Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Very Very Very Nice

I have discovered that one of the fallouts of grief is, shall we say, a certain degree of cognitive dysfunction.

I forget things. Lots of them and all kinds of them, and when I know I am supposed to remember them, my anxiety levels go sky high.

I have a final exam in one of my classes this term, and today I realized that I needed to ask my professor for some leeway. I probably just need a quiet room and the assurance that I can take extra time if I need it, but I wanted to warn him that I had a complete meltdown during a final last year (although I did well, I was completely unable to assess at the time whether what I was writing was anything close to what was being asked of us), that I have no way of predicting what will happen, and that if disaster strikes I might need an alternative course of action.

It will probably be all right. I got through Hebrew by taking my tests in a quiet room away from the rest of the class. But I just don't know. And while I didn't go into the details today, the fact is that most of my classes raise topics and issues that for me are swampy breeding grounds for PTSD.

My professor could not have been more gracious, which enables me to calm down considerably for the remaining four weeks of the quarter.

The Lovely Daughter suggested last night that I can be, ummmm, somewhat disdainful of how little people know about grief. (Me? Really? Sarcastic and disdainful? Is that possible?) "Did you know, Before, what you know now?" she asked. "Nope," I said.

One of the things I didn't know was that my brain cells would dissolve, or move around, or something. Whatever it is they do, it's not good, and it goes way beyond the usual midlife muddle. If you were reading my other blog a year ago, you know that I kept getting lost. (I have lived in the same city for over 30 years.) I'm much better now, but I do forget entire chunks of things, or I just find myself immobilized in the face of stress..

Sometimes I forget that it happens. In a class discussion on baptism last week, I managed to leave with maybe two seconds to spare before I burst into tears.

It's just one more thing: to know that in addition to all the things you have to deal with, you have to remember to be aware in advance of the possibility for emotional and mental mayhem when you do deal with them.

Anyway. It is very nice when other people simply take your word for it and try to help you out.


karen gerstenberger said...

Thank you for naming this. I thought it was menopause plus grief, but what you describe is so close to what I experience that maybe it's just grief.
I find that I canNOT multitask as I used to be able to do. I get stressed over things that never stessed me before, or more stressed than ever I used to do. Silly things, things that I know aren't a big deal...like having a lot of people over (45+ are coming tomorrow for tennis team banquet. I'm not doing all the cooking, but still...the details, you know?)
Interestingly, I was able to do whatever was necessary when Katie was sick, and it was complex and demanding (and then, stupefyingly dull, at times). But I think God's grace had a LOT to do with that...and the fact that hundreds of people were holding us in prayer. I don't know. But you are NOT alone.
One more thing: I graduated cum laude from college, so I was not an idiot in my former life. I am more compassionate about it now, but sometimes, I miss my smarts!

Heather said...

I find this same cognitive dysfuntion re-occurs even after all these years, at birthdays and anniversaries...my mind and heart are so absorbed with the intensity of the day or moment that I find it very difficult to be functional, as functional as I once was anyhow...

much love my friend x

Ruth Hull Chatlien said...

After I lost both brother and father in a 10-month span, I noticed the same cognitive loss. Not as intensely as you because the losses weren't of a nature to trigger PTSD, but it was quite noticeable for me. And you're right, it's one of the things that doesn't get acknowledged.

When I returned to work after one of the funerals (I can't even remember which one now), I discovered my managers had rescheduled a meeting in which I had to pin up the pages of the chapter I was editing and listen to 6 managers critique it for 90 minutes. It was now going to be held one hour after I got back to work. I went into my managers office and said, "THis sucks. It sucks big time." It didn't change the scheduling of the presentation, but I sure felt better for articulating my anger.

Anyway, all of that is to say that I'm so glad your professor is understanding.

Songbird said...

When I lost the baby, I saw things, by which I mean, I saw other women as pregnant, who were not. The whole world consisted of happily, successfully pregnant women. (Except that it didn't.)
I'm glad the professor responded helpfully.

Cynthia said...

I'm still going through the cognitive dysfunction. I forget things daily, and panic attacks happen regularly. There are times when I just get so overwhelmed that I feel paralyzed, and then I feel guilty because "I'm supposed to be further along than this." I used to sneer at the concept behind the movie about erasing memories because they're so painful (whose name I can't remember). Now, not so much.

Karen and Joe said...

Ditto to all of those symptoms. Precisely what we experience here at our house--both my husband and me feel that. I aged at least 10 years with the death of my son. I live in a halfway-world that I never knew existed--a blend of low doses of reality with an big effort made to keep any kind of pressure at a minimum. I honestly can't imagine taking either a final or putting on a tennis team banquet. Way out of the realm of possibility for me right now. I am just trying to be there for my daughters and their families, because I see stress fractures in every one of us.

Ahh, the things they don't tell you when you are being trained to counsel others...

Purple said...

The professor listened well...not all do. Kudos for you in asking for what would be helpful.