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Is This Grief or an Underlying Psychological Issue?

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From Spain: My husband died 16 months ago from cancer. We had only been married 9 months, and without going into details, we had little support, and the course of the disease was particularly atypical and rare, leading to greater stress.

In the following year I experience significant amounts of elation, belief that everything was now going to be ok, etc. punctuated with extreme sadness/grief/loss. Additionally, my husband had a different nationality, so I have been in a foreign country and matters regarding the estate passing to me are still unresolved. I can’t legally get a job. However, thanks to life insurance and a recent inheritance, I have enough money to live off of.

Though I’m unemployed, I can’t seem to stay on top of house cleaning, its an absolute mess. When I’m particularly upset, I can lay in bed for up to 6 hours before getting up, to go down the street to by coca cola and fries as a meal. I’ve put on 10 pounds in the last year.

Whenever I decide to clean and reorganize, things seem to only get messier. I struggle to get rid of things I know I don’t want.

Any small negative event can set me off, a friend or boyfriend canceling plans, traffic, etc. and I am crying and/or ready to give up.

I have DIY/art projects I want to work on, and know I will regret not better using this free time, but I can’t seem to start and/or finish them even though I enjoy being creative normally.

I’ve applied to PhD programs (I have a masters) and applied for jobs but nothing has worked out.

I felt so much support from friends in the months after my husband died (contributing to my feeling that everything would be ok) but they have become more distant, and close friends are now preoccupied with new relationships, etc.

Sometimes I think I am lazy and a failure. I don’t know if I am using the death of my husband as an excuse for this behavior, if this is a normal reaction to a stressful situation, or if I have an underlying psychological condition exacerbated by life circumstances.

I had depressive tendencies before meeting my husband, but did not have the random crying/sudden intense sadness.

Every day feels like a struggle, and at best I have a good couple of days before a relapse.

Is This Grief or an Underlying Psychological Issue?

Answered by on -

A.

Without knowing you, I can’t give you a definite answer to your question about diagnosis, of course. But my sense from your letter is that you are suffering normal bereavement, not depression. That isn’t to say that you can’t be depressed, too. It’s possible for both to be going on at the same time. But 16 months isn’t an unreasonable time to be grieving such a devastating loss.

I am worried that you expect too much of yourself, adding guilt to the grief. I’m also concerned that you are mistreating your body with bad food and irregular sleep. That is only going to contribute to how awful you feel.

It doesn’t surprise me that friends are distancing. It isn’t because they are uncaring. They aren’t experiencing the loss in the way you are. You not only lost your husband. You also lost the future you thought you had. Your life is in upheaval as well due to being in a different country and unable to find work or to settle his estate. If you feel like you are in some kind of “limbo”, it’s an accurate perception. You are.

My suggestion: Give yourself a break. Set smaller goals. Rather than trying to clean the whole house, just do a small task a day. Set aside a specific time each day — maybe an hour or two — to think (perhaps write) about your husband and what you have lost. Let yourself really focus on it. If you find yourself thinking about it at other times of the day, stop and remind yourself that you have a time for that. This is called “compartmentalizing”. You are giving your grief a time each day to feel it fully so you can put it aside for the rest of the day.

Get yourself up and dressed at a reasonable time each day even though you don’t feel like it. Make yourself at least one decent meal a day. If you treat yourself better, you will begin to feel better.

Time does heal. But it does take time. I send my sympathy and my assurance that things will get better.

I wish you well.
D. Marie

Is This Grief or an Underlying Psychological Issue?

Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

Dr. Marie is licensed as both a psychologist and marriage and family counselor. She specializes in couples and family therapy and parent education. Follow her on Facebook or Twitter.

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2018). Is This Grief or an Underlying Psychological Issue?. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 22, 2019, from https://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2015/06/05/is-this-grief-or-an-underlying-psychological-issue/
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 May 2018 (Originally: 5 Jun 2015)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 May 2018
Published on Psych Central.com. All rights reserved.