Grief is mysterious. Grief is complex. Grief does not discriminate and grief appears when it needs to. You have no control over it. I repeat, you have no control over it.
What does it feel like? That’s perplexing, because it depends on the situation, the person, the environment you are in, it depends on all of these things. There can be patterns and it can be chaotic. It can be elusive or feel extremely tangible.
In the early days in the week and months after our sons left their earthly bodies, I was wrecked. There was a hole in my chest. I lost my breath a lot and anxiety filled me at any given moment. I was completely out of control and the only way to cope is to ride the wave of emotions as they come. This is not easy, because no one teaches us how to do this. And we live in a society that tries to cover up emotions so that we can just “get over it”. Well, there is no getting over it. That’s not logical, reasonable or healthy. If you are in pain and people are telling you to get over it to move on, find new people to be around. Our culture needs to do a lot better when it comes to how we engage with mental health. And especially grief. No one wants to talk about loss, yet we have all experienced it. Even if this loss is not in the form of death, loss can take many other forms.
When the trauma or incident occurs, the early days are intense. You might feel like you are treading water, constantly trying to keep your head up. Or you might feel like you are stuck in this void, a limbo, with no where to go and you really have no idea who you are. This is just an example of how it can feel. The vastness of grief is just as wide as the spectrum of human experiences itself. Does anything help? Sometimes, and not always. And sometimes what you thought would not help, can help when you least expect it.
From my own experience, as someone who has experienced and is experiencing grief, with no educational background in psychology whatsoever, and having just my anecdotal journey to offer you, here are some activities and experiences that may help when the grief is extremely new and raw:
Talk about it
Talk as much as you need to. Talk to people who will genuinely listen and be there for you. Talk to people who will hold you and tell you they love you and expect nothing in return. Try to stay away from those who think they are helping by offering unsolicited advice or blanket statements that do not help. These statements often seem empathetic, but they are dripping with sympathy and veiled with emptiness, and no one needs sympathy when they are in the throes of grief. Talk to those who will listen and just be there for you.
Move your body
Go on a walk or a hike. Do yoga, maybe at home if you don’t feel like being around anyone in a public class setting. Or hire a yoga teacher privately so that you don’t have to be around crowds. Run. Ride your bike. If you feel up to it, take an fitness class or even consider working with a personal trainer. You’d be amazed at the healing benefits of just being present in your body can offer.
Get lost in a book or a movie
You might feel guilty for this one. You might feel like your mind needs to be on your loss every second. It doesn’t. So only go for this one when you actually feel like it. Read a book purely for entertainment if you’re up to it. Watch a movie that will make you laugh. Even binge watch if you want to. There are no rules here. Make it work for you. In the week or two after our sons’ delivery, we watched The Matrix trilogy. It was an awesome distraction. Just be aware of that. Are you doing it to distract yourself? That’s ok if so. Are you overconsuming to distract yourself too much? That’s something to watch out for.
This is either your thing or its not. No judgement there either way. If you want to write, write. If you don’t, no big deal. For some people, flushing their thoughts, feelings and experience out on to paper is incredibly cathartic.
Go out of town
Take a short little trip. You don’t have to go far. Maybe even just for the weekend. Stay close to home if you’d like. Set yourself up with some activities you have already planned, so that you make the best out of the experience. Or go somewhere where relaxation is encouraged, like a cabin in the woods or a beach house. You get to choose. This is your experience. If going out of town isn’t feasible, can you take a day off? Maybe book a spa day, or go to a restaurant you’ve never tried. Getting out of the house can feel really good. And if you start to leave and anxiety hits and you just can’t do it, that’s ok. Try again when you feel like you’ve built up some resilience. It’s not worth it if you need to just stay home and fall apart. I had many days like this, where I sat in the car and just couldn’t start it and I crumbled in to a mess. It is ok to fall apart. It is ok that you’re not ok. Take all the time you need.
See a mental health professional
I cannot overstate this enough. If you have the means, start seeing a grief counselor. As soon as possible. Ask for recommendations and go to someone who has expertise in your experience that you are grieving. This is really important. If it’s not possible for you because of where you live or your financial situation, see if there is a peer counseling group in your area. Often, there are free peer counseling/support groups that center around a specific loss experience (loss of pregnancy, loss of child, loss of spouse). These are led by peers who have been on a similar journey to what you are experiencing. They are not mental health professionals but they have been extensively trained. If you still can’t find anything in your area, get online and see what you can find. More and more there are forums and online groups for support. And I’ve even seen hotlines where you can call and a mental health professional is on the other line. Let yourself get help. You are not alone, you don’t have to go through this alone, nor should you.
Do what you need to do, unapologetically
You can say no. Give yourself that permission. Skip the family get together if you need to. Say no to well meaning friends if you are just not in the mood to go out. If you need something, ask. Get your meals delivered or ask friends for help if you just don’t feel like cooking. Ask someone to help you walk your dog if you just can’t seem to get out the door on a certain day. This is the hardest, asking for help. But let me tell you, people want to help, they just don’t know how. When you reach out and give them a task, they will jump on it. When they come to you and offer their help, they mean it, so be specific about what you need. And say no to what you need to. This is your journey. Be as true to yourself as you can be.