Grieving and Growing

Many researchers have laid out a basic template for experiencing grief, but there’s so much more between the lines.

When hearing the word “grief,” we automatically think of the cliche five stages of emotions in a neat little line, all arising when a loved one dies.

Well, think again.

In my studies in grieving, which already remains abstract when we all interpret and experience grief differently, I’ve found myself resonating with the topic much more than I had anticipated.

I’m blessed to say that at this point, my first major loss was earlier this year, and that was my dog. I have drifted apart from friends, but no immediate loved ones have lost their lives. Again, for that, I am so grateful.

But I believe grief can manifest itself in situations beyond mortal loss. In life, we’re constantly changing, constantly losing and gaining, so inevitably we react to these changes in both positive and negative ways. And just because we’ve felt a certain way toward a particular change doesn’t mean we’ll always experience the same reaction. Again, it’s quite a difficult topic to pin down.

At the end of class the day we discussed grief, we were asked to answer the question, “What is your most vivid experience with grief?” Although prior to this lecture I had never considered answering the way I did, I felt compelled to say my most immediate, emotional encounter with grief was the loss of myself. The loss of the identity that my eating disorder so desperately craves.

I can still remember so clearly the first time my family had an intervention with me. The first time I myself realized I had a problem that I was ignoring and outright denying. I was at a point where I especially could not see myself as I was, malnourishing myself. Constantly thinking about food and my body. Losing a noticeable amount of weight in a short time. 

As I said, I was in denial that my mindset and intended lifestyle were not sustainable. That my “goal weight” and “ideal body” weren’t possible without slowly killing myself to achieve them. 

When realization hit me like a ton of bricks, I cried harder than I had ever had in my life. I remember going downstairs to my bathroom and just sobbing, getting so furious with myself that I had done what I had. That I had spent the last few months completely consumed in a daze of self-harm.

Accepting my reality, the stage I was at, the consequences I’d face if I continued, was my only way to truly begin recovery. Inevitably, I have frequently ebbed and flowed through various points of recovery, but knowing my mental illness and how it looks to me is crucial in responding to its corresponding emotions.

I have often bargained with myself, thinking of denying my eating disorder’s tendencies to become healthier, an internal battle waged that for most people wouldn’t take a second glance at making a decision. Or bargaining that certain behaviors aren’t “that bad,” that my weight isn’t “too low.” Again, acceptance and tenancity to counter these thoughts are key.

So grief is just an aspect of my psyche. I grieve the loss of an identity that has a perfect body, that can do everything with ease, that thrives on being the small, petite one. I grieve for my mind that is genetically always prone to self-harm. I grieve for an unattainable fantasy that I can always be the same size forever, making me feel special and unique.

I don’t hate this grief. It’s welcomed like an old friend. It has made me more mindful, more determined, more empathetic. It’s not some organized process you finish in due time, but a new perspective to value.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

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Smart Plans?

At first glance, it’s easy for others to judge us. How we interpret their judgment and reactions to our lives is another story.

A couple of weeks ago, I was walking between classes and work when I ran into one of my professors. I don’t have a class with him this semester, so I haven’t actually seen or talked to him in a year. We spent a few minutes chatting about my previous few months in Canada and how that was and what other people we know are up to.

Then, the classic question students hear far too often comes up. Need I say it without you probably guessing what it is?… “What are your plans after graduation?” 

As background information, I’m technically graduating a year earlier than originally planned. By age, I should be at a junior status, but I’ll be getting a diploma in May, or at least whenever they mail it to me. That fact alone is not widely known by peers and faculty, so that generally ends up with others giving me funny, confused looks. Don’t even get me started on trying to explain it when I’m in any interview setting.

But besides that obvious deterrence from the norm, I continue to confuse people by my answer to the tired old question we’re all curious to know. Obviously in a quick conversation, you’re not about to lay out your life plans and goals so everything sounds cohesive and well-thought-out. Instead, you have to somehow fit the next step on your journey into a short snippet and hope for the best.

Generally that isn’t too hard for a lot of students. The typical answers involve graduate school or having a job lined up after they graduate. I’m not one of those people though. My answer to the question sounds something like me saying I plan to take a year to volunteer abroad somewhere.

I think most of the reaction just comes from hearing a plan that isn’t the previous two I mentioned. You don’t hear a different answer every day. Not only that, but when I can only keep it vague as I figure out plans for myself, understandably people might have more questions than positive comments.

I overthink everything. These situations don’t help with that. That quick exchange with my professor was just another instance of me questioning every single word and nonverbal signal in what was probably not even five minutes. I automatically assume that what I’m doing isn’t right, that it isn’t smart, and that I’m letting people down by not living up to my fullest potential.

You don’t have to be in my shoes to empathize with this feeling. We can lives our lives however we choose, but if your decisions don’t follow society’s step-by-step guideline, you feel like an outcast, like you’re doing it all wrong. I can’t pinpoint, but I’d have to imagine this discrepancy has probably squandered plenty of people’s true passions and ambitions, just knowing that it might deviate from others’ expectations.

At the end of the day, you aren’t living your life for anybody else besides yourself. It’s not your job to please others. Don’t let outside opinions stifle your dreams, as cliche as that sounds. It’s not easy to live differently from others. Stand firm in your beliefs and gut feelings. You can certainly take others’ advice into consideration, but their role is mainly to provide support for the journey you wish to build.

If you’re spiritual like me, this deviation might be something you classify as a calling, a higher being directing your path down an unknown trail, but you have faith knowing God (or whoever) won’t steer you wrong. Even if you feel out-of-control, there’s always somebody who has your back.

Maybe you’re at a place in life where you feel plain lost and directionless. Maybe you had a very elaborate plan for yourself in mind, until an unexpected event flipped that plan on its head. Maybe you’re doubting yourself think everything is going wrong.

No matter what you’re feeling, there’s a reason you are in this exact place at this exact time. You’re meant to be here. You have a purpose, even if that isn’t clear to you right now. It will be, in its own time. Even if you feel unstable, you need to trust in yourself and in life’s grand plans that you’ll be okay. Without fully knowing it, you’re preparing for whatever will come next. And this next place bears no consideration into what is common, what others see you doing, and that’s okay. Believe in yourself. Believe in the loved ones that support you. Believe in God and the universe and life that everything flowing as it should.

Have you ever been in a place where you feel lost, or others question your decisions? How were you to overcome that uncertainty?

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

Genuine Prayers Online

 

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It’s easy to post a photo like this or write a quick tweet…but what impact might that actually have?

We’ve seen it for every mass tragedy that has hit the headlines. We see it when local tragedies occur, Facebook friends or Twitter followers going through a hard time.

The depth I and many others place in these words can be very profound. It can convey our empathy for others and our desire to act as a support system for those facing life’s many challenges and hardships.

The beauty of social media is its ease and wide outreach. Rather than having to dial up a number or wait until an appropriate event to tell these words to someone in person, we can just grab our smartphones and do the same thing….right?

For as often as tragedy occurs in our world and how often we hear about the next big scandal or crime or war, the frequency in which we see these types of messages from our friends and followers can be as overwhelming as the news itself. And it may even be having the same effects as this constant wave of information has on our psyche.

We all know of the boy who cried wolf. What begins as something very moving and provoking slowly becomes less noticeable after the umpteenth time we hear and see it. We’re numbing to violence. Our tolerance for what actually makes us hurt and become taken aback continues to increase.

The same goes for the messages we post in response to these events. What began as something very thoughtful and meaningful after hearing tragic news is now an automatic response, one that everyone posts, one that loses a sense of genuine feeling and compassion.

Think of this in terms of telling someone you love them. People online constantly tell their friends this with plenty of heart emojis to boot. But if you were thinking of truly telling someone you love them, as if you’re telling your future spouse this or a final goodbye for family member about to pass away, chances are, social media posts won’t cut it. If you’re telling someone you love them like you mean it, you’ll tell them in person.

Or, even better, you’ll show them you mean it. You will act in a way that demonstrates your feelings. Nothing can replace the power of actions, ones that inevitably speak louder than any words could describe. Let’s consider the act of writing out our condolences and any emotions.  Call me old-fashioned, but I think taking the time to even write a card or mail a letter (snail mail, what a concept) to a specific person is much more meaningful than a status update.

Again, anybody with a wifi connection can do that, but it’s hard to judge based off of a short statement what feelings are actually put behind the words. You can’t read someone’s facial expressions or body language. You can’t hear their voice speaking. You can’t glimpse intimately into their life to see how it might be affected. There’s so much that goes on behind a screen that relying upon it as a sole resource or platform for communication will only tell a superficial snippet.

Not only do social media posts for thoughts and prayers feel too detached from the humanity behind tragedy, but it can convey the opposite message it might hope to make. How often do you find in these types of posts actual names of victims or their families? This goes especially for national tragedies that we as media users probably aren’t directly affected by whatsoever. Sure, we might be more on-edge in certain situations and feel awkward talking about a relevant topic for a week or so, but at the end of the day, real lives somewhere have been turned upside down. In the grand scheme of things, your quick tweet won’t matter much. The last thing you should be doing is taking violence and mass loss and turning the attention toward yourself and your own feelings.

Instead of posting online, let’s take our thoughts and prayers into action. Let’s donate our time and resources to those in need. Let’s stand up for the lost and evoke political change that prevents further violence and devastation. Let’s go back to our roots of communication, whether that be in-person or traditional writing, to remember what it’s like to truly empathize with each other, to feel the immediate support from loved ones and community members.

As a spiritual person, I believe in the power of prayer. But prayer is nothing without actively seeking change, using prayer a tool for motivation to use our resources and connections with others to foster human impact. We are vessels in which to act for the common good, to invigorate the spirit that can make this world a better place. Social media itself is nothing without the people online. We as people have greater potential tan we may realize. We’re much more than a quick tweet or status update.

What are your “thoughts” on this topic? Are you tired of seeing it? What can we do instead?

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

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