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My experiences with denial – being with, lived with! (in the context of grief)

Chapter- 2

There are 5 stages of grieving process (need not to be experiencing in same order)

  1. Denial
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining
  4. Depression and
  5. Acceptance

Let’s understand each one of the stages clearly by asking ourselves these questions; Why this stage is important to experience? Why we undergo these stages? Why we may stick at one of the stages? Why these stages are not in order or linear? And what it feels like to be in denial? Finally, when denial breaks or fades ways how we feel or process the information and feelings of loss?

Denial: Refusing to acknowledge or Denying in the fact that something happened or lost someone.

Why denial?

  • It helps in coping with emotional conflict, stress, painful thoughts, threatening information and anxiety.
  • When we are in denial, we may respond with shock and numbness.
  • Denial and shock help us to cope with overwhelming emotions and makes us to survive.
  • It helps us to pace our feelings of grief.
  • Denial is a natural way of letting in only as much as we can handle.
  • Denial would eventually fade away during the healing process and we would finally accept the reality.

My story of being in denial.!

In the previous article of 5 stages of grieving prosses I gave outline of my experience in losing loved one & explained about each stage briefly.

      Yes! I experienced the emotions & thoughts that are associated with grieving process. At first experienced denial and by carefully dealing with it helped me move on to acceptance level in this healing process of grieving.

The first encounter:

When I was in 6th grade I lost my maternal grand pa, it was my conscious experience that I had for first time to loss someone and being aware of. Because I was child, though I’m attached to my grandpa I couldn’t really got affected by the fact that he is no more. In the beginning I denied the fact that he died and thought he was on a tour, later I accepted his death as it’s a natural one due to illness. In this case I didn’t experience all the stages, might be due to the acceptance or due to the age I was in, where distracted by other life events without much conscious efforts and processed those few emotions quickly.

The second self-encounter with death and dying:

I will cover my experience of physical trauma in anxiety disorder & PTSD, but here let me take you to my experience with death itself and dying.
When I was 12 years old, with full of energy, hyperactivity and life force. I suddenly met with a severe accident. In my case it was electric shock with 3rd degree burns from tip to toe. except my face, my entire body burnt in fire came from electric flares. Its gruesome situation to witness such wounds or to be in that situation.
Doctors gave 24 hrs time; the clock was ticking and I’m on bed speaking with everyone who came to visit me that afternoon without my knowledge or fully cot conscious. I was into briefed coma and when I was conscious, I realised that I met with accident. I’m not aware of my condition but could sense the seriousness of it, in this stage of dying process I’m in denial and my emotions are shutdown. I couldn’t feel the physical nor emotional pain. Once I started recovering from this initial phase of observation, I gradually got aware of physical pain alone, my emotions are numb and my consciousness is little, its might be because I’m in survival mode as explained above why denial is important.

Gradually, I became aware of my emotions, from the fear of dying the recovery was so fast that I could come out of it and focus on my physical movements. I was bedridden for 6 months straight undergone multiple surgeries and treatments. During this process I’m aware that I’m not dying anymore but my physical pain was too much to bear. I will cover my experiences of physical trauma in coming articles. In this case of short dying experience, I was into feelings of denial at bringing and made others comfortable around as if nothing going to happen. As I recovered, I experienced several emotions related to my body appearance, trauma and acceptance eventually. Still, I’m aware of my emotions associated with this incident like anger, pain and gratitude etc.,

The third encounter:

I was in 9th grade when experienced death of my mother. As I mentioned before these 5 stages of grief we may not experience in same order or any particular or typical order as each death is a typical one. In third encounter where I can recollect, I passed through these grieving stages in the following order Denial –> bargaining –> depression –> Anger –> Acceptance. I was young and recovering from my own accident with lot of trauma and emotions once again I had to witness or pass through the experience of losing someone whom I admired, love and follow. My mother death was not all sudden, she died of illness yet its unnatural death to that age of her. There was some medicine reaction that she was on and effected the liver and brain. In no time we heard the news that she was no more. I witnessed her death in her final days by carrying food and other requirements for her form home without much aware of seriousness of situation thinking that she will recover or come back to home one day. I have seen her through a glass door of the ICU and she didn’t allow me there, thinking I may not be able to see her in that condition to my age. Hence, she decided to talk to my sisters. We prayed to God of different religions on that day hoping she will come back, but it didn’t happen.

In denial:
Initially, I was overwhelmed with emotions and crying and weeping all around her expressing my missing feelings to her. That time my sister instructed or tried to comfort me by saying that: if I cry, she will not be happy, so don’t cry” this statement created a mental & emotional block in my childhood where I had to work on myself in therapy to come out of it.

While Bargaining:
In due course of time, I tried to sublimate my emotions of missing her in art form or in poems. In one stage I felt my friend’s mothers as a mother figure and admire them a lot and listen to them and try connect with them at emotional level. At some point or the other I used to think that what if my mother comes back, what if its not real or its temporary. All these “what if” statements hit me hard. I along with my dad, kept on searching for her memories in photos of functions, videos or audio tapes to cherish with her memories.

In depression:
I experienced short term feelings of depression when we couldn’t find a way to connect with her. It was short lived but had significant effect on the self as each one of us in family missed her and her emotional support in one way or the other and gradually in a path to accept her loss. We mothered each other at some point or the other and took over responsibility of each other in this painful journey. I will explain how single parent child will feel and think about the world in parenting articles.

Stage of anger:
you will be shocked to know that when I got into this phase. Its 2018 that I was in therapy to deal with loss of my mother. Still the acceptance did come though death happened in the year of 2002. I took therapy and used CBT techniques like writing a good bye letter to her and understanding which stage I’m in and my defences etc. this helped me to move on and accept the situation and her death eventually.

Acceptance:
now, I completely accept the loss of my mother and which is not replaceable. Therapy helped me cope with the loss and myself work helped to understand which stage I’m in this grieving process. All these helped me in gaining the acceptance at different levels of mental health.

4th encounter:

According to Elisabeth & David “every death is a typical one and every experience associated with it is a typical one and new one”

Yes! in my case it happened exactly the way authors of “grieving” stated about the death. I lost my dear one i.e., my elder sister in an unnatural way (suicide). she took an extreme step to end her pain and suffering. I was in shock when i have seen her in that position. my emotions once again got numb and had no tears. I focused on what happend and how it happened? why it happend? rather than my emotions. it was a pure case of denial where In this case, I haven’t passed all the stages of grieving and stuck in bargaining phase. i worked on guilt part as well. As i passed through 3 of 5 stages of greiving and now im in bargaining phase.

In this case The stages look typically like this: Denial –> depression –> Anger –> bargaining and I haven’t got acceptance on what had happen in the past.
I’m still processing the loss and emotions, thoughts associated with it, still i get dreams about her and feels like her loss is so unreal. Whenever I tell the story of my loss of my sister, I realise that I still didn’t accept her death. I write letters, I talk about her whenever there is a chance to speak of or share about, made me move on form other stages. I’m still in the process of grieving and took CBT approach to deal with this process and hopefully I may accept her death soon as a reality.

Very often, we get stuck in the process and find it difficult to accept all stages. The normal process of grieving doesn’t happen and we suffer from mental health illnesses such as PTSD, anxiety, depression, etc. Sometimes because of stigma and other times because of situations, we push ourselves into denial and that leads to suffering. “COMMENT BELOW IN WHICH STAGE YOU ARE IN AND TALK ABOUT IT”

It is always beneficial to take professional help in case you think you got stuck in any one of the stages. Feel free to get in touch with me. here is the link to book an appointment with me. https://manastva.com/vamsy-krishna-d/

Vamsy Krishna D
Psychologist

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