By: Vivian Nuñez
Too Damn Young founder Vivian Nuñez took time out of her busy schedule to serve as Lively’s Guest Editor this Mental Health Awareness Month. Here, she writes about how she stays on track on big grief days.
When you’re navigating grief, you realize that no matter how many losses or how many years since your person’s death, you are not immune to experiencing moments as firsts. I was 10 years old when my mom died – that was 16 years ago now – and on Easter Sunday this year I spiraled into tears because it was the first time that I noticed myself forgetting parts of our shared memories that to my disbelief weren’t as cemented in my mind as I thought they had been.
It’s been five years since I lost my grandmother, my second mom and the woman who raised me after my mom passed, and her absence is what I feel the heaviest on Mother’s Day. Because even though my mom died when I was so young, my grandmother shielded me from the all-consuming doubt that I now know comes from not having anyone to give a Mother’s Day card to.
Having 16 years under my belt does make me an expert though because the truth is that no two losses and no two days with the same loss are ever the same. What I lack in mastering grief, I’ve made up for by learning myself more and more.
My body and my mind have noticeable (to me now) reactions when death anniversaries or big holidays come around. My body feels more tired, sleepier, more likely to need pampering from me and others. My mind feels jumbled, overstimulated, and like it wishes there was a way to pause having to simultaneously relive days like January 10, 2003 (my mother’s death anniversary) every time any January 10th rolls around.
Instead of setting myself up for success on these days, I spent so many years doing the opposite. I would run myself ragged until exhaustion felt like a complete release. I would skip meals or not prioritize sleep and then ask myself why it took me so long to recover from hard days after the fact.
I convinced myself that because nothing would ever bring my loved ones back that nothing but that would ever make these days easier for me. Turns out, I was wrong. There’s lots you can do to cushion the weight of these days so that they don’t annihilate you.
I’m the first to know that sleep as a command is never easily followed. I can lay in bed for hours with ruminating thoughts if I let myself. It’s okay to turn to calming tricks to help you prioritize sleep before, during, and after hard days. I’ve learned it’s about consistency and minimizing factors that could distract. Set your phone far away, take a Vital Proteins Sleep Collagen Shot, put on your softest PJs, dabble lavender on the inside of your wrists, listen to calming music — do whatever you would do if you needed to put yourself down for a necessary nap and do it again and again until you’ve found the tricks that will help your body rest.
And then make your meals incredibly easy to decide on. For a few days, maybe even eat the same things. I’ve found that when I’m the most emotional, I pour emotion into any decision-making that needs to happen. Around Mother’s Day, deciding what I should have for lunch seems like the most energy-consuming decision I could be making in my entire life and ends up making me feel defeated when I’ve landed on the same thing I had for lunch the day before. Instead of putting pressure on yourself on these days, decide at the top of the week what food you’ll be having, who will be in charge of bringing it to you, and when you will be having it. It seems small, but it helps free up so much brain space on hard days.
Don’t exercise if you already feel depleted, but don’t sabotage yourself if you know that yoga will actually help but you’re committed to embracing only things that will justify your sadness. I’ve been in that spiral before where I feel like it’s my duty to be sad on grief days, when in reality, my only responsibility is to myself on those days. Don’t feel guilty about listening to your gut on what will help bring you peace.
Instagram has been such a safe haven for me on big grief days. I’ll turn to my community of people who know what it’s like to live without someone they love, and they just “get” the things that I have such a hard time putting into words. I also turn to the hugs and comfort from my core group of people offline. Don’t be afraid to text your friends or ask your partner for some extra TLC — no one is psychic, and most people err on the side of not wanting to bring up hard days because they feel like they’ll be reminding you of sad things. If you acknowledge that you’re already trying to make it through the day, it can give someone the permission they may need to find ways to be there for you.
Grief days don’t come with a user’s manual. You learn as you go, and the reality is that you only have one death anniversary, one Mother’s Day, one holiday season every year to practice techniques that would help you get through. It’s not much time to practice and perfect, but it is enough time to learn that the key isn’t mastery, it’s learning to lead with kindness and learning to trust yourself and what you know your body and mind will need during those days. We’re all trying our best and that’s more than enough.