Tuesday, February 3, 2015

My Biggest Trigger

It makes me uncomfortable to talk about my struggles sometimes because it feels like I'm broadcasting my flaws and I want so badly to seem like I am doing okay.  When I thought about posting on this subject, I didn't want anyone to think that I have "emotional problems" which is sometimes how I feel when I deal with my biggest trigger. But then I thought about the person who may have just lost their loved one and stumbles upon my blog, I thought of that person and what he or she may be feeling, and I changed my mind.  I'll share it.  I'll share whatever I can to help someone who is in so much pain and wondering if they are losing their mind. 

Here's my biggest grief trigger: feeling like things are out of control in my life.

Not long into my grief journey, I read a book about what trauma does to the brain.  I can't remember the name of the book, or much else about it, but I do know that the main message I got from it. The book explained that when a person is traumatized, the brain takes kind of a "snapshot" of what all is happening at the time. It is a brain's mechanism for self preservation.

Let's imagine you just wandered out of your cave with your fellow cavewoman and she gets attacked by a lion. The brain takes this snapshot to remind you of important details like where you were, what you were wearing, what smells and sounds you experienced, to help you make sure you don't walk to the same place and do the same things and get eaten by a lion yourself.  The brain works overtime in these situations and says, "DANGER! REMEMBER ALL OF THIS SO IT DOES NOT HAPPEN AGAIN!"

It's the reason that some people might have a hard time wearing the same shirt they were wearing the day their mom died.  Or someone might not want to drive down that road where they were in an accident.  Or someone can't eat pudding anymore because they were eating pudding when they got the phone call that their husband had a heart attack and died.

At the time of Sue's death, my life felt like it was spiraling out of control in a lot of areas.  My husband had lost his job, our finances were a huge source of stress, and of course there was nothing I could do to save my sister's life.  When my brain took the snapshot on the day that Sue died, it wanted me to remember that I was feeling out of control in almost every area.  And because my brain is not perfect, it has made the connection that feeling out of control = somebody is going to die or is already dead.

So now that I know and understand all this, I should be able to figure out why I've locked myself in my bedroom, sobbing, during the second consecutive snow day, right?  No. You see, it's not just the snow day. First there was the furnace breaking down on Thursday, which meant I couldn't do anything I had planned to do because I had to drop everything to wait for someone to repair it.  Then on Friday Sam called home because he had a sore throat and I needed to drop everything and take care of him.  Then came a busy weekend, followed by a snow day a home with the kids, followed by another snow day with the kids.  There is now a pattern established in my mind that I cannot accomplish anything I would normally do. I put everything on hold for days to take care of the needs of everybody else.  I'm not complaining, this is my job and what I have chosen for my life, I'm just saying that when things spiral out of my control (or what feels like out of my control) I panic. And sometimes it takes me a long time to figure out why I feel so awful.

My brain is sounding alarms all over the place telling me that if I don't regain control, somebody is going to die.

There it is, my biggest trigger. I become panicked, sad, weepy, cranky, and fearful at these times. The best part is that I understand what is happening and why.  The worst part is that it doesn't seem to help much. I white-knuckle my way through these times and repeat to myself that a normal day is right on the horizon.

I'll make it though, but this is a difficult part of grief.


  1. I get where you're coming from in the aspect that I like to be consistent and be functioning with a plan- and when someone/something throws a wrench into my plan/consistency then I panic- like I don't know how to function until I have time to 'process' it and compartmentalize it all... I am very aware of all this but I seem unable to change it/deal when it's happening. With that being said, I hope that you find a way to cope that works for you, and always remember that I am here if you need me.

    1. Aw, Becky, so sorry that you struggle with this too. It is so hard to change what your brain wants to do! Thanks for commenting, thanks for reading, and thanks for your support.

  2. You are one courageous cave woman! Good for you for learning when to go into your cave and expend the emotion and tension and then to regroup and emerge ready to

  3. Kill or evade the lion, and live your life the best that you can. Thanks for being vulnerable and sharing. I am sure that it will help many of us.

  4. I'm so glad you're writing again, I have been missing your posts. I love all of them - happy, sad, soul-searching, whatever it is. Thanks for putting stuff into perspective in that wonderful way you do! Hug hug hug