What Heartbreak Feels Like When You Don't Let Yourself Grieve

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While there's no sudden deafness or coughing through smoke, you'll still find yourself stumbling around in intense pain and extreme disorientation. And just like a physical attack, it takes a while for anything else to matter again.

The worst is when heartbreak sneaks up on you unexpectedly and you're suddenly thrust into a paradigm you never prepared for.

It feels like the rug has been pulled out from under you and you're in free fall, but instead of taking this time to plan your next steps, you're crippled by the pain of it all...and the questions...and the endless cycle both of those feed into. That's what heartbreak feels like.

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Heartbreak feels like insanity.

One minute you’re sobbing, the next minute you’re wishing for death, the next minute you’re bargaining with whatever deity you align with to make it stop, and in the next moment, you’re cursing the very person you’re grieving the loss of.

Unlike other types of loss, heartbreak wreaks havoc on your sense of self, who you thought you were, and what you thought you were building with someone else. Suddenly you are seized by doubts about everything: your looks, your voice, your intelligence, your goals, your diet, every single thing you’ve ever said to anyone ever.  

And it all hurts. Every bit of it. The pain permeates your life from every angle, weighing down any attempts you may make to distract yourself.

Even when you’re not mourning the loss of love, there’s no escaping the feelings of loneliness, anger, self-doubt, or disappointment in addition to constant reminders that every nerve feels cold, raw, and exposed.

Mick Jagger bemoaned this exact phenomenon in The Rolling Stones’ iconic song “Paint it Black,” singing, “I look inside myself and see my heart is black/ I see my red door and must have it painted black/ Maybe then I'll fade away and not have to face the facts/ It's not easy facing up when your whole world is black.”

Whiny and melodramatic as it sounds, this song continues to resonate with generations of jilted lovers for the simple fact that a broken heart feels the same in every language, at any point in history.

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The pain washes over your life, like an inky, black bleach, blotting out color from anything that would have ordinarily brought you joy or, at the least, a little relief. In the shadow of heartbreak, life has no flavor aside from bitterness.

There are no moments of mental escape. It’s all just awful, sticky, heavy, messy depression.

The good news, however, is two-fold and a bit of a secret: Heartbreak will pass, but only if you really let yourself feel the heartache in its entirety.

Squashing godawful painful feelings down seems brave and bold at the moment, but the truth is denial is just a means for emotions to fester and attack much later, in much more destructive ways. Trust someone with experience: When you’re in the sh*t, the best way out of it is through it.  

So, yeah, it’s going to suck for a while.

That’s okay (even though it definitely doesn’t feel like it). Let yourself feel the suck without resorting to self-destructive escape methods and you’ll find that the dark fog of heartache will start to lift more quickly than expected. Colors begin to look vibrant, your laughter will return in earnest, and things will bring you joy again so long as you let grief do its work and move on.

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Don’t hold yourself to a deadline or any expectations about the nature of your healing, though; your broken heart may not ever be completely scarred from this one awful era.

But the magic of scars is that, in those spots, the skin is stronger than it was before and similarly, your scarred heart will be whole and ready for love again. Just give it the time it needs to repair itself with the faith that all clouds part eventually.

Elizabeth Z Pardue is a writer whose words have appeared in Huffington Post, Time, XOJane, Ravishly, and in a bunch of Letters to the Editor columns.