July was the two year anniversary of Mom’s passing. It’s so strange to think that life goes on even without her here. Six months after her death Dad asked if I thought I was getting depressed. With my history of mental illness it was a valid question. I had to think about it for a minute before responding, but my answer was a sure “no”.
Since then there have been many times when I’ve had to stop to take a moment to check in with myself. I ask myself the same question that Dad asked me – How is my mental health? Am I getting depressed again? There are so many similarities between grief and depression. In the beginning it was especially hard to differentiate between the two. I felt so tired and heavy all of the time. Basic, daily tasks like getting out of bed and eating breakfast seemed almost impossible. I was moody and had a short temper. For a while I was afraid that I had permanently lost all empathy for other people. I was hurting too much myself to have any energy left to care about what they were going through. Even the pain was similar in some ways. The term “broken heart” never seemed more appropriate. It was a sharp, stabbing pain in my chest so intense that it knocked the breath out of me. Sometimes I felt like it might kill me. Sometimes I wished it would.
The difference between the pain of grief and that which comes with depression was subtle initially but definitely still there. It was in my view of the future. As overwhelming as the pain was immediately after Mom’s death, on at least some level I knew that it couldn’t stay at such a high intensity forever. Time would eventually bring healing. I could still picture the future – seeing my sisters get married, meeting new nieces and nephews, growing old (God willing) with my husband. It was bittersweet to imagine because I knew that Mom wouldn’t be there for any of these things, but I still believed that each new season of life would bring its own joy and beauty. I was never without hope.
That hope is what I was missing when I was depressed. When I was trapped in those moments of pain, despair, and emptiness I was so certain that was all I would ever feel. If I’d had a good day previously I couldn’t remember it. All I recalled was each time I had felt this way before. When I tried to look toward the future I saw nothing. It was like trying to look out a window with the curtain closed. The biggest lie depression ever told me was “this is all you have ever been and all you ever will be.”
As months and then years have gone by the pain of grief has become less intense. It still hurts, it always will, but it is less debilitating than it was initially. I still think about her all of the time. Even the most joy-filled life events are accompanied by a pang of sadness and the thought that “she should be here,” but I am still moving forward.
Life is beautiful. It’s always moving and changing. There are new seasons, new friends, new growth. If you are in a place right now where you can’t see that, whether that’s because of personal tragedy or mental illness, please know that the way things are right now are not how they are always going to be. It seems like such a shame when the happy moments in our lives can’t last forever, but the blessing is that neither does the pain. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help when you need it – whether that’s from a family member, a friend, or a counselor – and don’t ever lose hope that you’ll find joy in life again.