On Death, Grief and My Mental Health

Content Warning – This post talks about heavy topics like death, grief, burnout and mental health.

Anyone who’s gotten over a heartbreak or a bereavement knows that there aren’t five stages of grief you pass through like they were five whistlestop towns on the train route. You are more this way one day and more that way the other, looping and regressing, and maybe building reconciliation or acceptance like a log cabin while living in sorrow, rather than sliding into it like you were stealing third base.

Rebecca Solnit, Slow Change Can Be Radical Change

H/T to Kottke for sharing this on his blog.

This paragraph from Rebecca Solnit’s essay about slow change hit me hard. It reminded me of an episode of the Allusionist, “Bonus 2023” which has a conversation with Cariad Lloyd about the Victorian Brits’ way of dealing with death. That conversation has a bit about how the five stages of grief as coined by Elizabeth Kübler-Ross in 1969 somehow got applied to people grieving death, here it is:

CARIAD LLOYD: Geri, Posh Spice… Yeah, it is denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. So they would go through, they would deny it was happening to them, then they would be furious it was happening. And then they would try and bargain their way out of it. “If I pray more, if I’m nicer, maybe this cancer will go away.” And then they would be depressed, “Why me?” And then they would reach acceptance: “Okay, I’m going to die.” And if you allowed them to go through those five stages, they’d reach this place of acceptance where they could talk to their family, they could obviously sort out their affairs and they had a essentially a peaceful death. So when I read the book, I was like, that’s fair play. That’s brilliant. That’s great advice. 

I don’t know when or why or how it became applied to grieving people. Somewhere in the midst of that book being written in 1969, it just became not about people dying – which is what it was written for – it became about people who are still living and having to deal with grief. And it makes no sense, zero sense, to be about people who are living. It’s about people who are dying. Of course, you can reach an acceptance if you’re like, “I’m heading for a full stop. I’m going to die. So this is why I kind of need to get myself together.” If you are grieving, you’re still here in all the mess. You’re still having to cope with all the chaos and the cognitive dissonance, and all the rest of it. Now, in grief, you might experience those stages, but you don’t go through them in a linear narrative. You don’t hit each one, boom, boom, boom, tick, tick, tick, and get to acceptance. 

Cariad Lloyd on The Allusionist podcast

Both Cariad and Rebecca here are 100% correct. Speaking from my personal experience with grieving a loved one its not a linear process in any sense of the word. It changes and shifts over time but its a constant that stays with you. When I first heard that my dad had passed away, the grief then was like a strong storm, it was devastating and a lot to deal with at once.

Nowadays, I still get sad about my dad not being around every once in a while but the grief is more like a bit of rain, I will get sad but its not as intense it as it first was. I know how to get a handle on it better.

I don’t know how much that weather metaphor makes sense to others but it makes sense to me.

I just realized that I never wrote about my dad passing away on anywhere other than on the fediverse. My dad passed away in late 2020 and at the time my mental health was still recovering from severe burnout from my previous job. The news of his death hit me hard, it felt like someone had pushed me downhill when I started pushing the rock of mental recovery uphill.

I spent most of 2021 and some of 2022 in recovery from the double dose of burnout and grief. Its only in 2023 that I truly felt like I was out of the darkness. I didn’t speak about it a lot on social media back in 2020/2021 because personally I didn’t feel comfortable doing so at the time and I certainly didn’t feel comfortable putting it up on my blog.

Thankfully, I had certain people in 2020 and 2021 (Sarah, Salem, Elise, I am forever grateful to y’all ❤️) who helped me a great deal with understanding myself and how to really deal with all the various emotions swirling around in my head in a healthy way. I truly feel much better mentally than I did four years ago and I’m super proud to be able to say that.

Of course, I still deal with various mental health challenges. Loneliness especially continues to be a problem I deal with regularly, especially during the winter months but hey at least nowadays its something I can talk about freely rather than repressing it and hoping it goes away (hint: it doesn’t go away if you ignore it dear reader).

I regret that I didn’t start taking care of my mental health until only a few years ago but as they say better late than never. I also regret that my dad and I weren’t speaking much before his passing.

Miss you lots, dad. I wish you were still around.