Five Words My Psychiatrist Told Me After the Death of My Mom That Changed the Course of My Grief Journey

Author: Lianca Lyons


My mother died suddenly on the afternoon of Thursday, September 14, 2023. She went into cardiac arrest and had a heart attack in front of me. To my surprise, this is NOTHING like the movies but I will spare you the horrific scene that lives rent-free in my mind daily. I had to do chest compressions for 8 minutes until the paramedics arrived. They got her heartbeat back but she was later pronounced dead at the hospital. Losing a parent is one thing, but watching your parent succumb unexpectedly is traumatic. I knew grief well enough after the death of my father in May 2020, but THIS was DIFFERENT. This was my mommy, unexpected, and it happened in front of me. My mother was my bestie, my homegirl, and my patient. I knew there was no way I was going to make it through this without the help of my ENTIRE support system.

I immediately called my therapist and my psychiatrist. I wanted to get in front of this; I didn’t want to fall down a dark hole, fighting tooth and nail, ultimately unable to claw my way back out. I had to get in front of this. I shared with my psychiatrist what I had experienced and how, at the moment, I thought for sure it would haunt me. But after a week of replaying the scene in my head at least 3 times a day, the memories actually brought me comfort knowing I was there with my mom and that I did everything I could to try to save her life. I asked my doctor how we were going to switch up my medication so that I didn’t fall down the hole. What she told me changed the course of my grief journey. She said, “We will of course adjust your medication, and we can treat symptoms as they arise, but you lost a parent. You’re going to feel SAD.” WHOA. Gut punch. No pill was going to take this level of pain and heavy sadness away. I was going to have to sit, rest, and process this pain. I was going to have to learn how to manage the overlapping symptoms of my bipolar disorder and grief. Yes, I was on an SSRI and mood stabilizer. But the outburst of tears were still making their way through. When you are used to your medication managing that aspect of your Bipolar, it’s alarming. I thought the medication would “FIX” my grief.

The thought of my mood symptoms being amplified and complicated by the grieving process metaphorically blew my mind. How would I be able to differentiate between the overlap of symptoms? I experienced heavy sadness, I barely wanted to eat, I couldn’t fall asleep to save my life and of course, at times, I just wanted to be in bed cuddling my dog and sister, not visiting with all the people who wanted to check on us. I monitored my symptoms like a hawk, not to avoid, but to properly process whatever emotions would arise. Ultimately, our goal was to stabilize mood fluctuations during the grieving process. We adjusted my treatment plan accordingly by increasing my therapy sessions from bi-weekly to weekly allowing me the opportunity and safe space to process my grief. We adjusted my medication to compensate for the lack of sleep and anxiety. And I leaned heavily on my support system of friends, family, and loved ones who called, texted, FaceTimed, visited, and fed me. Six months after the death of my mother, the greatest lesson I’ve learned is that life is full of ANDs. Where contrasting feelings and emotions co-exist and overlap. I am living in the AND.

If you are bipolar and experiencing grief, it’s critical to your recovery that you seek support, monitor your symptoms closely, and engage in shared decision-making with your healthcare provider to navigate your treatment effectively.


The content of the International Bipolar Foundation blogs is for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician and never disregard professional medical advice because of something you have read in any IBPF content.
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