Another post in my ongoing series “Plan Now to Feel Better”
You are likely familiar with Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s “Five Stages of Grief”. There are all kinds of modifications of this tool which has helped people all over the world to recognize that grieving (not only of a death, but of a deep sense of loss associated with great personal tragedy) is essential to our living well in the long-term, emotionally, physically, and spiritually.
After all, we should feel shocked, upset, angry, scared, depressed, etc.
Because, THIS is really happening...
and it’s happening to us.
Grieving is our way to lance our wounds;
without it we are likely to suffer so deeply that all hope is gone.
Her model, though useful, does not fit the journey of those who suffer from a severe pain diagnosis. I hope what I have developed below will provide you with a better model for understanding and moving from grief to acceptance, as well as, will help your loved ones know how to best support you:
|by Judi Coleman|
Descriptions of Stages-
What Loved Ones Can Do to Help
1 - Taking the Blow
I am reeling with utter shock and disbelief at finding out I am suffering from a pain disorder. I feel shaky, unable to sleep, or to think clearly; I feel numb all over and cannot focus on others' needs; I can not grasp the reality of my diagnosis.
For my loved ones: My brain is on overload. I hope you can be patient with me as I am unable to think of much else except for my awful situation. My body and mind are reeling, however, rest assured that this is normal and natural. I am not ready to problem solve or look on the bright side--not yet. This stage usually lasts less than a week before I move to the next stage, however, don’t let that cause you to overlook crisis situations, i.e. if I stop eating and/or drinking, or act in other ways that cause you great concern. If you think I need to see a professional other than my family physician, please talk to them first, to seek their input. Otherwise, it may cause needless relationship conflicts and/or cause me despair.
2 - Absorbing the Blow
As my shock wears off, I am affronted by a barrage of deep-in-the-gut emotions: brokenness, overwhelming distress, anxiety, fear, guilt, anger, etc.; I may want time to myself to process what I am going through (introvert style) or, I may want to talk to you for hours on end (extrovert style); I am forgetful, distracted, and still overlooking others’ needs, not because I don’t care about them, but because my suffering is SO HUGE, it’s about all I can deal with at the time; Lots of hurt feelings may happen in this stage, straining relationships down the road if left unattended for too long.
For my loved ones: All of the above is normal; you should not worry when I arrive at this stage. Don’t be alarmed if it last for weeks, depending upon the severity of the pain. If I am an introvert, please respect my need to be alone with my thoughts; if I am an extrovert, please allow me to talk without your attempting to lead me to resolution--I simply need to tell you all that I am feeling at this point. Should I appear to be acting in ways that cause you grave concern, please talk to a professional before approaching me with my behavior, to avoid serious relationship conflicts and/or to cause me to despair of my situation.
3 - Looking for a Way Out:
Attempting to Clarify or Disprove the Diagnosis
Positive--I begin to seek out information, hoping to find another answer or some kind of acceptable explanation for my suffering; I am likely to use the internet as my main source of information, and hopefully, I will also talk to physicians, particularly for a second, or third opinion about my diagnosis, since many who suffer pain are mis-diagnosed.
Negative--I may become so consumed by the above that I can think of little else. I may begin to grasp and straws, trying anything that even hints at possibly helping me, paying little heed to the cost to my overall health, and well-being, relationships, and finances. Or, I try to talk myself into believing I am not ill, which may cause me to act recklessly with my health.
For my loved ones: This is a stage where you can actively play a role in helping me. You can research topics relevant to me: my diagnosis, practical helps for living with pain and/or illness, spiritual resources, emotional and mental helps, etc. BE CAREFUL to seek information from reputable resources, and to avoid anything that seems too good to be true.
If you see me really overdoing the negatives above, please step in for me and get me back on track, counseling me to get help. If you find I am making up nonsensical reasons for my suffering or buying into bogus ideas for treatment, gently help me to see the issue. And, If you think I need to see a professional because I seem to be stuck in this stage much longer than seems sensical, or if I appear to be acting in ways that cause you concern, please talk to a professional before approaching me with my behavior, to avoid serious relationship conflicts and/or to cause me to despair of my situation.
4 - Realizing the Magnitude of My Helplessness
The awfulness of my pain and its short-term and long-term impacts on my life (as well as upon others) hits home; I may feel bone-wrenching SORROW, GUILT (“I am being punished,”), FEAR (“How can I bear this? How can others bear this?), OR, ANGER (“Why me?”; “God must not be who I thought he was…”); I may look for people to blame, (i.e. “My boss mistreated me so badly that my body finally gave out,”; “That quack doctor really messed me up”, etc); Finances may be of a particular concern to me, if I am losing work-time, or considering having to quit altogether, or if much of my finances is going towards my illness.
For my loved ones: I need your assurance now that you will be there for me no matter what. It will also help you and me if you begin to consider a larger support system if I am required to make many changes to my life--although I am not ready to talk about this until the next stage. I need to hear stories about others who have suffered though, survived and thrived. I also need godly counsel to point me to God’s love and abiding care for me, despite how things appear.
5 - Regrouping
My emotions are beginning to settle now; despite how much pain I am still experiencing, I am realizing that “life must go on”. I can now begin to make plans about regarding what I can do to better deal with/manage my pain. (Many in this stage say they feel like they have “woken up”--as though they had been in a dream-like trance up until this point.)
For my loved ones: You can help me turn the research we did in stage 4 into ideas and plans. I am probably ready to seek professional help for my emotions, if my personality is one that will accept this. (Even if not, please encourage me to do so anyway, or at least to talk to a pastor.) Now is also the time to talk about expanding our support system; beginning the process of seeking social security disability; creating a personal medical file for me to keep track of my journey--including information from doctor visits; list my medications, treatments, etc for reference now and later. Any ways that will help me to regain control over my life will be helpful!
6 - Moving Forward
My emotions are stabilizing, and I am ready to move on with my life; I can work towards making changes that are healthy and are good for my relationships; I no longer need to talk about my pain so much; I may begin to feel a desire to help others who suffer; I now want to give back to those who have supported me, and who are continuing to support me, as best I am able to do so; I am working though the spiritual challenges this pain has awakened in me, and am feeling hopeful.
For my loved ones: Please continue to walk alongside of me, encouraging me to pursue any positive steps I am taking. Hopefully now I am prepared to return support to you, if I am physically able to be so; and to become involved once again in others’ lives and needs. Continue to encourage me, particularly, towards healthy decisions and actions.
7 - Accepting My “New Normal”
I am no longer defined by my illness, despite the fact that pain requires my careful planning and focus in order for me to live well; I am developing new dreams; hope is being restored; I can better trust that God will take care of me and those around me; I am fully aware that I may face new challenges related to my illness which may send me back to Stage One, however, I believe I will be able to walk through these stages again when or if that happens.
For my loved ones: Congratulations!. Since those who have strong support people are most able to reach this stage, you are to be celebrated! The effort has been hard, and I may have not appreciated you as I should have, since pain often makes me overly self-focused. Thank you for giving me grace along the way, as I hope you will continue to do. I am likely to never fully obtain acceptance, because our bodies never get used to pain, unlike other things we feel. In addition, set backs may come that likely will send me back to Stage One. However, since I reached Stage 7 stage before, I am likely to reach it again, with your support.
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I’ll likely be writing more about this topic next time, so I hope you’ll come back. Be sure you’ve signed up to receive an email from me when a new posting comes out--since the way my life rolls I do not post in regular intervals! (Your email addresses remain private--even from me.)
The thing about pain...it demands to be felt.
Until next time,