“I’m normally a very engaged employee, but after the death of my husband I’d be in a meeting and would really have to focus just pay attention to what people were talking about. But again and again I would catch myself coming back to the discussion realizing that for the last few minutes my mind had completely wandered away. It was like I had no control over my brain anymore. It felt like I was going crazy.”
No, you’re not going crazy (semantically no one is, but that’s a different discussion) but grief can definitely make you feel like you’re losing touch with the normal reality you knew, which can be incredibly disorienting.
You don’t have to be embarrassed or anxious if grief is making you feel disconnected to the “You” you knew and loved—the You who never forgets things or the You who is the life of the party—grief will change that version of you, and as with all change there are going to be some bumps on the road.
In the months after a loss you’re probably going to need to give your thoughts and emotions a little more freedom to find their footing. This means you can expect some actions and behaviors that are inconsistent with how you would normally act, but they don’t mean that you’re “going crazy.”
You are distracted. Whether you’re actively thinking about the person you lost or not, there’s a near constant hum in your mind that makes good quality focus difficult to come by. This hum doesn’t necessarily make you sad, but is cuing you that something is just not right, and that will steal your attention.
An annoying result of having difficulty concentrating is you lose track of things—the date, your keys, your kid—people have forgotten all of these things. Though it is annoying, don’t be too hard on yourself, you have a lot on your plate. And forgetting something you know you should know can be upsetting, but when that happens remember this paragraph and try not to let it disturb you.
Nobody else is going through what you’re going through so don’t be surprised if it’s difficult to relate to other people. The loss of someone you love creates a profound shift that affects all the parts of your life, yet people will continue to talk about trivial things that maybe you used to care about, but now you’re sitting there in the throes of an existential crisis, so yeah, regular social interaction might be tough.
When we have trouble relating how we’re feeling or have difficulty making ourselves understood to someone else it can become very frustrating, very quickly. Chances are you are going to have a short fuse and that can easily lead to lashing out. A good rule of thumb here is; quick to anger, quick to apology. You may not be prepared to lengthen your fuse yet, but you can reflect on the anger you felt, and if appropriate, offer a swift apology.
Lack of Enjoyment
In our regular lives, there are go-to tools we use to pick ourselves up. It could be watching a favorite t.v. show, being around children, eating chocolate filled croissants, really anything. What ever it is for you, you may find it doesn’t pick you up anymore. Over time, the joy may come back to you, it may come back in a different way, or you may have to find something else to take its place.
Basically, these are thoughts that pop into your head and disturb you. Sometimes it can be out-of-the-blue thoughts of aggression, fear, or despair that are hard to shake and often seem alarming because they came from your own head. Intrusive thoughts, though disturbing, are okay. When intrusive thoughts become the focus of obsession or begin to manifest in action, that’s when intervention would be a good idea.
Nothing can make you feel quite like a basket-case better than outbursts of tears. And I know you know it’s okay to cry, but did you know that science supports the idea that tears are a visual cue to people around you that you need support? True story. So maybe if you can’t hold back the tears it’s your brain and body’s way of letting you know it might be time for little help.
Of course if you need a little support, or more than a little, or if you’re making plans to act on intrusive thoughts, please know that there is never EVER anything wrong with asking for help from a crisis hotline (USA: 1-800-273-8255) or finding a therapist who can help you look deeply at your life and loss then offer you guidance.