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What Self-Care Is Like When Grief and Depression Consume You

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My grandfather recently passed away. It was a long process that happened over the course of the last few years, with so many ups and downs that when he did pass so suddenly, but peacefully, in his sleep, it was a huge shock. Even though it has been almost three weeks, my brain is still trying to understand and accept the fact he did not bounce back this time. I am still in shock and losing my favorite person in the entire world is the worst pain I have ever experienced in my 30 trips around the sun. My emotions have been all over the place and I have come to learn grief is an emotion that demands to be felt. You can’t hide from it or push it to the side; it needs to be seen and heard.

Everyone grieves differently and having a mental illness doesn’t make it better or worse, it’s a punch to the gut no matter who you are. However, what I am slowly learning is the importance of self-care at this time. This is true for anyone, whether they have anxiety and depression like me or not. I don’t think I fully appreciated that until I started to spiral.

I became completely consumed by my grief, and in so many ways after this short amount of time, I still am. Some of my friends and relatives have suggested part of the reason that I am struggling so hard is partially related to my autism. Which could be true in some ways, but I won’t say it is for sure because I don’t know enough about myself and my autism to do so, as I was only diagnosed back in September.

I’ve always struggled with change and surprises. One of the biggest things I am struggling with right now is how sudden it was. I talked with him the night before and he sounded happy and healthy and we shared a few laughs. I was not prepared to wake up that morning and be told they could not wake Grampy up. They couldn’t wake him up, but he was not dead yet. So, of course, this was just Grampy giving us another scare, he was going to wake up any minute and wonder why we were all so concerned about him taking a nap.

But, he never woke up. By that afternoon, my Grampy, my favorite person in the entire world, the man who I thought was going to live forever, was gone. I can’t get past that. I didn’t have any time to really process what was happening and I am stuck here. He was supposed to wake up. He always woke up.

In these past few weeks, I have shut down at times, I have never experienced this amount of pain, and the emotions I have been feeling are so incredibly overwhelming that I either shut completely down or have an anxiety attack, sometimes both. I honestly have no idea how to deal with this. Everyone seems to be handling things so much better than I am. They all seem so calm while I am over here feeling like I have completely lost my mind.

At one point, I was so caught up in my emotions I didn’t realize I wasn’t taking my medications properly, and I wasn’t eating because I didn’t feel hungry. I’ve even started picking again, and as anyone with a mental illness knows, if you start messing around with your medications and stop taking proper care of yourself, stuff gets bad. That depression that’s always lurking somewhere in the back, that’s going to pop in and remind you everyone dies so what’s the point of doing anything? These emotions are just too painful, it would just be easier to stay in bed and pull the covers over your head. It all becomes too much sometimes, and I start to cry, and that crying leads to heaving sobs. Those sobs lead to me feeling like I can’t breathe, which leads to an anxiety attack, and then I really can’t breathe.

I’ve done therapy for years and I know all the tips and tricks and my imaginary toolbox is packed with everything I could possibly need to help me calm myself down. However, these tools aren’t necessarily helpful when the feelings you are trying to cope with are bigger than you have ever experienced before. Combine that with a lack of necessary self-care and you’re steering yourself into dangerous territory.

I took a week off of work following my grandfather’s death and sometimes I wish I had taken more. But, as much as I want it to, the world does not stop. Processing my emotions, letting myself feel that grief and pain, is extremely difficult. I’m exhausted. It was so easy for me to just give up and let the depression take over. After such a loss, going back to “normal” seems trivial. I find when I am feeling anything other than sadness, it makes me feel like I am insulting him in some way, because how can I possibly be happy right now when he is no longer here?

As hard as it is to push myself forward, taking my medication as I should, going for a walk, having a proper meal, listening to/singing/dancing along to my favorite music, getting out of my house to see the friends/family in my bubble, getting back into a routine at work and getting out of bed to shower, all make me feel so much better. These small acts, taking care of myself, doing the things I love and pushing forward in life, make fighting depression so much better. It’s hard, especially when you are grieving, but as I am learning every day, it is so very important.

I’m never going to be OK with him being gone, I’m always going to want to call him up for a yarn on the phone and I am always going to miss him. But, I can’t just give up on life, I can’t just stay in my bed and cry. I can’t just go to sleep and never wake up, I can’t become a robot with no emotions at all and I definitely can’t cut all ties with everyone and move to a deserted island to avoid ever feeling this amount of pain again. He wouldn’t want that.

So, minute by minute, hour by hour and day by day, I am slowly working toward being OK again. I have my friends, I have my family, I have my family doctor, my therapist and my medication. I know even though right now it doesn’t seem like it, but it will get better. Like Dory, I just have to keep swimming.

Getty image by fcscafeine

Originally published: May 19, 2021
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