A few years ago I discovered the term “disenfranchied grief”. The term describes grief that is not acknowledged by society. I think a lot of HSPs may be able to relate to this type of grief as, like most things, we tend to experience loss and separation more acutely. We love deeply and we grieve just as deep. It is hard for people to understand how we can hurt so much (or for so long) over something which seems relatively small or unimportant. We may find ourselves grieving the death of a relationship as though the person has died. We may grieve a friend as though we’ve broken up with a romantic partner (there is a great article on Psychology Today where Seth writes about how the emotional bond people feel with a close friend is as close or closer than the bond with their romantic partner). It may not even be a person we grieve, but an animal, object, place or loss of physical or mental function. Yet in our society, it is hard to get the same sympathy and support for these things as people do when someone, such as a family member, has died. Or when we’ve broken up with our partner. Sometimes we cannot even speak about our loss due to stigma. It may have been a secret relationship or we may have been diagnosed with a sexually transmitted infection. This also leads to disenfranchised grief.
The different types of disenfranchised grief are summarised on whatsyourgrief.com. In this post I’d like to talk about some less recognised loses I have experienced and the impact they’ve had on me. Something I have suffered enormous grief over is my old house (which I wrote about in another post), and also the loss of a few therapists. Few people have truly understood the extent of my suffering. My depression seems to be a bottomless bit, and with my most recent loss, I have been taken to the deepest and darkest of places. I had never quite recovered from previous losses and this loss feels like one loss to much. It feels like the end of me. Life feels unbearable and I contemplate ending it. My grief feels a lot like the time I almost drowned in a surf beach. It comes in waves, and the biggest wave, for some reason, hit me just yesterday. I cried all day I thought I’d never stop. I went to bed and continued crying to the point I could barely breathe. I had descended into such a deep place I felt no one could possibly help me get out. I have never felt so alone. My parents were trying to help me but I didn’t want their help. My mum asked me what she could do to help and I said “nothing”. I couldn’t stand being around them, and detested even more them trying to talk to me. I called out to a higher power to relinquish me from this awful life. “Is that what you really want?” I got back. When I get close to death it scares me. I don’t know if I actually want to die or if I just want my pain to end. Finally I got to sleep, though I woke up throughout the night. I was in pain physically which I knew was psychosomatic. The next day I got up, went down the street and caught up with a friend as though nothing had happened. Little did the world know what I had just survived.
Sleep brings some respite. I find myself going to bed early and getting up in the afternoon. I want to sleep my life away. The highlight of my day is bedtime and the lowlight is waking up the next day. Waking up is particularly hard when I’ve dreamt of the people and places I am grieving. I dream I am still in touch with this person or that my family still own the house I loved. I then wake up to my sad reality again.
Something I have learnt about grief is that grief has no rules. It’s as unruly and unpredictable as the ocean. They say there are five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. But we can jump back and forth through these stages in no particular order. Likewise we cannot put a time limit on our grief. My well meaning psychologist has been encouraging me to do some volunteer work, but at the moment my grief is too raw. Any sort of grief becomes disenfranchised/invalidated when people try to get us to “move on” and resume a state of normal work activity before we are ready. Giving us time, on the other hand, honours our loss, recognising it as significant. I will finish this post with a grief pact shared in workshops run by What’s Your Grief. “In our workshops on disenfranchised grief, we share this grief pact and ask participants to acknowledge that their grief is deserving of the space and time needed to process and cope with their losses,” What’s Your Grief explain. “This is true for everyone, regardless of the who, what, where, when, and why of their loss.”
Source: What’s Your Grief