7 STAGES OF GRIEF FOR CHRONIC PAIN & ILLNESS:
Denial: This stage is more like ‘shock’ and ‘disbelief’ that turns into ‘denial’. This stage is characterised by ‘We wonder how our life is going to change and how we are going to live with those changes'. Denial and shock help us to cope and make survival possible. This stage can be dangerous for people with chronic pain and illness because if they are in denial about their condition, they may not take the necessary steps to get themselves the treatment they need.
Pleading, Bargaining & Desperation: This stage is characterised by pleading and bargaining in order to keep or live the way it was in order to not have to make the necessary changes and to continue living as though nothing is wrong. Sometimes we plunge ourselves into working out, eating healthier, etc in order to attempt to ‘cure’ ourselves. You might feel guilt thinking ‘did I do this to myself?’ or ‘Could I have done anything to prevent this?’ You might also start to wonder what your purpose in life is or questioning your identity.
Anger: Once we realise that no amount of pleading or desperation will change our diagnosis, we start to get angry. Angry at having the illness, angry at the lack of a cure or treatment options, angry at the limitations it imposes on you, the list goes on. It’s important that we allow ourselves to feel and express these feelings. We need to really work through this stage in order to start healing and move on to the next ones.
Anxiety & Depression: Anxiety and depression is an ‘appropriate response to a loss or life altering situation’, this stage can ‘feel as though it will last forever’. This stage can come and go with the repetitive cycle of worsening and then improvement of symptoms, like the flow of the tides. It’s important to recognise that we are grieving the loss of a life that we once had, loss of abilities and wellness as well as experiencing anxiety about what our future holds. All of this is normal and it’s ok.
Loss of Self & Confusion: This stage is where we really start questioning who we are and where we fit in. We undergo a sort of ‘identity crisis’ where we ‘may question what your purpose in life is now’. This can come on the heels of anxiety and depression or happen alongside it, but again, this stage is necessary for healing and is completely normal.
Re-evaluation of Life, Roles and Goals: Once we start questioning who we are now and where we fit in, we are inevitably forced to rewrite our life narrative by exploring new roles and goals for ourselves. We explore ways to incorporate aspects of who we used to be into our ‘new normal’ and start to mold our new purpose out of the ‘clay’ we are given to work with. For some, it’s exploring new career options that allow us to have flexibility and work from home, for others it's finding small ways to do things we enjoy but not ‘overdo it’.
Acceptance: This stage is where we have fully integrated our illness into our lives and have come to the realisation that while it may have to be a normal part of life for us, we can still grow and experience joy in our lives. This is not simply being ‘ok’ with being sick – but it is coming to terms with and finding ways to integrate the illness without making it the ‘driver’ or the ‘main character’ in our life story. We find ways to properly manage the illness and care for our mind and bodies when we need to, but also find ways to be happy, experience new things and surround ourselves with people who understand our needs and help us achieve our goals.
It’s important to remember that these stages do not always come in this order, nor do they ‘end’. Sometimes we can experience them and not return to earlier stages, but it is normal to experience ‘acceptance’ and then head back to ‘anger’ or ‘depression’ here and there depending on how our condition behave and as life throws us curve balls. There is no ‘one size fits all’ way to grieve life changes, we do the best we can with what we have.