the endorphins pumping and even if my heart is heavy with grief, my body feels lighter after it’s been fully exerted.

8. Rest.
Fatigue is a by-product of depression and the carrying of the burden of stress. Without adequate rest the body simply can’t perform its regenerative functions, whether for the physical body, the mental body or the emotional body. Eight hours of sleep is the generally established minimum, but more may be required during more taxing times. Honour your body’s signals and allow it the rest that it needs to heal itself.

Enacting these things may take some effort, especially at first. I know that when I’m newly grieving, I’m like a dazed zombie and barely functioning. If you have someone close to you (a spouse or a partner) who can help you over the hump, you are ahead of the game. Otherwise you may well have to wait until the fog lifts before you will be able to begin fully implementing these self-care steps.

But for the love of all things holy, don’t let the bastards get you down… you are worthy… you are worthy… you are worthy.

Adriane xo

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on grieving…

I think Western society (well – truthfully – most of them, for that matter) does not like grief. It’s uncomfortable and distracting, and essentially, when a person is grieving, they are not productive. So we feel compelled to internalize our grief and it eventually manifests as disease (dis-ease).

Or, when we are incapable of keeping it under wraps, we function within the same life framework we were in before but everything suffers; we truly are less productive.

This brings about a snowball effect… we become disengaged, our work quality suffers. Eventually the strain of the expectation of optimal performance during these times creates the sort of situation that exacerbates the already heavy stress that we are attempting to navigate our way through.

The only cure for grief is time – allowing for the healing process to unfold, hopefully helped along by people who can guide the process in a healthy and mindful way. Time heals all things.

Despite the fact that at one time or another most of us have gone through the process of grieving, people don’t know how to approach those who are grieving. I think this is due to the fact that the process of grieving is mishandled by society. The pain is not honoured. The transition is not respected. Pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps is probably something to do at some point in the process, but not when we are at our most raw; the expectation to be able to do so is ludicrous, and yet it is the norm.

So why am I speaking about grieving?

Well, if one was to take one of those psych tests which evaluates the external stressors in our lives which influence our internal lives, job loss would be one of them – and I am intimately familiar with this one point on the checklist, having recently lost my job.

Despite the fact that I had been mentally prepared to be one of the “staffing reassessment” casualties, I’ve been in a sort of tailspin since. Maybe it’s a midlife crisis kind of tail spin (I turned fifty yesterday). I wonder why I am having such a difficult time with “launching” at this stage of my life. The disparity with what it is and how I would like it to be (career wise) is so wide a gap that I can’t fathom how to bridge it. The thought of repeating the last thirty years of my working life is making me balk like never before.

All of this “free” time has afforded me some opportunity to check out what the rest of the world is doing these days. Not the one I was operating in, but the one *out there*… not the one that I was mistakenly assuming was drying up of opportunity but the one that is actually transforming into a more tenable way of living and working in this vast and quickly shifting world. Well, perhaps not so quickly, and this shift is happening with only a visible few, not the vast majority.

[Aside: So many companies are still working off of the industrial revolution SOPs. Evolving from full factory sized staffing to smaller crews, the thinking continues to be “lean and mean”, the mantra of the end of the twentieth century. Almost two decades in to the new millennium and they are still not getting, despite the fact that they conduct “engagement studies” and know the facts, that people must be engaged in order to thrive. To me engagement involves interesting work, and by compartmentalizing processes – particularly in an office environment – that equates to small bits of rote work effected by underpaid people. It may not be about the money, certs, but if people are not earning enough to live a comfortable life, they are operating in survival mode and can’t relax enough to unleash their creative brains – which would be irrelevant anyway, given the fact that any incentive to be creative is slowly being stripped away because of role uniformitization **this is an interesting article on technology and its sociological effects** … (more on all of this later, because this whole paragraph segues into a completely other thought that I don’t really want to speak to at the moment, and is tangental to the my initial thoughts on grieving).]

In any case, the common refrain I hear these days from my age group and peers is: it’s really tough out there; there are little opportunities for the young people these days.

(Which to me translates to: You’re fucked woman… you’re over the hill, overpaid, under-educated, a has-been… and if the kids can’t flourish, with all of their verve and vigour and downright enthusiasm, how do you think that you will?)

I don’t mean they are thinking this in relation to me per se. They are thinking it themselves in regard to their own prospects should they also find themselves amongst the rest of us in the unemployment line, and similarly wondering what the hell they can do to reinvent themselves at this late stage in the game.

I mean seriously… hipsters we ain’t. We’re not even hippies. Most of us are late-in-coming baby boomers or Gen-X’ers (who the hell thinks up these ridiculous naming conventions anyway?). We’re done with the baby ranching and the marriages (because most of them didn’t survive), and in the midst of being overburdened with debts and living expenses way beyond the comfortable quality of life “ratios” that were decided upon during different economic times, a shrinking middle class and a soft job market, we are now having to reinvent ourselves and our raison d’être in midlife, not necessarily by choice but because all of the structures that we had in place to ensure some semblance of security and material continuum are slowly but systematically being dismantled.

So there is much mourning going on at the fort.

Job loss. Mid-life. And, frankly, disillusionment – the realization that we must fight for relevance, but not of the sort that I’ve been waging a war for over the last three decades.

For many years, at least the first decade of my working life, relevance meant accumulating more job-specific skills in the area I was working in (which were obtainable on-the-job and considered valid training and education, perhaps even more so than a certificate or a diploma). That was the challenge that kept me reaching for greater responsibility, professional respect, and career advancement. I find that is not true of the job market and the opportunities for growth within companies today. They are stiff with their requirements, and even less flexible with promoting people into more challenging roles if they do not already have the set of skills and qualifications that the job requires, despite the potential of the employee or candidate.

Much of my career-centric views changed after the birth of my son. My priorities shifted greatly and I was focused on parenting and trying to keep our family unit functioning (and together – much of my marital challenges were present from the very beginning, and deepened as time went on).

I wasn’t thinking about career at that point – I was thinking about survival of the family unit; OUR family unit. I’m sorry that I didn’t focus more on myself and my higher needs, and demanded the support in a way that wasn’t negotiable. That was a huge tactical error. I self-soothed in all of the wrong ways, and lacked the ability to make my way through the forest, and likewise lacked a capable partner to accompany me throughout the journey.

All this rumination has made me realize that I am grieving. Despite the fact that I did not (recently) lose a loved one; that my marriage has been over for a long while and the divorce papers were filed last spring; that my job (for all intents and purposes) summarily sucked and I was not being utilized to my fullest potential (which, incidentally, I’m not even sure how to quantify anymore, because for me a good job has always meant room for potential growth and I’ve clearly maxed out on what that is in relation to what I am currently considering my “profession”).

So… what to do? I am seriously in paralysis mode.

I get up, and I do things: eat, sort and do laundry, load the dishwasher, make meals, sleep, (sometimes) get dressed, (sometimes) go outside, listen to music and podcasts and YouTube videos, intermittently shower and groom myself, read, occasionally talk to people for longer than three minutes, make some art, journal, dust, vacuum, scrub out the tub and the toilet and sink, (sometimes) make my bed, write. Mostly, though, there is a sense that my world has completely collapsed in on itself (think post-apocalypse) and I’m staring at the steaming ruins and wondering where to pick up the pieces – which things are salvageable from the piles of debris and which ones I just need to let be and walk away from. Throughout all of this, I beat myself about the head and shoulders for not moving on.

And so I ran across this excellent young woman’s blog, who had this post (excerpt follows), and I said YES! that’s it, that’s how I feel, and then thought that the letter, What To Say (To Yourself) When You Are Grieving, was… brilliant:

Dear Self,

I am grieving.

Grief is natural.

But I was not born to grieve — I was born to love, and laugh, and live.

Grief is only my waiting room — for the moment.

And one day, soon, I will step out of that waiting room, and back into my life.

I’ll take one small step today, right now, by {insert itty-bitty action step, here}.

That one small step will feel loving, and beautiful, and good.

And that one small step is all I need to do — for now.

Love,

{your name}

XO.

I’m grieving. Ha!

Society doesn’t know how to deal with grief (see above), ME included.

I’m learning, with every crisis and major life change – I’m learning.

I’m learning that the only way over is through, and that progress is slow, because *all the debris and shit* … and that I need to remember to breathe and pick small steps, because that is all the lizard brain that I’m operating from at the moment is capable of. Eventually, though, it will make the transition back to higher-order thinking and we’ll be in business again. Until then I’ll eat Scottish shortbread cookies for lunch and veggies and hummus for breakfast if I want to and be okay with it, keeping in mind that there will be a flip side. There always is.