grief and me

Grief didn’t seem confusing a couple of years ago, when this began. It got very confused with depression as time went by, till I started asking myself whether I was experiencing one or the other, or both, or whether grief = depression, or?

I’d been avoiding Kay Redfield Jamison’s Nothing Was The Same for a good while. It’s about the loss of her husband of almost 20 years and I just didn’t have the cojones to get immersed in that level of sorrow. And then the notion began to filter through, that it was time to look at my own stuff and that a book by a bipolar person about grief would be a good place to start.

It has been said that grief is a kind of madness. I disagree. There is a sanity to grief, in its just proportion of emotion to cause, that madness does not have. Grief, given to all, is a generative and human thing. It provides a path, albeit a broken one, by which those who grieve can find their way. Still, it is grief’s fugitive nature that one does not know at the start that such a path exists. I knew madness well, but I understood little of grief, and I was not always certain which was grief and which was madness. Grief, as it transpires, has its own territory.
Kay Redfield Jamison – Nothing Was The Same

Of course she goes into detail, but her conclusion is very clear; grief is not depression. Grief is more rational. I googled a bit anyway.

The death of a loved one may the most stressful life event any of us will ever face. Many people continue managing bipolar disorder successfully through their mourning, but others develop “funeral mania,” says Dr. Bennett. This occurs when someone with controlled bipolar disorder attends the funeral of the loved one and almost instantly has a manic episode. source

There wasn’t a funeral, but I was manic for sure. I didn’t know though, I hadn’t been diagnosed.

Then I stopped reading about grief. I can research and write my ass right off, to stave off real emotion – but not forever. If I write anything about it, it needs to be progressive and personal. I might, I might not. I need to get the practical aspect sorted (as usual).

I always thought I had grief pretty much nailed, but when my mother died I realised that I never had. Suddenly my brother, grandfather, great uncle, grandmother, cousin and godmother’s deaths faded and I was left with one deep mofo of a suppurating wound. I’d sworn all sorts of oaths to the universe, but it still happened. And suddenly there was just me and nextofkin left (plus an invisible uncle who doesn’t count).


Here be pathology … what you and I know as complicated or complex grief, is called Persistent Complex Bereavement Disorder and I fit the criteria well. But IDGAF. Acronyms for acronyms eh. I read somewhere that a diagnosis of PCDB or whatever they are calling it, should really only be seen as an indicator that therapy is needed. I need to redefine ‘therapy’ for myself, because a) I can’t afford it and b) I’ve had enough of it for one lifetime. Still, it’s helpful, because ticking all those boxes tells me I need to work on this – it turns it from fear into fact.

I’m intellectualising it again. Avoidance and evasion are how I deal with emotion when it hurts. I’ve read the stages, wheel, whirlpool etc of grief (I’m not kidding) and actually, they haven’t helped at all. My emotions refuse to be categorised that tidily; I’d imagine most people’s are the same. A useful starting point though, perhaps. Or a superficial and colossal waste of time. Whatever works for you.


Friends with dead mothers came out of the woodwork after mine died, to offer compassion. Many of them said their mother’s death was the worst grief of their lives. (Obviously we are leaving the death of a child out of the equation, because that is the greatest loss and sorrow in the world.) Hearing it was comforting, because I was suddenly a member of a kindly and sad tribe, and annoying, because I wanted to be a special snowflake. One of my closest friend’s mothers died three weeks after mine; I began to curse the universe (and you know I’m good at cursing).

After recognising my mother’s death as worse than all my other losses added up, worse than a decade of child abuse, worse than … anything, I began to realise painfully that knowing all the theories does not absolve you from doing the work and feeling the feels. I probably had the longest manic episode of my life, starting when she got really sick. I proceeded to make catastrophic mistakes, injuring people, betraying myself … etc.

I finally did a sensible thing and came back here, with a plan to do nothing. By nothing, I mean nothing beyond the absolute basics. Well hello Maslow …


Whatever current thinking is about that hierarchy of needs, the first tier became my sole focus and that stood me in good stead. The physical aspects of the second tier appeared too, and slowly, slowly, some aspects of the third.

I lost my main job and within a few months of that, I lost most of what was left of my mind. Although I’d had sporadic psychotic episodes since 1995 at least, they had never worried me (or anyone else) until early 2013. I took my focus off grief for various things and fixed it firmly upon what I saw as my own impending insanity. That plus the bleakest depression of my life consumed my mind. At the end of July I was diagnosed with Bipolar.

That brings us (me) to the start of this blog, which I began as a place to work stuff out. And here I am, having reached the stage where burying my head in research doesn’t cut it anymore. I do not want to write (or even think) about my feelings about my mother and her death. I can’t even begin to describe how little I want that. Howfreakingever, the wound needs cleaning and this might be the right approach.


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battlescarred, bright, bewildered, bent, blue & bipolar

31 thoughts on “grief and me”

  1. I almost lost it when I watched my own daughter of barely a few hours, be taken instead to a burying place. Last year again that kind of grief came visiting when my fondest Gaby left us. But I had discovered by then the need to GRIEVE. Go on sweet face and you’ll be be to tell us more :)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow. Forgive me… and know that I am not in any way making light of the subject matter… but my first thoughts were: Fuck this is written well. You really are… a beautifully precise and composed writer – even about emotional things – and THAT impresses me because when I am navigating emotion I am NOT eloquent nor am I gathered in what I want to say. Its all about what I feel.

    I have never lost an immediate family member. Just the thought of losing my mother makes me want to crawl into a dark room and never come out. She went to the US and Europe for two weeks and I literally felt like my limbs and my brain and my face and my heart and been ripped out. I tried hard not to ‘display’ my weird feelings about her not being around – and it taught me a lot about codependency – but… to lose her…. unimaginable.

    I will share my story of loss : because it became evident to me while I was reading what you wrote is that most people (like me) who have never lost someone immediate to us – have NO IDEA what to say to someone who has. But what I also thought is that – the REASON we have no idea is because the story will never feel or be the same as anothers. we can share pain, sure – but the memories, emotions, moments, flashes of what happened and things that were said will always be intimately personal and painful.

    Thank you for sharing. My heart is sore for you.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Aw thankyoudankiengiayabongankosi ;) and no forgiveness needed. I never know wtf to say to people either. I think that just getting any words, that show someone gives a shit, is perfect. And thanks lots for the compliment too. Now I’m gonna go read your post. Thanks again.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve often wondered would the death of a family member like a parent or child send me into a madness from which I could never escape but made ‘worse’ because of my bipolar – if madness can have levels!!!? I think that irrespective of the pathology of depression and our individual struggles with it, grief is a holy hell all its own and if you don’t ‘deal’ with it, or its effects on you as a person, you don’t truly handle your loss; and by not handling it, you can stay stuck somewhere half living your life. I also think there is no set timeframe for how and when you deal with it. Fantastic piece, very touching and eloquent. Looks like you are ready to deal with yours!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m ready to run away from it screaming ;) but I’ve made a little start and as they say, ‘the journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step’. It wasn’t only the death of my mother that paved the way to wherever I am now; a lot (too much) has happened in the past few years. Well, all 44 of my years I guess (lol). Erm I’m waffling … thanks lots for the visit and comment and compliment :)

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The further you run away, the further back you’ll have to come… And yes, one step, one day, one hour, one minute – it all adds up to you starting the journey. It’s your journey, you can take as look as you need. And you are welcome! And give yourself a break! You’re very hard on yourself…!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I envy your ability to lay yourself bare like this and do hope it begins to lead to some catharsis. I was thinking about grief myself this morning before I went online and saw your post. I have never lost a close family member but, at the same time I do not have many close family members (we have lived 1000s of kms from extended family and I have never been especially close to my brothers. My parents are still alive though they are the last of their generation and both physically fragile and live in a remote area. My mother and I are very close and I don’t know how I will feel when she is gone, but I know that she would not want to linger unnecessarily.

    The grief I struggle with is a physical loss of a life I never had, it seems to grow stronger every day and stand as a barrier to my ability to be whole. I don’t doubt that bipolar is skewing the situation (and of course has placed me in this space with too much time to dwell on it), but to stand so alienated from the world due to a life I did not chose, that I cannot accept and in which I can find no “Pride”.

    Thank you for facing this difficult subject head on. You are a brave woman.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ayup, grief certainly isn’t always about death at all. So many ways to break a heart/have a heart broken. And you have a hell of a lot to resolve or forgive or whatever it is that you need for some semblance of closure. Dunno how much of this is bravery and how much is attention seeking, need for validation and loneliness. Which is all fine too. Mostly what goes through my mind when I think about grief is, ‘grief is a big planet’.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Grief is a big planet on which stands a small and lonely man. I think that is what makes urban loneliness so frustrating, so many people and not a hand to hold.

        Depression is such a weird beast. Some days are manageable but today the weather is gorgeous (for January) and I have things to look forward to this weekend and I am already certain I will feel worse in the end. It’s what someone I used to know would call stinkin’ thinkin’.


        1. Kind of like the original Little Prince illustrations? I had a mostly crap day too, although there were non-crap things in it. Depression really is a bitch.


  5. I. Cannot. Imagine.

    I know grief. I even know it in the healthy sense.
    I know depression. I know it to the edge of all hopelessness.

    But if I picture a world without my mother, it is not the world of healthy grieving. It is most definitely the latter. I can’t bear to imagine it and yet I know it is inevitable (unless I go first, and then she’ll be the one in a black world).

    I cannot imagine where you are but I am scared to one day join you there. I am so sorry and also so moved by what you have shared thus far.


    Liked by 1 person

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