Good Grief

According to Elizabeth Kuebler-Ross, Grief evolves through stages including denial, bargaining, anger, depression and acceptance. Grief is about loss whether that is a person in our life, a limb, a lifestyle, an indentity, or circumstance. Grief is healthy and the space we create for it allows our hearts to grow.

I hate scary movies. They give me nightmares. My friends tricked me into watching one (eye roll), called the Babadook. Spoiler alert: The movie is about this ominous loud scary creature that haunts a family after a death in the family. It follows them when they move and only they can see it. The monster is a representation of their grief. Only when do they confront it, it loses it’s power; however it continues to loom. The mother creates times she addresses it during visits to the monster in the basement. Actually, a really great movie.

I think I have grieved expectations for what my life was “supposed to be”, body image, perceived control, and having a chronic health issue. I have cycled back through the grief process from time to time, especially when my current strategy doesn’t work anymore.

I’d like to share some of my grief after my diagnosis. I didn’ t have the tools to understand this is what I was going through at the time.

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.” – Steve Jobs

Denial: I would not wear my compression garment because it was “ugly”, party regularly, keep my time so busy with extracuricular events that I had no time to think about having lymphedema. I would not compression wrap some nights during physical therapy because “I forgot”. I would take my bandages off after the session because “They were hot.”

Bargaining: I wondered what I had done for God to give me lymphedema. For all those bible officiandos out there, Paul had this thorn that God would not take away from him (2 Corinthians 7-9). I had a very transactional view of my disease, however it made sense at the time. I also went into the “what if” I had not spent so much time on my feet, not gotten a lymph node biopsy, or etc.

Anger: I have a hard time with overt anger, maybe it’s my conditioning as a female in our current society? This manifested as anger at myself; which I think looked like self worth issues. I was also really mad at the medical community for their inability to “fix me”. I thought if someone who had hypertension could be managed medically, why couldn’t my condition be managed with a pill or another magic solution?

Depression: When I was in college, I would plan for my time on my feet to be the most efficient and productive it could be. My thought process was if I wasn’t doing something valuable, I needed to have my legs elevated. This was very isolating for me and precluded components of life that make life worth living including socializing with your friends on the fly, enjoying nature, exploring new hobbies, essentially being a space where you are open. I was very closed off with my feet elevated. I began to dichotomize my energy too; using my energy and “happiness” externally when I was out, and allowing the emptiness to persist when I was alone. It was a defense mechanism that I’ve had to let go of over the years. More on this mask later.

Acceptance: My life will always involve some extra form of care for having lymphatic dysfunction. According to my wise friend Marcy, in our journey when you finally work through something, the next thing to work through is waiting for you. That’s the nature of the journey.

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