Grief is exhausting. For the past five months I feel as if I'm living a double life. Just when I think I'm making progress my grief knocks me to my knees leaving me struggling to get back up. Some days I'm so exhausted I feel as if weights are tied to my body holding me down.
The past five months I have experienced exhaustion, extreme nausea, migraines and severe fatigue. Other than some dark circles under my eyes that I can easily cover up, my symptoms are not visible to the naked eye, making it difficult for others to understand. Symptoms that often leaving others diagnosing me with, "You're probably depressed, your Dad just died. You should just go for a run to clear your head" Or “You need to really move on, you're making yourself sick."
First, my Father just died, five short months ago, after a long, grueling battle with Stage IV base of the tongue cancer, I'm not intentionally making myself sick. No one WANTS to be sick! Again, this was my father, not the family goldfish. Second, I have days when I'm really struggling and pushing myself. Sometimes, just getting out of bed is a victory. Some days, just the thought of going out in public and adulting is too much. Other days even the basic tasks feels like herding cats. I push myself and I move through the motions, but when I get home I collapse in bed and cherish my sleep, which never seems to be enough.
Finally a friend asked me what I was doing during this stressful time to take care of myself. I thought for a moment, and I couldn't provide a firm answer. I write....my writing is an energy dump and allows me to share my feelings. She pushed with, "Okay, but what else?" I drink water! Once again she challenged me with, “Okay, but what else…” I exercise 6 days a week, but lately it’s an effort to finish my workout, I’m just so tired. I go to bed early, sometimes really early because my headaches are excruciating leaving me with blurry vision and feeling sick to my stomach. My friend’s eyes grew wide with concern, so I casually omitted the other details on my headaches. Pulling over to the side of the road from blurred vision, going through an entire bottle of Advil in record time and having no relief now seemed worrisome.
It was that conversation that prompted me to visit my doctor. It took a friend asking me what I'm doing to take care of myself to realize something was happening to me, something was amiss.
Numerous diseases are linked to grieving. Our bodies are under stress, leaving our resistance dangerously low. Somehow during my travels since my father's death I became infected with Mononucleosis. Yup, you read that right. Mono. I have to admit, I was rather shocked when my Doctor called me with the news. My initial reaction was to make her repeat my diagnosis three times, followed by calling my friend who is a doctor because in my opinion, I'm "too old" for mono. Thank goodness for patient friends, and yes I still have mono.
Grieving is hard work and takes a toll on the body. I just barely survived my father's lengthy illness and the long, difficult emotional trauma. I spent every possible waking moment with my Dad and I held his hand until his last breath. But nothing can prepare you for the tremendous void after a loved one passes. It is, in my opinion, the most difficult thing we all must tackle at some point in our lifetime.
Grief literally sucks the life out of you. What no one tells you after a loved one dies is how important it is to take care of yourself. We tend to take self care for granted. We live in a world where we are always doing something, always on the go. Below are some suggestions for self care during your grief journey:
1) Listen to your body – if you need to cry, then cry. If you are tired, then rest. If you need to stroll down memory lane, then stroll. This is all very important for the grieving process.
2) Lower the expectations for yourself – You just suffered a significant loss in your life. It’s okay to rest. You can’t expect yourself to perform at full capacity.
3) Let others know what you need from them – It’s okay to ask for help. Communicate with family and friends and let them know what they can do to help. Sometimes we just need our space and it’s okay to tell that to concerned family and friends.
4) Be sure to obtain a proper diet and sleep – As you can see from my story, your resistance is low. Don’t try to be a superhero, get your rest and eat right! It’s a matter of survival.
5) If you need additional help, seek counseling - Get all the support you need. There are numerous bereavement support groups waiting to help. If you have feelings of hopelessness or suicide please seek help.