You did it like I did, didn’t you? Slapped with a chronic illness later in life, your physical abilities torn asunder, and you decided to skip the mourning completely. No somber march towards the grave for you! You were gonna give them something to write that eulogy about! You were gonna be the Patron Saint of POTS. The Martyr to MND. The Idol of IBS! No faults, no sins; angelic cripple to end all cripples. Your internal-ableist is crying now, huh? Because you have to face the facts; you’re not going to go gracefully into that good night. Nope! You’re raging against the dying of the light at maximum volume; only your grief is turned up to an 11 because you tried to keep the party on lockdown. But now the cops have arrived, mum and dad are totally pissed because you broke that priceless heirloom, you're grounded forever, and how do you get vomit out of a velvet curtain?
A lot of people try to skip this part in order to keep up appearances, avoid anxiety and that impending sense of doom and unstoppable change. But grief is entropic (so long as you’re not a psychopath). Once prompted, it comes (albeit in it’s own time) and leaves you irrevocably changed. But mourning for yourself in advance, that might not be something you’ve ever experienced. We call this Pre-emptive grief!
Understanding Pre-Emptive Grief
If death is a concert, your’s is one that has moved up the dates and introduced crap supporting acts. It's all about mourning what you might lose, before you actually lose it. Excellent! That’s just the damn Wiggles introducing a Metallica cover-band made up of three lemmings and a deaf shih tzu.
What Pre-Emptive Grief Looks Like
Pre-emptive grief turns up in the most unflattering stagewear including:
Anxiety and Fear: Stitched together with uncertainty, you can be you up all night, worrying about all the "what ifs".
Sadness and Depression: The iconic combination that will clutter the entire outfit. They latch on, attract all the junk food, and no matter how hard you -want- to scrub, they’re too cumbersome to clean.
Anger and Frustration: Irked at your situation and infuriated at the universe for pulling this, you’ll find yourself lashing out flamboyantly.
Guilt and Regret: Why have a clutch of trust and self-assurance when you can carry an entire duffle bag of your terrible about past choices or guilt for relying on others.
Social Withdrawal: Absolutely is not even going to broach the stage but will hang out in the wings like The Phantom wishing you were somehow there again.
Physical Symptoms: Bonus acts! Physical symptoms just to keep things spicy - sleep problems, changes in appetite. Psychosomatic pyrotechnics!
The Consequences of Skipping Pre-Emptive Grieving
Trying to dodge this emotional mess is like trying to block your ears with oxygen. Here's what happens if you try:
Bottling Up Emotions: Suppressing your feelings leads to more stress and emotional chaos.
Strained Relationships: By avoiding the grief, you'll send your relationships into a spiral. Loved ones, dealing with their own emotions, won't appreciate being kept in the dark.
Missed Coping Opportunities: You'll miss out on the chance to adapt and develop kick-ass coping strategies for what's ahead.
Increased Isolation: Isolating yourself from support networks will make you feel even more alone in this.
And that is exactly what happened when I decided to gatekeep the impact of my diagnosis on myself. Until mid-2023, I refused to address my own elephant in my own room… and everyone else had left and couldn’t get back in! I refused to be the sob story or the inspiration or the…well, anything. I wanted no expectations at all because I, personally, had none. Through not dealing with my grief, I condemned myself to not having any. I wanted to be a “non-person” in “non-being” because…what was the point.
Five Tips for Managing Pre-Emptive Grief
So now we're here, and we've decided to face this pre-emptive grief head-on. And, look, it might feel like everyone is miles ahead but they've been constantly waiting for you to step up to this point for yourself so they have you back. Because this is grief; a part of life, not death.
Here are some helpful tips to start now:
Seek Professional Support: Find a therapist or counsellor who's a pro at handling all things grief.
Talk to Your Loved Ones: Have that long, overdue, painful…and exceedingly morose chat with your loved ones. Get comfortable with the reality.
Set Realistic Goals: Focus on today, not the apocalypse of tomorrow. Set achievable goals and priorities, because a little control does actually feel pretty darn good.
Build a Support Network: Connect with support groups specifically for your illness. Sharing experiences and tips is a life-line here.
Engage in Self-Care: Whether it's meditation, enjoying your hobbies, or just chilling with loved ones, self-care is your secret weapon. Take time to adapt the activities of before to the boundaries and limitations of the now!
So, you're fashionably late to the wake, but that's okay. You're finally ready to embrace pre-emptive grief and deal with it head-on. This is a time to wear your emotions chicly on your sleeve.