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Sweatpants & Self Care | How to Keep Your Sanity Through Grief Anniversaries

By Kelly Wilson

As April rolls into May each year, I begin to feel the waves of major depression. Fuzzy thinking, sleeping all the time or not at all, no appetite versus wanting to eat all of the sugar in the world. No energy. Feeling overwhelmed and exhausted. Staring into space. A heavy-limbed hopelessness.

I’ve been dealing with depression for more than 30 years now, in active recovery for 12 of those years. Still, this time of year surprises me. Maybe it’s because the sun finally starts shining after seven months of rain here in Portland or there are fresh strawberries or my kids are excited for the end of the school year. Everyone seems renewed and happy for spring.

Not me. I was talking with my therapist about how, when people tell me to “enjoy the sunshine,” I just want to scream and run away. “Well, this is a trauma-heavy time of year,” she said.

I thought about it for a minute. May is the anniversary of my younger son almost dying and my wedding anniversary. June is the anniversary of my father-in-law’s death and my first doggie-love’s death and the day that I and my older son almost died and the day of the Big Thing That Shook My World and the ensuing breakdown. That’s just off the top of my head.

That’s a lot of grief. I call them Grief Anniversaries – Griefiversaries, if you will. Mine just happen to be clustered together, creating a tiny tsunami generating waves of depression.

I’m not saying that there is no hope, I’m just pointing out that these Griefiversaries are best when anticipated and managed. Grief anniversaries are days that are long and hard (that’s what she said), requiring solid self care plans to helps us keep our sanity through these tough times.

The Body Knows The Grief Anniversary

Griefiversaries are real. They might affect us differently, but they are a thing. Our bodies know that even when our minds forget to check the calendar.

“When do you want to come back?” asked my therapist.

“Well, the one year mark of The Big Thing That Shook My World is in a couple of weeks, so before that,” I answered.

“Next week it is,” she said, and we made the appointment.

Having two counseling appointments just a week apart surprised me a little bit. Why not wait until one or two days before the Griefiversary of The Big Thing That Shook My World? As the second counseling appointment in a week got closer, however, I began to understand.

Whether or not I was going to actively plan for the Griefiversary, my body was going to respond. The depression symptoms closed in, and I was glad for that counseling appointment coming up so soon.

Planning for the Grief Anniversary

Part of the purpose for that second counseling appointment in a week was to process through the Griefiversary emotions. The other part was to make sure plans were in place to help me take care of myself during this turbulent time of year. Here are my favorite Griefiversary self care strategies.

Practice Compassion – Research in the mental health world has shown that compassion is the number one most important catalyst for healing. This includes practicing compassion for yourself. I imagine that I am caring for the little girl inside of me, because she wasn’t cared for when I was younger in many essential ways. This helps me feel more compassion for myself when the going gets tough.

Honor Losses and Gains – When I wrote about cutting out toxic people, I made sure to emphasize that there are both losses and gains that we need to acknowledge. Griefiversaries require the same acknowledgement. There are losses, obviously, but there are also gains. Yes, The Big Thing That Shook My World happened a year ago and this year has been one of the most challenging of my life. Also, I am a better woman, mother, friend, writer, speaker, and comedian than I have ever been before.

Gratitude – I have learned the practice of gratitude the most from Nanea Hoffman, founder and all the things of Sweatpants & Coffee. No matter what life throws at her, Nanea is a beacon of gratitude, and it has rubbed off on me. I find myself throughout the day – especially when I feel particularly low – listing off what I am grateful for. This gratitude practice helps refocus and redirect our brain chemicals. Seriously.

Tighten Your Circle – I’m not talking about kegels here, although you can tighten those whenever you want (twss). I mean your circle of socializing. I have historically put a lot of value on being busy with as many different people as possible doing all of the things, as if this made me more valuable as a person. Trying to be all the things to all the people is exhausting in the best of times. It’s time to only give your mental and physical energy to your people in the inner circle of your life.

Cancel Those Plans – In addition to concentrating on the people in your inner circle, all other plans, activities, even “fun things,” can be canceled for awhile. You will thank yourself for the open, down time that you need to process through your emotions. And for the love of all that is holy, do not start anything new right now.

Make Other Plans – It’s funny to make other plans when you’ve just canceled plans, but I mean make plans for self care. If you can get out of town and it will do you good, then go. If you feel more at peace with your grief in nature, make it happen. If time with your family gives you hope and peace, plan to have them there. Make plans that take care of you.

Drink Water – I forget to drink water when I’m depressed. Water is good for us. Just a reminder.

Go for a Walk – By about lunchtime, I need to move a little bit. I call it going for a “walk,” but it’s more like a stroll. It can be as short or long as you need (twss). Walks help.

Eat Mexican Food – This happens to be my favorite food. If you don’t like it, then don’t eat it. I mean, I don’t understand your life, but okay, I guess some people don’t like Mexican food. During Griefiversaries, I will eat tacos every day. I’m talking real tacos, with steak and soft corn tortillas and cilantro and guacamole and hot sauce. I just plan my budget around it.

Take Your Time. Grieving takes time. Griefiversaries are part of that time. I wish I had more wisdom and a way around it or something, but that’s it.

But when you still have your sanity, this is time well spent.

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