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.