Processing Grief is a Personal Preference: How I Figured Out the Way I Process Grief.

Have you heard of the term brain fog? It’s that feeling when you should be perfectly fine, you’re just going about your day, and WHAM. Your brain has gone all soft and fuzzy and you want to fall asleep right where you’re at and all the energy in your body has disappeared. Your reflexes are slow. This is totally normal and people feel it all the time when they’re tired or they’ve had a long day- whatever.

I like to think that grief can give you what I have nicknamed the Feeling Fog, when you’ve got a general haze of emotions and thoughts, the molecules of which are so densely packed together that they become an entity all their own that clouds your brain.

Those words come to mind a lot. Foggy. Clouded. Do you know what causes fog and clouds? It’s when something happens to the air and causes it to cool- to a point where it can no longer just incorporate the water molecules anymore, and those molecules start to condense together and become that dense blanket over the world. Here’s nature, giving you one bomb-ass metaphor.

Something has happened to you. Feelings that you normally could incorporate into your existence become too heavy to handle, and pretty soon they’re all congregating together to form their own thing entirely. They’ve created your Feeling Fog.

 

 

Did that make sense outside my own head? Probably not. But I’m sure that if you’ve experienced grief, then you understand the Feeling Fog itself. Like trying to see through a heavy mist, the shape of everything is blurry. As you move through it, you can’t see where you’re going, so you look back- and realize that you can’t see where you came from either. You don’t quite know what you think or feel, it’s just a general crappiness that weighs you down, making you feel lost and confused.

So how do we get the the Fog to burn off? How do we regain our clarity and sense of direction?

I’m not one of those people who understands what I feel or why I’m feeling like… MOST of the time. I’ll be experiencing all these things but all I can tell is a general buzz in my head and my heart. I can pick up on the frequency of the energy, know whether I feel BAD or GOOD, but that’s about as specific as I get.

I always thought I was alone in that. I went to college for Music Theatre, after all, I spent my formative years surrounded by people who were so deliberately in tune with their emotions. We had actual assignments where we contemplated the most minute of distinctions between different types of feelings, motivations, and human experience. I was literally terrible at it.

I eventually realized that actors aren’t the norm, and most people don’t excel at defining their feelings. But once the stakes are raised, and really big, scary feelings associated with grief start to define your daily life in a way that will continue for years, you just have to get a handle on it.

I’m sorry, but you do. You cannot let yourself continue on in a daze that makes you and the people around you miserable- I won’t let you. You’ve got to become better acquainted with your feelings and thoughts so you can manage them a little bit better.

Imagine a manager at a company who doesn’t know any of her employees or what their job description is. That company ain’t gonna get anything done. Well congrats! You are now the owner and operator of Grief and Co.

But the question is- how do you start to get to know those feelings? How do you name them? How do you differentiate them? And then….. how do you tame them?

Let’s start by just getting to know our feelings, shall we? Let’s discover how you identify the sensations you’re experiencing and how you prefer to explore them. Find out how you PROCESS. I can confidently tell you, I process by writing. If I just sit there thinking, or trying to talk to someone, the thoughts and words are gonna get all twisted around and confused, and my logic makes literally NO sense. But the second I begin to write them out, it’s like a road map of my brain starts to unfold in front of me.

I was lucky enough to discover how I process all on my own. But if you haven’t figured that out yet, I have a resource that might change the game for you: Figure out what your learning style is.

I first came across the idea of learning styles from one of my middle school teachers, who made us take an LSI, or Learning Styles Inventory. She wanted better ideas for how to help us grasp concepts in her classroom. Because you know what? Not everybody thinks the same. Our brains are so wonderfully different, and our hardwiring is original and beautifully complex. This idea of Multiple Intelligences was originally proposed by Howard Gardner in the ’80s, and while some super serious psychologists and academics criticize his work, I think it empowers people to realize that we are all smart in our own way- we just need to figure out how to unlock it. 

And the way we learn goes way beyond the classroom. The way we learn also indicates how we think and it alters the way we experience the world around us. The way we process. The way we react. The way we reflect. The way we remember. It alters the type of language we use.

CRAZY THOUGHT RIGHT? Like have you ever had that epiphany: what if the way I see the color blue isn’t what everyone else sees, but we’ve still all learned to call it “blue”? This is like the real-world application of that idea.

It’s highly likely this early introduction to thinking about “how I tick” sparked a lifelong fascination with how our perceptions shift our realities. Maybe this is the reason I was able to figure out that I should be writing when Feeling Fog sets in.

I highly recommend everyone take this Learning Style Inventory. (Or, like, any one of the hundreds you can probably find on the internet.) Self-knowledge is power!

There are seven basic intelligence categories that are widely discussed plus two add-ons that Gardner later wanted to throw in the mix. The first seven are, simply labeled, Visual, Aural, Physical, Verbal, Logical, Social, and Solitary. He added Naturalistic and toyed with the idea of adding Existential, as well. The categories are pretty self-explanatory, but I’m gonna do my best to put them into my own words, as I understand them. (Not an expert, here, just quickly relating some info.) Note: There is a distinction between the Intelligences and the Learning Styles in that one comes from the other. No “chicken or the egg” dilemma, here, the Learning Styles were derived from the initial idea of Multiple Intelligences. Got it? Cool.

 

Visual- You’re good with pictures, spatial awareness, reading images, etc.

Logical- You’ve got a good head for math, critical thinking, and abstract concepts.

Verbal- You’re great with language, words, and memorization.

Musical or Aural- People kind of deviate on this one. The Musical refers to ability to understand rhythm, tone, and pitch and the Aural category refers to your connection to spoken information over written information.

Social- You work, learn, and communicate well with people.

Solitary- You work, learn, and communicate will with yourself.

Naturalistic- You understand and nurture our connection to the natural world.

Existential- Yout understand questions of existence and spirituality.

 

These styles overlap and some become dominant in different situations or applications. You probably won’t be just one style. Perhaps you may be dominant in one area, but most likely you’re a little painting of every intelligence, just in different degrees! You smart li’l thang!

 

So then what? You’ve figured out your learning style, how are you going to harness it to help relieve your Feeling Fog? How do you take it that step further and apply what you’ve learned about yourself? Start with whether you need to work through it alone or with other people. Then let it help you decide in what mode to work. It makes sense that I’m a writer. I’m mostly a Solitary, Verbal learner. I definitely figure things out on my own, and I understand with work well with words. Go do some research, see what others found to be effective for your learning style. Maybe you should be going on runs by yourself. Maybe you should be going to a grief group and talking about your feelings with others. Maybe you should be going to a beautiful place and drinking in the sights with your friends.

There are so many options, and if you need some ideas I’m always just a message away! My point is this. Be strategic. Be smart. Do what helps you the most.

And once you’ve figured out how you process… ACTUALLY DO IT. Sometimes I would sit there on the couch, sobbing, completely miserable and lost in my own head. And I would know that writing was the answer- but I wouldn’t want to do it. Why? Because I felt lazy. Or scared of what I might realize. I would make excuses.

Don’t make excuses.

This work is hard. Let it be. Dive in.

Think about those feelings. Confront them, name them, don’t let them own you. I promise you’ll feel better a hundred times faster- if only you have the courage.

*Want to learn more? There are probably hundreds of catalysts for these thoughts of mine, but I encourage you to check these out if you want more food for thought. I also encourage you to really dive deep into your learning style so you can start to get better acquainted with that li’l noggin of yours!

Overview of Learning Styles

TED Talk by Susan David: The gift and power of emotional courage

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