If you suppress grief too much, it can well redouble. ~ Moliere
I spent many years wearing the label “depressed” – a label given to me by many professionals and by myself. I spent many years on many different kinds of medication and seeing several different therapists trying to “get rid of” my depression. Despite the vast array of medications and the years of therapy, I did not heal that depression. I continued to be miserable, to be suicidal, and to practice very unhealthy ways of coping.
I now realize that the reason the medications and therapy didn’t work was because I was trying to heal a depression that wasn’t really depression at all. Looking back, I realize that what I was going through was not depression – it was what I call “Dirty Grief.”
For the first half of my life I experienced a great deal of physical pain from a progressively worsening spinal defect. I eventually had surgery to stop the progression of the defect. In the years before and shortly after the surgery, I felt as if I was “abnormal” or “defective” or simply that I was missing out on my childhood. I grieved those losses – the loss of normalcy, the loss of my childhood, the loss of physical health, the loss of belonging, loss of a sense of safety, loss of a sense of self – and it doesn’t matter if those losses actually happened or if they were simply perceived to exist by me. I felt deep grief for those losses.
Grief for those losses affected every aspect of my life and I never recognized the grief. I did not recognize the grief I was feeling and so I never allowed myself to experience that grief. Instead, I learned to numb myself to all feelings. I learned to build a wall inside myself that I could hide all my “negative” emotions behind because I was terrified that to share the pain and fear and overwhelm would mean I became a burden to those I loved and cause them to leave me. And then I would hurt even more. (NONE of this was conscious, by the way – at the time I had no idea what I was doing)
What I also didn’t realize I was that by trying desperately to hide all the “negative” emotions, I was burying all the joy and peace and delight behind the wall with them. I no longer allowed myself to experience ANY emotions fully. This manifested itself to look like depression. I numbed my grief to the point in which life became so miserable and bland, I no longer wanted to live it. I created the deep suffering that accompanies dirty grief.
It took nearly 15 years for me to recognize what I was doing – or rather, not doing – with my emotions. It took a few more to discover what I needed to do to find my way out of that numb grief – and to find the courage to do what I needed to do. I had to re-teach myself how to experience emotion – all emotion – and to learn that asking for help or expressing my pain did not necessarily equate being a burden to those I loved (a post on needed support vs. being a burden soon!).
It still feels more normal for me to tuck my emotions away under the wall inside myself – a wall that I haven’t completely taken down yet. It still is challenging for me to take that deep breath and allow the experience of my emotions and grief. I am still learning and practicing all of the things I write about on this blog. Healing isn’t a one time deal – I’ve found it to be a circular process. I often have to re-learn the same ideas and practices again and again each time moving deeper and deeper into healing. Participating in this process has lead me to discover the beautiful gifts of grief. It has transformed my life.
Healing is a life-long practice. I chose to practice it every day.