Just hearing the word grief can evoke feelings of sadness, but is grief just “being sad”? Or is it something more complex? The word itself seems to have a stronger meaning than “sad.”
According to the Mayo Clinic, for many people, including those diagnosed with a chronic illness, grief is a strong and overwhelming feeling of sadness. Grief is usually brought on by something significant and life changing. Examples include the loss of a loved one, or a diagnosis of a chronic condition, as well as things such as losing a job. These are all situations that can be unexpected and leave someone feeling hopeless and uncertain about their future.
Ultimately, grief is a natural reaction to loss. Like depression, the symptoms of grief can leave people feeling numb and removed from their daily lives. They may not be able to find the motivation to engage in the daily activities that they used to do. Grief can be all-consuming, and a hard thing to shake. While everyone may experience grief at some time, each individual’s experience is unique and he or she may handle this intense feeling of loss differently.
Grief comes in stages and people who are grieving need to go through each stage before they can recover. Understanding what is causing your grief is of course important for moving on. One thing that can be incredibly helpful when working through grief is having a support system. If you have friends or family who you can talk to about what is causing your grief, it can help you work through it. Grief can last for years. This is especially true if someone is mourning the loss of a loved one or coping with the life changes that certain diagnosis can bring. Overcoming grief takes recognition and acceptance of not only the situation at hand, but also the feelings that it stirs up. People can not expect to overcome grief by ignoring its presence.
Grief and multiple sclerosis
When receiving a life changing diagnosis, such as a multiple sclerosis (MS), it is natural for people to grieve. MS brings a world of uncertainty into someone’s life as the prognosis and severity of the disease is usually unknown at the time the diagnosis is made. This can leave people feeling alone and isolated. It is important that patients realize that they can reach out to their healthcare providers to help through this process. Healthcare providers can link you up with resources that can assist you in coping with a chronic diagnosis. There is no shame in seeking outside help.
A recent column in Multiple Sclerosis News Today reviews what MS and grief can look like and how people can cope. Preparation can often help people get through grief, but that is easier said than done. How do you prepare for the loss of a loved one? How do you prepare for a terminal diagnosis? The author Cathy Chester says that people with MS already know about grief.
People fighting MS have to grieve the loss of a body while their mind and all the ambitions that come with it remain intact. They still have the desire to run and walk but may be bound to a wheelchair and unable to even use the bathroom on their own. This complete loss of control and ownership over one’s body can leave people feeling not just hopeless but alone and isolated. While loved ones may want to understand, it can be hard for people to wrap their head around a situation that they are not experiencing personally. Activities that were once taken for granted, such as speaking without pain, now become a daily struggle for some individuals with MS. It can be hard to get people who are outside of the MS community to truly understand how intensely MS can impact your life.
For this reason, it is important for people with MS to come together. Luckily, with technology, it is easier to connect with people all over the world. The MS community is huge and by connecting with others fighting MS, people can feel supported and know that they have a safe place to express their feelings.
Resources for working through grief with MS
The National MS Society has a one-on-one peer connection service called MS Friends that enables people with MS or people affected by MS (family members, friends, etc.) to connect with volunteers who have been in similar situation. This service allows people to choose from a list of trained volunteers with whom they would like to interact with. These volunteers know first hand what it is like to live with MS, or to live with a loved one who has MS. They are a great resource to use as a sounding board to work through your feelings and help you make decisions. For people who have MS and feel that they have successfully worked through their own grief, they can also sign up to be trained as a volunteer. This can be a great way for people to give back to the MS community and have something to do that they are passionate about.
Online support groups can also be useful for people who are not able to interact with others in person. www.MSconnection.org is a social networking website and community for people with MS. This allows people affected by MS to connect with experts in a safe space. Through this website you can join discussions, search for specific topics, connect with members, and read the blog that is written by other people who are affected by MS. This enables you to share your own story and connect with people who have similar ones all from the comfort of your own home.
Online connections are not the only options. Local support groups exist throughout the country and can enable you to connect in person with people who have similar life experiences. Through these connections not only can you build valuable long-lasting relationships, but you can also learn information and coping strategies. This also gives you the opportunity to help others in a similar situation as you. This can be empowering and helps to make the MS community stronger.
As Cathy Chester says in her column, it is incredibly important to take care of yourself. This may look different for each individual. She recommends surrounding yourself with positive people. Positivity is contagious, and so is negativity. Putting yourself in the right environment can be very helpful. If you are spiritual or religious, exploring that side of yourself can also offer you a bit more peace and a different avenue to work through the problems that life throws your way. Other self-care suggestions include experimenting with yoga, tai chi, Reiki, massage, writing, or listening to relaxing music. For some, being diligent about self-care and expressing your feelings can be enough. However, sometimes professional help is needed. Finding a grief counselor should not be written off. If ignored, grief can become all-consuming and even life threatening.
If you have reached a point where you feel like there is no way out, be sure to seek help. If you are having thoughts about suicide seek help immediately by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255 or reporting to your local emergency department.
Don’t be too hard on yourself. Everyone handles grief differently and requires different types of help and support to get to the other side of it. Leverage your resources and remember that you are not alone.