Sunday, May 12, 2013

Constructive Coping

Losing my mom has been the most difficult experience of my life. It has also been full of meaning and depth and personal growth. Grief and self actualization both take a toll.

My natural reactions to discomfort are overeating and oversleeping. But neither tactic is very helpful (if only Oreos and mid morning naps were rejuvenating long-term). Instead of avoiding the pain, living in denial, or self-medicating, I'm choosing the harder way. I'm living through the loss. I'm feeling every emotion and doing my best to process each of my own reactions. This is time consuming and exhausting, so I am working on productive responses (I share them here as recommendations but mainly as reminders to take care of myself emotionally and physically).

I have been seeing my current counselor for about a year and a half. She has been an excellent sounding board for me and Hubbins. Some weeks I attend individually, others weeks we go as a couple. She gets us. She appreciates our differences and helps us find common ground. She helps me look at my life through a telescope instead of a microscope. Whether I spend an hour in her office laughing or crying (or both) I leave every session with a broader perspective. Finding a counselor, spilling my guts to a stranger, and building rapport took a lot of time and dedication. Honesty in the midst of struggle is no cake walk. But it has been worth it. Does it make me sound like Bob Wiley to say I love her? I love my counselor.

For a little over a year, I've been getting regularly scheduled massages. It feels indulgent to admit this, as if I'm recommending being fanned with palm fronds and fed peeled grapes as a path to health. But massage has made a big difference for me. I love it for the peaceful atmosphere, decreased muscle tension, and nurturing touch. It's mentally calming. I don't understand all the science behind feel-good hormones like dopamine and oxytocin, but I know how much better I feel after a massage. 

When I exercise, I have more energy, a better mood, and increased confidence. I am not an athlete. But pushing myself past comfortable is worth it. When I run, my concentration is only on forward motion. My head clears. My heart beats from activity instead of anxiety. Running provides literal and figurative practice in endurance. I don't get a runner's high, but my motivation is reaching mileage goals and seeing progress in myself from year to year.

With running partner Diane, April 20th
There's no textbook for grieving. I looked.

Most depressing shelf in the bookstore
However, I have found plenty of stories of hope and guidance. I gravitate toward story tellers who are authentic, imperfect, and honest about their struggles as well as their joy. A little inspiration goes a long way these days.
Titles and authors I've written about before, plus a few new favorites
I knit, sew, crochet, quilt, and embroider to keep my hands and my head busy. The repetitive motion is meditative and soothing. Seeing individual elements come together as a whole is satisfying. Order exists in the world when I knit two, purl two.

Silence and solitude
These are the hardest for me. Being alone forces me to address what's actually on my mind. Silence means turning off the distraction of the TV and allowing myself to hear my own internal chatter. Writing helps. If I pack my weekends so full of activities that there's no time to sit still and be quiet, I feel scattered on Monday morning at work. It takes planning to leave time for nothing, and I'm learning how much I need down time each weekend.

There are other ways I cope, too: napping has it's place. Healthy eating makes a big difference in my mental well-being. Crying is necessary and cleansing. Appreciating beauty and humor in unexpected places combats melancholy. Being transparent with friends and family about how I'm doing keeps me from isolating myself and feeding depression (probably a blog post all it's own: who to confide in, how much is too much information, hurt feelings when no one asks how I'm doing, my own expectations of caring dialogue, etc.).

Again, these are lessons I am currently learning. I'd love to hear your recommendations.


  1. Ahhh, Emily. So eloquently stated. You are doing all the right things. Wishing you peace.

  2. You are a wise woman, you are.

  3. Emily,
    I didn't know. Then I found your blog. You are so wise and so inspirational. I love the picture of the Kleenex in the purse. It speaks a thousand words. Your mother was a blessing to all she encountered and You are the same. I think about you often and I know your mother was very proud of you...for good reason! I will be back to see how you are doing.
    Your friend,
    Sharon E.

  4. Emily,

    You are wise, and your honesty is refreshing and to be honored. I have learned to fill my cup with beauty, solitude, memorizing favorite scriptures that guide as a comfort, compass and an anchor. Appreciation of creation in all its vastness.... broadens my ability to walk in love and grace.. . softening my remain open.I pray the journey will continue to bring healing to your sweet and beautiful family alike. We have a few things in common..-:)..including storing up our favorite treasures in Heaven....where all things are well. Hugs & Blessings to you. You should begin writing your book....

  5. When my daughter passed away just over 4 years ago, all I felt was a great emptiness. Of course there was nothing to fill it. My neice lost her daughter in a car accident a year later. It took a while but she finally convinced me to "take her" to a program at our local church called Grief Share. I knew she wouldn't go without me and I would not even consider going without her pushing me. I'm still not sure who took whom to those meetings. Although the roles of mother and daughter are reversed in these situations, grief is an overwhelming condition that only others suffering the same ailment can relate to. I found it somewhat comforting spending time with others that understood. After our last meeting I felt that I had left a little of my pain and sadness in that room.