After Mark died I felt isolated and alone. My children were in grades 4, 8 and 10 so they were at school during the day. The friends who stood by us throughout Mark’s illness had returned to their own lives. I wasn’t working then and had little to occupy my hours. I sat at the kitchen table and scribbled my sadness, frustration, loneliness and anger onto the pages of a notebook. I read the Bible as well as countless books on grief, death, dying, and heaven looking for comfort and for answers. Nothing filled that aching hole that yearned only for my husband and my old life.
My mug of tea would get cold while the pile of wet tissues in front of me grew. Tears and ink ran together on the lined pages. Sometimes I’d still be hard at it when the school day ended. This routine went on for months. I had gotten stuck.
My 16 year old finally said something that jolted me to take action. “Mom, I am so sick of hearing you cry.” These words hit me like a bucket of cold water simply because they were uttered by the daughter with whom I’d always had an especially close bond. Clearly she could no longer empathize with my crying.
She was right, I realized. At this point, months after the funeral, my constant tears were bordering on selfishness. My children must have felt frightened and perhaps even angry. First they had lost their father and then their remaining parent was a fragile mess who wasn’t even helping herself. I wanted to be strong and I tried to be there for them, but I could not stop crying. My emotions were constantly hijacked by overwhelming feelings of loss, hopelessness and even despair. Hearing my daughter’s annoyance sounded a wake up alarm.
I called my doctor’s office the next day and left a message about wanting to discuss antidepressants. Typically it took a day or so to hear back from a nurse. Not this time. Whether it was pure coincidence or the fact that my doctor knew I was struggling and why, I got a call back in under 15 minutes. “Would you like to come in tomorrow?” the staff member asked. I did.
Why had I resisted going on antidepressants? My close friends, those who had witnessed my constant crying, had suggested weeks ago that I try them. Though I claimed I would think about it, the stigma attached to such drugs bothered me. Then I learned something that opened my mind to considering whether medication actually could help.
Research indicates that when a brain is subjected to prolonged stress, such as in extended grief, biological changes can occur that affect emotional stability, relationships, work, sleep and memory. Medication can sometimes help alleviate the symptoms, allowing the person, over time and with other supports such as counseling, to cope with their grief, accept the loss and adapt to their new circumstances.
Finding the right medication and adjusting the dose took several months. I did, however, begin to feel better a few weeks after starting on antidepressants. This is typical of the way they work. Results are generally felt after a month, not immediately. Though I was still sad and grieving, the intensity of my emotions was noticeably less extreme. In hindsight, I should have tried medication sooner.
If you are also struggling with intense and prolonged crying, hopelessness, depression or despair since your husband’s death, please talk to your primary care provider as well as a grief counselor. You can discuss with him or her whether it’s time for you to try antidepressants as one of the tools that may enable you to process your grief in addition to others such as joining a grief support group, individual counseling or engaging in another form of therapy. Grieving is hard work but you don’t earn gold stars for trying to do it alone. Sometimes the most courageous thing you can do is acknowledge that you need help.