Good Grief! When is it finally time to say goodbye to grief?13 min readReading Time: 8 minutes
What’s going on in Yara’s head?
What would you say Yara is feeling after she loses Lilly. Hint: The answer is in the name of the new disorder. Fill in this cryptogram to better understand Yara’s feelings.
Grief vs Prolonged Grief
Well… If your guess is that it has something to do with grief, you’re absolutely right. Prolonged Grief Disorder is a form of grief that just doesn’t seem to go away. But that’s not all. Prolonged grief, a condition that is also known as complicated grief, is quite different from grief.
You can feel grief after even a less significant loss. For example, if you have to leave your home and move somewhere new, it can be terrible! You may feel as though a part of you is lost. Even once you have a new home, you’ll long for your older home and surroundings, and you won’t be able to fully enjoy this new home. However annoying it may be, slowly, you’ll make your peace with things. Even though you’ll always feel a sense of sadness about the happy home you lost, it’ll be pushed to a corner of your mind as you find other ways in which to be happy. You’ll see the bright side.
This is grief. It’s a journey, and it’s different for everyone and everything. We may grieve both when we lose our pet turtle and our beloved home, but the forms this grief takes could be extremely different. When we grieve, we miss something or someone we loved dearly. In fact, grief is simply a sign of love and human connection. There is, however, one big problem. We have to learn how to channel that love in a new reality where the companion or idea that we loved so much is no longer physically in our presence. That’s right, just like every living being on this planet, we have to adapt!
What is Prolonged Grief Disorder?
Prolonged Grief Disorder(PGD), however, is what happens when people get stuck somewhere in the journey of extreme grief. Instead of moving through the journey of grief, they don’t accept what has happened to them and keep experiencing the intense early stages of grief. Moreover, PGD only refers to a reaction to the loss of a loved one and not the loss of things such as one’s home, job, country or faith in a false belief.
PGD can “officially” only occur after someone suffers from a bereavement.
Instead of living contently while honouring the memory of the person they lost, people suffering from prolonged grief are stuck in their sadness. They get caught in an endless loop, and their journey through grief is more like a terrible rollercoaster that never stops. Patients with PGD isolate themselves for years. They constantly wish that they were with the person they lost. And instead of seeking help and friendship, some people only seek comfort in the person that is no longer with them.
How do you know if someone is suffering from PGD?
Well, even though grief can be extremely different in most people, scientists have found that PGD’s loop forms a bit of a pattern in everyone. In order to officially be diagnosed with PGD, people must suffer from at least five of the symptoms below and have to have been grieving for a minimum of one year.
The grieving period before which teens and children must have made a healthy journey through the worst and most isolating parts of grief is six months. Why do you think scientists have assumed a shorter grieving period for children?
- Feeling like your identity has been messed with or feeling like only half a person.
- Not being able to believe that such a big loss has occurred
- Avoiding anything that reminds you of the person you lost including any spaces you once shared.
- Not being able to make new friends and have a social life
- Not being able to feel emotions outside of sadness and a need to meet the person you lost.
- Since you don’t socialise or make friends, you feel lonely and slowly forget how to get attached to new people.
Scientists say that between 4 and 10% of people who grieve suffer from PGD.
Can you guess the number of people that grieve in this world?
How is PGD different from sadness in general
The truth is that humans feel sadness quite often, and we already have so many disorders for when that sadness goes all wonky, so why add another? Well, grief is rather different from our usual disorders such as depression or anxiety. In fact, people who take depression medicine for grief see hardly any benefit.
Grief is like an addiction to sugar. Imagine the person you lost to be the sugar and yourself to be your teeth. When you think about that person or dream about being with them, you feel great. It’s as though you’ve just had the silkiest chocolate. But soon after, things take a turn, and you realise that you can’t really see them. You feel horrible. The chocolate is over, and the store has run out of chocolate! In fact, you feel so much worse than you had before you tasted the chocolate. And your teeth hurt!
The memory of the person is like the taste of the chocolate. It’s fresh in your mind. You think it’s the best thing in the world and that nothing can replace it. So you feel terrible for a while, and then you’re back to missing and fantasizing about them. You’ve run back to the store as soon as there is chocolate in stock, you eat it up again. And the loop continues.
So, while it’s not exactly like a bar of chocolate, prolonged grief works like an addiction to something. You become addicted to thinking about someone, but at the same time, you are constantly reminded that they won’t be there physically. And that feels not so great. But when you feel terrible you don’t have the energy to go make new friends, and so you’re back to your fantasy. And.. the terrible cycle continues.
That is why grief is treated with its own unique method that involves ending this addiction. The ultimate aim is to help people adapt to normal life even though what was once a big part of their life is now missing.
How is PGD treated?
The treatment for PGD is focused on helping the patient exit their loop of grief. So, through various exercises and chats, a therapist helps a patient face their fears and adapt to a world where the person they loved is no longer physically present. Slowly, through the period of 16 steps of therapy, a PGD patient can once again experience happiness, make new friends and connections, and even learn to love the person they lost from afar.
Sometimes, this treatment is taken in combination with medicines that are used to treat illnesses such as depression.
You can think of PGD as a monster that lives in your house, and even though you want it to go away, you start making your house more and more comfortable for the monster. You give it a plush mattress and soft pillows, feed it and get stuck in a loop of caring for the monster instead of yourself. Prolonged Grief Disorder has its own special type of treatment that focuses on changing the behaviours that keep the monster around. This treatment is known as Prolonged Grief Disorder Therapy.
Even though our story of Lilly and Yara involved a cute fluffy pet, the current definition of PGD does not include grief after the loss of a pet. Do you think the loss of a pet can be as emotional as the loss of a loved one?
The elephant in the room
You said so yourself: everyone grieves. So, isn’t grief only natural? How can it be called a disorder if you miss someone you loved and cared for deeply? Does it make sense to make people feel as though they are abnormal for feeling something that everyone feels?
Well, you aren’t alone in questioning this new disorder. Several experts and psychologists have raised alarm bells at this newfound illness. They believe it’ll block or come in the way of a perfectly natural process. In fact, people may feel afraid to express their sadness as they may believe that they’ll be thought of as ill or abnormal.
Several animals other than humans both grieve and have grieving rituals to soothe the pain of a loss.
Another fear is that people will be misdiagnosed with PGD. Thousands of people will end up taking medicines they don’t need. What’s more, these medicines have side effects and can cause addiction!
Experts have questioned whether it would not make more sense to create spaces for people to share their grief and make new friends and connections. They suggest that we should prevent loneliness and the symptoms of PGD by creating compassionate cultures and being there for the people who want to share their pain. That would be the perfect way for grieving people to make new friends and connections!
But supporters of this new addition have responded with joy. They think treatments will only help the world get happier and allow people who are unable to join Society to be fulfilled. After all, all they are doing is helping people adapt to a different and new life.
A few more facts and a recap:
With Excerpts From: The New York Times, American Psychiatric Association, The New York Times. The New York Times, New England Journal of Medicine, The New York Times, Introduction to Prolonged Grief Disorder, The New York Times, Trialsjournal, The Lancet, Psychology Today, The New York Times, The New York Times