In the spirit of keeping it real, I have been dealing with grief these last few days. It came time to face the decision to say good-bye to our 17 year old Jack Russell Terrier who we had been loving since she was a puppy. The waves of emotion I have felt this week are so similar to the waves I felt when dealing with my autoimmune diagnosis, so I decided to share with you what worked for me during that time as well as what I am doing now to move though.
Let's face it. At this time, autoimmunity is not curable. We don't have the science figured out to reverse it 100% or declare a cure. So that leaves a lot of us with not only a diagnosis, but a lifetime disease. And while the work I do with myself and my clients is always moving toward remission, this can leave us with some heavy emotions to work through, especially in the throws of all the symptoms and the debilitating fatigue.
As I have written here before, I had a lot of denial when I was first diagnosed. So much so, that I didn't tell many people. In fact, it took years for me for me to realize that I was very ashamed that I had gotten sick in the first place.
But how do we deal with the emotions of grief, shame, anger, hatred, sadness, loss, isolation, etc? I had a really hard time with them all, and even sought out a therapist for a period of time to help me. Acknowledging our emotions and giving them space is just as, if not more so, important as eating nourishing foods, making lifestyle changes and taking the right supplements!
Here are my simple tips for working through the feelings of it all. Use it as a guide to help you gain some freedom and release by giving your emotions space to just be. I can tell you, that each time I was able to do just that, that my physical body started to heal in areas that felt very stuck previously. There's a lot of science about this, and even Dr Lissa Rankin wrote a book on it. So give it a shot and tell me how it goes.
- Give yourself some time to "lean in" to the feeling. Set aside 10-15 minutes to really load up that feeling within yourself. It's probably uncomfortable, but it needs its time to be "heard". So take some deep breaths and focus on the pain, grief, anger, whatever. Even dial up the intensity after a few minutes. Breathe. This is a very hard place to be, but necessary to "become friends" with it. Become curious. See if you can find the positive intention of the emotion. One day I realized that the loss that I felt from my "old life", was really a sign that it was time to move into new opportunities. I grieved the loss of my piloting career & lifestyle for a long time, but then I realized that the grief was trying to tell me that there were new opportunities, new adventures and new avenues of happiness just waiting for me to take the leap!
- Remember to be kind to yourself. This was so hard for me. I was ashamed and frankly upset that I had gotten sick. I always had thought I was taking care of myself well, yet I still got sick. I was confused, sad and angry. And when you have those feelings so prominently it's hard to remember to be kind to yourself. So go to bed earlier, make sure you are eating well and hydrating even when you don't feel hungry or thirsty. Let yourself take that hot bath before bed, or snuggle up to a good book! I have to admit, that when I was in the throws of intense grief, I think I read the Harry Potter series at least 5 times. The. Whole. Series!
- Love the sadness. Wait, what? My friend Jessica Flannigan talks about this a lot in her Loving Diet book. And it's a scary one to do, because there is an underlying fear of, "what if we fall into the deep pool of sadness and never come out? Can't I just dip my toes in it??" But really, this is a normal part of what it means to be human. Without the sadness, we have no gauge by which to measure happiness! And I don't mean be sad all the time, I mean just start to recognize that there are positive intentions for the sadness. Not only does it help us gauge happiness, by loving and embracing it, we transform and move through it much more quickly. So the more we set aside time to be with it, talk about it with friends, therapists, whatever, the more it can become our friend.
- Mindfulness of breath. Whether you meditate, or notice your breath while at a stoplight in your car, be mindful of your breath. Follow your breath in and out. Try to do this as often as you can. Meditation, in my opinion, is not about stopping thought. It's about allowing thoughts to pass by as if they were on a river floating on past. No judgement, a little curiosity (not too much or else I wind up trying to run down the stream to get really curious about a particular thought). Emotions float upon that river too and affect the breath. Notice how sadness breathes differently than anger. How happiness breathes differently than joy. Being mindful of your breath can help you identify and befriend emotions. It helps you allow them their space to be and you can observe them floating on by. I find it helps me move through them much more quickly than trying to avoid them to begin with.
The best part of all of this is that emotions are temporary. They are not here to stay, and are more like waves that roll in. If we choose to play amongst those waves, we find harmony and peace. If we turn our back to them, that is when we can get knocked down. You know what they say, "never turn your back to the ocean." So perhaps this is also true of emotions. ;) Make friends and play.