Several months ago I connected with Rachel and have been touched by her journey. I was thrilled when she recently asked to submit a guest entry to the blog. Read more about her story below and follow her on IG at @recoveringwithrachel or on her blog.
By: Rachel Ankrom
When you think about the phrase, “it’s complicated,” is grief the first thing to come to mind? Not usually. When grief morphs from the natural grieving process into “complicated grief,” the intense emotions that have been invoked make it feel like it will be impossible to ever feel anything positive again.
Sudden, traumatic loss was all I really knew my entire childhood. I thought “complicated” was normal. I lost my father when I was young in an incredibly unforeseeable manner. Seven years later, a second accident resulted in a significant loss in my family.
I remember having overwhelming anxiety as young as about age five or six, but the panic snowballed after that second accident. I started fearing almost everything at that point. Riding in a car petrified me, because what if we were in an accident? Eating anywhere but in my own home wasn’t about to happen, because what if the kitchen was dirty and I get sick? The laundry list of anxiety I had as a preteen and teenager (and, I must admit, some I still struggle with as practically 30) began taking its toll on me way before I should have been worrying about death or germs or much of anything else, frankly.
The anxiety escalated the year my mom turned 48. She was now the same age as when he passed. I lived in sheer terror that I would lose her too. I had convinced myself that my mother was going to die that year. Every time I didn’t know where my mom had gone, or she had gotten off of work later than usual, I was paralyzed with fear.
Not coincidentally, that was also the year that my eating disorder behaviors really took off. As awful as it was dealing with the depression, anxiety, and bulimia in my teens and early twenties, I was doing okay. None of it was debilitating. I held a full-time management position at 23, and I had friends and family that surrounded me and loved me. I had no problem functioning.
Then everything changed in 2016 when the one person who knew me better than anybody else, loved me through every depressive episode, talked me through panic attacks, and knew exactly what I had been experiencing with my eating disorder, had taken her own life.
That was the hardest loss I had ever experienced. Not only was grieving a loss by suicide the worst grief I’ve ever had to process, but the person I had turned to the most was no longer there. I ended up spiraling into the deepest depression I had ever been through. I coped by abusing food, purging, self-harm, alcohol, pills, practically every bad coping mechanism I could come up with to try to take the pain away.
Eventually, I started calling off from work at least once (if not twice) weekly because I couldn’t function. I ended up hospitalized twice in thirteen months for plans of ending my own life.
Do you know what else happened, though?
I became the person I had needed. I knew what to do, what to say (specifically what not to say), and how to truly help other people struggling. I learned how to listen to the words people are saying, not just hear them speak. I read body language quickly and know whether or not they’d prefer to have their space. I’ve learned that bringing up someone’s lost loved ones doesn't upset them, but reminds them how much that person was loved by other people. I’ve raised hundreds of dollars with Mental Health fundraisers. I’ve gained a deeper understanding of both “life is short” and “the good die young,” so I never take my relationships for granted. After years of practicing emotion regulation, processing trauma, and a LOT of therapy, I can use my pain to help other people who are going through what I had to go through.
I no longer consider her passing to be a “complicated” grief. I have years of memories, pictures, and so much love left for her. I think of her every single day. Grief isn’t supposed to be complicated, but it has the power to completely debilitate you, and that’s never your fault.
It is said that you grow through what you go through.