After suicide loss, survivors may push themselves to do all the recommended things to get through the grief. But, what’s the rush? Guest blogger Nicole lost her dad earlier this year and has learned to listen to her mind and body over any other advice.
Self-Care and Giving Yourself Permission
This time last year, one of my best friends experienced a sudden loss. I remember sending her messages that, in hindsight, were a list of annoying instructions: Journal. Yoga! Take baths. Drink tea. Sleep! I was not a grief expert, but as a proponent of self-care, I thought these suggestions would be helpful.
Then, in January, my father died from suicide. My whole world collapsed.
For months every morning, my head and heart would physically ache. Each day after work, I was crashing out of sheer exhaustion. I tried to push through the pain and trust that it would get easier, but it didn’t. I felt defective. And pathetic. And exhausted. And sad. These are the words that circled in my mind. I’d think, “I should at least go grocery shopping.” “I should at least be journaling.” “I should at least go for a walk.” But I couldn’t. I felt like I was malfunctioning.
After a particularly difficult day, I re-visited the self-care list I’d sent to my friend and attempted a yoga class. I drove myself to my yoga studio, felt exhausted from the drive alone and proceeded to weep quietly through the whole class. This is self-care, I thought. But really, I wasn’t caring for myself. I was draining my mind through an impossible day of work and then forcing my body through a public yoga class. Nothing about that felt kind or gentle.
After that class, I wondered: why am I pushing myself so hard?
Finally, I made an appointment with my doctor. She listened to me and asked questions and listened some more. She encouraged me to continue therapy and told me to eat nutritious meals – even though I only wanted to eat cookies. She prescribed me medicine and also suggested I reduce my work hours for a few weeks. I resisted this at first. I wanted to keep my normal work schedule because I wanted desperately to feel normal. But sometimes, we just need to give ourselves a break. That doctors’ note – that permission – made all the difference.
Being kind to yourself means listening to your body. For me, that meant cutting my work hours for a while. For you, it may mean something entirely different.
There is no script for navigating this painful, unpredictable, uncharted journey, but I do know that how we talk to ourselves matters. Be gentle. While I’d like to believe that each day will get a little easier, I’ve learned that grief doesn’t work that way. When I have a particularly hard day, instead of feeling like I’m back where I started, I remind myself that I’m trying to exist while enduring unbearable pain and that isn’t pathetic or sad. It’s brave. Today, I’m just trying to survive. And that’s courageous enough.
Eat. Hydrate. Sleep. And be kind to yourself.
Some days that’s all we can do.