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 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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