Letting Go of the Life I Had Before Depression and Chronic Pain


Grief is a complex and powerful thing. No two people will experience it in exactly the same way. In fact, each time I have experienced it in my own life, it has been different. I have grieved over the divorce of my parents. I have grieved over the loss of more than one pet. I have grieved the death of a few family members. I have grieved the death of a student from my years as a teacher. I never imagined I would one day end up grieving the loss of the life I used to live.

I used to be a vibrant, active, energetic person. I loved my career as a teacher. I loved working with children and was doing exactly what I had always wanted to do. Outside of work, I enjoyed spending time with friends, helping others and making people smile. I ran half-marathons for fun and full marathons just for the challenge. It never occurred to me I could lose all of these things.

One day, with no warning, I ruptured a disc in my back. The doctors found “no cause.” It just happened. I was in constant pain. I became unable to run. I became unable to work. There was even a point where I could barely walk. Thanks in part to these things, three years and three surgeries later, serious depression had settled in.

While the physical changes were swift and obvious, the mental ones were more devastating. Depression slowly robbed me of motivation to do anything. Apathy was my new default. I no longer experienced joy, nor did I try to bring it to others. Eventually, depression also took hope from me. I no longer had any hope for recovery, physically or mentally. I simply existed. I no longer recognized my life or myself. Depression had taken all of me. It even had me wishing for death. In fact, I felt as though I had already died even though I was still alive.

Once I realized my old life was over, I also realized I would have to grieve that life. I would have to cry. I would have to let go so I could find closure, so I could move on. The truth was, it felt like “old me” had died, and I was now having to begin life again with my traveling companions, chronic pain and depression. Some days I succeed and am at peace with my new life. Some days the grief is raw, as if my loss was just yesterday. Acceptance is coming — slowly — nearly four years later.

The following five talking points are typically used to help bring closure when facing the loss of a loved one. With some help, I came to realize they could benefit me, and possibly others going through a similar experience. I needed to grieve over the loss of the life I used to have before depression and chronic pain. I needed to speak to myself.

1. I’m sorry I did not appreciate all you were before pain and depression took you. You were always good enough. You were never a failure. You made a huge impact on the lives of those you touched. You were deserving of love from others as well as from yourself. I’m sorry I did not see these things before, and I will never let it happen again.

2. I forgive you for your shortcomings. You did the best you could with what you had. You were only trying to cope and survive the best way you knew how. It was not your fault; you just didn’t have the tools you needed to accept love.

3. I love you. I love all you were before pain and depression changed you. I love how much passion you had for your work and your running. I love you, faults and all. Your existence was enough, and you were deserving of love. I may not have known how to show you how much you were loved, but know it now. I love you, I miss you, and I always will.

4. Thank you for all you taught me and all you showed me. I would not be the person I am today if it had not been for you. You showed me my passion was helping others, not just in the classroom but everywhere. You taught me with hard work and dedication I could accomplish anything I put my mind to. You taught me compassion and empathy through your struggles. I now realize just how important these things are. You changed my life for the better, and for that I thank you.

5. Goodbye. (This is quite possibly the hardest thing to say.) I am not the same person I was before the pain and depression. I know I will never have my old life back. Saying goodbye doesn’t mean I can never look back and remember. It simply means I am different now. I will miss you and think of you every day, but I also must accept that you are gone. I hate to say goodbye, but it is time for me to move on with my life. I must let go. I will take all I learned from you and become “new” me.

Grief has changed me. Now my grief reminds me of all I have lost and all I still have. It reminds me of all I was and all I can be. In the end, I am still grieving. Maybe I always will be, but it is getting easier with time. The grief is less painful, and “new” me is moving forward in life. Pain and depression may be my new traveling companions, but I am a better person for knowing them.

Image via Thinkstock.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

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