I’ve been reading a bit about psychological pain and ambiguous grief and came across this interview with Pauline Boss who is Professor Emeritus at the University of Minnesota. She is the author of Loss, Trauma and Resilience: Therapeutic Work with Ambiguous Loss, Loving Someone Who Has Dementia, and Ambiguous Loss. http://www.onbeing.org/program/pauline-boss-the-myth-of-closure/8757
She quotes Viktor Frankl from Man’s Search for Meaning
And he was the one who said, “Without meaning there is no hope, but without hope there is no meaning.” So he tied those together. What we know now is that the search for meaning is critical in situations of loss, clear or ambiguous, and in situations of trauma. This is very difficult. For example, if a child dies, or if a child commits suicide, or is murdered, or if a loved one disappears at sea — it’s nonsensical. But my point is that, too, is a meaning. The fact that it’s meaningless is a meaning, and it always will be meaningless.
And that gave some clarity to how we all search for labels and diagnosis; we want to know what variant and how that works and what we can expect, not because there is any expectation that there is a real solution but so that we can, in some way, make something about this disease finite. So we can say, OK, I now know what I’m dealing with, I know what the borders are. In every case, even be aware that there is nothing to know that will help, there is that unstoppable search for some kind of assurance that the end of the pain of loss is in sight.
And so I came back to the issue of pain. Intuitively we know that all pain is a continuum. There is physical pain at one end and purely emotional pain at the other. These points along the continuum all signal to our central nervous system (CNS) that something is wrong, something hurts and the CNS instructs the body to react. These signals are just that, they are meta-demonstrations that something is wrong. A pin stick or a hot stove communicates a message along nerve endings and the brain interprets them, just as the brain interprets electrical signals from the retina or knowledge from other parts of the brain.
It’s clear that the brain is in charge to a great degree; it modulates and even suppresses pain signals. After all hypnotists can convince individuals that a pin stuck through their hand doesn’t hurt or that they are feeling the pain of a hot iron without the real stimulus being present.
When we are depressed, our body reacts and our center feels heavy and constricted. Exercise will relieve this for some time. It is difficult for me to remain sad while working out. Whatever the body is doing during the physical activity somehow ‘cures’ that sadness.
Religious people deal with this continuing sadness and ambiguity by relying on their supreme being to eventually make some sense out of it, hoping that He (or She) will provide meaning and closure. Those without those specific kinds of resources rely on activity to distract them, friends to support them or, when things get tough, just crying.
Crying not only can be seen as a signal that something is wrong and a request for help. In infants they cry because they are wet, they cry because they’re cold, they cry because they are hungry. The same signal from a different stimulus. Crying also triggers hormones that relieve stress and endorphins that are natural pain killers. Again, emotional pain being treated with the same medicine that the body uses to relieve the pain of extended physical activity – like running.
Some people, like those here, write about what they feel. Some people, like those here, write about what they feel. They post about how they feel and get some relief by writing it down, by making something finite out of a seemingly endless woe and they get support from their friends.
I write, not about what I’m suffering because, honestly, my suffering is less than most. I write to relieve sadness,m to relieve loneliness. By transferring the knowledge of what is going on from a stimulus that tightens my muscle, inhibits my breathing and makes me sad to another activity, I am distracted.
Like a soldier who does not realize he is wounded while he is carrying a buddy to safety, the effort and the involvement of another activity distracts my CNS and relieves my sadness.
Instead of dwelling on the new signs of my wife’s deterioration, I think about things and try and place them in a form that others can read and understand and maybe use to make some sense of this meaningless cataclysm that has affected us all.