By Nicole Beaver
Being that this is my last article within the 2017-18 school year, I want to talk about something relatively general yet, surprisingly, a topic that is not often brought up. This article will be about grief–what it can do to the human mind and how it affects those with mental health disorders specifically.
I was five years old when we got Mandy. She was a mixed-breed Golden Retriever/Black Lab cross (we assume). She was sweet and ladylike, and the only things she’d hurt were wasps and cats who got in the yard. I grew up with her as an outside dog but she was still a faithful companion and furry sister to me. She embodied the concept of family in a smelly ball of clever hilarity. She was also, more or less, my therapy dog. Long before my diagnosis, she was attuned to my state of mind and mood. She knew when I was in distress or close to a meltdown and would come to my aid. She let me pet her and hug her (something she actually hated) until I was calm. The month before I graduated high school last July, Mandy’s health began to wane. She stopped eating, started throwing up anything she actually did eat, and became lethargic. It was a very quick deterioration, one that was hard to watch. We still don’t know exactly what caused this, but I believe it was a tumour blocking her stomach. She used to be thrilled to see or hear us, but within a few weeks, it was apparent the dog we knew wasn’t herself anymore. Mandy was suffering and starving herself to death. More than anything, she was scared. I was scared too, but I spent as much time as I could with her up until the day we put her down. Holding her head in my lap and petting her in her final moments, I felt like I was losing a part of me. I experienced grief in every sense of this word and, to this day, I still tear up when I think about that goodbye.
It was a very hard day for my family. I’m still getting used to her not being around when I’m home. I do know this, though: grief is not a problem exclusive to me. Anyone can experience it, especially with loss. I specifically want to address how those of us with mental health issues deal with grief.
Mandy was not the first substantial loss in my lifetime. My adoptive grandfather on my dad’s side passed away two days before my eleventh birthday. Four years ago, my niece also passed away before her second birthday (on April 4). Every time the day comes around, I feel grief, but have a hard time expressing emotion. I know this is something many of us deal with, so I want to assure you that this is more normal than people may realize. Going numb, in fact, is a common response, but should be dealt with accordingly. Brookhaven Retreat states that “individuals with a history of depression, anxiety, and alcohol or drug abuse are often at an increased risk of developing complicated grief disorder. Those who had a close, emotionally dependent relationship with the deceased are also more prone to chronic grief.”
Chronic grief is actually considered a borderline mental illness as it stimulates depression and anxiety all while generating its own problems. Some of these include:
- Bitter or angry feelings over loss
- Constant occupation with grief
- Withdrawal or detachment from family, friends, and other social activities
- Difficulty trusting others
- Trouble maintaining a daily routine
Imagine someone already dealing with some kind of mental health issue and then adding grief to the mix. It can lead to either developing or increasing depression that is already extreme. Keep in mind, however, that others have a better grasp on their emotions and sorting out what they feel. It’s pretty much a mixed bag; every response is varied and all depends on the individual person’s state of mind.
It’s always important to stay vigilant when you or someone you know experiences a loss. Even if it’s just the death of a pet, it’s still a strong emotional attachment that can affect anyone at any age (the old saying, “kids bounce back,” isn’t quite accurate). Those who experience mental illness who are grieving for any reason should receive outreach and support. It is important to note here that the support cannot be forced; if we’re not ready to accept it, then that’s our choice. In extreme cases where you suspect that grief is affecting you or another in a destructive way, intervention is a viable option.
See you all next year when I pick up my pen to write again! Have a great summer.