Dear Inadequate Graduate,
A new semester started and I just lost someone very significant in my life. I don’t know what to do. I can’t focus on anything, I constantly feel like I’m going to burst into tears or explode, and I have absolutely no energy. I know the symptoms of depression and what I would recommend for that, but I can’t afford to take time off or make changes in my life right now. Not only can I not afford it financially, I don’t want to fall behind in school as I already feel like it’s already going to take forever to finish. Still, as the tasks pile up, part of me just doesn’t care. All I can think about is how I lost one of the most important people in my life, and my day-to-day now feels pretty meaningless.
I don’t know what to do.
I’m so sorry to hear about your loss. I know very well how debilitating significant losses can be, and it sounds like you’re in the thick of figuring how to move forward when a large part of you wants to do nothing at all. Many times when we lose someone important to us, there are no words that can take away the pain or fill the void that you feel, but I realize that feeling heard can help alleviate some sadness. That said, I think there are two things that are extremely necessary to your every day for the immediate future. These necessities include finding a way to express your grief, and having a reliable support system – even if it’s only one or two people.
Expressions of grief can vary drastically, based on personal, cultural, or religious values. Depending on the circumstance, grief might manifest in finding purpose in the loss and dedicating a new meaning to one’s work to honor (or unfortunately, to spite) the person who has departed. For others, loss might result in isolation or detachment in order to protect oneself from becoming vulnerable to future pain. As you may know Kubler-Ross stages of grief, you will likely experience a full range of emotions, and it’s okay to feel whatever anger, depression, etc. that surface.
The important part is to feel it, and to find someone to support you through the process.
Far too commonly, we think we can manage a significant loss alone. And so we try. This might work for a while, but eventually the pain slowly paralyzes us as our world crumbles down and the tasks pile up, and we can’t see a way out of the darkness. In order to guard against this scenario, I HIGHLY encourage you to reach out to friends, faculty, a support group, or seek professional help. At some point, talking about the loss will probably be necessary, but if that doesn’t feel possible right now, find people to socialize with – whether it be through shared activities or an evening in with a movie. Start each day with an affirmation or meditation, get out to exercise and breathe fresh air, and prioritize what is essential.
I know you said you cannot afford to take time off, but talk to your professors about possibilities extensions on assignments, a lighted course load, or cutting back to half-time. Sometimes pulling back a bit to reset is much more effective than floundering and drowning, so pay attention to what your body and mind needs right now. If you are part of a spiritual community or have a self-care practice, relying on this anchor can be helpful to tap back into what will be nurturing to your soul, even if right now it might feel that nothing will help. Give yourself the space and opportunity to grieve the loss as feels right, but please don’t insist that you have to deal with it alone.
And remember that however you manage this time,
You. Are. Enough.
The Inadequate Graduate