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Short and Sweet Summary: Widowhood is already full of heartache and pain and when your brain isn’t functioning at its optimal capacity, it’s frustrating as hell. When you can’t find the right words or you keep forgetting things, take a deep breath. And practice these suggestions to ease the frustration of managing widow brain moments in your grief journey.
When you find your car keys in the refrigerator or milk in the pantry, you can blame your confusion on a very real condition called widow brain.
Grief has seized your brain cells, balled them up with its fist and chucked them right out the freaking window. It’s a good thing our brain cells can regrow [source].
Anyway, the fog that follows you around from sunup to sundown makes it extremely difficult to do even rudimentary things because your brain isn’t functioning normally, if at all.
Widow brain is real and you’re not crazy. The good news is, managing widow brain is easier once you figure out what the hell it is.
FIRST A BRIEF DEFINITION
I’m not going to get all clinical-like with a doctor-y definition because I’m not a neurologist and I don’t play one on the Internet. So how about if I just offer a brief, easily digestible, definition instead?
Ok. Here goes.
Well, the brief definition is that when you suffer a significant loss, your brain has a way of sheltering you from things that are too taxing on your already fragile system. Basically, it shuts down any nonessential functions.
We call the foggy or “hazy” feelings, the lack of concentration, the forgetfulness, and the inability to complete simple tasks “widow brain” because it’s your brain’s response to your traumatic loss. The lack of concentration and mental capacity limits are just your brain’s natural coping mechanism.
And let’s face it, grief is hard work. That’s about all you can handle right now. Concentration takes loads of effort, so the haze sets in to give your brain a much-needed break from overthinking.
When something traumatic happens, it’s like your brain says, “Ok let’s take this down a notch” because you can’t regulate yourself so your brain’s going to do it for you.
EXAMPLES OF MY WIDOW BRAIN MOMENTS
After my husband died, I had several mishaps with my cell phone. It fell out of my pocket. Or I ran over it with my car. Or I looked for my cell phone while I was talking to someone on my flipping cell phone.
I literally moved piles of paper, looked in coat pockets and cursed under my breath because I couldn’t find my cell phone while I was talking on it. I’m so embarrassed to admit that.
And, it’s happened more than once!
I also remember sitting at a red light one night and the left turn lane arrow turned green. I proceeded into the intersection. Only I wasn’t in the left turn lane. I thought the green light was for my lane, but it wasn’t. The boys’ screams from the backseat jolted me to reality before I got too far out into the intersection. I did a “my bad” wave to the other cars and backed up. Ugh. Widow brain almost wrecked my car. And all of us in it.
Years later I’m still fighting the occasional widow brain relapse. My most pressing problem these days is remembering words. Like, I just had to look up the word “intersection.” I typed into the search engine, “the word for where four roads converge.”
How did I dig up the word “converge” from my the far recesses of my brain, but somehow the word intersection eluded me?
I used to get really upset with and berate myself for forgetting words or for misplacing keys. I mean, I could complete 12,436 other tasks during the day how could I forget common words so easily?
Berating yourself does no good.
If you do this, please stop.
Mistakes make us human.
I don’t get upset with myself anymore since I’ve found 3 critical steps to tame the ugly widow brain beast.
Because I know you have way too many things to do in one day, I’ve only included three easily doable steps.
If you can find time to only do these three things, you’re way ahead of the game.
REST (LIKE, A LOT)
You’ve been through an incredible amount of pain and your brain has been going nonstop as you try to absorb your new way of life. Exhaustion beats you down daily. The only way to beat exhaustion back is to rest.
Notice I didn’t say sleep. I said rest. If you can sleep, great, but I know how elusive sleep can be during your most intense grief episodes. So if sleep eludes you, simply resting during the day can do wonders for your exhausted brain. When you’re dealing with managing widow brain, if you can only carve out five minutes a day, it’s better than nothing.
Make time to do something like:
- Lay on the couch and close your eyes for 5 minutes
- Light a candle and watch the flame for 5 minutes
- Put on a relaxation CD for 5 minutes
- Stare out the window for 5 minutes
- Pet your dog for 5 minutes
These simple things stop your brain from overload for a few minutes. It’s not voodoo mumbo-jumbo. It’s not like only people born in November or left-handed people can do it.
You can rest yourself and your brain if you just try. Stop multi-tasking for a measly five minutes a day. Longer if you can. But five minutes is a good place to start.
If you’re looking for permission to rest five minutes a day, I officially give you permission.
ACCEPT IT FOR WHAT IT IS
Forgetfulness, inability to complete tasks and irritability are all natural responses to grief. Accepting that you are doing the best you can with the resources you have will help you through the frustrating times.
No “fix” exists for getting through this period of your loss. It is what it is. Just move through your days reminding yourself that, in time, you will return to some semblance of normalcy. Whatever time and normal means to you.
It took me awhile to accept my widow brain. I don’t enjoy forgetting things.
Especially when I’m at the grocery store with my list and I come home without a certain item that was on the list. I wrote the item on the list. I looked at the item on list. But I came home without the item that was on the list.
Now I look at myself in the mirror and say, “I know you are doing the best you can.” I’ve accepted that I will suffer bouts of confusion and it’s OK. I can only do so much.
Acceptance is key. No one is perfect.
LAUGH IT OFF
It’s pretty funny when you think about it. When I look for my sunglasses that are perched on top of my head or look for the cell phone that I’m talking on, I have to laugh at the absurdity of it all. Humor can be found almost anywhere if you’re open to it.
The belly-laugh, pee-my-pants, funniest times in our house are when I’m yelling at the boys and I’m so mad I’m snorting like a bull and I’m trying to get my point across but I can’t find the words I want to say and it comes out like this:
“…and I TOLD you to clean your rooms and pick up your MESS and put away your dirty…um…uhh…errr…YOU KNOW…those things I told you to pick up 12 times…YOU KNOW WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT…those things you put on your feet!”
The boys look at me with heads cocked to the side and say, “uhh…you mean shoes?”
I continue my rant but inevitably break down into laughing fits because I couldn’t remember the name for shoes. Anyone reading this who isn’t a widow or hasn’t lost a spouse must think I’m stone-cold crazy.
But you widows know exactly what I mean. I hope you also laugh at yourself when you put your keys in the refrigerator or when you can’t think of the word shoes.
It’s pretty damn funny.
WIDOW WRAP UP
This widow journey is already full of heartache and pain and when your brain isn’t functioning at its optimal capacity, it’s frustrating as hell. When you can’t find the right words or you forgot an item on your grocery list, take a deep breath. You’re just having trouble managing widow brain.
You’re not incompetent. You are simply overwhelmed. There is a difference.
Rest when you can, accept your reality and laugh it off. If you can’t laugh about some the absurdity of it all, you are taking yourself way too seriously.
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