When I was younger, I used to meander through our Three Acre Woods, listening to beautiful film scores. It was an emotionally satisfying experience that I couldn’t describe at the time, but somehow needed. I’ve always been drawn to sad films in particular and the music driving them forward: Cast Away, Finding Neverland, Little Women, Saving Mr. Banks. These film scores seemed to awaken and release something in me that little else could. It was sadness, but it was a sweet, desirable sort of sadness — like watching dying leaves swirl gently toward the ground in autumn.
But one day, this sadness changed.
Over the course of a few years, I began to lose some close relationships (some for very natural reasons, others more complicated) and discovered I didn’t have the right coping mechanisms for it. No longer desirable, this sadness began to suffocate. Drawing around me like a shroud, it brought with it the agony of feeling completely alone. This sweet sensation I was so well acquainted with felt more like bereavement now. And I guess that’s when it turned to grief.
The cycle of loss
Lately, I’ve been stuck in a cycle where every loss — no matter how small — seems compounded by the last. Usually, this feeling seizes me after what appears to be the distancing of a relationship, whether that’s the end of a friendship or the perception of inauthenticity or abandonment. Family or friends (platonic or not), each letting go feels like an amputation or a divorce. And with it comes the shame of being fragile enough to be so undone by it.
It’s really hard to describe.
In A Grief Observed, a memoir about the loss of his wife, C. S. Lewis says, “No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.” This is partly true. Even more than fear, grief feels like being trapped in a room with the expansion of a great ache inside your chest. It physically hurts.
I realized the severity of my condition last winter, when my housemate Portia and I were watching the most recent season of Sherlock. Onscreen, Benedict Cumberbatch was caught up in one of his classic psychological battles. Between the hyperactive TV editing, psychedelic music, and my own dark monsters, I completely lost it. I had a panic attack right there in the middle of that living room and escaped into the kitchen to try and calm my heart beat. It was too much — too much like real life. This wasn’t fictional entertainment. In this season of anxiety or grief or whatever the hell it was I was going through, my mind couldn’t handle shows with that level of psychological intensity anymore. I wasn’t on hallucinogens — and nobody in my immediate circle had just died — but I could feel Sherlock’s torment and Watson’s grief in those scenes because they were also my own.
Watch the video from 0:35 seconds on.
Hormones and personality types
Now, there are a couple other reasons why I believe I experience grief so deeply and often. Since I can remember, I’ve had emotional peaks and valleys that align with the female hormonal cycle, but it’s more than just a weepy week every month. It makes me feel suicidal. (My mom, God bless her, knows this side of me well, and has been there to hold me through it.) This year, when I stumbled across someone’s story online that mirrored my own, the most freeing part was hearing her describe the experience of her cycle as a bereavement. It’s called PMDD. Premenstrual dysphoric disorder. Of course, I still haven’t found a doctor to perform the right tests to isolate which hormones are actually imbalanced. But just knowing about this condition helps a little.
The second reason requires me to pull the Myers-Briggs card. As an INFJ, I have a lot of emotions. And for my personality type, close and meaningful relationships are paramount to life satisfaction. According to 16 Personalities, “In friendship, it is as though INFJs are searching for a soul mate — someone who shares every facet of their passions and imagination.”
Clearly, as noble as this may sound, it can be a crippling weakness. Because relationships are so important, they can quickly become idols, creating an atmosphere of despair when they’re not present or satisfying. This also means, whenever there is a rift in the relationship, we have a really, really, really hard time moving forward until whatever is in disrepair is fixed.
Pursuing EMDR therapy
Trying to peel back layers and unlock the key to this cycle of loss, I started going to counseling again this past year. After 10 months of traditional talk therapy, we seemed to hit a wall. No matter how much we talked, nothing got deep enough to touch the root of my emotional pain. In the counseling office, I appeared calm and put together with rational thoughts and a nice smile. In my car afterward, or later that night, I was a weeping wreck.
So, my counselor suggested EMDR.
In case you’re wondering, it stands for Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing. Used primarily for PTSD victims, this type of therapy is also growing its reputation as an antidote for anxiety and depression. I began to research and ask around to see if anyone else had tried EMDR. It turn out, lots of people I knew had. One reason I was hesitant to explore it was because of its prevalence among the sexually abused. My counselor described amnesic memories — memories of past trauma that the brain can block from the cognitive mind — and how EMDR can (in rare cases) unearth them. When this happens, some people don’t even know they’ve been abused until they’re sitting on the office couch.
This terrified me. To think there were people who were unaware that they’ve been molested until years down the road…
It made me sick.
But I couldn’t stay stuck anymore. One thing’s for sure, the enemy lives in the realm of what if. I was scared of what might get unearthed with EMDR, but I was more scared to keep living in this darkness not knowing how it might help. I desperately wanted to believe it might lessen my pain, even if it couldn’t erase it. I wanted it to take away the acuteness of my hurt, to rewire my brain pathways and bring a lightness to my heart.
So, I went — three times. At the end of the third visit, my therapist listened yet again as I tried describing my experiences with this emotional pain, and she offered the opinion that EMDR probably wasn’t the best fit for me.
“What you’re going through isn’t trauma. I think it’s grief.”
Needless to say, this conclusion didn’t bring the lightness of heart I so desperately hoped for. Especially since EMDR is also supposed to help with grief and depression. But it was one more wall I’d kicked down. One more fear I’d faced that tore down the terror of what if and helped me start sleeping better at night.
I’m not necessarily done with EMDR. But I’m taking a step back to regather my thoughts and prayers, waiting for the next beam of light to come. I believe it’s so important to tell your stories while you’re walking through the middle of them — not just after you’ve found an answer. I don’t know what answers will come in the future. But I know I can’t give up hope and have to keep being braver than I ever thought I could.
Where to go from here?
Looking back, those film scores I loved and listened to were all woven together by an underlying theme of loss. I don’t know why. I don’t know why I was moved by these orchestrations at such a young age. But, somehow, they seemed to prepare me for finding beauty in the midst of suffering. (I’ve created a playlist for you below – Bailey’s Playlist of Beautiful Film Scores. Enjoy.)
One surprising thing I’ve found is that, along with my capacity to feel great sadness is also a capacity for deep joy. How the two can co-exist, I have no idea. But I am grateful. The meaningful relationships that have remained are so life-giving, and I’ll never take them for granted.
If you’re someone who’s currently walking through grief or experimenting with different types of therapy, would you share some of your experiences below? We want to hear and learn from you. Most of all, we want to walk alongside you on the journey so you feel surrounded by community and not alone. I pray for my friends regularly, and it would be my honor to pray for you. Today, may you not just cling to hope as an idea, but feel its warmth in your bones like a fireplace.
“I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in his word, I put my hope. I wait for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning.” – Psalm 130:5-6
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*For more information (and some helpful tools) on PMDD, EMDR therapy, and personality types, check out the following resources:
- PMDD: Are Women’s Periods Making Them Mentally Ill?
- My Story: Living with PMDD
- Clue – Period Tracker App
- What is EMDR?- EMDR Institute, Inc.
- What is an actual EMDR session like?
- The Myers & Briggs Foundation
- 16 Personalities
- The Enneagram Institute
- Your Enneagram Coach
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Bailey Gillespie works as Director of Academic Engagement at William Jessup University and is also adjunct faculty. She lives near Sacramento, California and loves connecting with people over health, creativity, and faith. Recently, her writing has appeared on Real Hope Rising, Voice of Courage, and The Rabbit Room. Read more at baileygillespie.com or follow her on Instagram and Goodreads.