I often sit and read arguments online about whether or not it is wrong to go through the grieving process when a child is diagnosed with a disability. It saddens me so much as what I often see are parents desperately trying to understand what is happening around them whilst being penalised for having any feelings at all. I also see those who have grown up with disabilities who haven’t been treated well talking of how using the word grief affects them and wanting to protect future generations. I sat and pondered on what my view point was and realised that firstly I needed to understand what “grief” actually means.
“Grief” is defined in the oxford dictionary as the process you go through when a person dies. However, it has a second very commonly used definition which is how you travel along the journey to acceptance.
People liken the process of change to that of grief all the time. Perhaps this is because they feel scared, shocked or isolated and these emotions are usually linked to loss. You cannot deny that when circumstances change for you, a close friend or a family member, changes happen in your brain. But what exactly are those changes? The psychologist in me just had to find out…
After some research I came to realise that being able to cope with change is often known as resilience. Whilst your baseline level of resilience has both genetic and environmental factors, there is no doubt that previous life experience greatly impacts on how resilient a person you are, and how quickly you are able to process change in the brain. When you are used to change and challenging life circumstances, you learn to control what you can which makes you feel less helpless and depressed.
Before kiddo was diagnosed I had been through a three year period of severe anxiety and depression as a teenager, watched my mum suffer with breast cancer, sat next to her bed while she took her last breath, been told I only had a 50% chance of conceiving, suffered chronic illness and pain during pregnancy, had a traumatic birth and a stint in hospital with a very poorly kiddo at only a few weeks old. These are just the major experiences. At this point, not a lot shocks me to be honest. Things change at the drop of a hat.
The more changes you’ve been through in life that have been thrown at you unplanned, the easier you will find it to view change positively, accepting what is within your control, embracing your new circumstances and accepting them a lot quicker than others.
i.e. The rate someone is able to come to terms with a diagnosis varies MASSIVELY. That’s just the way the neurotypical brain works.
Think about it. How many times have you wondered to yourself why someone is making such a fuss over nothing? Because to them it isn’t nothing and that isn’t something they can help. Brains need time and experience to develop in this area.
During times of change you need to keep a handle on your thoughts. Many people see things in black or white. It’s either all good or all bad. The more resilient you are, the easier it becomes to see the thousands of shades of grey in between.
Many people struggle to stay in the present during times of change. Ever been threatened with redundancy? All you can think about is what happens if you don’t keep your job, yet you have no idea if you’ll have a job or not. The thought of the future brings anxiety and sometimes people’s worry for the future is mistaken for sadness over what is happening right now.
So, what does the functioning of the brain mean for people who receive a diagnosis for their child?
1. Everyone will react to the news differently. You don’t love your child any less. Your brain reacts and you feel feelings. End of.
2. Some people will be able to process the news easier than others due to past life experience. It doesn’t mean they love their child any more than anyone else.
3. Some people will be scared that they don’t know how to provide for their child. This actually makes them a caring parent, not one who can’t come to terms with a disability. Their brain will process it all as fast as it can.
4. Everyone on this planet is entitled to feel however they want about anything. It’s how they act on it that counts. Feelings are impulsive and often the result of biological signals in the brain. They can’t help it, should they be penalised for that?
No one has the right to tell you how to feel. Doing so only slows down the road to acceptance which doesn’t help anyone at all. Try not to take another person’s feelings personally. It’s not about you, it’s about them and how their brain processes information.
Thanks for reading,