Two Harmless Randos

You Don’t Just Get Over It: On Processing Grief

August 14, 2023 Mary Hoyt Kearns, PhD and Christine Szegda, M.Ed. Episode 8
Two Harmless Randos
You Don’t Just Get Over It: On Processing Grief
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

What do the New England witch trials, stressed out cheerleaders, virtual reality snowpeople, and metaphorical zits have in common?

In this episode, we explore how societal expectations and personal trauma may contribute to physical ailments, and delve into our personal journeys with grief. We talk about how bodywork like yoga, massage, and energy healing have helped us to release "stuck" emotions. In addition, we discuss how techniques like virtual reality, meditation, and Reiki offer evidence-based pain management. We also emphasize the importance of productive grieving. Tune in, stay curious, and let's learn from each other on this journey of exploring the complex link between emotions and physical health.

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Feel free to share your questions or episode requests. Thank you for listening!

Mary:

Welcome to Two Harmless Randos with your host, Christine and Mary. Yeah, so did you end up going to the beach this weekend?

Christine:

No, no, I ended up changing my plans. I just woke up and I just wasn't feeling that great and it was raining. I just didn't want to get in the car and drive for two hours and I just I don't know. I just I've been going through a lot after my dog passed away and I know it's a lot of these emotions. I don't think I'm actually sick, but I just I'm really aware of how all these emotions are making my body feel like I'm having lots of weird little symptoms and my digestion is off and, you know, nothing else is different. I'm not eating differently, I just don't quite feel myself. And, yeah, I feel lucky that I'm the kind of person who does express my emotions pretty freely, as you know, and I think, gosh, what would life be like if I wasn't? And I know people who sometimes, when they're not feeling well, and I look at them and I think, when's the last time you cried like when's you just keeping all this inside? So I can't best to kind of express my emotions and, you know, feel the sadness. But um, yeah, the times when I can't, like, if I'm in public or doing something for you know, or meeting with someone, I can feel the physical sensations building up in my body and I know I'm going to have to get home and do something. I can try or write a letter or do something to get them out. It's like it's like a giant zip that has to be popped, like I'm grateful that I'm the person who has learned how to do that.

Mary:

Yeah.

Christine:

Yeah, anyway, that's my long answer to why didn't go to the beach. I was well not feeling it. I woke up and I was like and I thought you know why? Why? Why push it? The beach will be there next weekend.

Mary:

It sounds like you needed to take care of yourself in this way, so kudos to you for listening to what you need and not telling yourself you should be going to the beach or whatever.

Christine:

Well, I mean, had I gone to the beach, it would have been a really great distraction. On one hand, I would have thrown on some podcasts and hopped in my car, and you know the busyness of doing that, and then, you know, go to the grocery store and I got there. That would have kept me pretty in the car. But you know, I just had this idea of it's just sort of putting off the popping of the zit.

Mary:

Right, right, it just gets bigger and more painful over time. So well, yeah, that is. That's such an interesting thing. I know in yoga teacher training we talk about that a lot how so much emotion is stored in the body that through these exercises you know thousands of years of Eastern medicine wisdom is taught people that to move their bodies, to move that emotion through because we do hold it gets stuck in our bodies, and in grad school we learned about the brain, like neurons in our stomachs that hold emotion and memory maybe not with words, it's not verbal, but it's still there. So in one place our hearts to have neurons that are similar to brain. There are so many places where emotion can, like metaphorically, get stuck in our bodies and we have to move it through. Otherwise it can manifest in physical illness. That reminds me of a book I've been listening to. It's called the ruin of all witches life and death in the new world, and it's about the first witch trials in New England in the 1650s, before Salem in Springfield, massachusetts, and a lot of the things that led up to someone being accused of witchcraft. Actually a husband and wife were these physical symptoms that people were experiencing after having disputes with the husband and I was thinking that like how much of it was sort of unexpressed anger or you know, because people tried to live by propriety and being kind to their neighbors and when people had disagreements they could say things sternly to each other, but it didn't seem like all out fights. It definitely was not like the real housewives kind of interactions. It wasn't there on the surface.

Christine:

We mock them, but maybe they're onto something. Maybe that's the healthy way to go. Healthy might be a stretch, but it's a way.

Mary:

It's definitely not getting stuck, it's not repressed. Yeah, because I was thinking about about this. I think I told you one point I've been fascinated with the Salem witch trials since I was in fourth grade, since I first learned about it. I wondered how something like that could happen in a world that supposedly civilized and law abiding, that people would like use other people of doing them harm, like spiritually doing them harm, just because they had had some disputes. A lot of the court cases were based on two or more witnesses attesting to these people supposedly doing witchy things to people like curdling their cows milk or causing them to miscarry, which all could be attributed to so many other things. But if enough people kind of witnessed these things happening after a disagreement with one person, that could pile up. In all the cases that I've read about or heard about over the years, there are always things like severe physical ailments. So yeah, like epileptic fits, stabbing pains, fevers, burning sensations and, as I was thinking about it over the last few days and reading this book, a lot of them sound like neurological ailments. So, going back to that, the idea of the nervous system and if we have this unprocessed anger, fear, resentment, that it can definitely affect our physical bodies and there seem to be something happening to these people Physiologically, but specifically neurologically. So I just think that's so, so interesting and I wish, I wish I knew more about the topic and, looking it up, I found that there were two recent incidents that were very similar to what happened in Salem. I mean Salem, it started with some teenage girls, who's a couple of them had started with epileptic fits and they attribute it to someone cursing them, and then soon, more and more girls like I think it's up to 16 girls and then an adult woman and a teenage boy eventually all took on these same symptoms. And so there's there's a possibility that was like mass hysteria, which is what they always attribute it to, but everything you also could have been something in the environment. It also could have been just like the severe stress of life at that time and the social restrictions on people. But what I learned recently is that something like that happened in 2017 in upstate New York and or in 2012, well, 2012 in New York and 2017 in Massachusetts. Yeah, and they all involved teenage girls, and in the more modern ones, they were all cheerleaders, which was interesting too. So I was in does some research to see what's underlying that. But anyways, so there's a history of this, that, oh, and they and one of the cases. They did look at the backgrounds of the girls and they found that there was a history of physical abuse and their families or poverty, teen pregnancy and not drug use, but it was all these very, very traumatic events to that they all had in common.

Christine:

So so, the idea of repression of feelings manifesting itself in these illnesses and not really knowing why, is that the line you're drawing?

Mary:

Well, I'm thinking that it could be that one thing that comes to mind about cheerleading culture is this idea that you have to be perfect and you put on a show, you it's all about like being happy, happy, popular, perfect. And when you put that kind of pressure on yourself, that could be a lot, especially if you're doing it because you're trying to overcome some sense of inferiority or less than you know, trying to be accepted. And the folks in New England to. During the witch hunts, many of them, the young girls, had come over from England as refugees from a war civil war that was happening there, and they had lost family members and they were orphans or they had had to leave their country quickly just because it was being destroyed, and then come to a new place where they didn't know anyone and there was often famine and yeah, so it was pretty serious trauma for all of them. So, yeah, we put that on top of kind of Puritan standards of how you should behave and how you should think.

Christine:

No, expression of that trauma, no expression of that grief. It's just compounding things.

Mary:

Yeah, and in this book, for the first time I did read that even though people didn't necessarily always trust their neighbors they're kind of always watching your backs they did come together and try to support each other as best they could and expected each other to support them. And they lost a child, which people lost, kids all the time. It was pretty brutal, you know babies and young children, so in that sense there was acceptance of grief, but then, but then they had to get back to work just to make the rest of them and yeah, yeah. So there's no time, there's not time for really processing feelings, for they had to get back to the hard work.

Christine:

Yeah, I mean drawing a weird connection here. Like in the modern world, we have all these modern things like, like the dishwasher right that are supposed to save us all this time, but yet we still feel so short on time because we filled it with all these other things and you know, in theory we have, we don't have to. We're living in a place where we had to start from scratch and grow our own food and survive through the winter. We should have more time to be able to tend to our mental health, wounds, right and and grieve, and yet we don't.

Mary:

Yeah, I do think that that, at least for some segments of the society, those of us with a pure technical background, there's there aren't the same kinds of rituals for really just letting it go and and going into the grief. There's that, and if you're a to work ethic, like you know, the devil's workshop.

Christine:

Well, and if other people aren't handling their grief and going through the process there a not going to understand what you're going through. When you do try to handle it in a more healthier, productive way and be, they're not going to think that you really don't need as much time as you do. They're not going to understand it. I mean, look, grief is, I mean it's overwhelming. At times it's tough to go in and let it out, like the days where, okay, I'm out and about, I'm at the grocery store, I can't have a breakdown about my dog passing, yeah, so I do kind of save it till I get home and I give myself the time. Or, as my therapist has scheduled an appointment with your grief, it's not pretty, like it hurts. It hurts to go into it. It's it's like, you know, digging out a wound that's infected, sort of in a way you got to. Afterwards I feel better, I have a little cry or I do whatever ritual I think is helping me, and I do feel better after it's like. But you got to, it's like dive it into a freezing cold pool to swim your laps like. It's tough to do it and I understand why people avoid it. But if everyone avoids it. They don't under. We don't know how to support each other, right, yeah, it's. It's tough to deal with your stuff. It's not for the faint of heart.

Mary:

And if you have a good support network around you holding you up. It's especially hard because as the world moves on, You're kind of as you said, kind of expected to keep up and like, get over it.

Christine:

Yeah, it's holding you up but also or even just giving you space. I was having a conversation with a friend of mine who's retired from teaching and we were sort of talking about this idea of how much, how some professions are so hard you don't have a minute. And I was saying, gosh, I'm glad I wasn't in a school the days after Lily passed, because I think I would have had to take some personal days because I just don't think I would have been able to handle being in that intense environment. And I was reflecting on the times when people did take time off and how they were often resented for doing it and other people in the building might even treat them badly, like up. And I said why do you think that is? You know, when they take time off and I have to cover their classes, and then it's hard on us and we all have hard lives. And I thought that's not the person, that's the system. You know why? Why do we work in a system where if somebody has to take a time time off because they just need personal time, that it puts everybody else out, and then you create this like environment of resentment and everyone's so stressed out like it is. We live in a really interesting culture right now where we we don't not value, we don't take time for, and then we exist in these systems that put stress on us when we so we can't even support the person who needs the time and space.

Mary:

Yeah, that's awful, really awful.

Christine:

And if we don't take time, for whatever reason, when we're in a society that doesn't support it, then yeah, of course people don't want to take time to actually do their own work. It was interesting. You were talking about this idea of like emotions being in the body and being stored there and having to be left out or let out. I know we've talked about acupuncture before and I did start going and I went to my second session and you know, she just sort of asked me what's going on. I was like, oh, you know, my knee hurt, my shoulders a little tight and I said, honestly, I just I just had a rough week, you know, like I had a death in the family. And she said, oh, we're throwing out the plan, I'm going to hit your grief points. And I was like, oh, I didn't know we could do that. Like that's exciting. And I think one was like sort of near my thumb, or my thumb attaches to my hand, and she was telling me how a lot of grief is related to the lungs and I heard that before too and I do think it helped like I felt a big release. But she said she has worked with. She worked with clients. She's a nurse by training as in addition to doing acupuncture, and so one of the several of the women that she had worked with that had really bad asthma that just you know were the patients that doctors couldn't crack would kind of be sent to her and she said in every case they had had a pretty hard loss, like the loss of a child. No-transcript the asthma symptoms lessened or went away.

Mary:

Wow.

Christine:

Wow. So yeah, grief is stored in the body. And did you ever read the book Untethered Soul? No, it's a singer. I want to say it's singer, but he talks about this idea of I think it's pronounced samsara I don't know if I'm pronouncing that right but these sort of like energy. I almost pictured them when I was reading it, like little cysts and pockets of energy that almost get caught up and stored and then, when you do the work, you release them. There's not a freaking havoc on your system. And he gave a very simple example of if he used to have a, if his girlfriend used to have a blue Mustang and she really broke his heart and he hadn't really done the work to process that every time he saw like a blue Mustang on the road he'd get that little hit, that little jewel of unresolved pain. And then, as those things build up and they're bigger things than even that they're still there.

Mary:

Yeah, yeah, years ago, when my girls were little, my mom died suddenly. Just, it was just out of the blue and I can't even describe how awful that was in disorienting. But I had two little kids, I was working full time, I was finishing up my PhD, so I didn't have a lot of time to grieve. I gave myself what I thought I needed. But a little less than two years after that I guess a year and nine months and my husband gave me a weekend at a spa in the Hamptons and I just went by myself. It was on the ocean and it was just so lovely to be there and it was the winter, so it was fairly quiet, just a few people. Most of the spa treatments were taken up for the day, so I tried like a massage with energy healing, which I hadn't done before that, and this woman was working on me and when she got to my solar plexus I just started bawling. It was incredible, like I've never cried like that before since she said it seems like you were holding some grief in your body and I didn't realize that I still was, you know, a year and nine months later, but like there was so much unprocessed stuff still in my body, and that was the first time that I realized how powerful that moving of the energy was. Even though I had been studying about the idea of neurons and holding memory in through our whole bodies and even the intelligence of the gut area, I hadn't put it together until that moment that there's actually it's a physical thing and that it can actually be transmuted with massage, energy work and all that.

Christine:

Sometimes you don't even know what the grief is that's coming out. I have been in yoga and heard other people in yoga, especially like heart opening, where you're like laying on something and really stretching out your chest, or the hip openers. I remember a friend of mine telling me years ago wow, in the middle of yoga, and suddenly I'm just sobbing. And I was like oh, that's interesting. And then, probably like a year or two later, it happened to me. I didn't even know. I was upset, I don't even know what it was. To be honest, it just something just came up as I released that area and I just couldn't stop crying and felt great after because I got it out. But yes, something was sitting there.

Mary:

Yeah, the deep bend, heart opening poses like camel pose or wheel, those can be really hard for people who have unprocessed grief. And I remember the first couple of times I tried camel pose it was just really uncomfortable, but not in a physical sense Like I can bend my back, no problem, but it was just I don't like this, this is icky. But then as I did it more I started to feel that the grief coming up and releasing and after that it just was really easy to do.

Christine:

You know what I was just thinking about this. I used to have the same experience with camel pose. It wasn't physically uncomfortable, it was almost like a very subtle, almost panicked response. I felt like I don't know. I just felt so like, oh no, get me, like almost like get me out of here, type feeling. I had some issues with my low back for a while so I really stopped. I haven't done that pose in a while, but I'm much better than I was years ago about processing, like I hope I am. I should try it again and see how I feel. I haven't done it I. What are those poses?

Mary:

that just doesn't come to my mind a lot, but I will note to myself yeah, cause it actually feels really good because it does release stuff and you can just start with a half camel, you know, in a kneeling pose with your hands on your lower back, and do a back bend and that's the full thing. First, just to see, just to test it out.

Christine:

I have a styrofoam I don't know, it's a cylinder, Probably like, maybe eight inches in diameter, and I put it the length of my backbone and just let my arms fall to the side. I know you've done like you teach restorative yoga classes where you just sort of and I remember doing one with you where it's just you just kind of let your arms fall to the side and it just opens, opens, opens, and it is such a release.

Mary:

Yeah, yeah, that's a good one, and it's a gentler way too of opening up the heart space than a camel, because it's like you said, gravity's doing the work for you.

Christine:

Yeah.

Mary:

Oh yeah, so another method that's actually been is evidence-based is tapping or emotional freedom technique, also called EFT, and there've been variations on that theme over the years. But when I worked for an organization that evaluated medical programs for the NIH, one of the programs that I looked at was EFT and there were at least 20 scientific papers that qualified to be reviewed as evidence base for tapping and it's been used for people with PTSD, veterans and things. And just going back to that whole idea that we hold these memories in our bodies and that there are simple ways to move it out, it's I don't know that I think more and more people are learning about these things, but it's amazing it's not more widespread.

Christine:

Yeah.

Mary:

So simple.

Christine:

I've used tapping and it does. I mean, it doesn't cure all your problems, but it can get you out of a moment, it can get you feeling calmer. And there's the one aspect of tapping where you hit, like the they call it the karate chop, like the edge of your hand. It's like if you can't do all the tapping like on your head, around your eye, like the whole thing, you can just kind of hit the karate chop one a couple of times and just say, I'm safe, right, yeah, you can just do the emergency karate chop tap, I'm safe, everything's fine, and then go back later, cause you know, sometimes if you're tapping all over yourself in the car and traffic it's a little weird, but wouldn't it be nice if that was normal. You'd be like, oh, they're using some EFT there.

Mary:

Yeah, and I believe they taught, as I recall, cause this was a while ago that they taught veterans to use like an abbreviated version whenever they started having perseverative. What's about whatever they had experienced?

Christine:

Maybe it can like sort of short circuit the yeah, it just rubs the pattern.

Mary:

Rubs the pattern. Yeah, it's really amazing. Yeah, and when you think about that, if something as simple as holding a thought and tapping your body can undo it, how much are we programming in that we don't even realize, just through the physical touch paired up with an emotional experience?

Christine:

Yeah, yeah, it would be nice if, at some point, these things were more hey, maybe we're watching a primetime sitcom on CBS and they're like hold on a second and they get like this happening, Like as they hold their quartz crystal necklace and I do remember like one of the first episodes of 30 Rocks, so in the mid 2000s, oh was there tapping.

Mary:

No, but Jack, Jack the boss. Yeah, Alec Baldwin tells Tina Fey's character that she could use some Reiki. Oh, and I thought that was the first time I'd heard Reiki mention on television. I thought that was pretty hilarious. Yes, it reminds me in this book on the, the witch trials in Springfield, and they were talking about cases where infants or children were sick. Women from the community would come and lay hands on the child. I talked about one situation where the child got better, like everyone came over and and so this. It's interesting that, like the Catholic church condemned Reiki as being like the devil's work about 10 years ago, 11 years ago. The whole Catholic church, but, like the bishop in Connecticut or whatever, actually put out a statement and I was thinking, but laying on of hands is something that's in the New Testament, like Jesus did that. And yeah, and Christians have been doing the laying on of hands for years, because there is something to this the connection of hands to body to transmit the healing energy, and, whether you're doing it to yourself or someone else, there's documented evidence that it works.

Christine:

I mean, what's the first thing you do when you hurt yourself? Right, you put your hand on it.

Mary:

Right, or if a kid falls down and they bump their elbow, you kiss it, okay, yeah, because I had one student rate me and ask what my thoughts were on Christians doing yoga, because apparently her priest had said that it was not Christian, or her minister, whatever, and I thought that was just so interesting too. But number one, yoga and Reiki, you're not religions, you're not spiritual practices.

Christine:

Yeah.

Mary:

Or they're. I guess they're spiritual practices in a way, but it's their physical practices, their medical practices, looking around for thousands of years. Interestingly, I just looked it up in this Bishop William Laurie from Bridgeport, Connecticut, who condemned Reiki as being the devil's work. He actually was brought up in churches of sexual abuse, so that's not very Christian.

Christine:

Oh brought everything, he said. It's an interesting point of view. It's something to consider and now it makes sense. When I did my Reiki training, the teacher said Reiki's not a religion, it's. I was like why is she joking, like why is she saying this? And it just didn't occur to me that that might be a question that some people have. So that's good to know.

Mary:

Yeah, I was surprised at that. I know a nurse, phd researcher who's done tons of work in hospitals on Reiki, including human trials as well as animal trials, to just show that there isn't this placebo effect. Yeah, anne Baldwin has done some really really solid scientific research on Reiki, which is amazing, just to kind of get past those notions that it's not real. And what's interesting too is more recently studies have shown that the placebo effect is an actual thing that suggesting to people that a sugar pill is going to heal them and letting them know that they're taking a sugar pill, they still show healing effects. So yeah, it's funny. It's funny how this idea of a separation of the mind and body is two different. Things happened at some point, like it used to be for millennia, for tens of thousands of years, humans knew that it was all one system, but then the medical professionals started dividing things up into systems because it's easier to study and work on and control. But now we're getting back to that idea Like no of course it's all related, like it's. We're not cars, we don't have parts that you can interchange. Well, we kind of do, you can change out your part. But Well, also, they don't know the mechanisms behind why a lot of drugs work and in cases of things like opioids they don't work. They calm people down, they do stuff to make their brains think they're okay, but it doesn't actually control pain. But what does control pain? Is virtual reality, like it was. 18 years ago now I saw a demo of a virtual reality treatment for burn victims. It was called Snow World and since then there's like so many more of these available because the technology is so much more accessible. But they built these virtual worlds made of snow, so it kind of looked like ski mountains and the main characters were snowmen on skis, kind of just sliding around this very serene scene, and they used it on people who are in burn units, who are in extreme pain, like on those pain scales that the opioid companies invented, of zero to 10 pain scale. These people were like nine or 10. It was so bad and they tested Snow World versus opioids, versus, I think, things like Tylenol or whatever whatever standard treatment was, and Snow World, like excel, exceeded all of those in terms of pain reduction is amazing how much it brought the pain down. So yeah, and so again, the power of the mind to control or to not control, to to heal the body, to regulate perception of pain.

Christine:

I mean, isn't that sort of why? The opposite is true. What anxiety is? The anticipation of something that hasn't happened and might happen, and if your brain's already imagining it happening? That's why anxiety is linked to so much pain and physical disorders and heart issues and high blood pressure. That is bringing me back to how we started this conversation, with this idea of grief and, like when you're grieving it's, it's physically painful, the pain of grief. This idea of the going into grief and touch the tender moments, versus reenacting things and wallowing and just reactivating your body. I think there's a fine line, so maybe it's the difference between productive grieving and wallowing. I remember years ago something happened really bad at work and I noticed that every time I told the story I would have the same adrenaline spike, heart racing, feeling, anxiety. That would, you know, do make some things happen to my body that weren't really healthy or pleasant, but it make it better or resolve it. There's a difference between letting your body relive something without doing any work with it, without getting support as you relive it, to process it.

Mary:

Right, yeah, not if it doesn't get resolved. That's just, that's just perseveration.

Christine:

Right and you can go back and relive it and use techniques like the flash technique or tapping, where you can start to move the memory files around in your brain, and there's even techniques like brain spotting, where you can just touch it lightly. You can still activate the parts of your brain and body that are holding it.

Mary:

That's very cool, so, yeah, so, even though it sounds like the witch trials or the things that led up to them still can happen in communities, probably because of systems that don't allow people to process their grief or their anxieties as well as we could, we do have these tools. If we could get them out there, especially to elementary school age kids, I think it would be so powerful.

Christine:

To process, not perseverate. To process, not repress.

Mary:

Right.

Christine:

That's the right way to spend time with it. Yeah, yeah, it would be cool.

Mary:

Thanks for listening to Two Harmless Randos. You can check out our show notes for more info on the topics we discussed today.

We Hold Emotions in Our Bodies
Impact of Trauma on Physical Health
Releasing Emotions Held in the Body
Yoga and Reiki are Not Religious
The Importance of Processing Grief