Grief is a normal reaction to losing something or someone that we love. It's not a pleasant emotion. We hurt. We cry. We get angry. But we also heal.
For some people, though, especially those who have lost a loved one to suicide or another type of traumatic, sudden death, the grief transforms itself into something far more ominous: depression.
Depression is not a normal response to loss. It is a mental health problem that hijacks your brain and imitates your voice to fill your head with doubt, confusion, and lies--the same lies that our loved ones probably believed when they took their own lives.
If you've slipped into depression, watch out for these seven lies. Don't take them at face value. They are not your mind talking but an illness that preys on the psyche just as cancer preys on the body.
Whenever these lies slink into your mind, fight them. Drag them into the light of reason and watch the crumble. Talk to loved ones who understand and who will support you. Reach out to your clergy, a therapist, a counselor, or a doctor. Don't for one moment give into the following, vicious untruths:
1. You have always felt this way. Depression is an illness. It has no memory of the time before it existed. As far as it is concerned, this is your "normal" state. But you know better. Seek out happy memories. Look at pictures that make you smile or wear a favorite piece of clothing or jewelry that you bought when you were feeling particularly good. If you can't remember better times, ask others to remind you.
2. You will always feel this way. Again, the depression has no concept of a time when it will not exist. Fight this lie by doing small things that bring you pleasure--working in your garden, perhaps, taking your dog for a walk, listening to music you love, or taking a relaxing bath or shower. These little acts of kindness won't cure your depression, but they will remind you that happiness is possible and is probably closer than you imagine it to be.
3. Things can only get worse. Depression delights in terrifying us with catastrophic thoughts. Don't get dragged into this trick. Someone you love very deeply has just died by suicide. That's probably one of the worst events you will ever go through in your life. If you lived through the event, you can deal with the memory and trust that, slowly, your life will improve.
4. You are worthless. This is a lie that we suicide survivors tend to believe whole-heartedly. After all, the depression-voice says, if we'd only been a better [friend, lover, parent, brother, child, etc.] our loved ones would still be alive. Baloney. The song, "I Dreamed a Dream" from the musical Les Miserables says it best: "There are dreams that cannot be, and there are storms we cannot weather." Sometimes, no matter how much you love someone and how much you do for them, you cannot give them the will to live. It's tragic, it's terrible...but it's not your fault.
5. Everybody would be better off if you were gone. Almost everyone who commits suicide believes some version of this lie. "My friends won't have to worry about me anymore." "I won't be an embarrassment to my family." "I'd be doing everyone in my life a favor." I have yet to meet a suicide survivor, however, who felt as if their loved one had done them a "favor" by ending their lives. Did your loved one do you a favor? Of course not.
6. This pain is unbearable. Yes, the pain of losing a loved one to suicide is horrific, but it is not unbearable. You are bearing it, in fact, at this very minute, and you will continue to do so with the help of those who love you and care about you.
7. The only way to end the pain is suicide. When you buy into this, you are stepping into a phenomenon known as "the suicide trance." From that moment on, you have tunnel vision...and at the end of that tunnel is relief from all your pain. But the tunnel vision is a lie. You do not need to end your life to end your pain. There are other options available. If you can't think of any, call someone you trust and ask for help. Together, the two of you can probably come up with many solutions that don't involve suicide.
We've always been taught to believe what our senses tell us, but when we are depressed, our senses and our thought processes are unreliable. Reach out to those you can trust until your depression lifts and you can once again see clearly.
Debra Stang is a freelance writer and medical social worker. She joined the Alliance of Hope after losing a close friend to suicide. She currently acts as the Alliance of Hope's blog editor and as a forum moderator.