December 7, 2020
We’ve all heard the phrase ‘fake it ’til you make it.’
It’s a phrase used to inspire us to jump into action in the face of trials or accomplish a seemingly insurmountable goal.
On the heels of my mom’s death in 2012 and even this year following my dad’s death, many people offered advice about how to cope with grief. Some argued the importance of taking care of myself along the journey. On the other hand, most suggested (at least after my mom’s death) that the only way to ‘get over’ death was to ‘fake it ’til I [made] it.’ Like somehow if I just pretended that everything was OK, after a while, things would be OK.
Now that I look back on the latter advice, I can see its absurdity. At the time, however, I applied the grit-filled method for a while, in hopes that I’d quickly bounce back from devastating loss.
Despite my best effort, grief bogarted its way into every aspect of my life. Concentrating became increasingly difficult, a side effect of ‘grief brain.’ Memories flooded my mind at every turn. Sleep evaded me, in spite of my desperate attempts to partner with it. And my chest felt as if a brick sat firmly on it with no relief in sight.
I tried to fake it. I really did.
Fake smiles. Fake focus. Fake listening. Fake laughter.
This is what so many told me would help. It’s what I thought I needed.
But friends, this simply wasn’t the case. All my faking did was land me in the doctor’s office over and over again, with him stating matter-of-factly, “Mekel, everything looks just fine.”
But things were FAR from fine. I felt grief’s grip in my bones, my heart, and with every breath I took. ‘What is the problem?’ I continued to ask myself.
Little did I know that the answer to my question would be found in a therapist’s office. Months after my mom died, I sat across the room from a talented professional who listened to depths of pain I’d never shared with others at the time. Session after session, I resisted grief. It wasn’t me. I hated it. So I faked my way through week after week after painful week.
After a dozen or so sessions, I continued to feel exhausted, complaining about a host of physical ailments. Headaches. Insomnia. Stomach upset. I shared, and my therapist listened. Until she leaned towards me in her chair one evening and gently asked, “Mekel, what would it look like if you relaxed into the pain of your mom’s death?”
I’d love to say that in an instant, I dropped the veil I’d worked so hard to hide behind and surrendered.
What really happened is I became angry. ‘How dare she ask me to do something so impossible!’
But it became clearer — as my stress continued to mount, and my body didn’t relent — that I could no longer fake my way through grief.
This compassionate and caring therapist taught me, over the course of several sessions, how to FACE IT until I made it. How to relax into the pain of grief. Sit with it. Express my feelings in the midst of it.
I know, I know … this sounds impossible! But read on, my friend.
Here are the three tools my therapist offered in the summer of 2013, ones that I’ve applied this year in the wake of my dad’s death.
What are you facing today? Grief and loss? Anger? Disappointment?
Whatever it is, don’t fool yourself into thinking that ‘faking it ’til you make it’ is the way to feel better. It. will. not. work.
Make today the day you FACE IT ’til you make it. Decide to look into the mirror of your pain and take action.
You’re not alone, my friend. Not today. Not any day.
Know that as we move along this journey called life, facing what life brings head-on will only bring us closer to ourselves and our peace.
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