How Do I Know How I’m Doing?
March 10, 2023
BY KEN BARRINGER
The therapist response to this question might simply be, “How do you think you’re doing?”
In the day-to-day life of stressors, the therapist’s response may have merit. We may be able to help people find the ‘silver-lining’ in any stressor they’re having. However, in the maelstrom that is a grief response, the answer isn’t so clean. (An important reminder here is that the intensity of the grief is always proportional to the attachment to the loss.) People report they feel so different moment to moment, morning to afternoon, day to night it’s difficult to feel “normal” or like “I’m consistently doing ok”.
Perhaps we need a new definition of grief. The Oxford dictionary defines grief as “deep sorrow, especially that caused by someone’s death.” Merriam-Webster goes with “deep and poignant distress caused by or as if by bereavement”. I’m not sure where there is room in these definitions for things like relief or ambivalence – both are appropriate grief responses. Maybe what we need in a new definition is one that encompasses a greater range of response so that when were are posed with “How I am at this moment is how I’m doing and that’s ok”. If I feel relieved that my parent is no longer suffering from their illness that might not look or feel like “deep sorrow” or “deep and poignant distress”, but it’s “normal”. If I don’t give myself permission to feel this way I may end up disenfranchising myself. I’m doing grief wrong! This can have all sorts of complications for our mind, body, and spirit.
Who gets to decide how we are doing? Is there some judge or jury? I guess we could say popular culture seems to decide, or at least influence how we feel we are doing. Popular culture dictates a good life is a pain free life. Thus, if we show or feel any pain maybe our life is not “good enough”, therefore we are not doing ok. Nothing could be further from the truth. Pain connects us to what is important. If we are denying or wanting to eliminate pain we are muting what is most important - that sounds like not doing ok.
When we can hold two contradictory thoughts simultaneously – I’m in pain AND doing ok – we are living a fuller life. Whatever we resist only gets bigger. Whatever we go with we manage. If “this is how I’m doing at this moment”, then this is how I’m doing. There is a temptation to say “it is what it is” however, this can lead to feelings of doubt because the statement essentially means I need to accept what cannot be changed. The only constant in grief is change. How I’m Doing can change moment to moment, morning to afternoon, day to night. Grief is the anti “it is what it is”.