Fragmenting, disassociation, daydreaming, these are all words to describe the loss of time associated with trauma. I knew I would daydream and lose minutes, sometimes I would find myself lost in thought for hours.
My cell phone has this feature where it tells you how long you have been averaging using it daily. At first, I thought, this can’t be accurate. What have I been doing with my time? I will find myself reading or scrolling for hours, on my days off, lost down a rabbit hole with no real awareness of time.
I started looking at this phenomenon with other bloggers that write about different types of healing from trauma. Grief and loss don’t seem to get a pass on this strange coping strategy. At first, I had read about disassociation and daydreaming. It’s a way your brain takes you somewhere else as a coping mechanism. It’s like giving your brain a vacation from unpleasant things. With dissociation, you experience a detachment of your reality. It explains forgetting what you were just doing as you walk into the garage for something, why you forget if you just put conditioner in your hair, these short term memory losses seemed to be a common factor especially with other people in my online community experiencing some form of loss.
No one tells you this is a normal grief response, or that this is a common response to grief. I actually thought I was experiencing early onset of dementia. I mean I was really starting to worry. I was have been having word finding difficulty. My options seemed to be having a stroke, dementia, or just straight up losing it. Thankfully, I have spent some time around other mamas recently and we all seem to have some forms of working memory and loss of time issues. My online newfound friends and I joke about the pamphlet that we were never handed.
For instance, no one tells you that you won’t be able to eat, in the first few weeks, yet everyone you know will be trying to feed you. The best food is freezer food by the way. That way in a couple months when you can eat, or when you are wandering the house unable to sleep at 3 am and you are finally hungry, you have all that food that people brought you.
Lack of sleep or disruptive sleep is very common when people experience some form of trauma or loss. Lack of sleep only proliferates memory dysfunction in an already emotionally exhausted brain. My advice, get a sleeping aid. Again it should be handed out with that nonexistent pamphlet. I found an herbal one in a green bottle called Power Sleep, but if you aren’t sleeping, you’re going to have even a harder time focusing on the hear and now.
The other hippy-dippy practice is mindfulness. It’s kind of a buzz word, but the only way it really works for me is to say things I am doing either out loud or in my head such as, “I am hanging my keys on the hook.” It sounds funny, but when you are constantly unable to find anything you own because you are often daydreaming about other things, or interrupted constantly with thoughts of your lost loved one, talking out loud to yourself is the only real solution. This is called mindfulness but basically, it’s acknowledging what you are doing when you are doing it.
My recent revelation has been the complete folding over of time. I kept getting notifications for an appointment I am behind on over a year on and it was blowing my mind. For instance, I recently have been notified it has been over two years for my mammogram. When I got the notification I thought that was last year. Wasn’t it? Then I received facebook notifications for things that supposedly happened two years ago. I realized the last year of my life has been a complete blur. It will be exactly one year tomorrow since I lost my daughter. The entire year feels like a heartbeat. It’s like the year was folded over in a time warp. We went from 1/31/17 to 1/31/19 in my mind. Talking to others that have gone through similar experiences and they seem to also have lost time. In some ways, it seems time had just stood still.
Tomorrow there’s not much I haven’t thought about doing. I took the day off, I bought a tree to plant, I have a tattoo scheduled for all my daughter’s birth flowers, and we have a balloon release planned. I think about how competitive my daughter was and of course, hope she is observing from heaven and somewhat impressed. There’s not much else I can do. I cannot turn back the hands of time and make this day different. I will have to live through this calendar day for the rest of my life and come to terms for what it means to me and my family.
The spine doctor yesterday asked me what I do to relax. Honestly, that is a good question. He explained that the sympathetic nervous system tightens muscles in your neck and back with stress hormones. He was saying how you can actually cut out a sympathetic nervous system. My horrible sense of humor wondered if he could cut out mine. He then offered acupuncture and I told him I could think of nothing more horrible than to be stuck with needles and then told to hold still while left alone for 30 minutes in a dark room unable to move. He looked at me slightly sideways when I said that but offered me some weird neck collar to sleep in instead. I busted up laughing because of the image in my head. My dentist had offered a night guard because stress has me grinding my teeth at night. The rheumatologist suggested I wear wrist splints to keep me from bending my wrists at night when I’m having a flare. Now the spine doctor wanted me to wear a neck collar to keep my neck in alignments. My grief counselor would like me to get adequate sleep. I’m sure I could add some snore strips across my nose to complete the picture!
My friend that traveled home with me last year from Peru is back in Peru this year. I cannot look at the pictures without feeling the pain from those moments. She told me the locker room where I received the news feels like the place someone has passed. The truth is that the locker room is the place where I walked in and left a different person. The person before never came back out of that room. Because of the way time has seemed to not pass but also passed quickly, the mission trip feels like yesterday.
I have pieced myself together like Coraline, with button eyes. I am like a burn victim with skin grafts healed and scarred. When I look in the mirror I see a remnant of the person I used to be. I have seen this look in the eyes of others and now I recognize it in myself. It is a look you cannot paint or take a picture of. It is a look of pain, of weathered eyes, of a little less sparkle. It is a look that is oceans deep and undefinable.
Bottom line I have come to terms with the person I now am. I am battle scarred, I am somewhat at a loss for words at times, and I wander into rooms not knowing what I came there for. Time has played its trick on me and I am don’t always have a sense of it. The person I was though was not always as empathetic, I was somewhat naive to suffering. The person I am today loves a bit more fiercely, sees value now in what others see as worthless, and I find meaning in things that others see as meaningless. In a sense, I have myself become timeless.