mental wellness

Time heals all wounds… except grief

TRIGGER WARNING: death and loss

I’m sure you’ve heard of the Kubler-Ross model of Grief:

  1. Denial and isolation
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance

These stages are not linear and not everyone goes through all the stages. It is, however, a useful model, especially if the emotions you are experiencing during your period of grief are confusing. And grief is confusing and difficult, and it helps to understand that where you are right now, is not where you will be forever.

“You don’t get over it, you get through it. It doesn’t get better, it gets different”

Grieving the dead

I recently lost a friend. She was young, and while she was sick for a while, when she did eventually leave this earth, it was still a shock. I felt this incredible sadness and questioning, of why her, why now? I had never lost a friend before, and I didn’t know what to do with my feelings of grief.

When she passed away, what happened was that the feeling of loss that I experienced for everyone I’ve ever lost, came rushing back. It was like I was losing them all over again. My grandmothers, my father-in-law, my uncle, my cousin. I was grieving for about 6 people all at once. I thought I’d moved on and found a way to manage the grief of losing them.

But what I’ve realized is that that is not how grief works. When it comes to grief, you will always feel a sadness and loneliness for the person that you’ve lost. And the only thing that changes over time, is that you build a different life from the one you imagined. Life doesn’t get better, it gets different. You learn to manage the feelings of loss whenever you think of them.

Grief comes in waves, and even if you’ve reached a stage of acceptance, you’ll hear a song on the radio that reminds you of that person, and find yourself crying in your car 5 years after your loved on passed on. It doesn’t mean that you’ve regressed, or that you haven’t really accepted the loss. It just means you loved them, and you miss them. And that is ok.

Even though I’d lost my grandmother in 2009, when I got married in 2013, I felt a sense of sadness on the day, when I thought about how much fun I would be having with her on the dance floor. That is grief. It gets you in those moments when you least expect it. And that feeling of loss hits you almost like it did the moment you realized they would no longer be a part of your life.

And that is ok. A quote I read recently said that it’s not the passage of time that is healing, but what you are doing in that time that heals. So grieve your loved ones, miss them, but also, live the life your dreams. It doesn’t mean that you’re “over them” or that you’ve forgotten them. So mourn, cry, do whatever you need to do. But also get up, and live your life.

Grieving the living

Sometimes, we go through certain experiences which necessitate that we need to separate ourselves from someone who is still alive, because it is too harmful to be in their company. This could be due to trauma, harmful relationships, dangerous relationships, many different things. But you need to be apart from them.

You need to go through the grieving process, and acknowledge that that person is no longer in your life. And you need to feel sadness, and loss, and eventually get to acceptance in the Kubler-Ross model, just like you would if that person had passed on.

And it’s ok. Even if it’s a parent. Society may tell you that you cannot cut yourself off from family, or that you cannot be estranged from your mother because she gave birth to you. But what if the woman who gave birth to you has done nothing but harm you since giving birth to you?

You need to assess which option is healthier for you physically, emotionally, psychologically: to have them in your life, or to be estranged from them. You need to accept that some people are too broken to change, and then you will need to grieve the loss of them in your life.

Sometimes, someone close to you may suffer illness, or disability and they change in ways that you cannot reconcile. You will need to mourn the loss of who they were before, or what they were able to do or to be. And then come to a place of acceptance for who they are now, and how your life together may change.

But just like grieving the dead, grieve this person, or people, and go through the motions of mourning and loss, and then live your life, in a way that makes you happy. Do the things you need to do, to be able to heal in the way that you need to.

Grieving the intangibles

Sometimes, we grieve things like loss of a career, loss of a family home, loss of a limb or loss of a marriage. And you have to go through the same process. In the same way as when you lose a person, and it changes you forever, losing intangible things can have the same effect.

And in the same way, go through the Kubler-Ross stages of Grief, because your life has changed. And you need to acknowledge how it is impacting your emotional state. And to get to a place of acceptance, of your new life, and how it is different.

And just as you would focus on living your life without a person in your life, and how different your life is without them, when you are mourning something intangible, you need to focus on living your different life, whether it is with a new career, or new place, or new way of being.

Sometimes, women who have children feel a sense of loss for their pre-children life. And you may feel guilty, but it’s really ok. Mourn your old life though, go through the Kubler-Ross stages so that you can get to a place of acceptance. What is important is to remember is to accept your new life, and then also focus on living your new life as a mom. Even though it is hard, and different and everything changes: your body, your friendships, your relationship.

Just like when we are mourning people, we need to remember that, you stop and mourn, and then you need to live your new life. In this new way. It’s important for your healing and sense of self.

*   *   *

The thing about grief though. It’s never over. Because you never stop loving. It comes over you in waves. A person could be gone for years and then you smell their perfume, hear their favourite song, see an old photo, and it all comes rushing back. The memories, the sadness.

What grief has taught me though, is to live my life. That life is short. And that tomorrow is never promised. And while these may sound like clichés, truly living a life of meaning is not that easy, but every day I endeavour to try.

“Grief, after the initial shock of loss, comes the waves… When you’re driving alone in your car, while you’re doing the dishes, while you’re getting ready for work… all of a sudden it hits you – how so very much you miss someone, and your breath catches, and your tears flow, and the sadness is so great that it’s physically painful” – a part of me is missing | The Mighty

mental wellness

Depression: When you feel nothing [interview]

Depression def.: a common and serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think, and how you act. Depression causes feelings of severe despondency and dejection.

Q: How would you define Depression? (in layman’s terms)

A: My definition of depression would be a constant state of hopelessness, where you want to do things,  but you just can’t. You want to get up and be productive, but can’t. You want to be surrounded by people but can’t. Because you don’t want to be a burden, but you can’t help being a burden.

Q: What are the symptoms? (as you know or experience them)

A: Some symptoms I think are answers to questions, like how many days have you not been getting enough sleep? How much energy do you have? Does your work inspire you? Do your friends find you talking really slowly, or really fast? How often do you feel hopeless? Have there been any changes in feelings, appetite, or sex drive.

 Q: How does it feel to have Depression?

A: For me it’s, you really want to do stuff, but you feel that you can’t. It’s not that you don’t have the will power. Some days you just can’t get out of bed. You want to and you shout to yourself in your head to not be lazy, but your body just won’t get out of bed.

There is a disconnect between what you want to do, and what your body tells you that you can do. What you want to do, what you should do, and what you end up doing. You may look at a list of things you want to do, and you try to do some of them, but you just can’t. You just don’t have the motivation, or the physicality to actually do the things. And then that perpetuates the feeling hopelessness and worthlessness because of not doing things, and that you are not good at anything, and it all just gets worse.

And I don’t know why, and it’s not something I want, but I just create a situation where I have things that I want to do, but I just don’t.

For me, I don’t know about it being about being sad. People may view depression as not outgoing or engaging with friends. It’s not sad, it’s a purple haze, and it’s just not good. You could get a call from someone who you really love taking to, but then not want to talk to them so you don’t answer the phone, or you do speak to them, and you just don’t enjoy it, even though you normally enjoy talking to them.

It’s like having an overwhelming sense of misery. It can be sad, but we generally have reasons to be sad. But there isn’t always a reason for feeling depressed. It’s a constant state of being hopeless, overwhelmed, and a disconnect between what you want to do, and what you do do. It’s about knowing that this isn’t normal for me.

I think that it’s important to be honest with yourself and those around you, and put your hand up and say, “I’m not feeling great”.

Q: What are the treatment options for Depression?

A: I think there is obviously the quite clinical way, through Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), to reflect with someone else. CBT enables you to be guided through exactly what are the symptoms you are experiencing, and then breaking them down into tasks to address them. To be actioning against the symptoms, which could help alleviate the symptoms. This method is whereby you have an impartial person work through the changes with you. Once you work through it with someone it can be challenging, but I think when you really unpack every step, it has a meaningful impact. It can really benefit you.

Every concern and problem are really overwhelming, but when you pick out simple things to resolve the big and vague emotions you may be feeling, you can focus on these, and then work through them methodically.

Less clinical, is surrounding yourself with friends and family. Make sure you have other people you can confide in. Sometimes, all you need is to share how you are feeling with someone, and you don’t have to be in a formalized therapy situation.

If you have a chemical deficit, or if CBT doesn’t address the core issues, you will need to use medication. For example, if your body is not producing serotonin, SSRIs, might absolutely be something that your body needs. Even with medication though, you need to make sure you’re eating well, drinking well, and exercising, otherwise, you’re not giving yourself a fighting chance.

It’s like with any illness, the medication alone will not resolve the problem, if you do not adjust your lifestyle too. If you had heart disease, you would be on medication, but you’d also need to adjust your eating and drinking habits, to remain healthy. Healing mental illness is the same.

So don’t live in darkness, not eat, or move. Make sure you have a nice place to live and a nice way to live. With good people who support you.

Image source: lifetomake.com

Q: Do you have to take medication if you have Depression?

A: You don’t have to. You might not have to. But you might have to. And someone that’s a trained professional who understands the cause, might say that you need meds. You need to be open to the idea. It’s not a sign of weakness. If you had a vitamin deficiency your doctor would definitely recommend vitamins. No one judges that. If you look at your brain, and if it’s not producing properly, then you’ll need to go the medication route.

We need to accept that your brain is an organ just like the rest of your body. If you had a thyroid problem, it’s a medical issue. Your brain needs attention, just like the rest of your body.

If medication is needed, embrace it, if not then don’t worry about it. Work with a professional. It might be meds that are required, but it might be only therapy that you need.

If you do need meds, don’t just take it, and that’s it, you need to adjust your lifestyle too and make sure you’re in a supportive environment. You may need a combination of therapy and medication. You definitely need other support mechanisms.

And know that you might go through multiple regimes of medication. You might have to go through many brands and dosages. It might take months before your body produces what it needs to work. It might not work at all. It might be a year before you start feeling better. You might even be diagnosed with treatment-resistant depression.

I still want to emphasise that, above all, it’s normal. And it’s not fine, but normal, and you’ll need to explore which options work for you. Not everyone needs medication, but if you do need medication, embrace it, and keep trying.

It can be an agonizing, long journey, but make sure you’re on the journey.

Q: Is it genetic?

A: For me, I think it’s a combination of your environment, genetic factors, or it could just be an accident.

If I look at my family, it’s most likely genetic. A number of my close family members suffer with some form of mental illness. So if I had to look at it surgically, at my family tree pattern, I would say, yes it’s genetic, but some families have no challenges at all, and a person in that family could still have depression.

A lot of mental illnesses, are a product of environment, like anxiety. Our society is changing, and it has been shown that 25% of girls before the age of 14 have an anxiety disorder. And while young people today are more open about mental illness, this is still not a stat we have seen before. It’s because of the social pressures on social media. We’re in a hyperattentive world. Where the number of followers you have, and the number of likes on a post are important, and it’s resulting in a world focused on instant gratification through visuals, and having the perfect social media life. The success metric in our personal lives is around exposure. We are forced into a mould, to be a certain type of person. And none of it is 100% true. So definitely the environment we live in.

But also, it is as a result of the challenges we experience in our lives. Instances of mental illness, like depression, also occur in relation to the number of wars, colonization etc a society experiences, all problems forced on people by others. PTSD has been known about for thousands of years, in that, during the Crusades, soldiers would still hear clashing of metal long after leaving the environment they were fighting in. This shows that mental health has been documented for thousands of years, in written records. It’s always been a problem, but we’ve never looked at in the right way. Younger people are talking about mental health more these days, we are starting to see more mental health memes. The world is starting to have a more casual relationship with mental health. Children as young as 14 years are talking about it. Sometimes younger.

Overall, mental illness is both genetic, and environmental.

For example, you might get cancer even if you don’t smoke or drink. It could be that it is genetic, but we cannot be sure what the exact cause is.

The brain is complex. Don’t try and put it in a box.

Q: Anything else you would like to add

A: I heard my cousin’s kid of 7 years, tell her mom, “it’s not good for my mental health” and I just think that she has had exposure at such a young age to have the language to express that her mental health is important. Overexposure of stress is not good, and young children are acknowledging this.

We are on the cusp in history where the generation before us denied mental health, and our generation is starting to talk about mental health, and being open about it, and I’m sure the next generation will have normalized it.

Young kids are talking about stress and mental health. We are starting to talk about it in legislative, medical, social society. We are changing the landscape in the ways in which we talk about mental health.

What is important is empowering the frontline, those who are the first people who are going to be managing the symptoms of a mental illness. For them to be able to recognize it as mental illness, and then treat it as such. We need to empower them in the knowledge of the right action to take.

We’re starting to see a lot more openness around mental health, even in societies where it was previously a taboo.

It doesn’t matter who you are, your age, or upbringing –  anyone can suffer unique mental health challenges. From all walks of life. It’s not a failure. There are treatments, and there are things you can do to improve your life.

If you want to, you can change the world. We are ready. We’ve never been more ready. It’s a really beautiful time to talk about mental health.

Just talk. If you’re not having a good day, say so. Just talk.

If you’ve had a bad weekend, don’t lie. Don’t think of a different things to say, to make up a story of a good weekend. Just say how it really is. You’ll negatively impact yourself if you are not honest about your mental health.

Talk about it. Write a blog. Whatever it might be. You’re going to change someone’s’ life. And they’ll change your life. There’s a ripple effect of mental healing.

Be the young girl saying that she doesn’t want to do homework because she’s stressed

Or the 80 year old who is admitting that she is not doing well mentally.

Or members of the LGBQTIA community, and all the mental health issues they struggle with.

Women  are more likely than men to get depressed – One of the reasons is due to the different challenges women experience. But also because men don’t seek mental help.

People in the developing world, where there is no access to treatment. People are exposed to mental health issues but what they see is violence or they are violent. But because they are not treating the illness, there is a vicious cycle of violence and illness and homelessness. In the developed world they have access, and no one knows they have mental health issues.

Look at it as what it is. It’s who we are and what we are and how we talk will create the perception of what mental illness and mental wellness is.

We’ll see the mindset change that we want to see. In 30 years we’ll live in a beautiful world. But until then we have to talk.

Resources available to you, if you are struggling with Depression:

SADAG: http://www.sadag.org/