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What It's Like Going Through Grief When You Have a Mood Disorder

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Grief and mourning are hard for anyone to get through. When you have a mood disorder, it’s even harder.

Depression can linger longer than one might expect. A death, for example, might tip one over into a clinical depressive episode. There are no funeral etiquette books on how to cope with feelings like that. All they will tell you is what to wear to a funeral and what’s an appropriate remembrance to send or what to say at a viewing or funeral service. There are no emotional guides that tell you how long it is appropriate to mourn a loss. The feelings come as they will and stay as long as they stay.

A lot of the emotions associated with depression may visit you, or even move in and stay a while. If you are “lucky,” a period of numbness may get you through the funeral and any other formal observances. But that’s far from guaranteed. Depression may express itself as deep and inconsolable sorrow. Sometimes, there’s no way to turn off that feeling or wait to express it.

There can be anxiety too. Will all my egregious relatives behave themselves or will they do something embarrassing? Are customs from another religion the same as mine or not? It’s easy to get all tangled up and even immobilized. You may be tempted to avoid the whole situation. But if this was a very close friend or loved one, you want to do your best to respect and honor that person, even if you don’t know quite how. It’s even more anxiety if you have to ask yourself how you’re supposed to get through it all.

Grief and mourning are also emotions that may strike you after a death or other loss. You may cry unexpectedly, whenever the emotions hit you. You may wake in the middle of the night and feel the absence of someone all over again.

There aren’t any rules that cover grief and mourning. You feel how you feel for as long as you feel it. Some people try to shame the bereaved into restraining their grief or setting a limit for how long it should go on. The fact is that a loss may leave a hole in your heart for years to come, or forever.

Anger is also an emotion that may come. It’s one of the classic stages of dealing with death, along with denial, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Anger is harder to understand and harder to control. Some people will not understand that you can feel anger when a friend dies. But my friend just died and I am angry as well as sad that I did not get to see her before she died, even though I know it was impossible, given the circumstances. People may understand anger a little if the person died by suicide, but it seems inexplicable to many after a natural death.

I can’t tell you how to deal with those feelings. I am dealing with them myself right now. I am trying to hold myself together, to do what is “right” — to keep my grief on hold till I can express it fully. It’s not usually a good idea to stuff your feelings in a box, but sometimes it’s necessary, and getting through the ceremonies attendant on a death may well be one of them.

Perhaps the hardest thing to get through is the fact that these emotions and the memories they bring with them may crop up at unexpected times. Even decades cannot lessen the sorrow of some losses. Good emotions and memories of your loved one — and it need not be a close family member — will help. They may pop out of nowhere, just like the depression does. But these emotions you can hold close to you. If you can remember any of them when the bad times come, that may ease your grief for a while, though it cannot erase it.

Grief, depression, sorrow, anger and other emotions are appropriate after a death. And don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. They may not understand that such emotions aren’t only for family members and the very closest friends. When someone has touched your life, in whatever manner, your emotions are valid and your grief allows you to express them. Whether you have a mood disorder is irrelevant.

Getty image by Urilux

Originally published: May 7, 2021
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