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Grief & Depression: Navigating Loss Without Sinking

Grief Is Not Depression (& It Doesn't Have to Become It) by @stronginsideout

On Sunday, April 9th, I lost my champion.

If you’ve been reading Strong Inside Out for a while, you might know that my Grandma and I were very, very close. In fact, my husband and I lived with her for a month in between our Southeast Asia honeymoon and our move to San Diego.

I wrote about her first bout in the hospital in January. It seemed as if she was getting better, but the cosmos had different plans. Losing her is the first devastating loss I’ve suffered in my life.

I’m not here to tell you the details of the end; I’m here to talk to you about the way a loss like this affects a depressive.

It was a month between knowing she was going to go and her actually joining the stars. I took the opportunity to be with her as much as I could and say everything I needed to say, but there was still the energetic charge of the situation that I had to honor on my own.

When you lose a pillar of your life, you’re going to feel it.

But what was grief, and what was the beginning of a depressive episode? How did I know I wasn’t sinking?

The scary thing was, I didn’t.

I’ve been liberated from depressive episodes for a year now, and when this happened – in addition to the grief – I got scared AF. All of a sudden, I was having anxiety over the possibility of a depressive episode.

To go through something so heart-shattering is a mixed bag of emotions that no one can comprehend until they’ve been through it. With it come states that you may never have experienced. As with anything new, we super-feelers must stay vigilant.

The most dangerous thing for a super-feeler is avoidance.

When we avoid feeling, we leave heavily-charged emotions to be dealt with at another time. More emotions come, adding to the feels pot until it overflows and leads us to depression, anxiety or destructive habits.

I knew that I’d have to feel it all as it happened in order to avoid falling into a depression. Luckily, I’ve been training for it the past 2 years. Training and fighting in the battlefield, however, are not the same animal.

I decided to do whatever it would take for me to resolve the emotions as they came. To do that, I’d have to put myself first…

…that was my intention anyway. Grief is…complex. There’s no playbook for getting over a loss.

The beginning stage of my grief wasn’t the most productive. When I first got home from hearing the news that I was going to lose her, I felt overwhelmed. I turned to my favorite avoidance technique: TV. I had to catch up on Dr. Who anyway…all 10 seasons of it.

Telling myself that it was self-care worked for a few days until I started to realize how numb I was feeling. Luckily, I had a therapy appointment scheduled.

I opened up to my therapist honestly about how I might not be coping so much as avoiding with TV. She let me know that in my stage of grief, it was absolutely OK that that’s where I was. She also recommended I balance it out with this plan: every 2 episodes, I could get up and do an act of self-care like going outside for a walk, texting with a friend or going to a taekwondo class. I agreed that it was do-able, but the big question on my mind still had to be brought into the light.

The thing I was most worried about was if I had already hit a state of depression or if it was imminent no matter how much I tried to avoid it.

Did this grief mean that I would definitely be depressed? Was it a given? Was that what I was feeling? It terrified me that all the work I’d done might not be enough.

If you’re a depressive, maybe this fear resonates with you, too. That looming darkness of impending doom hovering just out of sight, always threatening to come in and shadow your entire life. I’ve trained myself to be aware of the initial warning signs, but I didn’t know how they worked when loss was a factor – so many of the signs are the same as someone experiencing grief.

When I talked it through with my therapist, she validated that it sounded like what I was going through was in fact grief, not depression, but it was a possibility that I could sink again…and that would be ok. Depression becomes stronger when we fear it – just like with anxiety, the more we worry about it coming, the stronger it gets when it arrives. I even believe that the more we worry about it, the wider we open the door to it.

That said, she let me know that depression wasn’t a definite result of this grief; if I kept allowing myself to feel as I moved through it, I would be doing everything I could to stave off a depressive episode.

She urged me to take each day at a time and ask myself what I really needed. If that was time in front of the TV, so be it. If it was food or a good cry, it would be ok. Reverting to old habits when sh** hits the fan isn’t a step backwards, it’s an opportunity to learn more about your needs.

And perhaps the most helpful takeaway from my session was this: she reminded me to try to remove judgment from how I was handling the loss. I didn’t have to feel all the time; this grief wasn’t your typical amount of emotion. I was going to deal with it in a completely different way than anyone else would. As long as I stayed loving toward myself, I would get through this stronger. She recommended I table all the expectations I had of my normal, non-grieving self until after I dealt with what was on my plate.

She’s right (duh). As you know, I’m always working on some kind of self-development. I don’t like staying still. But I realized that I couldn’t focus on growing as a person until I let this heaviness release; I didn’t want to take it with me into who I was becoming.

From then on, everything I did was focused on dealing with what was happening in the moment in a balanced, gentle, loving way. That included some numbing out.

The self-care/TV plan we came up with together gave me some safe, contained space between the numbing so I could start to deal again without feeling like I needed to do it all the time. It allowed the grief to move through and out of me.

I self-cared the sh** outta myself. I’m not talking a meditation here or a bath there; I’m talking scheduled, prioritized, serious, FTW self-care. Everything else came second.

I had to put some things on the back burner that I usually enjoyed like posting to social media. When I’d go to formulate a post, I couldn’t express anything other than what I was going through, and I wasn’t ready to share that yet. Instead of posting something inauthentic and forced, I decided not to post at all. And surprise, surprise: the community survived! ;p

Now, a month later, I’m still hurting, but I’m fully functional again.

In days gone by, this grief would have taken me months and months to get over. I partly have my Grandma’s influence to thank for that.

She was THE strongest person I knew. After oodles of surgeries throughout her life from a young age, difficult decisions made and risks taken, she modeled to me what a life lived on purpose really meant. It’s because of her that I never settled; I kept going until it felt right.

If Grandma were here, I know she’d tell me to go live my life and help you live yours. She was always so proud of the way I’ve taken my history of darkness and transformed it into service for Light. To do that, though, I had to experience it. I had to get through the sh** of it in order to make gold from it.

Loss was one of the reasons I fell into the darkest times in my life; I didn’t know how to deal with my world being broken apart by things I couldn’t control. I didn’t have the tools and I didn’t believe I was strong enough to get through it. And so I stuffed it down, took up addictions and acted out.

Loss is a part of the human experience and so, too is grief. We can allow it to destroy us by attempting to refuse its teachings, or we can let it mold us into a stronger, wiser, more compassionate version of ourselves. It’s when we deny or run that depression steps in to lead.

And so I don’t run anymore, and I am free.

If Grandma taught me anything, it was how to be stronger than my struggle, and that I’m always unconditionally loved in spite of it. You’ll find the same applies to you.

You’ve always been my angel, Grandma. Now you just have the wings.

Love you to the moon and back. I won’t let you down.

With all my broken (mending) heart,

Amy

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5 responses to “Grief & Depression: Navigating Loss Without Sinking”

  1. wen budro says:

    Thank you for your honest post. You nailed it. It is scary AF. And- this time- despite feeling like I was breaking apart with sorrow and regret and guilt- I named it “sorrow for my loss.” Thankfully- I experienced and am still experiencing this heart wrenching sorrow without my usual avoidance and numbing my feelings with any substances. I am sorry for your loss and I honor your words. Thank you.

  2. Angela says:

    What a beautiful, heartfelt post. I’m sorry for your loss, your grandma sounds like an amazing woman.

    I can identify with the TV watching to deal with your grief. I had terrible burn out a few years ago and could only watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer for several months because it made me laugh. I had no head space for anything more cerebral.

  3. Ginny says:

    Hi Amy,

    I’m so sorry to hear about your grandmother. I have been reading your blog the past couple months and this post really resonated with me because I also lost my grandma this past month. I totally feel you on the striking a balance between grieving and not falling into a depressive episode. I’ve also had some days of sitting in front of a screen to numb out, but have been trying to balance that with self care and a good amount of non-judgement. Thanks for your post, it made me feel better to know hard times don’t have to mean depression is inevitable. Thanks for all your inspiring words!

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