Heart-to-Heart with Heather: July 2014 ~ Journaling as a Healing Tool

I often suggest journaling to my clients. Many look at me like, “Nice suggestion, Heather, but I think I’ll pass.” A few say, “Yeah, I used to journal. I liked it, but just haven’t for a long time.” Even fewer say, “It’s my lifeline – I journal now and probably will for the rest of my life.”

Whether you like to write, or have difficulty picking and choosing words, journaling can be a very, very helpful tool in the healing process. There’s something about getting the thoughts and emotions OUT of your head and onto a piece of paper, or a computer screen, that is completely therapeutic and helps to relieve the anxiety, depression, pain, anger, etc.

I can speak from experience when I say that journaling can be a vital component of the healing process. I’m one of those few who considers it a “lifeline” of sorts. When I don’t know what to do with my emotions, when I am so mad I could punch someone in the face, when God seems far away, I write. I mostly write prayers, but I also catalog events of my life. If I had a life changing conversation with a friend, I will often write down every morsel I can remember. If I experience a major breakthrough in my walk with the Lord, I definitely write that down. When I have questions, I will write out those questions day after day after day, until the Lord answers me or until the issue makes sense. Sometimes I can write those same questions out, crying out to the Lord for help for long periods of time. Sometimes I find that simply expressing the questions takes some of their power away….power to make me anxious, power to make me mad or depressed. It’s like the cobwebs in my mind are swept away when I write. I’ve had clients tell me they sleep better after journaling.

Journaling doesn’t have to be some specific black and white exercise. It can be whatever you want it to be. Maybe you like to draw, and you spend most of your time in your journal sketching your grief or your pain in ways that you might not be able to put words to. Maybe you write song lyrics – I believe song lyrics are just one more way of expressing our inner thought life.

Journaling is a cathartic act of expressing and releasing emotion. If you’ve never tried it before, or don’t think you have anything to say, give it a whirl. You might find out there’s more inside you waiting to get out than you realized.

Has journaling helped you in your life’s journey? Share how in the comments below.

If you have a question, idea, or concern you’d like Heather to address in our monthly Heart-to-Heart, email info@harlynnsheart.org. All submissions are regarded as anonymous.

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Heart-to-Heart with Heather: June 2014

Hello friends,

We have a fresh stack of questions this month. I hope you will be encouraged and helped by our conversations today.

1. Through the grieving process, I’ve lost a lot of friends, but also have been able to see who is willing to stick by my side through it all. I always thought that family would be there no matter what. My husband was struggling with his sister not being there for us; never asking how we are doing or even as far to say that she was thinking of us. He confronted her about it and she responded by saying that she didn’t agree with how we were grieving and didn’t think we should be so public and open about having a stillborn son. We are both so hurt by her response that we aren’t sure how to handle it. How do you explain to someone the way we are grieving is the only way we know how to live, whether it is or isn’t what someone else thinks we should be doing?

Thank you in advance for your consideration and response. I appreciate your response to an earlier question of mine – my father and I are finally able to talk again. I think it helped with the burial of our son. Again, thank you!

You are so welcome – I am so glad that you have found healing in your relationship with your father.

As for your sister-in-law’s response….how devastating to have someone say something like that to you. I would be hurt if someone said that they didn’t agree with how I was grieving, too! But I truly think that her comment was more about what is going on inside of her than ANYTHING to do with you and your husband. Let’s look at this from the perspective of human history: stillbirth is not something that most people easily talk about. Miscarriage is the same way. There’s something “off-limits” about it, taboo, almost. Our society doesn’t do well with death overall, I’d say. I find it concerning that people can dress their children and themselves in skulls and crossbones, yet have no idea how to talk to someone who is actually dealing with the death of a loved one.

In this case, I think you already said it: the way to explain to someone that the way you’re ‘grieving is the only way you know how to’ is the best way to say it. There’s no script for this. There’s no one way to grieve. But here’s the really important part, in my mind: by your outward grieving, you are helping the rest of the world understand what this particular loss is like, and hopefully opening up those doors and eyes of society to the reality of this heart-wrenching grief.

You don’t need your sister-in-law’s approval, but I don’t need to tell you that. Of course her comments hurt, but you just keep doing what you’re doing. You grieve whatever way you need to and don’t let anyone stop you or tell you differently.

2. Do you have any information post-partum depression and grieving after a loss. I am really struggling and I don’t know what is normal. How does a person know if they need help for depression, or if it is just the grieving process?

This is tricky, because depression is generally part of grieving. It’s also commonly part of the post partum process, as you know. And, what we know in the mental health world is that treating grief with antidepressants will often give the grieving person a delayed grieving process. But, you need to function as a person and not go into a terrible downward spiral, too.

My first thought is to have a conversation with your doctor (preferably the doctor who did your OB care) AND a therapist/counselor. Also, if you’re having suicidal or homicidal thoughts, go to one of these people TODAY. If you’re considering treatment, I suggest counseling AND antidepressants together. Research states that this combination offers the best results. If you’re concerned about a delayed grieving, talk to your doctor before starting any medication. It may be that he/she will start you on something at a very low dose. Make sure you write down all your questions before you attend your appointments, so that you don’t forget anything.

Depression affects mood, appetite, sleep, interest in regular activities, causes you to feel bad about yourself, energy – most people are either lethargic or restless, and concentration.

Also, some more “natural” treatments are exercise, Vitamin D (of course, speak with your doctor before beginning any new vitamin/supplement) and Progesterone therapy, something you would also want to discuss with your doctor and this would be specific to post partum depression.

3. With Father’s Day coming up, how can I do something for my husband? He isn’t as emotional as me about our loss, but I know he loved our baby. I want to do something special but don’t know what or how to go about it.

I’m sorry that I wasn’t able to answer this question BEFORE Father’s Day! I think it’s wonderful for you to acknowledge your husband on Father’s Day. I’m sure he’s thinking about the baby you lost, especially on that day. Small, personalized gifts are often very appropriate in situations like this: something with the baby’s name and/or birthdate along with a sentiment about fatherhood…a picture frame, a poem, an engraved item like a necklace he could wear under his shirt. Another special gift might be a tree to plant in your yard, along with a small ornament or marker hanging from it or in the ground next to it… Even something hand made with lots of thought and love would be perfect for this occasion.

If you decided on something, would you be willing to share it with others on Harlynn’s Heart? Would love to know what people did for Father’s Day or Mother’s Day.

Blessings to you all.

If you’d like to submit a question to be answered by Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist, Heather, please email info@harlynnsheart.org, or message us on our Harlynn’s Heart Facebook page. All submissions are treated as anonymous.

For The Loss Parents

I’ve been struck recently with how differently I perceive my role as a mother. I have two living children and one in heaven, and I choose to live in such a way as to parent all three of them in whatever way they need. After we lost Harlynn and became pregnant again, to say I was scared would have been an understatement. The subsequent pregnancy was terrifying. As we drew closer to term, my biggest fear was our son would also pass away and the doctors would only be able to offer us the condolence of, “If only we had taken him sooner…”  Through all the appointments and hospital admissions, I would hold my breath, waiting for them to tell me the bad news. I enjoyed moments of my pregnancy – when I would feel him moving – but overall, I was a wreck. A nervous, frightened wreck.

Now that our son is here, I’ve noticed a different reaction from some people. Keep in mind I’m generalizing here – this isn’t applicable to everyone, but it’s something I’ve noticed nonetheless. Since his arrival, it’s as if we’re expected to not be at all hindered by the hardships of parenting. We “don’t dare” complain about anything, because we know it could be worse. We know we could have lost him.

Here’s the thing: being a parent is hard. It’s hard work physically, emotionally, mentally…. It doesn’t matter if you have one child, ten children, or anything in between. It’s hard work. You lose sleep, you get run ragged, you get thrown up on, pooped on, you have to wash the marker off the wall or the sofa, you clean up spills, you step in something you’re not even sure you want to know what it is, you make meals, snacks, snacks between snacks, refill sippy cups, bottles, and all while your coffee grows cold and your meal crusts over from being left untouched. There are times you’ll cry, pray for better days, long for some alone time, wish a fairy would arrive to help you out, etc. Even though you’ve lost a child, parenting living children is no different from any other family. It’s ALL hard work. No matter your story, no matter your circumstance, being a parent is hard.

However….when you’ve lost a child and you have living children, it can be difficult to let your guard down and call out hardships for what they are – hardships! Why? Because some people internalize thoughts of, “I don’t know why they can’t just be grateful they have a living child…” or “After all they’ve been through, you think they’d be thankful for this…”

To set the record straight: I am grateful. Beyond grateful, over-the-moon praising God, thankful and humbly appreciative. Let there be no doubt! That said, I still lose sleep. I still struggle as a mommy. My gratefulness doesn’t make parenting any easier. Parenting is parenting.

I want to speak directly to the loss parents who feel like they aren’t allowed to experience parenting for what it is: hard work and mentally and physically trying. You are allowed. When you need to cry, vent, be frustrated, or catch a break, you are allowed. Find people you can trust to open up to. Message us at Harlynn’s Heart. Find other loss parents. Don’t let yourself be someone else for the sake of someone else. You are grateful for your child(ren). More grateful than others may ever be, or even realize. That doesn’t mean you won’t have tough days. We get that. We respect that. We acknowledge and appreciate that.

You aren’t any less of a parent for having bad days. No parent is immune from bad days, no matter how heavy or light their heart may be. Praise the Lord you’re having normal parenting experiences, absolutely, then beg for a nap or two.

Heart-to-Heart with Heather: April 2014

Dear Readers,
I must tell you how much I enjoy your questions and how my heart aches for you and your losses. Thank you for allowing me to speak into your lives, be it ever so little. May you be helped and blessed by our time together.
~Heather

Question #1:
1. My question is now to deal with losing a relationship with my father. My father and I were very, very close, talked every day. Ever since my son was stillborn in December, we’ve grown distant. I believe this is because he’s always been able to fix the “bad things” in my life to this point and now there is nothing he can do to bring my son back and is disappointed in himself. I want to bring this up to him but fear that it will make things worse if I do. How can I talk to my father about our relationship?

The first thing I want to respond to is the fact that you and your father were very, very close. This is such great grounds to start from. You mention that you want to talk to him about this, but are afraid you’ll make things worse if you do. My guess is that he feels the same about your son and you – that he wants to bring things up to you, but is afraid that if he does, he’ll make it worse.

The first thing to do, is to ask your dad if you could just talk. My guess is that he’ll be very relieved that you brought it up. You could start the conversation by simply stating the truth; something like, “Dad, ever since the baby died, you’ve been distant, we’ve been distant. This makes me so sad, and I want to talk to you. I’ve been afraid to bring it up because I thought somehow I might make this whole situation worse. But what’s worse is not having a close relationship with you.”

You might want to let him know what your comfort level is in talking about your baby son. If you want to talk with your father about his grandson, let him know that. He might be keeping silent because he doesn’t want to cause you more pain by bringing it up. But as some wise woman named Val once said, “It’s worse NOT to bring it up and act like nothing happened, than to get it out in the open and talk about it.” And as I like to say, “A sorrow shared is a sorrow divided.”  Hope that helps.

Question #2
2. I can’t imagine ever going through losing another baby. It’s the worst pain I’ve ever lived through emotionally. How do I decide if I can chance it, and become pregnant again?

What turmoil you must find yourself in. The unthinkable has happened; the very thing that you expected to bring you the most joy in life, has brought you the most pain. The natural human reaction is to avoid pain. We learn it when we’re young, and we really never stop learning it. Becoming pregnant again might feel like slicing open your most tender wound and exposing it to the bright, searing sun. It might feel like a risk that’s too big to take.

I would ask you where you’re at in the grieving process. Have you had a chance to grieve the baby you lost? Before deciding to become pregnant again, this is a necessary step. You’ll never be fully over the loss of your baby as long as you’re alive, but giving yourself some time and getting some counseling or doing some reading would be my first suggestion. A book that Val recommends is “Still to Be Born” which addresses this very question – how will I know if I’m ever going to be ready to have another baby? You can find it on Amazon.

One last thought: take a look at yourself in 20, 30, 40 years. Will you regret a decision not to try again? Will you be happy you spared yourself the risk of pain again? Granted, these are questions you can’t answer fully, but I’m guessing you’ll have a pretty good gut reaction just thinking about it. Blessings to you on your journey.

If you’d like to submit a question to be answered by Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist, Heather, please email info@harlynnsheart.org, or message us on our Harlynn’s Heart Facebook page.