Sunday, August 25, 2013

Sunday Stroke Suvivor ~ Grief- Denial

As promised this is the first of my grief counseling for stroke survivors. Not all the stages occur in order within your life and you may experience several at the same time. The order is just a guideline.

Today is about denial, bargaining and guilt. Now don't say you are not going through this because you are. You are just in denial. <G>

At first denial is easy. I spent my first 24-hours in denial. I still go to sleep each night, after a year, hoping to wake up in the morning and finding this has been a bad dream similar to "Dallas." If you are not familiar with this old television show, a whole season was choked up up a bad dream sequence. Well, I can hope can't I. But the next morning I awake and find it wasn't a bad dream. I had a stroke. I'm am recovering daily from a stroke and all the new and old challenges from the day before lay in front of me. I could deny it all day long if I could lie in bed not moving, thinking, or speaking not that it happens that way. I can only play Ostrich with my head buried in the sand so long before I have to roll over to shift positions or have to pee.

Eventually nature will call and I'll have to put my AFO and shoes on to toddle off to the toilet. It only works for the short term, but may be intermittent and come and go. Something will always smack you in the face with the reality of the situation.

 "No, I can do it myself!" This statement is a form of denial. In reality, I can't do it myself, but I've got to prove it to me. A painful thing for caregivers to watch. It's a doubled edged sword which often has me in tears of frustration when I finally get it through my thick skull that I can't do it myself.This has worked for me and against me.

"I'm not listening! LaLaLa!" and "Talk to the hand." When we refuse to listen to others we only hurt ourselves. Sure they might not have the answers either, but if all else fails, they are a sounding board. Granted if you are in depression nobody can stand listening to grunt and groan on the pity pot, but more on that later. Just know that denial is a short protective mechanism of the mind. Realize this. Accept this. Sometimes everyone needs small breaks from reality. Now if your denial lasts for a prolonged period, professional help is advised.

Bargaining- "Lord, please take this burden from me. I'll do this or that better from now on." Or something along these lines, is another natural stage of grief. If you will do this, I'll do that. "I'll stop smoking, lose weight, eat right, do what my doctor says, (insert your own bargaining chip here) from now on, but just make it better."

Honestly we may mean them when we say them, but life has a way of interjecting them back into our lives no matter how hard we try. It's an Indian Giver's promise at best.

After my stroke I promised to stop smoking and then I was discharged home to a house full of nicotine. I was almost violently ill just walking into it. All my clothes, bedding, curtains, carpets, furniture, painted surfaces etc are drenched with the stuff accumulated over the past fifteen years. So I puffed and coughed through a cigarette to just be able to live in my house. I haven't put them away yet.

I started losing weight in the hospital and continued after I got home. I was very incapable of doing much besides the basics of self care. Meals were the TV dinner types. The nuke and eat. Of course with all that processed food entering my body, the weight inched back up. Having a bad heart doesn't help when you can hold thirteen pounds of just extra fluids in your body at any given time. It was frustrating at best. I zigzagged on the scales not knowing if it was fluids or fat. I finally gave up. My allergies went haywire during this time and I couldn't do anything about it.

Starting this Spring brought about better changes. I started gardening again to reduce my allergens. But still my weight was at issue due to my heart. Try as I might and with three cholesterol medicine I couldn't lower my LDLs more than 50 points. I swore off red meats and eating animal based protiens twice a week substituting bean curd, vegetables, and ate rich HDL foods to no avail. It's heredity for me to have high bad cholesterol.

So all in all bargaining and begging doesn't work. No amount of bargaining will change the outcome.

That brings us to guilt. The what-ifs. Now I'm big on what-ifs as a writer. Some of my best stories start off this way.Of course, we are our own worse critics. Nobody can be as hard on themselves as I can be. That's part of my stubborn nature. But all of us have a stubborn streak. It's part of being human, but I got a triple helping when God was handing out this one. I'm worse than a Jewish and Catholic mother combined when it comes to guilt trips and I do it to myself.

If I had done this or that, this would not have happened to me. The fact is, it probably would have. Guilt leads to depression. Guilt leads to low self worth. Guilt leads to you not fighting to get better. Guilt is the root of all evil thoughts and actions.

I had a physical therapist (not my regular one) ask me this week if I did everything in my power to prevent this stroke. I looked at her in shock. Now I had worked through my guilt ridden stage before now so needless to say I didn't need an additional thing to feel guilty about. She said I smoked so I didn't do everything in my power to prevent a stroke. Did the woman fall off the sensitivity truck? But like I always do, I pondered her words.

I thought back to my cousin Ricky who recently died from a stroke. He lived a healthy life style. The number of babies who have strokes yearly. They are innocents. Others who have no bad health habits who suffer strokes each year. No, I'm not helping my body by smoking. Yes, it is a big no-no for people susceptible to stroke or had a stroke.  I accept that risk factor. We all make choices. Accept the choices you make and move on.

I'm fond of saying, "Don't borrow trouble." Until the doctor pronounces the big "C" word, don't worry the whole time while waiting for the results for it to be cancer and how you will react. I got news for you. It won't change the outcome. Guilt is an indicator that you've done something wrong and deserve what is happening to you. Unless you've gotten behind the wheel intoxicated, hit and harmed someone else, it just ain't your fault! Yes, you could have done this or that differently but does it really change what you are going through now? No, not a lick. This is almost a part of bargaining.

It's time to move on. Accept what has happened as an unchangeable fact and go on from here. Because in the grand scheme of your life, this is a small segment. It's what you do from here on out that counts.

Next Sunday is about Anger.


  1. "Just know that denial is a short protective mechanism of the mind. Realize this. Accept this. Sometimes everyone needs small breaks from reality." Powerful words, Jo! I need them this morning. ;-)

  2. I'm sure this post will be of help even to people who aren't stroke victims. You covered some deep life issues.

  3. Ok, I did do some bargaining. I thought I never went through that, but I did.

  4. Yep, I'll bet you did Amy. LOL

    Thanks Zan Marie.

    Sheena-kay- Everyone experiences grief due to a loss whether it's your job, a loved one who passes, or a devastating illness to name a few.

  5. Oh by the way, I would've ripped that PT a new one for saying that.

  6. AMY LOL yep I drew a bloody tongue from biting my tongue. I'm still on pastoral staff at the hospital.

  7. Very powerful post, Jo - I'm sure we can all recognise how we do that what if/guilt thing in many areas of our lives. I suppose we need to always keep in mind that we can't see all ends. Without knowing the whole 'story' there's no reason to ponder what ifs...

  8. I've just finished editing the 2nd edition of my book and heard myself think "that was satisfying but now I'm ready to go back to a normal life." Even 9 years after a stroke these stages can return

  9. Rebecca,
    Grief never truly goes away. It lessens with time and other things, but there is no pill to cure it.


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