Dear A. B. Curtiss
I wrote to you a few years back (Feb 10 2010) and found your reply really helpful. I hope you don't mind me writing again but recently my mother died and since then I have been finding a return of panic symptoms which I used to experience a lot when I was younger. I know your book and the exercises are designed to help with depression but do these exercises have the same effect on panic? I passed out while having a cup of tea with a friend a few weeks ago and am so afraid that it might happen again that I have started to create a cycle of fear where I know that my mind is busy ensuring that I do feel faint quite often. Is it possible to deal with grief by using distraction techniques or is it better to face the anxiety it causes head on. I am really struggling and would welcome your advice.
The best thing to do with grief over loss is to mourn your loss when the mourning presents itself in the form of painful feeling. When the horrible pain comes down upon you, simply accept it as part of the ceremony of loss. We hurt when we lose what we love. It is a normal part of the experience of every human being. Feel it all the way. It is a feeling. It will not harm us in any way. After all, we are not our feelings. We are having feelings. We are in charge of those feelings. There is no need to allow our feelings to have charge over us. Fainting or getting a panic attack is a way of refusing to feel the pain of loss.
If you have been fearful of feeling the pain of loss, the first time you undertake to accept and feel the pain, it may take a few minutes to get the hang of it.
You can even have a conversation with the pain if you like. Every time it comes down upon you, you can say. Have I had this feeling before?
Yes or no
If yes, Is there anything hidden in this feeling that I haven't felt before?
Yes or No
If yes, feel around for any hidden and repressed part of the fearful pain and feel it now. Just feel it, no need to do anything about it except feel it. Allow the complete painful feeling to express itself and spread out into the neurons of your body. Like an exercise stretch. The feelings themselves are caused by adrenalin. They are part of the fight or flight response. The fight or flight response causes a surge of adrenalin in our body. Adrenalin can only affect certain of our organs and only in certain ways.
Therefore this pain is not unlimited, nor is it all-powerful. This chemically-caused pain has limitations beyond which it cannot continue. If you allow yourself to feel this pain, it won't get worse. It will reach a completion, diminish and fade away. Sometimes you can get so good at this acceptance of painful feeling that it is almost like loving it. Immediate acceptance of painful feelings keeps them from escalating into panic. Panic attack is cause by the fear of feeling the pain and the refusal to feel the pain. Repressed fear ends up in panic attacks.
Wallowing in fearful feelings is not the same thing as simply accepting and feeling them.
Wallowiing in painful feelings is continuing to be resistant to feeling them but continuing to engage in thoughts about how you don't like what you are feeling. And continuing, over and over, to think about how you don't like it. And can't stand it anymore. And can't somebody do something to help you. And, oh not again. And why can't I have some relief. Why can't I be happy. And so on.
Every time the wallowing begins, you should have a conversation with it.
Is there any new idea or data that we can add to this wallowing that will change anything?
Or make it better.
Is continuing to wallow in this pain making me a better person?
Is it making me a more connected person or a more disconnected one?
Is it making my heart more closed. Or open-hearted.
Is wallowing in this fearful pain making me a bright shining light of healing love to shed on those around me. Or not.
So every time the wallowing comes, have the conversation, or just simply allow the pain to spread out and stretch itself to completion in your neurons.
Open your hands to it.
Relax your shoulders to it.
Bow your head, or get down on your knees if you want to, in holy acceptance of your humanity.
You are never alone in your acceptance of and your loving surrender to your humanity.
The conversation itself soon becomes a kind of distracting device for the mind. Remember: the mind always follows the direction of its most current dominant thought. At first, the pain is the dominant thought. Your dominant thought is instructions to the brain (your obedient servant) to put you in touch with everything associated with that dominant thought. If the dominant thought is pain, the brain will put you in touch with everything painfully negative in your memory banks.
As you continue to use the conversation exercise, later the conversation becomes the dominant thought. After doing the “conversation” for a couple of weeks, the feelings don't seem to persist. The dominant thought will change to being open, connected, accepting and will be instructions to your brain to put you in touch with all the positive things in your memory bank. Pain + the conversation= okayness. Kind of like oil on troubled waters = tranquil waters.
Hope this helps. A. B. Curtiss
Thank you so much Ms Curtiss, I will do as you suggest and am grateful for the suggestions which absolutely make sense. Over the years I have tried to practice what you advise regarding depression and as a result I am rarely ever depressed and have found my mood is usually calm and positive. I guess grief is a bit different and we live in a culture which doesn't really approve of outright expressions to loss but in private I will try to apply your strategies. It is kind of you to spend the time to reply in such depth.
With Best Wishes
You are welcome. For myself, I find if I am hit by a sudden real surge to the bottom, either method actually works--distraction with simple nonsense mantras, or complete acceptance and allowing the pain to finish itself. But grief over loss is a little different. Mourning the loss of a loved one, in a way, is a beautiful expression of our shared humanity. But when it escalates into mere chemical imbalance, then we must "treat" it. The thing we should always remember, but never seem to remember when it hits us, is that pain is a thought which cannot think itself. We must think it in order to feel any pain. And we can choose not to think it. That is also true of physical pain and that is why, for chronic physical pain, self-hypnosis is the best remedy. A. B. Curtiss