My grandmother passed away at the end of my second year of University. It was the first time I experienced death in my family. She was my Granny Ruth, and we were so close. She used to come visit us at least once a week, usually on Sundays, laden with groceries from Checkers, trashy magazines and chocolate. She was a tough and stubborn lady, but also as soft-hearted as could be. She was there for whenever my mom couldn’t be, and she made sure my brother and I never wanted for anything. While I was away at University, she was having our double garage turned into a granny flat for herself, and she was going to live with us permanently. While the flat was being built, she stayed in my room because I wasn’t home to use it.
During this time, she complained to my mom of stomach pains, and when those didn’t go away my mom urged her to go see a doctor. But, the stubborn thing that she was, she refused to go. Until one day my mom came home from work and found my gran doubled over and crying from the pain. The doctor sent her straight to the hospital and they scheduled her for surgery right away. She had bowel cancer.
The night before her operation, her bowel burst and they had to rush her to emergency surgery. They removed the cancer but she developed septicemia. She was in ICU for 6 weeks before she died. She did manage to hold on long enough for me to come home and be with her at the end, and I at least got to say goodbye. But her death hit me hard.
I couldn’t sleep because whenever I closed my eyes I saw the nurse closing her eyelids and pulling the sheet over her head. I couldn’t eat because my stomach lurched at the thought of food. All I could do was lie in bed and cry. At one stage I thought I could feel my gran’s presence, lying beside me and comforting me, letting me know it would be ok. That just made me cry more because I knew I would never truly feel her presence again.
My mom eventually took me to see a doctor and he diagnosed me with mild depression. I was put on anti-depressants and it was recommended I see a psychologist. When my third year of University started, I packed my things and went back to pick up my life again. I got back into my studies, went out with my friends, all the things I did the year before, but this time I was only going through the motions. Every day was a struggle to get out of bed. I had no energy for anything – I didn’t want to get up, I didn’t want to shower, I didn’t want to eat, I didn’t want to see people, I didn’t want to go to lectures. But, I also didn’t want people to know I was depressed, so I did all those things without ever really being there. The anti-depressants made me numb. I couldn’t feel anything, and it was horrible.
I don’t think I could have gotten through that time without the medication though. Even though it made me numb, this enabled me to forget about my feelings. I was able to put the emotions aside and get my head into a better place. Once my head was in a better place, I was then able to deal with the emotions. It took me a long time, longer than the doctors initially thought because I had another major setback later that year (another story for another topic), but I eventually got there. I got to a point where I was tired of feeling nothing – I want to feel something, even if it was grief. So, I took myself off the anti-depressants and finally started to deal with all the emotions I had pushed aside for the last year.
That was a very dark time in my life, and I never want to go there again. Sometimes I feel myself slipping again – when something bad happens, I can feel the darkness come over me. It literally feels like I am falling into a giant hole that I don’t know how to get out of. The difference is that I now recognise this feeling, and I know that I need help to get out of it.
I have a loving boyfriend who may not understand how I feel because he has never experienced depression, but he knows enough to listen when I tell him I need help. And I do ask for it – I know I can’t get out of that hole by myself, and I know I don’t want to be medicated again because I would rather feel the grief than feel nothing at all. And I think recognising that is the first step in making sure I don’t go back to that place again.