Grief is strange. It's a universal fact that we all lose someone we care about at some point, yet, at the same time, it's the most isolating feeling imaginable.
Why is this?
I think part of the reason why grief feels so isolating is because it's only you who can truly relate to the emotions that you're experiencing at the time. As heart-warming as the well wishes and condolences are, as soon as those doors close and you stop to think, the grief is still there. In fact, it never leaves. But, for everyone else, it's like they're over it within the first week.
That's what makes the grief worse in a way. It gets better with time because you become familiar with the grieving process, but, at the beginning, everything comes to you as a shock. Like how fast life moves on from a death. And how, seeing how quick life has forgotten your loved one, it becomes so tempting to appear as if you’ve moved on too.
The best piece of advice when dealing with grief is to not overdo anything and just go with the flow. Don’t feel pressure to do anything and don’t feel guilty about still being upset. There’s no crash course on how to correctly grieve – we’re all going to get it wrong – but if you take it easy on yourself and feel what you need to feel, then you’re halfway there. For me, I immediately tried to get back to normal and tried to underplay everything I was going through at the time. I mostly did this through fundraising. While it was a positive output for my grief, looking back, I must admit that I didn't give myself the breathing space to actually grieve. And it’s not like keeping busy made it go away: the grief was there waiting for me.
As times goes on, the 'what if's also start to mount up. First, it's through guilt. I feel this is partially a unique experience when dealing with suicide because you feel - whether you want to admit it or not - that you could have prevented it somehow. I tried to convince myself that I didn't feel like that at first until I started having nightmares - even now, I still struggle when talking about it, because it feels as though it should have been so obvious, so easy to stop her.
But hindsight is a wonderful thing and we need to remember this. No matter how much we look back, we can’t change anything that’s happened and that’s a big milestone to cross in the grieving process. It wasn’t your fault and there was nothing more that you could have done.
The second 'what if' is a bit more complicated: comparing your present and future to what could have been. Would we have kept in touch after secondary school? Would she have gone to university? What would she have picked to study? Where would she have gone? Even the more selfish questions like: how would my life have been different if this hadn't of happened? Again, as time goes on, you're forced to accept the impossibility of answering these questions. It can be weirdly comforting to picture it sometimes but focusing too hard on what could have been distracts you from the now. It also, ultimately, makes the grieving process worse when you realise it’s never going to happen.
This brings me to why grief felt like a pretty isolating experience for me and that is the ‘tragic’ nature of it. My best friend suffered and died from schizophrenia - at such a young age, a lot of people couldn't wrap their heads around what had happened. It was seen as something scary and dangerous, instead of a common mental illness that affects a lot of people. Even some adults, in my school and around me, felt uncomfortable at the idea of talking about mental illness at the time.
I remember coming back into school two days after my friend had died, and a teacher spotting me down the corridor and rushing out of my way. That will always stick with me, because I could see the awkward panic in his eyes - the 'oh-god-I-really-don't-want-to-deal-with-this' sort of look. It immediately made me feel like an outsider – as if I had this negative energy that would push people away.
As you can imagine, I ended up fighting a lot in school (sometimes maybe not for the best) so that mental health could become an open conversation. Again, this made me feel pretty isolated – especially later on when comparing my own experiences to other people's. It makes you feel left out when you hear of all the good times people had in their schools, as though you've missed out on something special. But – and believe me on this – it's so so important to not go down that rabbit hole. Comparing yourself to other people achieves nothing but making you more miserable.
With that being said, another piece of advice would be to stay away from people who bring you down: people who make jokes, people who act like your grief is a burden, people who try to glamourize what you’ve been through… Avoid them like the plague because it's only going to strain your own mental health even further.
And I'm not talking about physically, but mentally too. Try your best not to think about these people because it's not worth your energy. Some people tried to make fun of how my friend had died and, as best as I could, I tried to stay away from the drama of it all. Death is no easy thing and you're dealing with too much to give your time and attention to people who don't matter in the long run.
The last bit of advice would be to (when you feel ready) branch out and try something new. I knew that my friend would have wanted me to keep living and to accomplish everything that I wanted to do in my life. I used that - and still use this - as my motivator: when travelling, when working, with relationships, everything. I want to make my friend proud and do her memory justice. And, ultimately, I would say that this motivator, alongside the support and understanding of close friends and family, has helped me get out of some of the tougher moments in grief.
I hope this has helped in some way for anyone struggling at the moment. It's difficult to put into words the experience of grief, so I tried the best I could here. Some good charities when it comes to mental health are Young Minds, Rethink Mental Illness, and Mind, which I would highly recommend using if you're going through anything similar.