Like many painful emotions, we don’t talk much about grief.
Grief is the emotional experience that results from any type of loss. Being the experience-that-must-not-be-named (yes, I just made a Harry Potter reference) gives rise to lot of confusion and misconceptions about what grief actually is, so I’d like to take the chance to debunk some of these erroneous ideas.
1. “It’s the same as depression.”
While they can often be experienced simultaneously, grief and depression are not one in the same. Depression, as an illness, is chronic, cyclical, and diagnosed based on intensity, severity and duration. Depression can exacerbate grief, but someone experiencing grief is not necessarily depressed, and vice versa. Evaluation by a mental health professional is necessary to distinguish grief from depression.
2. “You know it when you feel it.”
Unlike various diagnoses, there’s no typical way grief shows itself. Steps have been postulated, but really there’s no one thing that strikes you and says, “Hey! I’m grief!” Rather, it’s when overwhelming feelings that are hard to pinpoint, it’s the ”I feel like __ and I don’t know why,” that is often an indicator of grief.
3. “Keep it to yourself.”
As a topic of conversation, you might assume no one wants to hear about grief — it’s depressing, why would you want to bring others down? However, pushing others away and keeping your experience to yourself only perpetuates the idea that grief is taboo, something that shouldn’t be out in the open. People grieve differently and that’s okay, but if we never discuss our own experiences of grief, the distance between us will only widen during a time when the opposite is critical.
4. “It’s just about death”
This is a big one. Grief does not necessarily mean someone died. Though it’s usually associated with death, again: grief is the emotional response to any type loss. Sure, the grief over losing your favorite tee shirt is not the same as the grief over losing, say, a childhood home, but it is a loss nonetheless. Because of the taboo nature of talking about grief, when we lose something that’s not so overtly horrendous, like the death of a person, we are further disenfranchised, alone in our experience, believing our feelings are somehow wrong and irrational. Grief means the loss of something meaningful and valuable, and that can be any number of things depending on your life circumstances — they are all valid.
5. “It’s linear, with a timeframe and an endpoint”
Everyone grieves differently. There are certainly emotions that accompany grief such as sadness, anger, etc., but, really, there is no one way to grieve and there is no one correct way to deal with grief. When you lose something important, something that has shaped you, the impact will surface at different points in your life and for different reasons.
Once you experience a deeply painful, life-changing loss, it becomes a part of who you are — the tough part is learning how to be okay with that. The most healthy way to deal with grief is to understand it’s role in your life; to learn how to integrate it into who you now must be as a result of this loss, whatever that loss may be.