It’s been a few days since I said goodbye to my beautiful girl. The pain has settled a bit. It’s true what they say about the five stages of grief. In brief, the five stages are Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. I am walking through these stages of grief right now.
Grieving is hard. For me, it means letting myself open up to feel my feelings. It means being okay with crying about eating fried chicken (because it was one of her favorite treats). Hell, it means being okay with crying while cleaning her poop out of the litter box for the last time.
Grieving is already hard. Being bipolar makes grieving harder. The allure of depression is so tempting. Add in my alcoholism and you have a recipe for disaster. All I really want to do right now is crawl into a hole with a bottle of vodka and forget the world.
But I’m not going to do that. I’ve actually worked very hard not to do that. And I’ll share with you what I did to keep myself from falling into the black hole of depression.
First, let’s break down the five stages of grief.
It might sound like a bad thing, but denial serves a purpose – it helps us survive the initial shock of loss. We go numb to the world around us and just try to get through our day-to-day routines. Right now, we are burying the strong feelings of loss and sadness that would otherwise overwhelm us because we can’t process them yet.
This is like a grace period. And it’s okay. We can’t handle everything all at once. We’re built to become attached to the people and animals we love, and when we lose them, those feelings of loss are enormous and heartbreaking. In order to survive, our body shuts down a little bit.
I felt like I was moving through a fog after we left the vet.
I have been told that anger is a secondary emotion. The first emotion that happens before anger is either hurt or fear. But if anger is what you are feeling, you must feel the anger. You will get to the underlying emotions in time.
We feel anger now because we are still not ready to feel our true emotions. It’s easier to displace them with a secondary emotion like anger, something ready to hand, something that puts the focus on others – doctors, vets, God, or even the sick person/pet.
Anger is a dangerous feeling for me because I turn it inward. I become angry at myself and I begin to punish myself. This usually leads to self harm.
I’ve cut myself twice this week.
Ah, the “What if…” and “If only…” questions and statements. The guilt. The blame. If only we could have done something differently, then we would not be feeling this pain.
This is a normal reaction to feelings of helplessness and vulnerability. We’re trying to regain control. If only we’d sought medical attention sooner… If only we’d gone for a second opinion… If only I’d been better about giving Brenna her medication… If only…
Guilt weighs heavy on my heart. Especially since it was ultimately my decision to end her suffering.
The most important thing to note here is that this sadness you are feeling is a natural response to great loss. This depression is not mental illness. It is an appropriate response to losing someone you love dearly.
It is natural to withdraw from life to grieve. Not experiencing depression after the passing of a loved one or a dearly loved pet would be unusual. Grief is a healing process, and depression is just one of the steps along the way.
The difference here for me is that I am bipolar and can slip very easily into a depressive state.
Acceptance is not the same is being okay with your loss. This stage is just about accepting the actual reality that your loved one or your pet is gone. We have a new, permanent reality. We are not saying it’s okay that our loved one or beloved pet is not with us anymore. We are just becoming willing to accept our new way of life.
I am never going to like my new reality without Brenna. But I’m going to have to try to live with it. I have to try to accept it.
An important thing to consider is that these stages of grief are not necessarily linear. Perhaps they will happen in order for you. Perhaps you will be angry first or depressed first. Perhaps you will feel that you have accepted your loss and then all of a sudden you will find yourself bargaining.
Or perhaps you will experience what I experience. Everything all at once.
What I feel most right now is depression – and I am fighting hard to stay out of the black hole. Against every instinct, I am reaching out for help. I’m talking to my sister-in-law and my sponsor and my husband. I’m spending whole days outside of the house, baking cookies and running errands and being with people who love me and know I’m going through a hard time.
Does it make the pain go away? No. But it keeps the darkness of my bipolar depression at bay, and it helps me open up about the sadness I’m feeling. Sharing my sadness has helped more than I ever thought it would. I am so grateful for the people close to me who love me and are willing to listen to me and hug me while I cry.
And I’m grateful that I’m able to open up. Because it’s hard and scary. It’s taken me a long time to get to this point.
I just want you to know, if you’re out there – struggling with grief and keeping everything locked up inside – I get you.