Entries Tagged 'Manic-Depression' ↓

An example of grieving

This morning upon waking, I felt something I at first couldn’t describe. The Sunday tasks before me — groceries, cleaning/straightening, laundry — seemed, in some detached cerebral way, too much to take on. I’m someone who has accomplished a fair amount and has no physical hardships to speak of. Going to the grocery store should not be a challenge.

In my teens and twenties, I was taught by the psychiatric system to identify such a state as depression, as a bipolar mood swing, caused by an intrinsic chemical imbalance that no test need ever identify. They said I was one of many broken brains and as such needed to take dangerous pills forever. That my father had killed himself when I was 12 served only as more evidence of my hardwired, unchangeable failings, passed down from generation to generation as immutably and mechanically as iris color.

Today I know to take time identifying and processing my emotions. Lying in bed, it took me a few minutes, but I realized I was feeling overwhelmed. I don’t typically hear people speaking of overwhelm as an emotion. When I was a high school student, I rebelliously stole a yellow poster from my prep school that showed pictures of children emoting with words below the images identifying the child actors’ pretend emotions. While commonly spoken of emotions such as Angry and Sad were included, overwhelm was not on the poster. But overwhelm is an individual emotion, even if it might (usually?) be secondary to more basic ones.

Once I identified the emotion, its oppressive weight vanished at once. It was easier to get ready for the day.

As I was dressing, I found myself thinking of my dead father, perhaps in part because of a conversation the night before and an upcoming trip to Texas to visit family for the holidays. My dad was an often angry and scary person . . . My fiction story which won me admission to Clarion West Writers Workshop in 2008 was about a kid whose father had killed himself, a kid who tore up the funeral reception because he believed, as a child does, that he was supposed to be able to magically call his father back from the long trip the parent had claimed to be departing on. Driving to the grocery store, I thought about how once, when I was locked up in a psychiatric hospital, I called a family member from there to angrily question the circumstances of my father’s suicide. My question — how exactly did he die? was it perhaps Russian Roulette? — was described as indicative of paranoia, a symptom illustrating a medical disease, as if there were rotting tissues causing the situation rather than decades-stalled grief. The family member suggested then that I check the coroner’s report. Parked at the grocery store this afternoon, I thought it might help me process what had happened by actually looking up the coroner’s report online. Was it even online? What day did my father die anyway? I never could seem to remember what day of the year he died or at what hospital or anything like that. It’s always been like something that everyone else said happened, but didn’t discuss much and I myself never perceived. But somehow I guessed the date and was able to find online the medical examiner’s report.

It says manner of death: suicide, and identifies the type of bullet and the name of the hospital and the dates (shot himself one day, died the following morning), all those kinds of journalistic details in black and white. I didn’t ask anyone permission or discuss with anyone that I was going to look this up. I just did it, in the parking lot, because it felt like the right thing to do to confirm what had happened in the official sort of way. Suddenly my nose started bleeding a little (not from the nostrils, but going down the back of my throat), which is a reaction I’ve always had to intense stress. I cried a little. But I felt a lot better: specifically, my body felt lighter and I could tell grocery-shopping was not going to be so overwhelming. Less unfinished emotional work weighing me down. Walking around the market, I could sense how my trapezius was not tense and how my arms rightfully extend out from my back/shoulderblades rather than from a tense neck area. I was able to walk heel-toe easily without having to remind myself. Overall I felt a lot better, lighter, and more confident. It was easy and enjoyable to interact with the staff and other shoppers. I was no longer overwhelmed.

The morning feeling of overwhelm and the afternoon relief from grieving felt related: before grieving tasks feel like too much and after grieving completing tasks becomes easier. In a world run by Taylorist capitalism, everyone — me among them — is pressured to make to-do lists and schedule little rigid numbers about how many hours they’re going to spend doing this and that but removing the emotional blocks feels so much more helpful for productivity than “time management.”

The above is an example of what grieving is like. No paid therapist ever explained it to me in person clearly, in a way I could understand or make sense of. They would tell me I was grieving, but to me they might as well have been explaining what it’s like to visit Pluto. It was only when I had the experience myself that I could discern what grieving is. It certainly feels a lot more useful than being tranquilized by pharmaceuticals nobody much understands. Also, what about boys and men generally not receiving much education about their emotions?

About trauma people sometimes say, “Get over it” as if they’re checking their wristwatches and timing you in a “Get back to work!” way. But grief doesn’t really respond to timelines imposed by others, and you have to know and appreciate fully what the it is you’re supposed to be getting over before you can get over it. To get over something you have to process it, not skip the process stage because you’re in a hurry to meet someone else’s demands. How can you get over a death that you don’t know the details of?

Now that groceries are done, I still have time for housework and laundry — so back to that, with a friend visiting to share dinner and the chores. :) Additional resources on grieving and critical psychiatry: Daniel Mackler video about grieving, Dr. Terry Lynch mental health academy courses, Madness Radio archive.

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An example of grieving by Douglas Lucas is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. It does not affect your fair use rights or my moral rights. You can view the full license (the legalese) here; you can view a human-readable summary of it here. To learn more about Creative Commons, read this article. License based on a work at www.douglaslucas.com. Seeking permissions beyond the scope of this license? Email me: dal@riseup.net.