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Coping with loss


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Hello all

 

I am experiencing some things at the moment which, in light of all my experiences throughout my (short) life - I'm 23 - have led me to the conclusion that I am not properly able to deal with loss.

 

There are several events in my past which continue to haunt me in one way or another, or at least seem to -- my current situation could mean that I am focusing on them more than usual, but I think there are some underlying problems I need to deal with. My experience of life has, for the past 13 years, been on a scale of depressed to unhappy, with the odd spike of joy spattered around.

 

Here are the things I think have affected me profoundly in terms of loss and which I think I may not have processed properly:

 

1. When i was 10 years old (13 years ago), my family moved home from a beautiful house in a town where I was doing well at primary school and had lots of friends and a bright future. I was happy (although at the time I had no idea what unhappiness was). We moved to a small village, 3 hours' drive away, and I went to a small school with few kids (very few of whom I had anything in common with). We didn't have a nice house anymore, and my parents were struggling to cope financially (which was the reason for the move). In the space of a weekend my entire world seemed to flip on its head. Over time I was unhappy in my new school and was bullied, and I started comfort eating which led to some weight gain and yet more bullying. I would say that this experience is the worst thing that has ever happened to me (given its initial impact and everything that followed as a result of it).

 

2. At the end of high school I had my first girlfriend. I am quite an emotional person, and this experience was so beautiful -- i was young and naive, and hopelessly in love and besotted with this girl. She was beautiful to me and I experienced such intensity of feeling that I still smile about even today. We broke up (as young couples tend to do) and I was devastated; it took a year and me going to university for me to get over her. This is an experience a lot of people have, I understand that, but I am viewing it in the wider context of my life and the other things that have happened in it.

 

3. In 2004, when I was 18, my father died. He had had a chronic-progressive course of MS which had precipitated a steep decline from the man he once was (incidentally, he was diagnosed not long after the move in #1 and sunk into a deep depression fuelled by his feeling of inadequacy at losing his original high-powered job then being unable again to properly succeed because of his illness). He was never that close to myself and my two siblings, but I know he wanted to be. This was a big blow for me, particularly since any prospect of a strong male figure in my life was now gone (and at a time when I felt/feel I need it most -- new careers, making choices, etc).

 

4. In September of last year, my life changed completely in the space of about 5 days. I had been living with my girlfriend for ~15 months, and had to find a new apartment as she was going to China to teach English. And I had a new job starting on Monday, my first 'proper' job -- salaried, office, wearing a suit etc. So in those five days, I moved house away from her into an apartment with two guys I barely knew, I started a new job with completely new people with scary responsibilities, and my longterm girlfriend left to move to the other side of the world for 6 months. The upshot is that since then nobody I see on a remotely regular basis has known me for more than 6 months. (I should note that this job is only a 1 year thing -- it will end in September, and after that I do not know what to do -- change career (before I've even started the first one I invested 5 years of study into), study something else, go into academia, I just don't know.)

 

At the beginning when these changes happened I was running on the adrenaline of the new life, enjoying the novelty of all these new experiences. But about 6 weeks after this happened, I got up one morning and noticed a strange feeling as a I stepped into the shower - something was wrong. Like a feeling of dread, I just knew that something had changed and I was not okay and the world was not okay. I have been carrying this feeling around ever since and it has undermined my sense of self, my career choices, my confidence and made me question what I am and what I can be. The worst part is I've lost the unassailable sense of optimism I always had in previous times of struggle.

 

4. In December of last year, the relationship ended after 5 years. We had been together since the first semester at university. She went to China in September to teach English, and I went out to visit her in November for a fortnight, and a couple of weeks later I ended the relationship. At that point it had to be done, she wanted it as I did but wanted me to be honest with her, which I respect. I feel now though that I have lost my best friend. This is regardless of the sexual elements of the relationship. She knows me better than anyone, simply because of the time we have spent together and the millions of words we have shared. She was there when my father died. We have talked endlessly about anything and everything. She is not my soulmate, but we came to know each other intimately and I have only realised since we broke up just how much her friendship means to me. I feel that since there are certain events that we shared that will never be repeated (such as my father's death, my sister's wedding, travelling in China), that there is some kind of inexorable bind between us, and that because these things are so much a part of who I am, I won't ever be able to fully express or explain them to someone who was not there as she was. That is incredibly painful.

 

This might be easier to handle if she was here -- but she is 6,500 miles away. I have only heard her voice once since we broke up (I had to do it by email because Skype was broken, but she understood). We spoke via skype about 10 days ago, 4 months to the day since I last saw and spoke to her in Baoji in China. We have not had the tearful goodbye and the 'last coffee' and the return of a shoebox of mementos. The time for that seems to to have passed, but it still feels like it's something that has to happen. We keep in touch via email and Google Chat, but I have not seen her smile or frown or cry or laugh since 22 November.

 

5. About 2 months ago, my mother was diagnosed with advanced lung cancer. Her prognosis from her oncologist is 18 months given her current course of treatment. This has come pretty much out of nowhere -- she decided to get a check-up after her brother became very ill with pancreatic cancer. She has a fantastic attitude towards it -- she intends to fight it, and we will be there to help in any way we can, but I don't know what to do if and when the end comes. I had a hard enough time losing one role model, and he wasn't even that involved with my upbringing - I don't know what to do if she goes. We are close and I can talk to her about almost anything, and I am left wondering who the hell will be left if she is gone? I have my big sister and she is great, but the sibling relationship adds a layer of something which prevents properly open and equal discussion. There is almost no-one else. I have a couple of friends who I can open up to, but in most cases they don't have the experience of a 'wise elder'. I don't underestimate the value of being able to talk, but sometimes you need the caring voice of someone who has been there and can say "it is going to be okay".

 

 

So there I am. There are the Big Five. There are other little things, as in everyone's life, but these are the ones that haunt me. The last three have me in the situation I am now in -- I can safely say I have never felt lower, more hopeless, or more powerless in my life.

 

I think my mind has accumulated these losses and not properly dealt with them, and now the container built to hold them can't cope.

 

If you've read all of this, thank you!

 

Any thoughts would be much appreciated

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Thank you for writing this post. Reading this really moved me. I'm 23 and have just recently dealt with the loss of my mother, a difficult long distance relationship (I have a similar attachment to it, since my companionship with this boyfriend has been completely essential to dealing with my loss), and have had a lot of trouble dealing with work-related responsibility (the stress level forced me to quit, and I've been rather unhappily unemployed now for a year). I can't claim to have ever had the unassailable sense of optimism you think you've just lost, but I do think that your reaching out and using this website as an outlet must have its benefits. Personally, I can't think of anything more productive or theraputic than writing. It's hard to find people around you who can understand your emotional state. I can probably count the number of people I feel comfortable enough to confide in about anything like this on one hand. Just know, you're not alone, and it will be okay. With time. I HOPE.

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You have experienced a tremendous amount of loss for your age. I had never really felt much loss at that age, but in the years after I have made up for it.

I think we all have tragedy eventually, and we all just have to deal with it our own way. I take antidepressants, but I think I need more.

 

Maybe your life will take a turn for the better since you've already had much more than your share of loss. Look at it that way.

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Yes, I think writing can help, especially when it allows you to formulate and organise the feelings in a coherent and logical way -- it unravels a bit of the chaos that flies around in your head. I bought a journal recently with the intention of using it for this purpose, and I think it has helped me a bit already.

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I lost my father at 12, moved at 13, 14, 15, 16, and 18. Lost some, won some at love. It's all good. It's made me who I am, very strong and capable. Hang in there. When you are older, you will appreciate how lucky you were to have all of this happen. I also lost my mother as a young adult. I've been on my own raising my son for many years. There is NOTHING I can't do. I'll bet you grow up to be the same.

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The question is, how do we deal with the loss? People always say things like 'just let go' but that means nothing and doesn't give any practical advice on how to actually achieve letting go.

 

When I think about some things I get an acid-like feeling in my chest, a churning, and the only way to make it go away is to distract myself. This is no good - one should be able to grow from past experiences without them repeating themselves constantly, topping up the hurt and preventing actual healing.

 

Any thoughts?

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