Resolutions in the Fog of Grief

By: Therese Barrett
Monday, February 22, 2021

Resolutions in the fog of grief

Therese Barrett

February 8, 2021

 

The year 2020 was a very difficult year for all of us. We were dealing with the Corona Virus and lock downs BUT you were also living with grief. You may have been anticipating some relief in leaving behind a year marked with memories of loss and pain and now find 2021 does not live up to your expectations; instead you may be feeling some anxiety or apprehension.

Understand that the coming year also marks time without your loved one.

You are starting to or continuing to create memories which do not include your significant person. You might be trying to make resolutions to help you move forward on this difficult journey. Do not underestimate the power of this recreating process as you strive to move through your grief.

How do we move forward and make resolutions during such a difficult time? Let’s first understand where we are at right now.

You forgot to pay your water bill, lost your car keys (again!), and now the toast is burnt. When mourning the loss of a loved one, your mind may wander or shut down in ways that you can’t anticipate. Your day to day life gets turned upside down.

Grief causes a ‘FOG’ to roll into our lives.  For those who haven’t heard of ‘GRIEVER’s FOG’  or ‘BRAIN FOG’  it’s a very common condition that occurs in men, women and children after a significant loss or a traumatic experience. It’s the body’s way of coping with the trauma. It may seem like you’ll never navigate your way out of the haze. Memory loss and the inability to concentrate are a byproduct of grief and you may feel like you’ll experience it forever. The good news is that you won’t, and there are ways to cope with the fog of grief.

Have you experienced ‘Grief Fog’

What did you feel? People have said things like:

  • I thought I was going crazy
  • I couldn’t think clearly
  • I didn’t remember things that happened or what was said
  • I couldn’t find things that I was sure I knew where they were

Did you experience a feeling that people reacted to you in a strange or odd way?

  • Family thought you were developing dementia when you forgot where you were or what you were doing
  • People laughed when you forgot where you put your mug only to find it the fridge or somewhere just as strange

Grief can make it hard to sustain attention and concentrate, leaving you feeling as mentally tired as you do physically. This might be one of the most distressing aspects of  grief: feeling mentally depleted at a time when it can feel like you need everything  you’ve got and more. Not only do life’s responsibilities march on, but often death can  usher in even more responsibility. Laying a significant person in our life – and their affairs – to rest requires focus, energy, attention to detail, and patience at a time when you simply aren’t at your best. Don’t worry if everything feels a bit harder than it should,  or if you can’t accomplish the things you usually can. You’re not crazy, you’re experiencing grief. Look for places where you can reduce your expectations of yourself for a while, whether cutting corners, or putting off nonessential tasks. Ask for help!

The fog of grief can be particularly hard to endure if you are parenting little ones or must go back to work before you feel truly ready. You may fear that you will make mistakes that will cost you your job or role. Perhaps the day to day mistakes that you’re making have led you to question your mental health or competence. It may feel as if you will never recover, but keep in mind that brain fog is temporary. 

This ‘Grief Fog’ can last a long time. In the ‘Raw Grief’ state, you feel heartbroken. The loss acts as a stressor, triggering the pituitary gland to release adrenocorticotrophin (ACTH).

The ACTH sends a signal to the adrenal glands to release cortisone, a stress hormone.

So now you’re not only in the state of Raw Grief and feeling separation, but also in a hyper state of stress. (Georgena Eggleston: Beyond your Grief)

Stress is the biggie here. This early grief state, which can last 90 days or longer, is an intense, persistent stressor. Your body remains flooded with cortisol.

Next, your immune system becomes run down because of staying in a high state of alert. That’s why people so often fall ill after their partner dies. The part of your brain that regulated emotions is now under active. Your emotions run wild. They can feel like tsunami waves appearing out of no-where, not even triggered by a specific thought. Over time this gives way to deep sadness or depression.

Finally, the hippocampus, which processes memory and regulates stress hormones, is whacked out. This gives way to feelings of anger or guilt. 

Other indicators of grief brain can include disturbed sleep, fatigue, anxiety, and loss of appetite, and often, following a traumatic loss, PTSD.

Research shows that the same parts of the brain are affected by emotional loss as by physical pain. It’s known that emotional traumatic brain ‘injury’ following the death of a child or significant person will most often lead to serious changes in brain function. (Katja Faber: Still Standing Magazine)

This fog has 3 primary components according to family and grief therapist Jacob Brown.

Emotional -  We are trying to focus on the event and what happened. We are busy trying to process our pain. Normal day to day tasks seem totally irrelevant to us during this time.

Neurological - a significant loss is like a trauma to the brain. The part of the brain thought to be the centre of emotions and memory is the hippocampus. Brown cites studies that show a decrease in hippocampal activity following a trauma resulting in decreased memory function. This causes us to forget where we put things, maybe lose our way and have such difficulty in making decisions.

Physical - Fatigue! The body’s response to trauma is to divert energy to healing the trauma; that includes physical, emotional or neurological energy,” says Brown. “As a result, grievers often feel a deep sense of fatigue and lethargy.”

The following tips can help you to cope as you regain clearer thinking: (Dr. Alicia H. Clark)

  • When you are rested you may see a difference in your ability to focus - but I have spoken with one person who said “I’m hopeless at establishing a good sleep routine, so it’s a work in progress.”
  • It’s also helpful to eat home-cooked meals and limit your alcohol intake. This is difficult now during COVID because some of us use the excuse to order in. But it is important to eat nutritious food to build up your body’s resources.
  • Practice saying “no” to people when you feel overwhelmed as this can help lower stress levels.
  • Learn to schedule your social life so it happens in small, gentle doses. Not a problem now during COVID but something to keep in mind for the future. Right now you might want to arrange a phone call a day to reduce the feeling of loneliness. 
  • Exercise helps, so does finding time for relaxation. A simple walk will allow you to take a break from the fog and help to clear you brain even if only for a few minutes. 
  • Support Groups:  Groups where people struggling with similar experiences are often a great help others. Kingston offers many groups - some more specific than others. You are here tonight and for that, I applaud you. Coming to this kind of event is particularly difficult and it takes a lot of motivation and courage to come through our doors. Bereaved Families of Ontario also offers groups for specific losses. There are groups for people who have lost a child, a spouse, a family member or a friend. There is a mourning coffee drop in group and a group for those who have experienced a loved one who completed suicide. Hospice Kingston offers ‘Closed Groups’ for the person who wants to commit to a 7 week program and work on your grief a bit more intensely. All of these groups offer the freedom to chat with others who have experienced a significant death. The opportunity to just listen to how others coped or are coping is so helpful. We help one another by sharing.

Therese Rando, a noted grief therapist and author, describes grieving as a learning process. Each minute with a loved one created patterns of how to operate and what to expect. Each new challenge, like doing the taxes, fixing things, and going into a new year, becomes a fresh occasion to accept the absence of your loved one and find new ways to cope, even if new challenges bring fresh pain.

In closing and as you poke holes in the grief fog,  I’d like to leave you with the words of Martin Luther King:

You don’t have to see the whole staircase,

just take the first step.

 

References

Jacob Brown, a marriage and family therapist in Corte Madera, California, who specializes in grief and issues surrounding older adults - retrieved from:  https://www.nextavenue.org/fog-of-grief 

Quote from Martin Luther King - retrieved from:   https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/holidays/g4069/new-years-quotes/?slide=20

Quote from Therese Rando - retrieved from:   https://www.vitas.com/family-and-caregiver-support/grief-and-bereavement/holidays-and-grief/facing-the-new-year-when-you-are-bereaved/

website resource and quote retrieved from: Georgena Eggleston; Certified Rubenfeld Synergist®: www.beyondyourgrief.com

website resource retrieved from: 6 Ways Grief Can Make You Think You’re Going Crazy; Dr. Alicia.H.Clark https://www.findapsychologist.org 

website resource from: Katja Faber; certified Compassionate Bereavement Care® counselour through the Center for Loss and Trauma in partnership with the MISS Foundation and the Elisabeth Kubler-Ross Family Trust.:https://stillstandingmag.com/2020/02/05/the-grief-fog-that-comes-with-loss/

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