Monday, April 28, 2014

Fighting Numbness

One must go through periods of numbness that are harder to bear than grief.
–Anne Morrow Lindbergh, “Hour of Gold, Hour of Lead” (1973)

Some say that grief after suicide is like the ups and downs of a rollercoaster; I see it more as numbs and downs. I know that numbness is a natural reaction, protection from being overwhelmed. But when I’m numb for more than a day or so, I feel out of touch with missing and mourning my son, to the point of feeling both disembodied and disloyal. Anguish builds up and needs release, even if I am not focusing on it; I feel so much better after I can cry again.

When I speak to groups of college students about suicide awareness and suicide loss, I tell the story of Noah’s decline and suicide without a tear, choking up, or quiver in my voice. That must seem unreal, even callous, to my audience. Maybe I do this to stay focused on conveying the message of not letting fear, shame, and ignorance prevent people in distress from getting the help they need, and how those of us who love them can be a lifeline. The next time I speak in public, I’ll explain that I still cry plenty when alone, and my deadpan delivery is part of the numb spells and compartmentalization that are also stages along the mourner’s path.

A few months ago I wrote: “The energy it takes to tamp down the grief and compartmentalize in order to function and accomplish things other than grief work in the world! I toggle back and forth between the work files on my computer and the ones called Noah’s Life & Death, Grief, or Suicide Info. It’s easier to switch files than to switch gears between my grief world and the ‘normal’ world. The more I compartmentalize, the more numb I feel; the essence of grieving recedes further and further in the distance.” Now, at the 13+ month mark, the switching has become less jarring and exhausting, more a natural part of life, though not yet what grief books call the “integration” of the mourning self with the self returning to life and the future.

To fight the numbness, I recently went back to EMDR therapy . I needed help dredging up my grieving self and revisiting unresolved anger and guilt. I walk into each session with trepidation, knowing it will catapult me back into an intensity that drains me for at least a day and reminds me of the veil that still separates me from others. Each session has been cathartic and surfaced new insights, the polar opposite of numbness. Yet I find myself wondering how much more of this level of intensity I want or need!

There are other, gentler ways to stay in touch with our grieving selves, as Janie Cook reminds us in her blog, Living with the Loss of a Child :

The deeper needs that grief creates must be tended to.  And even though we know this, we often resist paying that painful attention. . .  We do not have the luxury to choose between each day’s demands and the time it takes to heal from grief.  Both are necessary.  So, how can we learn to manage ?

When we take the time to stop, take a deep breath and collect ourselves in the present moment, we give our spirits time to catch up with our bodies.  Giving ourselves a regular “dose” of moments in which we focus on what we feel inside is critical.  The more concrete we can be about this the better.  When we give ourselves this kind of compassionate care and attention, we gradually learn the balance of living in the clear minded reality of both loss and blessing. . . . both sorrow and gratitude.    

I give myself those moments when I stop to take the time to write, meditate, pray, or do yoga; when I allow myself to crawl back in bed if I need to. How about other survivors out there? How do you make time and space for your grieving self? And how do you deal with numbness?

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