NAMI Metro Suburban Blog

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Is Grief Real If Nobody Died?

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"No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear" - (C.S. Lewis)

I learned the truth of these words early on in the first few years of struggling to manage the symptoms of bipolar disorder. I also was reminded at this time that the condition of grief is nearly universal, and yet its forms are exquisitely personal for each of us.At its heart, the word "grief" comes with a looming assumption:death.Yet grief is not always about death—It's about loss, which can appear in many other forms.For those of us living with mental illness, grief is not reserved for death alone, but can also ripple out to a myriad of other types of frightening losses.

Many of the losses that I have weathered as an individual living with a mental illness occurred gradually, quietly slipping in under my radar, while others suddenly crashed in loudly, demanding to be heard.During times when many of my symptoms were not responding well to a rigorous protocol of multiple medications, therapy and other treatments, I began to feel an acute loss of self-identity.I felt far removed from my prior solid sense of myself as a mother, a wife, an athlete and a business owner, and instead began to see myself predominantly as a difficult patient who didn't respond well to main-line treatments. It seemed at times that I was experiencing a unique type of 'identity theft' as each of my most important roles in life seemed to be evaporating and rolling off into a fog.

In addition to this sense of self-identity loss, I also saw many of my family, friend, and business relationships become fractured, quality time with my children and husband become compromised, my faith and trust in myself dissolve and my hope for renewed health and symptom management dwindle.Several rounds of ECT also resulted in short-term memory loss, which although I was very aware of as a probable treatment side-effect, I was still blind sighted by the actual reality of its impact.I discovered that although death is indeed a formidable loss in life, so too is what dies within us while we're living.

Yet soon I began to marvel at the potential for positive change and growth within the grieving process.I discovered that both grief and fear can be beneficial when we acknowledge our losses and open ourselves up to learning some valuable lessons in the deal. I found that when I openly confronted each loss, each one began to expose everything that truly mattered to me. I figured that If we're familiar with loss, then chances are, we're also well versed about some of the vital components of life: love, family, survival, resilience and strength. I now also believe that through this process, we often learn that there is no shame in trying to deal with every loss and each fear by simply saying "Begin Again".

Living with a mental illness can change us in many ways, yet accepting and working with the grieving process can transform us as well.Perhaps loss can fuel how we choose to lead our lives. Personally, I learned how to move through life with a more open mind and heart toward others, always reminded that they too are likely struggling in some way. When facing my many regrets in life, I was forced to make a choice as to how I wanted to proceed in the future so that all was not lost.Second and third chances can be hard to come by, but I vowed to find them and do what had to be done to make good use of them in my life. In doing so, I learned to be more patient, to regain my self-respect and my trust in myself and others, and to recognize my own resilience again. Most importantly, I began to believe again in the capacity for good in every one of us.

Although I can never have any of these exact moments in time back, what I do have is the chance to make my way through loss and fear and to grab hold of life with both hands and let it pull me forward.My hope is that by acknowledging your own losses in life, that each of you will be able to do the same.After all, for every one of us who has ever stood beneath the night time sky, we know that darkness too, can be a gift. 

Written by Pamela Landry

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Friday, 15 November 2019