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"Am I Going Crazy?"

"What is unusual in life is often times usual in grief." - Alan Wolfelt

If you are currently walking through your grief journey, or when you do reach that inevitable path, at some point you will more than likely wonder if what you're experiencing is normal. You will likely question whether your experiences make you "crazy" or not. I want to reassure you:

  1. YOU ARE NOT CRAZY!

  2. You are not alone in these feelings/doubts

As Alan Wolfelt states in the quote kicking off this blog article, if something feels unusual while grieving it's likely a common and natural response to grief. So what are some of these experiences that leave people questioning their level of sanity while grieving? There are a wide range of experiences and they can vary from person-to-person. Below, are the top 5 experiences I hear most from my clients when they communicate that question of "am I going crazy?" For more potential experiences, check out the book resource provided at the end of this blog.


Top 5 Common Unusual (and yet complete natural) Grief Experiences:

  1. Time Distortion

  2. Self-Focus

  3. Re-thinking & Re-telling the Story

  4. Sudden Changes in Mood

  5. Grief Attacks or Griefbursts

Time Distortion

"I don't know what day it is anymore?"; "It's like I've lost all track of time."

While these experiences can feel unusual and concerning outside of grief, they are most definitely common while grieving. Time distortion can show up in many different ways: time goes too fast, time feels as though it's standing still, "past and future also may seem to be frozen in place." (Wolfelt, 2003). The inability to keep track of time is a common experience in grief, particularly during the first few days or weeks following the loss. One way to help navigate the overwhelming feeling time distortion can bring on is through taking one day at a time. Some may condense it down further and focus on one hour at a time.


Real Reflections:

In breaking your time down to a day-by-day or hour-by-hour structure, what do you need today or within this hour? What is or is not serving you today or in this hour?


Self-Focus

"I feel bad but I just don't have the energy to care for other people right now."

In my time guiding individuals through their grief journey, the inability to attend to others' needs following the death of a loved one is the experience paired with the most distress. Clients often wonder, "How awful is it that I just don't care?" or "I don't have the energy to maintain relationships?" If you, yourself, are having these thoughts, I want to encourage you to utilize them as a gentle nudge to focus on yourself. Grieving is a natural response that requires self-focus as it allows you to "integrate your grief." (Wolfelt, 2003) into your daily life. Self-focus allows you to know what you need throughout your grief journey, allowing you to get back to a place where you can attend to others' needs.


Real Reflections:

How can you allow more time and space for yourself during this transformative time?


Re-thinking & Re-telling the Story

"I keep replaying it all in my head over and over."

When we lose a loved one, often times, we'll find ourselves replaying various moments of our loved one's passing: the moment we heard the news, the last moment we had with our loved one, or other circumstances surrounding the passing. This experience may also manifest as a desire to share our story with others or talk about it frequently....this is healthy! Dr. Alan Wolfelt identifies this process as "telling the story" (Wolfelt, 2003).

As we walk through our grief journey, it's encouraged to outwardly express our grief; a way to do that is through "telling the story". Whether that be with trusted friends and family, a support group, or a licensed grief counselor; in telling our story, we begin to make sense of our loss and integrate it into our lives.


Real Reflections:

How might you want to "tell the story"? Who would you like to "tell the story" to?


Sudden Changes in Mood

"I feel so unstable. I don't get it. I'm fine one minute and the next I'm crying uncontrollably."

It's not uncommon and you're not crazy for experiencing a flux in emotions while walking through your grief journey. Even in the times when they seem very drastic. The sudden mood changes can be triggered by a specific event, place, song, etc. or can occur randomly. While these can be difficult to manage, they are 100% natural and can be navigated with coping and grounding skills. Begin building your grounding tool box here: https://fullcirclegc.org/2020/09/16/conversations-about-grief-grounding-techniques-for-grieving-adults/


Real Reflections:

What grounding technique will you try in the next event you experience a sudden mood change?


Grief Attacks or Griefbursts

These experiences really speak to those sudden mood changes we just talked about; the ones that leave individuals wondering, "What happened? I was fine a minute ago and then started crying out of nowhere." Dr. Alan Wolfelt refers to these experiences as "griefbursts" (another term used is grief attacks) which are defined as "a sudden, sharp feeling of grief that can cause anxiety and panic." (Wolfelt, 2003). When these bursts/attacks occur, a wide range of emotions can be experienced and memories recalled; leaving us feeling "crazy". In these moments, I encourage you to show yourself grace and accept the burst; in denying the burst, we are denying our right to grieve.


Real Reflections:

In times of griefbursts/attacks, how can you give yourself grace and accept the experience?


Grief is an inevitable and challenging experience. In times of doubt, remember "what is unusual in life is often times usual in grief." - Alan Wolfelt.


Here's to living a better life as your best self.

Brittany Squillace, MA, LMFT


References:

Wolfelt, A. (2003). Understanding Your Grief: Ten Essential Touchstones for Finding Hope and Healing Your Heart. Companion Press.

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