Sad, Mad and Dangerous to Know
One thing that you will almost certainly find is that you need help to sleep. I found it impossible to sleep in the first couple of weeks and, much as I tried to avoid it, I had to resort to sleeping pills. I wasn’t trying to be brave, I just don’t believe in taking them. But I had to take them or else I would have collapsed, and when you have small children to look after you need all the help you can get.
The doctor will not give you a big bottle of pills because he will be aware that you might try to overdose. I certainly thought about it in some of my less lucid moments, until my doctor cheerfully announced that the ones he had prescribed were not good for killing yourself. Anyway, I told him I had a couple of shotguns downstairs, so I wasn’t particularly bothered, and because he was a good friend of mine, he knew I was only joking…
But I wasn’t.
If I had one piece of good advice that all my experiences have taught me, it is that you should think very hard before you start taking anti-depressants. I’m not suggesting for a moment that you shouldn’t take them, if that is what you feel you need to get you over your grief. Your doctor will almost certainly offer them to you and they will help you to feel better.
But let me tell you a good reason for not taking them. Your grief, were it a purely physical symptom, could be seen as a large, black boil. You feel it constantly and although others can’t always see it, there it sits, festering under your skin. Now, you have a choice: you can suffer with it every day, until it eventually bursts of its own accord and clears up, leaving you healthy and free of scars. Or, you can take a pill, which will dull the pain, allowing you to carry on about your daily business without the constant ache and occasional agony that the boil visits upon you. But the boil is still there, eating away at you beneath your skin. In it is stored all the anger, the hurt and the frustration that you should be feeling, but the nice pill that you eat every day takes all that away.
You may have a boil, but you are a smiley, happy, functioning individual.
And years later, when you decide to stop taking the nice pill because you are over the worst of it, the boil bursts. And out will come every feeling that you have ever suppressed, and all the grief that you didn’t allow yourself to feel because the thought of it was too overwhelming to deal with.
But you will deal with it now. It will hit you when you least expect, it will hit you hard and you may never recover from the shock.
I am not an expert in counselling or medicine, and I am not advocating ignoring the advice of a doctor. But you should realise that grief is a physical and mental process, which you have to go through in order to make yourself happy again. It is hard as hell. It is hell, and when you are going through it you will think that there will never be an end to it.
But there are ways of making it easier.
It will come over you every so often like a big black cloud and it will weigh on you more heavily than anything you have ever experienced before. Turn a king-sized mattress into an overcoat and try walking around in it – that is what it feels like. You will be mad with it at times, you will scream and shout. If you have children, you will scream and shout at them all of the time and you will hate yourself after they have gone to sleep. You will sink down under the weight of it and you will feel yourself suffocating, but you just can’t get it off you.
People will walk up to you in the street, but you will not be able to look them in the eye, you will only look down, because that is where you are. If anybody tries to be nice to you, you will feel your eyes welling up; if people are nasty you will want to scream at them, ‘How can you say that? Don’t you know what’s just happened to me?’
I used to want to be pulled over by the police for speeding; I wanted a fresh-faced officer to lean into my car and say, ‘Do you realise what speed you were doing.’ And I would look at him and say, ‘Yes officer, I do realise, now why don’t you fine me – or better still, throw me in jail. In fact, why don’t you just go ahead and hang me for being so reckless – you would be doing me a real favour because my husband’s just died and I can’t bear to be apart from him any longer.’
Grief makes you quite, quite mad. But it does so for a reason – so let it.
Be mad. Scream, shout, wail; embrace it.
And when you think you are over the worst of it, it will hit you again.
I was driving my children home from a party one sunny afternoon in July, the car was filled with the sound of my daughter’s laughter, when suddenly, there in my head was the noise that my husband made when he was dying. It completely pole axed me, and it was all I could do to drive home. I was dazed for the rest of the day and I spent the night screaming and crying and shouting at the terrible injustice of losing such a wonderful man.
Why had my mind locked away that hateful sound, and then let me hear it again on such a happy day?
Why? Because it wanted me to expel the massive hurt that was still sitting inside me.
You can prompt your grief. When you feel the cloud looming overhead, bring it closer by listening to sad music and looking at old photographs. Make it come over you, because each time you feel it, the next time you will feel it less, and in time you will hardly feel it at all. And if you can go through all that, you will come out of the other side a much stronger person.
I know myself now. I know how strong I am, I know that nothing that I face in the future will be able to defeat me, because the death of a man that I loved more than my own life did not defeat me.
I urge you to consider your options very carefully, and I wish you luck.