Losing my daughter has changed the way I think.
I don’t just mean my perspective on life has changed, I mean the actual cognitive process of thinking.
I have grief brain.
Grief brain is what happens to your exhausted mind after the loss of a loved one.
I’m not sure how much scientific evidence there is to back it up, but I’ve read plenty of anecdotal accounts to know that it’s a thing.
For me, grief brain settled in after the stillbirth of my daughter.
At first, I thought my memory lapses and my inattentiveness could be chalked up to the exhaustion of experiencing a stillbirth.
It seemed normal that I would have a tricky time remembering when to take my medications and keep track of appointments.
A complicated medical situation was new for me and I had also just delivered a baby.
Anyone in my situation would feel confused.
But, as my physical condition improved, I noticed that the fog didn’t seem to be lifting from my brain.
So, I figured it must be exhaustion.
After three months, and plenty of sleep, I came to wonder if this was something more.
This cloudy, scattered brain seemed to be a symptom of my grief.
I began to do some research.
If this was a thing that grievers experienced, then surely there were others who could relate.
My assumptions were right.
There were people out there who wrote about their experience with grief brain.
They described exactly what I was feeling–a brain so overcome with emotion that there was little space left to function in the everyday world.
There it was. It wasn’t great news, but it was validating.
It reminded me of the way I felt when I first read another woman’s stillbirth story.
I no longer felt broken and damaged.
Instead, I felt a sense of comfort from knowing I wasn’t alone in this.
It’s been over two years since my daughter was stillborn and my grief brain seems like it’s here to stay.
Maybe time will help some more of the fog to lift, but in the meantime, I still struggle with my short-term memory.
I have difficulty staying in a conversation without drifting off.
I often find myself forgetting the words for everyday items.
It’s incredibly frustrating.
Living with grief brain is not impossible, but it requires some extra thought.
(A cruel irony for a brain that is already overworked.)
Here are some of the things I do to help me function with my poor, overworked grief brain:
Let others know what’s going on.
By letting them know you’re aware of the changes in your thinking and memory, it can allow them to be open to helping you when they see you struggle.
Write things down.
Use your phone, a notebook, or sticky notes.
Come up with a system and write down everything that is prone to slipping away.
Jot down grocery lists, names of new people you’ve met, even the words to that song you just can’t get out of your head.
Writing these things down gives them a place to settle and gives your brain a break.
In our world, we’ve become accustomed to saving time and doing multiple tasks at once.
In my experience with grief brain, I find more consistent success when I focus on one task at a time.
If you know a task is going to require greater concentration, try to be mindful of the environment you’re working in.
Drinking more water really helps me when I’m feeling extra foggy.
Maybe it’s a placebo effect, but being hydrated is never a bad thing.
Your brain is tired. Treat it well. Take time to rest and nourish your brain.
Find activities like coloring or meditation that give your brain a chance to focus on one thing so it can recuperate.
Be gentle with yourself.
Give yourself grace.
Accept that you will make mistakes.
Remember that you are constantly doing the incredibly important work of loving and grieving your child.
Sometimes that job leaves little room for anything else.
Oddly enough, grief brain makes sense to me.
Losing my daughter sent my heart into overdrive leaving it battered and tired.
Why would my brain fare any differently?
Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash
Rachel Whalen is a mother, wife, and Kindergarten teacher from Barre, Vermont. Her life’s work is to keep the memory of her daughter, Dorothy, alive through words both spoken and written. Rachel shares her family’s journey through loss and all that has come after on her blog: An Unexpected Family Outing.