Grief brings a bittersweet birthday this year.

My birthday is coming up at the end of this month. Although I’m very excited about it, I’m also dealing with some feelings of sadness and grief. Josh’s birthday was only a few days before mine, so we always used to celebrate it together on a day in the middle. It was our tradition for all the years we were together.

He would have turned 30 this year, and he always dreaded turning 30. Last year he forgot how old he was and started musing about how awful it was to be turning 30; he forgot he had one more year to go. 😛 Part of me smiles knowing that he didn’t have to leave the 20’s that he wanted to stay in, but the other part of me grieves deeply because I know he would have grown so much and enjoyed life immensely in his 30’s. He had finally found happiness and a new life to explore, and then it was cruelly snatched away.

Christmas is going to be hard too. Christmas day was the last day that I saw him conscious and got to talk to him; the next day he went into the coma and he passed away a week later.

Grief is hard. Even when everything is generally going well, it can pop up at a moment’s notice and hit like a brick in the face until the newly uncovered emotional layer is effectively processed. It’s often confusing because there are lots of happy memories mixed in too, so I can feel both happiness and sadness simultaneously. I’m doing much better with coping with it, though. And the medication has made a massive difference. But sometimes I still cry because I miss him. He was my best friend for almost a decade, and it still feels strange not being able to message him on Facebook to tell him about the funny things the cats are doing, especially since Facebook occasionally makes it feel like he’s still around by recommending pages that he’d liked when he was alive, or reminding me of past photo memories. Pinterest still suggests him every time I try to send a pin because we used to share pins to each other all the time. Even though we weren’t a couple anymore, he was still my dear friend and we’d been through a lot together. Losing him has been like losing a piece of myself.

I suppose all death is like that, at least when we lose people who are a significant part of our lives. They’re gone, and we have to adjust to living without them. I’m glad he’s not suffering anymore, he’d had long drawn out battles with cancer before and had dreaded that more than anything, but it’s still hard to get used to this new reality.

This year is going to have some very difficult “firsts”. First birthday without him, first Christmas since he died, first anniversary of his death… I still find it hard to browse the comic section at Chapters because he loved comic books and that’s where he always was when we shopped there. It’s like he’s still there just around the corner, looking for more Spiderman comics. He gave me several Batgirl comic books as a parting gift when we separated, and I can’t open them without getting very emotional. He’d written a letter in the front of the first one, and I forgot about it one day and I was looking for something easy to read. Instant waterworks. We may not have been very compatible romantically, but we were best friends and we’d always supported each other through our changes and even through our separation. This is what he wrote:

Laura, I know you’re not a big comic reader, but I thought Batgirl might be a literary character that could provide you some inspiration.

See in this new series, Barbara has recovered from a life altering difficulty and feels she is ready to take things on her own again. She has to convince family, mentors, friends, and at times that she is able to take care of herself, help others and face challenges on her own.

As you enjoy and discover your independence, I hope Batgirl’s journey will aid your own as you show yourself and others that you’re ready to do awesome stuff on your own.

Barbara was wheelchair bound for many years and literally had to trust herself to stand on her own two feet. Gaining independence is like finally getting out of the wheelchair. Trust yourself and you’ll do great.

This is a character who is funny, witty, intelligent, kind, honest, authentic, sexy, and badass. She’s good willed and the kind of friend you want to have, but she’s not a pushover. A female character who is strong and soft at the same time. You have a lot in common with her.”

You can probably see why the waterworks start whenever I open that book. I’ve managed to read part of the first book, but I’ve never been able to get very far without feeling too emotional. So, they sit on my shelf waiting for the day that the pain has healed enough for me to read it all. It’ll happen when I’m ready.

But I’m far stronger than I was before he died, so although I know there will be more emotional moments like this, I also know that I’ll be ok. I may need to momentarily hide myself away on some of these occasions to grieve, but it’s something I’ve been preparing myself for and I know it’s just part of the process.

There’s a time to laugh, and a time to be sad. A time to smile, and a time to cry. A big part of emotional maturity is learning to accept this and not beat ourselves up for experiencing difficult or uncomfortable emotions. Stifling emotions hinders growth and healing. Acknowledging them, and expressing and managing them in healthy ways, is essential for getting through grief. So today I’ll let myself cry and watch sappy sad movies and look at old pictures of happy memories, and then tomorrow I’ll get up again and face the world a little bit stronger.

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Grief and Depression

The mind is like the rest of the body. When we’re healthy, we can handle far more physical illness or injury than we could if we were already sick or hurt. If I get a cold when I’ve been healthy, recovery shouldn’t be too hard. But if I’m already worn out from a flu the week before, that cold will hit a lot harder and probably last longer. Mental health is no different.

Responses to grief can become far worse when a loss occurs after mental health is already compromised. Each loss compounds on the last because the last wasn’t fully healed yet. In my case, major losses and stress have been compounding for years. At this point I can’t even tell which one I’m grieving a lot of the time. Did I really heal from the earlier ones? Are they all there in my head somewhere? Probably.

I don’t know what it’s like to have a depression disorder. However, grief often involves depression, at least temporarily. It can also be much harder to deal with if the grief is severe or compounded, sometimes becoming a temporary or long term disorder if it’s not dealt with properly and in a timely manner after the loss.

Lately I’ve been dealing with feelings of worthlessness and guilt, and I feel like I can’t do anything right. I obsess over things I say or do far more than usual, even little things, thinking I must have fucked it up somehow. Sadness is always right there under the surface waiting for a reason to surface and send me into another spiral of negative emotion. This morning I woke up and within half an hour I was crying. Why? I don’t know. It doesn’t make sense, nothing bad or triggering has even had a chance to happen yet today.

But grief is strange. It fluctuates. Some days I’m happy and feel carefree again, and it’s a beautiful ray of sunshine that I cling to with both hands because I know it may not be long before anxiety and depression symptoms come back and cruelly tear it away again. I’ve always been a pretty happy upbeat person; happiness is something I took for granted. But like health, we don’t always appreciate it until it’s under threat. Not that I’m sad all the time, but lately when I’m not sad I’m often just “neutral” with a side of melancholy.

Part of addressing my mental health involves trying to recognize what I feel and why. Understanding that these feelings of worthlessness and guilt and failure are largely stemming from normal grief symptoms, while it doesn’t make them go away, does help me deal with them a little better. I know that my emotional feelings of failure may not actually be grounded in reality. Just because I worry that I said or did the wrong thing doesn’t mean I did. And if I did, is it really the end of the world? Maybe, but probably not. Life goes on even when we mess up. Everything feels like a bigger deal in my head, especially since I have always hated the idea of hurting anyone. If I accidentally screw up and become aware of it, I’ll apologize and do whatever it takes to make it right. That and learning from my mistakes is all I can really do.

To those who deal with depression and other mental health disorders regularly: People don’t give you anywhere near enough credit for what you deal with everyday. You may not either, especially if your disorder causes you to feel like a failure. But every day that you pick up the pieces and keep going as best you can anyways is a battle you’ve won, even if it doesn’t feel like it. You’re a warrior fighting a battle that few really understand or appreciate.

Sometimes it IS more than we can handle. Hold on anyways.

hope-463567_1920Growing up I heard the phrase “God won’t send you anything you can’t handle!” I’ve heard similar cliches along that same line of thought even outside of a religious context. The idea is the same: We’re supposedly capable of handling anything that life throws at us, if we just try hard enough.

Bullshit.

Sometimes life throws more at us than we can possibly handle.

It’s why we sometimes curl up in a little ball, unable to function because what life has thrown our way is more than we can rationally deal with.

It’s why some turn to substance abuse or self harm.

It’s why some end their own lives.

It’s why people die of disease or injury. Can you honestly tell me that someone who died suddenly of a fatal disease or a violent crime was able to handle what life threw at them? They may have fought valiantly, but in the end the disease or their assailant won.

Life isn’t fair. It doesn’t look at our emotional or physical strengths and dole out just enough to mess us up without actually destroying us. Watch any nature documentary and you’ll see how insensitive life truly is to what an individual wants or needs. It CAN destroy us. And you don’t have to be six feet under for life to have destroyed you.

I’m not going to tell you that you can get through anything if you simply try hard enough or think lots of positive thoughts. Sometimes it’s just not enough. But I am going to tell you that you should never stop trying. Why? Because the moment we stop trying is the moment we lose any chance of getting through it.

If there’s even the slightest hope of reaching the light at the end of whatever dark tunnel we’re trudging through, we must do what all life has evolved to do- try our best to survive.

Sometimes we can’t see a light anywhere. It’s just darkness and pain. In those moments we may need the help of those we trust to help us see that there is still hope, that life is still worth fighting for. Other times, there truly isn’t a reasonable hope. When someone is undeniably at death’s door, there comes a point where it’s better to cherish those last moments in peace instead of pointlessly fighting the inevitable. But until then, hope is not lost. Even if it’s more than you can handle, as long as you’re still alive your story still has room for happier chapters.

I’m only 27, but I’ve already been through more life insanity than many people twice my age. Those who follow my blog know about a small portion of it. Though I certainly can’t pretend to understand everyone else’s life struggles, I do know what it’s like to have to face the unfaceable and somehow get up and keep going anyways. I know how it feels to be knocked flat on my back over and over, barely being able to catch my breath before another blow comes to knock me down again. But despite all of it, life is still worth fighting for. I know that as long as I’m still breathing there is hope for better days, even if I can’t see it in that exact moment. I know this because I’ve had beautiful moments in life too. In between the chaos and horror, life has shown me beauty and love and happiness too. They’re easily forgotten in the midst of an unbearable event, but that doesn’t mean they never happened or that they can’t ever happen again. And those glimpses of happiness and beauty remind me that life isn’t all bad; it’s still worth fighting for.

I’m not suicidal. Please don’t worry about that. But recently someone in my local community took their own life, and I know many others are dealing with unbearable life circumstances. If you are dealing with suicidal thoughts, please talk to someone who can help you.

http://suicideprevention.ca/thinking-about-suicide/…

http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

How to Treat People When They’re Grieving

  
So this huge loss has taught me a lot of lessons about grief and how people respond to it (or how they should respond to it). I’m writing this from the perspective of someone who recently lost a close loved one suddenly to illness, but this can also apply to people who have recently experienced other traumatic losses and life changes as well. 
Have realistic expectations. 

The people most affected by the loss are going to be stressed and grieving even if you don’t personally see it outwardly. It may go on for a very long time, depending on the cause and extent of the grief. A few of the many potential symptoms of stress and grief are:
* Loss of appetite

* Sleep disruption 

* Fatigue even after a full night’s sleep

* Mood swings that may be extreme at times 

* Symptoms similar to depression 

* Feeling overwhelmed by large groups of people or specific social situations

* Sensory overload, such as bright lights and loud noises causing distress  

* Memory triggers that can result in waves of emotion at the drop of a hat

* Denial or avoidance of reality 

* Shutting down emotions to protect themselves (this may come in waves) 

* Virtually any emotion you can think of accelerated far above normal levels for that person 

* Memory and focus problems that may affect work, school, conversations, social situations, and so on. 

* Wanting to be alone (or the exact opposite) 

* Orgasms may be difficult or impossible for some people 

* Interest in sex may diminish, increase, or change drastically

* Risky or harmful behavior may occur 
You may be able to recognize some of these symptoms outwardly, but others often hide very well. You may never see the full effects of their grief; they may look like they’re back to normal. Don’t make the mistake of assuming that someone who just suffered a traumatic loss is now fine just because they start doing many of the things they used to do. For many people their old routines and favorite activities feel safe even whether they’re actually enjoying them or not. Or those moments of enjoyment may be merely spacers between periods of depression and emotional chaos. 
Other things to remember:
They’re probably very behind on responding to all the various types of messages they’ve received and they likely have many unusual demands on their attention, time, and energy. Don’t take it personally if it takes them a while to reply to your message or if they miss it in the chaos. 
There are always some people who have no respect for their loss and the trauma it involves. They might be pushy, demanding, belittle or invalidate their suffering, blame the person for not handling things their way or in their time frame, or use the situation to push their opinions or religion onto the grieving person. And there are always people who are trying to tell them how they should grieve and who may even chide them for it. This causes even more stress. 
There are often unexpected costs involved after someone’s death so they might be having financial difficulties. They might also be doing just fine so giving them money may not be necessary or desired. It’s often best to ask them what they actually need. 
Their grief and stress symptoms may be causing difficulties at school, work, in social situations, etc.  
Don’t tell people how to grieve.



We’re all different. Some of us need space, others need people there to comfort them. Some won’t show many signs of grief outwardly and it can be easy to erroneously assume that they’re back to their normal selves. Or maybe they haven’t been able to process the loss yet. It can take time for it to really sink in. Others may cry at the drop of a hat anywhere, anytime, with anyone. Others might not be able to eat or sleep, whether they cry outwardly or not. Some rely on prayer and religion for comfort, others don’t. There’s no right or wrong way to grieve. Offer advice and help if they’re open to it, but don’t imply that your way is the only way to effectively manage grief. It isn’t.  

The Five Stages of Grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance) are great information tools, but as the original author later clarified, it’s not a series of linear steps for people to try to follow. They’re simply common experiences that might occur for us at any time or in any order, or even several at once. While acceptance is the goal for many, acceptance doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re ok with the loss. It might mean that we’ve simply accepted that it happened and we have to live with it now. Pushing people through these stages because you think they ought to be in a different one is not helpful. 
Let people grieve.



It’s normal. And it’s actually very important to go through the grieving process. It may sound weird to some, but experiencing all these awful things is better than holding it in or pretending it doesn’t exist. It’ll just cause more problems in the long run. 
If their more extreme symptoms of grief and stress continue for long periods of time and start to cause health problems or other damaging results such as potential job loss, or if you have concerns about suicidal thoughts or self harm, then it’s ok to get worried and to step in. But until then, let them grieve and don’t make them feel like they’re abnormal for it.  
Accept people are they are. 



This is not the time to try to change people. Accept them as they are, not as you’d like them to be.  

For others who have experienced a traumatic loss or have seen people they know go through it, are there things you’d add to this? And for those who have little or no experience with this, do you have questions about how to support people dealing with grief? Since everyone grieves so differently, it can sometimes be hard to know what to say or what to do. I’ve been on the other end too so I know that feeling. 

Dealing with failure.

This is a blog I wrote about a week ago when I was dealing with some really hard stuff. I’m feeling much better now, and I’m ready to share it here in hope that it’ll help someone else. For those who aren’t used to my occasional expressive language, I tend to be blunt when I’m expressing my deeper feelings, so if you want to know what goes on in my head you’ll just have to take me as I am. 🙂

 

Failure. Sometimes we’re just not able to complete a task that we started due to circumstances that are unfortunately out of our control, and that’s ok. Failure means we tried, and we can always try again until we get it right. Most people who accomplish great things have far more failures under their belts than successes. If we reach for the stars and fall short, we’ve still reached higher than those who never try at all. I understand the wisdom in all of this, and I know that I’ll always continue trying. However…

Fuck all that.

Failing at something I worked so hard on feels shitty as hell. Even if I know I did my best and can try again, the fact still remains that I wasn’t able to complete a goal that I set for myself. And it hurts.

I’ve never been a quitter. I usually latch on and keep going until there’s no possible way I can move forward any further. But given the insanity of this past year, I’m being forced to acknowledge that my current mental and emotional state means that I can’t have my usual high expectations of myself.

What I’m failing at is school. I already failed Spanish class this week, and sitting in Music Theory today I realized there’s no way I’m going to pass that class either. I may be able to salvage my Critical Thinking class because it’s very easy and my teacher is so chill, but that’s about it.

Normally being in school wouldn’t be a huge deal. It would be stressful at times, but I’m well versed in pushing through stress. This year, though, my goals were way too lofty. I started out the semester trying to manage a full time course load on top of working part time, dealing with untreated ADD (and who knows what else), enduring massive amounts of situational stress, and so on. I was attempting to learn two complicated languages at the same time (Spanish and Music Theory). I also wasn’t taking the time I needed to recharge and care for my mental health.

Because of this, I was unable to absorb a lot of the material in my classes early in the semester, and I’m still having trouble with it. I feel like I’ve been absent for most of my classes even though my attendance has been excellent. I should have mastered basic Music Theory by now, but I feel like I’ve barely learned anything.

My goal in taking classes isn’t to get marks on a paper, although I do value getting good grades. It was to learn new skills and improve on old ones. If I didn’t learn what I needed to this semester, then even if I somehow passed the class I should really retake it so I build the skills I need. What good is a grade if I still can’t read music afterwards?

And yet, the thought of failing not only one class but most of a semester rips my heart out. I value intelligence and knowledge, and feeling like I’m unable to pursue that side of myself the way I want to right now makes me very upset. I know in my head that focusing on building myself back up will result in a far better school year next year, and that I started the semester with very unrealistic goals, but at the moment it’s hard to see anything but failure.

It frustrates me because nothing I’m learning is beyond my comprehension normally- but this year hasn’t exactly been normal.

I hate the thought of giving up on something that I’ve put so much effort into. I feel like I ought to be able to just push a little harder, just focus a bit more, set aside a little more energy. But apparently I’ve already been giving everything I have, and it’s not enough.

But this isn’t the end. One way or another, I’m not giving up. This semester is a setback and it’s going to take a while for me to work through these emotions, but I won’t let it stop me from reaching my goal of getting into the advanced music program next fall. There’s a slower paced music theory class next semester that my teacher recommended. I think it would be a great option, as long as I only take that and violin lessons so I’m not overloaded. I’ll retake Music Theory as many times as I need to, and I’ll set more realistic goals of what I can handle. I’ll be fairer to myself in setting aside time and resources for things that recharge me.

My mental picture of the life I want to create for myself keeps me going. I’m a damn good musician and vocalist, and I know I’m cut out to make music my career. I’ll make it happen… even if it requires taking every fucking class twice to get there.

Quotes: Mental Health and Overcoming Sh*t

I kinda want to frame some of these. I was compiling this list for myself this week while processing stuff related to my ADD and mental health, and thought I’d share them since I know many of you are dealing with similar things or know people who are. What quotes encourage you?

Never give up. Today is hard, tomorrow will be worse, but the day after tomorrow will be sunshine.
Jack Ma

Survival can be summed up in three words – never give up. That’s the heart of it really. Just keep trying.
Bear Grylls

There isn’t anybody out there who doesn’t have a mental health issue, whether it’s depression, anxiety, or how to cope with relationships. Having OCD is not an embarrassment anymore – for me. Just know that there is help and your life could be better if you go out and seek the help.
Howie Mandel

The problem with the stigma around mental health is really about the stories that we tell ourselves as a society. What is normal? That’s just a story that we tell ourselves.
Matthew Quick

We take our kids for physical vaccinations, dental exams, eye checkups. When do we think to take our – our son or daughter for a mental health checkup?
Gordon Smith

If mental illness could be seen on a sufferer maybe society wouldn’t say “just get over it.”
Lonely Lotus

When we deny the story, it define us. When we own the story, we can write a brave new ending.
Brene Brown

Never underestimate the pain of a person, because in all honesty, everyone is struggling. Just some people are better at hiding it than others.

Masquerading as a normal person, day after day, is just exhausting.

The two most powerful words when we’re in struggle: ‘me too’.
(YES!! This has been so huge for me, knowing that I’m not the only person who deals with this stuff.)

When someone is going through a storm, your silent presence is more powerful than a million empty words.
Thelma Davis

I am the same person I was before you found out I have a mental disorder.

Your illness does not define you. Your strength and courage does.

From the outside looking in, it’s hard to understand. from the inside looking out, it’s hard to explain.

Do not apologize for crying. Without this emotion, we are only robots.
Elizabeth Gilbert

Nobody realizes that some people expend tremendous energy merely to be normal. -Albert Camus

Don’t be ashamed of your story, it will inspire others.

No one would ever say that someone with a broken arm or a broken leg is less than a whole person, but people say that or imply that all the time about people with mental illness.
Elyn Saks

I think the stigma attached to mental illness will disappear just like it did for cancer years ago.
Sally Graham

I fight for my health every day in ways most people don’t understand. I’m not lazy. I’m a warrior.

I am not a victim. No matter what I have been through, I’m still here. I have a history of victory.
Steve Maraboli

The mentally ill frighten and embarrass us. And so we marginalize the people who most need our acceptance. What mental health needs is more sunlight, more candor, more unashamed conversation.
Glenn Close

“Your perspective on life comes from the cage you were held captive in.”
― Shannon L. Alder

“i think the idea of a ‘mental health day’ is something completely invented by people who have no clue what it’s like to have bad mental health. the idea that your mind can be aired out in twenty-four hours is kind of like saying heart disease can be cured if you eat the right breakfast cereal. mental health days only exist for people who have the luxury of saying ‘i don’t want to deal with things today’ and then can take the whole day off, while the rest of us are stuck fighting the fights we always fight, with no one really caring one way or another, unless we choose to bring a gun to school or ruin the morning announcements with a suicide.”
― David Levithan, Will Grayson, Will Grayson

I really liked this one in particular.

“Mental illness

People assume you aren’t sick
unless they see the sickness on your skin
like scars forming a map of all the ways you’re hurting.

My heart is a prison of Have you tried?s
Have you tried exercising? Have you tried eating better?
Have you tried not being sad, not being sick?
Have you tried being more like me?
Have you tried shutting up?

Yes, I have tried. Yes, I am still trying,
and yes, I am still sick.

Sometimes monsters are invisible, and
sometimes demons attack you from the inside.
Just because you cannot see the claws and the teeth
does not mean they aren’t ripping through me.
Pain does not need to be seen to be felt.

Telling me there is no problem
won’t solve the problem.

This is not how miracles are born.
This is not how sickness works.”
― Emm Roy, The First Step

Learning to Embrace Vulnerability and Self-Care.

Being vulnerable is hard. And asking for help when we’re feeling vulnerable can be even harder.

I’ve always been the one that’s there for everyone else. And sometimes I would give everything out to others, but not get much back in return. Not that we should help others for what they can do for us, but I didn’t know how ‘recharge my battery’ elsewhere. I didn’t know how to ask for help when I needed it; I only knew how to give and many of them were only able to take. And so I often burned myself out trying to solve everyone else’s problems while ignoring my own. I didn’t know how to be vulnerable.

Give until it hurts.

Ignore your own wants and needs to serve everyone else.

Always help others, but your own needs are a burden that no one wants to deal with.

Having needs makes you unlovable. (This one has been so hard for me.)

These thoughts aren’t healthy. Continual self-sacrifice is not the heroic, courageous ideal that I used to think it was. Of course we need to help each other- but if we destroy ourselves in the process, we’re not really bettering the situation because now we’re broken too. It’s like giving all of your food away to others while wasting away from hunger yourself, and then wondering why you’re too weak to hand out bread anymore.

Care for others. It’s important. But care for yourself too. It’s been said that “Your compassion is lacking if it doesn’t include yourself.” (I think Buddha said this?)

It’s still hard for me to show my weaknesses to others, or to ask for my own needs to be met. It still feels selfish, like I’m being a burden. I’m used to being strong, the one everyone can rely on, the one who always has it all together. I don’t know what to do with myself when it’s me on the other end of the tissue box, other than to write lots and lots of journal blogs to spam your feed with as I process stuff. 😛 Part of me would rather suffer in private where no one can see me, so I can pretend that I’m still super girl- ready to save the world single handedly as usual. But that’s not reality, and I’m tired of wearing so many masks to hide the imperfect human being underneath. It’s not weakness to have needs or to be vulnerable.

https://youtu.be/TA6IA7PEmbQ

By the way, I’m doing fine tonight. This isn’t intended to get messages saying “are you ok?” Not that I don’t appreciate them. 🙂 I’m just musing as usual. Or rambling, that likely fits too. 😛 lol. I suppose this is what happens when you cross a talkative extrovert with a deep-thinking introvert who happens to write for a living.