Discover more from Time Grace Space
Grief, shame, and what's making you sick.
Why forgiving ourselves may be the key to long term health.
One of the things I hear the most in readings, in my grief groups, in conversations online, everywhere, is the common human experience of feeling shame around our grief.
How we are seriously disappointed in ourselves for the decisions we made at the end.
How we think we should be “farther along”.
How some of us love our lives years after loss, but we wouldn’t be experiencing this particular beautiful life if our spouses hadn’t died.
How we want to start dating/or don’t want to start dating.
How we didn’t spend enough time with our loved ones before they died.
How we wished we would have been more present at the end.
Another common topic in these conversations, and what I study, is the chronic illness that happens post loss/ during grief.
Guess what? Shame and chronic illness are related!
Turns out, shame causes our immune systems to release cytokines, which leads to inflammation. Inflammation can lead to chronic illness, weight gain, autoimmune diseases, and more. It can also trigger underlying conditions.
Simply put, feeling shitty about ourselves around how we acted before or after loss causes inflammation, which can make us physically sick (and also, for some of us, can cause significant weight gain). That shame over being sick or over (or under) weight leads to even more shame, which, you guessed it, makes us sicker.
I have talked about grief causing traumatic brain injury - like physical and cognitive symptoms before in Grief Fog is Real, but until I read Secrets From the Eating Lab, I never correlated grief-related shame with the chronic illness that a lot of us experience after loss.
How many of us have started their chronic illnesses and weight gain post loss? And then told ourselves it was related to something else? Or had practitioners say it was related to something else? Or we were being dramatic because they couldn't find a cause?
What if we could start to heal ourselves (and lose body fat?) by releasing our shame?
How do we fix this? How do we remove our shame and *start* to heal, physically, from the inflammation caused by our body’s own immune system’s response to that shame?
Journaling. And I don’t mean long sentences. Just getting it out helps you let go. I wrote about that here.
Movement of any kind.
Support groups. Learning you are not alone is HUGE.
Being creative. Writing, drawing, painting.
Saying out loud “I forgive myself”
These are just a few ideas. I’m going to be looking at more to write about here.
To be very clear, I'm not saying this is going to cure anyone. It's going to lessen some symptoms, though, so our quality of life improves.
(And as always, the grief I am talking about does NOT have to be over a death. It can be a relationship, a job, an identity. I am starting to correlate my own POTS flares to shame around a few different things. Nothing like being your own research subject 😂. )
Honestly, I kind of lost my mind when I read about cytokines and inflammation in the Secrets from the Eating Lab book (and may have written her some fan mail haha).
Here was the missing piece I had been looking for that connected shame and inflammation. I didn’t even know I was missing that part! We intuitively know there is a connection between grief and chronic illness, and now I have science to refer to in my writing here, and in my academic work for my masters degree.
From a medium perspective, I hope I can help you take some of that shame surrounding your loss and grief away.
From my experiences talking to, and listening to, people and animals who have died, this is what they have to say:
Your loved ones *always* forgive you for any decisions or transgressions. In all honesty they want you to know you don’t need to be forgiven, and that you should not feel guilt because you did not do anything wrong. You are human. A very specific example? In the case of pets you have euthanized, they thank you for ending their suffering, and are so happy to be free to join you on adventures without feeling pain.
I want you to know, every single person or animal I have talked to has not been scared after they passed, nor they have felt alone. They have been immediately greeted by the loved ones that they have also missed.
I’m not just saying these things to make you feel better. I’ve heard them so often in readings, with specific evidence, that I need you to hear it. Stop beating yourself up. They are ok. Take care of you. You have one life to live. ❤️
The point of all of this?
Working on accepting ourselves, the circumstances, and the changes that we have experienced will lessen our inflammation, improve our quality of life, and make us healthier on the most basic, cellular level.
Knowing our loved ones forgive us and are safe is a part of that healing puzzle. We can start to release our shame and heal the shattered parts of our soul.
Giving ourselves time, space, and grace might actually be the key to long term health.
PS For those who love science, here are two studies about this:
Dickerson, S. S., Kemeny, M. E., Aziz, N., Kim, K. H., & Fahey, J. L. (2004). Immunological effects of induced shame and guilt. Psychosomatic medicine, 66(1), 124–131. https://doi.org/10.1097/01.psy.0000097338.75454.29
Fedorowski A. (2019). Postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome: clinical presentation, aetiology and management. Journal of internal medicine, 285(4), 352–366. https://doi.org/10.1111/joim.12852