Everything in my life feels, at the moment, like it’s gone to shit. Ever since my mom died, this part of me that has always been filled with vigor, filled with happiness, feels depleted. I wake up in the morning and I don’t even want to get up out of to bed. I’m so overweight, my flesh expanding like a sponge that all of my clothes no longer fit. The fashions I once loved, once used to make myself feel unique have all gone sideways. I walk into a fitting room and leave despondent, reflecting on all the meals I’ve eaten that have been bad choices, reflecting on my gut, my side boob, my engorged legs and triple chinned chin and neck. Losing fashion is losing what made me feel like I was different, like I was special, like I was me.
Then there’s writing. I used to write all the time. The urge hit me so bad most mornings that I had to resist calling out of work. I took advantage of snowfall because it meant I could warm my lap up with my tablet and feverish fingertips. I don’t write anymore. Writing has become a translucent means to what was once something that I took for granted. I thought writing would always be there, coasting me, guiding me like a ship lost at night. Writing was my beacon. But now writing has faded into oblivion.
My house is in a perpetual state of chaos. It’s not just piles of unkempt laundry or a carpet that could benefit from sweeping. It’s a legitimate state of chaos. There’s boxes piled high in my bedroom, baskets of clothes that have nowhere to be stored because the clothes I can no longer wear are bulging from the seams of my chest of drawers, eagerly escaping the closet on the next recycle. Dirty coffee cups line my desk, and it’s not as simple as being lazy as it is being trapped in this state of constant overwhelm-ness. Regardless of what I do, I’m constantly playing catch up. I’m consistently behind the 8-ball. If I want to rearrange my kitchen, it requires emptying the closet that is so packed, so jammed that the slightest motion creates a landslide avalanching into my living room. If I don’t take care of the house – if I don’t suggest it, it runs the risk of not getting done. And my grief, my pain, it doesn’t allow for a tidy environment.
I feel isolated, too weak to even take eleven steps to my front porch, too weak to open my eyes, too weak to tell my husband why I don’t want to come home, too weak to muster anything but “go away” as he taps on the window, worried about the risk of carbon monoxide.
I haven’t been the same since she left, the “she” in this being my mother. This pain, this overwhelming grief, this bitter sadness has taken residence for such a long time that it’s chosen to stay. The more time goes on, the more shit that gets piled on my shoulders, the more the pain buries into my skin like a maggot. All I do is live for moments. My life is a highlight reel. For one hour Saturday morning I’m content and happy because I’m participating in an activity that makes my insides burn. Then that moment’s gone, and I never know when it’s coming back.
In its wake it leaves this grease, this sludge, this slime. I feel alone. I feel trapped within a body that’s not my own, inside a head, a mentality that’s breaking, shattering every minute. At times I feel so worthless. I feel like happiness is so far away that it can only be measured in abstract distances. Obtaining it is an abstract number.
And it’s in these moments I think about the pain. And I think about what it’d be like if I didn’t have any. What would my days, my weeks, my months resemble with all the free time, all the free space unclogged from my heart?
It’s not depression, it’s complicated grief. It’s not a feeling of being sad, it’s an emotion of feeling inherently lost; like the existence of joyful moments and finding a sliver of enjoyment are foreign concepts your mind’s eye can’t even touch.
For a large majority of 2018, I walked around in what I dubbed a depressive funk. Most Saturday mornings would be greeted with this sense of loneliness. While my husband created puddles of drool and smeared sweat across our bedroom pillows, I’d be sitting on the couch letting my coffee grow cool, not being able to understand why I felt this hollowness. I didn’t know where it stemmed from, or why it was happening. All I knew was that it was strong. It was this over-stimulating, anxious feeling mixed with anger and irritability. Most Saturday mornings, I’d wake up, completely unaware of what I could even do that day; blissfully numb to the idea of having fun or feeling victimized by my friend’s birthday party in the middle of the afternoon.
Depression is something we can all attest to. We’ve probably all been depressed at one time or another. Depression has bright colored flags, which is why every time someone brought it up to me, I’d read the symptoms with an earnest desire to make a connection. I stretched the truth. Maybe I was depressed. After all, I had just lost my mother. That’s a depressing fact, as is.
But the signs of depression were ones that I struggled to relate to. I had moments of irritability, sadness and the unfortunate weight gain, but I also lost my shit when my husband went to throw out the can of soup my mother had stored in her office before she died — despite me asking him to be the one to toss it. I looked around my bathroom and the storage shelf is one I lifted from my parents’ house. Her orchid rests in the corner. Her distressed gold planter holds my makeup, and the truth is that I don’t even like it. Her empty bottle of White Diamonds sits on the rim of the sink collecting dust.
My entire house is this: an impermeable shrine to her goods. I didn’t feel like I was doing something mentally “out of whack”, considering my parents’ house is untouched, decorated the same as she left it. My father hasn’t rearranged the furniture, decluttered the busy walls or her collection of crystals. This is just a state of grief. It will pass.
I thought I was just depressed until I discovered the causes of complicated grief for myself. According to the website, Bridgestorecovery.com, complicated grief can form if:
– You were extremely dependent on the individual who passed away
– Experienced a death that was premature and unexpected
– Suffered alongside the deceased person if they died following a prolonged illness
– Possessing a previous history of being diagnosed with PTSD
If you’ve previously followed any of my published articles, whether they be Thought Catalog or another platform, you may already know that I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, in the summer of 2016. In addition to my diagnosis, everything on this list has been true: watching my mom go through extensive treatment to battle her Stage IV breast cancer diagnosis; receiving the phone call on a calm Tuesday morning telling me my mother died, not of cancer, but of an aneurysm after I had just spoken with her lively self hours before; watching a casket close on someone who was only 61, with years of her life still ahead of her; losing someone who guided me in every fashion, who’s guidance, in these past two years, I’ve missed because no one quite knew me like she did.
Reading all these symptoms opened the floodgates and I curled up on my bed feeling like after all this time, I finally understood what was “wrong with me.” I felt like all the arguments I had gotten in with my relatives or close friends, feeling this bitter resentment when they told me that my mom would want me to enjoy life, or to “get on medication,” finally made sense: this wasn’t something I could just “deal” with. This was something beyond my control. This was complicated in every sense of the word.
Suddenly, every aspect of my life that had begun to feel like a burden unfolding. There it was in bright bolden letters all the emotional and physical limitations I’d been battling for two years:
– Feeling angry and bitter toward those in my life who weren’t facing my same struggles
– Not caring how I looked, or if I shaved, or if I went an entire weekend without showering
– Talking about my mom, my loss, her disease on an incessant loop
– Becoming a recluse
– Withdrawing from all my friends, from writing, from planning vacations, from any activities I once enjoyed
– Feeling defensive when someone confronted me about my grief
– Flipping off any reminders of cancer…on the radio, on TV, in conversation….
– Holding on to her items in excess
– Feeling of suicide…of not really wanting to die, but of just wanting the pain to end
These symptoms and more can be found on bridgestorecovery.com
These feelings brought little comfort because now I wanted help. I needed someone’s guidance, their knowledge and expertise in the field of mental health to bring me back to who I was before my mother passed.
But, after calling 20 different therapists, it’s been a challenging task. Each one I called was either not accepting new clients or flat out refused to return my call. Maybe to them they knew they were booked, but to me, I’m just looking at it as help is being denied. My husband spoke to a therapist who said they aren’t accepting patients who are covered by insurance. Let that sink in: covered by insurance.
The help I’m actively seeking, the help I’ve been actively wanting and needing, is flat out inaccessible. This is how suicide happens. And the more I experience this, the more I’m realizing how unacceptable it all is.
I’m fortunate that, even in my darkest moments, I’m surrounded by a strong support group. Not everyone has that. When someone needs help, when they’re eagerly trying to access something as vital and life-saving as mental health assistance, they need to access it. It can’t be that the only therapists your insurance gives you are the only ones who don’t return calls, are the only ones who are so packed that they can’t take on one extra hour per week, the ones who turn me down because of my insurance policy. It’s not about helping people…it’s about the almighty dollar.
Access to mental health care is just as important and life-saving as the most expensive chemotherapy drug. Just because someone’s outward appearance doesn’t show the wear and tear of mental decay, doesn’t mean they aren’t struggling, they aren’t hurting, that they aren’t trying their best to climb out of a hole that perpetually seems out of reach.
Mental health care is just as important. So why is it almost impossible to find?