Everyone knows what “baby brain” is, but what about grief brain?
I had never heard of it and found myself questioning if in fact I had completely lost my marbles after our baby died. I knew my heart was broken but was my brain as well?
Yes I knew I’d be completely devastated. But disoriented? Trouble following a conversation? Unable to remember pretty much anything?
Maybe it was my severe struggles with sleeping.
Maybe my brain just didn’t have the capacity to concentrate on anything other than making my shattered heart continue to beat.
Maybe every part of me was simply broken.
Then a fellow bereaved mummy asked me
Do you have trouble remembering basic things every day?
“YES! Every bloody thing!”
She told me there’s a thing called ‘grief brain’. It was a real, scientifically studied normal experience caused by the impact grief and trauma has on your brain.
There it was.
Reassurance. Connection. Relief.
She told me she had to leave herself notes to remind herself to eat. I told her how I’d turn the car around most days to recheck I’d locked the door unable to recall any memory of doing so. Don’t get me started on how many times I’d check if I’d blown out that candle.
Sometimes I struggled to follow conversations or participate in them.
A lot of the times I couldn’t recall the details of what was told to me even though I made sure I was actively listening. I often said to friends and family “I promise I’m listening properly I just can’t remember things”.
I missed parties and school dates.
Bills were overdue and school notes returned late.
I could no longer multitask, something I used to pride myself in being able to do very well.
I bought a novel, the first one in years as a self care effort but never made it past the first chapter re-reading many sentences twice then cracking the shits at it because I just couldn’t concentrate. What the hell is wrong with me? I asked. I have a science degree and ran my own business for 8 years but I can’t read a book??
It took forever to do normal paperwork with my business, things that shouldn’t take hardly any time, things I had been doing for years.
Baking fails occurred because I didn’t add the eggs in.
Small tasks felt like a massive ones, as if vacuuming was renovating our house.
I could no longer handle stress or pressure when I used to thrive on it.
I hated making decisions down to what I ordered for lunch. It was almost comical when I would meet up with another bereaved mumma and we’d spend so much time saying “you decide” to where we’d meet then even more time trying to make a decision to have toast or pancakes.
My husband was just as bad. Together we were pretty much useless in remembering anything. Most of our conversations started with “did I tell you …” that was answered with “probably, but I can’t remember”.
I bought note pads and diaries but it often didn’t help as I forgot to write in them or read them after i had, or kept thinking “I’ll remember to do that”.
I hated that I went from a capable fierce woman to feeling useless and incompetent. I hated that I lost the feeling and belief that i could take on the world and anything thrown at me, instead I often felt like I was drowning.
It wasn’t until I talked to other Mummy’s with angels that I realised how common these things were. We complained and laughed about our grief brains. We swapped stories that mirrored our own. It was normal and it was ok. I wasn’t crazy. It wasn’t just in my head, it was actually in my brain. My brain wasn’t completely broken, it was adjusting and dealing with something life shattering. Grief doesn’t just hit you emotionally but physiologically as well.
I made room and adjustments for my new deficiencies and made sure I surrounded myself with understanding and patient people. I treated myself with gentleness and stopped trying to force it back to its former glory.
Slowly it started to get better and easier. I know for sure that my heart will never fully heal but I’m hopeful that maybe at least my brain will for the most part. Eventually.
I attempted the novel thing again while on holidays a couple of weeks ago. Lo and behold, I read the whole thing and absolutely loved it. Who would have thought this seemingly small thing would feel like such a feat. I was so happy to regain the entertainment and joy it brought me and was so proud of the achievement that I just HAD to mention it as worthy news to some mummas who understood exactly what it meant.
This is a great quick article on grief brain –