Do you have a loved one whose mental health is declining? Claire gives you some tips on how to grieve this change. Plus, she answers a question from a listener who is noticing a pattern in her life she’d like to change.
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Claire Bidwell-Smith 00:00
Grief is not just reserved for after someone dies, we can grieve before they die too. If you have a loved one who’s experiencing mental decline, chances are you’re grieving. And I want you to know that’s okay.
Claire Bidwell-Smith 00:16
I’m Claire Bidwell Smith. And that’s what we’re talking about today on NEW DAY. There are so many emotions that come with the experience of a loved one who’s going through any kind of mental health decline. And one of them is most certainly grief, you may be grieving the changes that come with the progression of the decline, like your loved ones capacities, and also your prior relationship. You might as well be grieving for the losses that are occurring in your life as a result of this experience. It’s all kind of a wicked combination of anticipatory grief and also disenfranchised grief. anticipatory grief is the kind of grieving we do, when we know we’re facing loss, both the loss associated with the decline itself, and also the anticipation of losing your loved one altogether. And disenfranchised grief is the kind of grief that’s more hidden. It’s grief for things we think we’re not supposed to grieve. We learned a lot about disenfranchised grief during the pandemic, when we were forced to face grief over all the ways of life, we were losing on a regular basis. The grief you experience if our loved ones decline is similar to typical grief. You may go through periods of denial and shock, numbness and anger, you may find yourself bargaining with yourself, your higher power, the doctors you meet with even your loved one themselves. You just don’t want this to happen. And your brain is trying every which way to create an alternative outcome. You may feel intense anxiety over all the uncertainty that the situation is producing. You might also experience varying waves of depression, and also acceptance. But that’s the thing that all comes in waves. You may feel fine, one minute or one day, and then feel rageful or anguish the next. What’s important is that you recognize these feelings as grief, and that you make space for them. Let yourself cry. Let yourself feel anger and other emotions. Get a journal and write it all out. Find someone to talk to a therapist, a friend, a caregiver support group, lean into ritual and meditation, practice mega self-care, practice serious self-compassion. This is hard. You didn’t ask for it, and neither did your loved one. So go easy on yourselves. I think one of the most helpful tools I’ve found for this kind of grief is mindfulness, which is simply the practice of bringing your awareness to the present moment. And there are lots of ways to practice it. But the reason it’s so helpful with this kind of grief is that when we’re experiencing the decline of a loved one, we spend a lot of time reviewing the past, reflecting on our prior relationship, fretting about things that possibly could have been different. And we also spend a lot of time worrying about the future and feeling anxiety about things that have yet to transpire. When we can make time to bring our awareness to the present moment, even just for brief moments throughout the day, we can decrease our anxiety and give ourselves a break from all the intense emotions that are arising. For more on mindfulness checkout tick, not Hans book, The miracle of mindfulness, or Jon Kabat Zinn’s book, wherever you go, there you are. Lastly, I just want to re-emphasize how much self-compassion is required when going through the experience of a loved one going through mental decline. It’s a really hard experience, and there’s no right way to do it. So go easy on yourself, get support. Give yourself as much love as possible. And just let yourself grieve as much as you need to.
Claire Bidwell-Smith 03:30
Today’s listener question is from someone who’s noticed a pattern in her life she wants to address. Is there something in your life like that may be in your relationships, habits, emotions? Write to me, you can email your question to email@example.com. Or fill out my online form at bit.ly/newdayask the link is in the show notes. Ashley, in Portland emailed to say, I think I’ve noticed a pattern in my life that I don’t love. Over the past five years or so I’ve ended two significant friendships. I feel like I’ve had good reasons for each of them. But after I ended the second one, I definitely thought back to the first one and thought, well, this feels familiar. I do feel like my life is better off without these friendships, but I am concerned about the potential pattern. Any advice for how to think about this? Hi, Ashley, thank you for writing. This is a super interesting question. And it’s a dilemma I’ve heard another friend recently expressed struggling with. First, I think adult friendships can be really hard. Platonic friendships are different from every other relationships in our lives. They’re different from family. They’re different from our romantic partners that we tend to make strong commitments do. Adult friendships are vital in my opinion, but they also take work. And we’re always evolving and changing as people and our needs within a friendship change as well. We might meet someone and bond over something through like a work setting or in parenthood. But as our own lives continue to change those initial bonds shift as well. And because we don’t have set commitments in place for these friendships, because we don’t always view friendships as something we need to be constantly exploring and working on like romantic partnerships. It can be more common for these friendships to fall apart or outgrow themselves. Nonetheless, it can be really painful and confusing to move on from a friendship for whatever reason you do. You wrote, I feel like I had good reasons for each of them. But after I ended the second one, I definitely thought back to the first and thought, well, this feels familiar. It’s true that we definitely repeat patterns in our relationships throughout our lives and looking closely at them can be really helpful. Maybe you’re someone who takes on projects and relationships without thinking ahead too much. And then you hit a wall and realize you need to clear space in your life. Or maybe you’re attracted to needy friends initially, but then find yourself wanting distance. Or maybe you feel like you can commit to the intimacy of a friendship in the beginning, but then find yourself needing boundaries after a time. Or maybe you’re drawn to people who are narcissistic, and it just takes time to understand the dynamic. There are so many reasons we get into and fall out of friendships. I’ve loved attachment theory for a long time as a way of understanding our patterns and relationships. attachment theory is the idea that our earliest relationships with parents and caregivers inform our attachment style. If you had a warm and loving parent who always met your needs, then that kind of relationship sets you up for success and the ability to bond easily with others. However, if you had a parent or caregiver who wasn’t always able to meet your needs, or if you had some kind of trauma or interruption in your early life, those are experiences that can skew you into attachment styles that are avoidant, or insecure. So half the population has a secure attachment style, while the other half of us veer into one of those two categories of anxious or avoidant. The anxious insecure types have no trouble getting into close relationships, but they tend to feel abandoned easily constantly fret and overthink their relationship. The avoidant types would like to be in relationships but very easily feel threatened and overwhelmed by the closeness causing them to withdraw. This might be a helpful lens for you to evaluate this pattern you seem to be repeating with friends, I recommend the books attached and also insecure in love. Both of them will really help you take a look at your attachment style and help you understand kind of just how it’s playing out in your life. Good luck, Ashley. I think it’s great that you’re giving a lot of thought to your friendship patterns. And hopefully by doing a little work on it, you’ll be able to create a more long lasting friendship next time.
Claire Bidwell-Smith 07:24
That’s it for today. I really hope you come back on Friday from my conversation with journalist and author Alicia Menendez. We talk all about the likability trap. This idea that if women are seen as likable in the workplace, they aren’t seen as good leaders. But then if they display the traits society associates with leadership, they’re thought of as arrogant and aggressive and unlikable. It’s a fascinating episode, and it’s one you won’t want to miss. And the best way to make sure all these new day episodes are available for you, whenever you want to listen is to subscribe to this show wherever you’re listening to this right now.
NEW DAY is a Lemonada Media Original. The show was produced by Kryssy Pease and Erianna Jiles. Kat Yore is our engineer. Music is by Hannis Brown. New Day is produced in partnership with the well-being trust the Jed foundation and Education Development Center. Thanks for listening.