The physical side of grief

The process of grieving and mourning is really starting to wreak havoc on my physical being. This, in turn, intensifies some of the mental and emotional turmoil I’m going through, which, in turn again, adds even further to the degradation of my physical being. And therein lays the problem.

Note: This post was originally shared on my “widowhood” blog, “Frances 3.0: Still in Beta”.

Many of the physical side effects of my grief come down to the lack of two basic physical needs: sleep and proper nutrition. I am not completely lacking in the basic requirements for human survival, but I am suffering just enough of a deficiency of these physical needs to be experiencing a negative effect on the remaining human needs outlined in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

I haven’t had a peaceful night’s sleep since Paul died. I’m certain it is directly related to the fact that I was woken from an otherwise peaceful sleep and entered immediately into a living nightmare that night. Since then I sleep very lightly – the slightest noise has me awake, alert, and worried; sometimes I’m jolted to consciousness because of a nightmare or bad dream. I spend the night tossing and turning and by morning I am so exhausted that I can barely open my eyes.

Dark circles surround my tired-looking eyes. I can’t stop yawning. No amount of caffeine will make these problems go away. Because of my exhaustion, I find it hard to concentrate. I can’t remember so many basic things, and I can’t think through simple tasks.

In the early days after Paul’s death, I couldn’t eat. I nibbled on a bit of dry toast here-and-there but didn’t eat more than a couple of bites of anything for several days. It was probably two weeks before I ate anything that could be construed as a meal. I’ve lost about 15 pounds; the first 10 were lost in the first month. When it all began my body weight was in a healthy range; I am now at the very end of that range and if I lose five more pounds I will be clinically underweight. Most days I can eat enough to maintain this weight but am often teetering on the line of not eating enough.

I’ve gone from eating a diet full of fresh fruits and vegetables where I’d cook nearly everything from scratch (“If it’s in a box or a can, it’s not really food” was our view) to eating only foods that can be eaten with little or no preparation – in a microwave. My once low-sodium diet has been pushed to the side for sodium-laden TV dinners and Cup-o-Noodles.

My body is lacking in important vitamins and minerals which is causing my hair to thin and my nails to become brittle. My skin is dry, my cheeks are sunken, and my once skin-obscured bones are evident even when covered by clothing. [I am working on my diet and nutrition issues with medical professionals and have started taking a daily multivitamin.]

As my physical being continues to deteriorate and my exhaustion increases, I find myself becoming more and more frustrated with everything around me. My brain can’t process the information around me and I am so physically weak that I become extremely sensitive to everything.

Eventually, the frustration and sensitivity give way and I can’t function as a rational being. And each new thing that gets added to the pile makes me that much more fragile until I am finally having a meltdown over what seems to be nothing – but really it’s just the metaphorical straw that broke the metaphorical camel’s back. And because to an outsider they only see that final straw, my tears seem very uncalled for and hysterical, which just adds to the volatility of it all.

And once I’ve started sobbing uncontrollably because of some random thing that some random person did (or didn’t do) my mind turns to what’s really upsetting me: how very much I miss Paul. It’s at that time that I start grieving heavily and it’s at that time that I really need the security of the remaining needs that Maslow outlined: safety; socialization; self-esteem; and self-actualization. Of course, Paul was the one who helped me satisfy the rest of those needs.

I know that in time my physical needs will be met with more consistency. And I know that slowly the other needs will be met and I will be mentally and physically strong once again. In the meantime, I will try to eat better and will hope that a peaceful night’s sleep will find its way to my weary soul.

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