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.

Saying Goodbye.

I’ve put off writing this because it didn’t feel real. But it’s time.
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Josh, you’re gone. You’re not coming back. And that thought is so hard for me to wrap my head around. No words I can write can fully express the void your death has left.
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I watched you struggle with your health for so many years. When we started out, I knew that there was a chance that this day could come. This was my greatest fear all those years, that the cancer you’d already battled twice in different forms would come back a third time and take you away for good. On January second my worst fear came to pass; a deadly disease finally took you. My one small consolation is that you didn’t know your life was ending when you went into the coma. You went in like you’ve always been, a fighter.
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We may have ended our romantic partnership a while ago, but our friendship spanned nearly a decade. We went through so much together, there are so many memories. You were the one constant in my life through so many major life changes; you were the one who was there for me when so few others were. You were there when so many others walked away after my beliefs changed and I came out as LGBTQ. I will never forget that. I don’t know how I would have endured the rejection and judgment without your support. You showed me how to think for myself, you taught me how to question things that others accepted without question. It’s a life skill I desperately needed to learn.
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You were one of the best people I’ve ever known, and now the world doesn’t get to really see you in the way you deserved. The world is a much darker place without you in it. Despite the grief and loss that I’m experiencing now, I wouldn’t change any of it. What you brought into my life was worth the pain I feel now.
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Love takes many forms; it’s not always romantic. I still loved you, even if it was a different kind of love than we started out with. I suppose a part of me always will.
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I don’t want to say goodbye. It brings too many tears, and I’m already running low on tissues. But if I don’t, I’ll keep convincing myself that you’re just busy, that I’ll get a text any day now. Or that I’ll run into you downtown and we’ll catch up on life like we always did. I’ll keep trying to pretend that this was all just a big mistake, even though deep down I know it’s not. It’s become impossible to pretend anymore. And yet the thought of adjusting to this new reality is so hard to bear.
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Goodbye, Josh. You were loved.
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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. 

I’m grieving today… and an open letter to those who cause me pain

They push, push, push, and then get angry when you finally snap.

They poke countless little holes into your heart and then can’t understand why your heart overflows with pain and anger every time they try to poke another.

They hurt without apology, inflict pain with no sign of remorse or desire to change, and then blame you for the problem.

They are always trying to prove themselves right, and you wrong. The truth doesn’t matter; understanding each other doesn’t matter. All that matters is that they’re right, and for you to know and acknowledge that they’re right.

They can see you as stubborn, obstinate, and unyielding; and yet they refuse to admit when they’re wrong and won’t lift a finger to mend things between you.

They beat you with their Bible and their religion, and can’t understand why you devote time to countering their hurtful messages and pointing out flaws in their weaponized Holy Book.

They hurt you over, and over, and over again. But it’s unacceptable for you to ever hurt them back. You must TAKE the pain but never cause them pain in return, even if the pain you deal out is only in an attempt to make them stop or the result of grief. You can never call them out on their bullshit because “that’s rude”.

But I won’t be like them. I may give in to my pain for a moment, I’m human and I sometimes react in hurt and anger like everyone else, but I will never allow myself to be like them. I will strive to never be so hard that I cannot admit when I’m wrong. I will always try to understand and respect others even if I disagree with them. And I will always try to inject LOVE into everything that I do. But I will also not stand for bullshit. I’ve been a doormat for too long, and I won’t ever fucking be one again.

Hear me, and hear me well: If you beat me with your religion, I will defend myself. If you try to poke more holes in my heart, I will call you on it and push you back far enough so you can’t hurt me again. If you pick a fight with me, I’ll put you in your place without apology. That’s not being rude, that’s being strong. And you will not make me feel bad for finally growing a backbone. If I cannot reason with you, then perhaps my firm responses will deter you from trying to hurt me again.

But also hear this: I don’t like to live in conflict. I’d much rather be friends and live in peace with you. If you show even a slight effort to change, if you try to fix things but fail a lot, I’ll bend over backwards to work with you. I can overlook many things when I know the person is making a genuine effort to accept me and make things better. It is not my desire to be at war with you.

So will you put down your weapons and meet me in the middle of this battleground? Can we stop fighting and start truly listening to one another? That’s what I’d like above all else. But I can’t do it alone.

I’m grieving today. Grieving for what I’ve lost, for the close relationships that were poisoned by fundamentalism and intolerance and religiously fueled narcissistic tenancies. Grieving for people in my life who have so drastically changed how they act towards me simply because I believe differently now. Gone is the seemingly unconditional acceptance and adoration, the praise and the trust; in its place are judgment, stereotypes, suspicion, mistrust, blame and anger. Pain pours from my heart every time they remind me of how little they respect and understand who I am now.

But I’ll survive, I always do. And at the end of this day of grieving I’ll be stronger than I was this morning. Because that’s what we do- we pick ourselves up and move forward no matter what they do to us. That’s what survivors do. And above all, I am a survivor.

Grieving-the-loss-of-relationships-that-will-never-be-can-also-be-a-lot-like-thisgrieving-takes-time