When I write these blog posts, I know I am writing to people in my community now. But I also hope I am writing to someone in some future time who is looking for stories – real, honest stories – of grief so they can process their own. I keep thinking about that as I choose what to make public and what to keep private. To that end, here’s something I wish someone would have told me.
There are physical effects of grief. Things like weight fluctuation (probably gain), and fatigue are in all the “this is what grief looks like” stories. That is only the tip of iceberg.
I have had weight fluctuation, though in my case it has been a combination of weight loss and waist increase. In short, I lost muscle mass and gained fat. I’m not worried about getting fat. I’m pissed that I lost muscle mass. I worked hard for those muscles. Now I’m going to have to work hard, just to get back to where I was.
I am vain about very few things, but I have really nice hair. Or I did, until it got all brittle and dry. I can’t tell you if this is related to my body taking all those shiny-making minerals and vitamins and redirecting them to things like knitting my bones, or if it is purely a grief symptom. In addition to the hair problems, I have as much acne as a sixteen year old. I think this might be from crying and touching my face all the time. It is unpleasant and I would like it to stop.
I’ve been cold since Jason died. My feet especially, but I just run cold in a way I never have before. During a meeting a few weeks ago, everyone kept moving their chairs out of the sun. I kept moving mine into it, and my feet and hands were still cold to the touch. I’ve been sleeping with two quilts, even when the daytime temperatures are in the 80s/90s. I’m just cold all the time. This is particularly harsh since Jason was my personal space heater. I can’t put my hands down his shirt or stick my toes on his thighs to warm them.
While I’m on the topic of health and me, here’s a quick update on my physical healing. I likely have a sprained MCL (the ligament on the inside of my knee). This means I will do some physical therapy and keep trying to rest it, but because the ligament itself seems to be intact and healthy, they aren’t worried about it in the long-term. Similarly, I probably knocked some things out of whack in my neck and shoulders, leading to minor ligament damage in my right shoulder. Some physical therapy and some time should take care of the situation. The rest of my body seems to be healing well, and I even got to play some Frisbee last night.
The mental stuff is harder to sort out. I lose words, but they are all uncommon words. So far, the most noticeable ones were “autoclave” and “Affirmative Action.” These are things that aren’t everyday vocabulary. Once I’m given the word, it seems to stick. It’s like the neural pathways got disordered and my brain can’t quite find the word until someone gives it to me, then the neural pathway is re-established and I’m fine. Names are a little harder. I’ll remember someone’s first name but not their last, or I’ll remember someone’s face and context but not their name. There are at least two people who I have a name and face but no context for. Sorry for the awkward conversations.
I still tire quickly, and once tired, I’m totally done. I’m trying to respect this and let it be, but it is hard. I’m enough back to myself to be frustrated by not being able to do things, but not enough back to myself to actually do the things. It is a really annoying place to be, but it is getting better.
While I was driving the other day, I missed a turn. That’s nothing new for me. I can’t get myself from point A to point B without at least one thing going wrong. But when I did it twice in a row, the person in the car with me said she’d seen this effect in other people with similar traumatic grief situations. I’d been chalking the increase in spacing out to the head injury, but her statement brought up an important point. Grief itself has effects on cognition.
I wish I had a list of “this is grief” and “this is brain injury.” I find that I tend to explain away the mental effects as “I hit my head really hard,” while I explain the odd physical effects as grief. When I stop and examine this, I realize that I am protecting myself from the idea that there are mental effects of grief. Somehow physical effects of grief can’t be controlled, but I should be able to control the mental effects of a mood. Intellectually, I know this is wrong. But that doesn’t make it easy to accept that I can’t control this thing, or the effects it has on my day-to-day existence.
So many of my emotions boil down to not being in control of my situation. I am paying the price for some else’s decisions that were made outside of my control. When I actually list the physical and mental effects of this, it shows all the ways in which I am paying someone else’s debt. And I hate it. I hate that I will have to work to get strong again, I hate that I am so tired all the time, I hate that my toes are cold at night. Really, fundamentally, I hate that I don’t have control over the rest of my life. I hate that I don’t get to spend my lifetime with my partner.