Grief is the normal and natural reaction to significant emotional loss of any kind. Grief is the mixed bag of conflicting feelings caused by the end of, or change in, a familiar pattern of behaviour. Grief is the feeling of reaching out for someone who has always been there, only to find when you need them one more time, they are no longer there.
The following statistics are heart breaking and could be avoided in many cases. Over half a million people die in the UK every year with an average of 5 grievers per death. That’s 2.5 million new grievers each year due to a death. Over 250,000 grievers per year due to divorce. This figure does not include the children grieving this significant loss. 25% of children in the UK are in single parent families1. By the 10th anniversary of moving in together just under 4 in ten couples will have separated. A Harvard study has found that when a husband or wife dies, the remaining spouse’s risk of dying is 66 per cent higher in the three months after their partner’s death.
Unresolved grief is everywhere.
Common myths about grief:
1. Time heals: Time does not heal. Time is an abstract concept – a unit of measurement that has no healing power. We know people who have waited 10, 30 or 40 or more years to feel better. However actions taken over time can heal.
2. Grieve alone: Often this advice is subtly implied “just give her some space” or “he needs a few minutes alone in the other room”. As children we learn that this means sad feelings should be hidden or experienced alone.
3. Be strong: Usually the griever is asked to be strong for others. “You have to be strong for your wife/Mum/children”
4. Don’t feel sad: This is usually followed by an intellectually true statement that is emotionally useless to the griever. “Don’t feel sad, his suffering is over” or “Don’t cry, at least you had him for 20 years”
5. Replace the loss: This is really common with pet loss or the end of a romantic relationship. “We’ll get you a new dog” or “there’s plenty more fish in the sea”
6. Keep busy: “If I just keep busy I won’t have to think about the loss”. This one is sad because some people spend their whole lives with this mentality and never get the chance to grieve and complete what was unfinished with the particular loss.
The G word – Guilt.
The word “guilty” is often used by a griever.
Griever: My son died alone, I feel so guilty.
Grief Recovery Specialist: Did you ever do anything with intent to harm your son? Griever: No, of course not (This is an almost universal response)
Grief Recovery Specialist: The dictionary definition of guilt is “intent to harm” and you didn’t do that. You are devastated enough by his death, please don’t add to it an incorrect word that distorts your feelings. Would it be more accurate to say there are things you wish had been different, or better or that you’d done more of?
Griever: Oh yes! Source: ‘Guide to loss’ , 61 tips on grief: free download from http://info.griefrecoverymethod.com/mainpage-ebook
The experts on the gardening programme on the radio said that repotting is traumatic for plants. I had never thought about that before. Should it be any different for children and families moving house?
By virtue of my dad’s job, we moved more or less every 2 years. Some of the places we lived in are not easy to find on the map of India. I completed 12 years of schooling in 8 different schools in India. It was normal to be the new girl in class. We went to schools that catered to families that moved frequently. So, often there would be other new kids in class too. It was heart-breaking to leave friends just when our friendships were deepening. As time went on, it became a part of life and although it was sad, I could handle it much better. That was partially because I altered the quality of my relationships. I didn’t allow them to get too deep. I protected myself by holding back a bit of me for myself. That bit would always be safe. I didn’t know I was doing it then but I see it now.
The cycle repeated itself with Saagar. The difference was that he travelled outside India to places where he would be the only coloured kid in class, where they spoke a different language in a peculiar accent, where he had no close friends or extended family, where it was normal for people to live all their lives in one place and be buried in the cemetery two streets away from their primary school.
Grief can come in intangible forms – loss of trust, loss of innocence, loss of safety, loss of childhood, loss of control and loss of faith. A 2010 study of 7,000 American adults found that the more times a person had moved house in childhood, the more likely they were to report lower life satisfaction and well-being, irrespective of their age, gender and education.
“I felt like I had been run over by a bus,” says James Moore, a mental health campaigner. When he tried to stop taking his antidepressant, Mirtazapine, he got severe dizziness, headaches and nausea.
Around 1 in 10 people in the UK are on antidepressants. Many find them helpful and even life-saving. Some struggle to stop taking them when they are ready as they experience severe withdrawal symptoms along with panic attacks and memory problems. Cinderella Therapeutics, a Dutch charity helps people safely come off a range of 24 different medications. It creates personalised tapering kits with precisely weighed out tablets that gradually reduce in strength over several months. Since 2014, the project has distributed around 2000 such kits, mostly within the Netherlands as the kits are legal there. The site only sends kits to those with a doctor’s prescription and recommends people use the kits under medical supervision.
Severe withdrawal symptoms are managed by some doctors in the UK by prescribing liquid formulations of their specific medicine which can be measured out in small amounts. Liquid medications are often more expensive, so GPs are reluctant to prescribe them. Switching to Prozac is the other option suggested by some but that does not work for everyone.
It’s well known that lack of sunlight has an adverse effect on our brains. It might stop a part of the brain called the hypothalamus from working properly:
Production of melatonin – Melatonin is a hormone that makes us feel sleepy. The hypothalamus may produce it in higher than normal levels.
Production of serotonin – Serotonin is a hormone that affects our mood, appetite and sleep. Lack of sunlight may lead to lower serotonin levels, which is linked to feelings of depression.
Body’s internal clock (circadian rhythm) – Our body uses sunlight to time various important functions such as the time we wake up. So, lower light levels may disrupt our body clock, mood and alertness.
A recent study by Klaus Martiny of the Psychiatric Centre in Copenhagen shows that people being treated for severe depression were discharged almost twice as quickly if their rooms faced south-west in comparison to those whose rooms had a north-west orientation. Depending on time of the year, the intensity of daylight in the south-west rooms was 17-20 times brighter. The results support findings in previous studies of the importance of architectural orientation providing natural daylight as a factor for improvement. “We don’t know the precise mechanism, but I think it’s to do with exposure to the morning light, which advances and stabilises their sleep-wake cycle,” says Martiny.
Light acts as a powerful reset switch, keeping the clocks in our brain synced with the outside world. This clock can weaken as part of ageing, Parkinson’s disease, strokes and depression. To tackle this problem several hospitals are installing dynamic ‘solid state’ lighting which changes like daylight over the course of the day : whitish-blue in the morning, growing warmer and dimmer through the day and turning orange or switching off at night.
In the mid 80s, Dr Vincent Felitti ran an Obesity clinic in America. Many people enrolled and hundreds of pounds were shed by them. But he found that the drop-out rate from his programme was as high as 50% despite good results. He did not understand this and went back to look closely at patient notes.
“I had assumed that people who were 400, 500, 600 pounds would be getting heavier and heavier year after year. In two thousand people, I did not see it once. When they gained weight, it was abrupt and then they stabilized. If they lost weight, they regained all of it or more over a very short time.”
The turning point in Felitti’s quest came by accident. He was running through yet another series of questions with yet another obesity program. How much did you weigh when you were born…when you were in first grade…when you were in high school…when you first became sexually active…
One female patient replied – “Forty pounds” and broke down in floods of tears, “I was four years old.” He found similar common themes emerging from various stories and went on researching this subject for the next 25 years.
The obese people that Felitti was interviewing were 100, 200, 300, 400 overweight, but they didn’t see their weight as a problem. To them, eating was a fix, a solution like IV drug user calls a dose a “fix”.
Eating made them feel better. Eating soothed their anxiety, fear, anger or depression – it worked like alcohol or tobacco or methamphetamines. Not eating increased their anxiety, depression, and fear to levels that were intolerable. For many people, just being obese solved a problem. In the case of the woman who’d been raped, she felt as if she were invisible to men.
Felitti went on to further explore the impact of childhood trauma on people and coined the term – ACE, Adverse Chilhood Experience. He found a strong co-relation between the number of ACEs and early death.
Eighteenth birthday! Yay! No more a child. You are mentally, emotionally, socially, spiritually and physiologically an adult. That’s it. Over to Adult services now. Easy. The number ‘18’ is completely arbitrary. It is designed for the convenience of the service providers, not in the best interest of children. There is a strong case being made now for raising the ‘transition’ age to 25 and rightly so. The recent publication “State of Child Health 2017” has recognised that the transition from Paediatric to Adult services is poorly organised and unsafe for mental and physical health conditions.
This is how one of the parents felt: “In my experience the teams did not work together. They each did their separate thing. When Rebecca left school, she was left with without regular support or advice. When she turned 18 we just stopped receiving information. Emails and phone calls didn’t get answered.”
Chronic conditions such as Epilepsy, Asthma, Diabetes, Juvenile Arthritis and Childhood Obesity are often associated with significant mental health problems. The budget for kids was 6% of the Adult MH services until recently. The government promised an increase and guess what! It has gone up to 7% now. Hurrah! Considering that mental illness most often begins in adolescence and early intervention is of paramount importance, the allocation of funds is highly disproportionate.
‘There was a lot of talk at the CAMHS congress about the Green Paper, but in my view the only green thing that matters here are dollar bills (in this case pounds). Without sound financial and genuine political commitment, structural changes are not to happen.’
The Papyrus AGM this morning brought together many people with the same vision – to keep every young person safe and happy. The numerous hurdles on ground made my heart sink. This is too big a task. It’s too much for me or anyone else. But, I am not alone and they are not alone. We are together. Most of us in the room had been touched by suicide and were carrying our pain boldly around, hoping to use this massive emotional energy to reduce further pain in this world. Bit by bit we will keep planting seeds of hope. One person at a time, we will keep smashing the stigma. We will keep taking small steps and keep walking without looking fearfully into the distance.
Wake up lovers, it is time to start the journey! We have seen enough of this world, it is time to see another. Though these two gardens may be beautiful, let us pass beyond them and go to the Gardener, let us go prostrating like a torrent to the ocean. Let us journey from the vale of tears to the wedding feast, and bring the colour of blossom to our pale cheeks. Let us journey home, our hearts trembling like autumn leaves about to fall; in this world of dust there is no avoiding pain or feeling exiled. This path is full of trials, we need companions let us join their caravan and let love be our guide. We have stayed home, scared like mice but we are lion cubs, let us roar like lions. Let our soul turn into a mirror, that passionately wants to reflect Beauty. Let us begin the journey home.