grieving the loss of my mother

I wrote a post about grief to explain that there are many stages to the grieving process. However, this post is about the grief that I experience daily. I experience what is known as ambiguous loss. I am grieving the loss of my living mother.

AMBIGUOUS GRIEF AND LOSS

The theory of ambiguous loss was pioneered by Dr. Pauline Boss. It is used to describe a loss that is unclear and lacks closure. This takes place because the loved one is physically present but psychologically absent (for example, someone with dementia, chronic mental illness, or someone who is in active addiction) or it can be a loved one who is psychologically present but physically absent (for example, a missing person, military deployment, children leaving the home, divorce) Both types of losses are not losses in the traditional sense (Adaptedtrom Boss,P., The Contextand Process of Theory Development: The Story of Ambiguous Loss. Journal of Family Theory & Review, B, pp.269-286, 2016) .

loss types and examples

Although people who experience ambiguous grief may go through the Kubler-Ross grief stages, there may also be an added element of “hope” to it because the person is not dead. Hope can be a good thing when you are able to see the lessons you learned from your pain.

However, it can also add to your grief when you cling to false hope.

Examples of this can be hoping that a person who is an addict will become clean or that a person with dementia is going to recognize you.

I believe parents experience ambiguous loss as we adjust to the changes that come with our children getting older. We are in a sense losing the child that once was as we continue to love the person they are and will become. This unclear loss is a loss, nonetheless.

I experienced ambiguous loss/grief when my husband was drinking and taking pills. At the time, I did not realize the grief that accompanies loving someone who is an addict. In retrospect, however, I know that there is a huge sense of loss when the person that stands before you acts like a completely different person. My husband was the same physically, but he was not the man I knew. I was now married to a stranger as I gave birth to his baby and raised our child. Having to cope with that is grief in every sense of its meaning.

GRIEVING THE LOSS OF MY LIVING MOTHER

The most recent ambiguous loss that took place in my life was when I went no contact with my mother almost three years ago. My mother is alive, but she is no longer in my life. I made a decision to terminate contact with her. As a result, I am now grieving the loss of my living mother.

I explained in my prior post that I made this choice because of the childhood abuse I endured at her hands, as well as the psychological and emotional abuse that continued to take place when she would have nothing to do with me or my child as she saw fit.  

Although I made this choice, I still grieve for this loss. I grieve the loss of my mother in my life. I may hate what she did to me, but I still love my mother. I simultaneously grieve the loss of my living mother while grieving the absence of the mother I never had and so desperately wanted and needed.

ambiguous grief

The biggest struggle I face with this type of loss is that it is harder to recognize as grief. When someone dies, there is a sense of closure, no matter how painful. It is clear that person is gone. As result, the pain and various emotions that come from this loss are recognizable and more understandable. With ambiguous loss, it is indeed ambiguous. It is harder to recognize the feelings as one of grief.

Often one isn’t sure how to process or experience a loss that isn’t concrete.

There is understanding, support, and knowledge about traditional grief. There is usually some sort of spiritual or religious belief that guides us through the death of a loved one. Jobs offer bereavement leave to give people the time they need to mourn. Mourning the death of a person is also something that is considered normal and there are support groups and/or other means of professional help.

With ambiguous loss, there is a lack of knowledge and support because there isn’t a person who died. There is not a religious or spiritual process and there is no bereavement leave due to grieving the loss of your living mother. There is a lack of support and services out there to help process this loss. 

When a person’s parent dies, there is usually an outpour of sympathy and condolences. I have never received such words. There has never been any acknowledgment of the pain and loss that I feel. I have grieved alone.

People do not see my loss as a true loss because my mother is still alive.

As much as I understand the pain that comes from losing a parent, I know my grief is of a living parent. When I find out about a person’s parent dying, I want to offer my support.  I want to let them know that I feel that pain too and that they are not alone. However, I usually don’t say such things out of concern that the person might find it offensive to compare my loss to theirs.

What I feel it is crucial for others to understand is that just because a person is alive, does not mean that we do not grieve deeply. I did not sever ties with my mom over something trivial. I had to walk away from the only mom I will ever have out of necessity. That does not mean that it is not painful.  The conflict between my head and my heart is something I wrestle with constantly. Grieving the loss of my living mother means simultaneously knowing I did the right thing while still experiencing profound grief due to that choice.  This is merely one type of inner conflict that takes place with someone who experiences ambiguous loss and grief.

MY AMBIGUOUS GRIEF WITH MY MOTHER

My mother has sent me emails since going no contact. One was to tell me she was suing me for grandparents’ visits, one was to retract that threat since she cannot do so based on the legal requirements where I live, and the rest were various forms of telling me I was responsible for keeping her granddaughter away from her. None of these emails contained any acknowledgment or responsibility for what led to my decision.

With each letter, I feel various forms of grief.

grief process model

I initially feel hope that perhaps this email will be different than the others. Perhaps she will finally love me enough to want to make things right. This is the type of hope that is common and often detrimental to a person experiencing ambiguous loss. Coming to the realization that she is who she is and will never change was the hardest thing for me to accept in my life. Each letter only makes that wound of loss deeper.

After I read her letters, I feel waves of sadness and anger. I often cry and feel rage simultaneously. All of the pain comes rushing back to me. I then use every ounce of strength I possess to not respond to her email. My impulse is to explain how much it hurts me that she won’t admit that she abused me. It rips me apart that she won’t acknowledge that it isn’t okay to say that she doesn’t like me and wants nothing to do with me. I want to scream at her that I don’t understand why she doesn’t miss me enough to make things right, and why she is willing to miss out on watching her granddaughter grow up.

There are so many things I want to say, so many things I have said before, but things I know will never be understood by the woman I call my mom.

My mother is getting older, and the time will eventually come when she will leave this earth. It is then that others will say their condolences- or will they? Will I ever be seen as someone who is grieving their mother when I chose to not have her in my life while she was living?

The truth is, we all grieve. We grieve in our own ways and for our own reasons. Some types of grief are more understood than others. What I hope I have conveyed to each of you is that whatever the reason may be, grief is grief, and loss is loss. Just as we should respect and validate others’ feelings, it is important to respect and validate someone’s grief.

Loss is a void that never gets replaced. With time it becomes our new norm, but that absence is always there, and it is never forgotten. I live with that void just as much as any other person who has experienced loss. There is no competition for who grieves more or experiences loss more, but people with ambiguous loss deserve to have their grief recognized too.

I am grieving the loss of my living mom, and I kept that pain to myself for too long.

grieving the loss of my living mother closure

I hope my story provides support and understanding to those who are also experiencing ambiguous loss. I want you to know that your pain is real, and it deserves acknowledgment. First and foremost, you need to acknowledge it yourself. The person you love may not be dead, but you still need to grieve. 

Ambiguous loss is a confusing concept, but that doesn’t mean you have to grieve alone. Reach out to friends or loved ones and explain to them how you are feeling. Do not keep your feelings to yourself, and do not allow anyone to minimize your feelings. Allow yourself to feel whatever it is you are feeling without permission or approval. I hope you show yourself compassion and understanding as you ride the waves of these emotions just as you would any traditional loss.

 

life through my eyes

I was asked by a reader named Sarah to write a post about life through my eyes. Although I welcome suggestions, this topic is one of the hardest ones I’ve ever had to tackle. I have written many posts about my struggles, but describing what life feels like for me is incredibly difficult to articulate.

I am very much an enigma. Although I have self-awareness up the wazoo, implementing that self-awareness is challenging. I have a strong sense of who I am, but I still struggle with codependent tendencies and seeking validation from others. My personality is one of an advocate (INJF),  and I will vehemently stand up for what I believe in. However, I am incredibly sensitive, and my feelings are easily hurt.  I know I am strong because I have survived a lifetime of abuse and trauma, but I still feel weak.

The truth is, we are all comprised of a series of contradictions. Our lives and experiences have formed and shaped our way of perceiving the world. For many of us, we are our own worst enemies. We go into the ring with the sense of self that knows better versus the self that is consumed with pain. Life through my eyes has been that constant internal battle.

LIFE THROUGH MY EYES

I spent my childhood in survival mode. As a victim of emotional and psychological child abuse and severe neglect, I grew up having no sense of safety or stability. I did not know what if felt like to be loved unconditionally. I was extremely codependent on my mother, who was my abuser. It was engrained into me that I was worthless, helpless, and incapable. Nothing I did was good enough to make my mother love me, so I concluded that I was broken and unlovable.  

This way of thinking was the voice of my inner child, and that way of thinking never went away. Our inner child is the child within all of us. It is based on the thoughts and experiences that took place during your childhood, pre-puberty. Every single one of us has an inner child. Your childhood will determine the perspectives, needs, and thoughts of your inner child. Due to my trauma and abandonment issues, my inner child views the world through a lens of fear, loneliness, and terror.  

For a very long time, my inner child was my primary sense of self.

It was hard for me to detangle who my inner child was versus who I was as an adult because my way of thinking never changed.  As an adult, I still saw the world through her eyes. As someone with C-PTSD and anxiety that is often debilitating, I still felt like a helpless, scared and fearful girl.

inner child

LIFE THROUGH MY EYES: MY ADULT SELF VERSUS MY INNER CHILD

Since I couldn’t save myself as child, I believed I could not save myself as an adult. I jumped from relationship to relationship, wanting the person to “save me”. I felt that I was not whole and could never be whole due to the damage done to me. However, I thought that if someone finally loved me, it could fill that void. The truth is that that void can never be filled by another person, and I kept experiencing that painful truth time after time and relationship after relationship. I was like a parasite by creating a sense of self and wholeness from another person. When the relationship would end, I crumbled along with it.

When my husband started abusing alcohol during my pregnancy, my inner child was up front and center. The man I had chosen to start a family with, the man who was supposed to love me, was not someone I could count on. I was alone again, but this time, I was about to bring a living being into the world.

How could I be a mother on my own when I still felt so very much like a helpless child?

My husband turned to pills soon after he stopped using alcohol. He spent the first four years of my daughter’s life MIA emotionally. Even after he became sober, he struggled to use healthy coping mechanisms to deal with his pain and to communicate his feelings.  Meanwhile, I had a daughter who depended on me. I promised myself as a child that the cycle of abuse would stop with me.  Therefore, I knew I had to stop viewing myself as that lost little girl. After years of being abandoned by my mother, I came to the realization that I was guilty of abandoning my inner child as well in adulthood. I had to give myself the support and love that I hadn’t received as a child.

I now had my own little girl, and her safety and well-being were my responsibility.  

Having my daughter helped me a long way towards realizing that I had a sense of self separate from my inner child. It was my job to take care of my daughter and step-up as an adult. In doing so, I learned that I could stand on my own two feet. I had an obligation to teach my child that she is in control of her life and that happiness is in her own hands. Therefore, I had to start practicing what I preach.

I still vacillate between seeing life through the eyes of my inner child and the eyes of a woman who is a survivor. There are instances when I am triggered, resulting in me lashing out and feeling out of control. I know in those situations that that scared little girl within me feels frightened and scared, and that my inner child is reacting out of fear and feeling unsafe. I know my inner child is in survival mode because she had no choice but to do that growing up.

However, I am learning that through recognizing the needs of my inner child, I am showing her that she is safe.

inner child safety

By listening to her and honoring her feelings, I am giving her the love she needs.  She isn’t being abused anymore. She isn’t in danger anymore. There is an adult who can care for her, love her, and make sure that she is protected. After years of looking for someone to rescue me and my inner child, I am learning that I am the person that needs to proudly take ownership of that role. I am my inner child’s source of safety and support.  It isn’t easy to stare your pain and your past in the face, but I now know that my inner child deserves to be loved. I now know I deserve to be loved too.

I am by no means “healed”, and truth be told, I don’t I don’t think anyone is ever fully healed. 

We all have wounds and bruises. Some are merely knacks, whereas others are deep. Some are physical in nature, and others are invisible, but oh, so potent.  We are all damaged, but being damaged does not mean that we are broken. 

Living life through my eyes means that I will always struggle with anxiety. After being thrown out of my house from the time I was 8, I am very much shaped by the message etched into the recesses of my being that the outside world is a scary place. Although I am aware of why I feel that way, it doesn’t change those feelings.

As a result, I feel fear doing things on my own.

I feel tremendous anxiety making phone calls, going on errands, and even going to a doctor’s appointment for a check-up. Additionally, I do not drive on the highway and will try to drive somewhere in advance to make sure I know where I am going. I also have social anxiety.

That said, I have driven without practicing in advance when it is last minute, I have taken my incredibly hyperactive daughter on errands, and I have had in-depth phone calls with my daughter’s pediatrician.  Although I don’t think my fears will ever go away, I still try to face them. I will fight to be the best version of myself until the day I die.

I used to feel a lot of shame about my anxiety, and most people don’t know the extent of it. Outside of my husband and my immediate family, nobody knows that I have debilitating anxiety. However, I spent too many years feeling shame about those feelings and judging myself for it. I now know that my anxiety is a by-product of my abuse, but anxiety doesn’t define me. 

I spent too many years staying in inner-child mode, instead of incorporating her into my life.

There will always be someone who will judge me for my struggles. They won’t understand why a grown woman has these difficulties.  However, I also know that I am a warrior for getting up every single day and fighting. It is a daily internal fight to not allow my fears to define me. I fight daily to be the best mom, wife, and person I can be. I also fight daily to not let my past control my present and future.

There will always be things that others do easily that are incredibly difficult for me. I now accept that. However, I am determined to show my daughter that bravery isn’t measured by success, but in having the courage to face your fears and keep trying. It is a lesson I have to remember and implement every single day.

MY BALANCING ACT

my adult self versus my inner child

I now try to view life with a balance between grown-up Randi and inner-child Randi. My inner child will always be a part of who I am, but she isn’t all of me. I learned that it is not okay to stay trapped in the past, but I need to honor the feelings of my inner child and hold space for her. I am proud of my inner child, and I remind her of that daily.

My inner child is here to stay, and I now embrace her.

I am able to see the world through her eyes, while also noting when it is time for me to remind her that it is my job to step-in and protect her. I didn’t get the love I needed as a child, and there is nothing I can do to change that. However, I can now give that love to myself and to my inner child.  I keep that knowledge in my mind and in my heart as I view the world and my life through both pair of eyes.

how to tell if someone is a narcissist

How can you tell if someone is a narcissist? Narcissism is a topic that comes up quite frequently. It seems that everybody knows a person they’ve deemed a “narcissist”. That word is commonly used to describe a person with an inflated ego whose focus is often on themselves and their own well-being.

CRITERIA TO TELL IF SOMEONE IS A NARCISSIST

Unfortunately, the term of being a narcissist gets thrown around often and sometimes recklessly. True narcissism goes way beyond someone monopolizing the conversation at dinner. It causes someone to have an extremely inflated sense of self-importance, a pattern of self-centered, arrogant thinking and behavior, and a lack of empathy and consideration for other people.

It is not easy to tell if someone is a  narcissist. However, there is a criteria to determine if a person actually has Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), a person has NPD if they exhibit five of the following criteria (ncbi, 2020):

  1. Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements, expects to be recognized as superior without actually completing the achievements).
  2. Is preoccupied with fantasies of success, power, brilliance, beauty, or perfect love.
  3. Believes that they are “special” and can only be understood by or should associate with other special people (or institutions).
  4. Requires excessive admiration.
  5. Has a sense of entitlement, such as an unreasonable expectation of favorable treatment or compliance with his or her expectations.
  6. Is exploitative and takes advantage of others to achieve their own ends.
  7. Lacks empathy and is unwilling to identify with the needs of others.
  8. Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of them.
  9. Shows arrogant, haughty behaviors and attitudes.

NPD usually develops either in adolescence or in early adulthood. It is very common for children and adolescents to display personality traits that resemble NPD, but such occurrences are fleeting and register well below the clinical criteria for a formal diagnosis of NPD. True symptoms of NPD are apparent in many different social situations and are extremely consistent over a period of time (psycom.net, 2021)

The 4 Different Types of Narcissism

types of narcissists

Narcissists are very charming and charismatic. Therefore, it is very easy to develop a relationship with one unknowingly. For purposes of deeper clarity, there is research that labels narcissists with different types and subtypes. The DSM-5 doesn’t group narcissism into different types, but some experts classify narcissists into four different groups:

Grandiose

This is typically what we think of when a person is described as a narcissist. These people perceive themselves as superior to others. Grandiose narcissists are extremely entitled and expect special treatment. They are desperate to maintain this illusion of grandiosity and will do anything to maintain their perception in the eyes of others.  They display arrogant behavior.

Vulnerable

This type of narcissism is hard to spot, because it is more subtle and less recognized.  With that said, it may be the most common types in younger generations (Millennials, Gen Z and Gen alpha) (psychologytoday, 2020). Vulnerable narcissists feel constantly victimized because they believe they are superior and the world fails to recognize their superiority.  They prefer to receive attention from selected people rather than be the center of attention. Vulnerable narcissists often suffer from child abandonment issues and because of that they tend to exhibit codependent behavior. They will also pretend to be selfless to get the admiration of others.

Communal

Communal narcissists get their validation from helping different groups of people (e.g., charities). They get involved to feel needed, and they want to be liked and appreciated. However, their intentions are impure. They do good deeds to receive validation as opposed to caring for others.

Malignant

Malignant narcissism refers to a very specific, but less common version of NPD. This is considered the most severe type and the one to cause the most harm to others. They are highly manipulative and will exploit others with no remorse. The symptoms of malignant narcissism overlap with antisocial personality disorder (APD). To be considered a malignant narcissist, those individuals need to be diagnosed with both features of NPD and APD (verywellmind, 2019).

Malignant narcissists are paranoid and are sadistic while taking pleasure in the pain of others. Sociopaths are an example of malignant narcissists, and they are very hard to spot. These individuals believe they are exempt from normal societal rules and are cold and calculating, which often makes them very dangerous.

The Toxic Subtypes of Narcissistic Personality Disorder

subtypes of narcissism

Falling under each type of narcissism are two subtypes that classify how these traits appear to others dealing with a narcissist.

Overt vs. Covert

Overt narcissism is what we think of when we imagine the typical narcissist. They are usually the most confident and arrogant person in the room. Overt narcissists dominate the conversation and bask in the attention that they receive.  They demand admiration and charm their way through life with false intimacy to those they want to impress. Overt narcissists are prone to rages way beyond normal anger, and they may ridicule and mock others. Grandiose and communal narcissists will always be overt (psychologicalhealingcenter.com, 2020).

On the other hand, the needs of a covert narcissist are much less obvious. A person with covert narcissism might come across as shy and withdrawn. Covert narcissists are still self-absorbed and believe that they are better than everyone around them.

Since covert narcissists believe they are superior to others, they may avoid situations or tasks that they feel are beneath them and challenge their sense of superiority. They are hypersensitive to criticism and will become defensive very easily. They can act in a vindictive or passive-aggressive way if they feel slighted by another person. Additionally, they have delusions of victimization and may cry on cue to manipulate others, as well as stage a crisis to gain attention. These individuals typically have a long history of depression and anxiety and are likely to experience other personality disorders, such as borderline personality disorder (medicalnewstoday.com, 2020). Vulnerable narcissists will always be covert, while malignant narcissists can either be overt or covert.

Somatic vs. Cerebral

Narcissists as a whole are either somatic or cerebral. In other words, they feel superior based on their bodies or their minds.

Somatic narcissists obsess over food, weight and their appearance. They will spend a lot of time talking about activities like going to the gym and dieting. Somatic narcissists are very sexually active. Since they gain their self-esteem from sex, they have a very hard time remaining faithful in their relationships. They can’t stand criticism, but will constantly criticize others based on their appearance (mindbodygreen.com, 2020).

Cerebral narcissism is found in a person who feels superior based on their intelligence. They want to be the center of attention and need to feel smarter than everyone else.  They have a vast array of knowledge and tell stories (either real or make believe) that illustrates how smart they are. Also, they will point out others’ failures, and will often show a great amount of hatred and disdain for those people they feel are not as smart as they are.

Like somatic narcissists, cerebral narcissists enjoy having power over others. However, they gain that power with their mind rather than their body and charm. Since cerebral narcissists derive their self-esteem through intellect, they often lack an interest in sex.  Therefore, they can remain faithful and be in romantic long-term relationships (thenarcissisticlife.com, 2019).

My Relationship with Narcissistic Personality Disorder

As I mentioned earlier, it is very hard to tell if someone is a narcissist.  With that said, a relationship with one is usually very damaging to your mental health and self-esteem.

I spoke HERE about the relationship I had with my mother. She meets the official criteria for having NPD. I tried to (unsuccessfully) have a healthy relationship with her. Throughout my childhood and most of adulthood, I tried very hard to gain her love and approval. It took years to learn that this was an impossible task. I realized that if a person is unable to have empathy or recognize that their actions are unacceptable (in my case, abusive),  that person cannot meet your needs and/or respect your feelings and boundaries. As a result, I went no contact with my mom 3 years ago.

Over the past 3 years she has sent me several emails. She has never acknowledged or admitted fault for the hurt she caused me. All she talks about is the perceived wrongs done to her, and how I am at fault by not allowing her to see her granddaughter. She has no empathy for the pain and abuse that she inflicted upon me or my child.  Each email speaks about herself and her delusions of trying to do the right thing by emailing.

It is a hard pill to swallow that your own mother does not love you and care about your feelings.

I now understand that narcissists are not capable of admitting they have done anything wrong. They are also completely unable to show compassion for the hurt and pain they cause other people. It is that knowledge that has helped me to realize that my mother’s actions are not a reflection of me. I used to think it was my fault that she didn’t care about me and treated me so terribly. I now understand that narcissists are experts at making others feel they are to blame for the pain they cause.

SIGNS AND BEHAVIORS TO TELL IF SOMEONE IS A NARCISSIST

Narcissists don’t have many long-term friends. If you are in a relationship with a narcissist, they will lash out if you want to hang out with your friends because it damages their fragile ego and sense of self. 

Another agonizing aspect of being in a relationship with a narcissist is that they think they are right about everything.

They will never admit wrongdoing and will never apologize. You can’t debate or compromise with them. Therefore, it is important to avoid negotiation and arguments with them. Narcissists love being in control.

People with NPD value themselves over others, and will typically disregard the wishes and feelings of anyone else.  They expect to be treated as superior, regardless of their actual status or personal achievements.

Narcissists are very charming and will do almost anything to get what they want. That is one of the many reasons why it is difficult to tell if someone is a narcissist. Narcissists think that they deserve to be with other people who are special, and that special people are the only ones that can appreciate them. With that said, once you do something that disappoints them, they will turn on you. It can be subtle at first, but over time you will start doubting yourself more and more. This will often cause you to feel like you aren’t good enough and can’t do anything right to make the other person happy. Your self-esteem will begin to strip away, and you will often walk on eggshells in order to try to appease the person.

It is extremely difficult to tell if you are in a relationship with is a narcissist because of all the manipulation and gaslighting.

The most popular tactic used by every type of narcissist is gaslighting. Gaslighting is a manipulation tactic that makes victims question their perception of reality. Their behavior turns your world upside down so much that you no longer know what to believe. Narcissists are typically emotionally abusive and cannot have a healthy relationship with others. This includes romantic and non-romantic relationships. 

Do not hesitate to reach out to a professional to tell if someone is a narcissist (healthline.com, 2019). When you’re in the middle of a relationship with a narcissist, few things make sense and your world is never stable. You will not feel supported or validated by a narcissist. Therefore, seeking outside help and support is the best way to deal with being in any type of relationship with a narcissist.

I understand how difficult it is to walk away from a narcissist. However, I am proof that ending a relationship with a narcissist is possible. Remember to value your well-being and happiness. If a person disregards your feelings, ignores your boundaries, makes you feel badly about yourself, and doesn’t prioritize you, it is necessary to walk away. It might be difficult at first, but loving yourself means removing toxic people from your life.

 

five stages of the grieving process

Grief is something we have all experienced at some point in our lives. Death is not the only factor that evokes grief and loss. It is important to understand the five stages of the grieving process in order to identify and process your emotions, as well as empathize with others who are grieving.

What Causes Grief, and is there a right way to grieve?

Grief is caused by a variety of circumstances, including the ending of relationships, illnesses, the end of a project or goal, or perceived or real changes in your life. This includes changing schools, locations, or jobs. The pandemic has caused social isolation and tremendous change for all of us.

The truth is, we are ALL grieving in some form right now due to the loss of our old way of life.

 “Everyone, from all walks of life and across cultures, experience loss and grief at some point” (psychcentral.com, 2021).

A psychiatrist named Elisabeth Kubler-Ross created the Kubler-Ross model, which is the theory of the 5 stages of grief and loss.  These stages were described in her 1969 book, On Death and Dying.  Although Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’ model was initially based off of working with terminally ill patients, it has been adapted to include all types of grieving and loss. The five stages of the grieving process are popularly referred to as DABDA.

the five stages of the grieving process

It is important to note that although she described 5 stages of grief, there is no right or wrong way to grieve. Some people will experience only certain stages of grief, where others might experience all of them. The stages are not linear, so they can be experienced in any order as well. The extent to which you feel emotions and symptoms associated with grief will vary as well. Additionally, the amount of time in which you experience a particular stage and/or grieve in entirety will vary from person to person. In other words, everyone grieves and feels loss differently.

The Five Stages of The Grieving Process

(1) Denial

Denial is considered the first stage of grief, as it can initially help you to cope with your loss. It might be hard to fully comprehend and acknowledge. Denial and disbelief is a coping mechanism that allows the impact of the news to not happen all at once. Therefore, denying the news, feeling shocked, and going numb are common symptoms associated with this stage. Typically, this stage is about living in a preferable reality as opposed to the actual reality. Physical symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, increased heart rate, and difficulty sleeping. This stage will end when the feelings that were being buried start to come to the surface (psycom.net, 2020).

(2) Anger

Feeling intense anger, frustration, irritation, and anxiety all encompass this stage of grief and loss. Pain from loss may result in feelings of helplessness, which then turns into anger. Those in this stage may feel angry at a person, a higher power, or a general feeling of anger. You might also feel guilty for feeling angry, which will make you feel angrier. It is also common to feel angry at the cause of your loss (webmd.com, 2020). 

Pain is the source of this anger and allowing yourself to feel this way is part of the healing process. Pushing your emotions aside will not allow you to grieve. Therefore, it is important to hold space for these feelings.

(3) Bargaining

This stage of grief takes place as a way of holding onto hope and trying to prevent a loss from becoming permanent. There are often feelings of helplessness and desperation. For example, a person may pray that they will be a better person, become more religious, etc. in exchange for sparing the life of a family member who has a terminal illness. You might also feel guilt as you think over if there was something you could have done differently to prevent this situation from taking place (psychcentral.com, 2021). If bargaining and circumstances don’t improve, it may lead the griever to experience denial and pain again.

(4) Depression

This is the stage when emotions are very raw as you are fully facing your present reality. You may feel heartbroken, intense sadness and despair, and fully realize the loss. Additional symptoms include feeling overwhelmed, loneliness, hopeless, inability to get out of bed, and not wanting to participate in activities. Physical symptoms during this stage are changes in appetite and sleeping, headaches, stomach aches, fatigue, easily distracted, isolation, and physical pain.

Remember you have people who care about you. Allow others to support you during this difficult time.

(5) Acceptance

During this stage the loss is accepted. That doesn’t mean you are happy about it; however, you accept and acknowledge your new reality. “Acceptance is more about how you acknowledge the losses you’ve experienced, how you learn to live with them, and how you readjust your life accordingly” (psychcentral.com, 2021).

Please note that you will still have bad days and may still experience anger, sadness, feeling heartbroken, etc. You may feel like you have accepted the loss at times and then move to another stage of grieving. Remember that grieving and healing are not stagnant.

Eventually, you will remain in this stage for longer periods of time and move forward with your life. You will figure out a way to live life with this loss. At this point you will start to reach out to friends and families, be more involved in activities, and you will start to feel more hopeful (www.betterhlep.com, 2020 ).

acceptance is acknowledging your new reality

Additional Stages of The Grieving Process

There are current adaptations of the 5 stages of the grieving process. The 7 stages of grief are an extension of the original with overlapping stages ( www.betterhelp.com, 2020). Similarly, there is no order to these stages:

  • Shock and Denial– feel shock and inability to grasp reality
  • Guilt and Pain– experience feelings of heartbreak and emotional pain as well as grief
  • Anger and Bargaining– feel anger and also try to bargain for a different outcome
  • Depression, Reflection and Loneliness– reflect upon the loss and feel depressed and lonely
  • The Upward Turn -grief starts to become more manageable and less difficult
  • Reconstruction and Working Through -start to set realistic solutions and work through changes due to this loss
  • Acceptance and Hope– accept circumstances and begin to feel a sense of hope about the future

When to Seek Professional Help

If your feelings of depression are getting worse, you have thoughts of harming yourself, or you are turning to drugs or alcohol to numb your feelings, it is important to seek professional help. This can be done in the form of a support group or seeking out a bereavement counselor. Both of these can be sought out online.

Coping Strategies for Loss and Grief

coping strategies for loss and grief

Although you should not rush or force your way through grieving, there are things you can do to help yourself during the grieving process:

(1) Practice self-care

Pick something that you feel comfortable doing during this difficult time. Whether it is exercise, mediation, or pursuing a hobby, focus on implementing things that will improve your emotional and mental well-being.

(2) Reach out to others

Do not isolate yourself. Whether it is talking to a friend or joining a support group, do not deal with loss on your own. Speak with others who can empathize or who can offer additional insight and support.

(3) Create small, attainable goals

This enables you to feel a sense of accomplishment and responsibility for your life while allowing you to grieve and process your loss.

(4) Give yourself room to heal

Understand that grieving takes time and moving through your grief is the only way to get passed it.

(5) Avoid harmful behaviors

Do not turn to unhealthy behaviors to deal with your pain.

The Grieving Process

Grief is not a one-size-fits-all process. It is an individual path, and it is one that has no rhyme or reason. There is no valid or correct way to grieve. However, understanding these stages of grief enables you to understand your grieving journey. Allow yourself to mourn in whatever way that you experience your feelings of grief and loss. Recognize and hold space for your emotions, give yourself the support you need, and remember that healing takes time and patience.

I hope this information is helpful and provides you with support. If you know someone who is grieving, remember that the most important thing you can do is to let the person know you are there and willing to listen anytime.

 

judge a person

“You can never truly judge a person until you’ve walked a mile in another man’s shoes.” 

THE ASSUMPTIONS WE MAKE AND THE PEOPLE WE JUDGE

We assume we know people’s lives by the mere glimpses they show us. We think we know someone based on the brief encounters we exchange on our way to work or when we bump into each other. The playdates where we talk about our kids. The smiling family photos on Instagram. The superficial exchanges we have over text. The times when we politely ask how someone is doing and they say that they are fine. That isn’t someone’s full life. We shouldn’t judge a person by what they choose to share about their life. It is what they allow you to see. 

Take me, for instance. Most people would describe me as peppy, outgoing, bubbly, happy, and exuberant. That is a part of my personality, but there is so much more to me that people don’t know (unless they read my blog, that is).  

In reality, I feel fearful most of the time, I’m quite shy, I have social anxiety, and I am afraid to tell people about my past. I care deeply about others, and I also feel deeply. I put my heart and soul into every post I write, and I grieve for the childhood I never had. Each time I write a post about my past, my vulnerability takes a huge toll on me.  I put my stories out there to try to break the stigma and shame associated with it, and it saddens me that some people I consider friends have not reached out to me about these private and traumatic details. 

I typically show people the side of me that is full of life and contentment; the parts of me that are filled with loneliness and anxiety I tuck away when I am around others. Although talkative and engaging in groups, I am usually exhausted emotionally after a social event. I’m a true introvert, although you’d probably never know it.  

DON’T JUDGE A PERSON BECAUSE THERE IS ALWAYS MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE

happiness on the outside doesn't show pain on the inside

Now, I don’t want you to get the wrong impression. I am not putting on a show when I’m around people. We show different sides to ourselves around different people. I am simply showing one side, and that is a genuine part of who I am. However, there is so much more that doesn’t get seen. There is often much more to someone than meets the eye if you get to really know them and don’t turn away. 

Never judge a person unless you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.

I have gone through hell and back, but I learned at a very young age to keep my pain to myself based on others’ reactions.  Many have gone through their own suffering. They have experienced loss, divorce, miscarriages, bullying, loneliness, depression, and pain.  Most of us keep that part a secret, because society has taught us to “tough it out” and “stay strong”.  The people around us feel discomfort about those situations and don’t want to acknowledge them, so those that are struggling often don’t share the full extent of their pain. As a result, it is easy for those of us who are suffering to look around at others and feel inferior. We live in a world where everyone appears to have it all together. I call bullshit.  

I wrote a post about always being grateful, but not feeling grateful this Thanksgiving. Many understood the point I was trying to make and told me how much they appreciated it. It warmed my heart when I was told they felt less alone and more accepted because of my post.  Others commented that we should always be grateful. I was also told that I shouldn’t write about this topic on a public forum out of respect for those that enjoy the holidays and who do feel grateful. 

IT’S OK TO NOT FEEL JOYFUL DURING THE HOLIDAYS

My response to that last statement is that those who are miserable over the holidays should have a platform to be understood. The suicide rate is highest during the holidays because of feelings of isolation and depression.   I am by no means telling others who feel gratitude and enjoy the holidays that they shouldn’t feel that way. In fact, I hope people who are able to do so have a wonderful holiday season.  I sincerely hope my words will not dissuade someone from enjoying their holidays or feeling grateful. However, I pray my writing will help someone feel less alone and more understood.   

Let’s take it a step further. I agree we should be grateful.  However, in my opinion I don’t believe we should always FEEL grateful. For example, I didn’t feel grateful when I wasn’t allowed back into my house and slept in the mudroom the entire night.  Whereas we all have something to be grateful about, some of us have lived through horrors that many cannot begin to imagine. We have no right to tell others how to be or feel. 

Don’t judge a person unless you’ve walked a mile in their shoes. 

FEELINGS SHOULD NEVER BE JUDGED

your feelings are valid

Feelings are never right or wrong. They simply are what they are. Others may not agree with our feelings, but that does not make our feelings any less valid. Yet feelings are often met with resistance. We are told to suck it up, count our blessings, remember that it could be worse, and sent the underlying message to not speak our truths. Our truths may be different than others, but we are entitled to voice them. Our pain, our truths, our stories- they are all unique and all deserve to be respected and heard. 

We shouldn’t judge a person unless we’ve walked a mile in their shoes. 

We must stop assuming, and we must start spreading kindness and empathy.  I write this blog and use my platform for all those who have suffered and haven’t had the support of others.  Let us accept that we all have our own unique journey. Let us not perpetuate the shame and pain others feel during this time of year or at any time of year.  

GIVE A VOICE TO THOSE WHO ARE SUFFERING

Let us start acknowledging the sorrows that exist around us, instead of trying to micromanage those feelings. We must stop ignoring and minimizing what/how others feel.

Those people that exude confidence, but feel lost, this post is for you. The children that put on a brave face at school, but go home and cry because they are being bullied, this post is for you. The people who try so hard, but feel so very lonely, this post is for you. For every person who has so much more going on than meets the eye, this post is for you. For every person that is struggling with the stigma of mental illness, this post is for you.  On behalf of those who are told to be strong no matter how much their heart is breaking, this post is for you. This post is for me too. 

This holiday season, and moving forward, I hope we will stop assuming and start reaching out more.  It is often the ones who seem the happiest that are suffering the most. People are more likely to show different sides to themselves if they feel safe doing so. Let’s be a safe person for others. 

Don’t judge a person unless you’ve walked in their shoes.

Don’t sum a person up by their smiles and laughter. Instead, talk about topics of sustenance. Reveal matters that others wouldn’t know by common banter, and give space for others to do the same.  If someone bravely shares something private and difficult to share, express kindness and empathy. Do not turn a blind eye to their pain or tell them what they should or shouldn’t say or feel.  

Life is hard enough. Choose kindness.  We don’t know what burdens people are carrying, but we can help them unload that baggage if we assume less and open our minds and heart more. 

 

don't compare yourselves to others

THE CYCLE OF COMPARISON

It is a common inclination to compare ourselves to others. Sometimes the comparison game gives us the push we need to strive harder, but often it makes us feel like we are lacking. If we see someone driving a better car, we want an upgrade. We feel shame about our smaller home if our friends have a bigger house.  If we see kids sitting in a restaurant calmly listening to their parents, we wonder why our kids don’t behave that way.

It is a never-ending-hamster wheel of wanting, envying, and seeking. The more we compare, the more we want, and the more we feel shame. It seems that no matter how hard we try, what we have is never enough to satiate us. There is always someone who has done it better, gotten more, and seems to have it all together. We fall short at every turn, and it isn’t a good feeling.

THE DANGER OF COMPARING OURSELVES TO OTHERS

danger of comparing ourselves to others

Insecurity is something I struggled with for most of my life. As an adult, it is a daily struggle. It is easy for me to feel like crap when I look around at the women who have 3,000 Facebook friends, put up endless photos of get-togethers with their girlfriend, and take exotic family trips. As a child I believed I wasn’t good enough, and that narrative repeats its vicious cycle when I fall into the trap of comparing myself to others.

I know that many of us struggle with feeling that no matter how hard we try, it just isn’t enough. We envy the seamlessness of other people’s lives, and wonder why we can’t have it all together. We feel like failures. I feel like a failure.

The truth is, we are all losers once we enter the comparison race. The bigger, better mentality sets each of us up for failure every time.

Firstly, there is always someone who is better at what you doing, who looks better in those pair of jeans, or whose hair never gets frizzy no matter what the weather. With the number of people on the planet, it doesn’t take that much looking around to find someone who will have what you want, will do it better than you, and will look better while doing it.

comparison is an optical illusion

Secondly, most of what we see in life is the ultimate optical illusion. The smiling faces on Instagram, those women who step out of the car looking like they are ready to pose for a magazine, the people who seem to float through life on a cloud of ease…. things are not always as they seem. What if that woman suffers from body issues? Is it possible that the person who seems to have it all together goes home and cries every night? Nobody knows what goes on behind closed doors, so what you are seeing is simply what others choose to let you see. Sometimes the grass looks greener on the other side because it isn’t real grass.

I am proof of that optical illusion. I know that people assumed I was a happy kid who got good grades and seemed to have my head on straight. They had no idea I was getting abused and cried myself to sleep most nights. Others didn’t know that I have a terrible memory and had to write down every detail on flash cards and spend endless days and nights studying to get my good grades. They didn’t know that behind that smile was a huge void of despair and anxiety.

Comparing ourselves to others is something we all struggle with, but if we think about it, it’s a waste of time and energy. At the end of the day, it will always make us feel badly about ourselves. What happens as a result? We feel inferior to others and try to figure out a way to feel like we’re good enough.

Ever wonder why there is so much mom shaming? Why kids bully other kids? Why people insult one another? Is it because we are all such terrible people? Sure, there are some rotten apples; however, a big root of the problem is that people lash out and make others feel badly about themselves in a desperate attempt to feel better about themselves. There is a reason why envy is one of the deadly sins. It is an epidemic, and it seems to only be getting worse.

HOW TO STOP COMPARING OURSELVES

What is the alternative? Stop comparing yourself to others. Instead, compare yourself…to yourself.
Unlike comparing ourselves to others, trying to be the best versions of ourselves is healthy and productive. Instead of being paralyzed with shame and envy about a contest we can never win, we can try to make our own grass greener.

comparing ourselves to ourselves

The only power we have in this world is over ourselves and our lives. Instead of focusing on others, we can wake up each day willing to learn and grow. Striving to be the best versions of ourselves doesn’t mean striving for perfection. It means understanding that we have faults and fears and insecurities and weaknesses, but we can give ourselves a gentle nudge to work on our own issues and find comfort and acceptance within ourselves.

From personal experience, I can assure you that this is no easy task. There are days I wake up and feel like with every turn I take, nothing goes right. My child isn’t listening, my husband and I can’t see eye to eye on things, and l feel like my life is spinning out of control.

It is a daily struggle to remember that I cannot control any of life’s moving pieces. I can only work on myself, and that means falling down, making mistakes, and picking myself up and trying again. I will always have to work on myself because I am a constant work-in-progress.

Comparing ourselves to others, albeit painful, requires no effort. We can simply point our finger at others and tread in waves of despair. To take a cold, hard look at ourselves, roll up our sleeves, and figure out what we can do to make ourselves feel better? That takes hard work, courage, awareness, and lots of perseverance.

WINNING THE BATTLE BY LOSING THE COMPARISON WAR

Sometimes the grass is greener on the other side, and sometimes it is not. There is nothing any of us can do about that. I cannot change the hardships I faced, and I have to accept that there will always be things I lack. What we can do is have the strength to work on the parts of ourselves that we can change and try our best to give ourselves grace and compassion along the way.

Therefore, I am conceding the comparison war. There will always be someone who does something better than me and does it effortlessly. As hard as I try, there are some things that will always be hard for me. There will always be people who have things I can never obtain.

The good news is that each day gives me a new opportunity to be a better version of myself than I was the day before. I can try my best no matter what others have or what I lack. Although I may not be the grand prize winner, I can be the winner of my own contest just by entering. I am playing the cards I was dealt to the best of my ability, and that is good enough for me.

being bullied and the lessons i learned

Being Bullied In School: my middle school discomfort

Middle school is not a time of my life that you could pay me to revisit. I think most adults would agree that those years are tough. Your bodies are changing, your hormones are wild, and you are starting to have a grown-up body while still having a child mind.  The potential for being bullied in school is extremely high.

Junior high school was particularly hard for me for a myriad of reasons. I was unhappy with who I was as a person, I didn’t have anyone I could turn to for support and comfort, and I felt no sense of safety. I felt hopeless, unloved, and felt very much alone. Although I was a bright girl and got accepted into a school for gifted kids based on my IQ and writing ability, I had absolutely no self-confidence.

my friend, the bully

say not to bullying

In truth, there were many kids in that school who were sweet and probably looking for a friend too. I had classmates whom I could (and should) have chosen to surround myself with. Instead, I gravitated towards a girl who did not treat me the way one treats a friend. She appeared confident, but in hindsight I think she lacked confidence as well. Just as moms will shame other moms to feel better about themselves, she verbally bullied me in school to feel better about herself.

She was friends with another girl as well, and the two of them would laugh together while she poked fun at me. One day I was told she didn’t like my bow and it was babyish. Another time I was ridiculed that I reminded her of Minnie Mouse because of my high voice. You name it, she teased at me about it. Whether it was the way I wore my eyeshadow (honestly, I still don’t think I wear it properly) or the clothes I wore, she never ceased an opportunity to tease me. 

In a nutshell, I was bullied by a girl who claimed she was my friend. Now this was in the 90s, when bullying was in a completely different form. This was long before the world of cyber bullying, where kids could taunt you behind the protection of a computer screen. No, this was the old-fashioned way; up close, personal, and fully standing by the words she chose to throw my way. 

being bullied in school and by myself

don't be a bully it starts with me

Victims of verbal bullying in school are usually told to not give the bully any power. The advice given is to tell a teacher or ignore them because bullies are typically cowards. I was in a different situation. I had two bullies: this girl and myself.

My “friend” might have said hurtful things, but I did nothing to stop it. This is not a situation where I was powerless. She also was not hurting me physically. She used the power of her words to inflict pain upon me, and I chose to say and do nothing. I never once told her that I wouldn’t associate with her if she made those kinds of comments. When she laughed at me, I never walked away. In fact, I never even told her that her words bothered me. Instead, I often laughed it off. She might have been the one throwing the dagger, but I was the one stabbing it into my own heart.

why i didn’t walk away from being bullied in school

Looking back, I didn’t say anything for many reasons. For one, I had a complete lack of confidence in myself. My self-esteem was so low that I felt I deserved it. I didn’t believe that I should have someone in my life who valued my feelings and treated me well. I was already being abused for years by this point, and in some messed up way, being treated badly was my normal. It was all I knew, and all I believed I should know. It’s why I picked her in the first place. She reinforced my belief that I was not worthy or enough. In my mind, there must have been something wrong with me to be abused by my mother. Therefore, why shouldn’t this girl treat me badly as well?

Another reason I stuck around was because I convinced myself on some level that she was my friend. As I’ve mentioned before, what is even harder than being abused is admitting to yourself that you are being abused. The same applied here. I wanted to believe that this girl really was my friend, and that her actions were somehow justified.

Lastly, I was terrified of standing up to her and having nobody. I would rather associate with someone who was teasing me than be by myself.  Nothing was worse than feeling that. It didn’t occur to me that the moment I accepted that kind of treatment from her, I was alone.

I remember the last day of junior high school. I asked a few people to sign my yearbook, and she was one of them.  She actually wrote me a nice message that she hoped we’d always be friends. I then wandered around the hallways; I had nobody else to talk to and nobody asked me to sign their yearbooks. My confidence was non-existent, and I felt completely and utterly alone. It was a self-fulfilling prophecy. I believed I didn’t deserve to have anyone, and that is exactly what I got. I spent three years at a school, and I left without a single true friend.

Insecurity Can be Felt at any Age and No Relationship Should Tolerate Bullying 

insecurities are felt at any age

I don’t want you to think badly of this girl because she was bullying me. In fact, we are friends on Facebook, and she occasionally likes my posts. I hold no ill will towards her whatsoever, not because I’m in denial, but because I think she was lost too.  I think she was a child who had her own struggles and made poor choices. Should she have teased me? No. However, if I didn’t speak up and show respect for myself, then how can I expect her to respect me?

There is a bigger lesson to this story then the teasing of a young, incredibly insecure girl. Those who lack confidence can be people of all ages.   We will all at some point inevitably have an encounter with someone who will say things at our expense. These people can be co-workers, romantic partners, friends, and even family. The same insecurities that prevented me from speaking up as a child prevents others from doing the same, regardless of age or relationship.

Some things cannot be prevented. I am not speaking of those situations where victims are truly powerless. There are some tragedies in life that confidence and assertiveness will not deter.

How We Stop Bullying Ourselves

When someone mistreats you, teases you, or says something that makes you feel badly about yourself, you have a choice. You can choose to allow those words to hammer away at your self-respect bit by bit, or you can choose yourself.

I don’t know what would have happened if I would have spoken up about being bullied in school. I wonder how she would have reacted if I told her that her teasing was hurtful. Regardless of her response, I know I would have felt empowered.

It took me many years to get to a place where I could defend myself. Today I have so much compassion for that little girl. I know that I simply didn’t have it within me to set those boundaries and believe that I deserved better. I cry for that little girl quite often because I know now how worthy she was and how unfair life was to her. In turn, I also know how cruel she was to herself.

I share this story not to elicit sympathy. I spill these sad words onto the page in hopes that someone who reads this will recognize that love and kindness are the most precious gifts you can give someone. They can save someone else, and they can save yourself. Give your children one more hug and remind them that you love them. Remember to be kind to yourself. Reach out to a friend and let them know you care. Boost confidence instead of tearing it down.

We cannot change how people treat one another, and there is much cruelty in this world.  However, if we can love wholeheartedly and remind those we love that they are worthy and deserve better, perhaps they will start to believe that for themselves. 

Our obligation to Speak Up About Bullying 

We also need to be cognizant that if we are being mistreated, it does not matter who the person is on the other side. We have an obligation to speak up. If we cannot do so for ourselves, we must do so for our children. Otherwise, we are sending the message to our children that they can treat others that way, and in turn, others can treat them that way. For the sakes of our children, it must stop with us.

My daughter was taught from a young age that teasing others and allowing others to tease you is never okay. She knows bullying comes in many forms, and that they all are painful.  I try to instill in her that she should treat herself and others with respect

I pray that she feels the love and safety that I didn’t feel as a child. If the day ever comes where she is  bullied or disrespected, I hope she will have the courage and confidence to do what I wasn’t able to do.

 

ungrateful thanksgiving

A YEAR OF LOSS AND LONLINESS

Thanksgiving is typically a holiday that I look forward to each year. It is a day of slowing down, spending time with those you love, and showing gratitude for the blessings we have in our lives. This year is different. This year was one of loss and loneliness. It is the year of my ungrateful Thanksgiving.  

Life is comprised of a series of responsibilities. Our goal is to do the best for ourselves and the ones we love while keeping our sanity intact. Between taking care of my daughter, tackling household chores, paying the bills, and fulfilling any other life obligations, it is easy to forget to stop and smell the roses. Thanksgiving is a reminder to halt, look around, and breathe.

Although I am always grateful for what I have, this Thanksgiving I cannot stop and force myself to feel gratitude. I am not going to sit with my husband and daughter and act like Thanksgiving 2020 is the same as the one we celebrated the year before and the year before that. That would be a lie, and an insult to all we endured this year.

It is important to note that feelings are fluid. Both loss and gratitude can be felt simultaneously, but sometimes one is more predominant based on life’s circumstances. For those of you who are struggling with embracing your gratitude, I hope my words bring you reassurance.

global coronavirus pandemic

global pandemic

The pandemic caused the world to come to a complete halt. It eviscerated everything that we once considered normal and routine. Schools shut down, people were left without jobs, many got sick, and quarantining became our new reality. COVID-19 has taught me the importance of not taking anyone or anything for granted.

Contracting COVID is like playing a game of Russian Roulette; you simply don’t know what the severity will be and the long-term effects it will have on your body. Despite our masks and safety precautions, I worry that we may unknowingly catch this virus. I worry about my dad who lives in New York and is almost 70. Each time we get a package and each time we bring grocery items into our house I worry. I try to not worry, but to not take this virus seriously is even worse than worrying.

I know firsthand the devastation that this pandemic caused when my husband’s grandmother and parents got COVID-19. His grandmother, my daughter’s Great-Grandma, was one of 250,000 casualties to a virus that shows no mercy. My in-laws are now long haulers who still show symptoms 6+ months later. Our family will never be the same, and what we once had can never again be. I am ungrateful this Thanksgiving for the pain my family has had to endure.

political division in the united states

political division

This is a year also surrounded with hate and ignorance. Too many people of color had their lives ended by those that we trust to protect us.  Too many families had to bury loves ones for no other reason than the color of their skin. Racism continues to shatter an already broken world.  

The political division in this country has torn us apart as well. Instead of the leaders of our country coming together to bring some semblance of stability and safety amidst the fear, there is a civil war among the parties.  There is no bi-partisan agreement to try and help the millions of people that were laid off or furloughed because of the virus.  It is impossible to turn on the TV or watch the news without the constant reminder that our government, like its people, are in shambles.

I cannot exchange lists of gratitude while there is a tornado of fear, hatred, and death that has swept up our nation. Despite my gratitude, I will not do so in the memory of my husband’s grandmother and 250,000 others, and I will not do so when there is so much uncertainty and pain surrounding us. Instead, this Thanksgiving I will embrace my ungratefulness. 

A New Type Of List during THIS YEAR OF LOSS AND LONELINESS

The holidays under normal circumstances can be painful for some, but now those feelings are stronger than ever for even more people. I don’t believe it is helpful to tell others to focus on what they are grateful for if they are overwhelmed with grief and sadness. It makes them feel pressure and shame, and it is okay for gratitude to sometimes take the back burner.

Therefore, this Thanksgiving will be the first time our family will not state our list of gratitude. Instead we will pause and have a moment of silence and prayer. We will reflect upon this year and the loss and loneliness we each feel. We will then each share lists I never dreamt we’d make on Thanksgiving- our lists of sadness, fear, and confusion.

ungrateful thanksgiving

This ungrateful Thanksgiving we will give our daughter an opportunity to express her feelings and voice her concerns.  We will discuss the uncertainty of that day and the days that will follow. We will acknowledge the harsh reality of the world we live, and the harshness people have brought to one another.

As a parent, I want to assuage my daughter’s fears and kiss her pain away. This Thanksgiving I cannot. What I will tell my daughter is that I have faith in humanity.  I believe that there will be a future Thanksgivings where we will celebrate what we are grateful for, and what we will be most grateful for will be the change that finally took place.

emotional abuse

This post is incredibly hard to write because I am sharing something private and very painful. This is my story of surviving narcissistic emotional and psychological child abuse and stopping the cycle of abuse. 

a cautionary tale about surviving emotional and psychological CHILD abuse

I wish I could say that I had a happy childhood, but that would be the furthest thing from the truth. I grew up with a mentally unstable mom who was narcissistic and had Borderline Personality Disorder.

At a very young age my role was to listen to my mother’s marital problems. She and my dad were always arguing (sometimes physically, but most of the time it was screaming at one another). I developed a very codependent relationship with her. It was my job to listen to her problems, support her emotionally, and take care of her. I did not set any boundaries with her, as I felt my well-being and safety were completely contingent on my mother’s well-being. When she was upset or wanted nothing to do with me, I felt worthless.

I wanted nothing more than my mother’s approval, and as a result I would parrot a lot of what my mother said to me and try to emulate her. My father was very resentful of this, and growing up he was angry at me most of the time.

As a result, I grew up feeling that my father didn’t like me or care about me.

 

psychologically damaging

At the age of 8, my mother started throwing me out of the house when she felt I misbehaved. The first time this happened it was dark outside, and I walked a block to a nearby park and sat on a bench. I felt helpless, unloved, and discarded. My father came out at some point and told me I could go back inside. The memory of sitting on that bench for the first time will forever be etched in my mind.

This became my mother’s go to way of punishing me. The amount of time I wasn’t allowed inside varied from minutes to many hours. I felt unsafe and incredibly degraded each time I had to leave and then beg to come back inside. It made me view the world as a very scary place. I had nobody to protect me, and I felt very lost and alone. I could not understand why the person who was supposed to look out for me was the one who was hurting me.

My father was complicit and would follow my mom’s instructions.

I always voiced that what was being done to me was wrong, but my mom would tell me that I brought it on myself by not listening to her.

stop the cycle of abuse

My mother was abused as a child, and in turn, my mother abused me. I vowed that the emotional and psychological cycle of child abuse would stop with me. I vowed to give my child the love and support I never got, and make sure she knew she was loved unconditionally. In order to end the cycle of abuse, I had to face all of the horrors I endured so I would know what to never do to my child. I go into more details about how I stopped the cycle of abuse in my post about parenting.

My parents divorced when I was 24, but as an adult, I still had the belief system that it was my job to make my mother happy. I tried to do everything possible to get her love and approval. As a result, I completely enabled her behavior and set no boundaries. This pattern of codependent behavior was so dysfunctional that I spent two hours of my honeymoon trying to calm my mother down due to her recent breakup. Her feelings were always prioritized over mine, and I felt it was my job to make sure she was okay.

We were the definition of codependency.

Shortly after my parents divorced, I met my husband, Matt, on Jdate. He was the first person who I felt loved me unconditionally. With him I finally felt home. We got engaged a year after we met and married the year after that.

A few years into our marriage we decided to start a family. I got pregnant, and my husband became terrified that I would miscarry.

He started drinking heavily, and once I found out about it, he moved onto pills.

Due to my husband’s battles with substance abuse, I spent the first 4 years of my daughter’s life raising her by myself.

We moved to Atlanta to get a fresh start, but soon after I realized he was abusing drugs again. I reached out to a therapist that specialized in addiction. I didn’t want my child growing up in that kind of environment.

My husband and I went to the therapist together, and for the first time someone besides me told him that he was an addict and needed to get help. It was the wake up call he needed, and he bravely made the decision to seek treatment. My husband checked himself into an outpatient rehab center. He received individual and family counseling and learned heathy coping strategies. He has been clean and sober for the last four years. You can read more about my story of loving an addict here.

I have a wonderful daughter who I love more than life itself.

I have been a Stay-at-Home-Mom since my daughter was born. In school I advocated for my daughter to get a full assessment (and subsequently, an IEP) due to numerous symptoms including inattentive behavior, difficulty processing instructions, and poor short term memory. Brielle was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). I decided to homeschool her to give her the support that she needs. My daughter has made huge strides, and I’m so proud to be her mother. I’m proud to say that I kept my promise to end the cycle of abuse.

I went no contact with my mother two years ago. I did not want to subject my daughter to the same pain, confusion, and heartbreak that I went through. Brielle needs to know that love isn’t something that ebbs and flows based on a person’s whim. It is something that is everlasting, and a mother’s love should be unconditional.

My entire childhood was spent feeling my identity was taking care of my mother.

I managed to break free from that, but somewhere along the way I forgot who I was besides being a wife and mother. I wanted to have something that I did which was separate from those two roles and just for me.

not all scars are physical

Very few people knew about my abuse, and it was typically glossed over because people felt uncomfortable about it. I decided that I wanted to reach out to foundations for abuse survivors and use my love of writing to try and help others. What started out as writing about abuse for monthly newsletters soon turned into my blog.

I always felt that what my mom did to me was wrong. It took adulthood to grasp that what she was doing was emotional child abuse.

Emotional/psychological abuse is often taboo and harder to recognize by others because the scars are internal.

There needs to be more light shined on emotional and psychological child abuse. The lack of openness and education about this made it easier to see my mother as a wacko rather than to see her as abusive. There isn’t enough widespread knowledge about the various cycles of abuse. There are numerous ways abuse can rear its ugly head.

For most of my life, I felt intense shame about what happened to me. I felt scared and anxious all the time. I went to numerous therapists to figure out how to get “fixed.” I tried medication, hypnosis, brainspotting, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Somatic Experiencing.

Different therapists told me that I needed to accept myself to heal and grow. This made no sense to me, and I felt frustrated and confused. How could I accept myself and change at the same time?

One day a lightbulb went off in my head.

I realized that I needed to show compassion to all parts of myself and accept that the damage that was done to me was not my fault. I finally understood that anxiety and fear does not define me. Just as my daughter’s ADHD and SPD do not define her, my anxiety and fears do not define me. I am defined by the person that I am. I am proud of the person that I am. That is something that can never be taken away from me.

I am sharing my story because I want to take my horrific past and use it to support and help others. My hope is that something good can come out of something terrible. It doesn’t make what happened to me any better. I am taking control over my life by speaking about it.

Many cannot relate to what I endured, and I am glad for those who are unable to do so. That said, all of us have gone through some sort of trauma. I want you to know that you aren’t alone. We don’t get to rewrite our past, but we get to decide our present and future.

Emotional and psychological abuse leave scars that only their victims can see. They are there nonetheless. I hope reading my story will encourage you to reach out and tell someone yours. With advocacy and awareness, we can give a voice to those invisible scars.

firsthand account of COVID-19 and long hauler effects

covid-19 has caused a world of chaos and fear

This is an exceedingly difficult time. I have put this topic off for awhile now, but I have come to the realization that burying my head in the sand will not make it go away. We are living in a world of chaos and fear due to COVID-19. Things that I never would have imagined in my wildest dreams are now our harsh reality.

A few weeks ago, I sat with my daughter in a Trader Joe’s parking lot while my husband picked up a few items. People were walking around, faces hidden behind masks. I watched the employee at Trader Joe’s give each person that entered and exited some hand sanitizer and hand out masks to the customers without one.

I watched all of this and sadness flooded over me. Sadness that this is the world we must live in and a world my 8-year-old daughter now sees as normal. I am still at a loss that a pandemic has turned our world upside down, and there is no end in sight.

Each of us has been impacted by the pandemic. The changes in our lives are undeniable. My family and I have experienced firsthand the pain that this virus has caused.

a firsthand account of how the coronavirus destroyed my family

My husband’s grandmother and parents all got sick from COVID-19. His grandmother unknowingly exposed his parents to it when they brought her into their house. Since that day at the end of March, our lives have not been the same. I asked my mother-in-law and father-in-law to write about the horrors that this virus has caused them. This is their story:

On March 24th, my mother suddenly got very sick from what was called at the time a “no big deal” virus. She had to be sent in an ambulance to St. Barnabas Hospital after deteriorating within a span of 24 hours. Before she got into the ambulance, her last words to me were, “You’re not going to leave me alone?” I had to lie to her because we were explicitly told that we were not allowed to go to the hospital to see her. Nobody was able to.

My wife and I knew that we were also positive for COVID-19, and my mother was left alone in a strange hospital without any family by her side. 36 hours later she passed away. Every day since, and probably for the rest of our lives, we will hear my mother’s last words and my lie back to her.

To make matters worse, we couldn’t attend her funeral. My sister, brother-in-law, son and Rabbi were the only ones allowed to be there.

long hauler after effects

covid long hauler effects

It has been exactly 6 months since that harrowing day, and my wife continues to have lingering, sometimes debilitating health problems due to COVID-19. These problems consist of severe nausea, extreme fatigue, chest pains, and headaches. Some days she only has one, other days she has them all. There hasn’t been one day in the past 6 months where she has felt 100% “normal.”

Since testing positive and quarantining, my wife has gone to almost every specialist out there. She has also had almost every test currently available to diagnose what is truly going on. All have come back negative. We are consistently being told that these are lingering effects from COVID-19, and with time things may improve.

I also have daily problems that began since I contracted COVID-19; fatigue, sensitivity to light, headaches, and the most frustrating one of all, something I can only describe as “brain fog.” That “brain fog” turned out to be Focal Onset Seizures located in the left side of my brain, most likely caused by the lingering effects of COVID-19.

My concern right now is for our “long haul” effects. My wife and I are far from alone with this Long Hauler syndrome. Tens of thousands of people, collectively known as “long haulers,” have similar stories to ours. They have also been suffering for multiple months, alone, unheard, and pummeled by the unrelenting and unpredictable symptoms that COVID can cause. “It’s like every day, you reach your hand into a bucket of symptoms, throw some on the table, and say ‘this is you for today,’ says David Putrino, a Neuroscientist and Rehabilitation Specialist at Mount Sinai Hospital who has cared for many long haulers. Of the long haulers Petrino has surveyed, most are women. Their average age is 44. Most were formerly fit and healthy.” (The Atlantic, August 19, 2020)

long haulers paying the price for early pandemic failures 

It has been suggested that in the United States alone, which currently has almost 7 million confirmed COVID-19 cases, there are probably hundreds of thousands (potentially more) Long Haulers. These people are still paying the price for early pandemic failures.

Many Long Haulers couldn’t get tested when they first felt sick because at the time tests were scarce. Others were denied testing because their symptoms didn’t conform to a list that we now know was incomplete.

living in a world of uncertainty

Please understand that COVID-19 patients can potentially experience long-term damage. That damage is not confined to just their lungs, but also their heart, immune system, brain, and elsewhere. These long-haul cases and their effects might last for years, whether they were originally mild or severe.

Yes, age can and does play a role into the severity of COVID-19, but it does not discriminate because you are younger. If you are young and get a milder form of COVID, that does not mean that you will not suffer long term effects, maybe for the rest of your life. We must continue to take this virus seriously, because even if you get a mild form or are asymptomatic, you can pass it along to someone who might react to it much differently. My wife and I contracted the same strain, yet exhibit completely different symptoms.

Wear a mask, socially distance yourself from others, and wash and sanitize your hands. Doing these few basic, medically proven tasks will save lives while keeping yourselves and your loved ones safer.

living in a world of uncertainty from covid-19

Their story is a mere glimpse of the horrors of COVID-19. As a result of this pandemic, I have had to explain to my child why her Great-Grandma was suddenly taken away from us and why her Grandparents are sick from their long hauler symptoms. I have had to explain why she can’t have playdates and why we must be diligent about washing our hands. I have had to remind her to pull her mask up and cover her nose the few instances where we have been around others.  We have a responsibility to keep ourselves safe because not everyone is able to do so.

uncertainty and confusion

My heart breaks for my daughter and for all of us. The isolation and fear are crippling. The one thing that is certain is that we are living in a world of uncertainty.

My daughter asks me so many questions, and I don’t have all the answers. Nobody does. With all this tragedy and fear, I have also learned an unspoken truth. We literally do not know what tomorrow will bring. This pandemic is bigger than any of us, and it is humbling, so very humbling.

I wish I could write something that would bring meaning to all of this, but I cannot. I am at a loss for words as much as each of you. Nothing I do or say can make the fear and confusion go away. I hope my in-laws’ devastations can bring some perspective.

i will no longer take anything for granted

Love may not be enough, but it is what I cling to now more than ever. We cannot take anyone or anything for granted. It is the only truth I can give; the one lesson that I have learned from all of this loss due to COVID-19

Remember what matters before you kiss your children goodnight. Spend one more minute reading that book you enjoy. Give your spouse one more hug, and let your loved ones know how much you cherish them.

The problems we once thought were insurmountable are now insignificant in comparison. I hope that something good can come out of all this pain and fear. I pray that we can remember what truly matters and keep this newfound knowledge in our hearts and minds when the dust settles.

We have no choice but to accept that this is our new reality. Therefore, I am going to let my load of dirty clothes get a bit larger, I am going to reach for my husband’s hand instead of the broom, and I am going to snuggle with my daughter passed her bedtime. In our world of endless questions, love is my only answer. That is the only certainty that gives me light during this darkness. I hope it brings some light to each of you too.