Is Grief Real if We’re Still Standing?
“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear” C.S. Lewis
I learned the truth of these words early on in the first few years of struggling to manage the symptoms of bipolar disorder. I was also reminded that grief is nearly universal, and yet its forms are exquisitely personal for each of us. At its heart, the word “grief” comes with a looming assumption: death. Yet grief is not always about death—it’s about loss, which can appear in many other forms. Those with mental illness experience grief in a myriad of frightening losses. And now with the aftershocks of a global pandemic, many are experiencing this loss.
Experiencing Loss During the Pandemic
I have weathered many losses while living with a mental illness. Some of them occurred gradually, quietly slipping in under my radar; while others suddenly crashed in loudly, demanding to be heard. I’ve found that the losses experienced while living within an active global pandemic have had a similar trajectory.
At the beginning of the health crisis, for example, the travel restrictions and social distancing regulations put some of my spring races at risk. Over the course of only a few weeks, the majority of my 2020 race calendar had been obliterated. This left a gaping hole in my life that had always been happily filled with focused training, running partners, and working with groups of athletes as a coach. I depended upon training and racing as an extra source of therapy for my mental health. And so this loss felt like a unique type of ‘identity theft’. One of my vital roles in life seemed to be evaporating and rolling off into a fog.
During the national virus-related shutdowns, many of us in the Still I Run community have also experienced loss. We have lost our in-person therapy sessions, support groups, and ease of access for acquiring medications. For those who live alone, loss of physical touch, or daily conversations with loved ones is gone. Socializing with others in general, long considered vital for maintaining mental health, has also changed and replaced with virtual connections or phone contact. I have always believed that death is indeed a formidable loss in life. I now also realize that what dies within us while we’re living is quite a loss as well.
Growth from Grief
Yet now I’ve begun to marvel at the potential for positive change and growth within the grieving process. I’ve discovered that both grief and fear can be beneficial. When we acknowledge our losses, we open ourselves up to learning valuable lessons. I’ve found that when I openly confront each loss, each one begins to expose everything that truly matters to me. I figure that if we’re familiar with loss, then chances are, we’re also well versed in some of the vital components of life: love, family, survival, resilience, and strength. I now also believe that through this process, we often learn that there is no shame in trying to deal with loss and fear by simply saying “Begin Again”.
Both living with a mental illness and living through a global pandemic can change us in many ways. Yet accepting and working with the grieving process can transform us as well. Perhaps loss can fuel how we choose to lead our lives. I realize that many of our losses pale in comparison with the horrific hardships that so many are experiencing throughout these times. Some of us are fortunate in that we’re still able to run, still connect with others in some ways, and are still employed. We’re still standing. And yet I for one am still grieving and will continue to feel my personal losses openly and deeply even as I appreciate the chance to make my way through to grab hold of life with both hands and let it pull me forward.
Moving Toward Hope
My hope is that each of you can do the same by acknowledging the losses in your life. After all, for every one of us who has ever stood beneath the night time sky, we know that darkness too, can be a gift. My mental illness requires me to weather many losses: some occur gradually, quietly slipping in under my radar, while others suddenly crash in loudly, demanding to be heard.