When Mental Illness Makes the Emotions of Grief Confusing

Grieving the loss of a loved one is difficult for everyone, whether you struggle with mental illness or not. This Christmas Eve, I lost my grandfather. He was a fighter, so his death came as a bit of a shock. It was particularly difficult because since I was a child, every Christmas Eve was spent at my grandparent’s house and I have nothing but fond memories. The thought of never having that again broke my heart. We would even go out to breakfast together almost weekly and text regularly (yes, an 83-year-old was quite good at it).

Since he passed early in the morning, the entire day was tough and there was no holiday spirit in our house at all. My anxiety and guilt began to kick in immediately. Was I comforting my family enough? Could I possibly help my mother when I felt like I was so disconnected from reality? Was my coping mechanism of trying to make jokes to cheer up my loved ones making me appear calloused?

The week before he died, I was prescribed a medication that interacted with one of my medications for bipolar disorder and I experienced a very mild manic episode. Following his death, I wondered if I was truly “feeling” the real emotions of grief.

My mood was what I assumed was “normal” for someone who lost a grandparent, but that didn’t stop my mind from racing every night. I then began seeing things and getting very little sleep again. My bursts of panic and guilt started to rise again, and I knew I needed to take my anxiety medication in order to remain calm during the services, especially since I was chosen to do a reading at the church.

In light of that, I was overwhelmed with shame that my medications were making me numb to the pain that the rest of my family had to endure. It just didn’t seem fair. I was worried that my family was judging me for how stoic I appeared to be at times when really, I was in a fog and trying not to think about how painful moving forward would be.

I’m not sure if others struggling with anxiety or bipolar disorder feel the same way, but I truly believe that when your feelings are often so intense, your capacity for empathy is often greater. I’m in no way saying this disorder makes me more compassionate than others, but the silver lining I try to find is that my emotions are often so intense. My mom has always told me I have a very strong personality and when I love someone, I pour my whole heart into it. My hope is that my family comprehends how difficult things are when my disorder takes hold of me during stressful times and that I may not grieve the same way they do.

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