Utter confusion after loss

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

I had a very long 5 year relationship from the time I was 17 until May of 2009 when he chose to leave me and move . I was devastated and lost but managed to make it through the first few months okay… I began a new relationship and things seemed alright but starting in June I began feeling odd, the first really bizarre event for me was an incredibly strong and entirely impossible sensation of De Ja Vu that struck me in a situation that could never have happened before but I truly felt like it had happened at least three times.
I was with my Mother and a friend when it happened and afterward I even tried to convince them that it had happened before… we were all in the same positions, doing the exact same things and I heard my friend say the exact same thing in all three memories and I briefly felt like if I could’ve extended that feeling that I would’ve been able to see what happened next as well but I came back to reality and couldn’t even remember what it was my friend had said that sparked the whole thing and they both assured me it was impossible that it could’ve ever happened before. Not even close.
After that I began having memory troubles all the time, I would forget words, names, what I was saying… anything and everything daily… it was impossible for me to tell a story because I always forgot what happened next and people got frustrated with me trying to talk and always losing my place.
I was doing babysitting for my Sister and I would lose hours… I would be watching the kids and the next moment I would snap back to reality and not know where they were.I’d leap to my feet and typically find the little one playing in his room while a fuzzy and foggy memory of granting permission for the eldest to leave would float back to me… I’d recall very vaguely telling him he could go somewhere but I’d completely forgotten where he said he was going and when he said he’d be back… this and several similar instances happened on multiple occasions and I had no idea what was going on with me…
Also notable was around that time my behavior changed drastically, I began lying and shoplifting and staying out all night, it was very careless behavior. I began having panic attacks and felt like I was walking around in a haze of confusion all the time. Perhaps as if things were going on and I wasn’t really doing it or controlling it but just watching it…
I would do things and go entire days where half the time I’d wake up with nothing but vague, fuzzy recollections of these actions to point where I wasn’t even sure they really happened or how I’d gotten home…
I could still see them and see myself doing them but it was like I just wasn’t there. Now I have been having a different type of memory problem where people will say I did something or said something and I will have no memory of it what so ever. Usually brief actions like for example my brother had asked me for a hug but I was busy and a few minutes later he walked by me and I hugged him and said “There is that hug you asked for.” and he replied “But I already hugged you… just a few minutes ago… when I walked passed you the first time, remember?”
I was shocked because I couldn’t remember that at all.
On top of all of that my anxiety and panic have gotten so much worse this past year, I now have multiples a week and intense anxiety that almost never leaves me. There were also a few instances where I may have been hallucinating or maybe it was some sort of neurological symptom, I’m just not sure… but last January I had the sensation that cold water was dripping on my head for every second of every minute of every day for an entire week. I also had a moment where I was staring in the mirror and brushing my hair, I noticed my pupils getting bigger and smaller and bigger and smaller repeatedly and it scared me so I turned around to face away from the mirror but then this glowing blue tadpole like entity was floating to my upper right and it felt like it was me… staring at me, staring back at myself…
My nervousness is so unmanageable now that I am ill feeling almost all the time and I so afraid of what may be wrong with me… any suggestions or advice would be greatly appreciated.
By the way I am in therapy and my therapist thinks my biggest problem is just Anxiety, she thinks everything else will go away when I get on medication for my Anxiety… but I am not sure she is right, I just think it’s odd how all of this started.
I also heard a voice once, but only once and told myself it wasn’t real and moved on, despite it’s creepiness, I let it go… and the only thing the voice said was my name, that was all.
I have deep dependency issues but I always have and one of the scariest things for me is just trying to go to sleep… for a year I slept on my parents couch and had my mom stay awake until I was asleep so I wasn’t alone… but keeping in mind I hadn’t slept alone in five years so I wasn’t used to it… It’s still scary but I now manage to sleep in my room by myself.
What do you think?

A: I’m very, very sorry that you have been in such distress for over a year. It must be both confusing and scary. I think your therapist may be right about the diagnosis of some sort of anxiety disorder. It’s possible that some of what is going on is dissociation — separating yourself from a reality you find painful. One of the wonders of the human mind is its ability to check out when things become so overwhelming that the person’s mental health is threatened. But what starts out as a survival mechanism can become another problem. Talk to your therapist about whether she/he thinks this may be true in your case.

I hope you have told your therapist everything you have shared with me. If not, please take your letter to the next session. You wrote an articulate and detailed summary of your thoughts and feelings that she may find helpful in understanding the level of your emotional pain.

Do consider taking an anti-anxiety medication at least for a few months to see if it is helpful. I also strongly suggest that you continue your therapy to develop stronger coping skills. It sounds like you need more confidence in your ability to handle the hard things that are an inevitable part of life. Continuing therapy will also let your therapist monitor the effectiveness of the medication so that she or he can collaborate effectively with your prescriber.

One other suggestion: If you haven’t had a complete physical checkup in the last couple of years, do make an appointment with your primary care physician. There are many medical problems that look like anxiety or that can make the symptoms of anxiety much worse. If your doctor thinks there may be a neurological problem that is contributing to your symptoms, he or she can make a referral to a neurologist for some testing. It’s only smart to get a medical clean bill of health before deciding that all your problems are psychological.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Dec 2010

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2010). Utter confusion after loss. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 24, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2010/12/30/utter-confusion-after-loss/