How to Process Grief

how to process grief

Hi friends,

I am coming to you with the heavier topic of how to process grief today. My community of friends from college was hit hard this week with the tragic and untimely death of one of our own. I know that some of you who follow my blog and read my emails are currently coping with this massive loss. I imagine that others of you in other parts of the world may be dealing with your own experiences of grief. Whether you have experienced grief in the past or you are grieving right now, the truth is that grief is a human emotion that every single one of us will face from time to time. I am writing this for all of us.

I have experienced a lot of loss in my life. I don’t say that so that you feel sorry for me; it’s just the facts. Throughout the years I have lost many people who I loved and cared about. I have learned a lot about grief from going through these experiences, and I want to share this knowledge with you in hopes that it will make your grief process a little more easeful. At the very least, I hope that this will help you see that whatever you are feeling is completely valid, and that you are not alone in this process.

You may have heard about the 5 stages of grief. I will briefly outline them below:

1) Denial – The first stage is often denial. When we face a major loss, oftentimes the first emotion that we feel is denial. We think “But that’s not possible, I just spoke her to yesterday”, or “this can’t be real”. We shut ourselves off from the pain. These thoughts are the natural way in which our minds process the shock.

2) Anger – Anger is often thought to be the second stage of the grief process. After the initial shock wears off, it’s natural for us to feel angry and pissed off. We think about how unfair life can be. We get angry at God. We wonder how we can live in a universe where things such as this happen.

3) Bargaining – The third stage of grief is said to be bargaining. We start to think thoughts along the lines of “Maybe if I had stayed with him last night, this wouldn’t have happened.” or “I should have called her.” or “Why didn’t we get medical attention sooner?” This is part of the grieving process as our minds are trying to make sense of a senseless situation and process what has happened.

4) Depression – The fourth stage is often described as depression. We fall into a deep, dark sadness over the loss that we are experiencing. We cry and mourn. We are slowly coming to terms with our loss and realizing it that it is real and there is no going back.

5) Acceptance – The fifth and final stage of the grief process is acceptance. By this point, we have processed many of our emotions and are starting to come to terms with what has happened and starting to accept this new reality that we find ourselves in.

For anyone that is coping with death or loss of any kind, I have 5 suggestions for how to manage this difficult time as gracefully as possible.

1) Know that these 5 stages are not linear. The 5 stages of grief are often thought to be a linear path where you go from denial to anger to bargaining to depression, and that by the time you get to acceptance, you have completely moved on.

In my eyes, it’s not quite so simple. Grief is such a personal process and you may find yourself returning to one of the earlier stages at any given time. I believe that time lessens grief and makes it easier to cope, however, it is very natural to get to a point where we are living in acceptance most of the time, and then something happens that triggers us to feeling angry or depressed again. This is all part of the process and does not mean that you are doing anything wrong, that you are moving backwards, or that you are not on your way to healing. It simply means that you are on your own individual journey.

2) Don’t judge yourself. A common thing that happens when we are grieving is that we begin to judge ourselves and our feelings. If we find ourselves lingering in the depression stage, we may start to think thoughts like, “But, it’s been 2 years, I should be over this by now.”, or “I wasn’t even that close with them, this shouldn’t be hitting me so hard.” Other times, we judge ourselves by thinking that we are moving on too quickly. We find ourselves laughing and enjoying life, and we instantly feel guilty and think that we should not be feeling anything other than sorrow.

There is no place for judgment in the grief process. Each one of us grieves in our own unique way. There is no set time limit for how long it should take to feel better. There is no hierarchy in the grief process; all feelings are valid. It is completely valid to feel grief for the loss of not only our closest friends and family members, but also acquaintances, old friends who we lost touch with, and even celebrities who we never met personally. Life is about connecting and touching other people’s lives. Grief is a sign that you were emotionally connected to someone; that their life mattered to you; that they made an impact and touched you in some way. Also, it is perfectly natural to be enjoying a happy moment laughing with your family one moment, and then be hit by a wave of sadness over the loss of your good friend in the next. This does not mean that you loved them any less. This is all normal. It is all natural. There is no right or wrong. In life, there are moments of beauty even in the midst of darkness. Try to soak in every light-filled moment you can get, especially when you are grieving.

3) Be with your feelings. I think that many times when we are grieving, we want to skip over the unpleasant feelings. But, by not taking the time to sit with our sadness, anger, or whatever else we may be feeling, we prolong the grief process. Unprocessed emotions have nowhere to go, so they get stuck in our bodies, making us feel worse. Take time to sit with and acknowledge anything you may be feeling.

4) Let your feelings out. After you have acknowledged your feelings, it’s important to get them out so that they don’t wreak havoc on your body. Let your feelings out by talking with someone you trust, doing physical activity, crying into a pillow, or seeing a therapist. The important thing here is to give your feelings a way to leave your body.

5) Don’t grieve alone. When we are faced with the heaviness of loss, many of us have the instinct to isolate ourselves. We want nothing more than to crawl into a cave where we can hide out for awhile and not have to face the world. This is one of the worst things that we can do.

If you get one thing out of this post, let it be this: Don’t grieve alone. Tell people how you feel. Write in a journal. Send an email. Schedule a therapy appointment. Join a support group. Speak with others who understand. Create new rituals to honor those you have lost. Do this all in the company of good people who care about you and your wellbeing.

You are not alone.

Sending love and strength to anyone who is grieving right now.

Be well,
Ambar

 

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Opening Up About My Struggles With Anxiety + Depression

my struggles with anxiety and depression
This photo was taken 12 years ago, at the height of my struggle with clinical depression. If you knew me back then, you would have thought I was fun and carefree, but really I was miserable and careless.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hi friends,

I have a really heavy topic to talk about today. An old friend of mine took his own life this week and left a lot of people heart-broken. He was the kind of person that had a sparkling personality; charming, charismatic, always befriending everyone he encountered and making people laugh. We weren’t the closest of friends, but we were friends, and his life had an impact on me. This news has been really saddening and shocking. He was the last person that you would ever think was fighting their own inner battle.

But clearly, he was suffering. A lot. And it’s gotten me thinking about mental illness. And about how many people are suffering in silence.

I want to open up about my own struggles with anxiety and depression. As someone who has fought through the darkness and loneliness of mental illness, and come out the other side, I’m now learning that it is my responsibility to share what the experience is like, in hopes that someone else out there reads this and knows that they are not alone, and that happiness and healing are possible.

The photo above was taken 12 years ago at the height of my struggle with depression. If you knew me back then, chances are, you would not have known that I was depressed. Quite the opposite, really. I was in college, I was in a sorority, I had a lot of friends, and an even more active social life. I went out almost every night and spent the nights dancing on top of bars and laughing with my girl friends. I appeared happy and carefree on the outside.

But, on the inside, I was a mess. I was so miserable that I felt like I had to go out every night and drink as much as I possibly could to numb the pain that I was going through. I was dropping out of all of my college classes because my anxiety was so severe that I couldn’t make it to class. I was losing my job because I woke up depressed and hungover everyday and stopped showing up to work. I had stacks of unopened mail because I had so many unpaid bills piling up that I was too anxious and overwhelmed to even open them. At night, while I was drinking, I would engage in really careless, self destructive behavior. I was reckless with my life, because I didn’t think it held much meaning. I would wake up every morning filled with shame and anxiety over my poor choices the night before, and I would start figuring out a way to numb myself from my feelings all over again.

This is the darkness of depression. You care so little about yourself that you do things that you are not proud of, and then that makes you even more depressed. It’s a vicious cycle.

Just as we don’t expect a body that is fighting an illness to function the same as a healthy body, we cannot expect a mind that is ill to function optimally. Mental illness causes us to do things that we would not do if we were mentally healthy. And then we feel ashamed, or guilty, and we are too embarrassed to talk to anyone about how we are feeling. Many times, we think that our problems are trivial, or that no one will care, or that we are bringing these problems onto ourselves, or that we have privileged lives, so we have no right to feel this way. And so, we hide. And the pain gets worse.

This is what mental illness does to you.

As humans, we all experience a wide array of emotions. But we judge them as “good” or “bad”. We think that we should be walking around feeling good and happy all the time, and we feel like we are doing something wrong if we aren’t.

We ALL go through hard things. We all have parts of our lives that we wish were different. We’ve all done something that we are ashamed of. Even those of us who seem to be happy all the time, are not. Nobody is.

In this blog, I talk a lot about natural healing. I’m really proud of the fact that after struggling with my anxiety and depression for the better part of a decade, I was able to get off medication, and continue feeling better by practicing yoga and meditation, changing my mindset, and developing somewhat of a healthy obsession with self development.

But, it took me a lot of years in traditional therapy and on medication to get to a place where I was stable enough to heal naturally. I think that there is tremendous value in mainstream treatment such as therapy and medication. In some cases, it can be life-saving. I don’t know where I would be today if I had never asked for help by going to therapy.

I don’t often talk about it, but I still struggle with depression and anxiety from time to time. The only difference is that I now have so many more tools to manage it, that it does not feel as extreme as it once did, and it doesn’t last as long. But, I’ve come to terms with the fact that anxiety and depression are something that my mind is naturally prone to. It’s a battle that I’ll likely be fighting every time my life gets a little too stressful.

If you know me personally now, at this point in my life, you know that I’m a really happy and positive person. And the reason for that is that I’ve had to fight to get to this point. I am so grateful that I’ve been fortunate enough to heal myself and live a happy, healthy life. I feel extremely blessed. I’ve experienced the darkness and it is impossible not to be giddy with happiness that I now live in the light most of the time.

I personally believe that healing from mental illness starts by taking baby steps, and that the best approach is a holistic one. We can take medication to stabilize our symptoms. But if we are not also doing the deep inner work of talking about our feelings, learning healthier coping skills, and finding new ways to manage our feelings, medication alone is not enough. It can feel overwhelming to think about all of this when you are in the midst of a clinical depression or a full blown panic attack. But, the good news is, you don’t have to know all of the answers. It all starts by taking one small step: opening up to someone and sharing how you are feeling.

Mental illness thrives in the darkness. It takes on a life of its own by being kept in secret. It grows and festers in the darkness. It becomes all consuming when it is hidden.

What would happen if we all decided to stop suffering in silence? What if we stopped sharing only the good, happy-go-lucky parts of our lives, and started to let people know where we are struggling? What if we shared how we are really feeling? What if it could become normal to ask for help?

We might save each other. We might save ourselves.

If you are struggling or going through a hard time in anyway, please tell someone. It doesn’t have to be a big, major thing that you are going through. Even the smallest challenges deserve to be brought to the light. And when we get in the habit of talking about our small challenges, it makes it so much easier to talk about the bigger ones.

Reach out and talk to someone today. Share your struggles, and ask them what theirs are. And then, really listen. We all need each other more than we know.

Thank you for listening to my story.

Be well,
Ambar