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The Coaching Situation

My Mum died last July. She had cancer for 3 years, we had known it was terminal since she was diagnosed but I always had hope. When she was diagnosed I immediately visited her (but she couldn't cope with me being there, so heavily pregnant, she was hysterical for hours and I had to go home). She was in fragile health physically and mentally. I have many memories of her crying on the phone whilst my newborn baby cried on my lap, needing feeding or changing, plus other incidents. 2 years passed, and I became pregnant again. She had another operation and more chemotherapy. My Mum said she wanted to be with me when this baby was born and with great difficulty I said No. She was very angry. On the day my son was born my Mum and Dad visited, she hardly spoke to me.

After this she went on anti-depressants. From then on the old Mum who cared and looked after us came back. She stayed with us 1 week every month and it was wonderful. She was in remission, but refused to attend any drs appointments. In May she had symptoms again and restarted her chemotherapy, but in July she got worse. We visited with the children 2 weeks before she died. That was the last time she saw them. I went to be with her. She could hardly get out of bed, eat, or drink. I was with her for the last 2 days, taking care of her. When she went to the hospital, I went in the ambulance with her I was so frightened. She was in and out. The Dr told us that she wasn't going to recover. My Dad and I sat by her bed, although she didn't seem aware. I stroked her hand and told her not to be frightened, that everything was going to be alright and talked about my children. She died within a few hours, with just my Dad and me by her, no-one else made it in time.

At first I was numb and in shock, we had the funeral, I went home to the children, I gave up work, couldn't focus or concentrate. I seemed fine but couldn't think about her or what happened. Then in November, I started to have panic and anxiety attacks. I was afraid of becoming depressed, as unhappy as Mum had been, not being able to cope with my children, that they might be taken away. I wanted them taken care of all the time. I went to my doctor and in December was given anti depressants and sleeping tablets. Now in March I'm feeling better, I don't have such bad anxiety attacks and am more able to rationalize things. I can eat, but getting to sleep is still difficult. I want to understand why the anxiety attacks came and what I should do to relieve them.

I asked for more information to write the most helpful coaching response.

1. Were there any particular triggers for your anxiety attacks? It was from a internet questionnaire. The first time it came out ok, then I did it again thinking about Mum and it was where you just might be depressed. Although I knew it was irrational, I became frightened that I was going to be out of control as Mum had been at times. That lasted for about a week, then I slowly felt better. Then my husband started to work over 12 hours a day, leaving me alone with the children. One morning I just started crying and saying I didn't want him to go. I got progressively more frightened in case something happened to me, I couldn't figure out who would take care of the kids. I got through that week, but I was crying and shaking just thinking of going outside. I went to the doctor after that. The fear slowly receded over the next few months, but it came back.

2. Do you have guilt about your relationship with your mother? I wish I had been more involved with her care. But my parents shielded us and we only heard what they told us. I think if I had known more it wouldn't have been such a shock when she died, I could've been more prepared. Also I wish I had been able to confront her more with her illness ; in some ways I feel I colluded with her because I didn't want to upset her and I was frightened of what I might set off. I wish we could've said some proper goodbyes.

3. What grieving emotions have you felt? For 4 months I didn't feel much. When the anxiety started, I started grieving. Its been painful, like a weight I'm carrying or like an actual pain in my heart. I've felt angry with Mum (and grandmother who died 2 years ago) for leaving me, selfish for feeling so sad, sorry for myself that at 29 I lost the more important person, fearful, first Nana, then Mum, its only me left (I have 2 brothers). I've missed and longed for her terribly. Just for 5 more minutes to say goodbye and tell her I love her and that the children are fine. I feel sad that my children lost a loving grandmother.

4. What grieving emotions have you not let yourself feel? I think all of them to some extent. Its confusing being assaulted by all these different emotions each day, I've longed to feel normal again. None of my other friends have lost their Mother so it's hard to share emotions and know that other people haven't felt like this. You aren't meant to lose your Mother before your 30th birthday.

5. Have you talked to a professional about the anxiety attacks? Yes, I talked to a psychologist, bereavement counselor, and hypnotherapist - just covering all angles lol! The psychologist thought I was normal and was very reassuring. She thought I might have mild depression but that the anxiety was a natural reaction. She saw me 6 times and doesn't feel she needs to see me regularly. The bereavement counselor was a bit critical, she's saying I'm too hard on myself which just makes me feel bad about myself. The hypnotherapist helps to relax and tells me that this is normal and that she sees a lot of people who are anxious.

6. How do your family or friends feel about your anxiety attacks? My husband is confused and finds it hard to talk about. He's as freaked out by it as I am. My Dad has been brilliant practically, helping me with the children but thinks I should just put frightening thoughts out of my mind and not worry. My brothers care, but are busy at work. Friends have been good on the phone. Friends I see every day have small children and its difficult to talk .

The Coaching Response

Grieving is a very individual process. There is no right or wrong way to grieve. The only rule is that a person must eventually allow it to happen. In some cases, people aren't ready to grieve right away, or need a break from the grieving at different points, but ultimately all the feelings around the loss of a loved one must have an avenue of expression. When grief and its accompanying emotions are held back too long, the grieving process turns inwards, creating depression, anxiety, as well as other physical and emotional problems. Depression is sometimes referred to as anger turned inwards, whether from grieving or other causes.

In your situation, the repressed grieving took on a life of its own, coupled with fears that you already had in the back of your mind. Your mind, unable to cope with the overwhelming emotions, took matters into its own hands and did the best it could to make sense of all this turmoil inside of you. Unfortunately, the mind doesn't have the ability to separate reality from fantasy, and it created the worst case scenario inside of your head. There are a few things that you can do to calm the mind and replace the anxiety and fears with more of a normal functioning.

Become as aware as you can as to when you need to grieve, without judging how you need to do it. Find a local group that you can join, where you can share your experience of loss with others. You'll quickly learn that there's no part of your grieving that isn't normal. It's all okay to feel and experience, right down to what seems to be the ugliest parts of grief. You need to learn how to express the anger and rage you feel not only about the death of your mother, but about everything you've been angry about right through childhood, whether it seems rational, fair, or not. Look back to before the anxiety started to think about what clues you had felt about starting to grieve. Use what you observe to notice when you currently need to emote in some way.

The next thing is to learn how to give yourself permission to express some of the tougher parts of grieving. This can be challenging, given your day to day responsibilities. This is where you can use your creativity to find ways to express these emotions. Find somebody to watch your kids for an hour or two while you escape to a reasonably private area, be it in another room, garage, cellar, someone else's house, etc. There you can use a pillow to scream out your rage or anger. Punch pillows to vent some of your physical anger. Or just wail as loudly as you feel like (into a pillow if need be) to express the anguish and hurt you feel.

Fear is hard coded into our internal wiring. Its original purpose was to send us messages to be cautious, so that we weren't attacked and eaten earlier in our evolution. Our evolution has progressed much faster than the function of fear has, and it tends to take on a much bigger role than it needs to. Understanding this is the first step in understanding and taking control back over what your minds does with fear. In your case, the mind became overactive when you had a series of strong emotions that hadn't been expressed. It then added the information about how your mother behaved, and caused irrational fears that led to your anxiety.

Knowledge can help to alleviate many fears. The first step, when experiencing a very strong fear, is to identify exactly what the fear is, in case it's covering a deeper issue. the second step is to question the fear itself from a logical perspective. Is there a possibility of the fear being real? Possibly, usually so small of a chance it's miniscule. Is there a probability of the fear being real? Usually not when you look at all the facts. Learning as much as you can about the fear will alleviate it in most situations.

Fear is frequently generated because of a lack of all the facts. Look at the facts in your mothers situation, and you'll see that it's very different from your own. Get more information from her doctors or other sources if your mind isn't convinced. When you look at your own situation you'll see a completely different set of circumstances that don't support the conclusions your mind came to. Most fears are irrational, especially if you learn to look at them from a different perspective.

There's irony in how we express fear, because our minds become so obsessed with it, that we take action based on those fears, with our minds finding "evidence" to prove the fears are real! If you look at how your fears built up, the actions you took based on those fears, and the conclusions you came to based on those actions, you can see how the cycle was completed in your own mind. You can short circuit this process at any point by using facts and logic. So when your mind is telling you that you may become emotionally unstable, go right to the root of it to separate facts from speculation. Actually have conversations in your own mind disputing what it tells you.

If the anxiety does return, practice the skill of putting fear into a realistic perspective to decrease those feelings. Eventually, your mind will take on the positive and healthy arguments you give it, and like a computer being fed new data, it'll reflect back all your hard work and logic. This also helps to alleviate the anxiety.

An other important factor is to feel safe enough to express your emotions when and how you need to. This involves fully accepting that you have a right to express yourself in any way that you need to around your grief as well as being fully accepting of any type help you may need. As you become more confident and les fearful about when and how to express your emotions, you'll find that the things become somewhat easier.

Be prepared for the grief to return in different forms and intensities for many years. It will catch you off guard more times than you'll be prepared for it, but if you accept and not judge the grieving process, you'll do what you need to do and keep moving forward in your healing and your life.

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