One of the difficulties with being bereaved is that the grief starts to kick in just as society expects you to be getting “better”. My father died in May and I didn’t really start to feel bad until August, since when I’ve felt progressively worse. And I know it’s only just beginning; I don’t really believe that my father’s dead and still feel like I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop.
I’ve decided to admit to being depressed. I’ve been feeling pretty bad since August, but have managed to rationalise and deny it because it’s manifesting differently to previous bouts of depression that I’ve experienced. A lot of the symptoms are physical in nature: fatigue, headaches, and shortness of breath, aches and pains, and a general feeling of unwellness that never develops into an identifiable illness. I’m also “woolly-headed”, struggling to make decisions, clumsy and forgetful, as well as de-motivated at work.
My denial of my depression is part of a general tendency to cut off from my feelings that’s marked the last few months. Capitalism gives you no space to grieve. Why would it? Bereavement isn’t productive, so it has no value (except perhaps to create voyeuristic media spectacles and sell self-help books). My workplace gave me two weeks off when my father died, which was considered generous. This means that if you have to work, there is a huge incitement to cut off from your feelings, simply in order to be able to carry on. If I actually allowed myself to feel my emotions at the moment, I probably wouldn’t be able to do my job and that’s really not an option. The result is depression and I’m aware that the depression is probably itself a protective response, in that it’s protecting me from even more difficult emotions.
We have got rid of our rituals to acknowledge bereavement and, morbid though the Victorians were, I now think their approach of making bereavement highly visible and treating the bereaved with extra care and consideration for an extended period of time, was probably more psychologically healthy than our approach now, which is basically to ignore all but the most extreme bereavements as much as possible. We acknowledge that the loss of a child and, to some extent, a spouse, is a terrible thing (which is not to say that I think bereaved parents or spouses are adequately supported), but the loss of parents, siblings and friends gets far less attention and people are often left feeling isolated and unsupported.
What I wouldn’t give for a black arm band warning people that I’m in a fragile state and might not be quite up to my usual level of productivity. What I would give not to have to explain why I’m tearful, or forgetful because people can see the reason for themselves. Well, at least the Victorian approach to bereavement acknowledged that something terrible had happened and treated people accordingly. One thing that I’ve realised damages peoples’ mental health is being subjected to situations in which they are having powerful emotions that are going unacknowledged.
That’s how I feel actually, like I’m being gas-lighted by society. I’ve been through this horrible experience in the last seven months of watching my father and grandmother die gruesome, painful deaths and no one’s really acknowledging it, there’s hardly any support available to me and I’m under a lot of social pressure to just carry on as normal. I was telling my partner the other day that I was feeling very anxious that as my grief worsened I would receive dismissive “Aren’t you over it yet?” responses from my work colleagues. She thought this was pretty rational fear because it’s likely that I will receive those kinds of responses.
When I read worried reports in the media about thousands of people being on anti-depressants, I think it’s quite surprising that more people aren’t taking them really, considering the pace we’re forced to live at and the lack of support or acknowledgment for peoples’ experiences of grief and trauma. I can’t help wondering how many of those people taking anti-depressants are bereaved.