Throughout our lifetime, we lose many people – friends, colleagues, and family members. Sometimes we lose people naturally, such as moving to different schools and changing jobs. But sometimes we lose people because of a force completely out of our control. Those tend to affect us the most.
In early 2017, I lost a co-worker and friend to suicide. It took me completely by surprise; I was in deep shock for a long time. Although I wasn’t very close with him, I worked with him countless times and loved his individuality.
Personally, 2017 was a really bad year for my mental health. It wasn’t the worst year, but a lot of terrible things happened. Apart from my friend’s suicide, I also went through a breakup, a family member had to go to the hospital many times, and someone very close to me attempted suicide. Thankfully the attempt was not successful.
Before my friend took his own life, I had never experienced the death of anyone close to me before. This was my first time having to cope with grief. At first, all I felt was numb. I was shocked, confused, and heart broken. At that time, I felt like I had a good support system, but I did not want to talk to anyone about what I was feeling. I felt like nobody would understand. I was tired.
Eventually, I started feeling angry. I was angry at the world for taking away a soul so beautiful. Someone who never failed to smile at me. I was angry for feeling angry. I was tired.
After the anger subsided, the depression hit. I always use music as my escape, but there were certain songs that slid me deeper into my depression. Every time I heard “The Night We Met” by Lord Huron, I always thought about my friend and it never failed to make me cry. Just hearing the first few chords of the song was enough to trigger some tears. I was tired. It took me three years to able to listen to the entire song without tearing up.
Growing up, nobody teaches you how to cope with grief. Nobody warns you how slow and painful the process is. But as cliché as it sounds, time really does help heal the wounds. What helped me get through the darker days were my support system, music, and giving myself the time to feel what I needed to feel.
On the days I found difficult to be positive and to control the emotions I was feeling, I tended to shut myself off from the rest of the world. I didn’t want to drag anybody else into my darkness. But because I was going to school full-time, I was forced to interact with countless people sometimes. I found that on those days, I actually felt better. And it wasn’t because I was forced to talk about how I was feeling. All it took was one genuine interaction/conversation with somebody to help me reset my mind.
So, over time, I started confiding in my friends about how I was feeling. I realized I didn’t need advice – I just needed someone to listen. I slowly learned to accept all the emotions I was feeling. Some days I would feel invincible. Some days the littlest things would make me cry. Some days I would wake up and feel angry at the world. I had a good mix of good, bad, and ugly days.
The biggest lesson I learned through my process of grief, was to allow myself to feel what I needed to feel. You can’t pretend that everything is okay if you wake up feeling like the world is about to end. If you need to get a good cry in, do it. If you need to laugh and have fun, even though you might feel like it’s not fair to, do it. Listen to your body and your mind. Allow yourself to stay in the present. Even when times feel super dark and you don’t see a light at the end of the tunnel, we all reach the end of the tunnel eventually. It might take us a while to get there, but things really do get better.
If I had to take something positive out of such a heartbreaking situation, it would be my newfound appreciation for life. I had once struggled with my own mental health. When I was younger, I thought I was ready to give it all up. Over the years, I have learned healthy coping mechanisms that work for me. I am learning to ask for help when I need it. I take full breaths. I consciously listen for birds chirping, wind rustling through the leaves in the trees, and for the rain hitting my window. I love with my full heart, laugh until my stomach aches, and cry until all my sorrow is released.
Life is hard and it will throw you curveballs when you least expect it. Sometimes, you will feel such immense heartache in your life. But other times, you might feel like you’re on top of the world. Always allow yourself to feel what you need to feel. Accept what is happening, take a few deep breaths, and find the resources to help you get through any hurdles. Take all the time you need. There is no timeframe of healing, but there are things you can do and people you can talk to, to make the process easier.
Written by: Lannie Kheng