Grief Is Like A Concussion

For someone who hasn’t experienced grief it is tough to get a handle on what it is like to go through.

Astounding is the amount of pain you can feel and the lack of control you have over it at times. Science covers it – the experience of grief is chemical and it is dynamic in both time and make-up such that you experience different things at different times and the interval between the spontaneous grief moments is random. You cannot expect a linear recovery when a loved on dies. Some moments will be filled with a paralyzing sadness, then you may feel a wave of guilt followed by laughing. Your wit can be sharp and draw out the humor of the situation then you can seems to chew on your words unsure of what they mean and why you are saying them. Healing from it is not like the recovery from a broken leg.

Healing from grief is like healing from a concussion as the symptoms and nature of the injury are very similar. With head trauma, the brain has been injured changing mental function and forcing recovery / adaption. With grief, mental functioning has been changed forcing adaption and an enormous revision of your world view. In both cases, other people can’t see the injury and both are all in your head.

The experience of a concussion isn’t nice. You feel wrong and dumb. There’s something missing from the way you think, it’s slower, not as sharp and the spontaneous answers seem grid-locked inside a haze. Emotionally you’re fine, then you’re crying wanting everything to be over, then the mania or elation, followed by being fine….It is crazy behavior. It feels real enough as all of it happens, but during the fine times the lows don’t seem possible.

The part of the reason why I find healing from grief so unpleasant because the pain is coming from inside me and in an ongoing way. With a traumatic body injury, a broken leg for example, there is a linear improvement once the injury has been stabilized. With grief, months later the pain can feel as fresh as the moment when you first heard the news.

Someone could get good at the grief process because it is a skill. There’s a way to manage it that reduces the stress to those around you while letting you continue to be fairly productive. But as processes go, it is one with no clear end point. Flesh and bone heal in 2-3 months, the brain recovers when all of the old functionality has been restored through reorganization and rewiring.