Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Physical Stages of Grief

We are all familiar with the stages of grief: denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.  I have read about these, but I was caught off guard by how much my body changed and reacted.  Below, is my experience with what I call “The physical stages of grief”:

Physical Stages of Grief

Insomnia.  First, you are kept awake by reliving the nightmare that caused your grief over and over.  Once this softens, you are tormented by the horror of living your future without your loved one.  Visions of the future you never thought could exist flash before your eyes and shake you out of your sleep.

Extreme exhaustion.  The insomnia leads to exhaustion that is so potent, it feels like you are living in an alternate reality.  People around you are perky and energetic, and your mind and body are left lethargic and heavy.  It takes you longer to process sentences and to search your own brain for words.  You also have black holes in your mind and memory. 

Numbness.  After the early days, which are full of howling and fits of sobbing, you are left numb.  There are no feelings to feel except the one of complete desolation.  To a person smiling right in front of you – you are empty.  To someone’s perky voice on the other end of the phone – you are hollow.  You are glazed and float through daily tasks.  You can’t read magazines or watch tv.  None of it matters.  You are paralyzed and doing one simple task is a huge accomplishment: sending one email, starting the dishwasher, or making one phone call. 

Raging headaches.  They are debilitating and the worst headaches of your life.  They throb and keep you bedridden.  They keep you in the darkness, even though it is time to start finding a little light.  There is no medicine that will help, the only option is to open the door and succumb to your grief.

Fits of rage.  Rage is an emotion, but the rage you experience after loss is so intense it must be listed as a physical stage.  You are so vehemently full of rage that you want to throw something or yell.  Even among the gentlest, an intense rage bubbles to the surface. 

Deflation.  You feel deflated by your grief.  Sometimes, you just surrender.  It’s hard to be strong all the time – no one can be.  Your posture slumps a little bit and you have to remember to walk your new path of life standing up tall with your head up.  This doesn’t come naturally; you have to be extremely conscious of doing so.

Physical triumph.  After you’ve been through it all – the insomnia, the numbness, and then the rage – you begin to realize this is your new reality.  No matter how much you hate it and your frantic desire to have the past back, you can’t.  This is your reality.  It will never change.  Because you can’t change this, you need to control something.  Your body.  You’ll hike a mountain.  You’ll run a marathon.  You’ll do a triathlon.  You’ll do it for your loved one, or even “with” your loved one.  You need something to cling on to, or else you plummet back to the first stage of physical grief.

I’m not sure what comes next.  I bounce back and forth between deflation and physical triumph.  I have days where I feel like I want to wave a white surrender flag.  I feel defeated and suffocated by it all.  I have other days where I can hang onto physical challenges and push myself in a way I never thought was possible.  These challenges give me something to cling on to and keep me treading above water.  

I feel like I’m walking on a path that is covered in fog ahead of me.  I don’t know what is next, but it is part of this new road.

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