Is Emotional Pain Necessary?

Is Emotional Pain Necessary?

This is the question posed by today’s NPR piece, which talks about a recent change in the American Psychiatric Association’s new Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM. The proposal is to remove the “bereavement exclusion” from the guidelines for diagnosing major depression. In other words, if one’s grief is severe and lasts too long, it should be treated like depression. How long is too long? In the words of the article:

“ . . . if symptoms like these [acute upset, loss of sleep, appetite, energy and concentration] persist for more than two weeks, the bereaved person will be considered to have a mental disorder: major depression. And treatment, either therapy or medication, is recommended.”


Are we, as a culture, so afraid of feeling the depths of our emotion that we would choose to medicate the pain of grief as soon as two weeks out from a major loss? It seems ludicrous to me.

After losing my son six years ago, my journey of grief (which I chronicle in my award-winning book The Deep Water Leaf Society) took at least TWO YEARS and in many ways continues even today. Were there days that I would have liked to take a pill and make the pain stop? Yes. And if I had, would I have learned and experienced all that I did and healed so completely? I think not. For me expressive arts, journaling and dreamwork allowed me to honor my pain, learn from it and heal by moving headlong into my pain, not running away from it.

It is the conscious journey through our grief that creates healing. In my opinion, if you stuff it down, ignore it, drown it in alcohol or happy it up with Prozac you will miss the meaning, the lessons, the growth that come from being real about how it feels. I learned more about myself and let go of more useless baggage during those two years of healing than I had in my entire life up to that point. I am a better person because of my loss and because of the very real pain it caused. Had I numbed the pain with Prozac, I know my loss would not have created the same level of positive personal transformation.

I am reminded of Kirk in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. When the mysterious mystic Syvok wants to take away everyone’s pain, Kirk is the only hold-out while everyone else is all silly with nirvanic joy. “Damn it, Bones,” says Kirk, “you’re a doctor. You know that pain and guilt can’t be taken away with a wave of a magic wand. They’re the things we carry with us, the things that make us who we are. If we lose them, we lose ourselves. I don’t want my pain taken away! I need my pain!”

I’m with Kirk on this one.

It’s not that we should choose to live in the depths of that pain permanently. And certainly if someone becomes suicidal or is completely unable to function for long periods of time there may be some call for intervention. But to put an arbitrary timeframe on how long it should take to process the pain of grief is ridiculous.

TWO WEEKS?!!! I don’t think it’s we grievers who have a mental disorder. I think the authors of the DSM should have their own heads examined!

I am the Love that Heals All Wounds

This is PART FIVE of a series. To start from the beginning, go here.

This is an excerpt from The Deep Water Leaf Society: Harnessing the Transformative Power of Grief (copyright 2008, Claire M. Perkins. All Rights Reserved.)

from chapter 13: Voices from the Big Wave

I am highlighting one of these dialogues in each post of this series. The questions of the dominant hand are noted (DH) and the answers of the images, transcribed by my non-dominant hand, are noted (NDH).)

5/24/04 Dialogue with Broken-Winged Angel

Me (DH): Hello little broken-winged angel. What is your name?

Angel (NDH): Grace.

(DH): Hello, Grace, tell me about you.

(NDH): I am the love that heals all wounds. Even in my own brokenness my light shines through. I am perfect in my imperfection. The imperfection is an illusion. The truth is the glow in my heart.

(DH): How do you feel, Grace?

(NDH): Open and innocent.

(DH): Why do you feel that way?

(NDH): Because it is the truth of me.

(DH): What can I do for you?

(NDH): Accept.

(DH): What gift or wisdom do you bring to me?

(NDH): My own true self. Grace.

Again, the message was about the healing power of love and the illusion of brokenness. Something about her name, Grace, moved me. I understood grace to mean unlimited blessings without strings attached and no striving required. Grace was the generosity of God or the Universe, abundant gifts granted out of sheer love and having nothing to do with guilt or innocence or deservingness. It reminded me of the feeling I had after the Padre Pio dream, when Cameron was granted such a generous plea agreement. Grace was asking me to accept that there was a perfection beyond the appearance of things. She was helping me to reconnect to that part of me that had always known that was true.

to be continued . . .

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