Dealing with grief and bereavement beyond counselling

If there’s one thing we can be certain of, it’s that sooner or later, we’ll all have to come to terms with losing a loved one. Here is a source to tap into and brace yourself for such an unavoidable and profoundly difficult inevitability.

Griefcast, as their tagline clearly states, it’s a podcast about grief and death. You’d be forgiven for thinking that a first glance it sounds like a podcast that you want to stay well away from, but it’s actually presented by comedians, so it’s much more fun and uplifting than it is depressing. Every week, it’s a funny, tender and very human discussion about the pain, confusion, and often downright weird and awkwardness of death.

So why should you listen? Grief is isolating. It’s scary, disorientating, and can take many years to come to terms with. Hearing relatable stories and experiences that may very well sound familiar to you is a beautiful reminder that you’re not alone, there is no right or wrong way to feel, there’s definitely no time frame, you’re allowed to relapse, and say you’re doing just fine.

Of course, everyone’s process of losing a loved one and grieving is unique, but there are common threads, as host Cariad explores. Having lost her father as a teenager, she often talks and finds common ground with guests about the anger, and sometimes even annoyance they feel. A key take-home message, make sure someone has your online passwords and banking details! As well as things that they feel guilty about, and why that’s okay. It’s normal to feel uncomfortable and almost rude the first time you laugh after losing a loved one, or especially whilst a loved one is gravely ill. The host and her guests often talk about the strange limbo between receiving a terminal diagnosis and dying. The nervous anxiety, time standing still, and the one night you go out and forget everything for a few hours.

As well as sharing experiences about grief, the podcast explores the, if anything, even less discussed topic of dying. What it’s like to live with someone undergoing invasive medical treatment, and how it can take a while for the reality to dawn that someone isn’t going to get better. It’s packed with practical advice, not from doctors, instead from normal people who have been there. Things like the physically demanding nature of taking care of someone at home, the difficulty of communicating with doctors, and some things you might actually need to expect in your loved one’s final moments.

A podcast does not replace significant ways of healing and caring in times of loss and bereavement – like talking and social contact. Individual counselling supports people going through the grief process with a professional understanding of each of the phases that require specific care. The counsellor or psychotherapist offers kindness, compassion and empathy. Unfortunately in Hong Kong’s fast paced environment the aggrieved often receive sympathy instead and find it less helpful.

Griefcast helps to develop acceptance, by taking a scary subject that you’ve probably seldom taken time to consider, and making it normal. Coming to terms with your own mortality and the mortality of your friends and family is never going to be easy, but avoiding the topic entirely makes it far harder. Whether you’re dealing with a terminal diagnosis, the loss of a loved one or you’re not yet ‘in the club’ this podcast elegantly and sensitively lets you know what you might expect, reassures you that you’re not alone and opens the door to further healing conversations.

You can listen to Griefcast on

ACast

Apple Podcasts https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/griefcast-with-cariad-lloyd/id1178572854

BBC Sounds https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p06vttqs

You can also follow them and join the discussion on Twitter by following @thegriefcast.

Oh Please!

An interesting new thought was introduced to me the other day. My client declared “I am a people pleaser”. I was curious to hear more and asked her what she meant by that and why she brouhght up the label. It turned out, that she held a rather positive understanding of her behaviour of pleasing the people around her. On many occasions and in many different areas of her life, she would make extra efforts to accomodate others oftentimes in an unneccessarily hasty manner.

For her, the meaning of doing this was control. She stated confidently “I can control situations and people when I’m in charge and can influence the turn of events”. I was puzzled and needed a moment to reflect. “Ok” I said, “give me an example”. She said “For example in the office before Christmas, my boss asked all of us in the team to come up with ideas to plan a dinner event with a group activity afterwards. I quickly got to draft a proposal with 5 restaurants and 5 activities as an online poll and sent out the link for everyone to vote. Took me under 20’ tops!”

“And?” I asked “that seems to be a nice gesture and good team spirit. But where is your element of control here and your influencing the turn of events?” She replied impatiently “Isn’t that obvious? Of course I only proposed restaurants I like and activities I wanted to do. Genius, don’t you think?”. No, I did not think. “Genius” did not occur on the list of things in my mind about her behaviour and her underlying mindset.

I wanted to know how her proposal and online poll was received and she said “I got quite some good feedback – people like it when they don’t have to think”. “And how do you feel about doing all that?” She looked down and said “I think it is great that I help everyone to save time and at the same time be able to do the things I want to do.” Having had known her for a while, I was not so sure about this being her true motivation for acting in such immediate and overpowering manner – pausing all other tasks in her role as a business manager which demanded acting in a timely manner on much more relevant matters.

I was intrigued to enquire more about what she had anticipated the outcome would have been without her “people pleasing”. First we needed to reframe her language a bit: It transpired that “restaurants I like” rather meant “restaurants I feel safe going to” (being very much afraid of food poisoning) and “activities I want to do” more clearly meant “activites that allow me to hide in the crowd without being exposed” (being socially anxious of redicule and judgement by others).

Anxiety and Phobia was the driving force behind her acting. Her immediate and overarching behaviour allowed her to not even get close to experiencing any. She had developed a very sensitve strategy to avoid emotion, physiological symptoms and she made sure early on to not having to deal with any anxious mindgames – the fearful thoughts and images of anticipation leading up to a dreaded event.

Moreover, she managed to deny her strategy of avoidance with a mental self-campaign of “control” and “pleasing people” – as in doing good for others and for herself. Was that really clever? I wondered how much hypersensitivity, effort, tension and sacrifice she must have constantly been putting in, in order to maintain this shield of energy that protected her from experiencing anxiety and fear.

I also wondered if she had ever thought about facing her demons with the same stamina she demonstrated day in day out? I wanted her to be happy and well.

Urban Dads or alive

URBAN DADS EVENT

Are you expecting a baby or recently became a Dad?

Do you have questions about labour, birth & the early months with a new baby?

Would you mind discussing your questions over a beer with likeminded men?

Join Sofie Jacobs, qualified Midwife and founder at Urban Hatch for a fun and informative evening where you will discuss the challenges of being an expecting and new Dad.

Expect to walk away with tips on:

  • Supporting your partner pre and post birth
  • Coping with sleep deprivation
  • Managing life and work as an expecting and new Dad

DATE AND TIME

Wed 24 October 2018

7:00 PM – 8:30 PM HKT

LOCATION

Wynd

10/F, Yu Yuet Lai Building

43-55 Wyndham Street, Central

Hong Kong

register via Eventbrite

Zero Tolerance – The pros and cons of rigidity

Many of my clients practice abstinence on a yearly basis, very often for a month or so. It is similar to fasting in some ways but often with a very different mindset. I think the main thing is, that you do it mindfully and where necessary with proper medical supervision.

It is a good idea from a couple of perspectives. Firstly, if your brain has it firmly etched on some habits, you can learn or unlearn things like a mandatory cup of coffee in the morning. We don’t need coffee to be more alert or to work. That is something we put into our minds with these habits. But learning to drop these things and to give the brain a chance to unlearn these habits and behavioral paths is not a bad thing to unlearn the core belief that I need to have that.

Secondly, since you have had the experience that you can actually go without alcohol or coffee or sugar, the brain will remember that. You are able to know that you did it before. These experiences are a very good foot in the door against addiction, abuse and over use.

I question the logic behind going back to the excesses you have just liberated yourself from. My wife and I did a fairly stringent and unsupervised fasting program once and it was not a good idea. We found we needed a good balance and the surveillance of a nutritionist the second time around and it was so much better. Just recently we did our third fasting according to the Buchinger Method: We had such positive changes in lifestyle so there was no way we were going back to previous nutritional and lifestyle choices.

“We had such positive changes in lifestyle so there was no way we were going back to previous nutritional and lifestyle choices. You are much more relaxed because of the changing of your habits so why sabotage things? It was far better to make those positive changes, like much more energy and brain awareness, permanent and sustainable.”

You are much more relaxed because of the changing of your habits so why sabotage things? It was far better to make those positive changes, like much more energy and brain awareness, permanent and sustainable.”

On extreme behavior

When it comes to setting and achieving goals, It’s not essential but it is very much human nature to swing from one extreme to another and is much harder to keep a balance somewhere in the middle. It’s seems to be much easier if you set 100 percent rule, but it’s not easier for many to keep it right.

For instance if you say, every single Monday I am going to the gym. Well, how realistic is that compared to setting a goal to go three times a week and having seven days to make it happen? The tendency is to strive for and set records that are often doomed to fail. Competing and proving things and setting goals is in our culture, but it is often actually just replacing another craving attachment.

Are a lot more people in HK today making conscientious efforts to improve their lifestyle choices? There is no doubt Hong Kong is rife with a lot of distractions, temptations and opportunity. So yes I would say it is a challenge for a lot of people to maintain a healthy balance.

It is certainly more open now and acceptable for people to take periods of abstinence and there is a high priority put on things like detox retreats and other sporting getaways.

Tim Noonan interviewed Sebastian for an SCMP article. Read the article…

Job snobbery – is success materialistic?

Author and philosopher, Alain De Botton’s Ted Talk on A Kinder, Gentler Philosophy Of Success, believes that today’s society has reached a critical point in where our careers dominate our lives so much that we have created more stress and anxiety than ever before and must be acknowledged. He gives a witty anecdotal talk, highlighting a few ideas of what causes this anxiety and that we may have very well become culturally consumed with the ‘god of success’. 

The first thought is job snobbery, the mentality that your job defines who you are to those around you. If we walk into a social gathering, the first thing one generally yet naturally ask is “what do you do”? Alluding to – what is your status? what brand do you work for? Depending on what you are doing, you have a well phrased out answer as you will be sized up, judged instantly based on what you say about your career.

De Botton continues on this line of thinking and touches on materialism. Simply that one attaining success means also showing off what you have, like a hot new red Ferrari. He quickly dismisses that those who place success in material consumption as merely an outlet for satisfying or rewarding themselves for an emotional need, possibly fill an emptiness inside of themselves, making themselves feel more valued or “loved”. The media nowadays portrays that if anyone has a real cool idea, you can be successful. The issue with that is, Alain observes, if everyone believed they can equally achieve their dream of ultimate success, low self esteem will exist alongside.

Platforms like Kickstarter an online business website, creates an opportunity to sell your idea or even yourself and gets people to back you so you can essentially get famous and rich, and quickly thus fulfil your dream. Because of how we are informed that you can do anything, this “equal opportunity” can be misconstrued and give a warped sense of motivation and drive for success. Because of this sense of equality it can also bring an unhealthy attitude like envy which of course is not a positive motivator at all long term. 

It is also possible that your initial intentions of wanting to be successful were genuine. It’s in our nature to genuinely want to achieve, improve or build and desire more and explore. There is natural and definitely healthy creativity in all of us. True success, designed by your own hand is worth much more, a well worth price to pay even if you fail, that you really did your best. Your idea could be just as crazy but as you understand that you leave this world one day being true to yourself with no regrets influencing those around you. You would exemplify ethical, loyalty, nobility, equaling true success.

A kinder, gentler philosophy of success

Experience vs. Memory – How your mind trims your happiness

By Linnea Gannon

The Riddle of experience is based on two selves, the experiencing self and the remembering self. To make a clear distinction between the two selves the experience/present self is preset in our conscious life but does not store all information we process; as we cannot remember every moment of our lives. Instead we remember significant or memorable moment due to the Remembering self. The remembering’s self though not seemingly continually present keeps score of our life with specific memories stored. This is collated to create our life story.

The experiencing and remembering self work together as Mr Kahneman shows in this Ted talk with diagrams that depict patients’ real time experience versus what they remember after a procedure. 

Patient A had two spikes of pain but Patient B had more recorded pain over time. Patient B had the most amount of experienced pain, however patient A had a more painful remembering self as the last register of pain for Patient A was higher than that of patient B. The remembering self is more complex than the experiencing self as it tells the story of our life and it makes our decisions. While we look back to make decisions we also have to look to our future to our ‘anticipated memory’.

The two selves, due to their complexity are hindered by three cognitive traps. Firstly the human reluctance to understand the complexity of happiness; it is the over usage/simplification of words like happiness that have led to the term being un-descriptive and needing a more complex word to explain happiness. Secondly is our confusion between experience and memory of our two selves. The experience self is being happy with what you are doing in life, but the memory self is questioning if you are happy with your life? These are two distinct questions that are easily confused for asking one in the same thing. There is a low correlation between happiness for the two selves they must be distinguished separately. Thirdly is the focusing illusion; we distorted a situation so both the experience and remembering self are not given representative information to form a clear emotion on the experience or later the memory.

A further strength of this argument for the two selves being divergent is that Mr. Kahneman explained through the Gallup Survey how happiness for the remembering self could vary due to income. Where as the experiencing self there is a “flat line” suggesting that money does not have a great effect on ‘happiness’ to the experience self compare to the remembering self.” He says “Money does not buy you experience happiness but lack of money certainly buys you misery. “

The riddle of experience vs. memory

Pop Stress

What if someone told you that stress is a good thing? Stress can build your self esteem, and sharpen your character and make you successful. Over the years in her practice as a health psychologist , Kelly McGonigal has promoted that stress is an enemy to be fought against in order to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Today, ten years later, in her milestone TedGlobal Talk on How to Make Stress Your Friend, Kelly admits that she was completely wrong all this time.

She realised that one’s belief that if stress is a good thing, it changes your physical and mental state thus allowing you to live longer. How is that possible? During a 8 year research in the U.S. following a group of 30,000 people on how they deal with stress including death from stress, 182,000 people had died prematurely not from stress but from the belief that stress was bad for you. That study also showed that one group of people who chose to believe stress was positive, tests showed their heart vessels would reflect a state that emanated joy and courage.

“TAKE AWAYS: First, change your mindset in order to experience stress as your body’s way to prepare you for the challenge. Second, help and care for others in order to manage the risk of death due to stress.”

Furthermore, though you often encounter your adrenaline running high under stress, your body also releases oxytocin, known as the love hormone. With both your adrenalin and oxytocin running not only would you be elevating your life’s perspective, taking on a different path, you want to do anything and everything in your power to achieve the best and stress becomes a more pleasant and enjoyable experience. Choosing to understand and accept stress as a friend rather than a foe will change your approach to everyone in your life and in everything you do. You would then welcome any thing that came your way as an opportunity, exert a new found excitement of new possibilities and take you to live a life of success, whatever that may mean to you.

Kelly also refers to another study which found that major crisis events have no significant impact on the risk of death due to stress for people who are involved in activities around caring and helping others. Once again we seem to find evidence that self-awareness of body and mind and the subsequent change of mental and physical strategies within ourselves – applying kindness and compassion amongst others – are key to well-being and longevity.

Tropical Depression

Inside the airport express you still felt refreshed und summery – motivated again to attack work, restart your workout routine and reanimate your social life. Then the disenchantment hit you. The moment you stepped outdoors, the heat and humidity coated you like a heavy fur. Pollution levels at 10 “very high” colour the sky yellow. Here we call it “haze”. The jackhammers in your street remind you that you better be vibrant. Everything in your apartment is hot. Hot glasses, hot plates hot walls. Hot water comes out of your tap no matter which way. And when the cockroaches fly … Wondering why you feel a bit low? A bit much low maybe? 

“Hot town, summer in the city, back of neck getting dirty and gritty
Been down, isn’t it a pity, doesn’t seem to be a shadow in the city
All around, people looking half dead
Walking on the sidewalk hotter than a match head …”

    Summer in the City by The Lovin’ Spoonful – John Sebastian, Mark Sebastian, Steve Boone. 1966

    Coming back to the city after a vacation or a longer break is a challenge for most people I know and I work with. And quite a few develop a depressed mood and bring it up with me as they see this getting in the way of their well-being and performance.

    One of the main reasons we can give for the shock of re-entry is the sudden and extreme change of climate for most who come back from other continents. Heat and humidity are hard to deal with when you found yourself cycling through Hyde Park with a fleece on or had a pint under a mushroom heater on Pony Island just a day before. Of course coming back from leisurely activities, fresh air and your own holiday swing to find yourself back at work and duty does not help your mood. Neither do commuting and rushing for lunch. The downward trend of your sentiment often amplified by the accelerated pace of this place. It’s likely some of your favourite eateries, bars and shops are gone and replaced or under construction.

    But then again one more aspect is often overlooked: The emotional baggage that you have brought back with you. It did not show up as weight at the checkin counter, but surely can weigh heavy on you now that you have unpacked and washed all the other dirty laundry. Maybe you come back from a family visit, an alumni gathering or just met some friends or even strangers. It is likely that you have witnessed age and ageing including your’s. It is likely that you had time to reflect on life or were forced to do so by places, people and situations. It is also likely that each time you travel you gain more insight, more maturity and more perspective – not always in a good way.

    Your emotional baggage of sadness and grief, anger and frustration as well as self-pity and apprehension reacts inevitably with this fragrant and sultry Mos Eisley like chemicals. Tropical depression gets you when you suppress the above and try to move on without processing, acceptance and integrity.

    The Urban Epidemic: Stress in Hong Kong

    Part II  – Unwinding the daily grind 

    There is no miracle shortcut way to combat stress in the city. We all know we’re trapped in the daily grind, but we have to break that monotomous cycle! Make time (not find it) for simple activities that will make a positive difference to your life. Lifestyle changes such as:

    1. going to bed earlier
    2. eating a balanced diet
    3. going on holiday instead of accumulating your statutory holidays
    4. regular breaks like 20 minute naps or split shifts

    Managing your time and seeking professional help are great ways to do start. I recently read a friend’s insight into Harvard Psychologist Ellen Langer’s encapsulation of stress. The mind-body unit theory explains that much of how we feel and behave is dependent on our perception of the context around us. The mind has a lot more control over the body than we realise, and we should embrace this thought, use it to our advantage.

      Give your mind a different perspective to get it thinking outside your usual box:

      • take a different route to work – when was the last you took the star ferry or tram?
      • reading a book – i.e. Alain DeBotton (2016). The Course of Love.
      • visit an exhibition nearby – you’d be surprised how many pop up in Hong Kong

      Its safe to say many of us in Hong Kong are quite mindless, we’re on autopilot a lot. Mindfulness (becoming aware or ‘mindful’ of our context) allows us to climb out of our rigid mindsets to focus on processes and approach the world freshly. We’re taught to streamline our attention away from distractions to tackle problems rapidly and mindlessly to get them ‘done and dusted’.

      However, here’s some food for thought from Langer: Distractions, when approached with the right frame of mind, are sources of opportunity. So the next time you think; I need to get this pile of assignments done over the next weeks or months before I can get that pay rise or promotion, there may be a bubble of opportunity in that distraction that’s always in your head. Example, 3M made a glue that could only adhere for a short amount of time. Instead of putting it in the trash pile and spearheading into their aim of making a super adhesive glue, they used it to make one of their greatest successes: the post-it note. 

      If you’re one to break that rigid cycle, this article makes a fantastic and entertaining read (with obvious benefits to our mind and soul): http://www.strategy-business.com/article/00310?gko=73023

      Alice Pearce is a Final year Psychologist at Durham University. She wrote this because growing up in HK and studying in the UK has made her realise how big the gap is between Asia and the West in psychological and educational understanding

      The Urban Epidemic: Stress in Hong Kong

      Part I – High-pressure work culture

      Stress is all too common in our lives, especially for those of us living the busy city life. The hectic Hong Kong lifestyle drains our time to cope with stress. According to the Census and Statistics Department, Hong Kong people work a massive 600 hours MORE per annum than other developed countries, with many working uncompensated overtime hours.

      It’s no wonder Hong Kong is Asia’s stressed-out city.

      The need for money in this expensive city, fierce workplace competition and social expectations about work and laziness often encourage many of us to stay silent over the large workloads handed to us. Work and familial responsibilities, time pressures and information overload also contribute to burden placed on Hong Kong’s work force. 

      Unfortunately, this high-pressure work culture has transcended to our children and youth who are handed high academic expectations by teachers and parents from a young age. From a mental health and developmental perspective, the local education system needs to become laxer, to allow young children time to play, explore and socialize, rather than placing them on an academic production line.

      Drawing from my own experiences, my two years in a local kindergarten was (personally) not ideal. We had homework every day, and regular assessments. School life was strictly regimented and hugely conformist. When I attended an international primary school afterwards, it was a complete turnaround: we played in the sand and water, did lots of art, show and tell, stories.

      Two educational approaches: ordered and academically focused versus explorative and creative with less boundaries

      Of course, back in the kindergarten we did have fun music classes and fun breaktimes. However, the educational approach was completely different, one was ordered and academically focused whilst the other was explorative and creative with less academic boundaries, with the former possibly stunting rather than enhancing myself. When this burdened young generation grows up, they are channeled into the same philosophy of work and achievement for years ahead, and may collect a buildup of so much stress that it becomes chronic, which affects the immune system and leads to many physical ailments.

      Alice Pearce is a Final year Psychologist at Durham University. She wrote this because growing up in HK and studying in the UK has made her realise how big the gap is between Asia and the West in psychological and educational understanding.