Let’s admit it. Self-care is hardly a priority for most people. This isn’t surprising though—we overvalue caring for others and downplay or minimize caring for ourselves. Worse, self-care is perceived as selfish or self-indulgent!
What does self-care mean, and what does it involve? Simply put, it implies— physical, emotional, psychological, social, and spiritual care.
The very idea of survivors of suicide loss practicing self-care can seem radical. The stigma, shame, secrecy, and silence that a survivor faces erases and marginalizes any of their valid concerns. Equally relevant, most survivors themselves feel they are not entitled to any form of support—either from themselves or from others.
Extreme self-care meant taking my care to a whole new level—a level that seemed arrogant and selfish, practiced by people who had an inappropriate sense of entitlement. It meant taking radical action to improve my life and engaging in daily habits that allowed me to maintain this new standard of living (…) the practice of extreme self-care forces us to make choices and decisions that honor and reflect the true nature of our soul. – Cheryl Richardson
On a fundamental level, extreme self-care for survivors of suicide loss is about extraordinary self-compassion. It is about making conscious choices to love ourselves unconditionally, accepting our imperfections, and embracing our vulnerabilities. Our worlds have been ripped apart by the tragedy that has left deep craters and gaping wounds in our psyches. We need to establish a new normal that not only honors and respects our loved one who we lost, but also enables us to rescript our lives as we move forward through the tragedy.
Each survivor of suicide loss grieves differently. There are no band-aids, quick fixes, or a one-size-fits-all approach to recovery. That said, here are a few tips for radical self-care that helped many people heal and transform:
First things, first
Attend to your basic needs. Ensure that you eat nourishing food, drink plenty of water, and have adequate rest and sleep. In the acute phase of traumatic grief, survivors may experience a loss of appetite. Or, it could be binging and overeating. Either way, ensure a balance. It is quite likely that you may find a good night’s sleep to be elusive. Intrusive memories, crying spells, and sheer exhaustion can either prevent you from falling asleep or wake you up after just a short spell of exhausted sleep.
Stay with your feelings
In the acute phase of the bereavement (the first three months), one may be overwhelmed with emotions like anger, sadness, rejection, abandonment, and fear. It might be tempting and you will receive plenty of well-meaning advice from friends and family to “fight, conquer, or subdue” your difficult emotions. You may find these militaristic metaphors to be disempowering, self-defeating, and non-sustainable.
Instead, stay with your feelings; face them (instead of running away from them by immersing yourself in work or other forms of physical addiction like alcohol or toxic relationships). It requires courage to do this because these feelings often ambush you with the ferocity of a predator. It is important to validate every feeling. Avoid labeling or judging them.
However, it requires considerable self-awareness, authenticity, and courage to be able to do this. But trust me, it gets better every time you make the choice to stay with your feelings.
Treat yourself with utmost self-compassion. You owe it to yourself. We are so conditioned to expect love from the outside. Instead, we need to give that to ourselves; and be gentle with ourselves. “When you treat and view yourself with the respect you deserve, you experience the peace that comes from being present to yourself (…)it forces the ego to step aside as you experience a moment of seeing your true nature: A spiritual being housed in a physical shell,” says Richardson in her book.
Give yourself permission to acknowledge, explore, express, and honor every emotion. Many find journaling and adult coloring books particularly helpful.
Seek out support groups: membership in support groups—both online and in person can be very helpful. Meeting others with similar experiences creates a sangha—a strange communion that only those with lived experience of suicide loss can truly empathize with. Listening to other people’s experiences of the loss, how they responded, the challenges they faced, and their strategies serve to normalize the experience of suicide loss and it makes us feel that it can happen to anyone any time. We come to realize that we, the survivors of the loss, are in no way responsible for our loved one’s act.
Seek out counseling services and therapies that are trauma-informed and survivor of suicide loss centric: you can explore several body-based therapeutic modalities such as Gestalt Therapy, Integral Eye Movement Therapy (IEMT), Core Transformation, and psychodrama (both in groups and individual settings) that help pare away the different layers of suicide grief. Our expert counselors are trauma-informed and can assist in your steady recovery from the loss you've suffered.
Make changes in your physical environment
If you have decided to stay in the same house you lived with the loved one you lost, consider repainting the house, rearranging furniture, getting rid of junk and decluttering, and buying a few new items of furniture, to give the house a “new look.” It is also symbolic of your effort toward rearranging your life.
Surround yourself with supportive family and friends. In the early stages of grief, it would be almost impossible for you to stay at home in the late evenings as memories may take a toll on you. Consider going over to their homes, spending time with them, having dinner, and then heading home. It can make a huge difference.
Explore traditional systems of healing
Consider traditional healing therapies that heal your physical, mental, and spiritual health. They can help you process the grief—organically and viscerally. Grief is not something that only exists mentally; it is stored in every cell in the body. Deep tissue massage and massage techniques along the nerve meridians gradually but surely improve your vitality and wellness in a holistic manner.
Develop new hobbies, and find creative outlets
Acquire a new hobby and begin engaging with your passions. Explore energy-based healing techniques and get involved in suicide prevention activism—pursuits like these can help you transform your pain into purposeful energy.
Empower yourself with knowledge
Read extensively about suicide and survivors of suicide loss. These resources—can enable you to acquire informed perspectives that can empower you.
Manah's expert psychologists have given a helping hand and eased recovery for people who faced a tragic loss to suicide. You need an understanding heart, a compassionate hand, and a confidante who can support you through the recovery phase, to whom you can share your feelings, and seek help with no fear of judgment. We can be that confidante for you, counsel you, and slowly help you process grief and the myriad of emotions that come with losing a loved one.
Get in touch with us here, and we'll reach out to find out how we can help you.