I've a client, I'll call her Sandy, who called me several weeks ago because she'd regained 20 of the 40 pounds she lost several years ago. At that time her doctor referred her to me hoping I'd coach her through a bout of compulsive eating. The anti-depressant medication he'd prescribed for a bout of clinical depression had not, as it does for some people, stemmed her appetite.
When we met this time I asked her what was up. "I ended an important relationship and I've been grieving (and eating)," she said. "I'm not depressed. In fact I've been off anti-depressants for a couple of years."
I was pleased that Sandy knew the difference between grief and depression. Most people don't. Depression is a black mood that brings hopelessness, despair and a lack of a will to go on. Energy is depleted. Some people sleep a lot. Some don't sleep at all. Some lose their appetite. Some can't stop eating.
Grief is the emotion that arises from a loss of someone special or something important or some cherished belief. Although many people get depressed when they suffer a loss, grief is a process that has been described by many emotional health professionals as a series of stages. In my experience there are five. These include:
Stage 1. Denial--the "I can't believe this happened." You experience a sense of shock sometimes accompanied by acting feverishly to block out the harsh reality. When reality can no longer be denied you move to Stage 2: Bargaining. This is the "if you only" or "please reconsider" or "there must be some mistake." Here, you plead, write letters, pray, promise "anything" to no avail. This is followed by Stage 3: Anger--the energetically powerful but disapproved emotion--especially for women who may have been taught, "it's not ladylike to be angry." This is where people often get stuck. Without the skills to express anger, (or if countered by comments that you're being irrational) depression can follow. But, the lucky ones "find their voice" and speak out--sometimes as an unpredictable explosion that can upset your mental balance (and sometimes your relationships). This cursing and screaming and moaning and acting out usually moves you through anger to Stage 4: Sorrow. This is where the real grieving takes place as the very core of your being is touched by your loss. This is where those who muster the resources to confront their pain loosen the floodgates which hold back tears. Inevitably Stage 5 arrives: Acceptance. Here we reassess life values, address questions that may have gone unanswered for years, awaken to our possibilities, realize we'll survive (and for some, be better off) and move willingly toward the gifts of life awaiting us.
I met a very funny wise man at a writer's conference once. Ashleigh Brilliant is best known for his "pot shots". One of my favorites is, "You can only go half-way into your grief before you start coming out."
Sandy's moving on.
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