I am very excited to introduce today’s guest author, Nick Frye. I’ve known Nick since my ‘Tests and Assessments’ course in graduate school. As the last two people without partners for the end of the term project, we were paired together by default. Anyway, during the project we found out we had the same MBTI Personality Type (INFP) so we just decided to stay friends. True story…mostly.
Nick is a licensed Clinical Professional Counselor specializing in addictions, disordered eating, motivation, and health behavior change (I stole that description straight from his professional bio), but these aren’t the reasons why we like him. We like him because he’s the type of guy who is smart and great at what he does, but who doesn’t take himself too seriously, and we are thrilled that he agreed to lend his expertise to WYG for today’s post on self-care. Thanks, Nick!
Last year my wife was struck in the head by an old, heavy sofa while helping a friend move. She had quite the bump on her head and a sizeable headache to boot but otherwise appeared to be okay. Over the next few days she began to have increasingly intense headaches, she was having trouble seeing and reading, words weren’t as easily recalled and we began to get scared.
We went to the doctor together and found out that she had received a concussion from that blow to the head and was now suffering from Post-Concussive Syndrome (formerly known as ‘shellshock’) which is a form of mild traumatic brain injury; symptoms from which may continue for weeks, months, or years after the concussion. The next year of our life was a nightmare filled with intense head and nerve pain, severe depression, outbursts of anger, a change in her personality, and frequent visits to the Emergency Room with little improvement in her condition. We were newlyweds married less than 3 months when all this happened.
We lost our first year of marriage.
My wife lost her self.
I lost my wife.
Needless to say, we were both grieving these losses. Our lives had changed in an instant and what we thought we had known was turned completely upside-down. We were spinning out of control like a Tilt-a-Whirl helmed by an absent-minded carnie. My wife felt helpless. I felt helpless. What could we do?
During this time period, I would consistently receive advice from well-meaning friends and family to “make sure that you’re taking care of yourself” which I interpreted as ‘stay active’ and ‘keep busy’ doing things that will make me feel better. If I can do something that makes me feel good then I will be distracted from all my emotional pain, one more day will go by, and time heals all wounds, right?
So, I took the advice and I kept busy. I did anything and everything that I thought was right and good and healthy for myself. I took up new hobbies, focused on my career, and worked hard every day so that I would come home every night exhausted… but my heart was still broken. I would think to myself “I don’t understand, I kept busy, but I feel worse, not better.” It wasn’t until I allowed myself to acknowledge and express what I was feeling did I begin to recover.
This brings us to the myth of ‘keeping busy.’ When experiencing grief keeping busy only serves as a distraction that buries the pain underneath every activity you can pile on top of it. It only helps to make one more day go by which in itself connects to the myth that time heals all wounds. If this were true when someone breaks their leg we would say to them, “Don’t be upset, time will heal this wound.”
Beyond all this… keeping busy is not self-care.
So, how can we take care of ourselves while grieving? Well, here are a few ways we can truly care for ourselves during this time when we need self-care more than ever:
- Face your feelings – the painful emotions associated with grief are a natural and normal response to loss. You can try and suppress them or hide from them all you want but in the end, this will only prolong the grieving process. Acknowledging your pain and taking responsibility for your feelings will help you avoid the complications often associated with unresolved grief such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and health problems.
- Express your feelings – the most effective way to do this is through some tangible or creative expression of your emotions such as journaling, writing a letter expressing your apologies, forgiveness and the significant emotional statements you wish you had said, or art projects celebrating the person’s life or what you lost.
- Feel whatever you feel – it’s okay to be angry, to yell at God, to cry or not to cry. It’s also okay to laugh, to find moments of joy, or to let go when you’re ready. Your grief is your own and no one can tell you when you should be “over it” or when to “move on.”
- Look after your health but be aware of short-term relievers – these can be food, alcohol/drugs, anger, exercise, TV, movies, books, isolation, sex, shopping, workaholism (the trap I fell into), etc. Most of these are not harmful, in fact, some are healthy, but they become harmful when they are used for the wrong reasons… to cover-up, hide or suppress our grief. Try and get good sleep, try and make healthy food choices, try and be physically active but more importantly allow yourself to grieve as this is the best form of self-care.
I recognize my story of grief involving my wife’s head injury is different than losing a loved one but isn’t it also true that every relationship is unique and therefore we all have our own unique experience with grief? After all, even a well-meaning friend who has had a parallel loss does not know how you feel. What we all do share is the experience of a broken heart because we lost someone/thing we love.
I want to thank my wonderful friend Eleanor for allowing me to be a guest on her blog and to thank you for reading. I can tell you that my wife is on the path to recovery from her head injury though she might always have some lingering effects. We are still recovering, we still experience pain but we also have hope.
For more self-care suggestions, check out the following articles:
- 64 Self-Care Ideas for People Who Are Grieving
- Balancing Selflessness and Self-Care in Grief
- Self-Care for the Rest of Us
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