The Difficulty of Grieving When You Already Have Depression
Recently, after a “high in the sky” manic episode, I started falling down the hole of depression. Then my cat died, and I plummeted all the way to the deep, dark, muddy bottom.
Losing a pet you love is always hard. It’s often harder than people may think. The loss can come in many different shapes and sizes, but the bottom line is that a creature you loved is gone. In this particular shape and size of grief, I’m deeply affected, as I loved my cat very much and he became a source of comfort during my depression and anxiety.
I haven’t really fully comprehended that he’s gone. I want to scream. I want to cry. I want to rip apart everything, and in brief moments, I want to give up completely. But I stop myself. I quickly start doing something: painting, eating, watching a movie or writing. I take deep breaths and bottle up my grief and force it into the dark. All the sadness and rage I feel is only on the very edge of my mind as I focus on whatever distraction I’ve come up with.
Between bouts of fighting the feelings that come with my loss, I started to think about how I have been handling my grief. Aside from being very sad and in emotional pain, I’m depressed. But this loss didn’t trigger my depression, I was already on the way down when I got the news. This loss just pushed me deeper than I would have gone.
Reading online about how to handle grief — what to do and how to think — I realized that none of these things were working for me. The advice I found wasn’t meant for someone with mental illness or someone who is struggling with depression. In fact, some of the suggestions were making it worse.
I now see there is a difference between typical grieving and grieving with depression. When you already feel like the world is a dark and lonely place, losing something you love makes the world darken to pitch black and you can feel completely alone. It’s adding an external weight on top of your internal burden caused by mental illness.
I understood why the internet was making me worse; why drinking some relaxing tea and looking on the bright side wasn’t working; why my loving friend’s and family’s well intentions were only frustrating me; and why the expectation to be OK seemed unattainable.
Because I understood, I needed to stop my frustration from building walls. I needed to fight my tendencies to push people away this time. I needed to acknowledge the irrationality of my feelings of hopelessness and wanting to give up when everything that should help doesn’t, because there was a reason it wasn’t helping.
It’s easy to say and it’s easy to type, but it’s not easy. It won’t be easy for a long time. Only little by little does it get easier. Cocooning myself in my grief and wrapping depression around me like a blanket wasn’t making it easier, only harder. The knowledge that what I’m going through is normal for someone with mental illness, that I’m not the first one to experience this and I’m not alone is really helping me. It helps me even more to be able to explain this to those around me so that they understand what I am going through.
When you see someone with mental illness, a family member or friend, that is deeply struggling with a loss, please try to remember they’re carrying extra weight. They aren’t being dramatic, they aren’t overreacting, they aren’t taking too long or simply not trying hard enough. They are battling with their already limited resources to try and fight as hard as they can so they can win. Please know they’re dealing with it in their own way, which may take longer. Instead of telling them what they should be doing, thinking or even feeling, you should simply offer kindness, understanding and most importantly, support.
There is no simple method, no easy answer and no magic spell that will make grieving any easier or simply make it go away. It’s a process — a long dark battle. It can sometimes be even harder for those with mental illness. I don’t think my sadness over my loss will ever fully go away, but with time, the weight that is grief will get lighter and lighter — light enough so that I can climb back up to the light.
If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “HOME” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.
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Thinkstock photo via stevanovicigor