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one year without you - bad anxiety

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one year ago today, i lost my uncle who was like a second dad to me - we were so close. he was a mentor, a best friend, a role model, a family man, a great writer, the funniest person i knew...you name it. he was such a vibrant and smart guy whose wit, humor, and genuine care for others always lit up the room. he was everyone's favorite relative and we had a really special relationship - his children, my younger cousins, looked up to me, and i was the first of the kids in my family/his family to leave for college. he was the type who gave me career advice yet also life advice second later. i currently attend an ivy league university and it's his alma mater. 

last fall, he was diagnosed out of nowhere with colon cancer - stage 4. he was so healthy and not even 50 years old, the age they start recommending getting tested. he started chemotherapy immediately and was doing pretty well for a while until one round of chemo - right around the holidays - really messed with his system. he couldn't digest food without getting sick and became weaker and weaker; his body just couldn't really take it anymore. before we knew it, he really turned for the worse, and passed away before i even got the chance to say goodbye. he was 49.

this past year our family dynamic has changed so much and it is so depressing. family dinners that were once loud and hysterical are now really quiet because the energy he gave us all is now gone. no one will ever understand why this happened or why him of all people. not to mention that my younger cousins are the most well-behaved, intuitive, and polite kids i know and this is such a major tragedy that they'll now always have to deal with. my parents met him in college and he married my mom's sister so they've all been inseparable since they were around my age, 20. my cousins are managing (but of course devastated), and i feel like i have no one to really talk to, or break down to, because everyone is dealing with their own pain. my cousins always looked up to me as a role model so this past year i've tried even harder than normal to be strong for them and always be energetic. the most heartbreaking thing I've ever had to do is explain to my younger 12 year old cousin what a wake is before he attended the wake of his own father.

i know this is long but i was so close with my uncle and it has really shaken up my life - it just goes to show that one day you can be happy and healthy and then the next you might receive a horrible diagnosis. he was always sort of the father figure in my life who was always the "cool", incredibly smart uncle that i could go to for anything, even little things i may not have wanted to directly ask my parents about. 2-3 days after his funeral i had to go back to school which was tough, and now a year later, this has all manifested itself in different ways.

i did an exchange semester last semester in europe and lived by myself in a building of students who weren't native english speakers. 24 hrs before leaving, i was diagnosed w/a gluten allergy. living alone in a foreign country with new dietary issues and no one to really have there as a sounding board was super tough at first, but i managed. the problems REALLY started this past october. out of nowhere i had my first-ever panic attack. i've had a lot of stressful exams and situations at college, but have always been able to manage them and prioritize issues, tackling them firsthand. never in my life have i ever experienced anxiety. stress, yes; anxiety, no. for the first time in my entire life i did not sleep the entire night, despite going to bed around 10pm. i felt like i couldnt breathe, i felt sick to my stomach, my heart started racing and i got so much chest pain that i thought i was having a heart attack - all the more terrifying when you live alone in a building with no one to contact! similar things happened throughout the week - while studying i could not focus and would fixate on random little things and would feel extremely emotional out of nowhere. again, so abnormal for me. i got in touch with a therapist back home and set up several calls with her - i'd talked to her in years past to help build stress management techniques before i went to college - and she and i uncovered that since i was alone with my thoughts for really the first time after a packed semester, a lot of the feelings, emotions, and grieving process with my uncle were surfacing. i never truly had a ton of time to grieve since i had to go back to school so quickly last year, and a lot of stuff was finally being brought to the surface. she told me to do some deep breathing and write about any feelings i felt, and that alleviated some issues, but my heart still races nearly every day and i still get lots of chest pains.

fast forward to today, i came home from my semester thinking everything was situational due to stressors from being alone far from home, but the heart racing/nerves/chest pain continues. my therapist and other doctors have suggested going on zoloft for a little bit to try to manage the situation, but I've never experienced bad anxiety in my life and don't want to take a strong medicine if there are bad side effects - i don't know much about it.

i guess my overarching questions are (also, if you've made it down this far on my post, congratulations! sorry for rambling haha), how do we manage the deaths of people so close to us when there is no closure/reason/explanation? this is so unfair and he deserved the world, not this awful outcome. it will never make sense to me and i think about it all the time. how do we move forward and not let sadness consume us when it's such an unimaginable loss that literally occurred so quickly? & how can one deal with really bad situational anxiety due to traumatic events like this, has anyone ever used zoloft or any anxiety-reducing techniques that have been successful? i'm still not fully my normal, happy self and would love for the anxiety to just go away as soon as possible :( that way, i feel like ill be able to celebrate his life and how close we were without all of these other bad emotions/fear.

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Dear kr1997,

My deepest sympathies and condolences. I'm very sorry for your loss. Thank you for telling us about your uncle and how amazing he was to his family and what he meant to you.

I hear where you are coming. Grief takes a toll on our minds and bodies. I know everyone is different and we all cope differently. For myself, I tried the following things to help myself cope with all my raw emotions. I found these websites helpful:

What's Your Grief

Tiny Buddha

Grief in Common

Grief Healing Blog


The Grief Recovery Method

And if you want to consider talking to a grief counsellor or joining a support group in your area. I know sometimes friends and family expect us to move on after a year, but if you are looking for more supports, please know there are a lot of resources in the community.

I've never taken any medications after my grief. It is an option and everyone is different. I don't know if you want to consider meditation, yoga, breathing exercises. I also do not share a specific faith, but I am open to going to church to explore this side.

Thinking of you. Sending all my thoughts and prayers.

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