As many of you know my youngest sister died unexpectedly three weeks ago. Although the shock has passed, the grief remains and as one who has also had a bout or two of depression being clear about the difference is vital for my continued health. So, I’d like to share the differences between grief and depression and some to-do’s if you are experiencing a major loss.
Both grief and depression effect one’s mood and ability to concentrate. We can have trouble making decisions. Levels of fatigue increase and motivation decreases. We can become more irritable. Appetite is lost and sleep is difficult.
The differences between grief and depression are obvious when you know what they are. Grief is accompanied by hope and the grieving person welcomes support. A person experiencing depression descends into a pained hopelessness and with each passing day the likelihood of believing support will be useful lessens; the person isolates. The sad mood that accompanies grief comes in waves and those waves become less frequent with time. The intensity also lessens with time. Concentration returns and making choices becomes easier. The sadness of depression comes in waves too. However, those waves of sadness become more intense and frequent rather than the opposite. Basically, grief gets better with time. Depression gets worse with time.
Grief can evolve into depression but there are several steps you can take to reduce the risk.
- First, if you have experienced or are currently experiencing a depressive episode tell your prescribing doctor and/or therapist the loss has occurred. Make an appointment with your therapist, spiritual director, or both so you can talk the experience through shortly after the funeral. The therapist/spiritual director connection is important because when everyone else gets tired of your story they will still listen. They also will more likely catch it if your grief is turning into depression.
- Second, all of us should pick one or two trusted people with whom to share our thoughts and feelings about our loss. Getting them out in the open is important.
- Third, SLEEP, EAT, and EXERCISE! Ask the doctor for two to five days of medicine if you need it to sleep during the initial shock phase (if there is one). Force yourself to eat even if it’s just a little bit. A few days later, exercise. At minimum take two brief walks around the block. If you can’t go outside do anything that requires walking or going up and down stairs. Point being: move around!
- Fourth, after a couple of weeks force yourself to slowly get back into the routine you had before the loss. It’s OK to start slowly and work your way up. Routine helps you gain a sense of normalcy. Don’t put it off.
- Fifth, don’t stay so busy that you avoid the work of grief, which basically requires time alone to reflect and pray. God cannot bring good out of our pain if we don’t let Him sit with us in the pain. Make the times short at first. You can increase later when you feel better.
- Sixth, the next year will be difficult. Be sure you have concrete plans for holidays, birthdays, special events, and death anniversaries. Don’t be alone during them.
- Sixth, BE GENTLE WITH YOURSELF! There is no right way to grieve. There’s only your way.
God does not want us to stay in pain. The cornerstone of our faith is Resurrection and that doesn’t just mean the resurrection that comes after death. It means the resurrection that comes out of the dyings we experienced during life. Trust that God will heal your broken hearts and you will rejoice again.
Cover picture: After the Funeral, oil on canvas, by Theodore Verstraete (1851-1907). Public domain, on Wikimedia Commons.