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.
“As a journalist and reviewer in the field of contemporary spirituality I receive an almost daily deluge of books and other media that promise me accelerated enlightenment, total wellness, and sure-fire, karmically sanitised methods to achieve personal wealth and power. If even a fraction of these spiritual nostrums delivered the goods, my life would be a series of ever-brightening explosions of greater consciousness, finally culminating in the full flowering of affluent guruhood. That seems to be the American way of spiritual evolution these days.
Yet my spiritual life has never felt like a fireworks display of enlightenment-bursts building to a grand finale. When I picture it, my spiritual life looks like something completely different.
Imagine that you’ve spent years building a house to shelter you from the inevitable storms, deep freezes, and hot spells of life. The house is far from perfect; in fact most of the rooms seem to need remodeling as soon as they’re finished. But at least you’ve got a home of your own. Call this home the ego, or your normal sense of self, arduously constructed from the raw materials of the psyche following a haphazard blueprint based on your personal beliefs and experiences, your likes and dislikes, your hopes and dreams.
One day you’re sitting comfortably in the living room of your ego- home and the floor suddenly drops out to reveal a rushing river where you thought you had laid a firm foundation. Hanging on for dear life to a shuddering wall mantel, you realize that the house crashing down around you has become a mortal danger, likely to
snuff you out at any moment with a flying shard of window glass or a tumbling timber. Your only hope of survival is to let go of your familiar home, drop into the river and literally “go with the flow.”
This river is the onrushing life of the soul, which cannot be long hidden or confined even in the most spacious of homes built by the ego. Falling into the inner life of the soul is commonly called a spiritual awakening, and is usually precipitated by a profound crisis that shakes apart our usual self-serving foundations, the conventional ethos of “looking out for No. 1.”
But few of us can swim for long in the soul’s turbulent waters. Sooner or later you manage to struggle to the bank of the river and pull yourself onto solid ground, gasping for breath and wondering how you’ll survive in a strange new territory. After a while you may notice that the scenery ain’t bad from this new vantage point. You get to thinking that this might be just the place to build a new, finer house than before, in sight of the magnificent river but wisely removed by a few hundred yards. Who knows – you might even start a school here to teach river-rafting.
If you do stop here to rebuild a home for your ego, it will simply never occur to you that rivers tend to flood every now and then.
If you’re not focused on rebuilding a shelter immediately, you may notice that a footpath runs by the river where you dragged yourself onshore. In one direction the path will lead to the river’s source; in the other direction, to its destination. Without knowing how you know, you realize that the source and the destination of this river are the same, and it doesn’t really matter which way you head. And so you start walking. As the days stretch into months and then years, you learn to live a life in the wild following the river.
Sometimes the going is rough; you get lost in the underbrush, losing sight of the river and discovering that you’ve walked in circles just to get back to where you were days before. Sometimes the path turns muddy and steep, and you fall back two steps for every three you climb. Sometimes you slide into the river and get swept away again for a while. All these trials are part of the spiritual journey toward selflessness, the placeless destination that you started heading for the moment you fell out of the house of ego.
If you’re handy you may learn how to build yourself a canoe out of tree bark. But after a few days of coasting along the soul’s river – justifiably proud of your ingenuity and your determination to get ahead spiritually – you realize that it’s not really the speed of this journey that matters.
What matters is the seriousness with which you are following the route of the river. If you’re really serious, you’ll find yourself laughing pretty often at how ludicrous your situation is. Because regardless of your station in life in the everyday visible world – and no matter what anyone else thinks of you, whether they call you genius, guru, or fool – you know that you are truly an inward, homeless wanderer following a river without end for no reason you can practically explain. On this journey you’ll certainly never get ahead of anyone!
This is how I picture my spiritual life nowadays – stumbling uncertainly along a rocky path somewhere between the devil and the deep blue sea, pausing occasionally for attacks of helpless hilarity. Despite the wild rigours of following my path by the river, I don’t miss that old house I once built. When I think back, I remember how alone I usually felt within its walls. Sitting out by the river and watching its complex, ceaseless flow, I know that I am flowing there too, my soul inseparably mixed with all the souls who create the water of life.”
“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.’