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Five New Year’s Resolutions for Anxious, Grieving Souls

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Last December my mother told me she’d not survive to see this Christmas.

Mom was right.

After twenty years battling rheumatoid arthritis, she finally succumbed to complications of the disease in 2016. Having destroyed her cartilage and joints, RA attacked her urinary tract. Then, finally, came the fatal assault on her lungs and heart.

The official cause of her death? Multi-organ failure.

She was 78 years old.

Her passing wasn’t pretty. Oh, sure, we had hospice, nurses, a social worker, and her “comfort pack” of morphine and Ativan. But in those last hours and days, even as friends and family pulled tight around us, she and I found ourselves saying goodbye under physically and emotionally painful circumstances.

Going into those last days, I’d read up on hospice care, what to expect when an elder dies—you name it. But none of it prepared me adequately for what I saw and heard those last days. I counted on Mom to go “gently into that good night,” but that’s not how it played out. It was rough stuff.

Nor did any of what I read prepare me for the impact of grief on my body when she died this summer. Expecting tears and low moments, I was blindsided by somatic ailments ranging from plantar fasciitis and tendonitis to breathtaking 3 A.M. panic attacks. My long-time endocrinologist, the same man who helped me put my Graves’ disease in check, admonished me to keep my stress levels under control lest I fall out of remission. He does this at every appointment, but this time he was extra emphatic.

Perhaps that’s because I broke down sobbing at my regular check up?

Grief on top of my anxiety issues. It’s been a struggle. Now I’m about to leave behind the year in which Mom’s took her last breath. Honestly, that prospect freaks me out more than thinking of this as the first Christmas I’ve ever had without her.

To help me manage the transition, I’m working on a list of resolutions that I hope will lift me up and out of 2016’s sadness. Here’s what I’ve come up with.

Resolution #1: Keep up the self-care.
This one is vital. Checking in with my therapist monthly kept me afloat during the eldercare years, and thankfully she continues to keep tabs on how I progress through grief. My therapist is unafraid to help me touch some of the more tender spots of my heartbreak and coach me through them.

On a day-to-day basis, physical activity—especially when spent outdoors, in nature–help root me to the present. I’ve seen over the last weeks and months that when I feel disconnected both from my body and nature, then my grief can more easily lead my anxiety into a spiral.

Resolution #2: Keep and set emotional boundaries, especially online.
In the fall I trimmed my private Facebook connections considerably. That’s because I want to ensure that when I share the deepest, most personal stories about my grief, I’m only doing so with people who genuinely care. The most personal stuff? I will continue to only relate in person, via private messages, or over the phone.

My biggest weakness is that I am a current affairs hound, but the news can be a lot to take when you’re bereaved and anxiety-prone. I’m working on setting aside a specific time each day to wade into the news feed and then quickly back away. Dwelling on what I can’t change in the world tends to backfire, sparking another round of anxiety and panic. (Besides, for things I really care about, I can always make donations to relevant organizations.)

Resolution #3: Stay vulnerable with those whom you trust.
Curiously, staying honest about my grief work has deepened connections with others who have lost their own elders. There’s a gentleman at my grocery store who checks in on me routinely, having lost his own dad a few years ago. He gets it. Another friend lost her father a couple of months after my mom died. She gets it, too. Between us, we use a sort of shorthand, one that signals we’re doing as well as can be expected. We never have to pretend everything is great. That’s terrific medicine.

Resolution #4: Practice gratitude.
This can be easier said than done; yet each time that I’ve sat down to count the evidence of my good fortune, I do feel a bit of a lift. It also helps me to count my blessings when I wake up at 3 A.M. in a raging panic.

Resolution #5: Take a series of deep breaths several times a day.
Of all the things I’ve read about grief and managing one’s way through a personal crisis, the book that resonates most with me as 2016 shuts down is Pema Chödrön’s When Things Fall Apart {Amazon Affiliate Link}.

Given that my mother’s death brought an end to my identity as her emotional caregiver and a patient advocate here at midlife—just as my tween son asserts more independence himself, I’m learning that grief is an uncomfortable but illuminating call to understanding that suffering and impermanence are a natural part of life.

For this reason, I found Chödrön’s description of Tonglen meditation, a Buddhist practice, helpful. While I’m not Buddhist, the spiritual exercise meshes well with my existing belief system. Through the meditation, I’m learning to breathe in gently the suffering of others and myself while breathing out into the world compassion and love. This normalizes my grief and anxiety while getting oxygen into my cells and calming anxiety. It’s a win-win for my body/mind.

Those are my personal resolutions for moving forward with grief and anxiety, but if you, too, are dealing with anxiety and grief, I’d love to hear yours.

Pamela Price is a writer, author, and blogger. You can find her on Facebook and Twitter.

Related and recommended:

Don’t Be Surprised By Suffering

Grief Woke Me This Morning

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A Few Questions about Gifted Adults and their “Rainforest Minds” with Author Paula Prober

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This summer my friend Paula Prober, a licensed therapist, released her first book. The title, Your Rainforest Mind: A Guide to the Well-Being of Gifted Adults and Youth {Amazon Affiliate Link}, comes from her popular blog. The phrase “rainforest mind” is a brilliant description of the multi-faceted experience of living with giftedness.

In October Paula graciously sent me a copy from her personal stash. When finished reading it, I posted this review via Amazon:

“Having had the honor of seeing the author’s SENG presentation in San Jose a few years back, I was eager to see how she took her ideas and insights from the talk to the page. Prober did not disappoint. In fact, what she has written for GHF Press is an essential book for therapists and gifted advocates hoping to grasp a better idea of gifted adults. What I found especially helpful are the many resources identified in the text. Hopefully readers will take these suggestions to heart, follow up on them, and begin to amplify discussions of “rainforest minds” online and in their communities.”

Shortly thereafter I sent the newly minted author a few question “clusters,” the answers to which she generously allowed me to share here with you. What I loved about her reply is that they reflect Paula’s clear, honest, and insightful writing–the same content you’ll find if you purchase the book. (Scroll down past the cover to see her responses.)

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Q: One of the recurring stories that comes up in the gifted advocacy community is the adult who comes to understand his/her own giftedness through the identification of giftedness (and/or twice-exceptionality) in a child. Can you talk broadly about issues you see related to multi-generational “rainforest minds”? Are there two or three specific actions or habits can families develop to create safe, welcoming family environments and nurturing relationships for gifted adults and youth?

A: I often see that as well: “multi-generational rainforest minds” Here are a few of my suggestions for parents based on the issues that I see in these families:

  • Practice simply listening and reflecting feelings when your child is having a meltdown. Keep breathing so that you can stay calm. Don’t take the extreme emotion personally. (None of this is easy. You may want to meltdown yourself.) Problem solve with your child once the storm is over and let your child offer solutions so that the whole family is collaborating. Explain that having a rainforest mind means having passionate feelings that can at times be overwhelming. (for you, too)
  • Ask your child to imagine a large container to hold his/her intense emotions when it’s not safe or wise to express them. When your child returns home, the emotions can be released. Have a list handy of positive ways to release emotions. Your child can choose from the list.
  • Avoid power struggles by responding to requests with: “Let me think about it and I’ll get back to you.”
  • Make a list of ways you can relax and soothe yourself. Make the time to do them! Take breaks from your kids. Practice self-soothing techniques with your child.
  • Your child will not be irreparably harmed if you make a mistake! When you apologize, you give your child permission to err and you demonstrate how to manage mistakes.
  • If you’re noticing that you’re over-reacting repeatedly to your child’s intensities or schooling troubles, it may be because your own difficult childhood experiences are being triggered. This might be the time to find a good counselor to address your own issues. In my experience, when parents enter counseling, the whole multi-generational system benefits!

Excellent resources related to this parenting gifted kids can be found at Charlotte Reznick at imageryforkids.com, and via the Hoagie’s and Gifted Homeschoolers Forum blog hops (see here and here). The blog hops are on particularly important topics and are written by parents and professionals.

Q: In light of eldercare and parenting and the “Sandwich Generation,” can you talk about the ways stress can rattle a mid-life rainforest mind–and what, if anything, they can do to combat it?

A: Because you have a rainforest mind, you may believe that you have to excel at all things. And you may, in fact, excel at many (all?) things. And yet. Parenting a gifted child is challenging enough. Add eldercare, and you will surely be rattled. Seriously and exceedingly rattled. Repeatedly. You will have to say goodbye to your unhealthy perfectionism.

This means that you have to admit that you have limits, to ask for help and to take breaks. For the welfare of all of your family members, it will be more important than ever to take care of yourself by doing activities that soothe your soul.

And, if you don’t excel at all things, all of the time?

Trust me.

You will still be gifted.

Thanks so much, Paula!

If you, dear reader, have had the pleasure of reading Your Rainforest Mind–of if you have questions or comments about her remarks above, I’m sure we’d both love to hear about it in comments.

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Filed under Gifted, Gifted Adults, Uncategorized