On the 12th of September, 2018, I lost a part of my world. My dad passed away after a few short weeks of illness, throughout which we were consistently given hope only to have it snatched away.
On the 12th of September, 2018, I was thrust into a position that I was not ready for. I was twenty-one, I had just graduated from university, and I had naively assumed that I had years left with my father.
I had always assumed I had time. I had been busy and distracted whilst studying, and I planned to make more time for him after graduating. But I didn’t get the chance.
I lost him that day and yet I didn’t grieve for him yet. I lost him in September, and I struggled so much in the months and years following, yet I wasn’t truly grieving. I was hurting but not grieving.
I knew my father was gone and yet I refused to actually confront that truth. Two months later, I spent my birthday waiting at home, just in case he came. I had gone to a funeral, I had looked at the body, I had signed countless documents declaring it, and yet I still waited for him. I felt like if I left the house, I was losing my last chance to see him.
This internalised denial continued for months. I knew he was gone, and yet I convinced myself it was gone for now. Because it’s impossible as humans to comprehend that someone is gone forever. We don’t understand the concept of forever. We’re built to live in periods of time - minutes, hours, days, weeks, months or years. We don’t plan for forever, because we don’t really believe in it.
So I lived in denial. In my waking life, I was mourning and hurting so much, and yet in my subconscious, I wasn’t letting go. I wasn’t grieving because that would be confirming that he was gone. I wasn’t grieving because I was waiting for him to return. It had to be one giant practical joke, some kind of a Truman Show like arrangement. Because my father couldn’t be dead, he would never leave me, and I wasn’t the person who would have to experience the death of a parent at twenty-one.
I wasn’t grieving because my mind physically couldn’t handle the extent of that pain. I was struggling heavily with my undiagnosed personality disorder, and so every spare moment of energy went into survival, rather than dealing with my grief. I fixated on my breakup because that was easier to swallow. Even saying that now, brings me so much shame. I had lost my father and yet I was focusing on an ex-boyfriend? It’s humiliating to say, and something that plagues me, and yet it was an easier loss to swallow.
That ex-boyfriend knew my father well, and so it felt like losing yet another part of my dad. It felt like something I could control and deal with, whereas death was too big and prickly for me to even approach.
I was numbing myself with whatever would work. I had never known someone to go through this level of loss, and neither had any of my friends, so I felt like I had to pretend it was fine. I didn’t want to be difficult and I didn’t want to bring everyone down, so I stayed smiling even when it physically hurt.
People loved to tell me how brave I was, how strong I was for going through this and carrying on. I hated them so much for saying it. Because I didn’t have a choice. If I felt like I could lie down and never get up, I would have done that, without a doubt. But I had to go to work because I had rent to pay. I had to get up and act fine because people were already worried about me. I had to keep moving because if I stopped, even for a single moment, I might never start again.
Many people assume that grieving happens right after the death and in the months that follow. They think that will be the most difficult time, and so that’s when they try to be the most present. I probably would’ve said the same, only I had never even thought about it.
But grief refuses to stick to this strict timeline, and it’s such a unique experience for everyone. I’ve spoken to a lot of people who have lost someone, and they often say that the months after weren’t as hard because they existed in a complete state of shock. They went through the motions. But once that shock wore off, that’s when things got far more difficult. It was harder when it came to accepting the loss - a redundant phrase, as how can you ever accept the loss of someone you love?
Grief doesn’t take a month, a year or even several years. It isn’t even something with a timeline as it’s endless. You work through your grief not to remove it, but to learn how to carry it. And that took me over a year to start, because I wasn’t ready. I was too young and I was struggling to stay afloat. So it was only over a year later, when I had worked through my personality disorder with a therapist, that we then decided to turn to my repressed grief.
And I’m still working through it, years later. I am still trying to come to terms with the fact that my father will never see all of these moments. I am trying to understand how that’s possible as, on the inside, I just don’t believe it.
Grief takes however long it takes, and it is never a reflection of how much you love someone. We all have different methods of grieving, whether that’s sadness, anger, denial, blame or staying numb. We have to give everyone the room to experience it for themselves, and just remind them that we’re here. We’re here for you in your grief.
Welcome to Symptoms of Living! A place where I like to relieve myself of the barrage of thoughts and ideas filling my mind. Here I'll take a look at various topics, from books to BPD, series to self-harm, there's nothing that we can't, and shouldn't, talk about.
Having struggled with mental illness since the age of 15, one of the hardest parts was how alone I felt in it. While mental illness is beginning to be discussed more openly, and featured in the media, I still think there is room for improvement. So whether it is mental illness or merely mental health, a bad day or a bad year, let's make this a place to approach it and strip it back. Everyone has their own symptoms of living, and you certainly won't be the only one with it.
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