Monday, April 14, 2014

The Fog


Losing my mom when he was in his mid thirties broke my father, seemingly beyond repair. We did not celebrate holidays, we didn't eat together or play games together, we did not have a circle of friends to help us through, we did not talk about our pain. We didn't have any rituals with which to honor my mom. My dad escaped by drinking and distancing himself from me. His grief morphed into rage and that rage would have no where to go but straight at me.

We were two broken people ill-equipped to help each other. Early on, I learned survival strategies. I wasn't aware that's what I was doing, but now I can see them and I carry them with me even though they are no longer necessary. The most useful one was blanking out. I just left my body. When I was overwhelmed by anxiety and fear and my father made me feel unsafe in the only place in the world I could go, I would just leave.

My body was there, but my heart and soul were gone. A blank gray fog where they used to reside. No fear, no sadness, no messy emotions. My body would shut off, like flipping a switch. My mind would either race in senseless circles or just completely shut down. The tears would stop and from the outside, at least, no one could see the pain.

But also, there was no me and no chance to feel any good emotions either. No chance to connect with anyone, not even myself. It was necessary and smart at the time. Now, though, it is a knee jerk reaction to what life throws my way.

My body does it, not my mind. My mind can tell me that all is fine and that people aren't my dad and that I'm safe and no one is out to hurt me, but my body doesn't believe a word. And my body just shuts down. No more emotion. The gray fog. Thoughts circle without landing. Eyes won't focus on anything for long. No emotions, just spinning mind. I look from the outside, I assume, like I have it all together. But I have taken leave and all that's left is my body.

After Dave died, it seems all my reactivity just increased. This response to stress happens more easily now than ever. I can be home, safe, cocooned, reading a book, and I suddenly realize every muscle in my body is tight as a knot. I can read a page 4, 5, 6 times in a row and not absorb a single word. There are no clear thoughts, just a spinning, anxious fog. Just the sense that I am in danger and my body is ready to fight or flee.

I do this in therapy, over and over and over again. I do it when anyone tries to get close to me. I do it when I'm embarrassed. I do it for no apparent reason at all, before my mind can connect with my body.
It makes closeness difficult. Not impossible, but difficult. I know there is no magic bullet for this. I know it will take work to begin to get my mind and body to connect.

I know the triggers, mostly, so that's good. There just doesn't seem to be a way to bring myself back once I've gone there for quite some time. It takes being away from the trigger (if that's even possible) for several hours at least, for the clarity to come back.

But, you know what? Of course I struggle with this. It completely makes sense and is reasonable. Trauma does all sorts of things to our minds and bodies. This part is inevitable. It's cliche, but I'm saying it anyway; what matters is that I identify it and address it.

That last step is easier said than done, but so many things are. I'm still going to stubbornly address it even though it feels like pushing a giant boulder up a very steep hill.


  1. Cassie, for those like your dad, some just don't recover from a death. I believe it is much harder for a man to survive. Man, head of household, main money earner, works to strive for family and saving for future years. Generally a man does much more on the womens side, dinners and going out and doing things. Generally a man doesn't have many male friends and basically leaves the high school friends Basically I'm trying to say is that we go out in the world establishing job, family, and life. When we lose our spouse, big shock without a lot of support.

    Cassie for you looking back now, is a little easier to understand what happened. Quite a life we go through. Take Care..

  2. In her book, Second Firsts, author Christina Rasmussen explains how the amygdala becomes hyper reactive after a loss. I hope your therapy is at least partly behavioral. Maybe that way you can "come back" quicker. Keep pushing that boulder! -Snowygirl

  3. OH wow Cassie. I can sooo identify with this one. I do the same thing - for different reasons, but the same "disconnect" thing. I put my emotions and feelings on a shelf where I cant reach them (I just wrote about doing this with the idea of new relationships, in my last piece here on Widows Voice), and I do it with other things too. In therapy , sometimes, I can talk about something that hurts like hell and SAY it hurts like hell, but in my body, the words are coming out, but Im able to almost pretend Im talking about someone else. This is a good thing for me to realize about myself. Thanks for helping me realize it.

  4. Gotta love PTSD, right? I've given up on fighting my triggers and opt for a combination of avoidance and Ativan. Mostly, I'm ok, but when I'm not, I'm able to recognize it, and take my meds enough to pass myself off as functional in polite society. I'm better than I was, but not as good as I can be. I over intellectualize my response to damn near everything. It worked to deal with his Cancer, but's hard to trust what I feel. i *felt* hope...and it was a lie. I can't trust my emotions, they are too raw and dangerous. I trust logic.

  5. I work in hospice. ...people have asked me how I do this kind of work where I see death and dying nearly every day. ..especially after watching my husband die unexpectedly over a 5 day period..... (a result of a very very rare fatal complication) following a successful bone marrow transplant 20 months earlier...
    I could not explain how I am able to do this. ..until now. ...thanks to your descriptive post....I disconnect myself. ..yet am able to show compassion. .even tears at times. ...
    Now I hope to be able to better share the how of what I do everyday.
    Thank you:)