Friday, May 01, 2009

Weird Wrinkle

The first sentence of C.S. Lewis's A Grief Observed is, "No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear." I've been thinking about that lately, because although I'm not scared, exactly, I have been very anxious: waking up with my muscles in knots, that kind of thing.

This is counter-intuitive. It made sense for me to be anxious when Dad was sick and I was running around nonstop trying to take care of him, but you'd think I'd be more relaxed now that the long vigil's over. Gary says that I'm probably anxious about losing other people, now that I've lost a parent (for all our differences, my father was definitely someone who loved me no matter what), and that makes sense, but -- although I'm even clingier than usual with Gary, poor patient soul -- I'm not conscious of that kind of fear. For instance, I'm not (consciously, anyway) more anxious about the prospect of my mother's death than I was before Dad died, and there's no one else I'm immediately worried about.

Of course, anxiety often goes along with depression, which I certainly have, and which I'm sure is kicking up right now, although I've actually been feeling pretty good, moodwise. The anxiety feels physical.

So has anybody heard of, or experienced, anxiety as a side-effect of grief? And if so, do you have any clue what to do about it, aside from my usual staples of prayer, exercise and knitting?



  1. I don't know about anxiety in relation to grief, but i do know that it tends to sneak up on you *after* the crisis is over. I had a lousy summer/fall, but ultimately all of those stressors were dealt with. And then once everything settled down, i started having anxiety attacks and heart palpatations. It was confusing, as there was really *no* rational explanation--the sun had come out from the clouds, so to speak, and i'd finally gotten to a point where i didn't feel like i was living from crisis to crisis.

    Apparently your body waits until the crises have passed before it hits you with the physical things. Which makes sense, but it really sucks when you just want everything to be okay.

  2. I think Nurse Bear is right, also I think Gary is right, and you as well. Anxiety does go with grief even if not conscious or rational--you don't have to be logically worried about anyone to feel more need to be near those you love, which can be the consequence of realizing finitude once again. And as Nurse Bear writes, it is as if, now that the crisis has passed, you are now feeling the feelings you didn't in fact have time for while handling everything. I also think that the death of a parent is sort of a seismic shift on the unconscious level as we begin the adjustment to being "that generation." At least it was so for me. It will pass, though--and if you can give it a little space it may have something to tell you more specifically. Do you still see a counselor, or do any journalling? Thinking of you...

  3. Anonymous6:22 AM

    I've always had pretty crummy health (and understood that depression is a normal biological side-effect of having a malfunctioning immune system), but a couple of years ago, I had to go on disability and it took a very long time for the reasons that will probably always be necessary to sink in.

    I love to work. I actually see work as the solace God gave Adam and Eve after the fall -- as the promise that they could still have a purpose, it would just be harder than it used to be. Now, being mostly unable to fulfill that purpose and needing to have my aging parents care for an adult child, there's been a lot of fear, anxiety, and grief involved.

    Now, that sounds like it should be obvious, right? The strange thing is that the fear, anxiety, and grief for all involved actually decreased when the final diagnosis came in. Knowing that I will not outlive my parents made it much easier for all of us (at least for now).

    My own grief for the loss of my productivity comes and goes -- and with it, quite predictably, I have bouts of anxiety that don't track to fears of my own mortality at all.

    I don't know if telling you that relates to the kind of experience you have been having, but my prayers are definitely with you. Awake in the middle of the night with knotted muscles sucks!

  4. Thanks, everyone. (And Anon, I'm sorry you've had such a rough road!) Yes, I do still journal, and it helps. If I can get back to actual writing, that will help even more!

  5. Anonymous1:47 PM

    Thank you for your condolences. It may sound strange, but I've gotten used to drawing comfort from the fact that I've outlived Christ. In other words, facing my own mortality has given me a pretty vivid lesson in how blessed my life has really been.

    Even the bouts of grief and anxiety can seem like a blessing when they turn me back to my bible and they are lifted through prayer. Maybe that's what I should have said to begin with? That focussing on what is still and always good is the best anodyne I've found?

    And those of us who find your writing uplifting hope you will begin writing more sonnets soon!

  6. Anonymous7:12 AM

    Dear Susan,

    I agree with Nurse Bear - some people simply can't collapse until after a crisis is over. I can remember that I didn't come down with mono until a month or so after I successfully finished working my way through college, for example, and I would say the same about a college friend who caught hepatitis on the same schedule at the same time.

    As I know I am answering your message quite a few days after you actually put it up, I hope your anxiety has abated already. If not, I offer the suggestion that when I am anxious myself, I usually find it helpful to try reading, walking, or phoning friends.

    Hoping you feel better soon,



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