Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Sadness

Losses take on many forms in our lives. I am dealing with end of life decisions for our 15 year old cat, and feeling so sad about this impending loss. I know we can't expect anyone or anything to be around forever. But I don't believe accepting means denying the pain of parting.

Grief is a normal emotion. We all react in different ways, but the important thing is to allow the grief process to work. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross first formulated the Five Stages of Grief in 1969. Like most universal truths, this model has stood the test of time. The stages of grief are: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. They are not linear stages, meaning we finish one and move directly to the next, but we may jump ahead, skip back, or miss some entirely. But most of the stages sound familiar and true to anyone who has grieved.

The loss of a pet can't be put on the same level as the loss of a human family member or friend, however, I know my pain is real. I can't deny my sadness, and I won't hide it from my family. My children will also experience sadness and grief, and we will have to help them through this, too. I will tell them to find the feelings of sadness in their body, to breathe into it and allow it to be real. Sadness is not something to avoid or deny. Cry when you want to, remember the good things and talk about them openly, and be gentle with yourself. Grief takes time, and we won't be over it by tomorrow. Together we will remember our cat with fondness, maybe we'll mark her final resting place with a flowering shrub, or a catnip bush. We know she'll have a place in our hearts forever, even though she's no longer with us.

Monday, August 8, 2011

What's Your Focus?

Last Friday I had a nice day. I was off work, and got to do some things for myself. Since I'm trying to be more disciplined about journaling, I finished the night by sitting down to write. The first thing on my mind was an unresolved issue that I've been worrying about. I started to write about this at length, getting into details about what might happen, how things could go wrong, and how upset I would be. That led me to think about my frustration with someone I felt wasn't doing as much as they could to resolve the situation, and I spun on for pages in anger. I finally stopped to take a breath and realized I felt very anxious and upset! How did that happen after such a relaxing day?
Luckily, I recognized my role in creating this mood, and quickly turned the page. Literally. I started my journal entry over and focused on the positive events of the day, how pleased I was to have time to myself, how grateful I was to have friends coming to visit, and my mood became cheerful and relaxed again. The events of my day hadn't changed, and neither had the worrisome situation, but my focus had shifted completely. Staying stuck on the negative, or mired in future worries, I was allowing my mind to create unnecessary drama which made me feel terrible.
So, the real question is, if I can choose my focus, why would I allow my mind to lead me down that path? And the question is just as valid when thinking about journaling or simply the thoughts in my own head. My mood is affected by my thoughts, and my thoughts are under my own control. Therefore... I think you can see where I'm headed here! So do I choose worries and anxiety, or negativity and anger, or can I look for the silver lining? I'm not saying my worries are invalid, or that my anger is unjustified. But I can choose to evaluate them and decide how to respond, rather than allowing them to spin uncontrollably through my head, affecting my emotions and behaviour.
It takes work to look for the positive, especially with all the bad news around us. I choose to practice gratitude, and that often allows me to reset my perspective. Some days I'm grateful for a roof over my head and enough food to eat. Other days, my list can go on and on. Either way, I start to focus back in a positive direction, and I notice the shift in how I feel. Try it yourself. If you notice your thoughts spinning in an anxious or negative direction, turn the page. Think of 5 things you are grateful for today, and allow your mind to really feel that gratitude. If you're journaling, end each entry with something positive, or write down your gratitude list. How can you shift your focus today?