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Saturday, August 30, 2014

Autism and Grief

Yesterday I put to rest my childhood cat, Nibbles. Amongst many things, it has me thinking about grief, and the mourning process.

Now, one of the most hurtful things I have come across when I learned about being autistic was the concept that autistic people don't feel the same level of grief for people or pets, because we don't show the same reactions that non-autistic do.  And this is reason to believe we don't have the same feelings as other people, and all that nonsense. 

When, in reality, it's more of a difference in grieving expression and process.  Like all new rhetoric regarding autistic emotions and expressions, this includes grief and mourning.   Now, obviously, each person is going to have their own process; what works for me might not work the same way for someone else.  However, the stages of grief more or less are the same, and what is the same for everyone is that we all need time and space to process our grief, whether alone or with other people.  

What is important for family members to know, for autistic people to know, is when to offer help, when to let people be to mourn by themselves, and ask for help. 

As someone who has lived through the death of three grandparents, a baby goddaughter, and now three beloved cats, I am no stranger to grief.  It does get easier each time to go through the process, although the pain is still just as deep, just as terrible, for each one.  It is the sudden deaths that adds shock, denial, and dismay to the grieving process and makes it so much harder.  Knowing that a grandparent is old and sickly for a long time does give one time to prepare ahead of time, as for an elderly cat.  

I have found that I do two types of crying, to go along with two modes of my mourning process, my private and public modes, that I'll move back and forth during my grieving.  

I do most of my crying in private, I prefer to be alone to cry and be silent.  Emotions, especially strong emotions like grief can be overwhelming raw, and way too much to be shared.  So I prefer to be alone when expressing my deepest pain and sorrow, unless I have no choice or it's too big to be held back.  

When in public, sorrow will slip out, whether I've pulled myself together enough to talk about it, or it just slips out a bit.  I know that there are some days where I'll be crying off and on without prompting.  And then talking about it, cause I need to get it out.  I call this my public mode, cause it's grieving sort of publicly.  It helps to be with trusted people, but I've been known to just start talking to anyone to get it out.  

If I do public mode too much, I can sometimes get overwhelmed and need to retreat into private grieving.  Emotions are raw during mourning.  Things are sensitive.  I know I move more slowly, I'm unable to do some of the things I used to be able to do before, especially social things.  I do try to keep my schedule, keep to a routine, cause it helps keep myself from completely falling apart mentally.  But I forgive myself for not being able to keep up with social events, for mental health things.  And I do what I can to make sure I'm taking care of myself physically, like going on walks, eating and taking meds. 

I know that the issue of when to offer supports, and when to look for supports comes up, since when does grieving become depression.  It's a bit different for everyone, and everyone takes different amounts of time to process and go through the mourning process.  First, I would offer being there for the person in mourning, or bear in mind that there is help if you need it.  But don't push.  

Grief becomes problematic when it starts to negatively impact your life, even if it doesn't become depression.  Don't expect to overcome grief in a few days, or even a week.  It may take quite a while.  But if it is having some major impact in your life, you might think about seeking help.  Remember that while seeking help, you are in control, you are a client, a consumer.  

The best list I have found for when to seek help comes from Jim Koeneman of New Life Grief Counseling, and is the following: 
  1. Have you lost the ability to enjoy things that used to provide you personal  satisfaction?
  2. Do you find yourself not wanting to be around your family and friends because you believe you would “put a damper on the party”?
  3. Do you find yourself constantly thinking of your loved one after several months after his or her death?
  4. Are you afraid of becoming close to new people or even with existing family and friends because you fear of losing them at some point?
  5. Do you try to keep yourself constantly busy so that you won’t think about your loss?
  6. Do you feel numb to your normal emotions?
  7. Are you unable or unwilling to express your true feelings about various aspects of your life that used to be very important to you?
  8. Do you feel stuck in your grief, unable to move on, even though it has been quite some time since the death of your loved one?
The best way to find a therapist I find is to meet with them, get a good feel on whether you can easily talk to them, can work with them.

But it's never a good idea to force someone to meet with a therapist; it has to be them willing to go, them willing to talk and to take those steps for the healing to happen.  

We may express our grief privately, and we'll be, well, not exactly okay, because we've lost a loved one, but mourning is natural and normal.  It's healthy.  It's exhausting, but it's healthy.