Sheryl Sandberg coauthored a wonderful book, “Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy”, about how to develop resilience in the face of loss. Sheryl lost her husband unexpectedly three years ago, and is very candid in this book about what she experienced and what she learned about grief and herself.
As a psychiatrist and author and widow myself, I applaud her for her contribution to the literature about grief. When I lost my husband unexpectedly almost 8 years ago, I searched for a book such as this one. Sheryl is the perfect person to write such a book, since she already has the platform to reach many people through her previous successes. She was wise and fortunate to coauthor with Adam Grant, and to include many practical suggestions about how to develop coping skills. She also speaks to all of us about how we can best support each other at times of crisis.
I have been a psychiatrist for over 30 years, and have treated many patients with losses. With loss comes grief, but also in some cases losses can precipitate clinical depression. I have evolved in my own understanding of grief in the last 7 years. My experience of grief was similar to Sheryl’s, shocking in its intensity. I, too, feared that I would never recover and searched for what to do to handle my emotions in a healthy manner. I, too, was fortunate to have much support and to be able to move forward with my life.
“Option B” does not mention the possibility of developing clinical depression, or the possibility of getting “stuck” in what is sometimes called “complicated grief”. It is important to know that some individuals respond to loss by developing more serious problems. Grief and clinical depression may be difficult to distinguish unless you know what to look for. In both conditions, it is common to have loss of appetite, difficulty sleeping, difficulty concentrating, and to feel overwhelmed at times.
Here are the key differences. Grief comes and goes in waves, versus clinical depression is more continuous. With grief there are periods of respite, when you can still feel some pleasure and appreciate the comfort others may offer, versus depression tends to be more continuous. With grief often comes yearning for the lost one and sometimes looking forward to seeing that person after death, but not actual suicidal thoughts. With depression sometimes suicidal thoughts may develop, and suicide is the very serious risk that accompanies depression. Depression (but not grief) can also bring feelings of worthlessness and lowered self-esteem.
I discuss these differences in my book, “Finding Your Emotional Balance: A Guide for Women”. Both grief and depression can be very intense experiences, and I fully agree with the recommendations made in “Option B” for coping with grief. I also encourage those who have losses to be aware of their potential for developing depression, and to seek help if needed.