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I Failed at Grief

I Failed at Grief | After the Heartbreak
I Failed at Grief
Lying in bed with clock in front

I know you’re thinking “How on earth can anyone fail at grief!” Of course you are absolutely correct and in fact the one truism that I learned on this journey is that the only right way to handle grief is your way. I believe it…really I do….but then that nasty illness called ‘anxiety’ finally beat me.

I am a ‘Type A’ personality and I don’t handle the whole failure thing very well at all. 🙂 It was 6 weeks after my husband was killed in that tragic accident at the gliding club.

Read: The Day My Heart Broke

I was doing the best that I could just getting through each day the best way I could. I was taking sleeping tablets every night as otherwise I just stayed awake all night wandering around the house, and this quickly left me exhausted…so I took the sleeping tablets.

I was still determined to do this whole grief thing cold turkey though, and despite encouragement from my doctor, I refused to take the anti-depressants that she recommended. I would manage. Somehow.

Then one night I was lying in bed when I felt a sharp pain in my chest. I felt sweaty and shaky, and despite trying numerous positions I couldn’t escape the pain. Was I having a heart attack? I really thought I was. My thoughts turned to my kids who had just lost somebody important in their lives and I thought “They can’t lose me too.” I was genuinely scared that I was going to die.

Panic attacks are typically experienced as time-limited episodes of intense anxiety. The effects of stress can accumulate slowly, and a person is unlikely to be aware of the extent of their stress until a panic attack occurs.

Justin Kenardy: Professor of Clinical Psychology, University of Queensland
Me on phone

But sometime during that awful night the sleeping tablets must have kicked in and I fell asleep….and I was still alive in the morning. I rang my daughter (who suffers anxiety) and she said “Mum, you had a panic attack.” I argued though “No, it wasn’t a panic attack as the pain was absolutely real and so intense!” She laughed…”Yes, a panic attack brings real physical pain.”

Well, that was new to me! I’d been supporting her anxiety for a decade or more and I’d never known that it brought actual physical pain. I always thought that it was ‘real’ in one’s mind…but it wasn’t actual pain. It was a revelation for me.

It should have stopped there but over the next few days I was clearly in trouble. I felt physically shaky and ‘strange’ so didn’t want to drive, and I was terrified of having another panic attack. So one truly awful day when I was lying on the outdoor lounge and felt like I couldn’t move, I called my doctor and made an appointment.

Lying on outdoor sofa

She prescribed anti-depressants…..and I took them.

I felt like such a failure at the time…like I wasn’t able to handle life without help from medication. The doctor did try to placate me and assured me that I was perfectly normal and definitely not a failure….but I still felt so bad about myself. I felt I was weak and lacking in resilience.

Fast forward 12 months and even though I’m feeling differently. I look back at what I’ve been able to achieve in a year….how far I’ve moved forward in creating a life for myself….and I know that I couldn’t have done this without drugs. Good grief…back then I was so bad I couldn’t drive, couldn’t have a sensible conversation and was terrified of having another ‘heart attack’!


So I’ve come to terms with the fact that I needed to take drugs to be able to manage the grief. If it was just the intense mental anguish of losing my husband I would have managed, but the debilitating symptoms of anxiety meant that I would not have been able to do what it has taken to feel like I’m living again. It sounds like I’m justifying it all doesn’t it…and possibly I am….but I’ve come to terms with what happened and I’m beginning to build a new life for myself.

I have begun to wean myself off….14 months after starting them. I intend to take it ever so slow, but I think I’m ready to go it alone. No ‘heart attacks’ yet! 🙂

Has anyone else had a similar experience with anxiety and grief? Drop a comment below as I’d love to hear from you.

Marlene is an Australian widow who has written about all the good, bad and ugly stuff that happened after her husband Norbert died tragically. Marlene responds to all comments.

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