Onions, Diagnosis, Attention and Grief

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Dealing with Grief is like Peeling an Onion


Another adorable Phillip Martin graphic

(c) Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, ACT, MCC, SCAC
Part 1 of a two-part article in 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.

An article entitled Helpful Tips for Coping with Grief, available on the HealthCommunities Website, asserts that “Grief is a normal response to loss.”

By “normal,” no doubt, they are referring to a state that is to be expected in an emotionally healthy human being.

The ten paragraph, ten part, ten web-pagelet article goes on to say quite a few helpful things about grief, many of which I am going to recontext in this series, along with exploring other assertions about grief and the grieving process that have long been accepted as universally relevant.

Because I think we need to reopen that book!

I’d like to begin by expanding upon the HealthCommunity’s second item today:
Feelings of grief [are] often progress in different stages.
It begins by underscoring an important point
we must all endeavor to keep in mind:
Every person grieves differently. 

“For some people, intense feelings — sometimes called the “throes of grief” — can last quite awhile. People who are grieving may go through 5 stages, including denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. 

Grief may not involve all of these and they don’t necessarily occur in order.

A number of difficult emotions are associated with grief — from feeling numb, to shock, sorrow, loneliness, fear, guilt and anger.

People who are grieving may be in pain, physically and emotionally, have trouble sleeping, lose interest in eating or activities and have difficulty concentrating and making decisions.”

I especially appreciate their careful use of qualifiers like “often”, “may,” and “don’t necessarily.”

My primary reason for quoting them, however, is to introduce some of my own conclusions about WHY grief seems to involve layers of processing, and WHY we don’t proceed apace from one to the other.

But first, lets talk about that onion for a minute.

Onions don’t ALWAYS make you cry

Most of us are familiar with the tears we try to avoid shedding while we’re chopping onions, but have you ever actually tried to – layer by layer – peel an onion?

If you have, the first thing you noted was probably that it isn’t an especially easy thing to do!

  • Those layers don’t want to come apart without taking a buddy with them,
    in many cases.
  • In others, they don’t want to be peeled away AT ALL!
  • You end up with odd shards of various thicknesses of onion when you are
    trying your darn’dest to peel one single, perfectly round layer.

It IS possible, but you have to be very careful and take it excruciatingly slowly.  It gets more and more difficult with every layer, too.  The closer you come to the core, the trickier the process.

You ALSO have to possess a great deal more patience and concentrated attention than most of us with attentional deficits can muster for a task as tedious as this one — at least not for very long.

In order to keep at it for any length of time at all, you simply have to accept the fact that you will have good layers and bad layers.

If you’ve even attempted the task, did you notice that – as long as you don’t tear (as in, “rip”) one of the many, many layers – you don’t tear (as in, “cry”) nearly as much as when you slice right through them?

So it is with grief

  1. People who are grieving have good days and bad days, and “old grief” surfaces, stuck to the layer of new grief we are currently processing.
  2. As long as we take it slowly and gently, we don’t cry nearly as much as when we attempt to rip right through the process — and
  3. While grieving is not EASY for anyone, dealing with all that is involved almost always takes a great deal more patience and concentrated attention than most of us with attentional deficits can muster!  We need to remind ourselves of that sad reality and take it easy on ourselves when we must.

GRIEF and Depression


thanks to free-vector.net

Another important point made by the HealthCommunities article is that it can sometimes be difficult to distinguish grief from depression.

Grief and depression have a number of symptoms in common, that’s true. Anyone who is grieving can expect to have good days and bad days.  That simple expression of the experience doesn’t begin to describe how it feels, however.

The bad days can be quite dark sometimes, and it is then when we are apt to wonder if perhaps we are seriously, medically depressed.  We seem, at times, to be mourning every single loss in our entire lives, and despair can look like an endless tunnel with no “light at the end.”

Depending on the elements of your particular grief period, don’t be afraid to allow yourself to accept a bit of pharmaceutical help.  You don’t have to continue to soldier on just because you believe you should be able to cope without outside intervention.

You don’t have to believe you need pharmaceuticals either. Despite what the new DSM caucus wants us to believe, the pain of grief does NOT need to be pushed down and medicated away. It will have to be processed at some point.

It can’t hurt to speak to your doctor, however, and it might help considerably. Trust your instincts about what you need to cope in this window – ignore the “pill-pushers” as well as the naysayers who attempt to shame you for “pathologizing” the grief cycle – but don’t attempt to self-medicate. Involve a professional. You’ll be grateful for the outside observation of someone familiar with the process.

ADDers on stimulant medication: avoid giving in to impulsivity.

Resist the urge to up your dosage on your own.  Yes, it will help (temporarily), but it will complicate things in ways you won’t want to have to deal with.

Call your doctor before you change anything pharmaceutical on your own!

Then follow his or her advice; that’s what you’re paying for, right? If you suspect your doctor isn’t deserving of your trust, wait until you are feeling more in control before you begin to search for a new doctor. Things may look quite different when you feel more like “yourself” again.

Give it at least three months as long as the advice you are getting is anywhere in the neighborhood of reasonable!

Trouble Sleeping

Man trying to sleep on couch, from Phillip Martin - artist/educator

For those of you with life-long sleep struggles, which includes up to 75% of the ADD population, you can expect them to get worse during the “the throes of grief” – sometimes much worse – and they sometimes persist for longer than seems reasonable once the “throes” have passed.

Sleep destabilization of any sort impacts already impaired concentration and follow-through negatively.

If you’ve always struggled in your wake-up window, you may find that it “suddenly” takes hours before you feel awake and alert.

  • You may awaken into a state that feels more like anxiety than worry or concern — with troublesome thoughts about areas of your life that you believed were processed long ago.  You may find it makes you unusually short-tempered or grouchy.
  • “Rushing” later in the day to make up for the time lost to the lengthened wake-up window won’t work very well.  You’ll find yourself having to redo items that you once might have handled with ease at the first attempt, or dropping more balls than you might if you slowed down. Accept the fact that you will be able to accomplish less for a time.

If you’ve always struggled to fall asleep, you may begin to wonder if you are diagnostically insomniac.

  • If you must awaken at a particular time anyway, you may have weeks on end where you are seriously sleep deprived, which makes a lousy emotional situation worse and further impairs concentration and short-term memory.
  • If you are able to sleep until you awaken naturally, you may find yourself sleeping through much of the following day — and you may begin to wonder if you are diagnostically narcoleptic (or worse).

Those of you with chronorhythm disorders (sleep timing struggles), may destabilize further.

  • Night owls may begin to feel like vampires – unable to sleep until the first rays of dawn.
  • Your sleep timing may approach a “free-running” state for a while, where you are unable to stick to much of a sleep/wake schedule at all.

It is a “normal” expectation to have, as they say, “trouble sleeping” during the grieving process. Few of the articles you’ll read, however, will detail what that can look like in the life of the person grieving.  The way in which it shows up in your life probably won’t feel normal or look normal – to you or to those around you, whose expressions of concern may be more disturbing than helpful.

Normalizing your state

It helps to quiet the black and white thinking to remember you are grieving — to give a name to the state you are experiencing.  It won’t make much of dent in the process, for most of us, but the normalizing effects of naming the state will help to contain it – to keep it from continuing to escalate.

I keep waiting to “feel better” and STAY “feeling better,” after my father’s death (less than three months ago as I write this) — even though I am well aware that it will be a process. Post-loss emotions are like a roller coaster ride and, in most cases, you can expect the up and down to slowly level out over time.  That thought rarely helps in the moment, however.

I KNOW how the grief process works, but I don’t feel that knowledge nearly as keenly as I feel sad and disoriented when grief appears suddenly and unbidden.

At those times, I am actively missing the opportunity to interact with my mother, my sister Jaye and her husband Don, my middle-brother Michael, my voice coach Dick, my best-friend Robin and his lover Richard, each of my precious Shih Tzus, and my parakeet Pretty Boy (who died when I was about NINE, by the way).

It seems as if I am freshly grieving every beloved Spirit that has gone on without me – some days, almost as if they ALL died just this past fall.

My own ADD symptoms worsened considerably – and my ADD grief has been in my face again (a layer of my own onion of grief “stuck to” the layers of my Dad’s passing, Kate Kelly’s passing, and my college friend Patty’s passing – all last October).

  • I have been diagnosed for several decades now, so one might expect there would be nothing left TO grieve there – but we process only to the extent that we are able to remain stable through the processing at the time we are trying to assimilate our new reality.
  • Every new experience of grief brings the others up for another cleansing pass.

I seem to need another hit of processing my ANGER about the almost forty years I lost prior to my own ADD diagnosis – again.  And I’m truly furious about that in this new grief window.

I am also incredibly sad some days – even those days I am not consciously thinking of loss at all.  It helps to remind myself that I’m GRIEVING, but not much.

I have wondered more than once, even knowing what I am telling you about grief, if I’m slowly slipping into depression.

Thank goodness for the UP days.

Depression doesn’t cycle quite like grief, which helps to quiet my wondering mind.

The UP days also give me a shot at completing something that I simply couldn’t tackle very well when I was struggling to want to get out of bed and face reality.

  • I was able to accomplish a few things I set out to do, but I dropped balls I’ve had systematized for YEARS.
  • Many days I seemed constitutionally incapable of making even the tiniest decision!

Understanding that I would probably not be particularly effective during the worst of my grief window, I streamlined my schedule considerably, and tried to remember to say no to anything new until the worst stages passed.

I’m sure it  helped, but I was most aware of the tick-tick-tick of every day that passed with so many To-Dos undone – and still AM, by the way, as I deal with the domino effects months later.

  • Some days I wondered if I would ever hit my stride again.
  • I worried about the opportunities passing me by, and what others must think
    about the length of time it is taking to “pull myself together.”
  • I wonder and worry still – MANY months later
  • It didn’t help – it doesn‘t help – I know it often makes things worse – but there you have it.
  • Understanding the process doesn’t change the process!

Peeling grief’s onion takes the time it takes.  There ARE no shortcuts.

WHILE we Peel

Someday we will feel a lot more like ourselves again. As we move through the grief process we’ll slowly begin to feel more in control more of the time.  Slowly, we will find it easier to return to what we used to do, and the worrisome thoughts will begin to subside— barely troubling us at all many days.

  • We need not fear that putting the worst of the grief behind us means putting the best of our memories behind us as well.
  • We have been forever altered by our losses yet, when we work through the grief process consciously, forever encouraged that we can handle more then we first believed possible.

We cannot shorten the grief process, but there are many things we CAN do to avoid lengthening it.  Part Two of this 2-part article in the Grief Series will go into more detail — a few broad categories and a limited number of examples so that you can tailor YOUR process your way.

There’s more to explore in the Related Articles linked below, but I’ll leave you with a bit of a hint and with something to else you can do while you wait for Part Two:
Watch out for what you usually do that doesn’t really serve you.

Stay tuned.  There’s a LOT more coming – both in the Diagnosis and Grief Series and each of the other topics that are part of the So-Much-More this blog was designed to cover.

Next Up: Some HELP for the Grieving – What to DO while we’re peeling the onion

As always, if you want notification of new articles in the What Kind of World series – or any new posts on this blog – give your email address to the nice form on the top of the skinny column to the right. (You only have to do this once, so if you’ve already asked for notification about a prior series, you’re covered for this one too). STRICT No Spam Policy

IN ANY CASE, DO stay tuned.
There’s a lot to know, a lot here already, and a lot more to come
Get it here while it’s still free for the taking.

Want to work directly with me? If you’d like some one-on-one (couples or group) coaching help with anything that came up while you were reading this Series, click HERE for Brain-based Coaching with mgh, with a contact form at its end, or click the E-me link on the menubar at the top of every page. Fill out the form, submit, and an email SOS is on its way to me; we’ll schedule a call to talk about what you need. I’ll get back to you ASAP (accent on the “P”ossible!)

You might also be interested in some of the following articles
available right now – on this site and elsewhere.

For links in context: run your cursor over the article above and the dark grey links will turn dark red;
(subtle, so they don’t pull focus while you read, but you can find them to click when you’re ready for them)
– and check out the links to other Related Content in each of the articles themselves –

Related articles right here on ADDandSoMuchMore.com
(in case you missed them above or below)

Other related content here on ADDandSoMuchMore.com

Related Content ’round the ‘net

BY THE WAY: Since ADDandSoMuchMore.com is an Evergreen site, I revisit all my content periodically to update links — when you link back, like, follow or comment, you STAY on the page. When you do not, you run a high risk of getting replaced by a site with a more generous come-from.

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!"

21 Responses to Onions, Diagnosis, Attention and Grief

  1. Great article ~ thank you for sending it to me and for visiting my blog as well! ♥


    • Wow – great follow-thru – and you are so welcome – (I’ll be back). If scanning the article helped even a little bit, I’ll feel successful in the recommendation, but I don’t want you to think about MY feelings here.

      As I’m sure you know, there is NOTHING anyone can say or do to change anything (even your feelings) – the intent of these articles is primarily to normalize the experience so that we don’t feel so freakish or unentitled to our inabililty to “just snap out of it.”

      That’s not how grief works, as you articulated so beautifully in your Dumbo post. Especially the grief following *any* diagnosis. That most inspires what I refer to as “sneaky grief” – and it gets the least support of all, in my experience.

      I wish you a peaceful holiday season, however you choose to get through it. Holidays are tough anyway, but so much tougher when we don’t feel “joyous” and feel like we must ACT. Be as kind to yourself as you are to your readers – and take your own advice (what you would say to any one of them in your circumstance.)

      My prayers are with you.

      (The follow on is What to DO while you’re Peeling the Onion – and the LinkList to the entire grief series (so far) is found HERE.)


  2. Andrea says:

    May I just say what a comfort to find someone
    who genuinely understands what they are
    discussing on the net. You actually know how to bring an issue to light and make it important.

    A lot more people need to look at this and understand this side of the story.

    I was surprised you’re not more popular since you surely possess the gift.


    • Thanks, Andrea. A lot of people read who don’t follow, like or comment – but the main thing about “popularity” is that it takes a lot of SEO work I’m simply unwilling to take the considerable time it takes to DO. My goal is to get the info out there. I rely on my readers to spread the word that this resource exists, so I hope you’ll help, now that you’ve found it. xx, mgh


  3. I’m impressed, I have to admit. Rarely do I encounter a blog that’s both educative
    and entertaining, and let me tell you, you’ve hit the nail on the head. The problem is something that too few people are speaking intelligently about. I am very happy I found this during my search for something relating to this.


  4. Pingback: Top 15 Tips to help you through the beginning stages of grieving the loss of a loved one. « Life Balance Health Coach

  5. Pingback: Grief « A Robin Hood's Musing

  6. Way cool! Some very valid points! I appreciate you penning this article and the
    rest of the website is extremely good.


  7. http://wikidrogas.org/wiki/index.php?title=Usuario:JamisonBe says:

    Wow, amazing blog layout! How long have you been blogging for?
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  8. Reblogged this on Broken Brain – Brilliant Mind and commented:
    A great piece on grieving, and how it affects us differently.


    • Thanks BB – I appreciate that. It is so difficult to write in a way that respects that “different” part and still offer anything useful, so I really appreciate the feedback that this one hit the mark – especially from you.

      You may have noticed that your piece on loss [What I’ve Left Behind] keeps showing up in the “relateds” as the grief series unfolds, while others don’t.

      I really like the way you illustrate the bizarre process of grieving loss of [former] Self — and there is little that talks about dx grief “out there” (much that pooh-poohs it) – less still that illustrates it a balanced manner that anyone could relate to, IMHO — so a belated congrats to you for that. Well done! I hope people READ it!

      thanks for the reblog – and I’m glad to read some of the developments at work, btw. I hope THIS year is as stress-free as last was the opposite – Happy New Year!



  9. Hi, thank you for linking to my post. Garry


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