Sunday, August 11, 2013

Figuring out the new me and finding a new normal

Who the hell is this new person?!!

When Jon died I was in shock. I stayed in shock through the first memorial service, through the trip back to his parents’ home, the viewing, the funeral and all the way up until I was home again.
When Jon’s parents took me to the airport with my three daughters, I must have sensed that the real grief was about to come. Suddenly I was faced with returning to real life. I was going home to the life Jon and I built; home to a place where my friends and family had returned to life as usual. I would be home, alone, with my girls and I was responsible for taking care of them. But I didn’t even feel like I could take care of myself. The terrifying reality set in with a thud and I found myself in the midst of a teary goodbye, the likes of which I had never experienced.

I got through security with the girls and we made our way to the terminal only to find that our flight had been delayed. I panicked. I felt like the airport and everyone in it was looking at me and they saw that my lungs were collapsing beneath my chest and that my heart was racing. I am – was – the strongest, most independent woman on the face of the earth (or so I’ve been told.) It was a trait Jon both fell in love with and hated at the same time. But in that moment, I was weak. I was incapable of thought. Who the hell is this person sitting in the airport?

That feeling of detachment from the woman I once was has not been uncommon in the days that have followed. I’ve found myself doing all sorts of strange things I would have never done before – some of which I’d rather not share on the internet. In a week and a half, I have lost my keys a dozen times, lost my shoes while they were in my hand, walked in and out of rooms wondering what I was supposed to be doing in the first place, gotten lost in my own neighborhood, slept through alarms, blown up at friends and family over a misplaced hair dryer and nearly brushed my teach with hair gel – and that only scratches the surface.
I have read that this type of scatterbrained behavior is normal. Well, it’s not normal for me.

In doing some research about the physiological effects of grief on the body, I found some actual scientific evidence that being a nut job, feeling tired, frantic, unable to eat and short of breath are all triggered by a change in the body’s chemical makeup. The brain increases the production of CRH – corticotropin releasing hormone – which creates anxiety-like symptoms. It can be blamed for many of the crazy feelings that come and go and sometimes over stay themselves.

If the validation of scientific evidence weren’t enough to make me feel like less of a ditz, I have also been fortunate enough to talk to people who have also suffered a great loss – some eerily similar, others vastly different but with the same effect. I’ve spoken to new found friends in this “club” that is being a widower who have told similar stories to my own; getting lost, entering a room only to forget why you’re there.
During my times of periodic stupidity, I’ve had a mixed response from people around me leading to the conclusion that there is no way to know what to expect. Some have recognized that I am in the very early stages of a healing process and understand my propensity to be daft. Others look at me like I’m growing an arm out of my head. I have learned though, that it doesn’t matter what they think because I truly can’t help it.
One thing that has helped me is to take a little more time. I set my alarm clock an extra hour early to allow time for lost keys and shoes and such. I give myself an extra 15 minute’s drive time to accommodate any unforeseen wrong turns (they happen even with a GPS guiding me.) The best thing I think I have done for myself is have a conversation with my boss about my current state. Rather than take it for granted that he will understand, I told him, “Hey boss, sometimes I might be a flake.” I explained how I often get lost in places I used to be able to navigate with my eyes closed. I explained how I was lucky to get more than an hour’s sleep consecutively each night. So when the day came that I slept not just through my alarm, but through four phone calls and missed a story I was supposed to cover, he understood.

There are others I have warned – people who help watch my kids for example. I often make plans to have them go to someone’s house so I can have some time to myself only to later remember that I had already scheduled a doctor’s appointment for them. I’m constantly booking and re-booking these things. Had I not given the forewarning that I’ve suddenly turned into an unorganized mess, they may have gotten a bit testy. Instead, we share a laugh over my repeated blunders.

It’s also been a pretty good thing that I’ve warned my friends. There are so many people reaching out to make sure I have things to do to get away. I get invitations constantly. And, especially with having children, I can’t possibly accept them all. I have let people know that I appreciate the invites and not to take any declines as an indication that I’m not interested in spending time with them. I urge my friends to keep the invites rolling. There have been days where I have been able to get away for a bit and have found that I don’t have any standing invitations. Keeping those doors open will ensure that when I have the time, there are options on the table.

Also, I have been trying to let myself let others help me. Something as simple as making a phone call to change the cable bill from Jon’s name to mine has proven to be an exhausting and daunting task. While there are some things that I just have to do myself for legal or financial reasons, it helps to let others make some phone calls for you – or even do your laundry. I’m approaching week three and I find that I have no clean clothes. My girls have been doing their own laundry, but no one has been doing mine. I could ask for help, but I haven’t. I have to say, it would be a huge weight off my shoulders to not have to worry about it. Right now I am at a place where it’s all I can do to get out of the house and feel normal. Being at home with chores still seems unbearable. I haven’t taken the step of reaching out for that yet, but I plan to. My house has been neglected along with my laundry and I plan to make a day of it getting caught up – with the help of friends and family.