I’ve shared several times about how grief (and its twin sister depression) is physically exhausting. How it makes your bones and organs ache constantly. How you have a lot less spoons than before. How you stop thinking of time in terms of days and weeks and start thinking of it in minutes and hours. Just getting through the next thing you need to do takes most of the strength you have.
Sometimes – many times – I want to put my grief down for a bit. I want to take off the heavy, cumbersome backpack of pain and just feel lightness flow through my body with nothing else in its way. I crave the feeling of unadulterated joy. Maybe I’ll feel it again one day. Maybe not.
But life’s about adapting and surviving. From the very beginning of time, that’s what life has done. I’ve found several things that help me survive this pain and that even bring me happiness. These things make the hours and minutes easier. They make putting one foot in front of the other possible. They bring strength and hope. They make the backpack lighter.
The Serious Ones
1) My yoga practice.
Yoga is – for lack of a better analogy – my soul. My practice brings me presence, sweat, relaxation, and clarity. It connects me to myself, the people around me, and to something bigger than myself. It reminds me of the beauty and vastness and mystery of it all. Most importantly, it reminds me of the love that exists everywhere.
2) Daily meditation.
Meditation is closely aligned to my yoga practice, but also very separate. I meditate every morning. For those who don’t have an existing (or effective) meditation practice, I recommend listening to a few tutorials or trying an app like Headspace or Calm. I sit and breathe for 20 minutes using a mantra. That works for me, but every person and every practice is different.
I feel stronger and more at peace on the days that I take time to meditate. My thoughts don’t become my most adverse enemies. Things are brighter and more manageable. Peace comes quicker. There are numerous studies on the benefits of meditation, but you will experience them first-hand once you get a practice going.
3) Going to therapy.
Therapy is a place to work through things without fear, judgement, or exposure. It is designated time for YOU to talk about YOU and someone else to listen and help (they’re being paid for it so don’t feel guilty about overburdening them). You don’t have to reciprocate; this time is just about you (I still automatically say, "I'm okay, how are you doing?" when my therapist asks me how I'm doing). I’ve found that simply saying things aloud can offer realizations. Having an expert guide you through your twists and turns and dark places is very helpful. Tip: many insurances cover the cost of therapy now. There are also online options.
4) Leaning on loved ones.
Open up. Be vulnerable. Give yourself permission to be cared for and loved. Gather energy and inspiration from those around you (make sure the people you surround yourself with exude the kind of energy that’s helpful to you). If you have close friends and family, don’t be afraid to lean on them. They want to help you but don’t always know how and when to reach out. If you don’t have close friends or family, find a support group or even an online community.
The Light Ones
1) Watching Parks and Recreation.
I binge-watch this show on days that feel especially bleak (and also on days when I just need a little nudge). It’s light without being cheesy, clever without being too complex, and touching without being overly-sentimental (which can be a trigger for me). It brings me the same type of comfort that a thick blanket and a cup of coffee do. I listened to a podcast recently where NPR host Peter Sagal shared how Parks and Recreation helped him with his depression. After a quick Google search I discovered that other people who are struggling have also found healing benefits from this show.
2) Reading inspirational quotes.
I scroll through Instagram and Pinterest and take screen shots of quotes that resonate with me. I write down ones I really like on a Google document (my collection of quotes – it’s great). Maybe I’ll make artwork using these quotes one day. Maybe not though. I just like knowing I have them at my fingertips. Words have always had a big impact on me.
3) Walking my dog while listening to the My Favorite Murder podcast.
I want to put out a HUGE warning here. If your grief or depression stems from homicide or something else violent, this might not be for you. I stopped listening to this podcast for a few weeks after my sister’s death because I thought it would be a trigger. I’ve found that it’s not for me, and I really enjoy the ghastly stories and the snarky humor. Maybe it’s bizarre, but listening to the hosts talk about the terrible aspects of humanity and the absurdities of life with wit and sarcasm helps me. But please proceed with caution here. In general, being outdoors with a cute animal listening to something distracting is really nice.
Don’t do things you feel like you SHOULD be doing. Maybe a few things from this list resonate with you, maybe nothing does. Try things out and trust your gut.
Do take care of yourself. Do listen to your mood and your heart. Don’t feel guilty about sleeping or crying. These are things your body needs. Try to avoid what feels good in the moment but will ultimately make you hurt more (drinking too much, lashing out at loved ones, overeating, etc.) But if these things happen, don’t feel bad. Acknowledge that you are gorgeously imperfect and move on.
Grief is both a terrible and beautiful part of live. It’s terrible because – well, I don’t need to explain that. But it’s also beautiful because it shows us the full range of our emotions as humans. It teaches us how deep our love goes. It makes us live more vividly and authentically. I’m not saying to be thankful for the experience. But we have to embrace it, move forward, and treat ourselves with love and care.