The Physicality of Extended Grief

Even though I’m not old enough to go around saying “I ain’t no spring chicken anymore”, I’m certainly not a twenty something and I’m starting to feel my age catching up with me, or so I thought.  I’m not that old…to quote the band One Republic:  “Old, but I’m not that old.  Young, but I’m not that bold”…anyway, I turned thirty last year and it just seems that weight, tiredness, and forgetfulness come with the territory.

My mother suffers from Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid), and I had recently started to wonder if I may be starting to show symptoms of this as well.  Things like this tend to pop up as we age, right?  As I looked up the symptoms, which included, tiredness, weight gain, and even the inability to be able to stand the cold (I really have that one, bad), it sounded like the nail was being hit right on the head, and it also said that it often goes undiagnosed because of the attributing the symptoms to age itself.  I made an appointment to have my levels checked because I want to make sure that as a mom, I’m not too busy caring for everyone else, that I forget to care for myself.

No one is ever happy with not feeling their best, that is, the idea they hold of themselves of what their best either is, or could be.  One of my friends once told me that we don’t always compare ourselves to others (friends, TV, magazines), we compare ourselves to the idea of the best ‘us’ in our heads.  It’s oddly interesting how our body image can take up so much room in our consciousness and become one of the pieces of the foundation of who we are.  We often hold ourselves hostage to an unrealistic standard of beauty or weight or whatever imposed on us by the media, as well as our own comparisons to who we were when we felt our best, and allow it to all get wrapped up in our sense of self worth.  For me, that ‘best me’ would be the me I was when I was a seventeen year old senior in high school.  Young, thin, and my whole life ahead of me.  I’m 5’3″ and back then I weighed 112-115 pounds.  Why would I now, as I thirty year old woman, even compare myself to the child I was in high school?  Haven’t I changed in mind and spirit sense then, and gladly embraced those changes?   Why would I still hold out mentally for my physical past self?  Are we or are we not more than just the sum of our parts?

As of this very morning, I weighed 126.2 pounds.  I know, I know, no shock and awe.  I get it, that’s not a lot, and no, I’m not overweight.  I seven still wear the same size I wore back then, but It’s not the ‘me’ I feel like I am.  My weight has always been pretty steady, never fluctuating more than a few pounds, even after having two children.  I’m currently about six pounds heavier than I typically tend to be, which is the heaviest I’ve ever been as an adult (save pregnancy) and even with a healthy diet and exercise (which I detest, but try to keep up for the sake of my health), I just can’t seem to make that number come down.  Trust me, I’m not looking for sympathy for the skinny girl here, it’s just that for me, this isn’t the me I want to be.  The tiredness, the constant run-down feeling, the scatterbrained forgetfulness of my daily tasks.  This had never been me and I don’t want to just sit back and accept that it has to be who I am now.  Is there another explanation for it all?

I think that most of you who read this blog are aware, but for those of you who aren’t, you should know that this blog is a rolling account of our life since our daughter’s passing.  Last year, I wrote a book about the wonderful blessings that were the lessons I learned in her three short years of life, hence the blog title.  In pondering these physical issues I began to wonder if any of my fellow grieving mothers have been experiencing any of the symptoms I have been.  I certainly wasn’t prepared for the firestorm of comments that came flooding across my computer screen when I posed this question on a board in our online grief group.  My daughter died of a very rare genetic neurological condition known as Tay-Sachs Disease.  The woman who are a part of the grief group I mentioned have all had children pass of either Tay-Sachs itself, or a related genetic condition, so they have all come to experience loss in the same manner that I have.

Nearly ever single woman on the feed echoed the words of the others.  Almost any one of the responses I received, I could have written myself.  The continuing effects on their health since their children’s passing was a reflection of the sentiment expressed by everyone else in the group, and none of these symptoms had been present before their children’s deaths.  Maybe my symptoms, to which I attributed to growing older, or even other issues, such as Hypothyroidism, were really a manifestation of my ongoing grief.  It’s comforting, even if unfortunate, to know that someone else out there understands how you feel because they are experiencing it for themselves first-hand.  In this way, we know that they not only understand logically what it would be like, but they know through living it what it is like.

From The sleeplessness, to the tiredness even if you can sleep, the body aches, weight gain, hair loss, anxiety and panic attacks, even outbreaks of hives, our grief is most definitely being manifested physically.  We focus so much on our mental and emotional health after a death, that I think, it’s easy to forget how it can affect you physically too.  The stress accompanied with this kind of life event can be crippling and not just in the first few days and weeks afterward..  When I first broke out in hives, around six months after my daughter passed, I tired everything to remedy them.  Nothing, not Benadryl, Cortisone cream, not even Calamine lotion would calm them.  After suffering for nearly a month, it got to the point that I couldn’t sleep.  The sheets scratched my body so badly that I couldn’t rest.  My hair, my clothes, it was agony for anything to brush against my skin.  I scratched relentlessly, ripping my skin apart and covering my body in scabs.  I finally went to the emergency room when I couldn’t take it any longer.  They ran a battery of tests and asked all kinds of questions about the detergent I used, where I had recently been, and even what I had eaten lately.  They ran allergy tests that showed nothing, and eventually they came to the conclusion that it was stress related.  I didn’t believe them.  I didn’t even feel stressed.  I was carrying along just fine, just like I always did.  A prescription for a very strong anti-itch cream, and a steroid finally cleared up my hives and  went about life just like I always had.

It wasn’t until a year and a half later, when I had another bout of hives (after an admittedly stressful experience) that I finally realized this was my body’s way of reacting to the stress I was continually stuffing down inside.  As mother’s there’s no time for us to get sick.  There’s so much to be done every day, that there’s often no time to acknowledge what we’re dealing with personally.  When everyone else needs something from you, your reserves for helping yourself have all been depleted by the time you get around to doing so.  Then, there’s no time to sit around and feel sorry for yourself about it, so you just keep chugging along.  I couldn’t believe that other grieving mother’s had even experienced outbreaks of hives as well.  I couldn’t believe how closely all of our issues mirrored one another at all.

Our grief has been wreaking havoc on our bodies in the years since our children have passed away, sometimes even without our realizing it.  Grief can wreak havoc on all facets of your life.  No one has a prescription for a magic fix to these problems.  This is the reality of living with extended grief.  There is no magic cure for grief and it’s symptoms, there is only learning to not let it overcome you.  It takes time to understand the hold grief has on you, and it’s severity can grow and change over time.  Though we hope that as it changes it shrinks and holds on to less of us, when you lose a child, it is not a hut that can ever be healed, only one we can try our best to manage as we will live with it every day for the rest of our lives.

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