Depression vs Grief

Just to be clear, I am not currently feeling any symptoms of depression.  Stress, anxiety–these are my new norms.  Not surprising, given our current circumstances–but there is no need to be concerned about the state of my mental health.

I started seeing a therapist the winter after Hubby and I got married.  I had read all about brides suffering from post-wedding blues, and it makes sense.  You spend every second of your free time and energy, for the better part of a year, planning the perfect day, but once it’s over, what are you supposed to do with yourself?  For Hubby and me, getting married was a great way to bring our families together, celebrate our love and committment, dance, and drink champagne.  But life afterward wasn’t much different than it had been in the almost-three years before we got married.  Only now, I didn’t have a huge, life-altering event to look forward to.

Dr. B listened to my story, asked about my first memories*, analyzed my dreams (she was very Freudian), and told me that I was indeed suffering from anxiety–depression’s fidgety little sister–but I was not depressed.  She said that if I were, I’d feel sad and hopeless for no reason at all.  But, she insisted, I did have a reason for what I was feeling.  And she called it grief.

Say what?

What on earth did I have to grieve about?  This was before my mother died, before infertility took over my life–although, of course, I already knew about it–when life seemed so much simpler.  I was a newlywed.  I was supposed to be happy.

Oh, did I mention that my two brothers and my supposed best friend all failed to show up for my wedding?

This may have been the grief-inducing thing Dr. B was talking about.  All three of them used travel and expense as an excuse, but it’s not like they didn’t have 11 months’ notice.  They could have saved a few bucks to pay for gas, or even carpooled.  The clincher was my brother who said he couldn’t make the trip because his son had a basketball tournament that weekend.  His son was 13 at the time.  And has had more basketball tournaments than I could possibly count since then.  How many times has his younger sister gotten married?

So I was definitely bitter.  But grief-stricken?  It didn’t make any sense to me.  On one hand, I was relieved Dr. B didn’t want to prescribe medication**–but on the other?  I was pretty sure this lady was nuts.

I didn’t last long with Dr. B.  I found her methods and insights kind of annoying, and she talked me into joining group therapy with a bunch of other people she referred to as “introverted,” as though it were a disease.  About the same time, I started taking the afore-mentioned journal-writing class.  Perhaps the best therapy I could have received.

There were other things going on in my life at that time.  Like seriously considering quitting my job (which I eventually did).  Journaling helped me make that decision.  And making new friends who were also writers.  That was huge.

And even though I thought Dr. B was kind of a quack, to my surprise, I did go back to her original idea that I was somehow grieving.  Because I expected my wedding day to go a certain way, and when it didn’t, it was kind of devastating.

I’m not saying this was anywhere near the grief people suffer after the loss of a loved one, a miscarriage, or serious illness.  I work with families of children who have developmental delays.  Some of them are caused by conditions that don’t ever go away, like Down Syndrome or cerebral palsy.  Those parents grieve.  I see it almost every day.  They had a dream for their child, and anything from a language delay to a crippling disease can crush that dream in an instant.  Their child isn’t dead, but the child they dreamed of is.

I read stories–your stories–of loss, whether it’s a failed IVF, a miscarriage, or an adoption that falls through at the last minute.  They break my heart every single time, and for a moment–sometimes even days, I grieve right along with you.  But there’s a different kind of loss, too.  I’ve never been pregnant, and we haven’t yet had the opportunity to pursue IVF.  But every day I grieve the loss of the person I thought I would be.  And that includes my dream of being a mother.

Last December, my grief–or depression, or anxiety–reached its lowest depth.  Even though we had finally started treatments, I felt further away from my dream than ever.  So I came here.  And just like the journal-writing class, this was its own kind of therapy–group therapy, even.  And it dragged me out of the hole I was in.

I still confuse my feelings of depression and grief sometimes.  It’s possible they’re one and the same, or at least dependent on each other.  Sometimes I have to take a moment to consider what I’ve lost, whether a physical, emotional, familial, psychic, or spiritual loss, and just sit with my grief for a minute.  Just to see if it feels any different from the anxiety or depression I’m so familiar with.  Some days I don’t know what the answer is, but I believe–for me–that grief can’t be medicated away.  At least, not for long.  And that all of you are much better therapists than Dr. B ever was.

*The first memory I shared with Dr. B was me, standing in my crib–two, maybe three years old–having woken from a nap, in a soaked diaper, screaming my head off for someone to come and rescue me for what seemed like many, many minutes.  In this memory, which may or may not be a figment of my imagination, I knew that my parents were not home and that one of my older brothers or sisters was supposed to tend to me in their absence.  No wonder I have trust issues with my siblings.  Well, that and they don’t show up for significant life events.

**I realize that millions of people rely on medication to battle their depression and anxiety.  I know that many function very well while on such medications.  My intention is not to offend anyone who legitimately needs these medications.  Doesn’t change the fact that it scares the shit out of me.

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18 thoughts on “Depression vs Grief

  1. But every day I grieve the loss of the person I thought I would be. And that includes my dream of being a mother. – This is spot on! Thank you for your openness and honesty in this post. It really resonated with me!

  2. Good post! I’m in agreement with you: there is always grief after loss. I think the difference in the grieving process is dependent on the type of loss, though. Like you pointed out, death, infant loss or miscarriage are on one side of the spectrum. Losing a much anticipated basketball game is on the other. Still, people need to work through their grief in order to move forward. Without that acknowledgement, we are stuck.

    I’m so sorry that your brothers and best friend didn’t prioritize attending your wedding. That just sucks. And even though you know that their decisions have nothing to do with you, it still stings. I’m certain, though, that it was a lovely day because the people who cared about you and Hubby were there, celebrating with you. Hold onto that.

    • Thanks! Yes, “stuck” is a good word for it.

      My wedding day was amazing, despite the no-shows. Actually, I knew they weren’t coming well in advance, so I was prepared for the big day without them, but afterward, I became really angry at all three of them. I’m over it now, though. Mostly.

  3. I agree with Myrtle. I too grieve what I thought my life would be, the kind of family I thought Id have. Who I’d be as a person. It changes you.

    I’m sorry your best friend and brothers are morons. I have a similar story, but this one is yours and belongs to you. Sometimes it startles me we have so many things in common!

    When it gets to overwhelming, and it does sometimes, from what Ive seen, I think you handle it with incredible thoughtfulness, grace and truth. Not many can say that. I dont think there is a single thing wrong with you. I think you are perfect as you are!

    Introverts for the win!

    • I absolutely agree it changes you.

      I already knew my brothers were morons, but my friend skipping out on my wedding really stung. We’ve never been the same since then.

      Thank you, Jeanette, for your always kind words.

  4. This is so freaking insightful! I take meds for depression and anxiety. They do wonders, but they don’t make the grief go away. I’ve never really thought of the idea of separating my depression and anxiety from my grief until now. Thank you for this deep and insightful post.

    • Thanks, Mo. I know depression is supposed to be a stage of grief, but I don’t think I ever experienced that after losing my mother. Or anger, for that matter. Maybe I’m not doing it right. But I’ve certainly had a whole range of emotions regarding infertility, depression, anger, and eventually acceptance (sort of) included. I think you’ve been processing your grief in a way that works for you, at least from what I’ve gathered from your posts.

  5. This post clears up so much. I’ve always known that I feel grief each month but couldn’t articulate why–I’ve never had a miscarriage or lost a pregnancy. Yet, I know I am grieving for the person I was meant to be. I am grieving for the experiences I could have as a mother. I am grieving the possible loss of my dream. It’s extremely tough. I think depression and grief run alongside each other I suppose depression could be the product of grief. I’m just ready to be done with it once and for all.

    • Amen. The thing with grief–or depression–is that you can’t stay there too long, or it’s almost impossible to get out of it, at least, not without a lot of help. I’m so grateful for this community for helping each other through, but I hope we each get out soon.

  6. Grieving the loss of the dream is one of the hardest things to go through. (Even though sometimes the dream manifests later, perhaps in better ways than we’d imagined.) But grief is so often completely overlooked, misunderstood and highly personal. Years ago when my first fiance unceremoniously dumped me – I didn’t see it coming – the dream of our future was the single-most difficult thing for me to give up. Even after I stopped loving him, the dream lingered, taunted me, cast me into depression. It took years before I was free from the grief – years longer than anyone else thought it should take – longer than I thought it should take, too. But you can’t hurry the healing process. It is what it is and it takes as long as it takes. Kudos to you for not being afraid to acknowledge it.

  7. This was exactly my question I discussed with others at the healing workshop. And I believe you can grieve your fertility as much as a loss, because it is also a loss of sorts. It put you in an unwanted hold, waiting.

  8. Wow, girl. This was a great post. First of all, whose idea was group therapy with all introverts? As an introvert myself, that strikes terror in me! Awkward silence abounds!

    There is so much grief that goes with all of this IF stuff.. When you’re grieving the life you werre robbed of, there seem to be constant reminders that just smack you back into sad land. I’m sure you grieve for Hubby too. I’ve been medicated in the past. It helped me see clearly enough to recognize and learn to deal with my feelings… so I could crawl out of depression and deal with the grief.

    But the way this changes you isn’t all bad. I’m learning a level of compassion and patience that I never thought I’d have. I do not judge anyone for anything anymore, and I like that about the new me.

    • Yeah, I don’t know if it’s the grief or the struggle or a combination of things, but it definitely changes you. Mostly in good ways.

      I’m telling you, Dr. B didn’t have many good ideas. Group therapy for introverts was one of her worst, I think.

  9. Oh, so I’m not the only one whose supposed best friend took a pass on her wedding? Given the circumstances and the way it was handled, it has put an end to our friendship. Despite my anger at her, and despite my overall happiness at our wedding, I think I could say I grieve for what was missing – her presence, then … and now too. So I can perhaps understand Dr.B’s ideas. And I understand what you mean about feeling grief in your own particular context. The feeling arises not only when something is lost but also when something so much desired is absent.

    • I’m sorry that happened to you, too. Yeah, it sucks when your supposed friend doesn’t show up to celebrate something that is so important to you. Guess it tests the friendship–and not in a good way. I haven’t stopped speaking to that friend all together, but I couldn’t tell you the last time I talked to her. She’s now more of a facebook “friend.”

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