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Why do I feel worse now?

Day 63: Why does it feel harder?

One of the hardest things about grief is how it can feel like it’s getting worse, seemingly out of the blue—a rawness that strikes a few months out.

One way I speak about this experience is to acknowledge that it’s super common. Second, I believe this to be a grief transition point during which our brain “knowing” and heart “knowing” begin to align to absorb a new level of reality that wasn’t available in the beginning. While there tends to be a benevolent fog in the first several weeks and months after a loss that limits our grasp on the gravity of our new world, this fog often lifts around three to six months--so, cue the pure pain of missing and yearning.

More recent research on grief by Mary Frances O’Connor offers some insight to this increased intensity of grief. @doctormfoconnor describes grieving a loss as a massively difficult problem for the brain to solve—one in which we are walking through two worlds at the same time—there is a mismatch between the virtual reality map we once used and the new reality in which our person cannot be found in space and time.

O’Connor speaks of how our virtual reality brain maps include object cells AND object trace cells—the latter firing when our brain notices the places where our person used to be—such as, when we go to text our person, or expect to see them on that side of the bed or their car in the driveway. In studies, object trace cells fire for quite a bit of time after the person is absent—and in brain speak, they will fire until our virtual reality map is updated.

O’Connor is essentially describing how grief is a freakin painful learning experience for our brain—and one that takes more time than most of us expect. AND, once our virtual reality maps begin to update, the “knowing” that I speak of is available—which is the sinking feeling of permanence—that our person IS really gone, that our person continues to be gone, and that our person isn’t coming back. Cue, pure, massive, raw grief.

So if your grief feels more raw a ways out, you are not crazy. Oddly enough, your brain is doing its job. So be kind to yourself, go slow, and get some good chocolate.

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