Michael B. There is no formal definition of complicated grief, but researchers describe it as an acute form persisting more than six months, at least six months after a death. Its chief symptom is a yearning for the loved one so intense that it strips a person of other desires. Life has no meaning; joy is out of bounds.
Other symptoms include intrusive thoughts about death; uncontrollable bouts of sadness, guilt and other negative emotions; and a preoccupation with, or avoidance of, anything associated with the loss. Complicated grief has been linked to higher incidences of drinking, cancer and suicide attempts.
Muldberg, now 48, walked around like a zombie. My life was a mess. But how could I? Hours of therapy and support groups later, Ms. Muldberg was referred to a clinical trial at Columbia. After 16 weeks of a treatment developed by Dr. Shear, she was able to resume a more normal life. She learned to play bridge, went on a family vacation and read a book about something other than dying.
A crucial phase of the treatment, borrowed from the cognitive behavioral therapy used to treat victims of post-traumatic stress disorder, requires the patient to recall the death in detail while the therapist records the session. The patient must replay the tape at home, daily. The goal is to show that grief, like the tape, can be picked up or put away. Muldberg said. For some, the recounting is the hardest part of recovering. At the same time patients learn to handle their grief, they are encouraged to set new goals.
For Ms. Eskridge, a retired law school librarian, that meant returning to the campus where her husband had taught.
5 Keys to Sanity When Grief is Driving You Crazy | Gary Roe
That feeling finally went away, and Ms. Shear presented evidence that the treatment was twice as effective as the traditional interpersonal therapy used to treat depression or bereavement, and that it worked faster. The study supported earlier suggestions that complicated grief might actually be different not only from normal grief but also from other disorders like post-traumatic stress and major depression.
View all New York Times newsletters. Then, in , NeuroImage published a study of the brain activity of people with complicated grief.
It showed significantly less activity in people who experienced more normal patterns of grieving. The nucleus accumbens is associated with other kinds of longing — for alcohol and drugs — and is more dense in the neurotransmitter dopamine than in serotonin. That raises two interesting questions: Could memories of a loved one have addictive qualities in some people? And might there be a more effective treatment for this kind of suffering than the usual antidepressants, whose target is serotonin?
Experts who question whether complicated grief is a distinct disorder argue that more research is needed. Paula J. Clayton, medical director of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
George A. Grief may cause you to be biochemically unbalanced, and medication may be the short-term jump-start that you need to move forward. Another way to move forward is to focus on all the reasons you need to return to being the person you were before the loss. Beware: if you've had an addiction in the past, make sure you don't turn to that narcotic as a source of soothing. Recognize That Time Is Infinite There's wisdom in that old saying about living every day as though it were your last. That doesn't mean you should go out and be reckless, but rather recognize that the unexpected can happen to you.
Nurture the relationships with the ones you love. You have to see time as a currency that you need to spend now, not wait for a day that may never come. You are not here forever, and neither is anybody you love. Create Value From This Experience Take the time to ask yourself what you've learned from going through this experience. There is value in all experiences; it just may take a closer look or a little time to see what it is.
Be sure to have the talk with other family members when it is a calm time. Prepare financially for your exit from this world, and prepare your children for life when you're gone. For example, you can make videos for your kids, sharing your advice about life, and what your hopes and dreams are for them. Celebrate Life It's a tragic injustice if all you do is focus on the day you lost your loved one, or their illness, accident or death.
Not only is it painful, it doesn't help you heal or move on. You can and need to mourn their passing, but don't do that to the exclusion of celebrating their life. Remember, life doesn't stop just because that person is not alive. Ask yourself if your loved one would really want you to stop your life because they're no longer alive. The past is over, and the future hasn't happened yet. Need Dr. Phil's help in your life?
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