8 Ways I Stay Afloat on the Bad Days After My Brother’s Suicide
September 7, 2016 was the third anniversary of my brother’s death by suicide, and this year’s anniversary was particularly painful for me. I guess it’s because the shock has mostly worn off and living life without my brother has become a reality. I have become familiar with his absence. The first few days he was gone, I remember not wanting to go to bed at night because waking up would mean it would be another day without him. It would be another day further away from him.
My grief has been a chaotic and unpredictable string of good days and bad days. On the good days, I am able to talk about my brother without tears. I feel fully present and engaged. I have the energy to get through my daily routine. I enjoy the company of my friends.
On the bad days, every small task seems impossible. Getting out of bed in the morning is daunting. I question whether I can make it through an eight hour work day. Any tiny mishap feels like the end of the world.
Even before my brother’s suicide, depression would creep up on me and loom over me. Yet, I was always able to manage it and find a way out. I was always able to convince myself my episodes were fleeting and temporary. Some episodes may have lasted longer than others, but even on my worst days, I knew they would end.
The grief of losing my brother to suicide has made the uphill battle to manage my own depression all the more difficult. The ability I once had to reason with myself and remain logical has been replaced by a fear that I am always on the brink of losing myself. Even when my episodes subside, I am always preparing for the fog to roll in again.
Lately, I have been realizing how important it is to have a strategy to help me deal with the bad days. So I’ve been learning to take note of what makes me feel good. I am learning to be cognizant of what works and what does not in order to take charge of my grief and depression.
These are some things that have worked for me. Everyone’s strategy for managing the bad days will look different, but I think we can all agree we should all have a strategy.
1. Vocalize to your friends and family what you need from them.
I used to get so angry about the way people treated me when they knew I was grieving and depressed. I used to constantly wonder how people could be so flippant and unkind when it came to the subject of my pain. However, then I started to unapologetically let people know what I wanted. Sometimes, I need more space. Sometimes, I just need to be distracted by a trip to the mall or a day at the beach. Sometimes, I want to sit in my living room with a close friend, cry my eyes out and talk about how hard life is. I have found that most of the time, people are waiting on a cue. Don’t be afraid to give them one.
2. Crying is not only OK, it is necessary.
Crying just feels productive, and it’s a healthy outlet for pain. Sometimes, I cry alone. Sometimes, I cry with my friends. Sometimes, I cry in the bathroom at work. Most of the time I call my mom when I’m crying. My mom and I both lost the same person, and even though not everything she says is helpful, I know she means well. Sometimes, she just listens to me cry and says, “I know.” Sometimes, I just need to hear that she knows.
3. Don’t be too hard on yourself.
I’m still grappling with this one. On my bad days, any small mistake I make sends me reeling and makes me feel worthless. I’m working on giving myself the same grace and forgiveness I would give anyone else.
4. Talk about it.
This might be one of the most difficult things to do, but it is the only way things will change. Discussing depression and defining its terms is the best way to get more people to understand it. The stigma exists in the silence. So speak up. Be detailed when you tell those closest to you how your depression feels.
5. It’s OK to be angry.
Screaming into a pillow has its benefits.
As dreadful as it can sound (especially when you barely have enough energy to get out of bed), exercising can make you feel productive and strong. So often, depression makes me feel defeated and helpless. Exercise reminds me I am in control of my body.
7. Take life moment by moment.
What makes you feel good right now might not make you feel good in 10 minutes. It’s OK to change your mind and change plans. I bought my nephew a million birthday presents and then ended up bailing on his party because I was having a particularly rough day that day. C’est la vie.
8. Find balance.
Every time I am in the throes of a depressive episode, my first thought is to call in sick. I need a mental health day. I can’t do it, but somehow I manage to pull myself out of bed and make it into the office. Usually. Every now and again, I will let myself have the day off. Sometimes, I will let myself cancel plans. Sometimes, I will let myself stay inside and watch Netflix all day. (They just added season 5 of “New Girl” after all.) Yet, it’s important for me to monitor these days and make sure they aren’t becoming the norm.
This list is mostly to remind myself of the ways I manage to stay afloat. Strategies for the bad days are paramount. They give me back my ability to cope.
I know the dangers of oversimplifying depression and suggesting there is a quick fix when there is none. Earlier today, during a tearful phone call, my mom suggested I take vitamins. “Maybe that could help you,” she said. I know her intentions were good and she was only trying to help. Yet, I also know there’s no cure for me right now. There are good days and bad days, and the bad days are manageable.
If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.
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