One of the most profound questions people ask me when first engaging in bereavement counselling: "Am I going mad?".
Not that I am qualified to say "yay" or "nay" to that question, because what is going mad anyway?
Whose opinion of madness I often wonder are the bereft measuring themselves against?
The death of someone we love is a devastating experience and grief involves many feelings such as numbness, shock, emotional and physical pain, longing, yearning, anger, guilt, sometimes shame, denial, we can feel blamed and blaming, disbelief, fear, frightened, insecure, vulnerability, feeling threatened, anxious, life feels meaningless, senseless and irrational.
We may see, hear, feel or sense the person who has died around us and our thoughts can be consumed with "if only" and "what ifs"; and we may have regrets of how we related to the person or of not visiting or seeing the person in those last few days or on the day they died.
All of this is a normal part of any grieving journey.
Death is unpredictable, the unknown and the unknowable, we may have lived with the imminent death of our loved one for days, months or even years if they suffered from a debilitating, terminal or life-shortening illness. We may have had years of living on edge full of anxiety or depression waiting... waiting for the inevitable to arrive. Or we may be thrown into a pit of hell, fire sucked under by an intense current when we hear of someone we love dying unexpectable; tragically and painfully, life unfair and cruel.
Grief mirrors the unpredictability of death, our grief is unknown to us in the beginning... we haven’t experienced the death of this loved one before so how can we know? What to do? How to think? How to feel? With the above in mind, it stands to reason that we can feel like we are going 'mad' once the initial shock and numbness begins to wear thin and emotions begin to surface, then the feeling of 'madness' can start to be a focus for the bereft person.
The intense mixed ball of emerging emotions can be surfacing all together in one fair swoop, like a tsunami overwhelming all our senses at once, breathing might be difficult as we can feel like we are drowning in our own changing emotional state.
Giving a person a deep sense they are going crazy because once emotions begin to surface they get washed away on the next tidal wave, stopping us getting ‘hold’ of them to discern what we are actually feeling or catch our thoughts to unravel them.
We can quickly feel out of control, powerless and helpless, crashing upon the rocks of uncertainty, indecision, ambiguity battling with the enigma that life, death and bereavement brings.
We stop eating, sleeping, stop functioning as we did before we heard of the death or we can become busy busy busy, in a bid to 'get away' or 'forget' our feelings.
If we can’t catch hold of our emotions, then it is difficult to make sense of them keeping the bereft person in a place of pain, confusion and disorientation; in this emotional state, we can feel empty, hollow as if we’ve abandoned our ship. Leaving us adrift, afloat unattached from our core self, feeling misplaced, absent without leave and in some cases we lose the sense of our identity.
All this is normal and in time will subside as we breathe into our emotions, learn the process of our personal grief and how to cope with how we are feeling.
Talking to others about how you feel and about the person who died, helps us to begin to accept what happened and helps us to process our feelings so we manage how we feel and take back control. This will lessen the pain and confusion.
Counselling can be of support if you are struggling to make sense of your feelings. A counsellor can shine a gentle light upon your emotions, help you separate feelings and thoughts and support you to make sense of your bereavement and pain for the loss of your loved one.