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It is NOT- Mild Depression- It is Grief!

by | Aug 18, 2020 | Depression, Grief, Practical Suggestions | 0 comments

We are Grieving the Loss of our Normal Life!

Young girl in medical mask looking out a window grieving the loss of her normal life. The COVID pandemic has people feeling a wide range of emotions. We feel the world has changed, and it has. Although these changes may be temporary, we can’t deny the overwhelming feelings of uncertainty and loss. The loss of normalcy. The loss of connection. The loss of life.

The book “How to Survive the Loss of a Love” discusses the various types of losses. From obvious loss (death of a loved one) to less obvious losses, such as the loss of a job, the loss of financial stability, the loss of relationships, and the loss of life like we knew it. This pandemic has brought about all of these losses.

“How to Survive the Loss of a Love” also discusses another type of loss labeled “Limbo”. Limbo loss describes situations such as awaiting medical tests or reports, a lawsuit outcome and listing your home for sale. They describe the feeling of being ‘in limbo’ as itself a loss. Even if the situation turns out positively, while in doubt, that doubt is a loss. In that state of limbo, they say that “not knowing” may be the hardest of all.

Limbo loss is widespread during this particular time. Awaiting COVID test results. Awaiting decisions on school reopening plans. Awaiting a COVID vaccine. Awaiting decisions from state and federal government. The list goes on and on.

Ultimately, we are all awaiting the end of this pandemic, and in this period of limbo, we are grieving the loss of our normal life.

Grieving Losses

As part of grieving the loss of our normal life, we are grieving the loss of being together. Just as birds flock, fish school, and horses and cattle herd, humans need socialization. Did you ever imagine that daily activities such as schooling, book clubs, doctor’s appointments, exercise classes, and more would become virtual? There is a reason we pay big bucks to attend live sporting events and concerts, rather than watch on TV from home. There is an undeniable energy that being together brings. And collectively we are grieving the loss of sharing in life together. We miss celebrating milestones together and gathering at parties, church, entertainment and sporting events, and school.

Our US culture compared to many other cultures has a hard time with the concept of grief. After experiencing a loss of a loved one or pet, people generally express “feeling down”, “sad” or “depressed” rather than recognizing what they are feeling is grief.

Stages of Grief

Along with the various stages of healthy grieving, there are various styles or ways we grieve. It is important to understand why and how you are feeling the way you are feeling and to allow yourself to go through the process, no matter how small you think the loss may be.

Symptoms of Healthy Grieving

Episodic memory, or flashbulb memory, is the collection of details associated with an emotional event. This information might include smells, sights and sounds. An example of episodic memory is the memory of what you were doing on September 11, 2001 when you learned of the attacks on the Twin Towers.

  • Denial
  • Shock/disbelief
  • Anger
  • Numbness
  • Bewilderment
  • Attempts to regain the loved one or the life you had before– (bargaining)
  • Disorganization
  • Feeling depressed and down (not the biochemical depression)
  • Acceptance or resolution

The “typical” grief response includes denial, anger, bargaining, disorganization, depression, and acceptance, or resolution. The first reactions are often shock, numbness, bewilderment, and a sense of disbelief. After a few days, the numbness turns into intense suffering, which includes an overwhelming feeling of emptiness. A grieving person may have dreams or hallucinations of how they used to be. Next comes a period of despair, as the grieving person slowly accepts the loss. The dominant feelings are sadness and the inability to feel pleasure. Tense, restless anxiety may alternate with lethargy and fatigue.

Biological Impact of Grief

Research has shown that loss affects the health of the grieving individual. Some physical symptoms common with grief are sleep disturbances, loss of appetite, headaches, back pain, indigestion, shortness of breath, heart palpitations, and even occasional dizziness and nausea.

Many of these symptoms are similar to Covid-19 symptoms, which brings added worry and anxiety.

A grieving person may seek comfort from others, while others may withdraw. Unfortunately, amid this pandemic, we can’t be together to offer companionship and hugs. Thus, symptoms of grief are heightened. Sadness is mixed with anger towards a variety of people, including doctors, friends, relatives, politicians, and government. Including an increase in domestic violence. This anger is also often directed inward to the extent that there is a wish to be dead. There has been an increase in suicide since the pandemic. Frequently the motives of people who try to help are suspected, and the grieving person may alienate their friends, relatives, or therapist. A common change in grieving is for the bereaved to withdraw from leisure and social activities.

Grief and Depression

The term depression is widely used to express sadness and grief. However, the state of feeling down or blue is different than biochemical (clinical) depression. Two noticeable differences between clinical depression and the feeling of being depression or blue, related to grieving, is the ability to switch moods. People with clinical depression do not have a fluctuation in mood. They remain in their dark mood. Also, when someone is experiencing grief or sadness, they are accepting of hugs and support. This is NOT the case when someone is clinically depressed. There is a feeling of wanting to avoid them and often that person who is clinically depressed does NOT want to be hugged or consoled.

Grief and depression have many features in common, including guilt, anger, and physical symptoms. However, a bereaved person usually shows more changes in mood and has moments of normal cheerfulness. If you have ever been to a funeral, you have seen people crying, and then laughing about fond memories. This is not seen in a depressed person. A bereaved person rarely has pervasive feelings of worthlessness.

The process of grief consists of the emotional energy of the grieving person directed at the images and thoughts of how they used to be, therefore, none is left over for other activities.

Eventually, through constant review and reliving of memories and feelings, the energy is gradually turned outward again. How one displays grief through behavior and emotions depends on culture, gender, age, and religion. Our culture often dictates the way men and women display emotions. Men are usually given greater leeway to be overtly angry, while women are permitted to display sadness more openly.

Whatever you are feeling, it is important to understand it and work through it, and in some cases seek professional help. If you’re having trouble coping with your over changes caused by the pandemic or are experiencing depression, please consider seeking help from a mental health provider.

The next blog, Grieving the Loss of Our Normal Life, will present various ways to help us cope with the extreme uncertainty related to the current pandemic.

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Image Credit Elaine Boucher

Within each person shines an inner light that illuminates our path and is the source of hope. Illness, trauma, suffering and grief can diminish the light and shroud hope. I am a catalyst for hope and change, offering a way to rekindle this inner light.

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