Grief Part Two: Shock Value

The morning that Molly died, I went into shock. From what I can tell, this is a fairly normal reaction to emotional trauma. My brain was trying to protect me from additional damage by shutting down some of my normal reactions. As a result, I experienced numbness, derealization, fatigue, anxiety and some flashbacks. I was prepared for everything but the numbness.

Shock isn’t all bad. Like I said above, it’s a defensive reaction. It helps you deal with trauma slowly, bit by bit, in a way that’s more manageable (and hopefully not crippling like it would be otherwise). But each symptom has its upsides and downsides. The rest of this post will be an overview of what I was/am feeling, and how that is affecting me in various ways.

Flashbacks were the least frequent problem. It only happened once or twice. I have no idea what the purpose of a flashback is outside of storytelling. In a story, it gives you pertinent information and backstory. In real life, it’s reliving an (often) horrible experience. I’ve had them before, after my husband was hospitalized from an acute asthma attack a few years ago. Flashbacks are not fun. In me, they tend to inspire panic. Happily, that didn’t happen this time.

Anxiety is my constant companion, so I don’t think this can really be attributed to shock. Next.

I didn’t really know that fatigue is a thing that can happen from grief. It makes sense, though. There is a LOT of stress involved with this whole situation. Stress is tiring, Q.E.D. I have had the fun combination of anxiety is keeping me up at night, compounding the fatigue problem, making me take naps, which then makes me stay up later… Yeah. Not awesome.

Did you know that when someone dies, you keep thinking that they are simply in another room or out at a store? It’s bizarre. I know intellectually that she’s gone, but it’s like I keep forgetting. I suppose it helps me not be sad all the time. When I remember, though, it might make me more sad than if I never forgot. I can’t be sure as I don’t have experience with things the other way. I wonder if my brain just can’t accept that she’s gone. I don’t know. Maybe it takes time to change mental habits. Whatever it is, it is jarring.

I said up top that I wasn’t prepared to be numb. Now, I realize that I should have expected that particular reaction, as it’s on all the lists for grief. But I didn’t. Rather, I was desperately hoping that it would not happen.

To understand why, I need to go back a ways. I have what you might call a depressive personality. I don’t have depression, but I do suffer from dejection, worthlessness, worry, guilt, and self-criticism to the point where I probably could be diagnosed with something. Through a lot of therapy, books, and time, I’ve improved to where it’s no longer crippling and I haven’t been suicidal for years. But it’s still there under the surface.

The worst thing was being numb. To me, numbness means that I no longer care what happens to me. It tells me that I’m about to do something very, very stupid because I always got numb when things got too hard. Any time that I feel numb, for any reason, panic starts to rise in the back of my brain. Thoughts start to float through my brain that say, “This time you aren’t going to pull out of it,” “See? You aren’t any better,” “What if you don’t get to feel joy ever again?” etc, etc. It’s an endless monologue in my head of fear.

My mind can’t tell the difference between a normal and an abnormal reason for being numb. So it just reacts as though my world is crumbling to pieces. In a very real way, it is. Everything that I have tried to overcome in the last 15 years gets shattered by one tiny emotion. That is truly and deeply terrifying.

I realize that my reaction is not a normal one and that the majority of people won’t have that particular reaction to being numb. This is teaching me that there are reactions to grief that I never even considered. My past makes my experience of grief different from the other people around me. So theirs makes it different for them. Dealing with grief, it turns out, means dealing with a lot of other issues too.

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2 thoughts on “Grief Part Two: Shock Value

  1. Grief is such a rollercoaster of emotions. I identified very strongly with a lot of what you are describing. I recently learned that someone I use to be close to throughout my whole childhood and through college, that I lost touch with when I moved to WA had died and I had a really hard time saying “died” as well. I swung seemingly randomly from numb which led to guilt for not feeling sad, to feeling really sad and back to numb, etc. I think it’s great that you’re talking about it and are able to identify what emotions you’re feeling and see the progress you have made in your life. The spoken word has amazing power to reinforce what we know is true but have a hard time believing deep inside. If you ever need to talk, or just want to vent or anything, please don’t hesitate to reach out! I’m thinking about you guys and praying for peace and comfort for you and your whole family.

  2. That sense that they should still be there is still here with me, over six months later. It was very disorienting at my grandmother’s memorial service, because I kept feeling like she was just there, and if I turned around, she’d be standing there, impeccably dressed as always. Now it’s this absence that doesn’t make sense, and sometimes it makes me angry, that she should just be gone, away from this world, and we should be left with this feeling that she is still here, despite that.

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