A quick note: This is a brutally honest post. Please read with caution. I don’t mean to come off as a jerk or offend anyone, but grief has been on my heart here lately. I felt like someone needed to read this. I have a tender heart for those who are grieving, as I have a few years of experience as a Bereavement Coordinator/Counselor and Social Worker for hospice. I want to help because I have been there—from a personal and professional standpoint—and survived. I have healed greatly in the past 16 years since my mother passed, and I want to share my story in hope of helping someone else. Grief is not a one-size-fits-all. It is messy, never convenient, and does not follow a pattern or structure. Grief is as unique as you are.
My Breaking Point
I will just come out and say it because there isn’t any sugar-coating for this post—in the fall of 2009, I had what people typically refer to as a “mental break down” that left me shattered from the inside out and temporarily affected my ability to think or move.
I recall as it was happening that my brain was going crazy, like a crazy surge throughout my body that I couldn’t stop. I remember having to literally crawl down two flights of stairs like that freaky Grudge girl (probably sounded like her, too) to go next door to my sister’s house. I was disturbed and worried I had lost my mind. It was like I could see myself from above, watching myself crawl down the stairs. I will never, ever forget that. I thought my heart was going to kick through my ribs and peel its way through my muscles, which became taut and sore. Everything ached from head to toe. I was drenched in sweat and felt fatigued. It was like my brain sucked out every ounce of water in me to keep it going.
Whatever you want to call it, I literally crumbled when I got some news that just turned my world upside down. It turned out to not be the end of the world—obviously, I am here writing this in 2018—but at that time, it meant my world was under attack. I felt I was dying, physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. It was a BIG collection of events that led to that particular moment in 2009 (that I will have to discuss in another post) that had piled and piled on itself over a period of many years.
Major loss and disappointment here, a smaller one there, another big one over here, let’s add a few more because why not?
Repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat.
Let’s thrown in a sucker punch from the middle of nowhere for giggles.
It accumulated like snow sticking to the ground. I saw my disappointment, anger, resentment, powerlessness, hopelessness, and heartbreak continue to trickle down over the years, providing a frozen foundation within my soul as I feel into a deeper depression that what I had already been suffering with. That itself created what seemed to be an endless domino effect and left me as an empty shell.
That one September 2009 day, though, it had just been the last straw.
I had reached my breaking point after years and years of neglecting my emotional health and shoving my feelings that were screaming to be felt somewhere in the back of my mind, and from that day on, I have never quite been the same. It created a new normal. I feel like I will never be able to reach 100% again before my mother was diagnosed in 2000. Maybe 90% to 95%, which is where I am hovering for the most part these days, but never 100%.
Almost 10 years later, I am just a little bent but in a much better state than what I was. Thankfully, I am resilient by nature, and I refuse to be a victim of my circumstances, whether they are my 100% my fault or I am completely innocent.
I am Grieving?
What is wrong with me? I thought.
It took years upon years of study and professional work experience to accurately and effectively learn to be self-aware. That was the first thing they stressed in grad school—to be an ethical and efficient counselor*, you must be self-aware before you can even begin to help anyone.
[I mean “counselor” as a master’s-level human services professional in the helping profession, not a licensed psychotherapist or clinical mental health counselor who diagnoses and/or prescribes treatments.]
“What? What do you mean?” I thought. “I am self-aware.”
But with each critical thinking assignment and a combination of life experience, other’s life experience, reading countless research papers, bereavement counseling—as both the counselee and the counselor—I realized one day that a majority of my dark feelings that one fateful day I crumbled truly stemmed from one thing—grief.
“But I felt like I lost my mind! For a moment there, I did!”
Yep, that’s what grief does.
“But I was angry. Anger can be grief?”
“Does grief correlate with depression?”
For some people, yes, it is possible. However, grief does NOT equal depression, or vice versa.
A Random Tangent about Depression
Before I continue, I apologize for all the random tangents in this post, but I feel like I must say this based on my personal experience—depression is no joke. I mean clinical depression, not the normal ups and downs that come with life. I don’t mean the sadness you feel when your favorite cereal is not on sale or your friend moves away to the next zipcode. I am talking the raw shit no one wants to talk about because our society deems it as shameful. It can’t be THAT bad, or it can’t be real because it isn’t empirical, right?
Look, my friend, if you have not ever experienced clinical depression, you are very lucky. I hope you never do because it is real. It is scary. You think you will never get better. Your mind becomes your worst enemy, and it haunts you with lies and underlying fears and insecurities that you eventually start to believe it because your mind is just that powerful. You can’t get out of the bed. Forget showering. You ACHE from head to toe. You can’t eat, or you can’t stop eating. You can’t sleep or you sleep too much. Anything will set you off into a fit of tears. You feel helpless, useless, and unwanted, so why bother living?
I was at my wits end with pain.
Another random tangent but I have a point, I promise. I am late on watching this 2013 movie, but there was a part I loved in the first Conjuring movie that gave me chills. The clairvoyant of the story was outside of the house where the crazy things were happening and she saw an awful vision of her daughter floating on her back under the water close to the deck. Despite her mother, clawing through the water, her daughter was trapped. The look on her daughter’s face as she stared at her mother was what gave me chills.
That’s what depression is like, and you are powerless to claw yourself out. It was nonstop PAIN—physical, spiritual, emotional, and mental—haunting me every second of every day for many weeks at a time.
I had had enough.
I was tired of every damn day being a struggle, and I didn’t want to fight anymore.
I was furious with God. I challenged Him, “Haven’t you given me enough for a lifetime? I think you have done more than enough!”
“You’re Just Being Dramatic.”
You may be thinking (and it’s okay if you are):
“So, why would you allow yourself to become so engulfed into your grief? Can’t you just get over it? Why would you do this to yourself? You’re just making things a lot harder on yourself. Chin up, buttercup. Quit crying. Get a hold of yourself. God only gives his toughest angels the hard stuff. God would never give you anything you could not handle (which is a total lie that I will explain in another post). Just keep smiling. Things will get better. At least X, Y, Z didn’t happen. It could be a lot worse. There are others who got it way worse than you, so don’t be so down. Don’t smile because it’s over; smile because it happened. Quit being dramatic.”
Different people have actually said some of these things to me, especially after my mother passed.
News flash that may offend the easily offended but is the honest truth that everyone should know: I know you’re TRYING to be helpful. I am sure your intentions are very kind-hearted, but listen to me—YOU ARE NOT HELPING BY SAYING THOSE THINGS.
You’re minimizing and belittling someone’s pain, which is very real to them. Think about it. How would YOU feel if you were grieving the loss of a loved one, lost your job, lost your pet, ended a relationship or friendship, and someone belittled it? It doesn’t matter if you agree with their feelings or not. It doesn’t matter if you believe it or not. They aren’t yours to feel. This isn’t your experience. It’s theirs. They are the experts on how they need to grieve. Let them do it. It may not matter to YOU, but it means the world to this person.
For me, there ain’t no Christian bumper sticker that will work on me when I am grieving. I am just being honest. I need to be alone. Don’t take it personally. That doesn’t make me evil or a horrible Christian. Trust me, God can handle you at your worst, and He will STILL love you!
I will withdraw, descend into my personal inferno, and let the flames melt away those years and years of compacted and suppressed grief from the inside out…
Until one day…
I wake up and feel a little better.
I think to myself, “Getting ready wasn’t quite so bad today.”
“I actually spent some time on my hair and it looks good for the first time in a while.”
“Wow, it doesn’t feel so heavy to breathe today.”
“I want some real food. I think I will order the salmon and vegetables today.”
“I feel refreshed drinking this ice cold water instead of soda or wine.”
“I survived work/school and actually had a pretty good day.”
“I went the whole day without bursting into tears.”
“I went for a walk, and I feel so much better now.”
“I thought of you and smiled.”
Sometimes, this vicious cycle will repeat itself. I must say though since the 12-year mark, the grief does not attack me nowhere near like it used to.
I didn’t know it then, but that is how you survive your grief—you must feel it.
Healing and Grief
You must go through grief—not over it, not to the side of it, and you can’t just turn around altogether and run. If you do not feel your grief as it comes and goes, it will pile up and come back with a vengeance one day with you being absolutely blind-sided. It will relentlessly haunt you. It will cripple you and stop you in your tracks.
Grief will pile upon itself, upon freezing layer after freezing layer.
In other words, if you have unresolved grief, those feeling you have bottled away will find you and follow you everywhere. At work or school…at the gym…at the grocery store…at birthday parties…on date night…when your head hits the pillow…when you see Facebook posts or hear someone complaining about what you would give anything to have again…when someone looks at you “wrong”…when your shoe laces become untied…when you eat chocolate…when you brush your teeth…when your dog nips at you…when someone asks you to do a very simple task that your ears and brain translate into UNMOVABLE MOUNTAIN—
Until you FEEL your grief—no matter how painful it is or how long it takes—you will never heal.
And, yes, healing is possible. Notice I didn’t say “it will go away one day”. Maybe for some people it truly does. I know for me that will never be the case 100%. But what I do know is it gets better. It is quite a awful process, to be honest. I know that is super corny and cliché, but it is true. I miss my mother dearly, but I have learned to deal with the grief that used to prevent me from functioning. I think I have done pretty well. We want instant results and with grief, that just doesn’t work. I think we expect to be the same one day as we were before that loss occurred, but you are not supposed to be completely the same when grief enters your life and time has had mercy on you to heal.
Why would you be?
I would tell my patients and their loved ones that you can glue your broken heart pack together, but it will still have cracks.
But, even with the cracks, it is a new heart. Not what we ever would have picked for ourselves, but this is it. Protect it and cherish it.