Loss triggers the emotional reaction known as grief. While grief is usually associated with the death of a loved one, it can occur after any loss. Grief is often discussed in terms of fixed stages, but for most people, there is not a neat, orderly progression implied by the term stages.
Rather, grief is a more individual process in which a person may experience some emotions more than once or may feel two or more at the same time. Reactions can include denial, anxiety, frustration, guilt, loneliness, depression, self-pity, feeling abandoned and a sense of failure. Working through the grief triggered by CFS and FM often takes several years.
The end point of grief is acceptance, which involves acknowledging that life has changed, realizing the need to live differently than before and a willingness to build a new life.
Developing a self-management plan can ease the process. The use of pacing can increase control, thereby replacing uncertainty with predictability.
Pacing strategies, such as taking regular rests, help to stabilize life with chronic illness, reducing the swings between high symptoms and times of remission. Resting ahead of an event can make it more likely you can attend, thus counteracting the sense of not being dependable.
In addition to pacing, here are some other ways to move through grief.
Keep Structure in Your Life
Having daily and weekly routines provides a sense of stability and familiarity. Routine also offers a distraction from loss.
Use Problem Solving
Respond to the emotions triggered by your illness by problem solving. By adopting self-management strategies, you remedy the circumstances that triggered the emotions.
Having to adjust to the many changes brought by illness is traumatic. In a situation in which you are already overloaded emotionally, it’s best to avoid people and situations that add more stress, to the extent possible.
Seek support from family, friends and beyond. Other people with CFS and FM can provide support and models of successful coping. Professional counseling can be useful.
Respond to grief triggers
If your emotions intensify around the anniversary of your becoming ill or on other special dates, plan something positive for those times. If comparison with some people or situations make you feel anxious and uncomfortable, consider limiting your exposure to them.
Some people report they found it useful to make a public declaration of loss. One person in the self-help program, who wrote a Christmas letter to friends to explain why they hadn’t heard from him, found that writing the letter helped him accept his limits.
In the letter, he said, “I am sobered by the realization that it is highly unlikely that I will return to the level of functioning I had before and so will have to adjust to living a life with greater limits.”
Recognize grief as a cyclical, long-term process
You may experience grief more than once as you move through the stages of life, for example if you remain single while friends marry or you remain childless while others become parents or if you can’t be the parent you had hoped to be or can’t have the career you trained for.
Almost everyone with chronic illness occasionally feels sorry for themselves. If you experience self-pity, you can counteract it in at least four ways.
- Recognize self-pity is a part of serious illness. Just as symptoms wax and wane, so do emotions. Acknowledging that self-pity is happening can take some of its power away. You might say something like “Oh, there’s self-pity again.” Also, it can help to say consoling things like “I’ve felt this way before and it’s always blown over, so probably it won’t last this time either.”
- Rest. Strong emotions are sometimes triggered by fatigue and other symptoms. In those instances, rest may help alleviate both physical symptoms and emotions.
- Connect with others. Reach out via phone, email or in-person. Sometimes just being in touch can change a mood. At other times it helps to have your mood acknowledged.
- Help others. Shift your attention off yourself onto what you can do for your family, friends or others in your life.
Review what you’ve done to address grief and plan your next steps through filling out the loss worksheet, then read our suggestions for next steps, both available by clicking on the links in the box above, to the right.