The Right Way to Grieve Is Your Way

April 11, 2016

In this episode of The Grief Girl, hostess Kristi Hugstad touches upon the many kinds of grief talking to expert Brad Stetson, who is a chaplain focused on providing compassionate and personalized memorial services. Brad is also an author and lecturer, and has dealt with and learned from significant losses that he shares with us today.

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1:45 - Intro to Brad Stetson, whose personal experience with stillbirth led to his current line of work writing and conducting funeral and memorial services. Brad describes in detail the loss of his first child, who died in utero just days before his delivery date.

4:30 - Brad describes the shock in the aftermath, and the reactions of those around him and his wife: "No one gets real training on this and even if you did, you wouldn’t be prepared for the trauma of it." He and Kristi agree that sometimes it’s better not to say anything—people mean well but they don’t say the right thing.

6:50 - Brad and his wife experienced grief differently: she threw herself into work while he went to the cemetery often. He learned that there is absolute truth that "the right way to grieve is your way." He says that there is a great deal of subjectivity to grief, and each person needs to find out what will further them along the road of healing.

7:45 - In the aftermath of grief, you experience triggers, and will always contemplate life milestones that should have happened. Brad refers to Mark Twain’s quote: "Losing a loved one is like having your house burn down; it takes years to realize all that you’ve lost." With an infant death or stillbirth, that loss is realized progressively over time and constantly unfolding.

11:10 - Brad highly recommends that in the event of an infant loss, you should make an effort to bring home mementos such as photos, locks of hair, and hospital wristband.

12:05 - Brad talks about Forever Footprints (formerly known as OC Walk to Remember), which is an organization that he calls a "powerful healing institution" for families who have experienced infant death.

13:50 - He also discusses his book Tender Fingerprints: A True Story of Loss and Resolution. It can be helpful to read other people’s stories of loss. Kristi points out that it may be particularly helpful to men because the father's point of view is sometimes left out in this experience of grief. Brad has also authored nine other books including the upcoming Choosing to Survive, which is a collection of interviews with families who have suffered loss by homicide. He explains that choosing to survive is a basic but critically important principal of grief whatever the loss is. It’s an affirmative choice to take control of your grief and work through it.

18:30 - Examples of different types of grief:

  • Normal grief (i.e., elderly relative passes away)
  • Anticipatory grief (i.e. diagnosis of cancer)
  • Complicated grief (i.e., murder)

23:20 - Brad offers valuable tools for grief

  1. Grief groups
  2. Journaling
  3. Going for a walk
  4. Filling a calendar every day with lists no matter how basic because it will help you take control of your daily life and destiny

27:03 - More examples of different types of grief: 

  • Distorted grief (i.e., atypical reaction to loss includes enshrinement and bedevilment)
  • Prolonged grief (i.e., when griever is incapacitated that they can barely function and cannot adjust to life without the person who died)

30:05 - Brad tells us about his experience with a loss of a pet, and how it can affect a relationship between two people. He goes into detail about the loss of his family’s basset hound, and how it created marital conflict. No matter what the loss is, you can survive it. “You can do more than you think you can,” he says.

41:02 - Brad discusses his work conducting memorial services for others. He works to honor the lives of the deceased, and he feels privileged to learn about each life and witness the love people have for one another. His goal is to make a memorial service a beautiful experience for the families. He starts with a biographical tribute, and ends with asking the attendees to stand with the family who has had the loss. He also provides tips of what to say/do after the service is over.

46:50 - Brad leaves us with his outlook on loss, and emphasizes that the right way to grieve is YOUR way. He encourages families to take control of their grief. Kristi reminds us that there’s no time frame for grief—it’s unique to the individual, so don’t allow anyone to make one for you. Brad agrees, and adds that there should be no judgment—there should be no shame or stigma.

48:48 - What has grief taught Brad? Compassion. Grief is crazy-making and makes you irrational. Don’t render judgments on people after they’ve had a loss. There’s something special and unique about every person we love. Grieving is humanizing—it leaves us to reflect on life in general and find the positive, admirable aspects and seize on those things.

50:00 - If you would like to contact or learn more about Brad, visit www.bradstetson.com.

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Living with Schizophrenia—Is There Hope?

April 8, 2016

In "Living with Schizophrenia—Is There Hope?", The Grief Girl host Kristi Hugstad speaks to Betsy Bryant, a mother of three children—the oldest of whom has been suffering from schizophrenia for twenty years. Betsy walks us through the start of her son's disease to the present day and how he has learned to live with it. This is an inspirational and educational story of dealing with an illness that doesn't yet have a cure, and how to keep a positive, healthy outlook through it all.

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1:42 - Kristi introduces Betsy Bryant, who tells us about her son Ryan’s battle with bipolar psychotic schizophrenic episode II started at age 19. Betsy explains the initial signs, including lack of sleep and voices he was hearing. Betsy thought he was on hallucinogenic drugs, but after taking her son to the doctor, she discovered that drugs weren’t involved at all….

5:28 - Kristi explains what schizophrenia is, and discusses the symptoms and signs of the disorder. Betsy talks about her son’s symptoms, which included extreme paranoia that forced him to lose his job, and the intricacies of the schizophrenic "episode."

8:20 - Initially, Ryan thought he was Brad Pitt, and then convinced himself that he was the character Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars. The latter delusion pushed him to drive to George Lucas’ home in Northern California and ended up car-less and far from home.

11:38 - Betsy explains that as an adult, Ryan is able to hide his paranoia and live in his own hell privately, and discusses the pain she feels watching him suffer.

13:25 Betsy examines the pattern of Ryan’s episodes and the difficulty in finding the right cocktail of medications twenty years ago. "Our brains are like snowflakes—no two brains are alike." The key is finding the right people on your medical team to provide expertise and help, and continuing to keep your loved one on medication.

15:45 - Kristi asks Betsy to explain what Ryan’s diagnosis as a "high functioning schizophrenic" means. On the surface, he is clean, well-mannered, intelligent, but stressful situations trigger his episodes, thus preventing him from keeping a job. However, he's been able to achieve goals such as obtaining a Bachelor of Science degree with honors in just three years. He has also been able to acknowledge that he has the disease, and asks for help when he is having an episode.

17:50 - Kristi and Betsy discuss certain behaviors or "red flags" of episodes.

20:15 - Betsy sheds light on which myths about schizophrenia are accurate.

21:50 - How has Ryan’s schizophrenia impacted Betsy’s life and the lives of his younger siblings?

24:30 - Kristi and Betsy talk about the mental health system, and the quality of help that Ryan has received when hospitalized (which has been nearly twenty times).

27:35 - They discuss the early warning signs of schizophrenia, which include social withdrawal, hostility or paranoia, deterioration of personal hygiene, flat or expressionless gaze, inability to cry or express joy, inappropriate laughter or crying, etc.

29:30 - Betsy explains her son’s conflict between "good and evil" as well as what is delusional or real in his mind.

31:28 - Betsy talks about the time that Ryan had an episode in which he stayed secluded in his room for a week, and how she dealt with it. She explains that there is a lot of submission as a parent of a schizophrenic required to keep an episode from escalating.

35:55 -  Betsy discusses her views on depression and how we don’t always know how to identify or deal with it.

39:42 -  Does Betsy view schizophrenia as hopeless?

40:58 - Betsy talks about a new drug called Latuda as well as the challenges of helping an adult son who has the legal right to check himself out of hospitals during episodes, etc.

45:55 - Betsy explains the financial costs of Ryan’s schizophrenic episodes.

49:00 - Betsy discusses the possible roots of schizophrenia, which may genetic components and traumatic events.

51:15 - Betsy’s message to people about schizophrenia.

52:30 - And as always, we end with the question Kristi always asks her guests, “What has grief taught you?” For Betsy, it’s compassion.

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Inside a Nervous Breakdown

March 24, 2016

In this episode of The Grief Girl, we meet a very special guest, Mark Carlisle, who shares the same mission with our host Kristi Hugstad: to abolish the stigma of mental illness, depression and suicide. Sit back and listen to Mark's story: the origin of his neuroses, the losses of his father to suicide and his mother to cancer, and his successful journey from a nervous breakdown. It's a unique yet story that will interest and hopefully help anyone who has ever suffered from anxiety or depression – whether you're a man OR woman. 

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1:05 – Introduction to Mark Carlisle. Along with working at Hobie Surfboard and running his own personal fitness company, Mark teaches people to play and live.

2:36 – Kristi and Mark discuss the origin of Mark’s neuroses and its manifestations. Mark refers to M.Scott Peck’s definition of neurosis and its relation to an individual who is over-responsible for him/herself.

7:48 – Mark explains how he submitted to fear, and his difficulties getting along with his friends as a teenager. 

12:35 – Mark discusses his difficult relationship with his father, who suffered from depression.

14:45 – Mark talks about the devastating phone call he received at 26, and the events that led up to that day….

16:37 – Kristi and Mark talk about their emotions and thoughts after their loved ones killed themselves, and the blame they put on themselves. 

19:30 – Kristi asks Mark whether he ever considered suicide himself. Is suicide ideation a learned behavior or are there genetic components to it?

22:57 – Mark discusses learned helplessness.

24:00 – Mark talks about the aftermath of losing his father, and then learning that his mother has breast cancer. (She died just a year and a half after her husband’s suicide.)

27:29 – After a prolonged period of anxiety, Mark's nervous breakdown occurred when a severe case of bronchitis forced him to stay in bed for three weeks. This period gave Mark the time to think and loop over negative thought patterns; he ended up going to urgent care every day – not realizing that he was mentally out of control. Mark eventually understood that “neurosis is always a substitute for legitimate suffering” (Carl Jung).

31:12 – Mark points out that so often we do not see “crazy”behavior in mental illness. In Mark's case, he could still function so well that no one realized what he was going through.

33:15 – Sometimes the basic acts of getting past a depressive cycle such as exercise and eating well are helpful but they don’t change your thinking. Instead, you must engage in changing the words you use when you think – ultimately changing your brain chemistry too.

37:34 – What Mark did to change his thinking, and the seminar that changed his life. Mark says we have to stop asking ourselves, “What’s wrong with me?” Instead, we should shut off the automatic pilot of negative thinking and learn to tell a different story.

40:48 – Mark recommends What Happy People Know by Dan Baker, and provides highlights from the book that explains how our brain processes information, and how understanding that can help us reprogram our thinking as well as how we react to emotion.

45:05 – Mark describes how he starts his day….

46:42 – Mark answers Kristi’s question: “What has grief taught you?” He says that grief has to be a part of the equation, and we must embrace it “but not make love to it.”

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My Story. My Journey.

March 2, 2016

Meet Kristi Hugstad, whose husband's heartbreaking suicide by train took her on a journey that led her to her life's purpose: to abolish the stigma associated with depression, mental illness, and suicide. Loss isn't just death -- we grieve relationship, trust, career, identity, business, faith, etc. Grief is not the enemy -- it's the teacher.

Below are our show notes, which you can use to help guide you as you listen:

0:00 – OCTalkRadio’s manager and sound engineer PaulRoberts introduces Kristi Hugstad on this very special episode of The Grief Girl in which Paul interviews Kristiso that you will learn why she is an advocate for those who grieve.

1:02 – Paul and Kristi talk about why grief is a taboo topic.

3:09 – Kristi discusses her story that brought her to thispoint in which she became a grief advocate. Kristi describes her husbandBill’s background: his success as an athlete, popularity, obsessionwith bodybuilding, and long-term use of steroids and sleep aids over 34 years.

6:41 – Bill looked like the epitome of health and his bodybecome his identity. After his death, his autopsy showed the negative effectsof long-term steroid use.

7:16 – How Bill and Kristi met, and together created theAmerican dream that included successful businesses, home ownership, etc. But major lifechanges (i.e., sale of their businesses, a move to Mexico) that Kristi wasexcited about were difficult for Bill.

9:10 – Bill experienced a loss of identity now that he wasno longer a gym owner and lived in a different country among strangers. Itwas supposed to be a fun period – a sort of pre-retirement – but Kristi wasunaware of what Bill was going through. Bill started to become quiet andwithdrawn. Only now does Kristi understand that a depressed brain always seesthe glass as “half-empty.”

11:24 – Eventually Bill’s insomnia became so intense that hespent four days pacing up and down the hallways of their home. They moved back to Dana Point, CA, hoping that they would go back to “normal.”She simply wanted him to get back to his familiar lifestyle – she neveranalyzed what was really going on because she was so focused on beingaction-oriented.

13:25 – Kristi needed help, and researched psychiatrists,psychologists, church counselors, etc. Bill agreed to go, but ultimately therewas no “magic pill” to bring Bill back; instead, he was prescribed a medley ofdrugs that “scrambled” his brain. Bill continued to spiral, and began to talkabout suicide all the time.

14:50 – Paul asks Kristi whether she felt responsible.

15:40 – Kristi reached a point with Bill’s situation whereshe was out of options, and she convinced Bill to get admitted to the localhospital. What ensued was a discouraging experience. . . .

20:10 – Now at home, Bill researched suicide methods on theinternet and began to show even more serious signs of hurting himself.

24:30 – Paranoia set in as Bill’s depression worsened.Kristi became afraid, and decided to stay with her sister for the night. . . .

26:35 – Kristi learns that Bill has been hit by a train,only to discover later that it was suicide – and that his father was on thetrain, unaware why the train has stopped. (Read the feature story about Bill's suicide in The OC Register.)

31:45 – How did Bill’s suicide transform Kristi’s life? Kristicame to the realization that she did the best she could with what she knew at thetime, and that prompted her to educate people about the warning signs and riskfactors of depression and suicide. Kristi emphasizes that education is key.

34:12 – Kristi and Paul discuss the five stages of grief in the famous book On Death and DyingKristi argues that the information is out-of-dateand that it focuses only on long-term illness. She states that those stages don’texist in grief because everyone’s grief is unique to the relationship they hadwith that person – grief isn’t just death but it can be loss of relationship,trust, career, identity, business, faith, etc. If we tell people there arestages, we will pigeonhole ourselves and expect our grief to be done when inreality there is no timeframe for grief.

37:33 – We experience common responses but there are trulyno stages when it comes to grief. Kristi refers to STERBS (Short Term EnergyRelieving Behaviors), which are things you do to mask your grief.

38:47 – Why Kristi chooses to focus on speakingto high school students in hopes of removing the stigma so that they will growup having a better understanding of how to grieve.

39:48 – She describes the warning signs of depression andrisk factors of suicide.

42:00 – Paul asks Kristi how high school students react toher presentations, and she explains that they each take away something differentdepending on what they individually are experiencing.

43:11 – Kristi discusses her two books, What I Wish I’d Known and R UOK – both of which are tools for people to use as they dig themselves outof the tunnel of grief. She wrote these books to fill the void of the kind ofbooks she needed that would have helped her help Bill.

45:19 – Is grief something you get over?

47:06 – Kristi explains that it’s OK to share your story andbe sad as long as you’re moving forward and knowing that it’s OK to share it.Society doesn’t allow us to grieve and discuss openly.

48:35 – Kristi discusses her recovery work and how she helpsindividuals deal with the cause, not the symptoms. Loss is cumulative, andgraphing it brings all the pain up to the surface, thus allowing you to deal withand recover from it. We spend a lifetime acquiring things but we don’t have thetools to use to deal with losing something.

52:28 – Kristi announces the subjects of the next threeshows, and how she wants to educate listeners through stories about personalgrowth with actionable techniques and tools.

58:00 – If you’d like to get in touch with Kristi or requesther to speak at an event, please contact her through her web site at www.thegriefgirl.com.

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Is Your Sadness Normal?

February 26, 2016

Welcome to the first episode of The Grief Girl with your host Kristi Hugstad! Here are our show notes you can use to guide you as you listen.

0:00 – Introduction to Kristi Hugstad and her mission to abolish the stigma of depression, mental illness, and suicide. She’s an advocate for anyone who is suffering a loss of any kind – including divorce, breakup, health, job, faith, trust, and identity – all different things that we grieve. You can come here for comfort and be reminded that you’re not alone. This is a place for sharing and healing, and nothing is off limits or too tough to talk about!

2:08 – Introduction to today’s topic: Is Your Sadness Normal? with Dr. Hoffman, who is a doctor of addictive disorders and hypnotherapist specializing in helping people move through loss.

3:18 – Kristi and Dr. Hoffman discuss how to identify whether your bouts of sadness are unhealthy. Depression is a process – not a life sentence.

4:26 – Is there a formula for the duration or intensity of your sadness that correlates with depression? Dr. Hoffman explains that it’s a spiritual answer....

5:28 – What are the real symptoms of depression?

6:33 – Dr. Hoffman explains what dopamine is, how it affects your brain when dopamine is low, and how to increase it in healthy ways.

8:20 – How is dopamine different from serotonin?

9:21 – Kristi and Dr. Hoffman discuss how your diet plays a major role in solving your depressive problems. Kristi recommends the “Dopamine Diet” from Bruce Wylde.

10:15 – The significance of neuroplasticity and how it can help us. Your brain CAN grow new connections and change behavior. Dr. Hoffman recommends an article in Biological Psychiatry by J. David Creswell of Carnegie Mellon University regarding mindfulness meditation and functioning neurons.

12:08 – What are things a stressed, depressed individual avoid? Dr. Hoffman explains how the wrong kind of sympathy will harm you, and the significance of resilience.

14:47 – Paul Roberts, OC Talk Radio’s manager and sound engineer, asks how big the problem of “grief” is. Kristi explains that we tend to associate “loss” with “death,” but loss is so much more – and we don’t have the tools that should have been taught to us as children to know what to do when we lose something or someone. Dr. Hoffman brings up the “family of origin” theory, whether DNA plays a part in depression, and how we can learn resilience.

19:45 – Kristi, Dr. Hoffman, and Paul discuss depression in men, and the stigma of asking for help. 80% of all suicides are completed by men. Men are not expressing how they feel and therefore are not getting help. Kristi explains her own journey and the difficulty in helping her husband, who committed suicide three years ago: she was confused by the medley of prescription drugs given to her husband, and the lack of help from his doctors.

24:24 – Dr. Hoffman discusses the revolution of dispensing pharmaceutical drugs without helping the patient find real therapy. He refers to Joanna Moncrieff’s Myth of the Chemical Cure, which demonstrates that antidepressant drugs alone are not valid – they also need the support of a real therapist.

25:30 – Dr. Hoffman explains the differences between psychiatrists, clinical psychologists, and various kinds of therapists. Paul discusses his own experiences seeking help. Dr. Hoffman recommends MadeinAmerica.com and ShadesofAwakening.com – both of which question the validity and proof that psychiatric medicine by itself is a valid cure for anything. A lot of these medications haven’t been around long enough to have a proven history.

28:15 – Dr. Hoffman brings up the fact that techniques that the medical community calls “alternative,” such as yoga, meditation, and reiki, have actually been around thousands of years but in reality they are classic...so perhaps medication should be deemed “alternative."

29:52 – Are pharmaceuticals good or bad? The group agrees that medication isn’t necessarily bad, but patients need to look into what’s being prescribed and understand that medications should be used in conjunction with therapy.

32:00 – Should a patient go to a psychiatrist or a therapist? Dr. Hoffman explains that your health insurance tells you where you can and cannot go, and that it can often prevent patients from finding the right help outside of psychiatric drugs and pharmaceutical options. Alternative help is often not permitted by health insurance. Dr. Hoffman also points out what to look for in a good therapist.

34:13 – Kristi asks Paul about his previous battle with depression, and he describes his insights from therapy. As a society, we don’t allow ourselves to feel sadness, and we constantly and mistakenly seek an “instant pill” that will cure everything. Dr. Hoffman explains the clinical name for the inability to feel: alexithymia.

36:51 – Kristi’s recap of the big six topics and things that actually work outside of pharmaceuticals: exercise, diet, sleep, therapy, remaining socially active, and being outside in nature. Dr. Hoffman recommends learning about “green exercise” by Jules Pretty.

42:16 – Kristi asks Dr. Hoffman about meditation – people don’t really understand what it is or how to practice it. Dr. Hoffman explains that meditation and prayer are very close, and he advocates vipassana meditation: sit quietly, close your eyes, and focus on the breath...and as thoughts come up (as they inevitably will), allow them to pass and return your attention to the breath – repeatedly. You will eventually train your mind to let go, and over time the effects are dramatic. 

47:25 – Don’t allow what society pushes on us to keep us from improving our mental health. We are always on the go and don’t take the time needed to take care of ourselves. Dr. Hoffman refers to Paul Levy’s Dispelling Wetik: Breaking the Curse of Evil.

48:38 – The importance of breath: you can only be as anxiousas the depth of your breath.

50:39 – The group concludes with the power of positive thinking,and emphasizes that medication is sometimes necessary but it does requireadditional support via therapy. Dr. Hoffman brings up that Steve Jobs andEinstein were lifelong meditators, and Kristi emphasizes that self-care needsto start early.

55:20 – Dr.Hoffman may be reached at 949.212.4149 or www.soberbuddha.com. Kristi may bereached at www.thegriefgirl.com, andif you have topics you’d like Kristi to discuss on The Grief Girl show, go toher site and leave her your comments! 

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