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When Mental Illness Unknowingly Prepares You for Grief

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Editor's Note

If you experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

Having the rage of living with “quiet” borderline personality disorder (BPD), and the anxiety of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), I thought for sure when the time did come for me to experience grief, it would crush me like a car fallen off a mountaintop. I had been lucky never to lose anyone central in my life.

That is, until the pandemic.

When I got the call my grandmother couldn’t breathe and was in the hospital last March, I was absolutely certain she had caught COVID-19. So, when we were told instead it was lung cancer, it felt like a bad karmic joke.

To explain more fully, we had already lost a few family members to the same lung cancer. One of those was my grandfather, her first husband, who died before I was born. Sadly enough, her second husband had also died just a few years ago after a long illness and several strokes. It seemed cosmically unfair that after all of that, she now had to battle the same illness that killed her first husband during a historic pandemic.

My grandmother had always been one of my main support people, my “favorite” person. I looked up to her for guidance my entire life, sometimes daily. The thought of losing her had me making a safety plan, packing a go-bag and picking the hospital I knew I would need to be checked into when she passed. The thought of losing her had me sure I would take my own life, certain that I literally could not live without her.

I spent the year battling anxiety and anger in equal mixes, having panic attacks I hadn’t had since the first ones and rage episodes I thought I had already worked past. Overall though, I was doing OK. I was struggling, but still functioning. However, my grandmother was not, and before March ended this year, she lost her battle with lung cancer.

The moment was here that I had thought about a thousand times. The moment I had predetermined was going to finally break me from reality. I waited for my brain to crack like an egg. And waited. And waited.

Nothing happened.

I wasn’t sobbing, shaking, panicking, raging.

I was confused and heartbroken. I was hurt, numb. But I wasn’t broken.


I had a few days before the funeral, and I didn’t know what to do with myself. So, I rewrote her eulogy I had written the week before as a coping technique. I had never been to a funeral before, so I called my family and asked what to expect (because with anxiety, details are everything) and went to her funeral.

I did cry and break down a bit, but not in a borderline or PTSD kind of way, just grief. I didn’t pound on the coffin, punch the pastor, fall to my knees sobbing or try to kill myself, I just quietly cried. I did have a few panic attacks during that week, but my family talked me down and held my hand through it as best they could. The funeral home even asked to keep a copy of her eulogy as an example for other families to go by.

Everyone kept telling me to expect rage, depression and a breakdown. They kept telling me to let the grief out, to stop holding it in. I tried. Desperately.

After I got back home, I kept trying to let it out, but no tears came. A few more panic attacks in new places, no appetite, nightmares, but no grief. I actually found myself deep cleaning my home room by room, a task I used to find no joy in. Though I’m still not ready to go back to work today, I did put myself back on the schedule next week.

Have I finally reached good mental health? Or, is the other shoe about to drop? It’s hard to say. I’m still waiting for my mind to splinter, but as the days go by, I’m slowly finding inspiration in things my “favorite” person used to enjoy, and I’m slowly starting to believe in myself again. It is a lot like my mental illness prepared me for this without me knowing.

Original photo by author

Originally published: April 22, 2021
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