Grief is something we will all experience at some point, it’s unavoidable and it’s horrible. Grief can be caused by the death of someone we love, or by another type of loss like loosing a job, a pet, the deterioration of our health, moving house, or a relationship ending. But the effects are almost always the same, and can be felt and seen in a number of ways.
However, when someone is also coping with depression and/or anxiety, loss can often feel unbearable and un-recoverable. Loss is always difficult, but it can be difficult to tell what is grief and what is depressive or anxious behavior or habits, especially since there are many symptoms that occur in both. For example, the lists below are Blurt It Out’s examples of things one may commonly experience when grieving. However, the examples in italics are also things one may commonly experience when suffering from depression or anxiety:
Feelings of failure
Weight loss or gain
Loss of appetite or overeating
Difficulty making decisions
While these experiences are listed, they are not the only ways one experiences grief, and it is also completely normal to feel these experiences and others when you are grieving. Loss can often be a big shock and many of the reactions, particularly the physical ones, are examples of our fight or flight instincts working to protect the body. By knowing and accepting that these feelings are at least normal, we can be reminded that they will pass, which can make the grieving process easier to cope with. It will be painful, it will be really bloody painful, and nothing we can do or say can take that away. However, you will, in time, learn to accept it and the pain will, gradually, ease, even if it never fully goes away.
Recently I experienced a very personal loss, but because I live in Korea, and I do not have the money for a plane ticket at such short notice, I cannot go home to attend the funeral which really, really hurts. I feel incredibly guilty that I cannot be there and that I wasn’t there for her passing in the first place. I knew that I would eventually have to cope with grief of some sort after I made the decision to move away, but I had no idea I would experience it in my first year living here, and I had hoped to live here long enough to save money in order to go home if and when I needed. It has been hard to grieve, especially when I’m not sure if what I’m feeling if normal grief, or if its pushed further because of my depression and my anxiety. In order to try and help myself, I read many articles and tried to research the many different models of grief, and tried to find the advice that was most appropriate for me.
The most widely known model is the Kübler-Ross Five Stage Model based on observations of what a person typically experienced as they came to realize their own mortality: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. While there are many models of ‘how to grieve’ I feel its so important to say that grieving, like so many other things, is not one size fits all. Everyone mourns differently. It is also important to remember that love endures death, and that the loss of a loved one is not something that you can just “get over”.The work of grief involves learning to live with and adjust to loss. All models of grief are similar in that they view grief not as a passive process, but as something that requires a lot of work and a lot of time.
However I wanted to share my Top 3 reminders that helped and are still helping me as I grieve so far away from what I’m used to:
1) Forgive Yourself
We often have regrets when we lose someone close to us, whether its feeling we should’ve spent more time with them, wishing that we had told them something, or, like me, feeling guilty that we weren’t there for them or for their family. The way that we react to death can also lead to feelings of guilt; I still feel guilty whenever I feel happy, like I’m being disrespectful or selfish. I feel like I haven’t been sad enough or cried enough. However, we need to know that these feelings are all part of the process of grief and we need to accept them and talk about them to be able to forgive ourselves. We cannot change the past but we are able to move forward, and moving forward in our own time is a natural thing to do.
2) Don’t lock yourself away.
It is also important to keep to a routine. When we experience grief we can close down and close off from the outside world. I did this, I felt like it was too much to deal with everything and everyone and I just wanted to rest and wanted to avoid sensory overloads. I shut of my social media and avoided the internet for almost a full week. This is absolutely okay, recovery time is important. However, it is important to keep some sort of routine. Try to eat at regular times, go to bed and get up at normal times, even if you are struggling to sleep. Try to see other people and get outside at least once a day, even if it just to sit outside. Allow others to help you. More than that, actively ask people to help you. When you lose someone close to you, people will offer you help, and it’s more than okay to accept this. You can ask people to come and keep you company, cook meals for you or with you, do your shopping, help with cleaning, walk your dog, whatever it is that you need. The list is endless. Often people want to help you but don’t know how to – reach out to people if you need to.
3) Be prepared to not feel ‘normal’ for a while.
Even when we think we might have processed our grief, something can happen to trigger sad and upsetting feelings all over again. Sometimes there are triggers you can recognise or predict and you can prepare for them. On days or at times when you know it might be difficult, do something to celebrate the person you have lost. Accept that there will be triggers, and that some may be a surprise, and that they will be hard to deal with but know that these too shall pass. Again, grief is a very personal emotion and it’s important to do what is right for you, however, do try not to be alone at these times and let someone know if you are struggling.
The individual and unique stages we all go through are normal and the only way to get through the grief process is to experience grief fully. For some people this will take longer than others and that is normal too. Also, don’t feel like you need to rush your grief, if you take longer than others, that’s okay. Take your time.
Remember, healing from your grief does not mean you forget your loved ones. They will always be there, and will always be a key part of your life and who you are. You will always miss them but it’s true that all things will eventually heal with time.. In time we do learn to move forward with our own lives. It’s a similar message to what I tell myself when I’m going through a particularly depressive or anxious season: this too will pass. I look back at times where my pain and sadness felt unbearable, and I see that although that pain was valid I lived through it.
I’m still working on healing from my most recent loss, and I know that its going to be difficult, especially on the day of the funeral, but I also know I can get through it. My friend inspired me to be a better person, to be a braver person, and she showed me what true brilliance was. She was an amazing woman. Therefore, I know she would not want me to waste my life being sad, all I should do now is work to honor her in my work, in my relationships and in my growth. If any of you are also experiencing grief at this time, I am sorry for your loss, I support you in your pain and I encourage you in your journey onward.
– dedicated to my dear friend Kathy –