THE STAGES OF GRIEF - DENIAL AND ANGERIn my previous post I covered the Maslow's hierarchy of needs, looking at our needs and how our chronic pain affects them due to so many losses. If you have not had a chance to read it, you will find it informative. This was in the post called A Look at Our Losses. http://functionallivingwithchronicpain.blogspot.com/2015/04/a-look-at-our-losses.html
Living with chronic pain leaves us with major losses forcing us to grieve the active, healthy, happy, functioning and productive human-beings we once were! Having an understanding of how these losses (physically, financially, emotionally, relationally, sexually, etc.) affect us, pushing us into a grieving process, can help us work through these stages. Also, having an awareness regarding these stages of loss helps those of us suffering with chronic pain know this is normal and that we are not alone in all these emotions and behaviors.
Over the past five years, I have tried repeatedly to take the shredded pieces of my life and rebuild a new “normal”. Finding "tools" to be functional in my daily life to just get done what needed to be done, to take care of myself and our home, with all this physical and emotional pain was very hard to achieve. Throughout all this, I was grieving! Gripping tightly to what my life once was! I have struggled in my heart to find significance, a purpose, with where I was at.
THE STAGES OF GRIEF
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elisabeth_K%C3%BCbler-Ross, developed the 5 stages of grief. Her main study was focused on death and dying. These are the natural stages we go through when we experience any loss in life. The stages are: denial, bargaining, anger, depression and acceptance. In my next few posts on this blog we will look at how chronic pain sufferers cycle through these stages due to our multiple losses. These stages are meant as a guide and it does not mean we have to go through all of them, or all in the same order. We may find ourselves cycling back and forth from one stage to another, spending different amounts of time and intensity of emotion in each stage. Remember we all grieve differently, some are more verbal than others and some may keep it all locked up inside.
Many of us have experienced many losses in life, we just want to get from one stage to another ASAP! This whole process seems to take forever, and there is nothing we can do to fast forward the process toward the final stage of acceptance! Although, I will admit that I have sought help with behavioral therapy to try and do exactly that!
After being diagnosed with yet another spine issue that required surgery, I actually went home and called a therapist for an appointment! At my first appointment I told her, "I just don't want to deal with this like before! I want to do it well and I want to do it fast! And I want to get back to work!"
DENIAL AND ANGER
Denial and anger seem to go hand in hand. Circling around from one thought to another to where it all builds and we get angry....really angry! Really, really, really angry! It can be a very intense time deflecting and expressing our emotions to what is happening and trying to rationalize it. Remember these are natural responses to our losses, often resulting in anger in many different areas, such as not being able to participate in events and circumstances. Also, it comes out in our behaviors, or attitudes towards others such as health care workers, family and friends, as well as yourself.
We may tell ourselves, "This is not happening to me!" "This isn't that bad! I can do that!" "They are wrong with what they are saying!" "I must have heard the doctor wrong!" Many even can't believe God is allowing this and become angry at Him. I found myself angry at the doctors for not giving me what I wanted- my health, so I could go back to my much beloved career! So I asked for a second opinion, which led to more opinions, they kept referring me elsewhere! Which I was not happy about but in the end it all was beneficial, as it led to proper diagnoses and proper treatment! During this time I was also angry at other health care workers, as well as some of the doctors for the rude things they said to me! I now have a fantastic team of doctors out of all those referrals.
Do know that it is appropriate for you to ask your doctors to explain again if you aren't understanding what they are saying or to go slowly while you take notes. They are fine with us calling and asking questions after the appointment. Or you can even make another appointment to discuss what you need too. You can even ask for a longer appointment! Make a list of your questions regarding your diagnosis and the treatment options. They, or their nurses, are able to call us and go over it again and answer your questions. I worked in the health care field and I know this is done all the time. I also have done it myself! So please, do yourself a favor and get your questions answered so you can understand any information you are not clear on! It can be a big help!
Please know that if the anger becomes unhealthy, lasting too long, not allowing you to move forward or causing violence, it is important to seek help with a professional counselor. You need to be safe, as do the people around you! Many therapists can offer advice on how to work through the anger! Please know, there is no shame in asking for help!
A PERSONAL EXPERIENCE WITH DENIAL AND ANGER
In August of 2010, I started with my denial of all this happening AGAIN with my neck! (My first surgery was in 2008). Co-workers were telling me for months to go to the doctor. But the surgeon had told me at my post-op appointment that there was nothing I could do to harm my cervical fusion or disc replacement I had. It was just "normal" pain. I was ignoring it, denying it, pushing through it and worked until in December it was so bad I could no longer lift my arms, hold up my head, etc. The pain increased to a 9-10/10. There was no more denying I had to get medical attention.
The prognosis from the surgeon threw me right into anger, bargaining and depression. . At first they said they would not even try to do surgery. My chances were very slim that there was anything they could do to help. I would have to learn to live that way.WHAT?!?! Then after several tests, they said they would do the surgery for there were other issues they found, but there was no guarantee that I would even have a decrease in pain and it could possibly even get worse. So, what do you do when pain is so high already and they say all that? You cry...you panic....you get angry....you pray...you try and listen to all the choices and eventually you grasp onto what little hope they offer. You hope they are wrong. You hope that it will get better and not worse. You hope that if you have yet another surgery it will help.
The surgery decreased my pain a little bit. I am very thankful for that! My pain averaged 8-9/10 months after surgery, after my pain medications. I was referred to pain management to try multiple injections, anti-depressants and anti-seizure medications used for nerve pain, plus multiple other treatments. I was in and out of the ER with anaphalaxis, other allergic reactions and extreme side effects. For 15 months I sought help from 5 specialists, a plethora of tests, two rounds of Physical Therapy and 2 more behavior health specialists. It took 15 month to finally find someone that would allow me to receive the medications needed to stop me from frequent episodes of curling up in a ball, teeth chattering, shaking, barely able to breath and often vomiting!
Currently, I am mostly at a 7-8/10, after my medications. It all depends on if I am able to limit myself from "overdoing" activities that will irritate the damaged nerves in my neck! Activities such as folding laundry, cutting a steak or salad up, stirring while cooking, etc. I often fail at limiting myself as they tell me, for I have things that need doing! Don't we all? Everyday these minor things leave me in bed in pain. At these times, even using my thumb to type on my iPhone causes severe pain in my arm, shoulders, neck and head.
Why do I share all this? I wanted to share this very private and personal story so you know that it IS possible to accept living with chronic pain. Living like that you ask? It does get easier at times...and at other times it gets harder. But, overall, it is your choice as to what you do with it all. I want others to know it’s worth the fight to finally get to this acceptance! I hate to see other chronic pain sufferers get stuck along the way in the negative aspects of the anger and depression! Down the road there are others needing us to help them find their new “normal!" We need to lend a hand to each other in this journey! We do not have to let it overtake us!
We will cover the rest of the stages in my next few posts!