I’m afraid I’ve got some bad news for you; grief makes you feel like you’re going crazy.
In the beginning, you feel totally out of sorts – like lashing out at everyone, crying over everything, wearing the same sweatpants for a week insane. Then over time, you only feel a bit odd now and then – like I’m a 5’2 woman unwilling to let go of the 6’1 man’s tweed suit from circa 1950 that’s hanging in my closet.
Stop looking at me like that.
Fortunately, I also have good news; when it comes to grief, crazy is the new normal.
It looks different for everyone because we all experience grief in our own way, but on some level, we all struggle to understand ourselves and the world around us in the face of profound loss.
Think about it – it makes total sense. Whether the loss was sudden or you could anticipate it, as soon as you understood and accepted that someone you love was dead or dying, you began the grueling work of grieving.
If ever a rationale for temporary insanity was needed, one could certainly be found among the range of reactions and emotions associated with grief and loss: shock, numbness, sadness, despair, loneliness, isolation, difficulty concentrating, forgetfulness, irritability, anger, increased or decreased appetite, fatigue or sleeplessness, guilt, regret, depression, anxiety, crying, headaches, weakness, aches, pains, yearning, worry, frustration, detachment, isolation, questioning faith – to name a few.
Understandably, many will find it hard to acclimate to these emotions. One day you’re walking along like usual, and the next day you feel like an alien has invaded your body; your actions and reactions have become totally unpredictable and confusing.
In search of something familiar, you look to your primary support system, your family and friends, but they seem changed as well; some avoid you, some dote on you, some are grieving in ways you don’t understand, and some are critical of the way you are handling things. Everyone is searching for the new normal.
The first few weeks are foggy. You wake up each morning thinking maybe it was all a bad dream, and you muddle through the day trying to make sense of life without your loved one.
Just when you start to get a grip (or not), you must step back into your pre-grief life. It seems absurd that the world would keep moving in the face of your tragedy, but it has. Sadly most grievers can’t abandon their duties for long–parent, employee, bill payer, pants-wearer–you now have to figure out how to continue to exist in the roles that have been yours since before the death.
Alas, that is not all. You must also incorporate new roles and duties, the ones you inherited when your loved one died – mowing the lawn, balancing the household budget, single parenting, closing old bank accounts, dealing with insurance, taking in grandchildren. People tell you, ‘God never gives you more than you can bear.’ Well, we’re seriously testing that theory.
Sometimes even more disorienting is the emptiness felt by those who have fewer responsibilities due to the loss. Perhaps you have spent the past year dealing with treatments and prescriptions, appointments, prayers, and hospice. Now that these things are no longer necessary, your life, which was on hold to be a caregiver, must be restarted.
Or perhaps you’re a parent whose life was previously made colorful by a child and fast-paced by parenting duties. Now you find yourself waking up in the morning to rush through the before school routine, only to realize there’s no one to hurry out of bed or call to breakfast.
Life is forever changed, and things feel meaningless, gray, and empty.
Right around now is when your grief may really start to make you feel like you’re going crazy (you’re not). Friends don’t know what to say to you anymore. You are supposed to be back to work, school, the PTA, but you don’t feel the same.
You’re worried you’re alienating people by talking about your loved one and the death. You’re confused about your purpose. Everything you knew about life has changed. You’re questioning your faith and life’s meaning. You’re wondering if you are supposed to be getting better, and you can no longer see the world in color.
Here at What’s Your Grief, we like to talk about a condition we call ‘Temporarily unable to see rainbows.’ Have you ever noticed that many of the resources, articles, books, and materials created to help grieving people use images of people staring off at sunsets, standing on a beach, or gazing at the clouds?
Why are these images always paired with grief when, in reality, grieving people often struggle to find calm, peace, or beauty in life? In fact, it may be pretty unlikely that you would stop and admire the beauty of a rainbow or the vastness of an ocean. Those who cannot relate to these images may begin to worry, what’s wrong with me that I don’t have such a Zen perspective? But don’t worry, you’re still not crazy. These are normal feelings. I know because I’ve experienced my own grief, and because I’ve heard hundreds of other grievers talk about the same types of experiences. (If you’re worried that you are actually experiencing a psychological disorder like depression, anxiety, or PTSD – read this and this, and this)
And take comfort; at some point, things should get easier. The intense and unrelenting distress of acute grief will become less frequent and intense. Of course, you will still have bad days, but you will know things are getting better when those days are outnumbered by ‘okay’ days.
That said, this does not mean you are ‘getting over it, moving on, or forgetting. On the contrary, an essential part of healing is discovering the ongoing role your loved one will play in your life after their death.
And slowly, slowly, the faded colors of life become more vibrant. The world unthaws, and you start to find beauty peeking through in places you would never have expected it. Your season of grief has left you weary but stronger. You know you will never be the same, and you begin to accept that you must integrate your loved one and your experiences and continue to live a little warier, a little wiser, and, yes, sometimes feeling just a little bit crazy.
We invite you to share your experiences, questions, and resource suggestions with the WYG community in the discussion section below.