When you lose a loved one, there are many aspects of grief and trauma that can impact your mental health. No matter if the death was sudden or expected, whether they battled an illness or experienced extreme trauma, death’s reminders of life’s uncertainties can have lasting effects – and can often show up in the form of anxiety.
When I lost my father to cancer, my anxiety developed and grew tenfold from before his diagnosis, to his death, and continues to persist today – more than four years later. Today I deal with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and medicate daily to manage it. By sharing the anxiety-related challenges I face on a regular basis (and the ways I work to fight it), I hope I can bring you reassurance – whether you’ve just lost a loved one or are navigating your grief journey just like me.
“I always assume the worst”
When your worst case scenario happens, it’s similar to the later stages in a game of Jenga. You’ve lost a significant part of the tower, and now it’s a balancing act as you prepare for the structure to collapse completely. Every second, every breath and inevitable block removed feels like the end.
Since losing my dad, my tower has been on very fragile ground; always at risk of losing another block. This is a common symptom in anxiety disorders, often described as a feeling of impending doom. Whether it’s the fear of losing someone else, falling seriously ill, being caught in a dangerous attack or, well, anything else, I am constantly having to remind myself that most circumstances, like my father’s death, are out of my hands.
“I have panic attacks”
It sounds obvious, but losing a loved one can often result in panic attacks, which are also another symptom of anxiety disorders. According to Anxiety Canada, a panic attack is defined as a “sudden rush of intense fear or discomfort, which reaches a peak within 10 minutes.” It also lists sensations associated with panic attacks including a racing heartbeat, shaking or trembling, a fear of dying and/or a disconnect from reality.
Panic attacks can happen anytime, and sometimes without a clear reason. In my post-traumatic experience, I’ve had panic attacks in a wide range of scenarios, from sitting beside my dying parent, to sitting at my desk at work and even walking home from the gym. The best way to deal with panic attacks? Educate yourself about exactly what happens during an episode and practice ground techniques.
“I’m afraid of getting comfortable again”
Hand-in-hand with that feeling of doom is the fear of developing close relationships or getting comfortable in any situation. This will be familiar to anyone who’s experienced trauma, whether you’ve lost a loved one, been in a toxic relationship, been in an accident, etc. This aversion to letting your guard down can impact future relationships, including your relationship with yourself.
Funnily enough there’s a Winnie the Pooh quote that helped me through my father’s death, and still provides me some comfort today: “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard” (A.A. Milne). The message is simple, yet life-changing: without taking risks to love again, feel joy again and to bask in the positives, we’re limiting ourselves from all the wonderful moments and relationships we have yet to discover. Perhaps even the memories that your late loved one would have wanted you to make.
Ebony-Renee Baker is a Canadian writer and content creator based in the UK. She writes about topics including lifestyle, fashion, race, social issues and, yes, sometimes death