Sneaky Grief

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the_sneaky_ninja_by_kirilleeWhad’ya Mean Sneaky Grief?

(c) Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, ACT, MCC, SCAC
Part of the Grief & Diagnosis Series
– all rights reserved

You will get more value out of the articles in this series
if you’ve read Part 1:

The Interplay between Diagnosis and Grief


Peeling Grief’s Onion takes the TIME it takes!

Nancy Berns, author of Closure: The Rush to End Grief and What It Costs Us has this to say:

It’s wrong to expect everyone else to follow a
formulaic ‘healing process’ aimed at ‘moving on.’
 . . .
‘You do not need to “close” pain in order to live life again.”

Here, here!  I couldn’t agree more strongly.

We each grieve uniquely, and there are parts of our experience of grieving that will remain in our hearts forever – thank God!

How horrible to think that significant loss might be marked with nothing more dramatic than a nod before moving on forever, thinking no more often about what we have lost than those remnants of a fast-food meal we tossed with last week’s trash.

However, I believe it is equally wrong to avoid handing out a few maps of the territory in our fear of seeming didactic about a process that is one of the most individual of journeys.

  • There are markers that most of us swim by as we navigate the waters of grief, holding our lives above the waterline as best we can.
  • I believe that locating ourselves on our particular pathway is an important first step in our ability to navigate successfully – sometimes at all.

Locating ourselves in the grief process is trickier than it might be otherwise, until we understand the concept I refer to as “sneaky grief.”

Learning about Grief from my Clients and Students

Not that I haven’t had sufficient opportunity to learn grief’s lessons personally, I found that working with others underscored for me the individual nature of the process.

  • Grief comes in many colors – from the most INTENSE of shades
    to the barest whisper of a tint.  
  • They are NOT the same, and they don’t feel the same – but I believe it is a foolish mistake to kick one of them out of the color club simply because it does not have the saturation of the other.
  • Loss is loss.

I have NEVER stopped missing my mother or my sister, for example (and now my father), and I will never stop missing each of my darling and much loved Shih Tzus.  I grieved those loss equally.  Loss is loss — and grief is grief.

But I miss my parents and my sister more “personally” than my puppies as time goes by.  I might say that I miss them  “more intensely” until I am ambushed by the sight of another Shih Tzu owner playing with her dog.

Even though I have reached the state of Positive Acceptance with each of the losses above, the death of my most recent furry companion is fresher and still a bit “raw.”  Until I welcome a new puppy, I know to expect that kick in the gut reminder of loss to feel as strong as any I have ever felt.

What I find it takes, following a fresh reminder of loss, for me to be ready emotionally to move on to the next item on my day’s agenda is less than was when I was closer to the event of each of their passings. I guess you could say I am more emotionally resilient.

The necessity of navigating that transition from the reelings of fresh grief to the settling down of my emotional response remains, however.

Post Diagnostic Grieving

Likewise, grieving the loss of potential – the significant loss of one’s former sense of Self – must be expected more “strongly” in the period immediately following diagnosis. It is unusual to ever reach a state in which that particular loss no longer MATTERS, however.

In the first article of this series, The Interplay between Diagnosis and Grief,  I put it this way:

As we work our way toward the stage I refer to as “positive acceptance,” where we are finally ready to move on with our lives, most of us cycle through the following stages at least once, however briefly:

Shock, AngerDenialBargaining,
(mood vs disorder),
Resignation, and Preliminary Acceptance

We will have reached the stage I call “positive acceptance” when we are able to incorporate a vision of the future that can include our diagnosis without identifying with it, embracing our potential for change and growth in expected and unexpected ways.

Positive Acceptance reframes the impact of our diagnosis significantly.

What I Noticed in Others

  • Most of those I spoke with who had received relatively new diagnoses of one sort or another had no trouble embracing the concept of TIME necessary for healing.
  • Most were relieved to be encouraged to give themselves “permission” to allow themselves whatever time they needed to heal enough to be ready to begin anew.
  • Many were grateful that somebody attempted to make some kind of sense of the steps of the dance, and
  • Only the most black-and-white in their processing believed I was attempting to say that the map WAS the territory!

I was initially unprepared, however, for the comment from some that they were not grieving in the slightest – that they were, in fact, elated to finally be able to put a name to what was going on.

That comment alerted me to the need to pay closer attention to the “disconnect” between what they were feeling and the actions they were reporting.

And that’s when I began to articulate the concept of SNEAKY grief.  

This is how I have explained it to my clients:


Post-diagnosis, MOST of us embark on a one year period of what I call “sneaky grief” while we integrate this new information and reshape our self images.

It takes at least a year because that is how long it takes to hit each marker of remembrance at least once: each event that we envisioned differently one short year ago.

It’s sneaky because, for many of us, the emotional stages lurk and linger slightly below the threshold of our conscious awareness.

Most people DO cycle through shock, anger, denial, bargaining, sadness (if not depression), resignation and beyond, as they work their way toward positive acceptance — even those who start out relieved and hopeful overall, and remain consciously so throughout the process.

However, there are changes in behavior that others may note and we may notice, even as we insist our emotional reactions can be validly attributed to anything at all besides a stage of GRIEF, for heaven’s sakes!

Things that might have been mere “blips” on the screen before diagnosis may suddenly loom large.

  • You may find yourself unusually sensitive or emotionally reactive, “weeping over dog-food commercials” I like to call it, or you may eventually realize that that you have been taking comments to heart in ways that weren’t intended.
  • Actions of others may suddenly move from the “endearingly annoying” to the “I’m not putting up with THIS another second” column in your emotional checks-and-balances ledger.
  • The usually easy-going may become more than a tad, shall we say, testy, and those who have always struggled to remain silent if they couldn’t say something positive may start losing the struggle!

It certainly won’t be entirely unjustified, just not the way you generally have approached similar situations in the past. You may be more than a bit unsettled when that suggestion rears its ugly head — ready to dig-in and defend your rationale with a strength that may surprise you.

  • You may find yourself further dismayed by the strength of your disappointment that a certain activity did not work out as projected, and might realize only afterwards that you had been bargaining with the universe and that this particular chip wouldn’t barter — “sneaky” grief.

It’s a normal part of the process, and much easier to go through if somebody clues you in about it so you can understand some emotions that seem otherwise to come out of nowhere.

The fastest way ’round is through!

The extent to which you identify your feelings and FEEL them, instead of “soldiering on as usual” or discounting them as “over-reactions,” is exactly the extent to which you will be able to use the information productively, if not always happily.

It will pay huge dividends in the future to give yourself permission “to be wherever you are” for as long as you need to be there — ultimately passing through all of the stages more quickly and with greater ease than do those who attempt to “logic” or “stoic” their way through, “doing their strong woman number,” or “stiff upper-lipping it.”

As we age, life presents many more losses to be grieved, and those who haven’t given themselves the time and focus to process the diagnostic grief year will probably find themselves in “remediation” with every new loss, adding unnecessary layers to the process.

ADDvice for ADDults

If you have, or can initiate, a relationship with an ADD-literate therapist (or Spiritual counselor) and/or a comprehensively trained brain-based ADD Coach, you will probably find that it will help tremendously.

I personally find the process of working through grief issues alone MUCH more difficult than with another, and easiest with a guide who is trained to help me explore the feelings that surface.

I believe it is one of the most important functions of therapy with ADDers, by the way.

The good news about ADD is that our natural energy and creativity, coupled with the coping muscles developed from years of “swimming upstream,” allow us to make up for lost time relatively easily when we get what we need to swim WITH the current — just as the hare can outpace the tortoise the minute he decides he wants to do so.

Many of us decide we’re ready to spend some newly available energy on areas of our lives that have always seemed beyond us, due to the demands of undiagnosed ADD  — proceeding with current goals no more quickly, but adding a richness to our lives that we never believed would be possible to manage without forgoing sleep entirely.

For us, shaking up our paradigms tends to feel “natural and normal,” and we don’t seem to experience the same flavor of reticence toward change reported by many non-ADDers.

Most of us ADORE the new and different — our fears that we lack success skills (and doubts that we could handle it if anything were to get worse), keep us stuck, rather than their fears of rocking a “good enough” boat.

  • There are no limits, beyond those that nature gives us — clues, I believe, to those things we will find most rewarding.
  • We can create anything we want — a life we love — and a recent diagnosis, once we have processed well enough to return to some sense of equilibrium, can serve to initiate the “fresh start” opportunity that others dream of and seldom allow themselves.

Just try not to overlook the signs of that sneaky grief so that you can, most directly, get to that place where you have processed well enough!

Graphics gratitude: Peeling the Onion: Phillip Martin: artist, educator
The Sneaky Ninja ©2010-2013 by Kirillee at DeviantArt


Articles in the Grief Series:
(links click ONLY once the article has been published)

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About Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, MCC, SCAC
Award-winning ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching field co-founder; [life] Coaching pioneer -- Neurodiversity Advocate, Coach, Mentor & Poster Girl -- Multi-Certified -- 25 years working with EFD [Executive Functioning disorders] and struggles in hundreds of people from all walks of life. I developed and delivered the world's first ADD-specific coach training curriculum: multi-year, brain-based, and ICF Certification tracked. In addition to my expertise in ADD/EF Systems Development Coaching, I am known for training and mentoring globally well-informed ADD Coach LEADERS with the vision to innovate, many of the most visible, knowledgeable and successful ADD Coaches in the field today (several of whom now deliver highly visible ADD coach trainings themselves). For almost a decade, I personally sponsored and facilitated seven monthly, virtual and global, no-charge support and information groups The ADD Hours™ - including The ADD Expert Speakers Series, hosting well-known ADD Professionals who were generous with their information and expertise, joining me in my belief that "It takes a village to educate a world." I am committed to being a thorn in the side of ADD-ignorance in service of changing the way neurodiversity is thought about and treated - seeing "a world that works for everyone" in my lifetime. Get in touch when you're ready to have a life that works BECAUSE of who you are, building on strengths to step off that frustrating treadmill "when 'wanting to' just doesn't get it DONE!"

2 Responses to Sneaky Grief

  1. genesisfix says:

    This really struck me as a great little piece of advice.
    The good news about ADD is that our natural energy and creativity, coupled with the coping muscles developed from years of “swimming upstream,” allow us to make up for lost time relatively easily when we get what we need to swim WITH the current — just as the hare can outpace the tortoise the minute he decides he wants to do so.

    I personally recognized myself in these words. I also appreciated you reading my blogpost on the topic. I’ll be following you and appreciate the value of your blog.


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