The Grief Girl

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

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