Pedaling Fast, Headed Nowhere
Author: Darcie Sims
I was riding my new exercise bike this morning, making good on a new year’s resolution, when I got to thinking. Here I am, pedaling fast and getting nowhere. It’s hard work.
Riding an exercise bike is a lot like grieving. We seem to be pedaling fast and sometimes, it seems as if we are going nowhere. Grief just seems to become an endless ribbon of concrete, stretching far past my limits of endurance. It never seems to end, no matter how long I ride, no matter how hard I pedal.
There is always something in the way. Just when I think I have found the rhythm that just might work, grief hits me in another way. It catches me off guard and throws me a curve I wasn’t expecting. Sometimes I grow weary of the journey and simply wish for whatever the world calls “closure.”
When will grief end or does it just keep on keeping on?
Even though the calendar says it’s nearly spring, I don’t feel very spring-like inside. The scene I’m passing every day on my exercise bike isn’t changing very fast, and I think I might be getting depressed. I don’t want to pedal to nowhere anymore.
So many people get upset when we dare express that sentiment. They can't stand to see us glum! It's as if our emotional state is a direct result of their actions and an insult to their intentions. There are some real reasons for my gloom—some are weather-related, some are circumstance-related, and some are just plain human-related.
Depressed people are not fun. We don't sparkle at dinner parties. We don't radiate charm and warmth. We are not good conversationalists, and we tend to eat more or less than we should. We are not the first choice for an evening's companionship.
Sometimes we stare at the television for long periods of time without really seeing the program; sometimes we are unable to follow a conversation. Sometimes we seem distracted. Sometimes we cannot concentrate, and we forget who we are or where we put the car keys. Sometimes we spend hours looking through scrapbooks and use inordinate amounts of tissue.
But whatever else we may be, we are functioning through this situational depression (as opposed to a clinical depression with accompanying chemical changes in the brain). And although it looks and feels uncomfortable, a period of depression during the journey through grief is as normal and natural as the periods of anger, guilt, fear, and hurt. It's just that depression is such a difficult emotional state and one that is hard to define and even harder to endure.
Grieving people often become the target for loving and concerned family and friends who simply cannot stand to see us down. We become their mission. They become almost possessed with the task of lifting us up out of the gloom. Plans are made—we must not be left alone; we must be cheered up, entertained, helped to snap out of it. We do appreciate the kind and loving gestures of concern. But, perhaps if we all understood that a certain amount of depression is appropriate, and maybe even necessary to the grief process, then we could all relax a bit about this mysterious emotional state.
Depression that is a part of the journey of grief is truly a natural and normal part of the process. One day, the grieving person realizes that even the pain of grief has disappeared. Where once there existed a searing pain somewhere near the heart, now there is nothing. Memories that used to bring tears and tightness to the throat now don't even float past the mind. It is as if we have fallen into a vast nothingness, a void where not only have the painful feelings left, but we have seemingly lost the good memories as well.
We begin to believe we have lost the sound of our loved one's voice, the special scent that spoke his name. We think we have lost the visual pictures we carry with us, and we cannot remember everything we once thought we knew about our loved one. Gone are not only the painful thoughts, but those thoughts that used to bring us comfort, too. We are cast into the gloom of emptiness—truly a most difficult part of grief!
Yet I have learned that this vast emptiness is really quite a "busy" time for those of us who are struggling through grief. Though we may appear to be quite listless and may even seem to hibernate for a time, this period of situational depression has its purposes as clearly as do the other emotions of grief.
If we could think of this depressive period as a gathering time, perhaps it would be easier to understand. When we tumble into the nothingness of grief, we really are busy searching for clues to the question of “Who am I now?”
When we have lost the framework of our personal identification, we must search for new identities, and part of the grieving process is just such a search. Am I still a mother if there is no one to tuck in at night? Am I still a dad if there is no one to loan the car keys to? Am I still a husband or wife if there is no one sleeping in the other half of the bed? Am I still a sister, a brother, a friend…? Who am I now that my loved one has died?
It is a painful yet necessary question, and during this time, we become busy picking up the scattered pieces of our self-identify. We are gathering in all the pieces and trying to create a new picture of ourselves, a new identity, a new "me."
It is an important and solitary job. No one can help us create the new identity we must find in order to continue our journey. We must each take the steps to seek out a new and different us—not necessarily a stronger or better person than we were, but definitely a different person than we were before our loved one died.
So, if you begin to feel grief’s gloom creep inside you, or you begin to notice a growing silence and a slowness to your walk, acknowledge the emotion and be gentle in your expectations.
Depression that is a part of grief can become a more serious condition if not acknowledged, understood, and addressed. If the depression seems to be totally debilitating or lasts far longer than even you are comfortable with, or if it seems to include thoughts of self-destruction rather than self-identification, further assistance may be required.
But first, explore the gloom. Be patient with yourself, and remember that this may be the gathering time for you as you travel through grief. Maybe this resting and gathering time will result in brighter blooms come spring. Maybe it's okay to wonder “Who am I now?” and begin to search for new ways to answer.
Don't lose hope just because you seem to be pedaling hard and spinning your wheels. If you will just keep pedaling, you will eventually find the right direction. We are working our way through our grief, not looking to get over it. Keep pedaling. Hope is on its way.
By Darcie D. Sims, PhD, CHT, CT, GMS: Dr. Darcie Sims is a bereaved parent and child, nationally certified thanatologist, certified pastoral bereavement specialist, and licensed psychotherapist and hypnotherapist. She is the president and cofounder of Grief, Inc., a grief consulting business, and the Director of the American Grief Academy in Seattle, Washington. Darcie is an internationally recognized speaker and writer, having authored seven books and numerous articles. She currently serves as the Director of Training and Certification for TAPS. For more information and a complete listing of her books, visit www.griefinc.com.