Finding Love After Loss and Depression
Patricia was a 50 year old widow who lived alone. She had been suffering from anxiety and fibromyalgia for the past 10 years. She had pain all over her body but especially acute pain in her lumbar sacral and cervical areas. She was taking anti-anxiety and anti-depressants. Like so many sufferers of this illness, Patricia had tried every possible treatment for fibromyalgia.
She told me that she would look at photos of her deceased husband and cry. Whenever she felt sad and depressed her pains and aches became worse, but she couldn’t help it.
During our first session I taught her a self-hypnosis technique and asked her to practice it to alleviating her physical pain. I also asked her to practice another technique that consisted in feeling her body. I asked her to practice these two exercises for couple of weeks.
Patricia came back a bit relieved. She had practiced the exercises and had noticed a slight improvement. For the following seven days I gave her another task. I asked her to think of a ritual to close the chapter she had left open with her deceased husband.
“You may take out all his photos and in a ceremonial fashion perform a special ritual to close this chapter of your life behind you. You can do whatever you wish, whatever you deem appropriate to those photos. Make it into a ritual. You can put on special clothes, have incense, candles, etc. as long as it becomes a ritual.”
One week later she came back and told me that she decided to move out of her flat. So the ritual served her to clean out lots of old stuff, including photos of her deceased spouse.
“I had all his photos around me and I cried for hours”, she said. “Then I threw out all those photos and felt lighter.” She then began telling me that there is a man that she liked but she didn’t know how to fall in love.
“He is a nice man with good qualities”, she explained. “And he loves me. But I don’t know why I can’t fall in love with him.” I told her that looking for the ‘why’ would not lead to a solution. It was better to focus on ‘how’. I told her of something I had learned while living in Italy; a saying that goes “L’appetito viene mangiando”, which means “Appetite comes as you eat.”
“Instead of waiting for love to appear in your heart”, I suggested, “start taking small actions in that direction. You can start by dating him, hold his hands, feel his embrace and enjoy his kisses. Let the rest come slowly.”
Acting as if is a powerful way to kick start a self-fulfilling prophecy. This prediction causes itself to become true due to a positive feedback process between belief and behavior. Although 20th-century sociologist Robert K. Merton coined this expression, other authors have pointed out its use and applications to improve our lives. One such thinker was Blaise Pascal, the French mathematician and philosopher who recognized the difficulty that rational thinking posed for faith. Pascal proposed acting as if you believed, could cure you of unbelief. As I mentioned in another article, Piaget demonstrated that humans learn by doing, and not by thinking. When we take small actions toward a certain direction, we gather, along the way, reasons to form a new cognition to support our new attitude.
Patricia agreed to take small actions as if she was in love with her gentleman friend with many good qualities. After all, I explained to her that she had nothing to lose. If she didn’t eventually feel love towards him, she could stop the relationship from going any further.
For the next few weeks I asked her to keep practicing the techniques for pain control and to date that man. I also asked her to find a different name for fibromyalgia. I explained to her that fibromyalgia is a vague label and that even the experts haven’t pinpointed its cause. Now that she was learning how to get the edge off the pain and reduce its intensity, she could choose a name for it that meant something to her. She was free to use humor and creativity to come up with a new name.
The next time I saw Patricia was a month later. She reported that she enjoyed dating and felt loved. She also had felt that ‘a tiny flame of love’ had ignited in her heart but she didn’t want to declare victory just yet. Occasionally she had cried but very briefly. Since she had felt better emotionally the pain didn’t bothered her much. I asked her what name she had chosen for the pain.
“Alive”, she said with a smile.
She explained that she felt more positive about her body when she said to herself that she had ‘alive’ instead of ‘fibromyalgia’. When she had pain in her back and neck, she would think that this was a way of her body to remind her that she was alive. Then she practiced the self-hypnosis techniques I taught her to manage it.