The American Psychiatric Association has labeled grief that lasts more than a few weeks a mental disorder. I wrote about this in my last blog post, “Grief Is Not a Medical Disorder,” but I can’t stop thinking about it. The problem with grief is not the pain, though sometimes the agony is so unbearable it takes one’s breath away, but the reason for the pain: a very dear person, a part of your life, is gone and will never return. When one is depressed for no reason, then perhaps the misery can be classified as a mental disorder. But if there is a reason for the pain, if there is a direct cause for the depression, then it is not a disorder. It is life.
Grief varies, of course. Everyone grieves in a different way, and everyone feels each subsequent death in a different way. The loss of an aged aunt you barely knew is different from the loss of a beloved mate. In the first case, prolonged grief could be a sign of depression, but in the second case, prolonged grief is a way of coping.
When I lost my mate, I was in such pain I thought my heart would burst. I couldn’t breath, couldn’t focus, couldn’t see how I could ever get through the day let alone the rest of my life. I was also still in shock from witnessing his horrific death.
I did get through those first days, though how I don’t know — the pain escalated by the minute. Then I found out about a local bereavement support group. I am a private person, one who keeps her emotions to herself, but I went to the group meeting anyway hoping someone could tell me how to deal with the pain. No one could, of course, but I did meet people who had survived a similar loss, and that taught me survival was possible. One of the problems with grief is how it isolates you, and the group made me feel less isolated. And that was a comfort.
I had no intention of writing much about grief on this blog. I posted a few articles mentioning my pain, and found that not only did the articles help me, they gave comfort and support to others who were going through the same thing. So I continue to write about grief. Perhaps someday the private me will look around and be aghast at all I have made public, but for now it’s my way of coping.
The point of this bloggery is that the pain of grief made me reach out and let others into my world. If I had been treated for depression during this time, I wouldn’t have connected with others. I would have remained isolated, and the effects of intense grief would have last much longer than they did. Everyone has the right to grieve the way they want, of course, but feeling the pain was the only way I could do it, both for me and for my mate. He deserved to have someone grieve that he died, to have someone feel the imbalance of the world without him in it. And that is not a mental disorder.
August 8, 2010 at 6:16 pm
“The American Psychiatric Association has labeled grief that lasts more than a few weeks a mental disorder.” Are they nuts??? It takes far longer than a few weeks to work through all the stages of grief. I haven’t experienced the death of a spouse as you have, but rather a divorce, which involves its own type of grief. I too reached out to a support group rather than pop pills and sink into zombie-land. Sure, the grief is painful, but with my support group, we’ve been able to share each other’s pain and help each other. I can’t imagine going through this alone and isolated.
I don’t believe you’ll ever be aghast at what you’ve posted on here. I believe you’ll be proud that you’ve taken what you’ve experienced and learned and paid it forward to help someone else deal with their grief.
August 9, 2010 at 11:32 pm
Marilyn, I can’t imagine the thought process that led to such insanity. They are afraid of people killing themselves, I think, but that is still no reason to label grief a mental disorder. Many people who are grieving entertain thoughts of suicide, or at least see no reason to live, but there is a vast difference between the thought (which is normal) and the deed.
I hope you’re right about being proud of writing about my experience, but it will be a long time before I know. Oddly enough, I cannot read my own blog posts about grief. The pain that comes through is way too raw for me to handle.
August 9, 2010 at 6:46 am
I would like to know more about the where’s and why’s of your move. I am working towards a similar move, but from the Northeast. When Jake died a few months ago, I was left up here in the north country with no family and few friends. I have family in AZ, and am planning on moving to be closer. I have a lot of fear of starting over yet again. Some place where I know no one, no job lined up, etc. Especially at my age.
I have spent the last few months clearing the excess out of the house and can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. Now it is just a matter of selling and moving. I had hoped to be out of here before snow, but the economy is so bad here and there are a glut of properties on the market so it looks as if I will be stuck here for yet another miserable winter. I am not looking forward to that. Six months of being closed up in the house all by myself.
Did the change in scenery help or hinder?
August 9, 2010 at 11:23 pm
Holly, we were renting, so it was just a matter of packing up and moving, though that was no small matter. The worst day of my life was when I cleaned out his stuff, but the other days weren’t any easier since I had to sort the accumulation of the two decades we’d lived in that house. The conventional wisdom is not to make any major changes for a year, but I’d never have survived there for that long. Like you, I was left in an area where I had no family and friends, so being alone in that house with only memories to keep me company would have been exceedingly painful. The move did help. I am still steeped in grief, but the change in scenery was a big help especially since I don’t expect to see him wherever I go. I walk in the nearby desert, which brings me peace, and I am staying with my 93-year-old father, which helps both of us. Because of this, I don’t have to worry at the moment about finding work in this terrible job market.
Six months of being closed up in the house by yourself? Oh, Holly! My heart bleeds for you. Be sure to leave a comment on this blog whenever you need someone to talk to. I understand the fear. I have moments of panic when I cannot imagine growing old alone, living alone, having to deal with life alone. There are so many facets to losing one’s mate, and not a single one of them are easy. I am so sorry you have to go through this. Is there a support group where you are so you don’t have to deal with the sorrow by yourself? It’s good to be around people who understand what you’re going through.
Best of luck with selling your house and with your move.
November 9, 2016 at 12:12 am
Hello Holly, yours is a very old post and you probably will not get this reply but I’m sending it anyway. Only recently found this site, my best friend, soul mate, lover, died 23rd August 2013 after a long battle. I moved within six months, as Pat has said our house to held many memories a lot that were wonderful, but to many that were sad. I now live near our daughter, my house holds no memories of Jack as he never lived here. I will never forget him, he was my home wherever that was. l have a “good life” and have never regretted the move. I do hope you are happier where ever you are, this is truely the worst thing a person can experience in their lives. Much love and peace. Sue x
November 9, 2016 at 3:20 am
Hi Sue. Yes, I am fine. It took a couple of years to get things sold and out of there. I spent several months traveling in my motorhome and eventually settled in Quartzsite AZ. That is an experience I will never forget. Things are good. I still miss Jake each and every day, but I have a network of friends and family out here, some new, some old. Pat and I have actually met, at the beginning of her trip, was a good visit. It is nice to know there is support out there.
I may do some more traveling some day when I can afford it. Right now I am working and will have to a few more years. Looking forward to the day when I don’t have to do that any more.
November 9, 2016 at 7:41 am
Many thanks for your reply, have this embrionic idea of traveling around Britian in a motor home, will see how I feel about it in the Spring, never been very brave, but what’s the worst that can happen, as the worst has already happened. Much love and hugs from here. X
November 9, 2016 at 7:56 am
I went on a five-monthh cross country trip by myself. People were shocked that I even tent camped by myself, but that’s what I thought – that the worst has already happened.
November 9, 2016 at 8:36 am
Thank you Pat, so much of what you say resonates with me, and gives me hope. Hope all well with you, much love and hugs. X
August 9, 2010 at 1:14 pm
Thank you for rising above your pain and thinking how those of us who need to hear what you are experiencing. It’s all about not feeling totally alone and believing you’re the only one who is going through this.
August 9, 2010 at 11:35 pm
Joylene, thank you for being with me in spirit through this experience. It is good to know that I’m not alone in my grief, though I wish with all my heart that you hadn’t lost your sons.
August 9, 2010 at 7:41 pm
Pat, I was deeply moved by your last two articles and as an ex psych nurse of 24 years much of what you say connects completely. I so feel for folk going through this and looking to health services for help and getting, well, harmed bluntly.
Your articulation of this is so brilliant I am responding here and as a blog. Hope that’s okay? I’m not sure of the etiquette of long responses either?
I have read your sharing of your journey with admiration but as soon as I saw your reference to the DSM I grimaced. Oh my god don’t tell me she went to a shrink I thought…noooooo!!! She was grieving so well!
I know that sounds terrible but hopefully you know what I mean. I was raised by a woman who lost her natural child and then lost her way and it was not a nice raising. I know therefore personally and professionally what a screwed-up (sorry…no other term does it justice) grief process looks like.
In my work the grief process that you have spoken of before has been essential but not in the way many practitioners apply it. For the person in the grief it can be demeaning…somehow undermining their own personal individual agony.
Where it is useful is when good therapists use it to identify where the person is within the process. So for example if someone had identified my mum was stuck in anger perhaps it wouldn’t have moved to bitterness and rage forevermore (fifty-one years now).
The fact of the matter is that psychiatry since 2000 has become completely dependant upon what I call the drug/work model…ie create a diagnosis…create a drug…back to work for you.
At least this is so in Australia and yes I’m qualified to say so (in case anyone wonders.) Oh, and add a bit of CBT, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, if there’s any ‘odd stuff’ over.
Pat the drugs aren’t created to help grow the human being. They are there to adjust chemicals with the aim to returning the person to ‘normal functioning’.
Hence the new drug that’s in trail to actually chemically remove any short term memory of traumatic events.
You won’t need therapy, or tears, or re-integrating your life to the new wisdom you’ve gained.
You’ll just chemically lobotomize the event from your neural circuitry.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Western psychiatry is leading us down a road of becoming the living dead and the risk is many folk are walking this journey willingly, unaware of the consequences so focused are they on the short-term fix.
And who can blame them. It is not only our habit to avoid pain, but also, the very structure of any capitalist society is allowing us less and less time to be ‘truly human’. A personal example reflects both this and psychiatry very well.
Years ago my then partner lost her mum. As a single child of a single mum her grief was profound.
Her work rang us three weeks after mum’s death. Please note the boss was a Senior Psychiatric Nurse, the work place an acute psychiatric hospital unit. The conversation went like this.
Boss: So when’s she coming back to work? Her bereavement leaves all used up.
Me: I don’t know…she’s barely getting out of bed yet.
Boss: So what are you doing about it?
Me: Giving her the space to grieve.
Boss: Well she needs to come back to work. And I need to know exactly when that’ll be.
Me: Listen, I don’t know. Surely you know grief as well as I do?
Boss It’s been three weeks. That’s long enough. Get her to a psychiatrist if she’s not responding correctly.
Me Ah, the supportive words of a psychiatric nurse, you….#$@&$$#$&*&%.
No I wasn’t polite or nice.
I was silly enough to think that of all professions ours would show understanding and compassion regarding the most painful experience a human can ever experience; the death of a loved one.
For anyone considering seeing a psychiatrists I can only suggest you read Pats blog first. Then decide.
August 9, 2010 at 11:58 pm
Leesis, blog etiquette (at least here on my blog) only dictates that one be considerate, and that you are. Thank you for your responses and for spreading the word. Grief is so little understood and so little respected that it’s important to bring it out in the open and let people know it’s okay to be sad, to be depressed, to have crazy thoughts and do crazy things. (I wrapped his cremation urn in his robe and keep it on the couch so we can watch movies together. I know he is not in the urn, but it brings me comfort to have “him” beside me.)
Three weeks to grieve a major loss? That is barely enough time to process the death, and nowhere near enough time to come to terms with it. I think I’m doing well coping with my grief, but after four months I still have days when I can’t stop crying.
I truly didn’t know how to get through the pain of those first weeks, but never once would I have considered eradicating the pain with drugs, and especially not a chemical to erase the memory. I want the memory — as horrific as the memory of his death is, he died with such courage that I always want to remember his end. He deserves it. And so do I.
(And no, I didn’t go to a shrink. Nor have I read much about grief. I’m a person who researches everything, but grief is one thing I haven’t researched. Though I’ve been collecting information, I haven’t read it. I want to experience my own grief in my own way.)
Thank you for your input. I appreciate your taking the time to share your experiences.
August 10, 2010 at 5:41 pm
Pat, “reaching out” and “letting others into your world” was the right thing for you, and I think your blogging is a healthy way to express and share your grief.
I’m not sure I agree with Leesis that psychiatric counsellors should always be avoided, but obviously her experience was a negative one. That employer was certainly tactless! But if her friend’s work contract provided two or three weeks of compassionate leave and it had been used up, her employer had every right to ask if she was coming back soon. There’s only so long other workers can be stretched to cover the temporary vacancy. If the friend’s situation was going to require a longer term disability leave of absence then she needed to be evaluated in order to apply for it. It sounds a little heartless but it’s a reality in the workplace.
I know the grieving process has no time limits… everyone grieves in their own way… but I believe some people are never able to move beyond it without additional help. At some point the bereaved person has to begin recognizing progress toward recovery even if that recovery is still blurred by the pain of loss. If the grief keeps them totally incapacitated, there’s a problem that may need medical intervention.
To be clear, I’m not talking about you. I think you’re making an effort to reach for recovery, experiencing pain, holding on to precious memories, but at the same time accepting reality and beginning to redesign your days to fit your new status. I know it’s a dark time but I sense that you’re working your way towards the light at the end of the tunnel.
Thank you for letting us in on your journey. I wish I’d known you when our daughter died.
August 10, 2010 at 8:25 pm
oh dear I feel the need to clarify.
There are absolutely times when a therapist is required to nudge a person from being stuck.
But…I was referring specifically to psychiatrists of the ‘system’ who use the DSM (as discussed by Pat) and consequential treatments ie medication in exclusion to any ‘counselling’ which at least in Australia is nintey-five percent of the public psychiatric system.
My personal experience has been supported with 24 years as a psychiatic nurse and yes I’ve been a Charge Nurse were practical issues must be considered, but it can be done in considering the larger picture…ie being offered options such as unpaid leave ect…
My experience has shown me that the first four or so weeks are immoblising, the next few months extremely difficult and for at least a year there are moments or intense grief. And within this of course is the allowance for our uniqueness that can speed up or slow this process
If our work structure does not cater for this something is wrong with the work structure…not the person as they are currently made to feel.