I’m going to be honest here and say that while I’m grieving, I’ve also experienced depression and sadness. But for me I find the labels we assign to these real life emotions and rites of passage don’t really do the actual experiencing justice. They simply don’t explain the nature of the beast or the manner in which we feel or end up at rock bottom. This is why I’ve started to get down and dirty in the raw emotions and the basic words.
For those of you out there in the ether reading my blog, you might well be scratching your head wondering why we’ve moved away from talking about grief to talking about all the emotions. There’s a couple of reasons for this really and I guess one of the first ones is because for me grief, sounds a bit far removed from our day-to-day and minute-to-minute experiences. For me, it’s an all-encompassing word that tells you a lot, but not very much at the same time, especially for those that have never experienced being childless-not-by-choice.
And secondly, it’s because I want to find words for our emotions, not umbrella terms that can potentially gloss over the rawness of our experiences. Grief is a very real and a very painful struggle, but if I speak to someone and say ‘I grieved for my miscarriage’, they could easily gloss over the feelings I’ve had about that loss. However, if I say ‘my heart broke over the loss, I felt bereft and without meaning’, there’s no glossing over that is there? It’s all out there in terms of me expressing my raw pain and emotions.
And then there are the words we use to describe what we’re feeling, like sadness. Being sad happens from time to time, but how did I know that it was more than just feeling sad after my miscarriage, after being told I wouldn’t be able to have children and after my hysterectomy? I knew it was more than being a bit sad because there was more going on than sadness. I mean I felt it coming on and I knew it was going to be a long, drawn out sadness. But, it was complicated and I didn’t really have the energy for the words at the time.
I mean let’s talk about the tiredness that swamps you, but won’t allow you to have a full nights sleep? What about the absolute despair you feel when you start to wonder what your purpose is and find no answers? How about the swinging from having no appetite, to emotionally eating for England? Sounds a lot like depression doesn’t it? And that was how I described it for a long time – another umbrella term that says a lot, but gives away very little, which suits you just fine when you’re going through it.
So, what’s the difference then, because they all kick the shit out of you don’t they? To be honest, it looks as though this has long been a debate within the psychological profession and there’s very little out there to explain it in terms that we would be able to relate to childlessness, so let me have a crack at it…and feel free to come up with your own, or add or remove bits.
For me sadness is a temporary state. You feel a bit sad in relation to something that has happened. You know it’s there, but it won’t be sticking around for long, because you feel a down, but you know that you’re OK and you don’t feel utterly worthless.
In my experience grief is associated with loss. We mourn and grieve the losses we have experienced in life, but usually people associate grief with the loss of a tangible thing (a friend, a pet, a job etc etc). However, when it’s something like the loss of a dream, such as childlessness, it becomes more complicated because we’ve lost something we never truly had anyway. But that doesn’t get away from the fact that we have lost something…something massive and which doesn’t just disappear after a few weeks or months.
I mean I’m still mourning the loss of my baby, the loss of my dream to be a mum and the loss of my womb. In no particular order, but they do all cause me an intense sadness that has, at various points, had me questioning my worth and wondering why the fuck I’m here anyway. But the thing is with grief, it tends to be sticky and a lot of other emotions stick to it under this umbrella, which is why we’re going to be looking at them and picking them apart.
And then there is the depression. According to the ‘Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders DSM-5’, depression covers a huge number of symptoms including feeling sad, sleeping too much or too little, eating too much or too little. What about a lack of energy that means you feel like you’re wading through treacle? And as a consequence life becomes a treadmill, there are no longer any pleasures in life. Of course, there are differing degrees, but you get the idea.
And so, depression overlaps with grief – and in fact represents part of the grief cycle. But with childlessness it’s really complicated, because in my experience, it becomes more than just grief, mixed with depression from losing something tangible.
There is a total existential crisis that happens connected to the loss of identity, a questioning of our purpose and there is the fact that we don’t have anyone to share that loss with. We mourn the picture we had in our head and even if we have a partner, they might not have shared that picture in quite the same way.
This loss of identity and feeling helpless extends past the grief because it moves beyond the actual loss of our dreams, and starts to impact every facet of our life. From whether we can face going to the supermarket, because we’ll see families and children (other people’s success) to whether we can be arsed to get out of bed, because we no longer see the point. It projects into the future causing us anxiety and leaving us to wonder what’ll become of us in old age. It affects every facet of life.
It’s essentially more than grief. Instead, it’s an existential crisis through which we have to travel to come out the other side of our grief, our depression and the unique combination of emotions we’ll feel. But, the start of that journey for me was finding the simple language to explain how I felt without having to give a blow-by-blow on the terminology.
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