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Grief Saved Me From My Own Stigma

Posted by Alexandra Van Rijn on

When I begin a period of depression, I will do anything I can to not leave my house.

This includes skipping class, calling in sick to work, cancelling long term plans with friends, etc. My excuses range from "I’m sick" to "I had a doctor’s appointment" to "my power went out and I have to wait for my landlord to come fix it." Because how am I supposed to tell someone that I just can’t get out of bed? Their first question would probably be "why?" And I’m sorry, but I can’t give you the answer you’re looking for. I didn’t break my legs, I don’t have a splitting headache, and I don’t have food poisoning. My brain has simply told me that today I am sad for no particular reason other than that. I can’t get out of bed because my chest is heavy, my pulse is beyond the norm, and if I try to speak, I’m scared I’ll start to cry or dry heave from the nausea. I do not want to lie to anyone but I’m scared they won’t get it. I’m scared if I tell the truth they will think that’s the lie.


Sometimes on top of the depressive episodes, the worst will happen and I will lose a pet, or a family member. It’s a devastating feeling. One that I know I can openly share. It is something that everyone can relate to— everyone has experienced loss in one form or another, and while its form presents differently in everyone, the underlying cause is the same. It is the feeling of loss. That’s a crazy concept to me- calling death a “loss,” doesn’t really seem to put its finality into perspective. It’s not lost, its gone, and while those two seem synonymous I assure you, they’re not. 


In November I lost my best friend.

My beloved chocolate lab who had been with my family for 11 years. He lasted almost a year to the day after the vet told us he wouldn’t last anymore than a week, with a tumor the size of a football growing on his spleen. He was a fighter, and I can only imagine was pain he experienced beyond the physical. I cried and so did the rest of my family. I had a reason this time, at least one that I knew my professors would understand. Shortly after my dog passed, I experienced another loss, one that I believed I could have prevented. It was this loss that I dealt with alone, and the one that lead me to the following conclusions.


I think being able to see people without mental illness deal with grief really helped me put my everyday feelings into perspective. Here are these people, distraught and overcome with emotion, completely debilitated over the loss of their loved one. Then here I am - maybe I haven’t lost anyone at the moment but my feelings are similar. They don’t need to feel guilt for missing work, or the holiday party, and even without a reason I know my feelings are just as real.


Seeing other people grieve literally saved me.

Here I was, never able to place a reason on why I felt so lost and yet when people dealt with grief I saw these same feelings in them, and they knew the cause of their sadness.Being able to see people experience similar feelings to mine and have these feelings validated by others was hopeful. Grief is easy to empathize with because everyone experiences it. While mental illnesses, and especially episodes of depression are harder to relate to for the sole reason that it is not as common, visible, or accepted. I know that the more I share and the more visible I am with my episodes, the easier it will be for people to understand it. 


No one wishes to grieve, and no one wants to lose those that are important to them. Those dealing with mental illness, too, do not want to feel the ways they do. It is not only a daily battle with our mind, but also with the stigma that others carry (and even stigma we carry ourselves). Regardless of reason, your feelings are real.

And they matter.


Written by Madi Banks



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