Stages of Grief-Depression
If denial, anger and bargaining are all stages of self-protection initiated by our bodies to protect our minds from becoming overwhelmed when we experience death; when these come to an end and we realise the finality of the situation, the ‘depression stage’ can hit like a tsunami. As we can no longer pretend or bargain and we are faced with the reality and certainty that death is final – the one or thing (as this stage very much occurs with the loss of a job, or career for example) we love, will not be coming back.
This stage can feel very confusing because it is filled with vast emptiness. As we work to understand our lives without that person, coupled with the lifting of the emotional fog, an immeasurable sadness sets in for the foreseeable future.
This sadness permeates every thought and action and it can feel like you are going through the motions of everyday life.
I remember going back to work after my mother’s death, doing exactly the same tasks as I had before, but I felt like a different person. Gone were my little breaks where I would chat with colleagues, planning ahead was not an option as I could not look beyond the task I was currently working on, and there were times when I was so overcome by my sadness that I would sit in the toilets and cry.
Getting home after work was not much better as I would then cry because I had managed to get through another day, but that was another day that I had lived through without my mum and I did not know how to carry on without her.
Sadness changes your behaviour. During this period it is not unusual; to cry, withdraw from those around you, to withdraw from society, become irritable, lose sleep, sleep too much, eat more, eat less.
There is no right or wrong way to deal with this and it very much depends on the type of relationship that you had with the person you lost and our own personalities of how we respond to change and loss.
This stage lasts as long as it needs to, and it is entirely possible to keep dipping back into this sadness, especially as the first year of losing someone is not so much about celebrating their life, but a constant reminder of how long it has been since you last saw them. Their birthday, Christmas, and other significant events become a symbol of loss which only serves to strengthen the feelings of grief.
It is very easy to say “that it takes as long as it takes” but how does this work out practically, in the real world?
I remember attending a family gathering, a little more than a year after my mother had died. For me, this was the first time that I had been with my mother’s side of the family and I was not prepared for how much this affected me.
I kept looking around for her as she could always be found in the kitchen talking her sisters.
During this evening, a family member asked how I was doing and I found myself being unusually honest and saying how difficult I was finding it being here.
The response of “It’s been ages since she died, you should have got over that by now” was something of an unexpected response.
These responses are not uncommon from family members, work colleagues and others and although they can seem hurtful, it is important to remember that for those individuals the loss may not have been as significant. They may have moved through their grief journey quicker or they may be refusing to acknowledge their grief.
Everyone’s journey is different and no one else has the right to tell you when your journey is over – equally, and perhaps painfully – I had no right to demand that this family member still felt the pain I felt – regardless of how insensitive their comment was at the time.
You may have noticed that I have not referred to this stage of grief as depression.
There are many reasons for this, perhaps personal to myself and outlook as a therapist. The first being that using the word depression does not feel right to me.
Kubler-Ross, the Swiss Psychiatrist who was responsible for identifying the five stages of grief, originally worked with terminally ill patients and noticed that these were stages they appeared to transition through while processing their terminal diagnosis. I am not convinced that the word ‘depression’ translates across, to adequately explain the depth of emotions that a person feels while processing the death of a loved one. It is not depression but more of an innate sadness.
Secondly, the use of the word ‘depression’ is synonymous with the clinical diagnosis of low mood episodes, however grief is so much more than low mood and to diagnose it as such trivialises this grief stage and reduces feelings to symptoms. I am not saying that grief cannot lead to clinical depression, but we mustn’t ignore the need to work through emotions associated with grief which can present as similar to depression rather than going straight for a diagnosis of depression because it fits.
Although I did not realise this at the time, this whole period was about re-defining myself and learning who I was now after this loss.
My experience of grief started a metamorphosis. Living was so painful but looking back, there was a beautiful fragility about all of my experiences.
I absorbed every conversation with my dad and friends and remembered every smile because I was aware of how quickly life can change. I prioritised spending time with those who were important to me over unnecessary work commitments because time became something that was limited.
My focus changed, money, a career, possessions; all became less important and I wanted to experience having children, something I had been putting off until later in my life, believing I had all the time in the world to do these things. Memories of loved ones help us remember we were loved, the crazy rollercoaster ride I took with my mum where she sung “I will survive” by Gloria Gaynor all the way round, much to the amusement of everyone around her and its these memories that I pass onto my children to ensure that they know what a lady their nanna was.
The innate sadness of grief can feel like it lasts a lifetime, but amongst that sadness, life becomes about living rather than just existing.