Widow Brain (aka Widow’s Fog or Griever’s Fog) is a REAL and TRUE phenomenon that occurs as a part of the grief journey.
There is more to widow brain than just sadness and loss that overwhelm a person’s thoughts on a daily basis. Griever’s Fog can occur, not just with widows, not just with grievers, but with anyone who has experienced trauma or significant loss.
- The brain is emotionally trying to make sense of the situation and process pain. An example of this is that feeling where everyone else is just moving on with their daily lives and all the griever can think about is how unimportant and pointless the day-to-day seems.
- The feeling of exhaustion, being drained of energy. This happens naturally because all energy is being spent trying to heal and process the pain of loss. This sometimes makes getting out of bed or off the couch feel like a challenge.
- Losing a spouse is a trauma. Trauma creates decreased memory function. This is a neurological occurrence. This is why a widow may be forgetful, or lose things (keys, phone) and may have a hard time making decisions (small or large).
With the grief and/or trauma, there is an actual hormonal disruption that occurs, this explains the symptoms a person who is grieving experiences, such as disturbed or loss of sleep, loss of appetite, increased fatigue, and increased anxiety.*
Speaking from experience, I found myself losing track of time, walking in to a room having no idea what I was in there for, forgetting to perform simple tasks, and even forgetting entire conversations that had taken place. My temper became short and I became easily frustrated. I actually diagnosed myself with Widow’s Aphasia. For the record, this is not a true affliction or diagnosis, this is something I made up, but accurately describes my increased inability to find or remember the right word or the correct phrases I am looking for in even a casual and relaxed conversation.
I have filled notebook after notebook with reminders and lists to help me remember and stay on track. If I do not write it down, it may not get done! My cell phone guides my life, with reminders, appointments, and shopping lists. I am fairly certain that Siri hates me.
I am sorry to say, while with time, my temper and memory have improved (the Widow’s Aphasia, not so much), the challenges have not completely gone away.
I do have some tips that have worked for me to deal with this phenomenon, a bit of parting advice:
- Write things down! I carry notebooks and take notes on my phone all the time.
- Chill out! (take a deep breath and relax, because it only worsens as frustration increases)
- Puzzles – I have done lots of puzzles to exercise my brain. (Crosswords, word puzzles, spacial shape games, number puzzles, even jigsaw puzzles)
- Mindless or near mindless hobbies that take your brain away from the stress. (I enjoy reading books, but flipping through a trashy magazine works too)
- And lastly, find the humor in it! (I can not place enough value on a good laugh?)
The whole concept of Widow’s Fog is not without merit. I believe this to be the body’s method of self-preservation. The brain is being protected from the overwhelming anguish and pain the griever would otherwise have to endure, kind of like pain medication for the brain. If you are the person experiencing “the fog” then know that it may go away after a few months, but will assuredly lessen over time. If you know someone who is experiencing loss, please be understanding, and have a healthy dose of patience.
*Jannel Phillips, PhD, Henry Ford Health System