Friday, June 21, 2019
GOOD GRIEF, "Fake It..."
Fake It till You Make It
You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience by which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’
– Eleanor Roosevelt
You have likely heard this expression before: “Fake it till you make it.” It advises what to do when you are experiencing something that you are not very familiar with and not sure how or what is the right thing to say or do. This places you in a vulnerable position that could expose your insecurities, your lack of knowledge or skill. In most cases, your reaction is to go forward and just do the best you can — “fake it till you make it.” Repetition improves your success and builds self-confidence. As your self-confidence improves, you become less vulnerable. Eventually, you do make it.
So, what does this have to do with grief and loss? The loss of a loved one creates a vulnerable period in your life. You are unsure of what to do. You are distracted and distressed. Often, depression is knocking on your door — if not already inside. Yet, your survival instinct kicks in, and you cling to the routines familiar to you, all the while dealing with difficult situations for which there may be no instructions. So, you fake it till you make it. This may be a trial and error process and may last for what seems like forever. Have faith and keep moving forward.
Some may ask: “How can I do this?”
I’ll share some examples of how I did this. When I returned to work three weeks after my loss, I was distracted and bombarded with sympathy from many caring, compassionate colleagues. I felt vulnerable, lost, and raw.
Sometimes, their concern came at a good time, and I dealt well with it. Other times, their concern came at a time when I was feeling particularly sad and wanted to run away or burst out in tears — neither of which I wanted to show to others. So, I would put on a good face, take a few deep breaths, smile and continue what I was doing. I did not want to hurt those who were sharing their caring and compassion with me. This was a precious gift to receive from them.
On a good note, this did improve over time, and I became more comfortable with the process and could interact genuinely with those who cared.
Another example is when people asked me, “How are you doing?”
At first, I wanted to yell back, “How do you think I’m doing? I just lost my husband. I feel like someone just ripped out my heart! How would you feel?”
I was at war with my own thoughts. I desperately needed compassion and caring; yet, I was tempted to lash out because I felt lost and vulnerable. I knew that if I continued to lash out at others, they would flee from me in droves — the opposite of what I needed.
So, I suppressed my feelings and choose to put on a good face and give a standard reply, “I’m doing OK.”
This doesn’t tell them much, but satisfies their question and provides relief to the one offering the caring that they have done their duty. Whew! I “faked it” by sharing only some of my feelings because I knew they cared, while I tried to protect them from the real horror of the loss I was going through. As this war was going on, I employed the “fake it till you make it” attitude. I knew it would get easier as time passed, when my feelings eased and I started to heal.
I cannot tell you how long it will take to heal or how often you will be faking it till you make it. I am thankful for this coping method to rely on for short-term survival. However, it is not one to use indefinitely.
You must do the things you think you cannot do.
– Eleanor Roosevelt
If you feel unable to cope with your situation, you would benefit from help from a trained professional. You need to process your feelings, deal with the vulnerability resulting from grief and loss, and allow healing to occur. When people ask me, “How are you doing?” I just say that I am sad sometimes and at other times I can be a part of the living, which becomes easier every day.
And sometimes I still cry in response. It’s all OK.
However, even a year later, I was surprised that I reverted to the “fake it till you make it” technique when my friend and nurse colleague, June, asked me how I was doing. I skirted the issue and limited my talk to physical issues, but not what she really wanted to know: how was I feeling emotionally as related to my loss? I think my friend knew what was happening and was kind enough to let me off the hook. My interaction with June was the stimulus for writing this section of my book. My answer to her demonstrated to me that I was still faking it at times. This caused me to spend some time reflecting on how I really was doing in this healing process and to take the time to deal with whatever issues were surfacing.
For me, a one-year anniversary caused this protective strategy to resurface. I know it is only another bump in the road on the journey through grief and loss. And this too shall pass…
· I am strong and powerful and confident that each day brings new hope and healing.
· I trust my own inner wisdom and walk forward one step at a time on a new path.
· I know that sharing my pain will help to heal the wounds and provide others the opportunity to care for me.
With her permission, I am serializing here nurse Cheryl Barrett's valuable book on transcending grief. I had the pleasure of being her coach and editor through my Write Your Book with Me enterprise.
Douglas Winslow Cooper, PhD