Grief is the emotion/state I hate the most. It is relentless, with a habit of coming in waves so that I can never be quite sure if its left yet. Constantly I have to watch over my shoulder for its black shadow, which follows me persistently, and jumps on me when I least expect it to. Everywhere I look, at every moment of the day, the shadow of grief is hiding in a corner, peering at me with a twisted glare, watching my every move and hyper-sensitive to my thoughts and emotions, waiting for the tiny fraction of a second where I drop my guard and it can pounce on me. I can be laughing with friends but feel anxious inside, because I can see it…right there…Grief. Watching me, waiting, its presence ominous and heavy, and I know it’s only a matter of time before my laughter is replaced with pain and tears, and that there’s absolutely nothing I can do to prevent it. The grief is stronger than me. It overpowers me. I can be lying on the ground, sent flying when it jumps, and I can fight it as hard as I want to…but it pins me down, barely flinches as I punch and scream, and if I fight too much I’m left exhausted and in the same amount of pain as had I just stayed still.
So do I fight or do I let it happen? Do I fight so that I don’t feel victim to grief, or do I let it happen so that I don’t burn out as a result of grief? Both options cause excruciating emotional pain… neither option relieves me of it.
And it really does jump on me. I can be standing, talking to my friend, and for just a moment my back is to the shadow. I know it’s watching me. I continue talking to my friend, feeling ever more anxious; awaiting its attack. Will it attack this time? Sometimes it does…sometimes it doesn’t. That’s part of its game. Inconsistency. So that anxiety becomes part of its torture and it mocks me as I increase in the panic; I don’t want to feel this pain today…please…please don’t attack me…
It doesn’t care if I beg, plead, or ignore it. It’ll attack whenever it wants to, regardless of boundaries and if I’m doing something important. I will be talking someone and feel it jump on me. I will feel my whole body buckle under its weighted attack. My knees crash to the floor, my heart races, and the poison from the attack rips through my skin. I feel waves of agony and pain crashing through me, with its most intense point being in my chest. The pain in my chest builds and builds, attacking my heart; the grief literally living inside me. I feel my muscles seize up, not strong enough to cope with this venom. My chest feels like it’s going to explode. I’m sure it will explode. I want to scream. I want to really scream; the screams of all the children and babies…it’s their screams trapped in my chest. But also my screams. This is also grief for myself, for my innocence shattered as a child and the horrors I’ve lived through. It’s also my own child screams and despairing howls trapped in my chest. It’s all trapped. All of our screams and pain…from each terrible event I lived through and each baby I lost and each child who lost the fight in that place…all of that is trapped inside my chest. There’s not enough space in my chest, but the pressure just keeps building now that the shadow of grief has attacked me. I feel my ribs straining against the pressure. I’m terrified they’ll break. My ribs will just crack. I want to scream. But also I’m scared to scream, because to do so will mean letting go…and I don’t want to let go of my babies. But I equally can’t trap their pain inside me. I need to scream.
The shadow is standing behind me now. It grabs my hair and pulls my head up; I’d been doubled over, cradling my chest and trying to soothe the trapped pain. Now my neck is vulnerable and exposed. The monster wraps its icy fingers around my neck, and digs its claws into me. Tighter and tighter, so now I can’t let the screams and pain out. I can’t even see the shadow. It’s so cruel but also very cowardly and won’t look me in the eye as it chokes me. I try fighting, wriggling away from the icy grip so that I can breathe. The pain in my chest is unbearable. The pressure is reaching its limit but now my neck is being choked so the pain can’t escape. The shadow is going to kill me, isn’t it? If it doesn’t choke me to death, the pain it’s caused that is ripping through my chest and crushing my body will surely kill me…
The shadow relieves it’s grip a bit..playfully…not enough for the pain to come out, but enough for me to breathe…so that I’m now balancing in limbo. It will stay like this until I’m on my own. It only lets me scream my heart out in the bitter agony of my losses when I am alone; this is part of its cruel game. For now I must remain in this position of extreme pain and near-choking and absolute fear and heartache until I am on my own, when actually I want a friend to rescue me…but cannot say.
There is apparently a term for this feeling of the neck being strangled with grief/unable to swallow. (Globus Hystericus). Some call it the monster on their neck. I have a monster on my neck when I go against “instructions” but the sensation on my neck due to grief I call the shadow, as it is quite a different experience. It does prevent me from swallowing, and does make breathing feel like a conscious task and I constantly fear it’ll choke me completely. The monster on my neck when I go against instructions causes extreme pain in my neck, so that I choose to stop talking in order to be “good,” whereas the shadow of grief doesn’t cause pain in my neck as such…just strangles me so that I am unable to release the pain in my chest.
I know grief isn’t a living thing. But when it attacks, it feels purely living. It feels like it has a life of its own. I do feel like it watches me, waiting to pounce, and then systematically destroys me through pain, heartbreak, fear and cruelty. It is hideously uncompassionate, moreso I feel than the depression. The shadow of grief even invites the depression along, just so that I have to make even more of an effort to stay alive. So now, not only am I being choked from behind, and living with the most intensely agonising pain centring from my heart and spreading, I am also being drained by depression. It rids me of my “want” to live through this, of my motive to fight the pain and pick myself back up. Depression has ruled my life longer than I’d ever truly realised, but the professionals have helped me realise. For a long time I have lived for everyone else: the children need me, my siblings need me, my friends need me… there’s rarely been a point where I stop myself from committing suicide simply out of love for myself. The effort to live for everyone except myself is indescribably hard and exhausting…and when grief is already strangling me and leaving me blind with pain, the depression just drains me of my want even to live for those who need me to…
And the shadow will trick me. It will whisper in my ear “you foolish girl, fighting us, when really deep down you want to give up so you can cradle your babies again and hold those small children…deep down this is what you want, and we can help you achieve it…” It’s so cruel, because it’s so true, but it’s a truth that’s dangerous for me to focus on. Because, like any mother who’s lost a child, if there was any option whatsoever of having the child back, or even swapping places, I’d jump on it in an instant. The grief shadow knows this, and tells the depression to drain me further…until I’m hallucinating my children and the children from that hellish place. I’m hallucinating what I want so desperately, in some desperate attempt to soothe the extreme pain in my body, in some desperate attempt to regain strength… but the hallucinations only feed the grief, and I am left broken and wretched, staring at what I want but knowing I can never have it…unless I let the shadow strangle me and the depression drain me totally. Only then can I hold them again…
Meanwhile, in reality, I’m still standing and talking to my friend. All of this has happened but my body is effectively in a cast, and nobody can see what brutality is going on beneath it. Sometimes my friend might frown just slightly and comment that I’ve gone pale, or that I look in pieces somehow, and am I okay? I will say “yeah…just feeling a bit low” or “yeah, I’m fine” both of which are shadow-speak for “I’m in the absolute pit of despair and in so much pain and I want to be with my babies but I don’t want to leave you and I just want this pain to stop and oh my god it’s killing me and it’s strangling me and I’m scared and this pain is crazy and I wish I could scream.”
I will politely remove myself from the situation, if possible, so that I can go on my own. Then, I will fall onto the floor, this time in absolute reality, and I’ll cry my eyes out heavily. I might howl with the pain, or I might be totally silent – it depends on whether the venom from the shadow has paralysed me yet or not. Last night I cried, in absolute silence but in complete hysterics, for several hours. The grief shadow had paralysed me, and the depression drained me, fuelling the venom from the grief….and I just cried with the pain, cruelty and injustice of it all.
When the shadow lets go, I keel over, lying weak and breathless. Too weak now to defend myself even if I wanted to. The venom is still in my body and my heart is still pounding and the screams and pain are still trapped in my chest. The shadow smirks, and beats me senseless, pounding me with punches and kicks, fully taking advantage of my broken self. When it’s finished, it leaves depression alone with me…to drain me of my willpower, self-worth, and strength. It’s the cruellest combination, and my own head attacking me.
People often say to me that they realise it’s hard, but I have to go through this in order to get better. It sounds so simple in words. But how can I explain to them what “to go through this” actually entails? How can I explain to them that it’s not just a case of feeling a bit sad and crying, but actually being beaten to within an inch of suicide, to the point where my chest is screaming in agony and I’m a broken heap on the floor whilst my head continues to destroy itself? How can I explain to them that I’m actually being choked and poisoned whilst I seem to be so calm and smiling still? How can I explain to them that, actually, there is a whole new story going on beneath my eyes…if they could only see through the windows? I need to work through grief, I realise this. But it’s so much easier said than done, when the shadow of grief is ever-present and constantly pushing me to the brink and leaving me on the verge of being totally destroyed, and egging it’s best pal Depression on to burn any remaining strings of hope or strength.
The cruellest bit of all? Nobody should ever need to go through this. Nobody. I have to, because of what real-life monsters did to me and stole from me and my heart. Their abuse leaves echoes far more painful than anything they have inflicted. And I have to go through it…in order to recover. What kind of fucked up reality is that?
The shadow of grief haunts me, breaks me, and mocks me. It’s cruel. I hate it.