Home > politics > Healing from PTSD, emotional numbing and disassociation. Newly experiencing grief, Day 5.

Healing from PTSD, emotional numbing and disassociation. Newly experiencing grief, Day 5.

As my PTSD and disassociation subsides, I am rediscovering feelings and emotions. I lost a dear friend, a sweet sister, to suicide at the weekend. This is my first bereavement in years, and the first I have actually gone through any proper grieving for. For the dear dear friends who died before, my numbing just deepened and I struggled to cry at all.

So I feel like someone plunged into the ocean, having never been to the seashore before.

The waves keep washing over me, though their hues have changed over the days. Initially the rawness was frequently tinged with denial. I felt that I could return to some previous saved game state and alter her passing. Telling someone about her death, talking about her in the past tense, even using her name in a facebook post made it too real and was to be avoided. But then the reality would hit, and tears would flood out of me, accompanied by guttural moans. It almost felt like being possessed, because of how involuntary this was.

Before I began my healing journey I would do anything to avoid letting these feelings out, for they felt bottomless, that they would overwhelm me, and the vulnerability was terrifying. Additionally, many of the times when I would have felt distress and sadness in the past it was not safe to do so, because I was still around my assaulter, or because I was in warzone. I got very good at pushing them down. However a few years ago I realised that it had become impossible to filter which emotions I could suppress, and I was losing the good uns with the bad. I was not experiencing life because it was all grey without emotions to colour it. In order to feel joy, I had to feel pain. And I made a conscious decision that I would begin opening myself up to those feelings too, and trust that I wouldn’t lose myself forever in a pit of despair, but that my body and mind would find a path to stumble through to some other side. I began to cry. I’m still not good at it – like an immobilised muscle that is very slowly strengthening I can manage only a few minutes at a time and feel utterly exhausted afterwards. But I don’t fear feeling it anymore, as I know there will be another side, and it will probably be a washed clean (temporary) peacefulness.

And so now when I feel the buildup of pain, I let it come. It is still a conscious effort, with me telling myself over and over “it is safe to cry, it is not a burden on whoever’s around me, it is consented to, it will pass and there will be another side” until the tears finally, blessedly, break and I’m engulfed. Which feels weird – instead of pushing pain down I am facing it head-on. No longer am I fleeing from my own shadow.

Observing, as well as experiencing, grief, here is what I have noticed.

When I’m depressed I comfort eat. In grief I am having to make a conscious effort to eat at all. And when I do, its been easy, moist foods. A friend cooked soup for us on Monday, and otherwise its been beans on toast, boiled eggs or cereal. I think the difference is that when I’m depressed I feel empty of feeling and so hunger and eating are louder and more compelling against that flat landscape. In contrast, ear-splitting grief drowns out other feelings and exhausts my capacity to feel them. There is no satiation in eating, no pleasure of taste, and little hunger drive. I understand better now why so many cultures and religions emphasise the importance of bringing food for the grieving.

I was due to work a 12 hour shift the day after finding out about her suicide. My first impulse was to keep that shift. I need the money, but that was just an excuse. I realised that the “new, post-PTSD, me” correct decision was to cancel it and prioritise self-care and grieving. Additionally would I have the concentration required to safely give out medication to patients? It was the latter that sealed my decision. And I went to Edin instead to spend the afternoon with 20-30 of Danielle’s friends. This was definitely the right thing to have done. I was making her death real, being around people who were also mourning her, sharing memories, making sense of what had happened, and crying, a lot, in public (unprecedented!). I went home exhausted but was aware of how healthy and necessary the day had been. Refusing to let myself grieve for those I’ve lost before has not kept them with me, and nothing will bring Danielle back.

Emotions come in waves, lasting from minutes to hours. None lasts longer than that. Initially frequent visitors included denial, anger and guilt. Gradually they have been replaced by deep sadness, missing her very much, and slowly accepting that she did what she needed to do. I feel these one or two in a row and then go to “numb” as some kind of emotional refractory period.

Sometimes I don’t want to talk about anything apart from Danielle. Other times I need a break from that. She is never far from my thoughts. But I don’t want to share them always. I am super lucky to have been with people who have been open to hearing, but not been pushy if I don’t want to talk about her. I’ll be thinking about her, but talked out, and not want to explain whatever is going on in my mind.

Last night I even went out on a date. I warned the person in advance about what had happened and that I would be subdued. But I honestly felt that I needed a break from constant 24/7 grieving. I needed daylight and fresh company and a change. I was very lucky that my date was familiar with grieving processes and a total sweetie about it. I have been having a big family crisis as well, and that was also on my mind. But it was a relief to at least partly get away from all that.

Today I crashed again though. As if the sadness that didn’t express itself for 12 hours or whatever had time to make up for. I still feel like taking that break and going outside of myself for that time was healthy. Pre-new-me would only have done that – kept myself busy and distracted and with a full to-do list and schedule. However I think a little of that is probably necessary.

For my own reference as much as for anyone who’s managed to follow my stream of consciousness this far, here’s what I wrote on facebook about Danielle.

CW: transphobia and suicide
My heart hurts. You have left a unique, unfillable space in the universe. I’m glad I got to know you, and had you in my life. I wish you could have internalised how much love there was for you, and I’m furious at a transphobic world for making your life so much harder. The world was not ready for you, and you suffered for that. We, and the world, suffer for losing you. You will be dearly missed, sweet sister.
On Friday the world lost a wonderful, unique, beautiful person. And, in large part, it was transphobia that meant she could no longer face life. It was having her gender questioned and doubted and fetishised and mocked in popular culture, and most painfully of all, amongst those that pre TERF (TERF is someone who is anti trans people, but claim to come from a progressive, feminist, perspective) wars, she would have thought were on the same side as her, as an Anarchist.
I hope to write a longer post once I have recovered from losing a beloved sister from my life, but in the meantime, please do one thing in her memory.
Offer a hug to a trans person, or someone else who faces structural prejudice and oppression. Remember you are doing it as an offering to them, so please do it in a way that does not pressure them – some people don’t like touch, or only on their terms. I suggest the phrasing “Would you like a hug?” and genuinely listen that they actively want that.
And whilst I’m at it, please remember that it shows care and respect to ask someone “What pronouns do you use”, and, inevitably when you get it wrong (as everybody does at some point) “Sorry, she/he/they” and continue with the conversation. Remember most importantly, when you get it wrong do not turn it into a big deal where you are apologising and explaining so much that they need to comfort you, when you were the one that trod on their toes! “Sorry” and move on is all that is required.
But back to our dearly missed, sweet sister Danielle. She is not with us because the world is transphobic. When we argue with those who use language that insults, minimises, fetishises or stigmatises trans people its not just an abstract political theoretical debate. These things matter. Real people suffer. Their lives are made unliveable. And we lose dear people from the world, and from progressive political movements.
Categories: politics
  1. giveinfo
    January 10, 2019 at 5:49 pm

    Darling, I am crying with you

    With love and a great big hug


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