Making that first initial phone call to a therapist can be challenging. The mind can race faced with the issues that can drive us to therapy. Let’s examine some of the thoughts and questions that can persuade us to stay in our pain instead of reaching out for help.
One of the greatest privileges about being a marriage and family therapist is getting to work with an array of people, backgrounds, genders, and various populations. While some issues may be similar, no two clients are the same. Pain is pain. When someone comes to therapy to work through their pain and grief, tears freely fall regardless of their socioeconomic status or zip code. We all hurt and we all need help.All grief is valid. My grief will look different from your grief, but “we all deserve to be heard in our grief, no matter what that grief may be.” Problems arise when we begin talking ourselves into believing that our pain is not as important as someone else’s. “Grief is as individual as love.” Sometimes, however, society can cause us to feel bad for feeling bad. Many people are uncomfortable with sadness and grief. They want happiness and smiles. So, instead of feeling held and comforted, we can feel shamed and guilt in our pain.Numerous times, clients want me to ‘fix’ them by removing their pain and grief. If only there was a magic wand to wave it all away! However, the only way to work through pain is to walk in it. “Words of comfort that try to erase pain are not a comfort. When you try to take someone’s pain away from them, you don’t make it better…To feel truly comforted by someone, you need to feel heard in your pain. It seems counterintuitive, but true comfort in grief is in acknowledging the pain, not in trying to make it go away.” There is nothing wrong with feeling grief nor does sadness mean something is broken that needs mending. It is a healthy response to love and loss. “It means something important to you has been lost, and you have to identify what it is.”If you or someone you know is suffering and dealing with grief, let me encourage you to:
Find a trusted friend who allows you to sit in your grief without feeling like you need to be fixed. Do you feel more love and kindness to yourself after seeing this friend, or stressed, unheard and worse in your pain after the visit?
Find a therapist who will work with you on reducing the suffering. There is a difference between pain and suffering. The goal is to reduce the suffering.
Check in with yourself. Note how you feel during different times of the day and under what circumstances. Note when you feel the tiniest bit more peace of being or calm.
Remember your grief is not a test of love; it’s an experiment in love. It’s an experimental faith, experimental relationship with yourself, with this life, with grief, with pain, with love, with suffering—it’s all an experiment. It’s not a test. You can’t fail. You haven’t failed!
Adapted from “It’s OK That You’re NOT OK; Meeting Grief and Loss in a Culture That Doesn’t Understand.” by Megan Devine.
Like death or any hard topic, it may be difficult to talk with someone who is going through a miscarriage, stillbirth, or infertility. We tend to go blank when we can’t ‘fix’ a problem. Here are some ways to be helpful and not so helpful during this painful grief and loss for someone.What would be helpful to say or do:
- Say, “I’ve been praying or thinking about you.”
- “You’re not alone.”
- “I’m here.”
- “Here is my favorite meal.” Make sure it is in a dish or foil pan so they will not have to keep up with washing/returning the dish/bowl.
What would NOT be helpful to say or do:
- “There’s always adoption”.
- “You still have time”.
- “You’re still young”.
- “It will happen”.
- “You can always try again.” Or “Are you going to try for another?”
- “You’d be such a good mom/dad”.
- “Let’s pass all of our estrogen and eggs to ________.”
- One up the person’s grief story.
- “I remember when we couldn’t get pregnant and they couldn’t figure it out. It would have been better for them to have said we were infertile.” (All the while they have children or even if they do not, see #8).
- “I was reading about women’s eggs greatly reducing at 40.”
- “Everything happens for a reason.”
- “If it’s meant to be.”
- “At least you have 1. Be grateful for that!”
Believe it or not, I heard every one of these phrases, and occasionally, still do. Before spending time with someone who has lost a baby, had a miscarriage, is going through IVF, or is struggling with infertility, become educated. Ask yourself, "Is what I’m about to say helpful and sensitive to the other person?" This is an issue that cannot be 'fixed' or 'changed.'If you would like to discover ways to talk to a family member or friend about their grief and loss around infertility, miscarriage, or stillbirth, reach out for help. Having an experienced professional help bring direction to your emotions as you express to your friend or family member that you are with them through this part of their journey would empower you to strengthen your bond with them. Also, processing through your own guilt, grief, and shame will help you to become stronger more well balanced individual.
April 21st begins Infertility Awareness Week. For some of us, 1 in 8 to be exact, this reminder is more than a week long. It’s a daily, monthly, yearly, and lifetime struggle of awareness that our bodies aren’t doing what we need it to do. Few things are more heartbreaking and devastating to a family’s dream than getting a call from the doctor telling you that you and your spouse are unable to have a baby without IVF (In Vitro Fertilization). It’s a deep pain that hits the core and while, over time we manage, the wound never goes away. There are constant reminders, insensitive comments, and endless personal questions that come with infertility. Not to mention the financial investment, the physical and emotional pain, and the stress of timing the injections, blood work, pills, and implantation to the minute. It literally is a direct science!I remember the phone call like it was yesterday. My husband and I were celebrating our one-year anniversary in Dakota Beach. We had been gifted with a condo and were thoroughly enjoying the nice breeze and view of the ocean from our room when my doctor called me. He said, “Melissa, your tests came back along with your husband’s. I hate these phone calls. I’m sorry to say that you won’t be able to conceive without the help of IVF. And even with IVF, the numbers don’t look good.” Instantly I stopped thinking and breathing. My mind was going a million miles a minute and shut down all at the same time. I apologized and asked him to repeat what he just said. He simplified and said, “These test results are showing us why you’re not getting pregnant.” He then gave me a name of an IVF specialist and encouraged me to call right away.Infertility does not discriminate. It happens to anyone regardless of race, gender, sexuality, religion, and SES. It even happens to therapists! Infertility can’t be wished away. It’s a grief and a pain like no other. And although everyone who struggles with infertility has their own story, feelings, and emotions surrounding events that only happen to them, there’s a special bond between those who share an IVF and/or infertility story.So, what do you do if you or a loved one has just learned you have infertility or continue to struggle with your empty womb or the waiting?
- Listen to your physician. If they are not supportive and empathetic, find one who is. You need a good compassionate doctor who will walk with you in this journey.
- Be kind to yourself. Take time to grieve. You have suffered a traumatic loss. Surround yourself with nonjudgmental and non-fixer people. You need to be able to express your feelings and be validated—not judged or fixed. Infertility is not a problem that can be solved. Some people believe that if IVF works and you get pregnant and have a baby—poof, you’re fixed! All is well. This is not the case. Yes, it is a happy and amazing miracle. But there are so many emotions,feelings, and hidden pains that need addressing.
- Remember you are NOT broken. Just because there’s a part that may be labelled ‘dysfunctional’ does not mean you or your personhood is.
- Find a therapist who will help you with coping skills to alleviate your suffering. Not take away the pain, but help in lessening it, help you in your grief, work through unmet expectations, and help manage anxiety if you are going through the IVF process. Don’t suffer in silence. Reach out for help.
The holidays are fast approaching. Turkey, family, trees and tinsel. “Children laughing, people clapping, meeting smile after smile...” That is, everyone who isn’t grieving, of course. The holidays are the hardest for those mourning the loss of a loved one, a shattered marriage, or a miscarriage. While everyone’s singing their “FA LA LAs”, people who are hurting just want lots of silent nights so they're not reminded of how unhappy they truly are. Or even worse, having to pretend they have moved on or ‘gotten over’ their baby dreams and Hallmark movie carriage ride romance.How will you nurture your grieving soul this holiday season? First and foremost, be gentle and kind to yourself. Give yourself permission to not celebrate. Yes, you read that right. If putting the tree up only feels like daggers to your heart, leave it down this year. If seeing Baby Jesus with his new mom displayed in a nativity set pierces your empty womb, keep them tucked away this year. Caring for your soul is more important than keeping up with traditions. Whatever does not promote healing and nurturing, leave it in its box this year. It could also mean that you need to leave a chair open and/or a place set for mom or dad to remind you of their love amid their physical absence. Light a candle or start a new tradition. Put the tree up in a new space or room and change up the lights and/or ornaments. Have a jammie day and stay in to watch movies or bake.Grief manifests itself in so many ways. While there is no right or wrong way to handle grief during the holidays, give yourself permission to decide what’s right for you as well as to change your mind. If you said ‘yes’ to a party or a dinner, and then you feel a wave of pain or sorrow hit, call and cancel if that is what you need to do. Reach out if you’re feeling overwhelmed. Sometimes volunteering can help your spirits. However, make sure staying busy isn’t a way to leave your grief unattended. I would encourage you to find a therapist to help you process your grief if this is your first holiday season alone without a spouse or partner, divorced, or childless. Surround yourself with people who love you and care about you and your well-being MORE than family traditions. After all, we are in the Season of Love, and that includes loving yourself.
“I just don’t feel like myself.”“I can’t seem to concentrate on anything.”“I cry for no reason all the time.”If you have recently experienced any of the thoughts above and have noticed these thoughts lingering for some time, you could be experiencing symptoms of depression. But before we make any assumptions, it is important to clarify the difference between being sad and actually struggling with depression. Sadness, like any other emotion, is healthy in moderation and usually is triggered by an event or situation. Sadness eventually passes. However, depression is more than just a passing emotion. It is a lingering state that affects every aspect of your life… you don’t enjoy the things you used to, things seem less worthwhile, and you just don’t feel like yourself.Truthfully, many people do not seek help for depression because they are unaware of what symptoms of depression look like are or do not recognize they are depressed. And, there is still strong stigma around seeking help for mental health issues, which can be discouraging for people to reach out for professional and personal support.Thankfully, help is available! I want to assure you that if you are struggling with depression, you are not alone in your struggle. In 2017, over 15 million Americans were struggling with some form of depression. Depression is a very real thing and it is very treatable. Reaching out for help to deal with depression is not a sign of weakness. Getting help for yourself and improving your overall quality of life is a sign of strength and courage.If you feel like you are struggling with any form of depression, consider the following options:
- Reach out to professional help (i.e. your primary care doctor and/or therapist)
- Get educated on the signs and symptoms of depression
- Stop beating yourself up for not feeling like your ‘normal’ self
Remember…. there is always hope and it is okay to ask for help.
Who is your ‘go-to’ person? When you need to work through your pain or a problem, who do you turn to? A friend or spouse, a clergy-person or coworker, maybe even a therapist? Thinking we have ‘it’ all together and having ‘it’ all together are two separate things. We may think that we can control our grief, our shame, our guilt, or our secrets by remaining silent, but naming any of these silences provides a different kind of control. If you’ve been hurt, either from the past or an offense this morning, acknowledging what happened to you gives you more power and more energy. Hiding our core feelings takes energy, which can lead to feeling shut down.“Ignoring inner reality also eats away at your sense of self, identity, and purpose” (Van Der Kolk, 2014, p. 235). It is imperative that you find someone with whom you feel heard and understood to share these struggles. Here are some ways to reestablish your feelings and begin taking control:
- If you’ve been hurt, name what happened to you.
- Tell your story to a trusted safe person.
- Write down and journal your inner feelings.
- Find a therapist who will help you explore those feelings. This will increase your self-understanding and could improve your physical and mental health.
References:Van Der Kolk, B. (2014). The body keeps the score: Brain, mind, and body in the healing of trauma. Penguin Books: NY.
When you hear the word ‘grief’, what word or image comes to mind? Maybe death and tears? Or a funeral and a black suit/dress? While these images may pertain to the death of a loved one, grief and loss are more than just a one time/one-hour event. Grief and loss can occur from a fire or other natural disaster, the loss of a home or job, a car wreck or a medical diagnosis, a family cut-off or an abusive situation, divorce or break-up. It could come from realizing you’re not as close or in tune with your partner as you had hoped. Infertility and/or miscarriage can be a big source of grief and loss. In our society a miscarriage is not seen or treated as a death. There is no funeral or time off work. It’s one of the major silent and isolated sources of grief.There is one theme that coincides with all these areas of grief/loss: unmet expectations. “It wasn’t supposed to be like this! My life was supposed to look like___!” But you’re here. Amid your pain, this is the journey you are on, and, comparable to life, grief is a journey! It is a present continuous verb that doesn’t stop. Unfortunately, grief is not something that can be checked off the ‘To Do’ list. Unaddressed emotions and unattended grief can lead to self-damaging/neglectful behaviors, additional stress and depression.Finding a supportive community to walk with you in your grief is essential. However, sometimes the best intentions or ‘advice’ from friends can leave one feeling even more isolated and/or alone if their words are demeaning to your grief. Here are somethings you can do in the midst of your grief to begin the healing process:
- Begin to listen to your body and emotions. Recognize your breathing, stress levels, and temperament.
- Ask for help. If going to the grocery store or running a certain errand is too overwhelming, ask a friend. Surround yourself with helpful and compassionate people who are not afraid to sit with you in silence or who will watch your child(ren) while you and your partner take time to spend time together to listen and talk with one another.
- Be patient with yourself. Give yourself grace and permission for the grieving process. Grief manifests itself in many ways and can appear out of nowhere. Seeking a professional therapist who will help you work through your loss is a great place to begin healing. As you work through your loss, you can gain acceptance and resolution. Having an empathetic person joining with you in your grief can bring a sense of purpose and meaning again.