In learning to cope with any problem in life, I have developed a 3 step
coping strategy. Each step is seperate, and yet at the same time each
step builds on the one before, and interacts with the next step.
Living with life changes or a chronic illness like Progressive MS, loss of
identity, loss of abilities, loss of work, family and friends all can
elicit feelings of grief for one's self. In dealing with grief for
one's self, this strategy may be applied, with the understanding that
you may need to apply each step for each facet of grief.
The coping strategy is therefore understood as process of working through issues.
Acknowledge - Step 1
To acknowledge a problem, is a two part process. The first part
is 'awareness' the second is 'willingness to act'. Awareness is to
finally state that there is a problem and it is not going to disappear
overnight if ever.
In order to take control and alleviate as much as possible the discomfort
caused by feeling 'overwhelmed' by a particular problem, (whether it is
the continuous progression of MS or the daily problems encountered in
life) it is necessary to identify or name the problem. This is achieved
in much the same way as a diagnosis is made, through careful evaluation.
Grief is often difficult to identify - mainly
because most people do not understand that we grieve for ourselves, our
loss of career, our losses of mobility, our changed 'identity' in much
the same way as we grieve for the loss of a friend.
Some of the identifiable characteristics of
grief include anxiety, restlessness, depression, self doubt,
sensitivity, crying or sadness, anger and irritability - to name a few.
Step 1 is to identify that you are grieving for yourself - how do you do that?
Firstly it is essential that you are honest with yourself. Be willing to take a
good look at your life as it is now, compared to what it was before. To
many people taking a good look at emotional pain is at the same time
scary and may be challenging.
Many people have never actually sat down alone with their thoughts, many are
afraid, many are unwilling to open a dialogue with themselves for fear
of ‘losing control’. Honesty in grief means that you are willing to
admit that you are in grief for yourself, that you feel sorry for your
loss of ability, loss of the life that you once knew.
Once an individual is honest with him/herself, the next step of honesty with
those who love and care for the individual is a little easier.
Part 2 of the "acknowledgement" process is willingness to do something about it!
It is important to deal with grief as it arises and as you need. If not dealt with, anger and bitterness can quickly develop.
Once bitterness has become an established
emotion, behavior changes accordingly and all the joy in life quickly
disappears - bitterness can and does destroy personality.
Once the situation has been honestly appraised and admitted, coping and
dealing with grief (rather than suffering from) is to give one's self,
permission to feel.
This may sound like an odd notion however, most people do not give
themselves permission to be with their feelings, or even to have self
pity feelings. This is evident by the statements "I should" or "I
should not" feel this way or that.
It is not only perfectly acceptable, it is healthy for people to feel
angry, hurt, or upset by unfortunate situations, poor health, and
especially the life altering symptomology of MS.
A good strategy in order to begin to give yourself permission to grieve
is to compare how you feel about your grief and distress for yourself –
then follow that with comparison to that of a dear friend.
If it is ok for someone you care about to feel sorry, to cry, about their
situation, why then is it any less permissible for you to feel the same
way – about yourself?
By trying to suppress, or deny feelings toward a situation, only increases
distress. For example, many people feel that to talk about how unhappy
they are is to have a 'pity party', rather than to acknowledge that
they are grieving for their lost or changed identity.
Like any coping strategy for any situation, it is best to understand that it
is a process which may be repeated many times, little by little coming
to terms with your feelings, thoughts, hopes and dreams.
Adjustment - step 3
In life there will be times of hurt, frustration and anger. It is
important to remember, that with any process there is no magic wand or
pill to make the emotional pain go away, but with understanding,
honesty and permission to feel, to express feelings the process can
Also important to remember, is that with any grief "work", (and it is work
to sort through issues, feelings etc.) that we each face situations
differently, at different times, at different levels. It is very common
for people to only be able to work through some issues but not others
or to work a little at a time.
When the emotional pain achieves a level that is to difficult to work
through, give yourself a break, do something to pamper yourself,
knowing that you will come back to it at another time.
There is only so much we can bear to think about and deal with at a time, so
sometimes you may think you have dealt with an issue only to return to
it at a later date. Sometimes, an issue may take several ‘visits’ to
fully come to terms with and each time a little more is learned.
Living with and working through grief takes time and each day it does get
easier to cope with, providing we are willing to work within our frame
of reference. That is, what we are feeling now - not what we 'should'
It also takes adjustment of attitude to ourselves, our situations and our
usual 'self speak' to successfully make the transition from grief and
loss to coping with the changes. Note I do not use the word
'acceptance', because for many people this word suggests embracing or
willingness to be disabled.
Successfully traveling through the grief process leads to coping with the changes
in our lives due to MS and results in adjusting to the way we feel
about our self worth, adapting our environments to better enable our
daily living skills and most of all peace of mind.