Grief and the PsA Flares It Brings
Sixteen years ago, my parents brought the cutest tiny Shih Tzu puppy home, a new best friend for their daughter. I named her Gracie, and she was the apple of my eye. Shih Tzus are wonderful companion dogs, and Gracie loved cuddling under blankets with me. She was always snuggled up against our feet or on our laps.
Sadly, Gracie passed away a couple of months ago. Even though it was her time, we were all still heartbroken. The grief of losing my furbaby sent me into a major psoriatic arthritis (PsA) flare.
How are emotional stress and physical pain connected?
It wasn't the first time my emotional pain and stress brought on a flare. There have been other life events that have brought on flares, particularly severe illness and the passing of loved ones. Even periods of financial stress, break-ups, and school/work issues have been stressful enough to bring on flares. But Gracie's passing came at an already stressful time, inspiring me to think about the connection between coping emotionally and feeling better physically.
How does psoriatic arthritis play a role?
Sometimes, I've felt like PsA has made it hard to process these events. I find experiencing a lot of pain and fatigue complicates my emotional reaction: I have less patience, brain fog makes it hard to think rationally, and I generally feel more negative. It feels like it's even harder to get through a difficult time, especially if my PsA wasn't well controlled to start.
What can you do to get through the grief?
Over the years, I've learned that there's no quick fix for these flare-ups. Ignoring them doesn't help, but neither does wallowing in them. Sometimes, the only way out is through. And that means embracing your emotional and physical health:
Self-care, even if it's the bare minimum. It's a cliché, but caring for yourself is crucial, even if challenging. During difficult times, doing the bare minimum is enough. Going to the gym might be too much, but following your vital medication regime is good enough. Have no appetite? Take your vitamins. Sometimes, it's all about survival.
Embrace your emotions. Ignoring the feelings is tempting; they're too painful and triggering. Typically, articles about the pain of grief suggest journaling and therapy, which are great things. But I want to emphasize the importance of embracing and participating in your feelings, especially for events around illness or loss.
There are many universal aspects to dealing with grief and crisis, such as gathering, visiting, praying, telling stories, cooking meals, and other things based on one's culture or religion. These things are healing and to be embraced.
While this might not have been a significant factor in mourning my dog, they have come into play with other losses and times of crisis. In some cases, I wanted to pretend everything was normal and I was fine (usually because I still had school or work duties to attend to). But ignoring it made the physical pain so much worse. It was still painful to deal with, but I think my emotional healing started earlier, which meant my physical healing could begin, too.
The most important thing is to be kind to yourself during these times. After Gracie died, I was very critical of myself for feeling so poorly. I pushed myself to act like nothing was wrong and to "get over it."
Looking back, I wish I hadn't been so hard on myself. She was my little companion of over 16 years. In the weeks after her passing, we talked about how quiet the house felt without her. Even months later, my family and I still automatically look at the spot where her bed was every time we walk into the house. Seeing my family mourn helped me feel less alone in feeling so sad.
How have things changed since then?
Things eventually got better, little by little. I still miss her, but I am glad she's at peace and no longer suffering. I have a little statue on my desk that reminds me of Gracie's lifelong favorite teddy bear. She'll always have a special place in my heart.
Eventually, my body stopped hurting so much, and the fatigue eased slowly. And while my joints got worse before they got better, I'm finally starting to get my PsA under control and am feeling hopeful. And I know that while these stressful, painful times will come again in life, treating them will require both physical and emotional care.
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