Monday, September 2, 2013

New Brain


I love memoirs. I read a memoir a week, I'd estimate. The last one I read was not one of my favorites in regard to writing style, but it was about a woman who'd had an aneurysm and her subsequent healing.

In the book, she lists the mental symptoms she and other aneurysm patients often struggle with. As I read the list, I realized with a shock that I had experienced nearly every single one in the aftermath of Dave's death.

I realized that while she had actual brain damage (you can see it on her brain scans as a dark area) and I might not, there is some kind of damage to my brain, too. This is not to try to compare my loss to the loss someone with a stroke experiences. I can't imagine that scenario and am grateful I have yet to experience that particular pain.

It got me thinking though. Maybe, trauma, and maybe especially complex trauma, causes the same kind of neurological symptoms a stroke does. And if that's true, it's no wonder I've had to do so much modifying just to get by. I can no longer multitask without making multiple glaring mistakes.

I have  difficulties driving in new areas (more so than I used to). It seems as though attending so much incoming information at once short circuits my brain more easily.

I'm more easily overwhelmed in any and all situations. I forget almost everything. Some days are simply a complete blank. If you ask me what I did yesterday I may or may not be able to tell you a thing.

I may need reminders just to begin to remember. I'm more disorganized, have trouble managing my time for the first time in my life. I use my phone to alert me to everything, when to wake up, when to leave the house, when to call someone back, etc, because my memory has become so unreliable.

Concentrating is very difficult. Even things I used to be able to concentrate on for hours don't keep me focused for more than 10 minutes now. Motivation is minimal. I'm more emotionally reactive.

All of this overwhelms me and sometimes leads me to feel some shame for it. So, I began to read about trauma victims and guess what? Big surprise. Same symptoms. Finding that evidence normalized it even more for me. I can look at it a little more like an illness I manage versus a deficiency I fight against having.

Plus, I can come here, share my symptoms and hear again and again, "Yes, I know what you mean," and feel less alone.

Today I will see a therapist who works specifically with trauma survivors. I'm hoping he'll help me manage my new brain and give me some more hope for a day when I feel I have some of these mental faculties back. Not necessarily my old brain back, just a more functional new brain.


  1. I think you hit the nail on the head! I am experiencing all of the same symtpoms! I have been calling it "widow brain"! Thank you so much, it makes total sense! Please post what the trauma therapist says!

  2. For me, and I assume most, losing a spouse has taken a tremdous toll on my body. I don't sleep the same, don't eat well, lost weight, blood pressure went to a high level -- now okay, thought process is scattered, and basically our bodies will never be the same. With everything else, just more to deal with..

  3. so true. i think the big blanks disturb me the kids will ask "do you remember?" many times my answer is no...although I handle the overwhelmed feelings a bit better, i still wonder about those big black holes in my memory. thanks for writing.

  4. Thank you, Cassie. I'm on board with you too but very interesting thought on talking with the trauma therapist. Please let us know what they say. And now I can tell my dr. why my blood pressure seems to have skyrocketed. Makes me feel more sane and in control when I know there are other like beings out there that sometimes feel insane and out of control. hugs to all of you...

    1. I too have had higher blood pressure readings for the first time in my life since Dave died.
      Google Heart Math and see what you think. I've just recently been introduced to this method of biofeedback and I think it might be something really helpful for those of us dealing with the effects of trauma.

    2. ooh - I love Heart Math. Haven't tried it, personally, but what I've read sounds awesome.

  5. I'll hit 3 years in just 20 days and I still have these issues. I've chalked it up to 'widow brain' and growing older, but it's frustrating and sometimes scary. I'll be interested in what the therapist says, too.

  6. Yep, I agree completely. I've experienced, and am still experiencing, the lot.

  7. Cassie, thank you so much for this post. I, too, am experiencing the same symptoms you described and I've blamed it on age. My husband died in the middle of the night beside me at 3:11 a.m. He suffered a massive heart attack. He had been to the doctor three weeks before and he was fine. We were getting ready to leave on a July 4th camping trip with friends. I thought the love of my life was snoring and suddenly I had the strangest feeling that something was horribly wrong. I called his name and there was no answer which was not normal. I screamed his name and he didn't move; he was motionless. I ran and called 911 and was told how to perform CPR until the police and paramedics arrived. They didn't tell me that Rich was gone until I reached the hospital. It's been 26 months and I still find it difficult to accept he is gone; I have good days and bad days and still cry. I now find it difficult to handle stress especially alone. Within six months, my husband died unexpectedly, my niece was murdered, and I was involved an auto accident caused by a young man running a red light. I now forget things which is unusual for me. I, too, find it difficult to multitask. I spent a career multitasking and now I find it difficult. Thank you for validating that what many of us here are experiencing could be linked to the trauma of losing our other half, our soul mates, the love of our lives.

    1. You have been through so much. It's so obvious to me that after such trauma, we just need to live in a different way, with a different body, soul and brain. It's something we don't talk about in our culture much, but should!
      I'm so sorry for your losses.

  8. Thanks all, for being there! Awesome post and comments from a gal (5.5 months out) who really needed to hear these helpful words tonight, oops, this morning:)

  9. Stress - including prolonged stress - causes biochemical changes that can affect memory. Cortisol and stress hormones affect the way our brains store and recall things. I have found myself looking at a woman that I have known for years and absolutely cannot remember her name.

    Deep breathing exercises can help relieve stress. So does meditation (and not even the half-hour "Zen master" meditation that people tend to think of), progressive relaxation, and guided visualization exercises. Anything that gives any sort of a break for our bodies from this hell-induced stress that we live with every day.

    Hopefully the therapist will be able to offer some insight and information for you.

  10. I really knew nothing about Widow Brain..I was diagnosed with PTS while my husband was still alive.He was young and bedridden 4 yrs. Since he passed I have had two complete mental the pressence of my 3 teen children.Nothing dramatic just unable to do things like pick out something besides

    a nightgown to wear.

    dressed in.

    Or walk down the stairs, or put a cup in the
    dishwasher. When I told my college age twins how proud I was that I managed to get dressed, they looked at me like I was nuts! I don't remember driving to the supermarket, but after 2hrs of aimlessly walking around I could only decide on 5 things to put in the shopping cart.I knew I had put the rottisserie chicken in the fridge & then it was gone! I thought I was insane. Hours later my son said he was hungry and had eaten it all. My father had been a widower twice (my mother died when I was 3. My husband made me feel so safe in this scary life and without him I'm back to 3 again, going on 65. I do have 4 beautiful grown children who live all over the map but not by me.My daughter is 45, son 28, boy&girl twins 27, and they just don't get it..loosing the other half of me.
    Thank you so much for your article of validation. Best study is ""Inner Peace"♥♥ and fb ♥