My mom called me when I woke up on Halloween. She told me that my grandfather had passed away in the middle of the night, that it had been peaceful, that the wake was on Thursday night. And I asked a few questions, and I hung up the phone, and I got dressed, and I went to lecture. I ran myself through the motions of a typical Monday. I took my psychology exam, and I took a nap, and I cried in the shower. It wasn’t a question: there was no postponing homework or skipping extracurriculars. If I stopped, I would never get myself moving again.
This was the first time I had experienced such a profound loss, but the routine was nothing new. If I stayed home from school and wallowed in self-pity every time I felt like dying, I wouldn’t have made it through high school. Being sad is not an excuse for not doing your best work. That is what my workaholic parents drove through my workaholic head: there were no sick days, no mental health days, no missing class the day of the wake except for the ones I physically couldn’t be present for. I was not about to jeopardize my academic future because I was feeling “down.” The world around me does not stop according to my whims.
The routine felt too similar. Having struggled with chronic depression and anxiety for five years now, my baseline for most of that time was what most people would classify as a moderate depressive episode. My motivation is almost non-existent, my ability to feel pleasure is severely diminished, and yet my life goes on. There was never any question that I would do what I had to do, no matter how terrible it made me feel.
In a way, the routine was comforting. The intersection of grief and mental illness made that five days feel like the haze of a severe episode, something I had endured before and will endure again. I just bit my lip to keep from crying and did all I could to set a good example as the oldest grandchild. I knew I could get through this. I needed that return to normalcy to ground myself when the rest of my mind was spinning out of control.
I wanted to write a poignant piece about overcoming grief and finding answers in mourning, but the truth is I don’t know how to feel better. I don’t know how to stop feeling empty inside. I don’t know how this will affect me in the future. But this, too, is a symptom of grief: I feel completely, utterly lost. So for now all I can do is keep going to class, and keep waking up in the morning, and keep forcing myself through work, because that’s the only answer to sadness I’ve ever known.
Life goes on, and so will I, even if I have to drag myself through it by the tips of my fingers.