Being widowed in my 20s threw me into chaos.
Aimée blogs about how the grief of losing her beloved partner Mark affected her mental health.
Aimée was widowed young at 26 and is passionate about spreading awareness of grief and mental health. She blogs about her loss at www.namelesspain.com.
It was close to midnight when there was a ring on the doorbell that sent my internal alarm systems to high alert. He hadn’t messaged in hours. Before I even opened the door, my stomach sunk as something in the way he hadn’t communicated felt so fundamentally wrong… there stood two police officers who came into my living room and told me the words that would change my life forever, ‘Mark was found dead this afternoon.’
"No words can truly describe becoming a widow so young. The world is thrown into chaos; an unknown dark bleakness."
I was 26 and the man I planned my entire life with, my happy-ever-after had died of a sudden and unexpected heart attack, with no warning signs at all. In that second my universe was flipped on its axis and my whole future altered.
No words can truly describe sudden loss and becoming a widow so young. The world is thrown into chaos, an unknown dark bleakness. I couldn’t see a future, even five minutes ahead felt so raw and painful. People think of huge loss as this frozen moment in time, but loss of such a fundamental person in your life changes everything. Your future is obliterated as all your hopes and dreams have been lost in the blink of an eye. It feels like your DNA itself mutates as the way you breathe alters, the way you cry is different, the way you eat and live and shower changes. Nothing looks the same.
Loss on so many levels
There’s a saying about how you don’t lose someone just once, you lose them again and again on different levels, every time you wake up. You don’t just lose your person, but you lose them in every single part of your life… the family you planned - we’d named children - and all those dreams you’d shared. We’d planned not just a wedding but a life, and every part of your partner is interwoven into the fabric of this. Your memories and thoughts themselves feel different, and you even lose a shared language.
In time, I have learnt that grief is not something you get over. Grief gets lighter in time, but it doesn’t stop. Just as I will love Mark forever, I will grieve him forever.
The intensity of the pain lessened, and over time, I could see light seeping in. But the grief is always an undercurrent of my life and it has an impact on so many things , including mental health.
"Grief is an all-encompassing emotional experience."
It was only a few months into grief that I started apologising for it. My Facebook memories often start with ‘Sorry, I know people think I should be starting to feel better by now’ … but of course I wasn’t over my grief six months in.. You move forward and absorb this loss and learn to carry it. But you never get over it. A psychiatrist told me at six months in that I was crossing over from grief to depression because I was grieving so deeply. This made me feel like my grief was utterly misunderstood.
Grief can lead to depression and other mental health issues - anxiety, PTSD, panic disorders and much more - and these should be treated seriously. Many of us, including myself, have fallen into side-effects of grief like this, but grief itself should not be treated so clinically.
My biggest mental health struggle with grief came in the form of anxiety.
After Mark died so suddenly and unexpectedly, the world felt so unsafe in a way that is hard to describe or quantify. C.S Lewis famously wrote about how he hadn’t realised that grief felt so like fear, and it really does. I developed hyper-vigilance when outside and felt jumpy and panicky about life. My home became my safe-space where I didn’t have to think about the intrusion of the outside and I felt protected. I’m usually a sociable person, but it started to become harder to leave the house and panic attacks became normal. I found myself going inwards and becoming isolative as every time I left the house I felt off-kilter. I had nightmares about an evil force trying to break in. When your universe has been flipped on its axis, everything feels scary.
The night Mark died, I’d been trying to contact him and it felt strange that he wasn’t replying, so I had panic attacks when anyone I loved didn’t answer the phone straightaway. That internal alarm system from early grief didn’t quieten, as it was all it knew.
In time, my grief did lead into depression… but depression feels so different to grief, for me. Grief has sharp edges and depression feels like a grey, energy-sucking slug. The two things often intertwine and it can be hard to tell them apart – whichever you feel is valid and you’re the expert on your own experience.
Learning how to carry my grief
Learning how to carry my grief took time. The biggest lifesaver for me was finding peer-to-peer support in the charity WAY – Widowed and Young. Being a young widow can feel like you’re an alien: nothing looks the same, and nothing makes sense. You don’t fit into the world anymore as none of your friends have experienced loss like this. The beauty of a support group where others have gone through this same loss is that you realise your grief is normal. WAY members have all been there and you can lean on them, ask for advice or just solidarity and speak about your feelings openly with people who truly get it.
It’s a cliché to say reach out, but whatever you’re struggling with, I think reaching out to peer support groups can be lifesaving. We all feel so alone when we’re struggling but human connection is everything. To realise we’re not alone in our struggles is something empowering beyond words.
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