I’ve entered the stage of grief I never knew existed. Anxiety.
I never heard a thing about that, but apparently it’s very normal (proof here, if you’re interested.)
My mind is a serious black hole for thoughts. I’m going to say things right now that generally anyone can say has happened to them -- all this stuff has happened a bit to me before, but believe me, this is a new level of it.
I retain nothing. And I physically lose everything. I set something down, and it’s like I don’t even know I ever had it, so finding it usually happens the next day on accident when I notice it sitting in plain sight where I often am located.
I will be in the middle of talking, and it’s like I never owned half my vocabulary. (I actually get a lot of comfort being by my parents and watching them do that too. It makes me feel ok.) I just stop halfway through sentences, slack jawed, wondering what word it was I had hoped for, and come to think of it, I’m not sure I was even listening to myself speak, what was I talking about? I feel sad, why am I talking to you about this random pointless nothing anyway? Oh, they are looking at me….ummm...
Listening to people tell me anything is like hearing through 75 mesh screens between me and them.
I’m finding none of my memories are “normal” right now, something is always off. I can’t remember them in a real-to-life way.
Inside that black hole, that is my brain, I have this memory -- it looks like it does in movies that are trying to show dreams, all stylized -- I am infinitely shorter than the person talking to me so that I can’t see their face, to know who is talking. But I am at the funeral home, the casket is to the right of us. And she is saying to me, “If your heart starts doing something weird, you aren’t having a heart attack, it’s just the grief….I thought I was having a heart attack, but it was just grief." She said it in a variety of repetitions. She wanted to make sure I was retaining it. And it’s probably good that she did (whoever it was -- that’s currently a mystery) because I was still walking around like a zombie without a firm grasp on what was really happening. I think she could tell. I think that’s why she kept repeating it. When she was saying it I was thinking, “That makes sense --what you are saying -- but that’s what happens to other people, because I feel ok. Well not ok, I feel like crying, and then after I cry a lot I will feel ok. Because my heart doesn’t feel like anything.” So I nodded at her, likely with a glazed over, yet baffled look. And I forgot about that moment.
Instead I remembered other moments, like the concerned person, who hasn’t grieved hard, who desperately wanted to help -- I could see it in her eyes, “I need to help her. I need to help her.” so she told me “You need to make sure you sleep. You have to get sleep. I’ve seen people go through this and not get enough sleep. You need to get your sleep.” all while her eyes looked wild and driven -- she was going to plow through the snow storm in my eyes to get to me. But she didn’t know what to do when she got there.
Sleep isn’t really a choice for me now. It’s something that choses me. (Not because of babies and kids, they weigh in, but aren’t the weight.) Grief and sleep -- they have an odd relationship. Exhaustion, utterly and wholly, every cell of my body wants to sleep for years; and fear of the stillness -- the playground of the mind.
She didn’t know that.
But the lady I can’t see in my mind, she knew grief. She knew what she was telling me.
So when my heart started acting out on me this week, I knew I was ok. Which is good, because it probably stopped me from crossing over the edge into having a full blown “I think this is a heart attack” kind of panic attack.
My heart started racing like I’ve never felt before --- it’s not like a good workout kind of race -- that feels earned and pounding and strong. This wasn’t earned. I wasn’t moving, I didn’t notice I was thinking anything in particular. But my heart felt -- not strong and thick like a workout pound -- but light and fast and elusive -- like it was trying to run away from me, and here, and the pain of it all. It felt like a bird flapping wildly and unwisely in a cage that's just barely big enough for it’s wings to flail but not break - yet you know it’s wings are getting hurt, still the bird is too frantic to stop. That was my heart this week. A wild caged bird, who does not sing, but panics and tries to escape.
I felt physical anxiety. All the physical reactions to anxiety. But so many times I didn’t have any mental or emotional anxious thoughts right then and there. It was all my body feeling my thoughts without me.
I live on the edge of fight or flight right now. (Curious on the science of why? I usually am. Here’s some.) I am millimeters away from that racing heart. A thought of something I’m not looking forward to, a slightly raised voice, a memory, or a “look what they have in life that I will never have now realization confrontation" and there I am -- in flight. Rattling my cage.
It doesn’t hurt. My heart.
It’s just frantic and irrational.
You can’t talk yourself out of it. You can’t focus your way to something else. It can’t hear you.
It can beat on like that for half a day.
The best bet I’ve found (after some googling for help because I was starting to get more panic the longer it went) is to say to myself, “I am feeling panic. That’s what this feeling is. This is panic.” And then sometimes the bird feels heard then and will quiet down for a while. (Before it once again wants to escape this heavy dark place.)
The other thing I do is calm breathing and NOTHING else.
Music hasn’t helped me. I tried. But I just keep having to change it. The songs don’t feels like they hear my bird, it all feels like it’s saying “no no little bird” to which my bird fights harder. Because it knows it’s real.
To be honest with you. I really can’t turn on the Christian radio stations here anymore. (I can listen to some Worship music on Pandora when the bird is calm. Then that’s ok.) But so many Christian radio songs are shocking vapid to me now. Some so much so that some of them slap me in the face with a wimpy white glove and say “I challenge you to a duel. I’d like to show you what Christianity is.” To which I say, “Umm, you’re a dork.” and I change the station.
I’ve found some strangely deep consolation in random non-christian songs that have nothing to do with my current situation. It’s just that I can hear the honesty, the raw truth and vulnerability, the non-bright-sided-ness of their soul -- and that feels like a hug and a blanket and a bandaid.
A few weeks ago I was in the thrift store and walking slow and feeling numb, but feeling everything, and a song came on that I hadn’t ever heard and it felt like my heart. I don’t know why. And it’s the most hilarious thing, because it’s probably been out forever (but I only hear PBS kids at home so I didn’t know about it) and it’s by one of the most “so not cool” but somehow cool enough to be famous people. And I didn’t know who was singing. But the sad tone, and the true “I’m gonna tell you like it is”ness of it fell on me like quiet snow that shields you from the normal sounds of nature.
“And I didn’t want to write a song, cause I didn’t want anyone thinking I still care, I don’t. But you still hit up my phone. And baby, I be movin on. And I think you should be. Somethin I don’t wanna hold back, maybe you should know that -My momma don’t like you and she likes everyone.”
So random and so silly. But that song just feels raw, and that feels good.
To be by raw, when you are raw, feels so good.
My card I was (so sweetly) sent, in that photo says, “Grief’s not a sign of weakness, or a lack of faith, it’s the price of love.”
When Mary came to the place where Jesus was and saw Him, she fell at His feet, saying to Him, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her sobbing, and the Jews who had come with her also sobbing, He was deeply moved in spirit to the point of anger at the sorrow caused by death and was troubled, and said, “Where have you laid him?” They said, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept. So the Jews were saying, “See how He loved him.”
John 11 Amplified Version
I mean, if nothing else gets to me in the whole Bible -- that passage always will.
It’s real. It’s raw. It’s love.