In the lead-up to the second anniversary of my Dad’s death, I’m a little bit confused. As someone who has always had a tendency to repress emotions, it’s not always obvious – even to myself – when I am feeling grief.
I read this article recently, and it really spoke volumes to me. Although I don’t outwardly feel the ‘classic’ symptoms of grief, I am beginning to get in tune with how it looks for me.
The signs are subtle but when the dots are connected, they make so much more sense. As someone who has dealt with mental illness symptoms for as long as I can remember, it tends to just feel like another period of struggling with these a little more than usual.
I have noticed myself having trouble sleeping (I actually started writing this on one of said sleepless nights). I feel a bit less motivated than usual, have a sneaking desire to get drunk more often, and am definitely more anxious and irritable.
This time of year is a strange one, because it kind of all feels like one big anniversary. Yes, my Dad died on 12th August 2017, but the few months leading up to that date were full of milestones.
And it’s the weird things that get to me – the things you can’t really explain to anyone who didn’t live through the situation. I get heightened anxiety on hot summer days as they bring back memories of stressful, overheated hospital wards. Certain foods remind me of the things I would eat when I had no time or energy for proper meals.
The mind makes strange connections, that’s for sure. If I told you that the sound of ambulance sirens puts me on edge a bit, you might understand. But what if I told you that a pot of ‘nomadic oats’ chocolate granola has a similar effect?
That’s the thing about grief, it doesn’t always make sense, and it’s rarely straightforward. This can make it difficult to deal with and add to that sense of loneliness and the feeling that nobody understands your thought processes. As a society, we are taught about the ‘five stages of grief’ which to be honest, I think is unhelpful. Because grief is not something that can be defined – it’s completely unique from one person to the next.
My grief doesn’t look like ‘denial’ or ‘anger’ or ‘bargaining’ or ‘depression’. It can look like being absolutely fine, then being zoned out all day because I saw a granola pot. Sometimes it is a sudden and intense anger at any reminder that other people have moved on with their lives. Sometimes it’s feeling sad and having a few extra drinks when I don’t even really know why. Sometimes it’s a paralysing fear of being seriously ill myself.
About this time last year, actually, I went through a terrible bout of health anxiety, and didn’t realise until months down the line that it popping up in July was probably no coincidence at all. It’s strange what you notice in hindsight.
My point is, my own grief is not obvious even to me – it just doesn’t feel like what we are taught it ‘should’ be like. I rarely think about my Dad and feel upset or cry, but that doesn’t mean I do not grieve in my own way. Often, I only realise actions or feelings have been caused by grief when I look back on them. Sometimes, I’ll feel angry or anxious and not realise until later on that one of his funeral songs was on the radio, or that I’d overheard a conversation that brought back memories or reminders.
So in this month leading up to that second anniversary, I’m going to make an effort to be kind to myself. I need to keep telling myself it’s ok to feel grief that isn’t the same as other people’s. Everyone’s experience of losing someone is so different, so it’s only natural for our reactions and coping mechanisms to be a bit different, too.
I’m going to keep pushing on, whilst also allowing myself those extra naps I need when my brain has been working in overdrive, and I will grant myself time to breathe and practise self-care and forgive myself for the heightened anxieties and resurfacing memories.
I hope this can give anyone who feels their grief doesn’t fit into society’s neat little box a bit of comfort that actually, it’s ok. It’s ok to be affected by weird things that nobody understands but you, it’s ok to experience grief in a different way and above all, it’s ok to show yourself compassion, forgiveness and love.
Let’s deal with our grief in our own way, one granola pot at a time.