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Grieving Losses From Mental Illness

Recovering from mental illness has been a very gradual and slow-working process for me so there have been many times where I’ve grieved for the loss of my quality of life along with my quality of cognition and emotional happiness and emotional health as well.

With having had mental illness over the years there’s been a great deal of loss that’s occurred. Sometimes loss is associated with life and death, however, having had schizophrenia for fifteen years there has been a great deal of grieving for other losses that has occurred for me. Processing this grieving has been really powerful but also a difficult part of having had two episodes of psychosis and living with schizophrenia. It’s also one of the most commonly overlooked elements of having had an episode but over the years it’s played a major factor in how I have felt mentally and emotionally.

In the beginning, the mental health episodes felt overwhelming and I was in a storm of thoughts and emotions that were difficult to navigate. Upon entering the hospital after my first episode I had a major moment of grieving. I had lost all my friends and was wondering what had happened to my entire life. One might think they were still alive, which they were, but they were no longer in my life and were not returning my phone calls or talking to me at all.

The loss of all these friendships felt devastating. Just being in the hospital and having the thought of what the hell did I just go through and how many people had I just lost in my life was truly awful. For many people who have had psychosis, this is a common phenomenon where you come out of your episodes and a few days into the hospitalization you have this moment of remembering all the crazy things that happened during episodes and of realizing the gravity of them and their repercussions. The time table for these memories and realizations to occur is different for everyone, but when it made it’s way into my mind it was devastating and really hit me hard emotionally. The memories were of the crazy things I had done during episodes and the realizations were that all the friends I had and people I had known were not going to be a part of my life anymore.

For about a year afterwards I had been taking the medications and I was hoping this would put my mental and emotional state back to where it had previously been but my quality of life didn’t return. I felt like I didn’t need the medications at the time. A part of this refusal was being in a place where I didn’t want help with my mental health and feeling like I could just push through the adversity and things would somehow be restored to how they had been. I was not at a point of acceptance yet or understanding that my life was going to be different or that I needed any help. I came off the medications and had a second episode.

I remember being about four or five months removed from my second episode where I had been grieving every day. All the loss I had experienced was a major component of not wanting to leave the house, being unable to work, having slept fourteen hours per day, and of feeling a great deal of depression. There can be this notion that mental illness is simply just something tangible that sits in the mind and disorients someone’s thoughts and emotions but a better way to look at it can be that it’s a natural reaction to traumatic life events.

Having gone through two episodes of psychosis, there was a lot of trauma. I also had trauma from middle school and from earlier years. It was also really traumatic to be in mental and emotional states that were really disorienting and painful and that caused me to be dysfunctional socially and to have difficulty functioning within the world. Along with the symptoms and all the confusion and disorientation that psychosis caused, I was also processing the loss of my former lifestyle and functionality, and my way of being in the world.

I remember wondering if I’d ever be able to work again, if I’d ever have friends again, if I’d ever be able to date and my initial answer to all these things was that I didn’t have a chance. Some of my grieving at that time was due to hopelessness because I hadn’t developed the tools and resources to get healthier from mental illness that I currently have. I also hadn’t experienced progress in a therapeutic setting which in later years became a major source of hope. Hope is researched to be the number one determinant in good outcomes in terms of recovery from major mental illness and this is independent of the severity to which someone is struggling from the initial onset.

At the time I didn’t have hope that I would get healthier so this amplified my symptoms along with my grieving. I wondered sometimes if my mind would ever return to normal and whether the way I used to experience life where I was vibrant and happy would ever return to me and in those initial dark days it felt like it never would. There was a lot of grieving I was doing for feeling like I had lost so many things, including my cognition, my functionality, my interpersonal skills, and my ability to live the kind of life I had envisioned myself living for so many prior years. It felt devastating.

Over the years this grieving process has recurred with different levels of intensity. In the beginning the levels of grieving were far higher due to how new all the mental health experiences were to me. Recovering from mental illness has been a very gradual and slow-working process for me so there have been many times where I’ve grieved for the loss of my quality of life along with my quality of cognition and emotional happiness and emotional health as well. This usually has happened when I’m comparing my current life to my life before mental illness or comparing my life to other peoples lives and the comparisons have tended to happen when things were more difficult.

When things have been going well there was much less grieving and the effects of mental illness were much less noticeable. However, when mental illness was getting in the way of leading the life I wanted, that grieving came back into play. I would grieve for the loss of my social skills pretty consistently especially when I was feeling lonely. Redeveloping my social skills took years.

Dating back to my most major point of grieving after my second episode, I remember praying for things to change and praying to have my life back to no avail. I had the hope I could wait out the mental illness and it would just go away or that some act of The Great Beyond would heal me from it. However, I reached a point where nothing was changing and nothing was improving. There was a moment of acceptance for me which was powerful. I came to an understanding that my mental illness wasn’t going to drift off into the clouds and disappear but I had to accept that this was something I had to work towards getting healthier from. I had to accept the responsibility for my life and the responsibility that I was up against something tremendously difficult and burdensome.

After I did my grieving, I began making a shift. I decided I wasn’t going to quit or give in and that I wasn’t going to spend all my time grieving my losses anymore. I decided I had to get to work and dig my way out of the hole I was in. It felt incredibly difficult in the beginning and I knew it was going to be painful and challenging, but I’m grateful I made that decision. It was hard to accept that there was a lot of work that had to be done to gain back the quality of life I wanted, and at that moment I wasn’t aware of just how much it would take to do so. Miracles don’t happen necessarily overnight, but they do happen over longer stretches of time and they’re a product of hard work.


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