I’m looking right at her.
I know her. In fact, I’ve known her for years. But please don’t ask me her name.
I have no idea.
It happens to all of us-meet someone in the store or at the Post Office and you just know you know them, but cannot-for the life of you-remember a name.
Chatting on, you search mental files desperately trying to make a connection you can hold onto. Five minutes after she walks away it pops up-oh, yes! That’s so-and-so from such-and-such.
Imagine if instead of searching mental files without success you can’t even find the file cabinet and start to wonder if one ever existed.
That’s what “grief brain” does to you.
Here are a few more examples of things that actually happened:
- Someone would say something to me and I hear them as if it’s another language-I have absolutely NO IDEA what they just said.
- I had to write a list each morning of the most basic things to do (like eat) so that I didn’t forget to do them. I had to tape the list to the kitchen cabinet because otherwise I lost it.
- I could no longer walk away from the stove when it’s turned on-I burned more than one pot of peas.
- There are times I couldn’t remember my phone number or street address when asked.
- I answered the phone, heard a familiar voice only to be confused about exactly who was on the other end of the line.
- I became momentarily “lost” on familiar streets or in familiar stores.
- Sometimes I literally couldn’t remember what day it was.
- I forgot appointments, meetings and what time church starts on Wednesday night.
I began to wonder if I was losing my mind.
And, in a way, I was.
At least the mind I had BEFORE my son was killed.
The initial shock was only a beginning. Ongoing stress and related hormones as well as increased blood pressure, poor sleep, anxiety, profound sadness and being forced to acknowledge my own lack of control bombarded my mind for months. Pathways I’d relied on for most of my life were changed or destroyed.
If you think of the brain as an interconnected web of associations, functions and activity, it’s easy to see that rerouting or destroying some of the connections makes it harder to access information and do tasks.
“[W]hen brain imaging studies are done on people who are grieving, increased activity is seen along a broad network of neurons. These link areas associated not only with mood but also with memory, perception, conceptualization, and even the regulation of the heart, the digestive system, and other organs.” Prevention Magazine
It’s no wonder that I found it difficult to think and do the most routine tasks after child loss!
My mind was fundamentally altered.
It’s not as bad now as it was in the beginning.
But I still struggle to remember things that used to come easily. I still hear words that I don’t always understand. I depend much more on paper and pencil to keep track of important dates, appointments and phone numbers than I used to. And I never walk away from the stove.
If I make a lunch date with a friend, I ask that she message me the day before to remind me. If I don’t comprehend what someone is saying, I request that they repeat it. I keep a paper copy of important information in my purse and an electronic copy on my phone.
It’s frustrating sometimes, but it is not a moral failure that my brain isn’t as sharp as it once was.
What was embarrassing at first is now something I openly acknowledge.
I ask for help and I don’t apologize.
It’s really OK.
Featured image via: bedraggled & kicking