In this post, I’ll like to share my experience of dealing with the mental health effects of grief. Once upon a time, mental health and grief were things I would never imagine I would experience.
Well, let me rephrase because I guess you can’t really experience mental health. It is more of a mental health-related issue that one can face. We all have mental health and one goal: is to look after it.
I had never really thought I would need to constantly focus on my mental well-being until I lost my parents. Grief, which I think is fair to say, can be so complex and it affects my mental health.
Growing up, I felt conditioned to believe that mental health was something I never had to worry about. Throughout my childhood and early adult life, nothing really fazed me mentally. In hindsight, I feel like I was either naïve or I had been sheltered from anything that could really affect me on a mental health level.
When my parents died, I went into a state of disbelief, which is understandable and some would even say is part of the stages of grief, and couldn’t understand why I was dealing with not one but two losses. ‘This is too much grief for one person‘, were the words I kept repeating in my head and even to this day I keep thinking the same thing.
How does grief affect you mentally?
How did grief affect my mental health? This isn’t exactly a rhetorical question nor is it one that has a straightforward answer, as it is subjective. I can only provide perspective from my experience. I struggled to understand my grief in the first few years as I just felt losing both parents at a young age (early 20s… which is relatively young, right?) wasn’t normal.
The struggle to accept that led me to have low self-esteem. I didn’t feel like my life had direction. I wasn’t, trigger warning, feeling suicidal but I didn’t see the point in life if I couldn’t have my parents in it.
When I look back, and I say this loosely, I feel like I was depressed and was struggling to pick myself up mentally. It didn’t help that I kept these thoughts to myself because I felt that it wasn’t ‘manly’ to have a talk about feelings.
I am really grateful that I am in a good place where such a mentality is a thing of the past, I have God to thank for that and being surrounded by people who encourage me to share my feelings rather than stay silent, but this wasn’t an easy place to get to-it took a lot of work!
In my humble opinion, I feel as though we do not treat mental health the same way we do our physical health. When I was in mourning and gradually shifted to a stage where I had to sit with my grief, it felt like there was no time to stop and really think about how I would look after myself mentally.
When we experience issues with our physical health we address them directly because it’s most likely that it will prevent us from going about our day-to-day. We will do what we can to restore our health and get back to functioning. Why don’t we have this same attitude towards mental health?
When I buried my parents, it was business as usual after the funeral. They were buried but the emotions weren’t. For a while, I just kept thinking that I have to get back to normal but what I really needed to do was adjust to this new normal.
Here’s how I dealt with the impact of grief on my mental health.
I started to address my mental health when my grief became too much to contain. This is often the problem with mental health is that we tend to take it seriously when it reaches breaking point rather than preventing it from reaching that point.
I didn’t want to let things develop to the point of no return. I became more open to the idea of therapy and less fixated on this belief that being vulnerable was a sign of weakness as a man.
When I think back to it, therapy was good for me as I got a lot of those emotions and feelings off my chest. Whilst it was great to express what was becoming too much to keep in, I didn’t feel like my mental health was restored from that low point to a better point.
I viewed therapy as some sort of quick fix. It was a humbling experience when I realised that therapy alone didn’t magically take my mental health from a 1 to a 10. It took various things, in addition to therapy, to really get myself in a good mental space.
- Gave myself the permission to grieve
I started to really unpack my grief and all the toxic and unhealthy thoughts I had surrounding it. As devastating as it was losing both my parents, I started to give myself more grace and understanding. Rather than put on a brave face and mask my sadness, I quickly understood that it is okay not to be okay. I was ashamed that I would let grief wear me down but it doesn’t go away, it stays with you. I know that sounds morbid but it is the truth.
Once I understood that grief wasn’t a dirty word or something that defines me, I started to embrace it even more. I still have my moments where grief feels all-consuming but I remind myself to shut off from things for as long as I need to or speak with people I feel comfortable opening up to.
- Gave myself the needed time to grieve
I don’t say this as something that is a must as I know what will work for me may not necessarily be the best thing for someone else, but I do genuinely believe that actively making time to shut off from things and to speak to those you trust, is good for your mental wellbeing.
I was able to look after my mental health because I had a community of people around me that I was able to reach out to without fear of judgement. Understanding that grief is a part of me and doesn’t define me was something that really helped me alleviate my mental pressures.
How has grief affected your mental health? Or perhaps you hadn’t realised that it affected your mental health until reading this post? We would love to hear your experiences. Please share your thoughts in the comments.