The physical pains of grief

It’s been a while since I posted about my reluctant but important decision to take antidepressant (or rather anti-anxiety) medication. I have taken a break from writing for a while, to let life settle and see what comes of this new course of treatment. While at first the medicine seemed to exacerbate my symptoms, they did eventually settle and I began to feel much better – clearer in my head, more able to plan and focus on tasks. My anxiety symptoms not dissolved but greatly improved.

It was in fact a couple of months after starting the tablets that I discovered I was pregnant again – a side effect that certainly wasn’t on the instructions! It was both a shock and a worry at first, I can’t deny. Having been through so much and my mental health just about improving, and feeling stronger, I was worried I wouldn’t be able to cope with the emotional and physical demands that pregnancy inevitably brings. Worry upon worry upon worry.

But you know, when I’d got used to the idea, I realised this was an opportunity to celebrate. I’m now delighted to be expecting again – and while I have only natural concerns about managing a toddler and a newborn (again), I know these are just hurdles we’ll get through as a family, just like every other time. I don’t want to spend this pregnancy in fear of the worst, and dark thoughts do creep in from time to time, but I work hard to push them away. To keep my mind healthy I must do this with a strong attitude and remember that worrying won’t change anything. I have experienced already the worst imaginable losses for any mother, I feel ready for whatever is to come.

In saying all that, I still have to take a very low dose of my medication, and I was relieved that the doctors were keen to ‘look after mum first’ as I went into ‘maternal mode’ and was scared about harming my unborn child if I was taking these drugs. It showed me just how important it is that pregnant women and new mums are given support in this area. Thankfully, my low dose means my baby should be unaffected but there are risks with anything. However, so far so good.

So, this probably explains my absence from the blog. I can only focus on so much and needed every ounce to get me through the worrying first few months (not least the exhaustion!). Now I’m into the second trimester, we are all excited and I feel I can breathe out and enjoy it as much as I can.

But, the other day I was inspired to write this as I cleaned up our bedroom. Both our bedside cabinets contained various medicines and I gathered them up and took a picture.


The array of medicines and treatments struck me. This is what the physical side of grief looks like – for both of us.

Medicines for aches and pains, digestion, wellness, tired eyes, broken minds…

…this is the disease that is grief.

We never used to religiously take vitamins and minerals. We only took a painkiller when absolutely necessary. We didn’t need drugs to soothe our minds.

I’m not saying life was perfect before we lost Abi. We’ve had various things to contend with over the years, that required various medicines, but it was hard to ignore what I saw before me.

Broken parents. Living with loss that has seeped into our hearts, minds and bodies.

I’m fully aware we retain our emotions in our bodies. I recall a psychologist friend telling me years ago about a client who was so traumatized by the sexual abuse she’d suffered that she was crippled and wheelchair bound. It was only through intensive therapy that she recovered. Her disability a direct result of her mental anguish.

While this is an extreme example, it demonstrates the power our minds have over our physical selves. I know when I feel extremely stressed my digestion seizes up into cramps and an upset stomach, and the long-term stress of grief seems to create long-term health problems, including, crucially, the problems of the mind. And as well as the obvious ailments mentioned, grief has opened up our vulnerability to insomnia, forgetfulness, poor concentration, comfort eating, irritability, and social phobia, to name a few.

We notice greater tension, more irritability, a quickness to become anxious, now fearing the worst.

We’ve had more doctor’s appointments in the past two years than ever before. We feel like hypochondriacs but cannot shake it off.

We seek reassurance where we have lost our confidence in our instincts.

We feel our bodies age.

We focus on our hearts’ every beat, which races and aches.

We worry about others’ illnesses for ourselves.

We feel vulnerable, aware of our mortality. Not scare of death exactly but scared of which of us will be next to face a health scare, a trauma, and the rising panic and fear that comes with it.

It’s fear of fear.

So we bolster our strength with medicines, complementary therapies and simple distraction. We avoid Googling anything. Appreciating the interludes between health worries in ourselves and each other.

I really do hope that time and finding the right support will help us heal from the physical scars of grief. And if anything, this new life inside me will bring yet another element of joy and hope back into our home.

8 thoughts on “The physical pains of grief

  1. Congratulations! I had noticed I hadn’t seen you around for a while and hoped you were just taking a break and healing (which you clearly were), but I never would have guessed you would be expecting again.
    It’s good that you are able to continue with a safe, low dose of medication through your pregnancy, but sorry to read how much medication you seem to need to cope with the physical symptoms of grief. x

  2. I became pregnant a month after my son died. So much of what you wrote I experienced, as well. You are welcome to write to me anytime for support. I remember when I delivered my youngest son (6 years after my son died) – I cried uncontrollably for an hour afterwards. The spasms of grief continued for many years for me. I understand. I pray for moments of peacefulness and relief for you. They are possible. I found that my living children were my best salve – there is a joy from that no one could imagine except a bereaved parent. And one day, I can offer you hope because my pain has eased into something bearable and actually inspiring.

    • Thank you so much Judy! It’s so good to hear from another mother who went through childbirth after loss. The birth of my last son sparked so much grief it was a real shock. I hope I am able to prepare for this this time round. I truly appreciate your encouraging words and prayers x

      • I want to encourage you not to fall into the “guilt trap.” Letting go of grief doesn’t mean you loved your daughter any less. It’s okay to acknowledge your pain and taking meds. You must take care of yourself any way you can. I had to take sleep medicine and did that for 18 years after my son’s death! But I don’t anymore. As you know, grief will continue to raise it’s ugly head – eventually, it will be less of a shock. And the moments where you feel better will become more frequent – allow them!

  3. Pingback: Grief, selfishness and ‘me time’ | Chasing dragonflies

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