Growing through grief

Some of us may remember learning the five stages of grief identified by the very honourable psychiatrist, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. Grief extends beyond death and dying; there doesn’t have to be a physical death in order for something to feel dead to you. For example, I felt completely dead last week so there was no new blog post but here this is now.

For those living with, or caring for someone with a mental illness – this is for you – this is for you to mourn, but also salute your mental and emotional battle with mental illness.

Do you miss the person you used to be? Do you miss the life you lived before all the mood changes, doctor appointments, and medications invaded your castle? Or do you feel like you’re losing grip of the person you once loved? Maybe they’re not as happy, relaxed or outgoing as they were once… and it’s like they’re dead inside. Or just a shell of their body?

We grieved in these moments of mental illness because someone or something we loved was stolen away from us. And the heart ached tenfold because we only noticed after the grenade dropped and the ringing from our ears cleared.

I bet the culprit was Sniper from Dora the Explorer. Let’s say it was him; Sniper comes and goes just as this loss will come and go. I hope that you will remember the love you had for yourself or the one you care for while you venture through each stage of grief.

Please keep in mind that each stage of grief is fluid. You can rock back and forth between each stage, and even become stuck in them sometimes. Pretend you’re sailing through the ocean. Stay mindful. Stay patient, and I mean it. It has been well over 2 years and I am still grieving over my former life and self; I lost the mind that I still intermittently lose control of. Hence why I have documented a few moments from each of my grieving stages. Maybe they’ll resonate with you and remind you that they are only stages, which means that the cycle will end eventually and you’ll love again. For now, let’s begin discussing each stage of grief.

1. Denial: The original bipolar diagnosis
Signature thought – “It’ll all be fine eventually. This is just a phase.”
Long story short, I was first diagnosed with “medication induced hypomania” which lead to my bipolar diagnosis, also known as The Bipolar Badge. Prior to this conclusion, I was prescribed an antidepressant that made me go hyper and abnormally jumpy off the walls. I eventually crashed and became suicidal… and attempted suicide. A rule of thumb: do not give antidepressants to anyone with bipolar disorder if they’re not on a mood stabilizing medication first.

The Bipolar Badge seemed convenient for health professionals; it seemed easier for them to categorize and medicate me accordingly based on a label. I fit right into the stereotype because I was in my twenties, which is when they usually hand out Bipolar Badges to people. The whole diagnosis was easy to deny because my episodes of hypomania stopped so I sealed my patient file with a big red wax “REJECT” stamp. I peeled off my Bipolar Badge and safely stored it in a box like a souvenir from the hospital.

2. Anger: The “why me” syndrome
Signature thought: “What the heck did I do/not do to deserve this?

I finally stopped denying my Bipolar Badge when I started hearing voices. I became angry at myself for not doing enough or trying hard enough to take control over my mind. Instead, some invisible invaders held me hostage instead. They knew which buttons to push so that I’d listen to them. They persuaded me to eventually do harmful things that would hurt myself and my life. The real anger set in when I watched them torture my husband too. They made me sit there… watching him watch me… until he paid enough for my ransom.

3. Bargaining: Abracadabra, magic!
Signature thought: “But if I do this then…”
I started to give it all up. The little marijuana that I smoked, the alcohol, the junk food, and the late nights of partying. I thought that if I picked them off my list, one by one, I would be able to get rid of the hypomania and the voices. I just wanted to be at peace with my beloved and familiar depression and anxiety. Living with the lesser of two evils also meant that I would be rid of my Bipolar Badge, and all of it’s symptoms too! I was another natural born magician who shouted, “Abracadabra, magic!” and magically made a medical diagnosis disappear simply by changing my lifestyle and defying science altogether. When I realized I wasn’t a magician, I reverted to my former “anger” stage. The constant switching between the anger and bargaining phases continued every time I tried to change something else in my life (and realized that it didn’t work.)

4. Depression: Void and invalid
Signature feeling: the inability to feel excitement from things that once made you happy.
For a long time, I felt like living with my Bipolar Badge was a death sentence. And though I don’t feel that way now, my brain is still crumbling and failing me because every symptom is rising while my mood is plummeting. Didn’t I enroll my brain and neurons into olympic level synchronized swimming lessons or something? Ironically, I don’t know how to swim so… Anyways my neurons can’t seem to sync up and communicate with each other harmoniously. All I still hope for is a month of peace and quiet in my mind; a month where there was no buzzing in my head, no voices, no hallucinations, no irrational fear of the streets and of people.

5. Acceptance: Loving thyself, again
Signature thought: …
Like the title says, I am still growing through this grief and it feels like I still have a lifetime to go. I am hopeful that life with my Bipolar Badge will feel better, but until then, I am still slipping and sliding between the depression and acceptance phase. Umm… is that a type of acceptance? I think it sort of qualifies but I really don’t have a clue. Thoughts anyone? I know a lot of you probably have way more experience than I do. Any feedback would be awesome 🙂

For everyone on the friend/family side: I hope that you have a clearer understanding of why we aren’t what we used to be, and that you can be patient with us and yourself in each stage of grieving too. Overcoming grief is a marathon – not a 100 metre dash.

xoxo,
Joanne

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