There comes a time in your grief journey when you have experienced the initial loss and are now waiting for “the time” when things can go “back to normal.”  In the United States, we have adopted this idea of it being on a certain timeline.  Your work may define it as 2 or 3 days, friends and family may define it as a few months, and you may as well.  You may get some questions like, “Are you still thinking about _______?  Don’t you think it’s time to move on?  Why don’t you want to go to the baseball game?  You love baseball!”  Add to that some of the advice, “How about_________?” They don’t mean to be annoying, hurtful, or pushy.  They just don’t understand the way grief works and want you to be more like how they used to experience you before the loss.

And then you start (or continue) wondering why you are “still”

emotional, or
can’t sleep well
have no motivation
irritable and/or angry
overeat or think nothing tastes good
are tired all of the time
don’t find things enjoyable
feel hopeless
get into arguments easily
have a hard time focusing
don’t really want to socialize
feel guilt and regret

Welcome to the “messy middle,” as grief expert Alissa Drescher LPC, GC-C, CT, MA defines it.  Your life still feels “out of control” and you feel you just can’t “get it together.”  Like something is wrong with you. You don’t feel, act, or behave like “You.”

This is grief.  You are still grieving. Because you have lost someone, something important.

It has its own timeline.  You have to respect the process.  It takes some time and you will move through it with less discomfort if you stop fighting it, ignoring it, or stuffing it.

In our society, we Americans pride ourselves on our independence, on our identity defined often through our jobs, our relationships, our beliefs.  And what happens when we are not performing at max efficiency?  If our brain is still slower and takes more time in processing?  If we cry in public?  We get frustrated.  We get angry.  At ourselves, at others. And guess what?  So do our friends and family, co-workers. They want you to hurry up and heal already, get over it, take a pill and feel better. They are not cold and heartless.  It’s just hard for them to witness your suffering.

Our society likes everyone to be happy and productive and successful all of the time. Just look at social media.  Does anyone post their sadness, their disappointments? Not usually, nor very often, unless you are in a support group. Instead, we see smiling faces, achievements, successes.  Lots of vacation photos, family photos.  And there is nothing wrong with that- it’s just that somehow then we think we aren’t supposed to suffer and everyone else is living a great fulfilling meaningful life filled with everyday joy and prosperity.  If you are sick or in pain hurry up get better.  And then post that.

What can we do as we flop around in the “messy middle”?  We can be patient and kind to our grieving selves.

Forget to do something because you were preoccupied with thoughts of your loved one?  This can happen frequently in grief. Forgetting to do things. Cut yourself a break, then make a plan to do it, or extend an apology if another person was involved.

Crying frequently?  We call them “grief bursts,” these sudden tearful explosions that just happen whether it be from an internal thought or external environmental trigger.  Yes, they happen.  One way we can help with these? We can take some time to acknowledge, express and process all of the emotions we feel, exploring them through writing, moving, talking, drawing, creating.  Carving out some time to allow ourselves to just emote.  Labeling them out loud as we experience them. It’s like we have an imaginary bucket that we just stuff pain into, for whatever reason (like maybe we are in a business meeting or driving our kids somewhere, or at someone’s social event).  We fill up the bucket of pain from the stuffing of the feelings and now when the bucket is full the emotions spill out.  These are just expressed sometimes in a blurt of anger or in ways that are less desired or even hurtful to others. Find some time often to express those emotions and it empties the bucket.  It doesn’t have to be a long amount of time. We are human.  We have emotions.

Did you put off doing a task that you couldn’t manage to do earlier due to low motivation?  Get your calendar out and schedule a time to at least start the task. You may need to take it in chunks or sections, so plan for that.  Sometimes in grief things take a lot longer to do.  Register that and again cut yourself a break here.  You have been through a loss, and maybe a consequential series of losses, which all take time and effort to figure out.  Ask someone to do it with you.  That support can be    helpful, and make the task easier or more enjoyable.  Or if you really aren’t up to it, ask that person to do it for you.

Everything doesn’t come together instantly, and you don’t just start automatically feeling better.  But little by little, one moment at a time, you may be more able to laugh at a joke, accomplish a task, and have a good night sleep, or really enjoy that cup of coffee.   And begin to accept and find easier ways to cope with life in the “Messy Middle.”


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