You Are Not My Therapist, but... Grief: Am I Doin' It Right?
March 28, 2016 12:08 PM   Subscribe

Hey, remember me? My family is still dead! It's two months later and I'm past the dead-eyed shock, numbness, and denial, and well into the "life is not worth living and I just want to stay in bed all day" portion of the rest of my life. Is it reasonable to give in to that urge, or should I be forcing myself to write and play the autoharp and generally Give A Crap?

I'm being hyperbolic, really. I don't stay in bed all day (though I do have a hell of a time getting up in the morning). I do the things I know I'm supposed to do to keep myself physically and mentally healthy: I exercise 4-5 times a week. I read books. I meditate. I hang out with my spouse and watch movies. I'm back in therapy.

When it comes to doing anything that requires any kind of creative or social energy, though, I find myself petulantly digging in my heels. The novel I was working on as of my last question? Stalled. The short story I started in the interim? Also stalled. I can't even find the energy to work on my knitting, really. And I'm not reaching out to friends as much as I would like to be doing (though honestly, why aren't they reaching out to _me_? Now is when I need casseroles and card games, not two months ago when it didn't feel real yet.)

Is it ok to just go with it until I feel like being creative again (if ever), or am I shooting myself in the foot, recovery-wise?
posted by missrachael to Society & Culture (23 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Two months? You're well within "normal" - although normal doesn't exist. You're doing fine. Keep up the exercise !
posted by Mistress at 12:11 PM on March 28, 2016 [12 favorites]

You have suffered a fairly crippling loss. If writing or other creativity isn't helping you through it, then don't beat yourself up about it - it won't help your recovery or your creativity to force yourself to do something that causes you even a hair's more despair.

Exercise, fresh air, things that force you to interact with other people on a regular basis can help because they make you step outside yourself and your grief in order to do them. Any other solitary indoor pursuit you choose to do is on you - it may help, or it may hurt. Give yourself some slack. Not writing today doesn't mean you're not writing. It just means you're not writing today. When you're ready, it will be there for you.
posted by Mchelly at 12:15 PM on March 28, 2016

If you don't feel like doing those things that you are stalled on, don't do them! Your most recent loss is still very fresh and it is ok to conserve energy.
If you do want to do those creative pursuits but find yourself resisting or stopping yourself in a self-sabotage-y way, then that is a good thing to bring up with your therapist and look into together.

As far as social endeavors, it is understandable that reaching out to many people and trying to wrangle plans could feel overwhelming. Do you have one close friend who you can email and say "Now is when I need casseroles and card games, not two months ago when it didn't feel real yet." and have them spread the word to your other friends? Or can your spouse do this for you and encourage your friends to reach out to you now?
posted by rmless at 12:16 PM on March 28, 2016 [2 favorites]

I think you're doing more than ok. All that extra creative stuff you're talking about is optional. It's great if you can manage it, but it's not putting food on the table. You are doing all that's required and that in itself is commendable. And I would say this to anyone in any circumstance. But for you it's extra important. It's important to be active and such, which you're doing, but your brain also needs time to heal.
posted by bleep at 12:17 PM on March 28, 2016 [2 favorites]

Is it reasonable to give in to that urge, or should I be forcing myself to write and play the autoharp and generally Give A Crap?

After two months? Lord amighty. Maaaaaaaybe try to give ONE crap about ONE thing, for like a few days, and then take a break?

I had a run of unfathomable shit much like yours--it ended about 6? years ago, and still sometimes I will have a day where it's just like, no. 2 months out i felt proud of taking a shower. Once. This takes time, so much time. All the time. Your post sounds so impatient, so furious, and that is obviously a completely normal thing--remember that anger is a stage of grieving and it will come and go, like all the stages of grief.

That said, there's nothing wrong with making yourself play the auto-harp for a half hour and seeing how you feel. There's just no reason to approach it like it's all or nothing.

though honestly, why aren't they reaching out to _me_? Now is when I need casseroles and card games, not two months ago when it didn't feel real yet.

Because people aren't perfect, basically. And our grieving rituals don't have a ton to do with actual grieving, sadly. It sucks that you might need to reach out to them but for real, they are probably sitting there thinking OH MY GOD I WISH I COULD HELP MISSRACHAEL BUT I DON'T KNOW HOW. Maybe your spouse can do the reaching out?
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 12:17 PM on March 28, 2016 [16 favorites]

I think you're doing very well, and you can't expect very much of yourself at this point. I'm an only child of divorced parents and my mother died two years ago last week. She was everything to me, really everything, we were so close. I live abroad and have no family at all in the country I live in (plenty of friends, but I kept thinking about blood ties, existentialism I guess). Like you, I felt like a ship at sea and that feeling lasted at least a year. No references - I felt like I had no future, no family, nothing close enough.

Anyway, as I say - this is a long path and it sounds like you're doing very well. Things may dip again in the coming year - they did for me after a strong start - but that's ok too. As a friend said to me - take this year to recover from this, and really don't push yourself. I'm also a creative person, it's my job too, and now I can see I was pushing myself too much when I needed rest for both my body and my mind. And now that this time has passed, I've started bit by bit to get back into things and I can feel the time is right now, whereas it wasn't before. And now when I work, it goes fast - whereas back then things just weren't working though I couldn't see it. I'm glad I tried, and you should keep trying but know your limits. No hard to actually take some time off from all of these things and actually just breathe. I did that, and while scary, it w
posted by cornflakegirl at 12:17 PM on March 28, 2016

*no harm* I meant earlier - sorry - hit send on my laptop by accident! I'm not sure how to delete that comment so that it can join with this one! But I'll continue - while scary, it was what I needed at the time, and I didn't realise it until I had worn myself out totally. So yes, just keep going, and also - ask your friends for what you need. Sometimes people don't know - they do care - but they don't realise how bad it is. I also had this experience. Sending you all positive wishes. And sorry for my chopped in half message!
posted by cornflakegirl at 12:21 PM on March 28, 2016

Two months after my Dad's death I was just starting to fall apart. Grief is different for everyone but I think for many people grief is just exhausting. I imagine there are those small wheels turning in our brains, in the background, all the time, doing the hard work of processing the loss. Even reading books was too much for me at 2 months (and honestly, was too much effort even a year after). I can't imagine writing anything creative at that point.

Friends not reaching out after a few weeks happens to many people as well. Happened to me, too.

I'd just go with the flow and let the grief wash over me. I promise you will get your creativity back at some point. Be good to yourself. I'm really impressed that you are exercising four times a week and reading.

Now is the time to really pamper yourself. Reach out to friends if you can do it without feeling resentful. It's hard to support a grieving person, so hard to know what to say, especially if you were semi-close but not super close. Friendships are going to change but some will grow back stronger and more real.

I am sending you a big hug. Feel free to Memail if you want to chat. I'm two years and four months in.
posted by M. at 12:27 PM on March 28, 2016

You aren't through it. Keep surviving, you'll start living again soon.
posted by i_am_a_fiesta at 12:42 PM on March 28, 2016

First of all, there's no timeline on grieving. None. I am past 30 years on some devastating losses, and once in a while, I still feel devastated. Grief lasts as long as it lasts. And it never completely goes away.

Six weeks after my brother died at 31, two separate people on the same day asked me if I was "pretty much over it." They just had no idea what I was going through. At that point, I was just getting to the point where I could grieve. Have your friends experienced losses of immediate family members? If not, there's a good chance they simply don't get what it's like. If at least one of your friends has experienced a loss of someone very close, I would suggest reaching out to that person because that's the person who might understand. I spent a lot of time really angry at a bunch of my friends who basically went missing at the worst time of my life. Now I realize they had no idea what I was feeling or what they should do. It sucks that you have to be the person to reach out, but people really don't know that you need them if you don't tell them. A lot of people even think it would be bad to mention the people who died because it will remind you of your loss (as if you could forget). They are not bad people. They just don't know. If you feel like company would be useful, ask for it. If you want to be alone, be alone. Take care of yourself. You have been through a lot of trauma, and you should do what feels right for you - without guilt over your feelings.
posted by FencingGal at 12:52 PM on March 28, 2016 [3 favorites]

Two months is about 3 days in Grief Time. The worst is yet to come, probably.

What makes it all that much worse is that two months, to people who are not directly affected by these losses and haven't been through something similar, is ancient history. Like, cheer up already amirite? And you're going to kind of want that to be true, so you go along with it. And you kind of have to, unless you have the luxury of taking a year and a day off to devote to full-time mourning like a Victorian lady of high social standing; you're stuck with a certain amount of faking it just to survive. But doing that means it hits you all the harder when it gets through the cracks in your armor, or when you come home from the end of faking it all day, or when you are surprised and let down your guard.

But you are right: now IS when you need cards and casseroles, and if you can bring yourself to do it, identify the people who made those "anything I can do" offers back then and TAKE THEM UP ON IT NOW. Pick one of them, tell them now is when the numbness is wearing off and everything is exhausting and yes, please, if you can help a little I will take it. Let them organize the rest.

I don't know that the brain fog really clears, in the sense that you have any decent processing cycles left after the business of cleaning/feeding yourself and working for money, for 6-8-10-12 months. That's not to say you shouldn't maybe set aside a time, at least, to sit down at the keyboard/notebook every day and do something - journal if you can't work on a WIP, make bullet lists of the good and terrible shit that happened that day, draw a picture of your mood. Something, for you, to hold that space for later.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:52 PM on March 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

It's been years since my niece died and I still have to stop everything and just cry sometimes. Please let yourself have time.

Friends who haven't been there...and even those who have but experience it differently don't know what you want. Privacy? Company? time alone? Someone to jostle you into a walk in the sun? Talk to your closest friends about it. Let them in and give them some instructions.
posted by chapps at 1:09 PM on March 28, 2016

You're fine. If you feel so inclined, I'd do a Facebook posting to the effect of:

Hi Friends, still reeling and dealing with grief. I miss you all and I'd love to connect with you, but you know...grief. I'm still out of sorts, but I'd love it if you'd drop by with a casserole and spend some time with me.

People are giving you space and waiting for the opening. Give it to them, and give them the blessing of letting them help you.

Are you in Atlanta? I have a lasagna in the freezer if you want it.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:11 PM on March 28, 2016 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you. I'm not marking best answers, because they are all best. Thank you so much for giving me permission to be Not Ok (and being mad at clueless friends with me).

Ruthless Bunny - no (and thank you), but oddly, I used to live in Atlanta! I live in Maryland now.
posted by missrachael at 1:20 PM on March 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

I have suffered indescribable grief (although its labelled as 'complicated')... and I must say that there were many months of catatonia- endless sitting with my pets, while simply looking out the window (although I can't even say that I was looking at all, not even following a stray bird that flew across my field of view, nor thinking how lovely they were...)

It started with my efforts to "open the curtains! Accept the sunshine into my life! - and move on! There is so much to look forward to!" - Yeah, NO. Opening the curtains to glorious sunshine only brought on massive, involuntary dry heaves until I felt like my guts were going to turn inside out. It was a paradoxical effect towards what should have been helpful in most instances.

What did seem to help, was keeping a journal of my most honest thoughts, feelings, and picking each and every one of them apart as minutely possible. It was only when I felt that I could look back at those journals and not feel the overwhelming and visceral emotions that would rise within along with each and every word, that I started to gauge that I was moving beyond certain stages of grief.

I wish that I could say that I rediscovered myself and my soul, but I can really describe it much better as recognizing that a part of me also died with my loved one, and that as much as might have wanted to find my former self, I needed to accept that I was no longer the same person I once was. That in itself, was another thing to grieve.

You're a writer... maybe you could stay stalled on the fiction, and focus on going deeply inward for yourself only?
... that, and also reading I Wasn't Ready To Say Goodbye was a helpful book for sudden loss - I read what I could, in full initially, and then referred back to it every few months, and even years later. There aren't many books out there that cover grief and loss for those whose loved ones died unexpectedly.
posted by itsflyable at 1:25 PM on March 28, 2016 [4 favorites]

Yes, you are doing it right. However it shows up is 'right'. Friends are just unsure and probably at a loss so it is helpful to just tell them what you need. It will be a relief to them.

Two months is nothing. Take as much time as you take.

Also, the humor? You're doing just fine on that. It can be a really good release, and have a lot of value. Really.
posted by Vaike at 1:28 PM on March 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

I do the things I know I'm supposed to do to keep myself physically and mentally healthy: I exercise 4-5 times a week. I read books. I meditate. I hang out with my spouse and watch movies. I'm back in therapy.

I'm impressed.
posted by Alluring Mouthbreather at 1:29 PM on March 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

Nthing the suggestions above to reach out to all those people who said "Let me know if you need anything" and ask for casseroles and card games. Unless people have experienced a similar loss, they don't know how to offer support -- they genuinely want to, but they have no frame of reference for how to do it. They care about you and will be happy for the opportunity to help.

A grief support group helped me most after my brother's death. Perhaps your therapist knows of a local group for you to check out? Sitting in a room with a bunch of people who know how badly a loss just sucks is incredibly healing. Sharing your grief, and listening to and holding the others' grief, can be exhausting but very uplifting (strangely) as well.

Your creativity will return in time. Let yourself take the time needed. Hugs.
posted by Boogiechild at 1:52 PM on March 28, 2016

You read books!? My sense is that two months is still well within the window of "I can't focus on anything tougher than People Magazine." Give yourself time.
posted by salvia at 2:12 PM on March 28, 2016

If you don't have the energy to knit, then don't knit. Do whatever you can with whatever limited energy you have--which sounds like you do a LOT more than I'd expect at this point anyway. I'm flabbergasted you have enough energy to work out in the first place!
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:12 PM on March 28, 2016

My mother died when I was in my late 20s, and my experience of the grieving process was that after the initial feeling of shock wore off, a long period of basically not being able to muster an ounce of "give a sh-t" about anything followed. I kept up with work, social obligations, and general self-care well enough, but I just didn't have it in me to do anything requiring real creativity or direction. It took a long time (several months at least, maybe over a year), but eventually I was able to find a sense of motivation again.

It's only been 2 months since your sister passed away. You are doing okay. Maybe pick up the autoharp or your writing every once in a while if you feel so inclined, but you shouldn't feel obligated to do it in any way.

Regarding your friends not being more engaged, this was my experience also. If your social group is relatively young, as mine was, many of them may not have experienced a loss like this and thus are finding it difficult to relate, or are afraid they may say or do something wrong. Others may see that you seem to be coping relatively well and assume that you don't need or want help—this happened to me. I was terribly hurt by this at the time, and my then-partner ended up advocating for me in a way I wasn't able to do for myself. Maybe your spouse can reach out on your behalf?
posted by 4rtemis at 10:33 PM on March 28, 2016

I'm so, so sorry for your terrible losses. As others have said, it is entirely ok for you to still be recovering from the knock-out punch of your sister's passing (which seems to have occurred when you were only beginning to recover from the other knock-outs). It makes perfect sense that you would need a general "time out" from normal life. Grief is damn exhausting.

One suggestion you might consider is reading Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking. I think you are likely to identify with her description of how her mind was working following the sudden death of her husband (which happened whilst they were also dealing with their daughter's devastating illness). And maybe in the act of identifying, you will be far less hard on yourself. Really, there are no "shoulds" when it comes to grieving. We all have to find our own way through.
posted by Halo in reverse at 5:20 AM on March 29, 2016

You mentioned in your previous post some pet deaths. Do you have any living pets left, and if not, can you get a new one? They can be very comforting and sometimes in the worst of it the only answer to "why go on living?" is "I have to feed my cat."
posted by Jacqueline at 3:24 AM on March 30, 2016

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